April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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She’Asa Nisim L’Avoseinu

A tiny jug of oil, tucked away in a corner somewhere in the Beis Hamikdash, found unsullied. That same oil, enough for just a day’s worth of lighting, lit up the menorah for eight days until new tahor, pure, oil could be prepared. Undoubtedly, the miracle of the oil was outstanding. But, as many have pointed out, it was a potentially superfluous miracle. The inability to produce proper oil for the lighting of the menorah was due to extenuating circumstances (namely, the Greek takeover of the land). D’rachmana patrei, the Torah exonerates one from not performing a mitzvah if the reason for the lack of performance is beyond one’s control. It would certainly have been frustrating for the Jews to watch the menorah sit idle for a week, but that’s all that would have happened if God didn’t intervene; much unlike the rest of Jewish history, where God’s miraculous interventions saved the people from destruction. Not only that, but some are of the opinion that the Jews actually could have lit the menorah with tamei, impure, oil if that’s all that they had! If that’s the case, the miracle was certainly superfluous. Why then, would Hashem perform an “unnecessary” miracle?

A couple of months ago, my company had an event for Diwali, a key holiday in the Hindu religion. Diwali too, is referred to as a “festival of lights.” As I was listening to one of the presenters detail the religious background of the holiday, I noticed something significant missing from their theology. I don’t mean that something was incorrect about their presentation of Diwali. I couldn’t tell you much about that, seeing as my prior knowledge of Diwali didn’t extend much past the “The Office” episode about it. Rather, that their theology was missing something so integral to our Yomim Tovim. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized this shortcoming is present in other religions as well.

From what I learned from the presentation, Diwali in part commemorates the activity of a certain benevolent Hindu god to save himself from a more malicious spirit. Christianity’s celebrations primarily revolve around the life and times of one specific individual, perceived as divine. The driving events of the holidays across both of these religions are sorely lacking any connection to the people who celebrate them. Diwali makes no mention of the Hindu people; Easter doesn’t involve Christians more broadly.

Not so with Judaism and our Yomim Tovim. True, our days commemorate things that God did—but they go much further than that (in addition, of course, to being emes). We celebrate days where God did something for us. Our Yomim Tovim are so special not only because they exhibit the power or uniqueness of God, but because they demonstrate the relationship we have with Him. Even though Chag HaPesach is what the Gemara calls the Yom Tov recalling Yetzias Mitzrayim, and indeed we colloquially refer to it as Pesach, the Torah names it Chag HaMatzos. Matzos were symbolic of the faith the Jews in Egypt had in God when leaving, willing to follow without taking the time to prepare proper provisions for the journey. That is how God, the author of the Torah, chooses to name the day. A reference to our faith, and a call to the strong relationship He has had with us since the beginning.

Rabbi Ari Kahn explains why the name of God used in conjunction with korbanos is Hashem, and not Elokim. The name Hashem represents God’s attribute of mercy, while Elokim represents the attribute of justice. By associating the name representing mercy with the korbanos, the Torah challenges the common perception of what sacrifices accomplish. The world saw sacrifice as a bribe, appeasement to a vengeful god in hopes that he will spare the offender bringing up the offering. But in reality, korbanos offer an opportunity. The root of the word, K-R-B means to come close. Sacrifice is an opportunity for atonement. One who violated the commandments of God now has the chance to reflect on what he has done and focus on how to move forward and repair his fractured relationship with a loving God.

Many explain this may be why God performed the “superfluous” miracle with the oil. On a technical level, the Jews of the time didn’t really require it—but it meant so much to them. Spouses often truly show their love not with the more “obligatory” gifts on birthdays and anniversaries, but with the little gifts in between. Flowers here or chocolate there for no reason other than to show the love they have for each other, and how they’re always at the top of one another’s minds. True, God didn’t need to perform the Chanukah miracle. He wanted to. God went above and beyond for the Jews to show how much He cares for us and cherishes our relationship. He was willing to bend nature for no reason other than to remind us of our connection. “She’asa nisim, Who performed wondrous deeds.” Yes, God has performed many miracles throughout time. But perhaps more importantly, He performed them “la’avoseinu, for our ancestors.”


Barak Hagler is a young Jewish professional living in Hillside. He cares deeply about the general Orthodox community that he is a part of, and enjoys discussing the various facets that it comprises. He can be reached at [email protected] for any thoughts or comments.

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