Parshat Vayeshev/Chanuka: Finding Miracles in the Darkness

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone

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Chanuka feels different this year. The vanquishing of our enemies that occurred in the days of the Maccabees during their war against the Greeks seems distant this Chanukah. As we light our flickering candles, still shrouded in the darkness of the murderous pogrom on the seventh of October, 136 hostages from 10 months to 83 years old still being held in Gaza, and the tragic aftermath of so many fallen, how can we possibly rejoice and celebrate this year?

Uncharacteristically, the lighting of the Chanuka candles is accompanied by two brachot (three on the first night). Following the standard bracha for mitzva performance, one recites the blessing of She’asa Nissim, giving thanks to God for the miracles performed “in those days, at this time.” Yet if we carefully examine the formulation appearing in Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Megillah v’Chanuka 3:4), we will notice that some of the manuscripts have a slightly different version, which reads “bayamim hahem uvizman hazeh,” which translates as “in those days and at this time.” With the addition of a single letter vav, these editions of Rambam offer an entirely new meaning to this bracha: that just as miracles took place long ago, miracles continue to surround us in every generation to the present day.

This year, inspired by the miracles to which we have all been witness, I will be adopting the alternate version of the text, to give thanks for the wonders all around us, “bayamim hahem uvizman hazeh,” “in those days and at this time.” 

Indeed, these have been unimaginably difficult weeks for the families of the murdered and the kidnapped, for the fallen, wounded and the displaced, for the soldiers serving in every corner of this country, and for all of Am Yisrael. But even within this darkness, the light of unity and volunteerism is shining brightly. This year, I am celebrating the miracle of solidarity. Grassroots efforts have popped up overnight like nothing Israel has ever seen. Meals have been distributed, people have been welcomed into homes, and thousands of reservists, 130% of those called up, have reported for duty. The amount of donations: food, clothing, toys, rides, visits, hugs, army supplies, medications, and more, that have been offered to those in need has been astounding. Our collective resolve in the face of the horrors is nothing short of miraculous, and a reminder of what we are capable of when we band together.

And I am celebrating the miracle of heroism. In the face of the horrors of October 7th, so many heroes have risen to defend our brethren. I carry with me the memory of OTS alumnus Elhanan Kalmanson  z”l, who drove with his brother and nephew to Be’eri that Shabbat Simchat Torah morning on their own and managed to rescue dozens of victims. I am thinking of Aner Elyakim Shapiro z”l, who protected a packed public bomb shelter by throwing outside hand grenades terrorists had tossed in to kill those huddled inside and fell on the last one to absorb impact to protect others. And at the same time, those continuing to celebrate life, including Aner’s sister who got engaged just last week, have exhibited tremendous courage to push on despite the pain and the grief. This Chanukah, I bask in the light of the heroism of our soldiers – including countless members of the OTS family. The courage of their families and of all those maintaining the homefront is as much a divine gift as the Maccabean initiative.  

And I am celebrating this state, and what it means to live in the Jewish homeland in the 21st Century. Even in the wake of the largest pogrom since the Holocaust, we cannot lose sight of our good fortune. Never again can we be decimated, for we have a land of our own and the resolve needed to defend it. To witness the return of the Jewish people to our sacred homeland is a living miracle, and it is the anchor of our confidence in these uncertain times.

Bayamim hahem uvizman hazeh. In the midst of the grief and the fear, there are miracles all around us, just as there were long ago. Like the Maccabees, we face a challenging threat, but we are resolutely committed to our cause. As we move forward, our challenge is to not lose sight of these miracles, to be inspired by them, empowered to persevere until the darkness of this moment is overtaken by a great, shining light. 

No matter what comes, we can face it together.

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