Discovering ‘ordinary miracles’ at Hanukkah


Hanukkah begins at sundown Wednesday. Our Holidays-and-Festivals column has more about the ancient roots of this 8-day festival that celebrates religious liberty. Today, we’re reminding readers of two other enduring Hanukkah themes—the light and love that radiate as families celebrate. At the same time, we’re reminding everyone about the wisdom of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner for adults—and for children, as well.

Care to learn more about Rabbi Kushner’s work? Here’s a link to the Jewish Lights Publishing page showcasing 17 of Kushner’s books. Today, we’re recommending Kushner’s new, “I’m God; You’re Not,” which collects nearly 50 of the rabbi’s best meditations over the past 20 years. If you’re encountering Kushner for the first time today, this collection is a great introduction to his writing. As you visit the Jewish Lights page, we also strongly recommend these other Kushner books: “God Was in This Place and I—i Did Not Know It,” “Honey from the Rock: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism,” and “The Book of Miracles: A Young Person’s Guide to Jewish Spiritual Awareness.


“I’m God; You’re Not” covers the entire spectrum of life and spirit, from birth to death with stops in Israel and “NYPD Blue” along the way. To give you a feel for Kushner’s style, here are a few lines from his chapter on Hanukkah:

That’s what Hanukkah is about: trying to survive the darkness on the far-fetched hope there’s still some life and light left in the universe. It’s more than just a religious story. The days have been growing shorter, imperceptibly but inescapably darker. Just last month, for instance, when I woke up in the morning it was light. Now, I wake up in the night! And when I have dinner, it used to be light outside, but now I have my supper in darkness, too. You want a miracle? Let’s get some more light down here! Heading into the night of the winter solstice, every spiritual tradition has some kind of festival of light. We’re all just whistling in the dark, hoping against hope that someone up there will see these little Hanukkah candles and get the hint.

As miracles go, the menorah burning for eight days was nothing to write home about. It was what you might call a transitional event, occurring just after the extraordinary stories of the Bible but before our modern world. Indeed, seeing such an event as a miracle seems to recquire some shift in the beholder’s perception. Whereas just a moment ago there was only an ordinary event (“That oil should have run out days ago”), now we stand in reverence before the work of the Holy One. (“Oh my God, it wasn’t an accident!”) Maybe that’s the whole point. If only a dramatic interruption of the laws of nature, conveniently coinciding with our latest personal plan, qualifies as a miracle, then we are deprived of all the other explainable, routine, perfectly ordinary miracles. Like the first snowfall. Or, for that matter, the tenth. Or lighting the menorah with someone you love.

REMEMBER: You’ll find this new book among 17 Kushner titles at this Jewish Lights Publishing webpage.

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