Imagine you walk into a magic store where they sell special flashlights equipped with magic lights of different kinds. For example, you can buy the light of science, and when you point that flashlight at your hand, you see not a hand, but cells and blood vessels and tendons and ligaments. Or you can buy the light of art, and you point that flashlight at your hand, you see your hand as if it were a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci – you see form, and color, and texture. And you’re having a lot of fun trying out the different flashlights with the different lights. And then you see one labeled “the light of Chanukah.” What will you see in that light? What is special about the light of Chanukah?
It is interesting that according to Jewish law, when we light the Chanukah Menorah we are prohibited from using its light –from reading by it, or doing some other task by it. Instead, we are commanded to simply look at the light. All year long we are looking at what we see in the light, but on Chanukah we are to focus on seeing the light itself. We are to fill our eyes with the light of Chanukah so that when Chanukah is over, we will continue to see our lives in this special light. What is special about the light of Chanukah?
The light of Chanukah is the light beyond the sun, it’s the light beyond nature; it’s the light of miracles. And what does the world look like in the light of miracles? The world looks like a miracle. In the light of nature nothing is new but in the light of miracles everything is new and novel. When I point the light of science at my hand I see cells, I see veins. When I point the light of art at my hand I see form, I see shape, and I see color. But when I point the light of Chanukah, I see a miracle. We fill our eyes with the light of Chanukah for eight days, so that when the holiday is over, we see that everything is a miracle, we see that even nature is actually a miracle.
Albert Einstein once said: “There are two ways of looking at the world – either you see nothing as a miracle or you see everything as a miracle.” The Jews see everything as a miracle. The ancient Greeks saw nothing as a miracle. To the Greeks, a miracle was an absurdity. To them only what is reasonable, logical, and rational can be real. Miracles are illogical and therefore not possible.
The ancient Greeks could never access the light of Chanukah, the light of miracles, because they only believed in the light of reason. To them the world always existed, it never was created. History was an inevitable process – the present linked to the past and the necessary outcome of the past. Nothing unusual can happen, history will march on, a consequence on top of the last consequence. Similarly, their view of G-d, or rather of gods, was of super-beings detached from the world, contemplating themselves. Their gods didn’t care about man. For the Greeks nothing was new under the sun—what “was” always “will be”. Therefore miracles were impossible.
When you look at the world in the light of Chanukah, you realize that the world is completely unnecessary. That you’re unnecessary. That everything is unnecessary. And yet the world is here and you are here. Celebrating the unnecessary is really the celebration of love. Because the ultimate expression of love and kindness is not in doing what I have to do, but in doing what I don’t have to do. If I dent your car and then offer to pay for it, that is not an act of love. That is the law which says what I have to do. But if one day I decide to wash your car or buy you a new one, that is an act of love.
This is why we light candles on Chanukah and bring the light of Chanukah – the light of miracles – into our lives every year. On Chanukah we are celebrating the light beyond the sun, the light of hope and miracles. We fill our eyes with that light so that we can use that light all year long, once we’ve internalized it within ourselves.
In fact, it is only in the light of Chanukah that we can understand Chanukah at all. It’s only because the Maccabees had the light of miracles already in their souls that they went ahead to accomplish something very unreasonable and very irrational. A small group of weaklings stood up against the warriors of Greece and won. But they knew it was possible because G-d created the world and is free to do as He pleases.
Judaism believes in a G-d of miracles. And if G-d so wills it, something radical and new can happen at any moment. In the light of Chanukah we see that everything is a miracle and only love is real. Anything is possible– so never lose hope.
Adapted from Inviting God In: Celebrating the Soul-Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days by Rabbi David Aaron