The holiday of Chanukah…or Hanukah, as it is sometimes spelled in English (because the English do not have the sound of the first letter of the word in this language), is a holiday that celebrates a miracle. And though we are told the story of the miracle, there are many who continued to ask… what miracle?


I have to tell you, my friends, that I am not fond of miracles… and don’t like to hear stories about miracles… Why?, you ask. Maybe I don’t believe in miracles? No, it isn’t that. In fact, I have seen miracles with my own eyes. I know there are such things, and I know they happen. But there is something about them, from every which way that you might look at them, that disturbs me… and I used to tell my children and my students, ‘don’t tell me about miracles… and don’t tell me about miracle rabbis’. Yes, for those of you who don’t know… there are some rabbis who are known primarily for their ability to bring about miracles…

the children check out the new books

In Hebrew, a miracle is called a ‘flag’. It is because it works something like a flag. We look at the world, and we see what we expect to see. Everything is normal. And then, all of a sudden, we see a flag. A flag that reminds us that there are things beyond what we see. There is also a supernatural reality. And that is the miracle. For me, the more I look at life, the more amazing and wonderful it is… beyond what I can understand by far. And so, the educational aspect of the miracle is unnecessary for me. And what’s more, I believe that if we live a life of common sense, and according to the values we’ve been taught… we don’t need miracles. And when we do, if we do… it is usually because of some terrible disaster. And I don’t like to hear about disasters.

Hillel eats a potato pancake covered with apple sauce

The common understanding of the miracle of Hanukah is that there was only one jar of oil for the constant candle, which used to burn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the holy temple. This oil was special. It was made from the first squeeze of ripe olives, and it took a week to prepare such oil, and so it was considered a miracle that the lamp kept burning for eight days until more oil was prepared for this lamp. So why is it, that the priests who found this single jar of oil, didn’t wait until they had a full supply to keep the lamp lit. This is a lesson in how to relate to a situation in which one can realize the sanctity of a situation, but not everything is the way it should be. It reminds us of Nachshon, at the Red Sea, with the Egyptians chasing after us. There were those who were frightened. Not just by the Egyptian soldiers chasing us, but by the fact that there was no way to turn. Nachshon kept going… right into the sea… and the waters receded, leaving dry land for the rest of us to cross. So what we learn, is that when we have some way to do something that is really important for us, existentially, we should go ahead, and not worry whether it is the perfect way to do what we desire.

they love a chance to draw and paint

But there are many different approaches to the miracle of Hanukah. Some teachers say that the miracle was in the fact that the Jews fought at all. Because anyone who knows the Jews well, knows that we are a peace loving people and don’t like to fight. It is only when we are pressed to the wall, and we have no other possibility, that we actually choose to fight. At times, it is aggravating. Because our reluctance to fight makes our enemies bolder, and they provoke us again and again… wanting to have a rumble. So some say it was a miracle we fought at all. Even when the Greeks had taken over our country, and had appointed their friends to govern, and paraded around with elephants (which were the equivalent of tanks in our eyes)… It was only when they insisted on sacrificing a pig in the holy temple, which was an abomination for us, that we rose up, under the leadership of the priests, and fought.

singing from a song sheet

There is much I could tell you about this unusual holiday. For the essence of it is our relationship to the holy temple. But I will close with my best wishes to all my friends, and remind you, as I remind my grandchildren, that a candle loses nothing by giving of it’s fire to another candle… and that each candle joins the light in pushing back the darkness… and here are some more pictures of visits from my grandchildren on this happy Hanukah.



77 responses to “miracles

  1. I appreciate your wisdom because I learn from it. But one important question – Does one sprinkle Jack Daniels on a potato pancake?

    • I noticed that as well. On the one hand it made me chuckle and on the other hand it made me think of how we limit the age of drinking here, and yet growing up in Israel no one ever told us that we shouldn’t drink, and the same goes for Italy and other countries. Here it’s OK to go to the army at 18 and use a gun, but alcohol is allowed when you’re 21.

      • By growing up in an Italian home, I knew wine at an early age … and with my parents operating a small town tavern, I witnessed and knew the town drunks. .. But sprinkling Jack Daniels on potato pancakes is something to consider.

        • my grandfather left italy at about 16 years old and brought some wine-making equipment with him. my family still owns a vineyard back there, and i hope to visit one day. growing up, we always had a big jug of red on the table. and when i’d visit my grandparents home, the smell was unmistakable. that was 40 years ago, and wine hasn’t been made there in about 30 years. in fact, my cousin removed all the equipment to try his hand at it. but when i go in that basement, the smell is still there, and i feel about 40 years younger.

          • Cheers to the smell, which is probably similar to the one in my grandparent’s basement and a their cousin’s basement! I remember it well even after 40 years.

            BTW …I have the press, which we display!

      • It is still very common for children to drink wine with their parents… at least here in Jerusalem, though we did suffer through an advertising campaign recently, in which we were warned of madness and violence if we let children drink…

    • Thank you very much, Frank, for your kind words. Regarding your important question, it is customary for us to spread either sour cream or apple sauce on the potato pancakes, and both are very good. In Israel, we have a lot of pride in our wine, and there are those who claim that we gave this drink to the rest of the world… especially since our word for wine, yayin, sounds a bit like wine, which is similar in other languages as well. When I traveled the world in my younger days, I tried to get to know the alcoholic drinks of other peoples and places, and my favorite of all was southern bourbon in the US. And since those days, I usually kept whisky on my table, and my family learned to enjoy it too, though I suppose most of my guests prefer wine.

  2. My best wishes to you and your beautiful family for this holiday. I love the photographs, and particularly the one of the children beginning to draw. As always, Shimon, a very insightful and interesting post. I will be reading and responding to some of your other posts when I have a little more time. Meanwhile, know that I am thinking about you, Nechame and your family at this time. x

    • Thank you so much for your comment and for coming by, Janet. I think of you too, and love your posts (http://janetweightreed10.blog.co.uk/). And it’s good to read that you’re having a good time with old friends these days. I know you would really enjoy the enthusiasm that my grandchildren have for drawing and painting. Best wishes to you and yours for a very beautiful Christmas holiday.

  3. I was very intrigued by your view of miracles and the reluctance to analyzing them. Definitely made me pause and evaluate. It warmed my heart to see the pictures of your family and how different it is from the hustle and bustle here.

    • Thank you very much, Rachel. As we get to know one another, we find still more we have in common. I was very moved by the piece you chose of Tchernichovski. But I will answer that separately. I appreciate your patience with me.

  4. I love your analogy of light that you gave to the children. And when you told the story of your people facing the Red Sea…I had chills. Can you imagine that moment?

    • I’m very glad that you enjoyed the post, Painter Lady. It is a strange thing, but these old stories are very much alive for many of our people… especially so, because there have been countless replays of the same circumstances throughout our history. I remember as a child, thinking that most of what I was learning was ancient history, but in my own life, I have had experiences that have brought back to me the significance of those old bible stories… and the new ones were no less traumatic.

  5. I particularly enjoyed this post, Shimon. I love the pictures of your family enjoying doing simple things, and Hillel has a memorably beautiful face. As for miracles … a very interesting reflection. Maybe it is about going the way we believe the Almighty wants us to go, and trusting him to show us how to deal with all the challenges that we meet along that way.

    • Yes, I agree with you Gillyk, that faith can provide a lot of answers to challenges that seem insurmountable. I know it’s a very personal thing… both the challenges and the answers. Glad you enjoyed seeing some of my grandchildren, and thank you for your comment.

  6. Such a beautiful family and insight 🙂

  7. Lovely pictures of the children. I really enjoyed this post. How nice it would be to be able to share a Jack Daniels or two with you and discuss some of the things you have talked about over the year.
    A very happy Chanukah to you and your family Shimon. 🙂

    • It would certainly be a great pleasure to sit across the table from you, Chillbrook, with a bottle of Jack. I’m sure we would have much to discuss. Thank you for your good wishes, and my very best to you too.

  8. I really got caught up in this post…..I have always been drawn to Hanukah as I love to hear of miracles. To me the uncanny or miraculous always gives me hope that there is more and so much we don’t know or understand, It makes the mundane humdrum daily existence so much easier to bear thinking that something wondrous could happen. I think I’ve witnessed a few miracles myself, situation or events that defy logical explanation, and the wonder remains with me still.

    I do love those coloured candles and your family look beautiful.
    As always I enjoy hearing of all your celebrations and festivals.

    • Thank you very much. Dina. We have a slightly different perspective, I think. I just love the humdrum daily existence, and get anxious at the thought of miracles. But I’m glad you enjoyed seeing the grandchildren, and the way we celebrate. And having gotten to know you a bit in cyberspace, I have a feeling that you too have seen a a few wonders in your life. May you enjoy happy days ahead, and a beautiful holiday time.

  9. Happy Chanukah Shimon. I have to admit I got a real giggle out of seeing a bottle of Jack Daniels seeming to hold molasses. 🙂 Beautiful family. Blessings on you all.

    • Thank you very Bob. Glad to think I gave you an opportunity for a giggle. Though I can promise you, there was nothing by pure Jack in that bottle, which is finished now, and has been replaced by a very similar bottle, compliments to my daughter Rivka. Ah, the good life.

  10. Your family is so beautiful, Shimon! Joy and gentle peace to all during your holy days; I hold you all in my heart and prayers. I love when the mysterious and miraculous overtly cross my path, but, like you, don’t need them to know they are the warp and woof of my God’s, and so my spirit’s being.

  11. What a beautiful story! It seems to me that we have miracles all around us every day in the little things of life like a flower blooming, a bird emerging from its shell, a baby being born. Life is a miracle to be enjoyed. Hope you don’t mind if I use your line about the candle as my evening positive thought on Facebook.

    • I suppose it depends on what one sees as a miracle, and how one appreciates nature. For me, there is much in nature that I don’t completely understand… some things that I don’t understand at all… but I know they are the nature of this world. And then there is technology, which enables us to accomplish what once was impossible. On rare occasions, I have seen such things as I thought were truly impossible… and thought they were miracles. And there is much I haven’t seen… such as facebook… or India… but I believe they exist. Thank you, Bev. And sure, I don’t mind.

  12. Pingback: Hmmm…a bit of a mind-blowing insight for me this one. « Aaron Asphar

  13. That last story – you reminded your grandchildren about the candle..is also a Buddhist saying, but I’m sure you know that 🙂

    • When I was young, I was curious about other religions, and learned a bit about them, and found a lot of deep truths, and some overlapping understandings of our place in this world. I was especially entranced by Zen Buddhism… we are all so rich, if we would only listen to the wisdom around us… and stop making so much noise.

  14. Thank you, Shimon, for sharing your holiday, your family, your photos, and your words with us. You do, as others have pointed out, enrich our lives by sharing these things. Thank your for your openness, honesty and sensitivity to the important things in life.

    • Thank you Ruth. It is a great pleasure for me to meet with the many very beautiful and inspired people I’ve gotten to know by way of cyberspace. The truth is, that I often don’t know what to expect, and sometimes can’t answer friends who ask me why… but right now, I have a book by the Chinese writer Mo Yan, translated into Hebrew, in front of me, and I am joyous to be able to read his words, and was introduced to him by a fellow blogger before he was blessed with the Nobel Prize. I feel very lucky.

  15. It seems to have been a very special time for you and your loved-ones, Shimon…thank you for bringing us into your home again…sharing your intimacy, your life. I do thank you.

    • And I thank you, Scott. It is a great pleasure sharing my world, as it is learning about yours… your pictures, and your stories. As I write these lines, my cat Nechama lays her head on my knee, and listens to jazz… and she is quite satisfied with that. And I could be satisfied too… but because of the ever searching curiosity of the family of man, we are able to meet across these great distances, and enjoy common friendship. How wonderful it is…

  16. There were wonderful lessons included in this post, Shimon, many good thoughts to think on. I love your view of miracles! It is only as I grow older that my eyes have been opened to the miracles that are part of every day, everywhere around us good things are happening and evidence of God’s work is at hand! I so enjoy your photographs, a window to a country and a culture I know little of, what fun to join your family in festivities! You are blessed to have them gathered with you! No matter how much the sad things of life try to drown out our joy, it is always possible for the human spirit to rise again and to see all that is good.

    • The last line of your comment, gave me much to think about. Because I admit that as pleasurable as life may be at time, the mere thought of some of the horrors could easily knock me down to the floor. But I have learned from the wisest of men, that there is a time for everything… and knowing that, I try to maintain the balance, a time for joy and a time for sorrow… and not hide from the terrible… because when we hide, those things come after us, chasing us down. My best wishes to you for a very happy Christmas.

  17. I enjoyed this post very much, Shimon. It is a delight to see your family. Enjoy this time with them. Happy Hanukah!

  18. shimon, i’m hoping you can answer a question regarding Judaism. In America, i regularly hear people refer to someone as being “half Jewish.” I argue that it’s not possible. i’ve never heard of someone being half Catholic or half Mormon. I have argued that you can be “half israeli,” but not half Jewish. having said that, i can’t think of a country more tied to one religion than israel and Judaism, so that might be why it’s easy to say “half Jewish.” i realize there are aspects of definition, such as conditions involving whether one’s mother or father is or isn’t Jewish. can you help me understand the concept or suggestion of one being “half Jewish”?

    • My dear Rich, I will happily answer your question, but keep in mind that I am an orthodox Jew, and there are some variations on Judaism out there in the world, of which Christianity is one of the first reform movements… and these different schools of thought probably look at things very differently from me. I agree with your argument, and say there is no such thing. Either you are or you’re not. For little children, the religion is determined by the religion of the mother. An adult may convert to Judaism, and then he is just as much a Jew as I am. But since we are kind of primitive and tribal in our behavior and attitudes, some people stay connected even though they’re really not Jewish anymore… and I met some of them when I was traveling in America… Also in Nazi Germany they used to kill people for being 1/4 Jew, that is, they had a Jewish grandfather… and who are we to deny the Jewishness of someone who would have gotten killed there just because of his connection to us there. You see what happens? I start out agreeing with you and soon I’m arguing with myself. Now, that’s very Jewish behavior. Even if I was 3/4 Gentile, you would have good reason for suspecting me of being Jewish…

      • suspecting you of being jewish? not suspecting. REspecting you for being jewish. thank you very much for your kind reply to what i hope was not a question that caused me to seem ignorant of other cultures. some friends get annoyed by my constant questions. i wish they would realize that i want to know and learn as much as possible. and that’s why i asked you, because i can’t possibly know a more knowledgeable man for the question.

        • I appreciate your questions, Rich. Questions are a great way to learn… and I’ve always found learning great fun. And thank you for your kind words. We are both students of this endless world.

  19. I enjoyed your post greatly especially the photographs,Kathryn

  20. I like the lines telling us “that a candle loses nothing by giving of it’s fire to another candle… and that each candle joins the light in pushing back the darkness.” I enjoy the light you share.

  21. I was just thinking to say exactly what yearstricken has written… so ‘ditto’…. but it is a beautiful image and it is amazing too when I think about it. It reminds me how if you put a light – no matter how tiny- into a completley lightless place, the light shines so in a way, a tiny bit of light can conquer the darkness… yet a tiny bit of dark in a place full of light, cannot conquer the light. Or something! Beautiful pictures of beautiful people 🙂

    • Yes, Arose… light is symbolic of knowing where you’re going, and understanding your surroundings… and it is amazing what a little bit of light can do for us. Thank you for your comment. Always good to hear from you.

  22. Lovely sentiments and pictures to “light up” my day. Thanks.

  23. You my friend are a mystic. Enjoy the miracle of your everyday existence.

  24. Jack Daniel’s sipping whiskey … Dean’s drink of choice. He used to buy liquor by the case for his conventions and bring lots home wrapped in hotel towels in his luggage.
    I’m not much for miracles either. I don’t depend on them or anticipate receiving one. For me, the miracle is life in this vast universe of mysterious and wonderful things. There were many new discoveries this year both here on earth and beyond. It is an exciting time to be alive, I think.

    • It is wonderful to be alive, George, and I agree with you completely… we need no more than that… except maybe, an occasional sip of Jack. Glad to have something in common with Dean. I do enjoy that drink.

  25. Dear Shimon,

    I’ve placed a link on my sidebar to this memorable post. My caption is: On Chanukah…or Hanukah: What about sprinkling Jack Daniels on a potato pancake?

    The image file is here: http://janetsnotebook.com/?attachment_id=3199

    All the best to you and your family — don’t get too drunk.

    • Thank you very much, Janet, for including me on your beautiful site. And thank you for your good wishes… You need not fear my getting drunk… I have already lived quite a full life, and drink often… but only two times in my life have I gotten drunk… and those experiences weren’t so bad either… nothing to worry about.

  26. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I love seeing into your world, Shimon, your deep thoughts, reflections, the people in your life.

    I read the comment about being in Italy & being given wine since an early age. I’ve wondered “what happened to me” that I lost control with alcohol. It was always, since teen age “a drink to get drunk, and in that numbness have the confidence to be ‘out there’, as I liked being expressive and energetic, but it could seem too much.

    Then when stresses bore down, it was an escape from feeling, and then I realised I could drink two bottles with a blackout (not remember anything) and go to work the next day, wondering ‘why did I do that to myself?’ – and did it again, again, again. Something happened, I just don’t know what, alone the way.

    But to what this is really about, thank you for an excellent read – excellent post.

    Cheers, Shimon – your blog is truly one of the most valuable out there.

    • We’re not all the same, Noeleen. Each of us have a different tolerance, and different things cause him or her joy or sadness, pleasure or pain. But I can tell you one thing, that’s true for most people. The results of our actions are usually influenced by our intentions. Two people can go to work at the same job; one of them wanting to do the best work possible, and the other one wanting to earn some money to survive… and the results will be very different. Escape is a very risky business, and we have to be very careful how we do it. Always wishing you the best.

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