Torah | Need a miracle We dont have to look very far


Genesis 37:1–40:23
Amos 2:6–3:8

Imagine an idyllic Hanukkah celebration. Picture children laughing and singing, sharing gifts and gelt with loved ones, families spinning dreidels as the smell of latkes frying on the stove permeates the air. All the while, the Hanukkah candles burn brightly from the prominently placed hanukkiah, proudly displayed in the front window of the home.

Unlike Shabbat candles, which illuminate the table and glow watchfully throughout the evening meal, tradition teaches that our Hanukkah light ought to be on display, not only for those in the home but for the enjoyment of all neighbors and passersby, as well. This display is an enactment of pirsum ha-nes, the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle. On Hanukkah we remember the incredible Maccabean victory over the Selucids, and the rabbinic story of the oil that lasted eight days. We share our appreciation for these miracles, broadcasting and remembering them as we place the hanukkiah in the window, happily sharing the beauty of these flames in the dark winter night.

Miracles are tricky. To mention a miracle evokes images of seas splitting and plagues descending. Miracles, particularly those of biblical proportion, are world-shaking. They defy the laws of nature and stun the mind in disbelief. These are the miracles of our ancestors. We showcase them proudly through the light of the Hanukkah candles burning in our windows. And yet, as the brightly colored wax drips down, we may find ourselves struggling to see evidence of miracles in our own time.

Noam Zion offers another perspective on identifying the miraculous in his article “Do I Really Believe in Miracles?” from his anthology “A Different Light.”  Zion describes the Joseph story as a series of “hidden coincidences.” He explains, “We … cannot know for sure but we can wager on the possibility that God has offered us or called us to take an initiative in a significant ‘window of opportunity’ that may just transform history ‘miraculously.’ ”

In other words, God offers us miraculous opportunities — and it is on us to turn the opportunity into a miracle worthy of joyful celebration.

In this week’s parashah, Vayeshev, Joseph finds himself positioned for greatness in Egyptian society even after he faces a tremendous series of difficult events. Joseph evokes the jealousy of his brothers, so they throw him in a pit. They sell him into slavery, and from there he ends up in jail. He finally encounters a stroke of good luck when he interprets dreams for fellow inmates, Pharoah’s baker and butler. Eventually, by sheer coincidence (or is it by miracle?) this interaction not only saves Joseph from a life sentence, but also earns him a spot in Pharoah’s royal court. Joseph’s story never reaches the grand heights or supernatural proportions. However, according to Zion, a quiet string of miraculous, Divine offerings guide Joseph to a rich and fulfilling life.

We, too, can see our lives as a sequence of “hidden miracles.” This is the miracle of the light turning green as we rush across town to that important meeting, or the miracle of attending the dreaded function where we end up meeting the one who becomes our spouse. These miracles are the moments when we quietly whisper “thank God,” imagining how it could have gone another way. A skeptic might call it a coincidence, or a fluke. However, we can also choose to understand these moments as a brush with Divinity. Perspective turns a coincidence into a miracle.

In just a few days, we will gather with family and friends for the first night of Hanukkah. We will fry our latkes, remembering the legend of the oil that lasted and lasted longer than anyone thought it could. We will sing the songs that retell the story of hard-fought victory of the small over the mighty. We will spin the dreidel, cheering as it lands on either nun, gimel, hey or shin. These letters stand for the words nes gadol hayah sham — a great miracle happened there.

This year may we see that miracles happened not only for our ancestors in their time, but for us as well. The candles burning in the window broadcast not only the joy of our ancestors, but also the joy in each one of us as we thank God for the twists and turns that bring us to this season of celebration: Great and small, miracles happen here, too.

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin is an associate rabbi and educator at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. She can be reached at [email protected]

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin is an associate rabbi and educator at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. She can be reached at [email protected].