Printed from NYHebrew.org

Rabbi's Corner

Am I That Important?

The story is told of a prominent doctor who was known for his generosity but was also prone to blowing his own trumpet. 

One day he was traveling when he saw the local rabbi walking. He stopped to offer the rabbi a ride. As they traveled together, the doctor, as was his wont, began to speak about his achievements. "You know, Rabbi, I get a lot of patients who can't afford to pay but I never turn them away. I treat them exactly the same as my wealthier patients." 

"I also do that," replied the rabbi. 

The doctor figured that perhaps the rabbi was referring to the spiritual counsel he gave his spiritual "patients." "Also," he continued, "a lot of times patients need expensive drugs. If they can't afford it, I provide them for free." 

"I also do that," rejoined the rabbi. 

Maybe he means that sometimes he gives people material help also, the doctor thought. "Sometimes people need days of post-operative care. I give it to them voluntarily, even though I have so little time." 

"I also do that." 

So it went, the doctor continuing to lavish praise on himself while the rabbi answered each time, "I also do that." 

Eventually the doctor couldn't take it anymore and he asked the rabbi: "Rabbi, I don't understand. You're not a doctor, how can you do all these things?" 

"No, all I meant was I also do that - I also only talk and think about myself and my own good qualities!" 

This Shabbat we stand at the beginning of a new month on the Jewish calendar; a month that we dedicate to refining and elevating ourselves; a time period when we seek to reach a higher plane and a more G‑dly state of being. 

And it is our natural disposition towards self-absorption that is, perhaps, the greatest hindrance and impediment to our becoming better and more G‑dly people. 

When we are infatuated with ourselves it becomes very difficult to see the plight of another. When we think in terms of self, transcendence becomes impossible. Only once we break out of our ‘egg-shell’ do we begin to see we the grand mission and purpose of creation. 

And somewhere in this master plan, G‑d wanted us (yes, little me) to have an integral role and special part in the symphony of creation. In an ironic way, only once we let go of our selfishness can we realize how important we really are. When we think about what G‑d expects of us; when we understand the responsibility of generations that we carry on our shoulders; and when we realize the confidence that G‑d has in our ability to carry through our mission – we begin to understand just how important we are. 

As a wise man once remarked: “Your birth is G‑d’s way of telling you that He needs you.” 

So when we get up tomorrow morning, instead of thinking ‘how am I doing’ why don’t we try thinking about ‘what I can do’? Instead of asking ourselves ‘what I need’, let us train ourselves to ask “what am I needed for”. And in so doing, we will be free 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Who Cares What We Eat?

As Jews, G‑d has put us on a special diet. It might not lower our cholesterol or contain fewer calories, but it certainly nourishes our soul. It is this week that we will read the section of the Torah detailing the intricate laws that govern the kosher diet of a Jew.

Judaism sees our nourishment, not only as a means of survival, but as an inherent part of our service of G‑d. If carried out properly, every time we eat something we are actually becoming better and holier – we come closer to G‑d.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, who lived roughly 200 years ago, was known as a righteous and saintly man. One day another famous Rabbi was visiting with Rabbi Elimelech and asked the following question:

"Tell me, Rabbi Elimelech, we both are scholars, well versed in the Jewish law. Yet you have reached a level of saintliness and holiness far beyond me. Explain to me, please, what is the difference between us? What is it that you possess that I don't?"

Rabbi Elimelech pointed to the bowl of fruit, set before them on the table. "When you want to eat an apple, do you make a blessing to G‑d?"

"Certainly I do!" the visiting Rabbi answered.

"Ah, that's the difference. You see, when I want to make a blessing to G‑d, I eat an apple. When you want to eat an apple you first make a blessing. That is the difference."

Eating was the medium through which Rabbi Elimelech connected to the infinite.

Let us therefore use every meal as an impetus and springboard to grow in our journey on earth – to become better, more G‑dly human beings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Just a Little Push

We’re just 7 days away from the “big night”. Next week at this time, millions of Jews across the globe will re-experience and internalize the Divine revelation of the Exodus. The minutes and moments of the seder are magical and potent. They carry in them blessings; the magnitude of which we cannot fathom. 

Sounds a little overwhelming? Will my evening truly be transformative and other-worldly? How can “little me” – a Jew who is not really that observant or Jewishly educated – expect to be internalize the grandeur and holiness of the evening? 

The Talmudic story might give us the answer: 

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa once saw a huge stone which he wished to donate to the Temple. The stone was too big for him to move by himself and he could not afford to hire laborers to help him move it. Suddenly he had a vision. “Push the stone with your little finger”, he heard G‑d call to him. And so Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa pushed the stone. Miraculously he watched as angels helped him move the stone to the Temple. 

What is the lesson of this story? Whenever a task or process seems overwhelming or too big it is worthwhile to remember the following: All G‑d asks is that we push with our little finger. We have the ability to tap into the infinite, we just have to "open the door" and do our best. 

And when we do, we will find ourselves succeeding beyond our wildest dreams. With the help from Above, we are able to accomplish far more than we ever could by ourselves. However, we have to make that first move, even if it is only a little push, to tap into the infinite, to bring down the Divine blessings into our everyday lives. 

And so, as we set forth on this week leading to Passover and we attempt to prepare ourselves to internalize the magic of the evening, let’s give a push with our finger and take the first step. True, we might not be able to learn, appreciate, or understand the depth, meaning, and richness of every facet of the seder. But if we spend just a little bit of time this week allowing the message of the holiday to sink in; if we do our little part - G‑d will do the rest and bestow upon us, at the seder, His infinite blessings just as He did ”in those days and this time”.

I encourage you to do some independent study: www.nyhebrew.org/passover

You’ll find stories and insights, videos and audio classes, and much more. 

May the words we uttered at the conclusion of last year’s seder come true and we be “this year in Jerusalem”! 

Gillie and our children join me is wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Every Crumb... Matters...

With Passover just two weeks away, preparations are in full swing!  I'm thinking about when to schedule the annual Passover car cleaning, including uninstalling the car seats and cleaning them. We always find plenty of crumbs and other treasures under and inside the seats.

At times I ask myself, why am I doing this?  Does every crumb really matter? But I know that when we're done, we'll enjoy the special feeling of a spotless car and the knowledge that our hard work paid off.  

On a spiritual level, Passover is a time of inner freedom and spiritual growth. Even the smallest crumb can be an obstacle to growth and needs to be removed. The work is hard and at times tedious, but the result a “cleaner” me, ready to climb to new heights.

How are your Passover preparations going?

Shabbat Shalom,

P.S. Click here to read all about Passover.

The Infinite Value of a Single Deed . . .

As we conclude the book of Exodus, we read of Moses presenting a detailed account of the donations contributed for the construction of the Temple. Down to the very last piece of silver and copper that came into his hands, not a single coin remained unaccounted for.

There is a simple but very moving message here. In the biblical perspective, there is no contribution in life that is not worthy of being accounted for. Every deed counts; every word, each gesture must be reckoned with. No contribution is too small to be counted and valued.

For Moses the single silver or copper coin contributed by the poor man, the tiny bracelet or earring contributed by an individual woman, must be counted with equal sincerity and passion. Why? Because in Judaism there is no such thing as a small, insignificant act. Every moment contains the promise of eternity; every deed changes the world.

Moses understood the infinite value of a single deed of grace - of one mitzvah. 

There was once a poor Scottish farmer whose name was Fleming. One day, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby marsh. He dropped his tools and ran to the swamp. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

"I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life." "No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family shack. "Is that your son?" the nobleman asked. "Yes," the farmer replied proudly.

"I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of." And that he did. Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated with honors from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London. In 1928 he discovered that certain bacteria cannot grow in certain vegetable molds and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.

Look what can come from one single deed.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

Does G-D Need A Home?

“Build Me a home so that I may dwell among them (i.e. the Jewish People).” This is a quote from the opening section of the Torah portion we will read this week.

Now the question is, was G‑d really homeless? Wasn't He already dwelling with the people? Why, it was just the other week that we read of the revelation at Sinai and the Ten Commandments where G‑d came down from heaven to earth. So why suddenly the need for a sanctuary for Him?

The answer is that there is a fundamental difference between Sinai and the Sanctuary. At Sinai a revelation was thrust upon us from above. G‑d initiated and activated that encounter. In this experience the Jewish people were somewhat passive. All the thunder and lightning, physically and spiritually, came at them from On High. 

The Sanctuary, however, had to be built by the people themselves. They had to take the initiative. From the fundraising campaign to collecting the raw materials, down to the nuts and bolts of construction - the sanctuary was a man made edifice.

At Sinai the heavens opened for the greatest sound-and-light show on earth leaving a nation mesmerized and awe-inspired. But they themselves were passive recipients of this unique, never-to-be-repeated gift from above.

To build a sanctuary, however, took a whole building campaign. Men and women, young and old, everybody rolled up their sleeves. It took weeks, months of hard labor, and meaningful contributions by every individual, planning and programming, designing and then actually building a holy house for G‑d. We made it happen. And thereby, it was the people who brought G‑d down to earth.

And this is a lesson we can take from this week’s portion. True revelation is rare. While there certainly are those special moments when we witness the unmistakable presence of G‑d in our lives, we cannot wait for lightning to strike. If we seek true inner peace and wish to truly fulfill our mission for existence we need to build our personal sanctuaries for G‑d in order to embrace Him and bring Him into our homes and families.

The Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked by his teacher, "Where is G‑d?" He answered, "Wherever you let Him in."

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Refining Life Itself...

Just one week ago, we read the story of the dramatic revelation of G‑d to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It was a spiritual trip so powerful that every Jew literally had an out-of-body experience. The ultimate "wow!"

This week's follow-up, Mishpatim, is one of the longest Torah portions, containing an exhaustive list of over 50 separate mitzvot. Included are laws regarding murder, theft, property damage, etc.

The juxtaposition of these two Torah Portions is striking: After the spiritual high on Mount Sinai, why would G‑d "bring us down" (so to speak) with all the details and intricacies of our mundane daily life?! It's like being all heated up and then thrown into a cold shower.

Yet in truth, these portions are merely two sides of the same coin. The spiritual high of Sinai is gratifying, but it doesn't solve one problem of the world in which we live. Spirituality is not achieved by meditating alone on a mountaintop or by learning in an out-of-the-way monastery. Jewish spirituality comes through grappling with the mundane world in a way that uplifts and elevates.

Jews don’t retreat from life, we elevate it. Tonight, we will raise the cup of wine and use it - not to get drunk - but to make Kiddush and sanctify the Sabbath day; sanctifying time iteslf. Spirituality, says Judaism, is to be found in the kitchen, the office, and yes, even in the bedroom.

And through the combined efforts of the entire Jewish people resting upon centuries of mitzvoth, we will, no doubt, very soon merit to witness the accomplishment of our refining and elevating acts with the coming of the righteous moshiach – a truly spiritual world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Maintaining a Healthy Balance

 

What is Judaism’s definition of a well-balanced individual? One who has a chip on both shoulders!

Tomorrow in synagogue we will read the Ten Commandments (or, the “Ten Suggestions”, as some like to refer to them). As we know, the commandments were engraved on two tablets. The tablet on the right focuses on our responsibilities to G‑d, such as faith and Shabbat, while the other side dealt with our inter-personal duties, e.g. no murder, adultery and thievery.

And the message we need to bear in mind is that both these areas are sacred, both come directly from G‑d and both form the core of Torah law and what being Jewish is all about. We must be well-balanced Jews and we ought not to take the liberty of emphasizing one tablet over the other. A healthy, all-around Jew lives a balanced, wholesome life and is, as the Yiddish expression goes, Gut tzu G-tt un gut tzu leit--good to G‑d and good to people.

If we focus on one side of the tablets to the detriment of the other, we walk around like a hinke’dike, a handicapped Jew with a bad limp. Thus a good Jew is a well-balanced Jew.

This means that it's not good enough to be "religious" on the ritual side of Judaism and free and easy on the side of being a “mentch” (a proper and decent human being). We have to be honest and live with integrity. If we are "religious" towards to G‑d but not fair with people, we become fanatical fundamentalists blowing up people in the name of G‑d! The same G‑d who motivates and inspires us to be G‑dly and adhere to a religious code also expects us to be mentchen.

But neither can we neglect the right side of the tablets. A good Jew cannot simply be a humanitarian. Otherwise, why did G‑d need Jews altogether? It is not enough for a Jew to be a nice guy. Everyone must be nice. All of humankind is expected to behave honestly and honorably. To be good, moral, ethical and decent is the duty of every human being on the planet. A good Jew must be all of that and then some. He or she must be a good person and also fulfill his or her specific Jewish responsibilities, the mitzvahs that are directed to Jews which are uniquely Jewish.

In order that we maintain a healthy balance and don't start limping, we ought to bear in mind that the very same G‑d who said we should be nice also said we should have faith, keep Shabbat, kosher, mikvah and the rest of it.

Thus, as we read the Ten Commandments this week, let us resolve to keep our Jewish balance, not to limp or become "one-armed bandits." Let us be well rounded and permeate every facet of our lives with meaning and purpose. And in this merit we’ll reach and fulfill the purpose of creation and usher in the era that we have long awaited; an era when the Ten Commandments will become the instinctive reality for each and every one of us – the coming of moshiach.

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Self Realization or Transformation?

Having miraculously crossed the Sea of Reeds into which the evil oppressors of the Jewish People were drowned, the Jewish People were faced with a new challenge. Bitter Water. What to do? A beating sun in the middle of the Sinai Dessert, nowhere to turn, the only water to be found is bitter and undrinkable.

G‑d tells Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water that will transform its taste. And so it was, “. . . he threw it into the water and the water became sweetened”. (Exodus 15:25)

What magical wood was this? Our Sages differ on this matter. The Midrash explains that this was oleander – one of the most bitter, and to certain animals, even poisonous plants. Yet according to the Zohar, the kabalistic work of ‘light’, this was a branch from the Tree of Life.

Here’s the question: Since this entire episode was miraculous in nature, for one piece of wood could not possibly transform the taste of millions of gallons of water (the amount necessary to satiate an entire nation), why the need to discuss the type of wood. What significance is there to this mysterious wood? And what can this teach us?

Each of us at one point or other has had to face ‘bitter waters’; the forces of evil, both from within as well and from without, that attempt to veer us off track It is here that G‑d, in His infinite wisdom, provides the secret to transforming and sweetening the bitterness and evil. Throw in a piece of wood.

According to the Midrash this means self realization: Make the bitter water “realize” how bad it is to be bitter, so that of its own accord, they become sweet. Show the evil how bad it is, so that it no longer wishes to be evil. Throw in a some oleander.

Yet the Zohar and Jewish Mysticism take a different approach – transformation:  One branch of life; one ray of light; one kind word, have the capability to transform a bitter flavor into a sweet one. Revealing a much greater good makes evil pale away.

“One candle can dispel an entire room of darkness.” – Let’s do a Mitzvah today and transform the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

The Egypt Within Us...

This week's Torah portion is, in a sense, one of the most important sections of the Torah. We begin discussing a watershed event in Jewish history - the Exodus from Egypt.

The Hebrew term for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means barriers, representing all the forces that obstruct a person from becoming who he or she really is. Every one of us professes our own inner "Mitzrayim," those voices or powers that hold us down from living a truly meaningful and profound life. It may be anxiety, fear, addiction, arrogance, loneliness, despair, insecurity, laziness, dishonesty or envy. It may stem from negative life experiences, such as a dysfunctional family, broken relationships, health problems, mental challenges, financial defeat, or, heaven forbid, loss of loved ones. These challenges, among many more, can bring about a state of psychological exile, in which we remain stuck in the quagmire of torment, paralysis and hopelessness, never discovering our inner calling and potential.

In contrast, the Biblical story of exodus embodies the human potential to liberate itself from physical, mental and spiritual slavery. It captures our power to transcend the barriers that obstruct the heart's inner glow; our ability to encounter a beacon of freedom beneath the stratums of the psyche; our courage to discover our inner power and dignity.

No matter where you come from and how low your starting point may be, G‑d can reach out to you. You too can transcend your limitations, and become free.

Shabbat Shalom,

True Freedom . . .

The constant recurring refrain echoed repeatedly throughout this week’s Torah portion is G‑d’s message to the Egyptian monarch, Pharaoh, ”Let My people go”.

Many of us have heard this line before. But for some reason we stop a bit too short and don’t make it to the punch line of the message: “Let My people go that they may serve Me”. G‑d is sending us a powerful message: “Being free means serving Me”.

But how? G‑d’s laws seem so restricting: do this, don’t do this – that doesn’t sound like freedom?

It would depend, then, on our definition of ‘freedom’. If being free means the removal of all constraints on our development and self-expression; the ability to follow our every whim and fancy. Then a Jew serving G‑d can hardly be considered a free man.

Judaism defines freedom very differently. Acting as we please without rules or limits, Judaism tells us, is the epitome of enslavement. For in so doing, our urges, drives and addictions have enslaved us.

True freedom is the ability to express who we really are; to transcend and be free of our craves and urges. The Torah is the instruction manual to freedom. Even its seemingly restrictive laws are only there to allow us to tap in to our inner self. Because sometimes it is only through restrictions that our true self can come out.

We all mirror G‑d and were created in his image – that is who we truly are. Let’s do a mitzvah today and be truly free!

Is my name Max or Moshe?

 

How important is the preservation of the "ethnic" aspect of Judaism?

Over the course of the centuries, Jews were always distinguishable from their fellow citizen not only by their unique beliefs and rituals, but also by their distinctly Jewish culture. For the most part they conversed in their own language; whether it was Ladino, Yiddish, or any of the other "Jewish" languages which sprouted up over time. Jews were also distinguishable by their uniquely Jewish garb and names. In whichever country they landed, the Jewish community managed to create a sub-culture which effectively separated them from their co-citizens.

Today, many minimize the importance of maintaining these external expressions of our culture. They argue that this insularity was necessary when the Jews lived in the Dark Ages and needed to distance themselves from the rest of the population who at best were ignorant and superstitious. In a modern and enlightened society, however, there is no need to flaunt our Judaism by maintaining a Jewish sub-culture. Yiddish is for Bubby and Zaidy, and Jewish culture is fascinating...when viewed in a documentary or as a museum exhibit.

"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it." Research into Jewish life in Egypt - the first time our people were guests in a foreign land - reveals an interesting fact: our ancestors were actually very lacking in the area of Jewish observance. They largely assumed the pagan beliefs of their Egyptian taskmasters and were bare of mitzvot. What they did possess was a fierce Jewish pride and a stubborn refusal to identify themselves as Egyptians.

It's no coincidence that the entire Book of Exodus, which describes the Egyptian exile and the redemption that followed, is called Shemot, which means “names”.

This is because the one thing that the Jewish People maintained in Egypt was their “names”, i.e.: their Jewish identity. Throughout the bondage in Egypt they never changed their Jewish names, they continued conversing in the Holy Tongue, and they maintained their distinctively Jewish garb.

Using one's Jewish name or wearing a kippah may not be as meaningful or spiritually uplifting as studying Torah or doing a mitzvah, but in a certain sense these symbols of Jewish identity are far more important. They demonstrate Jewish pride and dignity, they are symbols of our uniqueness, they are our defense against assimilation, and in their merit we will witness yet another redemption; the Final Redemption.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

Jewish Education: The Key to our Survival

The Torah tells us that before Jacob agreed to travel with his entire family to Egypt, he sent his son Judah ahead to establish a yeshivah - a Torah academy - in Goshen (the Egyptian territory where Jacob and his sons would settle). Knowing that his descendants would face challenging times in Egypt, Jacob realized that only a proper Jewish education would give them a strong Jewish identity, enable them to withstand all difficulties and persecutions, and insulate them against the threat of assimilation.

From the Jewish standpoint, education is not so much the imparting of data and information as much as instilling within our youth integrity, kindness, and Jewish values. Information alone – even the holy teachings of the Torah – would not have preserved the Jews throughout the difficult years of Egyptian slavery. It was the code of conduct and ethics that were taught in the academy that truly distinguished them from their immoral and cruel taskmasters.

Unfortunately, many of today's "institutes of education" do not yet understand this message. While they impart to their students much important and necessary information, the underlying principle of moral relativism that is espoused throws in doubt all the vital ethics that we strive to implant within our children. Nothing is more destructive than the trendy notion that right and wrong are inherently subjective.

This fact of life increases the importance of providing our children a rock-solid and concrete set of Jewish values. This education begins at home but is given crucial reinforcement by sending our children to Jewish schools that teach the same values – schools that would make Patriarch Jacob proud.

The very first value we wish to teach our children is the importance of a fierce pride in their beautiful and unique heritage. We are different and unique. We are privileged to be G‑d's "ambassadors of light" to a dark and difficult world, a privilege that countless of our grandparents died to protect. And despite all the hardships, pogroms and persecution that we have endured, we are thankful that we are the Chosen People.

Shabbat Shalom,

Let's Stock Up

In this week’s Torah reading, we witness Joseph, a slave in prison, being appointed by Pharaoh as viceroy of Egypt. How does Joseph accomplish such a wondrous feat? By offering Pharaoh the following life-saving advice:  “let them gather in all the food during the years of plenty . . . the food will be held in safe-keeping for the land for the seven years of famine”.

The wisdom of Joseph carries with it an eternal message. Indeed, the stories of the Torah describe not only physical events that took place at a certain point in history, but also detail spiritual and timeless tales occurring continuously within the human heart.

All of us experience cycles of plenty and cycles of famine in our lives. There are times when things are going very well: We are healthy, successful and comfortable.   Often during such times we fail to invest the time and energy to cultivate meaningful relationships with family and friends or to create a sincere bond with G‑d. We feel self-sufficient and don't need anybody in our lives.

Yet when a time of famine arrives, when a serious crisis erupts (heaven forbid) we suddenly feel the need to reach out beyond ourselves and connect with our loved ones and with G‑d.

But we don't know how. When we do not nurture our relationships and our spirituality during our ‘years of plenty’, we lack the tools we so desperately need to survive the crisis.

This is the essence of Joseph's wisdom: We must never detach the years of plenty from the years of famine. When we experience plenty, we should not let it blind our vision and desensitize us from what is truly important in life.

We are now in a ‘week of plenty’: Chanukah - a bit of quality time to spend with our families, friends, and G‑d. Let’s utilize these precious moments, let’s invest, and let’s devote ourselves to what’s really important. In this way we’ll be fully stocked!

Shabbat Shalom & A Happy Chanukah,

Chanukah Eight Nights?

Chanukah is eight days long because the oil which would naturally have fueled the menorah for only one day miraculously lasted for eight. Everyone knows this since their days in Hebrew School. But let us analyze this for a moment. Does this make sense? If there was sufficient oil to burn for one day, then the miracle lasted only seven days. Why celebrate the first day if nothing miraculous occurred then?

An interesting episode recounted in the Talmud (Taanit 25a) will "illuminate" the matter:

The Mishnaic sage Rabbi Chanina was a renowned miracle worker. Shortly after sunset one Friday evening, he noticed his daughter sobbing. Upon asking her the reason for her distress, she explained that she had mistakenly lit the Shabbat candles with vinegar instead of oil. Rabbi Chanina comforted his daughter: "Do not be troubled, my dear. The One who commanded oil to burn will command vinegar to burn..." Needless to say, the candles did not go out. In fact, they burned until the following night, when the havdallah candle was kindled from their flames!

This story is so striking and unique because Rabbi Chanina didn't respond by saying, "Wanna see something amazing? Watch this miracle!" Rather, in the eyes of this holy sage, vinegar burning was no more spectacular than oil burning. The only difference between the two was how frequently they occur.

If the definition of "miracle" is G‑dly intervention, then every event is miraculous — for everything that occurs is a direct result of G‑d's command. "The Guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps," but His watchful eye can and usually does express itself in natural means. Nature is merely the curtain which conceals the grand Puppeteer from our sight.

Nevertheless, we treasure miracles, and holidays are instituted to commemorate the more consequential ones. We cherish those precious moments in history when G‑d chose supernatural means to come to our rescue, when the curtain was ripped away, leaving the puppeteer exposed. Rabbi Chanina had the ability to see through the curtain every day, but we don't. To us, vinegar burning is a remarkable sight to behold.

Once the curtain has been temporarily lifted, the recognition that there is a puppeteer doesn't fade even after the curtain is restored. After witnessing vinegar burning, we realize that oil's ability to burn is also a result of G‑d's command.

The seven miraculous days when the menorah remained lit brings us to understand that the first day was no less "miraculous." Let’s celebrate and appreciate all the miracles of life!

Shabbat Shalom & A Happy Chanukah!

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