Recently, I was invited to a party to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication. I knew a little about Hanukkah. Gifts are exchanged and contributions made to the poor. On the first evening, one candle is lighted in a special eight-branched candelabrum called a menorah or hanukkiyah. Beginning on the second night, one candle is added every night until the total reaches eight on the last night. The candles are lighted by a separate candle called a shamash.
The invitation said we'd retell the Hanukkah story, so I wanted to review its history. The two books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha tell the story of Hanukkah. In 165 B.C., after a three-year struggle led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews in Judea defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV. They held festivals in the Temple in Jerusalem, and dedicated it to God. When the Jews cleaned the Temple of Syrian idols, they found only one small cruse of oil with which to light their holy lamps. But miraculously, the cruse provided them with oil for eight days. Hanukkah celebrates this miracle of the oil, and the miracle of defeating the Syrians against great odds.
The invitation I received also mentioned that we might play the dreidel game, with the four-sided spinning top. I wanted to investigate that too. In an article which begins, "On Hanukkah we recognize the miracle of nature," Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum at http://www.aish.com/h/c/b/Why_Dreidel.html begins to explain the part the dreidel plays in the celebration by writing, "A miracle is a break from the natural routine." Some believe that God’s hand guides everything in the world. Often, though we are so distracted by our routine that we don't notice. He says, “"Nature"” is really nothing more than the breathtaking beauty and symmetry of God’s Creation becoming routine."
OK. A miracle breaks the routine. The break draws our attention to God’s control over all areas of life – even the natural. "...Hanukkah reflects the lull in the war [against the Syrian Antiochus IV], when the Jews had a chance to stop and consider the Divine assistance rendered during their lop-sided battles – something they had not appreciated in the midst of war." Ah! Another miracle -- Divine assistance.
Next, Nisenbaum explains that the four Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, heh, and shin, representing the words nes gadol haya sham, “A great miracle happened there,” are written on the sides of the dreidel, one on each side. Then he continues, "While the dreidel spins, the letters disappear in a blur and are visible only when coming to a stop. The dreidel represents how we – immersed in the dizzying hustle-bustle of daily routine – cannot see the miracles regularly happening all around. Only when we stop to reflect are our eyes opened to the miracles that were there the whole time." You can find the "rules" for game played with the dreidel at http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/At_Home/Dreidel/How_To_Play.shtml
Each of our Abrahamic traditions has its own miracles which we celebrate. I invite you -- I urge you -- to stop often during this New Year and look for those miracles which are always around you.