Where on the Jewish bookshelf is the book about Chanukah?
It is one of the better-known Jewish holidays in North America, but Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that does not have a canonical text associated with it; it's not in the Bible, or in the Talmud.
The other important holidays - Passover, for example - have stories rooted in the Bible, or, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, have entire tractates of Talmud that discuss their laws. But Chanukah? It takes up a mere few pages within a broader discussion in the Talmudic discourse on Shabbat.
- What do you think is valuable about writing down a story? What are the costs?
- What are the advantages of unwritten stories? How does it change the experience of a narrative when you hear it told instead of reading it?
- What are some stories you connect to - and maybe even shared with others - but are not found or sourced in a written book?
The Chasidic thinker, Rav Tzadok Hakohen Rabinowitz (1823-1900), reflects on some of these questions. He was one of the most brilliant rabbinic minds of his generation, and wrote volumes on every aspect of Torah. In this piece, he explores the unique quality of the miracle of Chanukah and its ongoing reverberations throughout the generations of exile.
For Rav Tzadok, Chanukah is more than a celebration of a miracle that took place at one point in history in the 2nd-century BCE. Rather, Chanukah is a celebration of all of the miracles that “cannot be written down” - the miracles that have not been fully realized or manifest in a revealed way, but that are present with us nonetheless throughout Jewish history.
These are the hidden miracles - the kinds of miracles that continue to occur, even in a time of exile, but that we can’t proclaim with total certainty or establish a holiday to commemorate. And when we encounter the small, humble “light” of a candle, it has the power to illuminate the confusion and darkness within to see a hint of those hidden miracles.
- Do you have any personal “miracles that cannot be written”? Moments or experiences in your life that feel like miracles but that could never be fully confirmed, "rationally proven," or expressed as such? What are some of those moments for you?
- What is it like to simply let yourself feel the presence of that miracle in your life?
- When you bring that experience to mind, or invite that recognition into your life right now, what happens when you let it cast some of its glow onto your present situation?