Chanukah is a magical time in Israel.
Walking through the streets at sundown, one is greeted by the sounds of families singing the blessings over the Chanukah candles together and the sight of flickering lights and smiling faces in every window and doorway. The love and warmth is tangible.
As Jewish rituals go, lighting Chanukah candles is among my favorites. It is a display of both strength and thanksgiving, as well as an opportunity for reflection and introspection. We light the candles to remind us that we were on the receiving end of some extraordinary miracles many years ago – an unprecedented military victory and the reversal of a natural phenomenon. But we also use it as an opening to recognize the miracles in our own lives.
At least, that’s what we should be doing.
Life comes at us pretty fast, and we are often happy to slip into a routine in order to avoid complications. As such, we rarely stop to think about the miraculous origins of the food we eat, the wonders of weather systems, and our astonishing physical capacities to perform our daily tasks – talking by the water cooler, eating lunch, running to the bus stop, and taking a shower, to name a few.
Just the other day, I took a moment to appreciate the cognitive and physical processes involved in sitting down to enjoy a bowl of soup. Cognitively, one needs to be aware of the task of eating, be able to attend to the task, plan and organize the steps involved correctly, and remain focused on the task despite distractions. Physically, one must have the appropriate range of motion to hold a spoon, dip the spoon in the soup, retrieve the spoon and bring it to his mouth. And, of course, there are the complexities of coordination and timing.
Suddenly, it became clear that a “simple task” was never really simple. Even the simplest function of the human body is always a miracle.
As far as recognizing miracles is concerned, I must admit that I am at a bit of an advantage. As an employee of ALEH, Israel’s largest network of facilities for severely physically and cognitively disabled children, I find that miracles are staring me in the face on a daily basis.
When they were born, it was assumed that these children would never achieve anything. Today, however, they are receiving the assistance they need to reach their individual potentials (though their potentials are quite different than yours or mine).
One child may gain the capacity to feed himself. Another might simply learn how to hold a spoon. Yet another will learn how to communicate using facial expressions. Somehow, in this setting, it is crystal clear just how miraculous these basic functions really are.
Like countless others, I look forward to strolling through my neighborhood on Chanukah after sunset. I can’t wait to be enveloped by the aroma of fresh latkes frying in the pan and basking in the warm glow of the Chanukah candles. And I look forward to those few special moments when I will have the good sense to recognize the miracles – past and present, national and personal.
In truth, we should even take it one step further.
Though Chanukah only rolls around once a year there is no reason why we can’t enjoy these moments of enlightenment more frequently. There is no reason why we can’t celebrate Chanukah every day.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of miracles in our lives upon which to reflect.