It was our first Chanukah on our own, as a single parent family. There was no gift I could give the children to make up for their recent pain and suffering, but my love and a few small presents would have to suffice that year.
We lit the Chanukah candles together, with me saying the blessings for the first time for the family. I watched each of my four boys light their own chanukiah, tears rolling down my face as they sang the blessings in their sweet children’s voices.
Memories of Chanukahs past, the parties we had thrown, and the joy of having the house filled with friends and family celebrating the holiday with us played like a movie through my head.
We were invited to our cousins’ house that night, to play dreidl and have some donuts and latkes, and to tell you the truth I was glad to be out of the house. I had been dreading the holiday for weeks. Chanukah had always been such a joyous time for us and I knew that this year it would be hard, no matter how brave a face I put on it.
We drove over there and were instantly enveloped in hugs and warmth and love. At this point my cousins had perhaps 5 or 6 children and there was another on the way. Their house was filled with love and laughter, and their joy in celebrating the holiday was palpable.
I sat back and watched my boys and their cousins play dreidl with a pile of nuts in the middle of the table. Their cousins were yelling in Yiddish, my boys were telling them to translate for the non-Yiddish speakers, there was so much giggling. The excitement mounting as the dreidl tottered and finally fell. The frantic counting of who had more nuts than the others. I don’t think they even remember who won, just how much fun they all had together.
It was an awesome evening. We left their house, uplifted and happy, the clouds banished for the evening. During the drive home the kids were chattering away, enjoying the small gifts that their cousins had given them, and reminiscing about their evening, about who spun the dreidl the best.
We walked into the house and I told the kids to start getting ready for bed. My eldest shouted from the living room. “Ima, come quick, there’s something you need to see.” Of course I ran in immediately to see what he was talking about. He was standing near the chanukiot that we had lit hours before and pointed to the match box that was on the tray next to them.
The matchbox had caught fire while we were out. Perhaps a stray spark from one of the lit candles had ignited it. I had thought I had put it out of harm’s way. The flames had licked their way around the matchbox but had not touched one match within it. The box was all charred and burnt, but the fire had contained itself and had not spread any further.
“Ima”, my son said, “how is it that the house didn’t catch fire? How is it that the table the matchbox was on didn’t burst into flames? How did this fire put itself out?” All the kids crowded round to have a look.
I was at a loss for words, just thinking about how badly this could have turned out. The idea of possibly losing our house to a fire was so overwhelming to me – we had already been through so much in the past few months – a fire would have been the final straw. We would have been more than devastated. We would have been homeless. It would have been the final insult. I sat and cried out of relief, out of sorrow, my eldest son’s arm around me.
“But, Ima,” he said, “God saved us. He knew that we needed the house. He knew that we needed somewhere to be safe and he gave us a Chanukah miracle that the house did not catch fire. He wanted us to learn a lesson, Ima, to be thankful for what we have. He chose to send us a message through the matchbox. There is no other way that fire could have put itself out, other than it being God’s doing.”
The words of my eleven year old were so poignant. He, at his tender young age, could see the hand of God in what could have been perceived as a freak occurrence. Instead of trembling and thinking of what could have been, he helped me see the message behind our miracle. We can survive this holiday, we can survive this change in circumstance, and we can get through all that we need to endure because God is by our side, helping us navigate through life.
I still have that matchbox. It has a place of honour in my china cabinet. Every time I see it I am reminded of that night. I feel so grateful that the fire did not escalate. But more than that, I feel so blessed that my child enabled me to see the bigger picture. Maybe that was our Chanukah miracle.