William Hamilton

Serendipity invites courage

A year ago our family found ourselves just blocks away from a terrorist truck attack at the Jerusalem Promenade.  The targets of the attack were young IDF cadets who were receiving a Jerusalem history lesson.  It took the lives of four precious souls – Yael Yekutiel age 20;  Shir Hajaj age 22;  Shira Tzur age 20; and Erez Orbach age 20.   Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I found myself seated at a Jerusalem dinner with Maya – the IDF soldier in charge of the IDF cadets last year – who stopped the terrorist, preventing further loss of life.

“It all happened in just seconds” she told Law Enforcement leaders in our ADL Counterterrorism Seminar.  “ It took an instant to realize that it was not a roadside accident.  A minute earlier, none of us imagined we’d experience such a shocking attack and be asked to endure such agonizing loss.”

Most people don’t wake up saying ‘Today is the day something will happen that will change my life.”  First Responders train for such moments.  So too a discipline of ‘pause and focus’ provided by religious ritual can ready us for defining encounters.  When something unexpected happens, our response can prove telling.  When we react responsibly, we can turn a chance encounter – even a frightful moment – into a lesson that we carry for the rest of our lives.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about faith.  Not just faith in God, or faith in people, but being faithful to poignant memories. “The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith.  In this sense,” conveys Heschel, “faith is faithfulness, loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response.”

The miracle of Hanukkah is such a moment for our People. Over the last eight days we have told and tasted of Hanukkah’s oil miracle.  And while ancient miracles can feel remote, the Bible offers a recipe for contemporary miracle making.

Elijah and his disciple Elisha perform many biblical miracles.  Each miraculously resurrects a child.  To do so Elijah magically multiplies oil jars.  By contrast, his disciple Elisha asks the child’s mother to borrow oil jars from her community.  They respond generously.  The prophet then makes the jars brim with oil.  The lesson Joseph Ditkoff once taught: a generous community can merit miracles.  Hanukkah’s increasing vessels of oil each night teach us to esteem and earn a place in generous communities capable of mustering miracles.

We can make modern wonders feel vivid when we respond courageously to chance encounters.  As we pray for the memories of the IDF cadets who lost their lives a year ago (their yahrzeit being a week from now), may Maya’s example inspire us to remain faithful to the memory of transformative moments.  Poised for Hanukkah’s afterglow, may we ready ourselves for tomorrow’s miracle.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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