The story of Hanukah and the miracle of how God blessed one day’s worth of oil and made it last for 8 days in order to light the temple’s menorah is such a rich and beautiful story. The story not only highlights God’s miracle, but also intertwines with historic gold thread the struggle of faith and the fight for religious freedom. This timeless story has been passed down by tradition to Jewish families (and interfaith ones like mine) from generation to generation. However, it wasn’t until last year that the story of Hanukah took on a more a profound and spiritual meaning for my family — the year we witnessed this miracle for ourselves.
This time last year, life was hectic with family, work, volunteer commitments, and desperately trying to keep up with the piles of laundry that kept multiplying in front of my very own eyes. With all that was on my so called proverbial plate, there was the added self-imposed stress of preparing for the upcoming Holiday season and the maddening rush of all the errands that go along with it. “Calgon, take me away” I quietly mumbled under my breath.
Well it wasn’t quite Calgon that took me away, but it was my lovely hubby who booked us a much-needed mini vacation to the Bahamas. My mind relaxed as I became focused on lounging poolside soaking up the Caribbean sun, sipping on tropical drinks and experiencing romantic candle light dinners and focused less on the December Holiday grind. Hanukah, the first of the holidays my family would celebrate in December, seemed weeks away. Lighting the menorah’s candles and devouring latkes, well they could wait – the sun was calling.
The afternoon that my hubby and I returned from our blissful retreat I started to receive a few text messages from family and friends wishing us a “Happy Hanukah”. Hanukah? Tonight? In all my meticulous planning and preparation, I happened to forget that this was the first night of Hanukah. No problem. I would simply fish out the Menorah from our holiday stash, shine it up and place the first night’s candles in their appropriate spots. The freshly made latkes and other traditional food that I would normally have time to prepare could easily be picked up from our local deli. Pressure off, all would be good. There were 7 more nights for me to create a more homey and traditional Hanukah celebration.
As my hubby, son and I set up the Menorah, it hit us – candles. Where were the candles? The one thing necessary to bring the menorah to life was missing – the candles. Always the one to be creative, I thought, let’s just use a few birthday candles for the first night. After all, a candle is a candle – right? I could simply go to the store tomorrow and pick up real Hanukah candles for the remaining nights. As I went to pull out the birthday candles, that’s when I noticed a plastic baggie shoved in the back corner of our storage shelf filled with a few left over odd and end Hanukah candles. Jackpot! Some were a little mangled, some were warped, but all were still usable. So, on that first night of Hanukah we lit the menorah, fascinated by our little find.
The next day I proceeded to go to the store to pick up a fresh box of Hanukah candles. To my surprise there were none to be found. No biggie, I knew that the bag of candles I had found would have enough for at least one more night. I would just try another store the next day. On that second night of Hanukah, we once again used our mismatched slightly unconventional looking candles.
The following day, I tried yet another store searching for and still not finding a fresh box of Hanukah candles that I so desperately needed. Day three and still no luck. Did Hanukah suddenly become main stream, or was there a strike at the Hanukah candle factory that caused this dire shortage?
Day after day, my search for a box of Hanukah candles was starting to become a bit comical. I seriously checked every supermarket, big box retailer and drug store within 15 miles of my home. My family feared that I was going to go mad in my insatiable quest find the last box of Hanukah candles on Earth. I was like a hunter in search of an elusive rare breed of animal – nothing was going to stop me from capturing it.
Night after night, we reached into that plastic baggie and counted out the appropriate number of candles to light. With each passing night, my hubby and I kept saying we hope we have enough to light them each night. By the time we reached the 7th night, we peered into the bag of remaining candles, strangely warped and bent into whimsical shapes, and our doubts that we would have enough for 8 nights seemed confirmed. We could always go back to plan “B” and use a few birthday candles if we had to.
On that last night, the 8th night of Hanukah, and we grabbed our bag of dysfunctional candles and proceeded, like the 7 previous nights, to place each candle into its designated holder. It didn’t look like we would have enough. We counted aloud 1, 2, 3, 4 …… and held our breath as each candle took its place. Something interesting happened that last night of Hanukah — something I still cannot understand and something that I will never forget. Through a modern-day miracle, we had just enough candles for all eight nights. How this happened only God knows. The little baggie of odd and end candles collected through the years had the exact amount we needed for the entire 8 days. I’m still amazed and a little freaked out an entire year later.
Photo Credit: (c) Paulette Klein/LTIS
How could we fathom (or anyone else) that a bag hidden from us would contain the exact number of candles we needed for the entire 8 days? I now understand the awe and wonder of how the Maccabees must have felt as their oil lasted for 8 days.
I may not always write about my faith, but God is constantly using experiences like this to strengthen it. Maybe God allowed my family to witness this modern-day Hanukah miracle to remind us that he is with us and will provide for us even in situations that we do not think it is possible. That little bag of warped and somewhat deformed candles that might have otherwise had been thrown out, created a beautiful magical display of holiday light. To me that was a miracle in itself – seeing how beauty can come from something that at first does not appear beautiful. We are all beautiful and useful, we just need something to come along and ignite our flame.
Society tends to jade us and tries to convince us that miracles don’t exist. Or if miracles do exist, we are conditioned to believe they only happen in a huge spectacular, over the top Hollywood style. If we allow our eyes to see them and we allow our hearts to believe them, we will experience every day modern miracles – even if they come in the form of a bag of mismatched and misshapen candles.
To my family, friends and readers who are celebrating the miracles of this holiday season, may your Hanukah and/or Christmas be blessed and your miracles be plenty.