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Dr. Alissa C Zuchman, Director, 847-291-7788

Wednesday, December 6, 2023 – 23 Kislev 5784 The Dog Days of Hanukkah

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Last year, I did something that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. I met someone who actually got a puppy for Hanukkah. (If you do not understand the significance of this event, please click this link.) While this might not be on the level of a single jar of pure oil lasting eight days, it felt like a small joyful miracle that a child got to experience the aspirations expressed in a song that has become a modern standard of Hanukkah music (though incredibly the child who received the puppy for Hanukkah had never heard the song).

The joy that one derives from the miracle of a Hanukkah puppy is easy to define but the joy that one derives from the miracle of Hanukkah is more complicated. The Sages teach in the Talmud that the purpose of Hanukkah candles is pirsumei ha’neis—publicizing the miracle. And, yet, exactly which miracle is not so clear. Perhaps, it Is the rabbinic idea of the single jug of pure oil lasting eight days. Or, perhaps it is the miracle put forth by the Al Hanisim prayer about the miracle of the Maccabean army defeating the powerful army of the Seleucid Greeks. Maybe it is simply about the natural miracle of the days starting to get longer around this time of year. (Personally, I would humbly put forth the miracle of frying foods in oil as a reason to celebrate.)

This debate brings to mind two other more traditional Hanukkah songs. Ma’oz Tzurrelates various miracles that God did for the Jewish people throughout time while Mi Yimalel recalls how a great person arises in every generation to save the people. Jewish wisdom teaches that we do not rely on miracles. Sometimes we need to be Mi Yimalel Jews; we need to effect change ourselves. At the same, sometimes we are also Ma’oz Tzur Jews, holding out hope that something unexplainable might brighten dark times.

As we look towards lighting the first Hanukkah candle tomorrow, may we have the strength to do what is possible and have the faith that the impossible can come to fruition. And, just maybe, we can have a puppy too?

Rabbi Eric Zaff

Curriculum Director