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FEATURE (3) Miracle of lights can inspire steps for personal achievement

WAYLAND, Mass., Dec. 3 (JTA) — They say a miracle happened long ago. They say the oil in a lamp in the newly rededicated Temple in Jerusalem — all the fuel that could be found — was enough to burn for only one day, but instead it lasted two days, and then three. The oil burned for four days, five days, six! It kept burning through the seventh day, and even the eighth. That tiny bit of oil burned and burned, until a new batch of oil arrived to keep the eternal light alive. They say it was a miracle, but when exactly did the miracle happen? Was it on the second day? The fifth? The eighth? When did those waiting for more oil begin to feel amazement? When did they become aware that a miracle was happening? The tradition of lighting candles in the home and saying blessings for eight nights during the month of Kislev did not begin the day, or even the year, after the temple was rededicated. Neither was the legend of the miracle recorded in Jewish sources so quickly. Only after the Temple had been destroyed and Jews had to find a replacement for ritual sacrifice in order to bring spiritual meaning into their lives — only then did these traditions take on spiritual significance. Since then, with the help of Chanukah candles, as well as many other rituals and laws of holiday and daily life interpreted by our sages, another miracle has been happening. Each year, Jews dispersed around the world announce their Jewish identity, to themselves and to the world, by lighting candles at the darkest time of year. Each year, the miracle of Jewish survival grows greater. What was it, so long ago, that made that light burn on, day after day, when its source of energy should have been spent? What is it that makes any of us burn on, move on, keep on going, when we feel that all of our energy is spent? What is it that keeps the Jewish people alive, despite threats from without and from within? Perhaps a cancer, multiplying without pause, saps our strength. Perhaps a sudden memory of childhood abuse, long suppressed, begins to eat away at our carefully constructed life. Perhaps a beloved child, born with an imperfection we find difficult and draining, takes a daily toll on us. Whatever it is that consumes our energy, somehow we keep on going, day after day, week after week. Some days we burn brightly, and know we are doing our best, and that our best is the best. Sometimes our flames burn low, and we fear we will flicker and burn out. And then, suddenly, from a gentle squeeze of a friend’s hand, from the unexpected courtesy of another driver, from a tiny piece of good news about a son or daughter, or sometimes, from some unknown, unseen source, suddenly, we are refueled. Our light begins to burn more brightly, and we know that we will again go on. Miracles. Perhaps like the one in the Temple so long ago, and like the ongoing one that is expressed every time a Jew lights a candle or prays or eats a kosher meal. Perhaps they have something to do with endurance and survival in a harsh and difficult world. Perhaps they are about emotional and spiritual growth against all obstacles. If so, it can take patience and awareness to notice a miracle. Just as Moses had to step aside and stop to look in order to see the burning bush and hear God’s voice, so must we, too, stop and look and pay attention in order to see the miracles that happen around us every day. Think of the healing of a wound to the flesh, the growing language skills of a toddler, the deepening love in a healthy relationship. In each of these, one measures little change from day to day — but compound the daily changes and, with the weeks, the months, and the years, you will see the growth, the change, the difference. You will see the miracle. We can make a conscious decision to make more miracles happen in our lives. It takes effort, daily effort, minute-by-minute effort, but it can be done. At Chanukah, we light first one candle, then two, then three, until the whole of the chanukiah is ablaze. In the same way, we can build a blaze of change in our lives. What kind of short-term miracles would enrich your life and the lives of your family members? Would you like your children to say “thank you” more often? Make a list this year, and ask for a gift — one that will cost your child not a single penny of his or her allowance — of one more “thank you” each day for eight days. By the end of the holiday, a minor miracle may have begun, in the form of a new habit. Do you want to cut down on your calories? Give yourself the gift of trying, and each day for eight days, cut out one item in your daily diet that you do not need. Perhaps you will get used to it, and be able to continue, until, after weeks or months, you will actually see the pounds miraculously slipping away. Miracles. They are happening around us all the time, if only we could see them. In the darkness of the month of Kislev, we light candles, to remind us of past miracles, and to help us see those of the present. As you light the candles this year, look around. How many miracles are happening in your life, right now? ____________________ Katy Z. Allen is a Jewish storyteller and free-lance writer.