Miracles happen all the time. Occasionally they’re sudden and startling; more often they unfold slowly, surreptitiously, disguised as ordinary events. Which type might prove more significant when all is said and done is a topic of much discussion among scholars and philosophers. I’m inclined to agree with those who prefer to highlight the latter kind: seemingly natural phenomena that are in fact miraculous to the core.

Every now and then—most frequently, around this time of year—I receive an email message from Chabad.org that someone has posted a comment about Miracle of the Maccabees. It’s gratifying to see that a dramatization of the story of Chanukah produced decades ago continues to entertain and enlighten after all these years. (If you haven’t heard it, it’s here.)

It was in the autumn of 1981 that my partner (and predawn study-buddy) Chaim Clorfene and I first sat down to transform the rabbinic and chassidic literature pertaining to Chanukah into a radio script. Chaim had been an award-winning radio producer. I had a background in theater and filmmaking. Together we had created radio and television commercials for kosher products, as well as multimedia projects for Jewish outreach organizations, but we had a bigger dream.

The art of radio drama—famously dubbed the “theater of the imagination” by the late, great Orson Welles—was fading fast. We wanted to revive the medium in a Torah context, to bring Jewish history to life, to make the courage of our Jewish heroes and the wisdom of our sages vivid and exciting in people’s hearts and minds. There was, of course, no public Internet and no Chabad.org back then, and Chabad’s Jewish Educational Media (JEM) was a brand-new enterprise, still very wet behind the ears. I had been privileged to be a member of the JEM team that produced the first global satellite cablecasts of the Rebbe’s public addresses; the popularity of those programs paved the way for a special Chanukah radio broadcast premiere of Miracle of the Maccabees, reaching 104 markets nationwide. Not exactly a blockbuster by mainstream commercial standards, but in terms of the central motivating theme of Chanukah observance—pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle—it was a significant breakthrough. It was also a learning experience for us in many ways.

In the arts (in fact, this could be said of all human endeavors), the integrity and success of any given project depend on lining up the outer manifestation with the inner intent. In the case of a narrative drama, the story has to match the moral. This becomes more poignantly important when the intention is to convey some spiritual truth.

(If the reader will indulge me for a moment in a bit of abstract Kabbalistic terminology, this is about the relationship between the vessel, the keli, and the light that shines via the vessel, the ohr. One classic example is an oil lamp, of the sort often used to light the Chanukah lights. The vessel, the keli, consists of the structure of the lamp, the oil it contains, and its wick. The ohr is the flame that shines forth to illuminate the environment. A leaky lamp, or a wick that fails to absorb the oil and ignite, or oil that is adulterated or watered down, won’t shine as intended.)

In casting Miracle of the Maccabees, we turned to a group of performers with whom we had worked before on commercial projects. Our cast included some of New York’s finest radio actors, most of whom happened to be Jewish. They were a fun bunch, and during our recording sessions, a rollicking good time was had by all. There were moments, however, when the jokes and wisecracks turned just a tad too irreverent, when the stubbornly secular sensibilities of some of our actors and their uninhibited wit made our religiously sensitive skin crawl. It wasn’t a huge deal, and on the surface it didn’t seem to have much adverse effect on the end product. It certainly wasn’t the first time we’d dealt with such dissonance. But it left us with a slightly awkward, uncomfortable feeling.

Fast forward to the following year, when Chaim and I were hard at work on our next project, The Mysterious Golem—an audio dramatization of the 16th-century story of the Golem of Prague. At a critical point in the production, we consulted with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Among the questions we posed was this: given the high cost of professional unionized acting talent in New York and Hollywood, as well the irreverence we had encountered in our previous experience, should we perhaps seek another venue where quality actors who understand radio drama could be found? As he always did, the Rebbe provided us with an answer that was absolutely astute. Record, he said, in a place where the actors will be yirei shamayim yoter—more spiritually aware, more sensitive to the awesome nature of the subject matter and the message you wish to convey. We ended up traveling to Jerusalem and recording most of the dialogue in Israel. The exception was Leonard Nimoy (the venerable “Mister Spock” of Star Trek), who performed his starring part in a Hollywood studio—and who was supremely respectful and attuned to the holiness of the role.

The lesson was learned: yes, to make great radio drama you may need resonant vocal talent, exciting sound effects and stirring music, but all that merely constitutes the keli, the vessel. The vessel wants to be filled with light.

The Rebbe spoke often and eloquently about leveraging contemporary communications technologies to disseminate Torah knowledge. He pointed out that such technological advances had been predicted two thousand years earlier in the holy Zohar, and that the advent of virtually instantaneous global accessibility of information presages the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The earth shall be permeated with the knowledge of G‑d, as the waters cover the sea.” In the three decades since Miracle of the Maccabees first appeared, the initially slow, incremental advances have taken on extraordinary speed. The first Chanukah Live! satellite simulcasts united Jewish communities around the globe in real-time global celebrations and menorah lightings. Then in 1994, the Festival of Light Internet event upgraded the early pioneering efforts of Chabad.org from a text-based bulletin board to a state-of-the-art streaming multimedia Chanukah party. And Chabad.org has continued to push the envelope ever since, employing explosive advances in technology as powerfully effective vessels, to become the beacon of light it is today.

And the Rebbe’s advice still pertains: pay close attention to the quality of the light. As the wondrous, historic, military victories of Chanukah represent the even greater miracle of the spiritual triumph of light over darkness, the small miracles of technological breakthroughs serve as both preparation and prologue to the universal revelation of highest truth.

A friend of mine has a personal custom of adding, each night of Chanukah, not just another light to the menorah, but another menorah—so that by the eighth and final night he is lighting eight menorahs with eight lights each. To me, this geometric increase resonates with the quantum speed of technological progress. The sheer volume and variety of uplifting information and illumination is astounding. How many menorahs will be lit this Chanukah, both literally and figuratively? So many vessels—but more importantly, how bright the light, and how deep and strong the inner awe it kindles!