Every Chanukah evening, we recite two blessings over the Chanukah candles (on the first night, a third blessing Shehecheyanu is also added). The first resembles the blessing recited before the observance of all mitzvos, thanking G‑d for providing us the opportunity to perform His commandments. Thus on Chanukah we thank Him “for sanctifying us with His commandments and commanding us to light the Chanukah lamp.”

The second blessing, recited only on Chanukah and Purim, praises G‑d for “performing miracles in those days at this time.” Now, the simple meaning of “at this time,” is “at this time of year,” i.e., we are commemorating the miracle at the time of year when it originally took place. Implied, however, is a deeper message: it is not only “in those days” that G‑d worked miracles, but “at this time,” during the present era as well. The Chanukah miracle is not merely past history; it can become a present day reality.

What happened at Chanukah? The Greeks, the ruling empire of the world, began a systematic campaign to subjugate the entire world. Part of their effort was military; they had a mighty army and conquered many nations. But a significant feature of their efforts was also cultural. They would spread their lifestyle, the thought, art, and sports in which they were involved, to other nations and those nations would adopt them and, in that way, assimilate into the Greek lifestyle.

The Jews refused. Yes, they would accept certain elements of Greek wisdom, but no, they would not change their lifestyle. At this point, the Greeks switched tactics. Gone was the humanism and cultural exchange. In its place came brute force, cruel and vicious efforts to stamp out Jewish practice and observance.

The Jews organized into guerilla bands and small fighting units. But how could a small, poorly equipped and untrained bands of fighters challenge the mightiest army in the world?

This constituted the first of the Chanukah miracles. Despite the great odds against them, the Jews were able to overcome the Greeks and drive them from Jerusalem.

The Jews were able to reach inside their souls and find a level of commitment that was not bound by the limits of reason and logic. They did not ask themselves whether they could be successful. They understood that by trying to stamp out their faith, the Greeks were challenging the very basis of their existence as a people. In response, they did not think logically; they acted. They showed self-sacrifice that knew no bounds, risking everything to preserve their faith and their Jewish identity.

Their self-sacrifice evoked a correspondent response on G‑d’s part. When the Jewish people transcended the limits of reason and logic to act on G‑d’s behalf, G‑d suspended the limits of nature and “delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.”

As mentioned, this is not merely a story of the past. It applies equally to the present: A person can survey the situations he faces in life and ask: How can I possibly grow spiritually? How can my Jewish knowledge and practice advance? Everything around me appears to be headed in the opposite direction.

He must realize that not only is it possible for him to make such an advance, but that G‑d is waiting for his attempt to do so. And then He will bend the structure of heaven and earth to facilitate his efforts and make sure they succeed.

Looking to the Horizon

The above is relevant not only on the personal level, but also within the national sphere. Armed with their faith, the Maccabees did not cower when confronting the strongest powers on earth. This is a lesson for the Jewish people throughout the ages. For, as the prophetic reading associated with Chanukah states, success comes: “Not with an army nor with power, but with My spirit,” states G‑d.” And when the Jews identify with G‑d’s spirit, a miraculous cycle unfolds.

A similar motif applies with regard to the coming of Mashiach. Is it logical to think that Mashiach can come at any moment? A person surveying the headlines might well think otherwise. But he is relating only to the external reality. Within the world, there is an ongoing process of change taking place, slowly bringing it to its desired state. As more people identify with that process of change and make a full-hearted commitment to advance it, it gathers strength and then, miracles happen. In the last years, we have seen radical upheavals of life and society. They are merely preludes to the overwhelming — and positive — changes that will accompany the coming of Mashiach.

Each night, we add a new Chanukah candle, emphasizing how every day we must increase our endeavors to spread light throughout the world. Every day should lead us to further growth and create new opportunities for spreading G‑dly light in our homes and in the world at large, with the hope of ultimately banishing darkness entirely. In this manner, the kindling of the Chanukah lights serves as a catalyst to bring about the consummate light that will illuminate the world in the Era of the Redemption.