It is perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of the story. Yet it is an aspect of the miracle of Hanukkah which I believe has the most relevance for us today as we are again confronted with a comparable Maccabean struggle for Jewish survival.

We know that the ancient battle pitted the few against the many, the pure against the profane, the righteous against the wicked. Somehow, an aged priest by the name of Matisyahu together with his five heroic sons were able to overcome a powerful empire and restore the temple from idolatry back to worshiping God.

How was a small family able to lead a nation to such an astonishing triumph? What was their secret? To simply declare Hanukkah as a Divine miracle, an incomprehensible event made possible only through God’s intervention, is to ignore the human component – the difficult struggle as well as the war which preceded the rededication of the house of God and the relighting of the menorah in the sanctuary.

Like Purim, Hanukkah is a holiday commemorating a victory achieved by the joint efforts of God and the Jews, of the Almighty and the Maccabees, similar to the story of Esther and Mordecai. It is pertinent to wonder precisely what it was that help to insure the amazing outcome which defied the odds.

Not knowing there would be a miracle, what made the Maccabees light the menorah?

I believe the answer is hidden in the prelude to the miracle of the oil. They found a small flask of pure oil, enough to last for only one day. Not knowing there would be a miracle, what made the Maccabees light the menorah? Why begin what they could not finish? Why relight the menorah when reason dictated that a day later it would go dark once again, unable to fulfill its purpose?

The Maccabees were not deterred by the seemingly impossible success of their effort. This was the secret of the Maccabees: No matter how bad the situation, no matter how impossible the probability of success, we begin the task – and optimistically have confidence in God to somehow make our efforts prove fruitful.

Jump Into the Sea

It is a secret with an ancient source. After the Hebrews were freed from slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh had a change of heart and with his army pursued after his former slaves. They caught up with them at the Red Sea and the Jews were overcome with fear, not knowing which way to turn. God commanded them to walk into the sea. No, it was not the way Cecil B DeMille portrayed it in Hollywood’s famous retelling of the story of the Exodus. Moses did not stand at the shore and simply lift his rod to have the sea split so that the Jews might walk through it “on dry land.” Nothing happened until our ancestors dared to initiate an impossible journey. It wasn’t until Nachshon the son of Aminadab walked into the waters up until his neck that God performed the miracle of the splitting of the sea which granted us salvation

God performs miracles – but only after we perform our part, the miracle of faith which compels us to embark on a seemingly lost cause and to have confidence in ultimate success for an impossible dream guaranteed only by our firm belief in the Almighty.

Golda Meir put it this way: “Jews cannot afford the luxury of pessimism.” Ben Gurion reminded us that in Israel “In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

To live in Israel today is to be faced with the daily challenge of survival from enemies as intent on our destruction as was Haman, and as desirous of negating our unique relationship with God as were the Syrian Greeks. In both instances of the past we prevailed. The miracle of our obstinate refusal to give up hope, no matter the odds against us, gave us two holidays.

I have no doubt that someday there will be a third. It will be a third holiday marking the defeat of the forces of darkness, to be replaced by the miraculous light brought to the temple by the Maccabees of old through their spirit of optimism, hope and unquestioning faith in the ultimate success of their mission.