The festival of Chanukah recalls the military victory of the Maccabees over the vastly superior Greek army as well as the miracle of the jug of oil in the Temple, with the seal of the High Priest, which miraculously lasted for eight days, instead of just one.
The great Chassidic leader, Rabbi Levi Yitchak of Berditchev (1740-1810) poses a fundamental question.
Why did our Sages institute a holiday to recall these miracles and not to recall other miracles? In the Bible we read of a number of inspiring miracles. For example, there is the account in the fourth chapter of the Book of Judges of the Prophetess Deborah’s victory over Sisera and his army. In the second Book of Kings, chapter 19, we read how the mighty army of Sancheriv, was vanquished without the inhabitants of Jerusalem having to raise a finger. We recall this miracle in one of the songs of the Seder night, but why is there no festival to recall this amazing event?
Rabbi Levi Yitchak explains that our Sages saw that some miracles are one-time events, while others create spiritual forces that are reawakened each year when the anniversary of the event returns. The defeats of Sisera and of Sancheriv belong to the former category, while Chanukah belongs to the latter category. This is what the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) means when it relates the story of Chanukah and concludes, “The following year, they established a holiday.”
Only when the Sages saw that the spiritual awakening associated with the miracles returned on the miracle’s anniversary did they establish a holiday. This is also what we mean when we recite the blessing, “Who did miracles for our fathers in those days, at this time.” The miracle was not only “in those days.” It returns in some form “at this time” as well.
The Berditchever’s explanation has a potent implication for our times as well. It means that at this time of year there is a powerful spiritual energy waiting to be downloaded that can inspire us and our communities to achieve great things. Don’t waste it!