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Unexpected Miracles A Hanukkah Lesson

Life Balance

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Rabbi Ilana Grinblat

By Rabbi Ilana Grinblat

Last weekend, my two-year old daughter Hannah lost one of her shoes. These shoes were her favorite, and she refused to wear any other pair. My husband and I searched every nook and cranny of our house. We scoured our cars. We checked her stroller. We looked in the garage – in case they had fallen out of the stroller. We searched everywhere until finally, we stopped and played outside with the kids.

An hour later, I opened one of Hannah’s drawers to grab a sweater, and there was the shoe – right on top of the clothes.

This incident reminded me of a story by Rabbi Levi Isaac ben Meir of Berdichev of Eighteenth-century Spain. The story is retold in Noah Ben Shea’s The Word (Villard, 1995).

A man was running down the street looking only straight ahead.
The rabbi in the community saw the man and asked him: “Why are you in such a rush?”
“I’m trying to make a living,” said the man, hesitant to even slow down to answer the question.
“Do you think,” asked the rabbi, “that it is possible that the living you are trying to make is not ahead of you but behind you and all that is required of you is to stand still?”

The Talmud echoes the sentiment of this story. The rabbis teach that “From one who runs after greatness, greatness flees. But one who runs away from greatness, greatness follows. One who forces time is forced back by time. One who yields to time finds time standing by his side.”

The holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of oil in the ancient Temple that was only enough for one day but lasted for eight. The miracle was not that more oil appeared, but rather that the existing oil lasted longer than people thought it would. In essence, the holiday celebrates how things can turn out better than expected.

We often worry about worse-case scenarios but forget that things can also work out even better than we imagined. In economic crisis, our natural response is to rush with greater urgency to make a living – like the man in the story – never pausing for even a moment to reflect. In our frantic search, we can easily lose hope and perspective.

In these uncertain times, the holiday of Hanukkah reminds us to take heart and yield to time. Because you never know: Miracles can happen when you least expect. You may actually find what you’ve lost, just as soon as you stop looking for it.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She is a columnist for the Forward’s website at http://www.forward.com/ and author of a blog on parenting and spirituality at www.parentstorah.com. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children. To learn more, visit her website at www.ilanagrinblat.com

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