For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

The Miracle behind Nature

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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The Beit Yosef asks the famous question: “Why do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days if there was already enough oil for the first day?” More succinctly, why is the first day considered as part of the miracle? As many as five hundred answers, including three from the Beit Yosef, have been given to this well-known question. However, most importantly, we will attempt to understand how we may benefit personally and practically from this knowledge.

The Nefesh Hachaim (1:2) points out one very clear distinction between man’s creative abilities and G-d’s creative abilities. When man creates something, the thing itself is independent from him, and he may easily walk away from it without causing any significant losses to the created object. However, even after G-d created the world, He still continues to sustain it. If G-d were to cut off His special hashgacha, His sustaining power, for even a second, the world would instantly cease to exist. This idea is hinted at in the blessing before kriat shema where it describes, “He (G-d), in His kindness, renews the works of creation everyday, always”. G-d literally renews the creation every second by giving everything the sustaining power that keeps it going.

The Ramban at the end of parshat Bo says that the purpose of miracles is to instill in us this very idea. Through witnessing a miracle we are meant to recognize G-d’s mastery over nature. This is so, to the point where we see the same Divine guiding hand in nature as we do in miracles. In this light, revealed miracles are meant to be a stepping-stone to truly believing and knowing that nature, too, is run by G-d. Ultimately, the only difference between nature and miracle is that we are accustomed to nature. This is why in the silent shemoneh esrei we thank G-d for His miracles that are with us everyday. The Pri Tzadik (Chanukah, 14) explains that the miracle we are referring to in this context is, in fact, nature.

One reason behind the idea of the ten plagues in Egypt was to truly inculcate this idea. By altering nature on every possible level in Egypt, G-d revealed that He is the One behind everything in this world. This is perhaps one reason behind the commandment to remember the leaving of Egypt everyday. By constantly reminding ourselves of the spectacular miracles that were performed then, we are reminded of the fact that G-d controls nature as He does everything else. On the holiday of Chanukah, G-d performed an open miracle in which He showed to the world that He can easily defy the laws of nature. However, so much more essential than that idea is that by performing an open miracle, G-d is affirming that He Himself controls nature. From the fact that oil burned during the last seven days, when nature would have dictated otherwise, we learn that the oil burning even on the first day, the day in which, naturally, there was no miracle at all, is in fact just as supernatural as the following seven.

Based on this, Rabbi Simcha Zissel (Kitvei Hasaba M’Kelm, Chanukah v’Purim, 5) explains that the reason why the first day of Chanukah too is a celebration, regardless of the fact that there was already enough oil to burn for that first day, is because the very idea of oil burning at all is miraculous from a Torah perspective. We celebrate the first day of Chanukah to declare that, undeniably, nature itself is miraculous.

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