Whose Miracle?

From R. Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, Kedushas Levi, Teachings on Hanukkah

In the Modim blessing of the Shmoneh Esrei we say, “And for Your miracles that are daily with us” – with us, in that You perform them through our actions. Then, when we say “and for Your wonders and goodness that are in every moment, evening, morning, and noon,” there is no mention of “with us,” because these we have no part in, and God pours out His grace on us with no arousal from below (1). I will explain with the help of Heaven how, unlike the Exodus from Egypt, which God in His great mercy performed without arousal from below, in the case of Hanukkah there was some help from below, in that the Hasmonean and his sons fought the army of Antiochus the wicked. Therefore when we light the Hanukkiah we say “establish the work of our hands for us” to hint that the miracle of Hanukkah was in part the work of our hands (in war), and that indeed God established the work of our hands, and granted us success.

[In the Hanukkah addition to the same prayer we say] “You put the mighty into the hands of the weak.” Were not the Hasmonean and his sons very mighty? This is the meaning: They were such tzaddikim that they did not expect their victory to come from their might, but only from God. So they are called “weak,” in that they considered themselves so, because they knew that they would not win on their own, but only because of the help of God.
And so, in every redemption, it was not the work of Israel; rather, onlythe Holy One of Blessing Himself prevailed and subjugated the klipot (2) without any action on the part of Israel… Indeed, in the redemption of the Hasmonean and his sons Israel had a part, in that they made war. In anything that a person does there is a great test to see if he will believe that it is not his own deed that caused the outcome but that it came from God, the true helper. And in this matter we need to watch for the Creator, Blessed Be He, for by always watching for the Lord we can see that everything is from Him. It was by doing this that they merited the miracle of Hanukkah. So we light the Hanukkah candles, for a candle is light, which hints at the need for watching…

Let’s explain with the help of Heaven the ruling of our sages, that according to one opinion it is permitted to use the light of a Hanukkah candle, and according another it is forbidden. Imagine this: A mighty king came to the house of a poor family, and one of them was overjoyed to see the extent of the king’s wealth, such as he had never seen all his days. Another one, who was wise, took joy not in the wealth itself, for he knew that to the king it was a small matter, but rather took joy in meriting that the king should visit him in his home. Likewise the case of the candles. When God, Blessed Be He, does miracles for people, one is happy for the bodily good done for him. Another, however, takes joy not in the miracle itself, for he knows that the Holy One of Blessing created all the worlds and He can do anything; he takes joy instead that God “clothed Himself,” as it were, in the world of people, in order to do the miracle, and came to visit him…


1) This is a mystical motif that uses sexual imagery to describe the interplay between the upper and lower worlds. In the same way that the husband or the wife may initiate sex, both God and people may “make the first move” towards uniting the worlds and bringing heaven and earth together.   2) Another mystical motif, this one from Rabbi Isaac Luria, often called the Ari or Arizal: klipot, literally “husks” or “shells,” are the non-holy outer coverings containing the holy sparks that are the lingering presence of God’s light in the world from creation. Depending on the context, the klipot can be seen as evil and demonic or simply material and mundane; actively opposed to holiness or inert and neutral; and they can be an idea, an object, a part of one’s personality, etc.; what is consistent is our mission to redeem the sparks inside them to return them to their root in God. This is the actual meaning of the phrase, Tikkun Olam.   3) Masechet Shabbat 21

Jeff says…

While the teachings of the Kedushas Levi above are presented in sequence in the sefer,  it’s not clear if they were all given together or at different times, perhaps years apart, or if they are now meant to stand as one cohesive teaching or different takes on the same subject.

Whatever their origins, these three teachings together make an intriguing whole. Levi Yitzhak seems to be thinking out loud as he works out who deserves credit for the miracle of Hanukkah. I can’t help but think of Tevya: “On the one hand, we helped God by making war and ‘arousing the heavenly waters’…but on the other hand, we never thought we had any part in it, trusting only in God to save us…but on the other hand, that trust itself was a mighty feat, and the true job of a tzaddik is to always watch for God acting in the world…” And then the rebbe comes along and says we’re missing the point anyway, that the wise person knows that the physical miracle (whether we mean the victory, or the oil, or both) that occurred some 2,000 years ago is not the highest reason to rejoice. Rather, the presence of God in the world, the knowledge that Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe, is invested in our humble lives, is the highest reason to rejoice in this festival, and it is a miracle that happens in every moment, if we watch.

This entry was posted in Concepts, Hanukkah, Hasidic Masters, Holidays/Days of Remembrance, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev/Kedushas Levi, Miracles. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Whose Miracle?

  1. Pingback: Two That Are One « Hasidism for the Rest of Us

  2. Always loving this site and the collection of Torah and thoughts!

  3. Refoel Berel says:

    Shalom Aleichem Rav Amshalem! I so much enjoy these sparks of Chassidus. Thank you for posting it. I tend to read these nearly every week, and they are very great.

    Have a wonderful day and a very Freilichen Chanukah!

    P.S. My blog is achsameach.blogspot.com, if you would like to check it out.

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