It was Zot Chanukah, the zenith of the holiday when all eight flames are kindled to affirm the wonder of Jewish endurance. Judah and Regina Geier, along with their two children Arnold and Ruth, sat silently on a train traveling from Berlin to Holland. They were one of the lucky few who had managed to get American visas and now they were finally on their way to what they hoped was freedom. The Geiers knew they were not entirely out of danger. The German officials at the German-Dutch borders would still need to inspect their passports and travel documents. Under these precarious circumstances, how could they possibly light the Chanukah candles? Regina attempted to comfort her husband. G‑d, who sees and knows all, would surely forgive them and give them many more Chanukahs to celebrate properly.
Judah refused to be consoled. Amid such spiritual blackness, the light of the Chanukah candles seemed more vital than ever. Suddenly, the train stopped at the German-Dutch border. The Germans approached to check travel identities. The Geier family sat frozen in fear. Then without warning the entire train plunged into darkness. Immediately, Judah sprang up and pulled nine candles out of his coat pocket. He lined them up on the windowsill in their train compartment, whispered the blessings, and kindled the lights. In the otherworldly glow of the menorah, his face shone with happiness.
The German officers discerning the light came running in. The Geiers seemed doomed. But the Germans were only focused on checking passports and papers. The flickering candles gave them the light to do that. As soon as they finished, the chief officer of the border police gratefully thanked Judah for prudently bringing “travel candles” on his journey.
The Geier family sat speechless, unable to take their gaze off the menorah. Judah, still under the spell of what had just taken place beckoned his son closer. “Remember this moment,” he said. “As in the days of the Maccabees, a great miracle happened here.”
The Jewish mystical writings teach us that Zot Chanukah is the culmination of the Days of Awe. It is a day to contemplate the supernatural in nature, the miracles clothed in mundanity. For what is a miracle but a revelation of the manifestation of God? And what are the Days of Awe but a period when He is close to us, when God-consciousness is at the forefront?
And so, perhaps Zot Chanukah is our wake up call to ponder how, just as the routine of nature can delude us, making us forget that it is all God’s will, so too can the weeks following the Days of Awe bring us to a state of indifference regarding our deeds. If so, the last night of Chanukah is a particularly fitting time to take an accounting of our lives. As we gird ourselves to face the long dark winter, which many would call, “God-forsaken,” we can take strength knowing that in fact, “His glory fills the universe.”
Adapted from “Small Miracles of the Holocaust” by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal As told by Arnold Geier (Judah’s son) to Pesi Dinnerstein
The Nature of Nature by Rabbi A. Shafran