The real story of Chanukkah is about a war and a rededication, but at some point, the focus changed and now the point of the holiday is miracles. Namely, the miracle of the oil. In every synagogue, there is a light that is constantly lit (ner tamid) and when the people entered the Temple after the battle, they found that all the barrels of oil had been destroyed out of spite. Except for one. And the miracle is that this little barrel of oil, which should have only lasted a day or two, lasted for eight nights, giving them enough time to obtain more oil and keep the ner tamid aflame.
Which is a miracle. It should have only lasted for one night. That was the expectation and that was the norm. But it lasted for eight nights--something completely unexpected and out of the ordinary. And by default, the word miracle refers to circumstances brought about by a higher power. G-d helped the oil last for eight nights.
In the beginning, I used to refer to my children as miracles. They weren't supposed to happen and yet they did (fine, fine, with medical assistance. But still). I thought their birth was so special that it should be equated with burning bushes and seraphim visitors. But here is the problem with the idea of miracles. By definition, these unusual occurrences happened to specific people. These incidents are unique and unusual. G-d didn't reveal himself to everyone in Israel at that time: only to the select few. Who were special. Who could accept the miracle and bring it forward. And once I took a step back from the word, I started seeing that in the end, it was exclusive.
Why were we more deserving of a miracle than anyone else? Everyone deserves to parent who wants to parent. Our bodies are supposed to work--we're supposed to create eggs and sperm. They're supposed to join together. And just because statistically it isn't a perfect system, it doesn't mean that when it works, it's a miracle. It means that the system worked. Sperm are supposed to fertilize eggs. They are supposed to implant in the wall of the uterus. The baby is supposed to remain in the womb for 9 months. And while all of these steps are wonderous--they aren't miracles. Because miracles are what comes when nothing is expected.
When we're working for something and we achieve it, it's not truly a miracle. It's the event that couldn't happen, that was absolutely outside of the realm of possibility, that needs to be reserved as the miracle. Once we start seeing miracles everywhere, they cease to hold importance.
And I know this isn't a popular view. Ask any parent who has been waiting a long time to have a child and is finally holding the result of all of that hard work/pain/science if they are holding a miracle and they will say, "yes." Simply because it seems miraculous--a child that is the result of so many threads coming together: science catching up with the body, the enhanced follicle, the concentrated sperm, the assisted hatching, the blood thinners, the cerclage. Except that all of these threads could come together and do come together on a daily basis. And it is awe-inspiring. And it is moving. And it is emotional. But I hesitate to use the term miracle.
Because in the end, we can accept that awe-inspiring things happen to people who have worked hard and also accept that sometimes those same awe-inspiring things don't happen for another person who has put out an equal effort. We recognize that there are multiple factors at play determining success--the person who responds well to chemotherapy and the person who doesn't. The person who recovers and the person who doesn't.
But miracles are random. Miracles are out of our hands. And they're doled out by a higher power. And I hesitate now to ever call my children miracles because while I find them awe-inspiring, while I am moved just watching them play, while I become emotional speaking about them, I also know that if I were to see it as a miracle, I would be placing myself in a more deserving category than someone else. And we're not more deserving. It's just that one of those random factors brought us to this point rather than a different outcome.
Infertility often brings about a religious crisis. Especially when you receive the message that G-d is doling out parenthood. When it's a series of random factors, it's much more tolerable to think that you didn't win. But when a higher power could make it happen for you, but is choosing not to intercede? That's a bit more difficult to swallow. Because it makes one wonder why they're not deserving. What did they do that made G-d turn their back on them? What didn't they do that they were supposed to do in order to be blessed?
There is a story in Judaism that is often used to explain why G-d doesn't intercede on earth. After that major flood that sent Noah packing the animals two by two into his ark, G-d made a promise that he would never force his opinion on the earth again. He would sit back and watch. He would offer counsel. He'd give strength and hope to people merely with his presence. He wasn't going to wipe out the human population again in order to restore goodness, BUT on the flip side, he also wasn't going to swoop in and remove the bad. We couldn't pick and choose and only have him fixing mistakes and making things well. Therefore, humans were given control to fuck up things as much as they wished. But we could also be affected by chance.
He made a rainbow to sign that contract. Whenever we see a rainbow, we're suppose to be reminded of that relationship. G-d is essentially a parent: he can't remove terrible things from our life and he can't make good things happen. But he can offer us strength just by letting us know that he's on our side.
And I think I like that idea much more than I like the idea of miracles and G-d placing his/her hands into things. My mistakes are my own and my accomplishments are my own. And there is room for random chance blessing me with twins. But it was not divine intervention. I'm not more deserving than any other woman. I'll leave the miracles to things like oil. And maybe peace in the Middle East.
That's what has been on my mind this Chanukkah.