The Hanukkah Miracle Versus the Gaza Miracle that Extinguished Light

The only miracles we should settle for are the sober, humble ones; the miracles where we must slowly and deliberately light one lonely candle at a time.
December 15, 2023
Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago this week, Gaza was far from the hellish landscape it is today. In fact, it was the birthplace of a little miracle.

“A future in which Palestinians can travel directly to the far corners of the world,” is how President Bill Clinton inaugurated the Gaza International Airport on Dec. 14, 1998. Standing next to him was PLO leader and terror mastermind Yasser Arafat. At the time, Arafat had convinced much of the Western world that he was serious about making peace with the Jewish state.

Two years later, however, after the failed Camp David peace talks, Clinton sang a different tune. Blaming Arafat for the failure of the talks, Clinton stated, “I regret that in 2000 Arafat missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being and pray for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace.”

With the terrorist group Hamas taking over Gaza in 2006, that dream turned into a permanent nightmare.

As I ponder that nightmare today during an exceedingly ugly war in Gaza, I couldn’t help finding a connection to the lighting of the eight Hanukkah candles, which ended Thursday night.

There is a dispute in the Jewish tradition about whether we should start by lighting eight candles on the first night and reducing the number each night, or the reverse, increasing the number of candles each night.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Jews ended up following the second approach.

The first approach— lighting all eight candles at once– looks at the Hanukkah miracle in a classic way: A dramatic single act from the Almighty.

The second approach—lighting an extra candle each night– looks at the Hanukkah miracle not as a one-time extravaganza but more as a partnership with God. Night after night, we do our share, adding more and more light.

The creation of the State of Israel is one such miracle. After 1900 years of waiting, praying and yearning, the Jews finally returned home to Zion, their biblical homeland. Has there ever been a bigger miracle in Jewish history?

Yet even that amazing miracle was only a divine spark, one that required the Jews to complete the miracle by doing the hard work of building, defending and nurturing. Returning home represented the first candle; the Jews had to light all the other candles, which they have done with great difficulty and uneven success for the past 75 years.

So, when I think back to that “miraculous” moment 25 years ago when President Clinton inaugurated the airport in Gaza, it strikes me that everyone misinterpreted the miracle. They turned it into a big celebration, a media-friendly coronation. They lit all eight candles in that one glitzy moment.

But it wasn’t that kind of miracle at all.

Building an airport was only the first candle; the real hard work lay ahead. That hard work had nothing to do with brick and mortar and everything to do with the human heart. Those follow-up candles, in fact, would become the toughest ones to light, some would even say impossible.

How do you light a candle to replace the Jew-hatred in Arafat’s heart with the light of peaceful co-existence?

Indeed, while Clinton was blaming Arafat for the failure of the talks, the terror maestro had already launched the Second Intifada, with hundreds of attacks killing over a thousand Israelis over several years. When analysts look back on the failure of the peace process, a key factor is Arafat’s violent reaction after Israel made a generous offer, which decimated Israeli willingness to take risks for peace.

Instead of lighting more candles after the building of the Gaza airport, Arafat chose to extinguish the very first one. In hindsight, maybe that first candle was only a faux light– fool’s gold for dreamers.

After Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, many people hoped it would trigger another miracle. Alas, the Jew-hatred inside the Hamas heart extinguished that hope as well. Instead of building a Gaza Riviera, the terrorists built an underground terror network designed to extinguish as many Jews as possible.

As we cling desperately today for any sign of hope for a more peaceful future, let’s not get fooled by the bright lights of faux miracles. A miracle that is not a partnership cannot be trusted. A bright light that hides the hatred in someone’s heart will only blind us.

The only miracles we should settle for are the sober, humble ones; the miracles where we must slowly and deliberately light one lonely candle at a time; the miracles that don’t take us to the far corners of the world but to the grocery store of a former foe who is now a friendly neighbor.

Shabbat shalom.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.