Ordinary heroes for our own time
The candles of Chanukah, we tell our children, are the annual, visible reminders of the miracle that happened in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem at this time so very many years ago. Miracles, therefore, can happen, our children learn.
But it falls to every parent to remind them that miracles don’t just happen. Moreover, as our sages teach, we mustn’t rely on them happening in any event. But if we are to see a miracle, our sages add, we must grasp deep in our souls that miracles are the mystery-laden result of a partnership, so to speak, between human beings and the Divine.
God brings forth the miracle. But man, through resolve and courage, makes it happen. It is that resolve and courage that we see and understand as heroism.
For example, the waters of the Red Sea did not part until a single, and undoubtedly very worried, human being – Nachshon ben Aminadav – stepped into the flowing waters.
Similarly, the miracle of the oil in the temple did not happen until the Maccabees decided to fight back.
Thus, it is no exaggeration to state that the building of a better world, relies upon individuals to have the courage and the resolve to act, to join hands, so to speak, with God. It requires individuals to be heroic.
Not all of us, however, can be Maccabee heroes. But then, not all heroism requires that we be Maccabees. There are as many stripes of heroism as there are needs for a hero.
A great many people in our society know this to be true.
Ask a single mother, for example, raising her children alone while managing home, job, children’s school, personal needs and the household payments.
Ask a nurse in a palliative care ward abating both the last suffering of her patient and the painful sorrow of the patient’s family.
Ask a new immigrant holding down two or more jobs while struggling with the new ways of a new land, often only with rudimentary knowledge of the language.
Or ask a young teenager, feeling alone and frightened in school, trying to stand up to the tormenting of a bully. For they too, are heroes, in their struggles, in their need. And the examples are unlimited.
As the Maccabees taught us, there is no way to make the world a better place for us all other than to find the will, the strength of character, the determination and the courage to act.
To be sure, the glow from the lights on the menorah will remind us of the courage of our ancestors. But it should also remind us of the courage far less noticed in our own day, namely, of the “ordinary” men and women doing the “extraordinary” that is the minimum of their lot in the building of a better life and a better world.