• Creating Your Own Chanukah Miracle

    For a long time, I wondered what the “one pure jug” of oil could possibly be in my life in 2021. What should I be searching for that if found, would have a miraculous staying power and illuminate the world. I think I finally found the answer a short while ago at an event that I attended October 30th in Brooklyn • Click to Read

    A freilichen (happy) Chanukah! We are all familiar with the basic Chanukah story: After the Maccabees miraculously won the war against the mighty Assyrian-Greeks, they wanted to light the Menorah in the holy temple and could not find pure olive-oil. After searching they found one pure jug that only had enough oil to last one day and miraculously it lasted for eight days. 

    For a long time, I wondered what the “one pure jug” of oil could possibly be in my life in 2021. What should I be searching for that if found, would have a miraculous staying power and illuminate the world. I think I finally found the answer a short while ago at an event that I attended October 30th in Brooklyn.

    Some background: I was privileged to be part of the founding class of the prestigious Rabbinical Yeshiva in Toronto, Canada in 1996. A group of young and idealistic students, from various cities, joined together to begin a new school that would grow to world acclaim. The energy and drive behind this Yeshiva was, and still is, Rabbi Akiva Wagner. His knowledge, devotion and care for each student inspired us to grow in our learning and personal lives. 

    Rabbi Wagner is now battling the dreaded “C” disease. One of my former classmates came up with the idea of arranging a quarter-century reunion of our original class. This would give everyone an opportunity to publicly thank Rabbi Wagner for his work and to bless him for good health for the future. The idea caught fire and the date was set for the day after Sukkos. My former class is now spread out all across the globe and many made an effort to be there in person or participate virtually. 

    There was a special atmosphere in the room as old friends met for the first time in over twenty years. Our class is now in their early forties and it is a typical mix of Rabbis, businessmen, musicians and day-workers. The highlight of the program was when everyone was given five minutes to stand and share some personal thoughts and to bless our dear teacher. It was during this part of the program that a very deep and personal realization occurred to me. 

    One by one, we stood up and shared the memories that have stayed with us twenty-five years later. What was fascinating was that almost nobody spoke of the well prepared lectures and speeches that we heard in school and the meticulously prepared curriculums that we learned from. Almost everybody spoke of some “small” encounter or experience that left a permanent mark on their young soul, which continues to burn in their hearts today. To one person it was Rabbi Wagner stopping his car during a trip and buying drinks for the students in his car, and to the other it was a visit to his dorm room and an encouraging word when they were going through a difficult emotional time. 

    It was amazing for me to watch the face of Rabbi Wagner as these stories were told. It was obvious that he did not remember these (seemingly) small events and he was shocked that his students were so inspired by them. I then realized a simple truth: It is precisely because these actions were done out of the pureness of his heart, and not looking to be remembered, that it entered and became entrenched in our hearts. Small acts of pure and selfless giving, burn bright for many years to come. I finally found the pure jug of oil that I have always aspired to search for. 

    In the high holiday liturgy, we refer to Hashem as the one that “remembers all that is forgotten”. While its literal meaning are the (negative) deeds that we have done in the past year, the Chassidic masters share a deeper meaning: There are two types of good deeds that we tend to do: 1) Those that we do for publicity and recognition. 2) Those that we do in purity and we even forget that we did them. It is the second category, the “forgotten deeds”, that Hashem remembers and values in heaven-above. I now learned that it is also not forgotten by the recipient on this earth below. 

    While lighting our Menorah every night of Chanukah this year, let us take a moment to think of the miracle of Chanukah and to search inside our hearts and find deeper purity, sincerity and true love of our fellow. The acts that stem from the purity of our hearts can remain burning in the hearts of those around us for years to come. And similar to the Chanukah candles, they grow brighter with each additional deed. 

    You can email Rabbi Gerson Avtzon at



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