It is with some irony that Hanukkah, one of the most secular Jewish holidays, is commemorating a miracle. Which miracle depends on who you ask. Like many Jewish ideas, there is more than one right answer. The original Hanukkah miracle was a military victory of Judah Maccabee over the superpower Greeks. Later, the story appeared of the oil that lasted for 8 days.
At this, the darkest time of the year, we all could use some light. Here are eight Mussar Miracles to help inspire us.
Mussar Miracle 1: You are enough. As I wrote last year, that first light reminds us that no matter what has happened, and whatever mistakes we have made, each of us is enough. The light of that first candle is beautiful, as is your inner light when you let it shine through.
Mussar Miracle 2: There is beautify in relationship. Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Dean at my school AJRCA teaches that the Torah begins with Bet, the second letter because holiness forms in the space between two people. Who is most special to you in your life?
Mussar Miracle 3: Generosity. If you have three, you have more than enough to give one away. Lets remember the terrible loneliness epidemic that is endemic in our country, and reach out to those around us, and be generous with our time, attention, and vulnerability.
Mussar Miracle 4: Curiosity. We are wired to be selfish. We are also wired to care for and nurture other people. Mussar helps us to choose the latter when our survival is not actually at stake. Curiosity, the ability to see and wonder about the world beyond ourselves is where it all begins. If Joseph had not been curious and asked his two fellow prisoners why they were sad (Genesis 40:7), he would never have met Pharaoh and become a powerful man in Egypt. It is only because he had been curious that he was in a position to welcome his brothers into Egypt, which set the stage for the Exodus and the rest of Jewish history.
Mussar Miracle 5: Kindness is a great companion to curiosity. Our curiosity can make us ask “What in the world is that he is wearing?” or it can lead us to care for others as we see in the example of Joseph above. Lets remember how self-absorbed Joseph was at the beginning of the story, doted upon by his father and hated by his brothers for bragging to them. Yet an act of kindness, recognizing someone else’s pain, can overcome it all.
Mussar Miracle 6: Honor. Honor is the soul trait that helps us remember other people exist, and guides us on how to treat them. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe wrote the following in his masterpiece Alei Shor about Honor:
“The ultimate value you can give a person is to treat a person seriously, to take notice of that person. Even just a hello, I’ve noticed you, shows that person that they are valued.”
I learned this lesson years ago first hand, when a near stranger changed the course of my life by remembering something about me. I was out for a walk, deciding whether or not to give up writing my first book. I ran into another parent from my kids school, who asked about my book! I’d told her about it a year earlier. I was so moved that she remembered that I decided to keep going. You never know the huge impact you may have when you notice someone else.
Mussar Miracle 7: Order. Things work. We live in a world of wonders, and natural laws. Stephan Hawking and other cosmologists made predictions about black holes, and low and behold we finally got to see one in 2019, thanks to the work of Dr. Katie Bouman at MIT. Applying curiosity to the natural world is critically important in an era when our personal choices impact the future of the planet more than ever.
Mussar Miracle 8: Am Yisrael Chai, which means The Jewish people live in Hebrew. There have been many people who have tried to make us go away. I just finished a semester of medieval Jewish history – it is far more harsh than I expected. Yet here we are today, all over the world, and even in orbit. How did we get through all of the hardships over thousands of years? Together.
Whether you are Jewish, Jewish adjacent, or Jewish curious, you are invited to take inspiration from this amazing example of resiliency.
Which of these resonates most with you this year? Which one will you take action on?
Want to begin your own Mussar journey? Take the Soul Trait Quiz here.