By Michele Herenstein
It’s that time of year again: the joyous celebration of Chanukah, the holiday of miracles. And thinking of this on Shabbat, I remembered the most obvious miracle that shaped my life. Not all miracles are recognized, but perhaps if we looked closer at our lives, we’d see them a little better for what they are. Not coincidences, or luck, or fate, but miracles from Hashem.
Sometimes a miracle is so clear, you can’t miss seeing it and identifying it as anything but that—a miracle. And the hope is that the gratitude one feels right after the miracle, the praise of thanks we give to Hashem so easily at the time of the miracle and shortly afterward, doesn’t dissipate as time moves on. It’s so hard for the emotions of gratitude to stay strong, as it is for most emotions to remain strong and true. But when one experiences a true miracle, it is crucial to try, to the best of our ability, to keep the thanks and gratitude as strong as if we felt this miracle just that day. Difficult? Oh yeah. Sound impossible? Absolutely. But if Hashem went to the “trouble” to save us with a miracle, the least we can do is dedicate our time to holding on to the strength of our thankfulness every day, to keep our emunah as strong as possible.
What I went through, or thankfully didn’t go through, is something that should beat in my heart every moment of every day. The fact that time goes by during which I forget feels unacceptable to me. Yet I’m human. And although this is no excuse, humans are fallible.
So here is my story, my miracle: I worked for my dad back in September 2001. I was his assistant, working on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, taking off Wednesdays and Fridays. As I am a morning person, I would get to work around 7 a.m., and so would my dad. My very first “assignment” would be to get coffee for us and, on special days, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, hot and fresh from the oven. We worked in the north tower of the World Trade Center, and we’d meet up at our offices, since I’d take the subway from my apartment on the Upper West Side and my dad would drive from Woodmere.
That summer of 2001, my dad and I were working on a big project. My dad had done consultations all over the country. I had typed up call reports according to my dad’s dictation, they were edited and checked thrice, and we had put them together in binders, finishing this huge project on late Monday afternoon, September 10, 2001. My dad, knowing how hard I had worked on this project with him, told me to take Tuesday off. Tuesday was September 11. I never took Tuesdays off. It was too close to the beginning of the week. But my dad insisted, and I caved.
If I had been there on that fateful Tuesday, September 11, 2001, my dad and I would have been separated. My dad would have gone looking for me. I would have gone looking for him. One World Trade Center was huge. I didn’t carry a cell phone then. Although we worked on the 11th floor, my dad remembers being told on September 11 to go up the stairs, not down. He would not have left the building without looking for me. I would not have left the building without looking for him.
I might have been carrying coffees. The elevators would not have been working. I would have been in a panic. I would not have known where his car was, leaving out the possibility of meeting by the car. All recipes for disaster.
Instead, my dad had told me the day before, “Michele, don’t come in tomorrow.”
Do you not hear Hashem in those words? Hashem was saving my life. And come to think of it, my father’s life as well! How can I live even a minute without this miracle embedded on my heart? How dare I? How can I sleep, eat, talk, without praising Hashem for saving my life?
But I do forget. Sadly. Why are humans made this way? Why do I go for long periods not thinking about it? I owe my life to Hashem, of course, from the miracle of birth. But to experience a second miracle, to be given a second chance—how can I not think of that all the time? How dare it slip from my mind for even one second?
This is what I ponder. How are we supposed to live our lives, yet keep these thoughts vivid in our hearts all the time? And if we forget for a time, does this lessen us in Hashem’s eyes? Does this make us less worthy?
Chanukah is a time of miracles—thinking of them, dreaming of them, hoping for them. If after Chanukah ends our minds go back to the routine, the everyday, that is only human. I’m not saying it is right, but it is difficult for most of us to remain on a more elevated level all the time, when we generally live our ordinary, humdrum lives.
Although I wish my mind could be at the point of retaining and feeling the miracle of September 11 all the time, I will accept that we were given the chag of Chanukah to celebrate miracles. We celebrate the miracle of the oil, and in general we should try to remember and keep in mind all the other miracles that Hashem does for us. Not every miracle is as large and obvious as my September 11 miracle. Many are small and hard to see, hard to even realize as miracles, like waking up every morning, like having food to eat. As Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof says, “That is a miracle too!”
So my wish for all of you is to try to see “your” miracles and then to keep them close to your heart, for as long as you can. Have a happy Chanukah. And may you experience a miracle today!
Michele Herenstein is a freelance journalist who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.