As I prepared to take my seat on my recent flight from Los Angeles to New York, I glanced at the gentleman already seated next to me. He certainly was not a religious man. However, I could not even tell if he was Jewish, and judging from his appearance and lack of interest in me, I assumed that he wasn't.
As I put my small Talmud onto my seat for a second, as I placed my hat and jacket in the overhead bin, I saw him take a quick glance at it, and imagined him saying to himself, "Ah, Hebrew. He's one of those religious Jews. Nothing for us to talk about." I thought the same thing to myself.
However, within seconds he had initiated a conversation that quickly turned to some reform rabbi who was trying to use aerial photographs to disprove the exodus story from the Torah. He wanted to know what I thought about the idea, and what I would do if the exodus account proved to be fabricated.
I still didn't know if he was Jewish or not, friendly or hostile.
I was exhausted, and wanted and NEEDED to sleep to be ready for taping a new video the next day. I took a big breath, sighed, and answered back what I knew would lead to a lengthy discussion, which it did. However, not before I found out that he was Jewish, and in fact studying a little Torah with someone with whom I was already familiar.
It was another one of those lessons, a true Chanukah lesson. I, of all people, who teach this message all over the place, and at all times had fallen for the olive and missed the oil.
Is it a coincidence that "hashemen" (the oil), "neshamah" (soul), "shemonah" (eight), and "mishnah" (oral teachings), all share the same letters? They all represent something that exists on the inside, something that is not readily available without some kind of process to extract it and reveal it on the outside; something that can be missed if one is only concerned with externalities, as the Greeks were.
If you believe that history is random, as they did, and accept the concept of fate and tragedy, where bad things happen to good people just because that is the way the world is, then there really exists little reason to investigate below the surface for deeper meanings.
However, if you believe as the Torah teaches us to, that history is far from being random, but orchestrated by a benevolent Heavenly Father with a master plan in mind, and a desire to benefit His children in the best way possible, then all the reasons in the world exists to look below the surface of people, places, and events for their deeper meaning. It is below the surface that answers to life can be found, and understanding of the master plan can better be perceived.
More than that, it is on that level that the miracles occur. For, just as in the world of physics, as we delve deeply into the nature of matter, and discover that things act very differently on this level as one would expect from looking at the surface of things, so too in the world of spiritual reality, nature is just a camouflage for a more supernatural reality.
We stumbled upon this message in the thirty-sixth century from creation, when Mattisyahu and his loyal followers threw themselves into the hands of G-d, and challenged the fate that had seemed to pursue them. However, having recorded the results for posterity, Chanukah is a yearly invitation to re-enter that mindset, and to take advantage of its power.
It only remains for us to accept that invitation, and show up.
(Author, lecturer, and scholar Rabbi Pinchas Winston is the director of ThirtySix.org)