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Al Hanisim: Remembering Our Partnership in God’s Miracles

Both the holidays when this prayer is recited are marked by courageous human action in making space for the miraculous.

Al Hanisim is a prayer recited on Hanukkah and Purim that expresses gratitude for the miracles performed for our ancestors. It can also serve us spiritually as a reminder of our role in creating space for miracles in our own day.

The prayer opens with this line: “For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles that You performed for our fathers in those days at this time.”

Reciting these words, we remember miracles from days of old — whether at Purim (when a plot to massacre the Jewish people was overturned) or at Hanukkah (when we remember the oil that lasted against all odds, keeping the eternal flame burning.)

But it’s also an invitation to remember our own human participation in those miracles. In the days of Ahashverosh, Esther bravely took her life in her hands to approach the king without being summoned. Her act of bravery was the first step toward saving her people.

In the days of Mattathias, those who rededicated the Temple made a leap of faith when they relit the ner tamid, and their act of faith and hope enabled the miracle of the oil to unfold.

Even as we thank God for doing miracles for our ancestors, we remember that we too played a role in bringing about those miracles. We are partners with God in making space for the miraculous. We must not expect God to perform miracles to redeem us while we sit back and wait.

Like our spiritual ancestors, we’re called to work toward redemption — our own, and that of all creation — in hope and trust that what we do here “below” will arouse the flow from “on high.”

When we speak truth to power, may we, like Esther, be blessed with a turning of the political tide. When we cultivate faith that we will be enough to bring light to darkness, may we, like the Hasmoneans, be blessed with the miracle of our own sufficiency, and the miracle of the light of justice banishing the darkness of bigotry, destruction, and hate.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, a founding builder at Bayit: Your Jewish Home, is the author of several volumes of poetry, among them 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011), Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda, 2016), and Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda, 2018). Named by the Forward in 2016 as one of America’s most inspiring rabbis, she serves Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, Massachusetts. Find her online at velveteenrabbi.com.

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