Sometimes miracles are really big. And sometimes, they are small and almost ordinary.
For example, in Hebrew, each letter has tremendous, perhaps miraculous, potential. Our Masorti-Conservative liturgy embraces that possibility. An important example is found in our Movement’s liturgy on Hanukkah.
A ritual mitzvah (such as lighting Shabbat candles, eating a meal, or taking up the lulav and etrog on Sukkot) is always preceded by a blessing. Lighting Hanukkah candles actually involves two blessings – one celebrating the mitzvah (obligation) itself, and one that gives kavvanah (intention) to this act, celebrating miracles: The traditional blessing states:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Ba-rukh A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lekh Ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem ba-zman ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time [this season of the year].
But our Masorti-Conservative prayer books, such as the Sim Shalom and Lev Shalem series, include language that adds just one extra letter – the Hebrew letter Vav.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וּבַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Ba-rukh A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lekh Ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem u-va-zman ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, and at this time [in the present day].
Suddenly, this blessing (and the lighting of the hanukkiah) isn’t just about celebrating the historical miracles of an impossible military victory of the few over the many, or the oil in the rededicated Temple lasting for 8 days instead of one.
Now, this act of lighting up the dark of our longest nights also celebrates the miracles in our own lives, in the present moment.
So this year, “Just add the Vav,” and celebrate the miracles in your own life. What miracles are you celebrating this year?!
And while we’re at it, if adding such a small, single letter can transform the meaning of a blessing and a ritual, just imagine what a small act of kindness can do!
Hag Urim Sameah! A very happy Hanukkah!
Special Bonus: Consider adding the same “vav” to the Al Hanissim prayer. And look for that on Purim and Yom Ha’atzma’ut as well!