Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.
Certainly the most popular aspects of the observance of Hanukkah are the kindling of candles, playing with dreidels and, my favorite, eating jelly donuts and latkes. In our prayer book however, the festival of Hanukkah requires the insertion of the prayer, Al Ha Nissim.
Al Ha Nissim, “for all of the miracles”, is inserted into the Hoda’h or thanksgiving section of the Amidah. The requirement for inclusion of such prayers can be found in the earliest formulation of our liturgy (Talmud Ber. 3:10.) As its name suggests, the prayer begins with a general expression of gratitude for all of the miracles, deliverance and salvation God has granted; not only in the days of our ancestors but in our day as well. This introduction begins similar prayers for Purim, and in modern prayer books, Yom Ha Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The unique wording, in each Al Ha Nisssim prayer reminds us of the events that lead to the observance of that particular festival. According to Ismar Elbogen, the highly respected authority on Jewish liturgy, the text of Al Ha Nissim for Hanukkah in our Siddur is almost identical to the version first found in one of the earliest known collections of Jewish prayer compiled by the great sage Rav Amram in the 9th century. Elbogen speculates that Al Ha Nissim may have been comissioned by the clan of Matthias, the high priest, who were the heroes of the account of Hanukkah as it is related in the apocryphal book of the Maccabees.
Interestingly, the unnamed author’s spin on the tale of Hanukkah is somewhat different than our usual perspective of the miraculous events that are commonly associated with Hanukkah. Although the story is set during the time of Mattathias, it is God alone, according the Al Ha Nissim prayer, who is responsible for vanquishing the evil empire of the Greek Kingdom, passing judgment on the perpetrators of the terrible crime of defiling the Temple and of forcing our ancestors to abandon God’s path. Only after this Divine victory, according to our prayer, did God’s children return to repair and re-dedicate God’s Home – the Holy Temple. There is no mention of Judah the Maccabee or of the discovery of a cruse of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days.
It seems as though the author of Al Ha Nissim wished to underscore the role that God can have in history as well as in our daily lives. Perhaps the lesson we are to learn from Al Ha Nissim is that the real miracle of Hanukkah was that the forces and influences that threatened to assimilate all of the Jews into contemporary culture and abandon any remnant of our heritage were resisted and ultimately vanquished. Indeed we can learn from this prayer that by maintaining a strong connection to our people, increasing our knowledge and embracing our rich cultural heritage, the miracle that represents Hanukkah can truly take place in our times just as is did in the period of our ancestors. Hanukkah means dedication. Al Ha Nissim reminds us that now is the best time to be inspired by our history and seek to re-dedicate our selves to insuring a strong and meaningful future for us, for our children and for all of the many generations of “Maccabees” to come.
By the way, speaking of celebration, don’t forget to join us for Zev’s Bar Mitzvah. Shabbat, January 1, 2011.
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Hag Urim Sameiach.
Best wishes for a Joyous Hanukkah!
Hazzan Michael Krausman
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at email@example.com.
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