And lo, the people were cold in their homes. There had been sanctions and bombing and great privation for years. There was war, there was famine, there was pain.
And one day in the time of greatest darkness an Angel of God appeared dressed as an old woman. Her hair was silvery gray like the stars on cold winter nights. Her robe was pitch, like coals when they are dead of all fire. Her eyes were so black that when you looked into them, you might never find your way out again. And in all this darkness, yet she shone.
For on her robe were eight magic pockets, each one with a different light flowing from it. In one, all the children dipped their fingers and golden honey poured forth. In the second pocket, all the mothers came with their sick children and as they dipped in a warm healing salve poured forth. The fathers came and placed their hands in a third glowing pocket. From this pocket each father drew a long golden moment of rest from worry and strife. The lovers came tentatively out of their hiding places, afraid even to risk loving in such dark times. They put their hands in her fourth pocket and withdrew a radiant moment of absolute stillness and quiet where they could be alone and gaze into each others eyes. The elders came, some could barely move. And from her fifth pocket they withdrew a lone golden thread. Each thread was theirs alone and when they felt ready to sleep their final sleep, she instructed them to close their eyes and place the thread upon their navels and fall asleep to wake in the Holy One’s arms.
From the sixth pocket the warriors drew, and they wept and wept and wept as they pulled from her heart new golden hearts full of hope and strength. As they wept the roads filled with their tears and all the parched soil drank deep.
They all drew from her seventh pocket and were given a true Shabbat with dancing, laughter; time for contemplation, study and incredible foods overflowing the roads so all could be fed.
Finally when it seemed all had come forward a lone child approached the woman. She was lost, orphaned and ragged. Her hair was matted with thorns, dirt and lice. She came to the woman and rested her small head in the holy folds of the woman’s dress. The woman herself, drew from the eighth pocket a healing rich oil. She ran her fingers through the child’s hair and all the dirt and grime fled from her sacred touch. The oil smelled of roses, lavender and honey. As the child’s hair began to glow the woman pulled her hands away. As she did so, all the people drew near to the child. They wrapped her in their arms and carried her home with them.
It was the 25th of Kislev; they say when the woman came to visit. Some whispered “She was Dinah, the wounded one.” Others were sure it had been Miriam. Still others swore she was their long lost sister.
In darkness filled with sparks of light,
This midrash was originally written by me on December 16, 1998. Our teacher Rabbi Naomi Steinberg had asked our class to come up with a midrash about Hanukkah. We were on the eve of going to war somewhere. We seem perpetually to be on this eve of going to war or engaging in violent conflict. As a pacifist I am always looking at violence and its tremendous costs and trying to find a non-violent story was something that I felt called to do. The traditional Hanukkah story is full of hope and violence and exploring the theme of light in a hard time was a way for me to connect to this story from an internal place. I still tell the traditional story as well, and study it and learn from it. I just heard this old woman telling me her story and wanted to share it.
A midrash is “a method of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal, or moral teachings. It fills in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.” – Wikipedia