Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Chanuka -- The Festival of Prepare for Success Then Give Up (Control, That Is)

Chanukah is a pretty simple holiday, right?  Classic Jewish holiday:  "They tried to kill us, we fought back and won, let's eat."  We spent the first half with our Chicago grandchildren, second half with our Florida grandchildren.  So I built legos, solved logic problems, and played cutthroat dreidel.  I also ate latkes and donuts.  Very satisfying.

I also heard some great questions from my grandchildren.  Two favorite: Why does the bracha for lighting say that HaShem commanded us to light Chanukah candles, when it was Chazal who told us to do that?  Why do we light the shamash before the mitzah candles; doesn't that mean it will burn out first and we won't be protected from accidentally using the light from the mitzvah candles?  Great questions... and questions I could answer.

I had an additional treat, though.  R' Dovid Hofstedter, the architect of the Dirshu program, was also in Florida and davening in same shul where my kids (and therefore I) daven.  The mara d'asra (also a fine talmud chacham) deferred to R' Hofstedter to address us at shalosh s'udos.  Being shabbos Chanukah, we got a Chanukah drash.  Being it was R' Hofstedter, we got an original and fundamental drash based on halacha.

On the one hand, we do everything in our power to fulfil the mitzvah to its must exalted level.  The basic requirement is for one candle to be lit in each house.  Yet, we all light one candle on the first night, two on the second, three on the third; and so on until we have eight blazing lights on the last night.  Moreover, we Ashkenazy families have each member of the family light; men, women, children -- boys and girls according to most customs.  Everyone of my grandchildren from five up made their own menorah as school and then we all said the brachos and lit lots and lots of candles.  Each candle must burn for 30 minutes, but many of use use longer candles and/or oil.  Beautiful.

On the other hand: suppose right after you lit all those candles, a sudden burst of wind rushed into your house and put out all the candles.  All that preparation, all those candles, and out in a moment.  Given how important it is to publicize the miracle and how much effort we have expended to do the mitzvah, and to do the mitzvah more beautifully, and to even perform the mitzvah in the most beautiful possible way... you would feel certain that you'll now need to relight everything.  Nope.  The halacha is כבתה אין זקוק לה/if it goes out, no necessity to relight.

Um.... what?  All that preparation, all the importance placed on putting it in the right place, getting enough oil/long enough candles, lighting at the right time; and yet, poof!  כבתה אין זקוק לה

What gives?  R' Hofstedter explained what gives; beautifully and simply.  That's Chanukah.  A small band of inexperienced Jews led by a small family of cohanim whose main focus till then had been the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash -- people who had never taken on anything more formidable than ram, sheep, or ox -- decided to take on the entire Greek and Syrian armies.  Do you think, said R' Hofstedter, that they only made all their preparations for war after a careful analysis determined that they had a fighting chance?  Obviously not; for if they had, they never would have started.  Instead, they saw there was a mitzvah to perform -- in this case fight; so they did.  When they won, they saw there was a mitzvah to perform -- clean up the Beis HaMikdash to begin anew the services; they did it.  When they saw there was a mitzvah to perform -- light the menorah; they did.  Not once did they have any idea of whether or not they would successfully complete the mission.  Their job was to prepare for an launch the mission.  HaShem's job is to decide its success.

A Jew's avoda in this world is to make all the preparations he can to fulfill every mitzvah in the best possible way.  Much effort goes into preparing for all or our daily battles.  Some we win, some we lose; that's not our issue.  Our issue is to prepare.  If we are successful, it is not our success, if we fail it is not our failure.  The only success is prepare with all your resources and abilities.  The only failure is to stop trying.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…