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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.

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