The eight life lessons of Chanukah, one at a time.
Note from BCP: This year, to help us refocus our values, we’re posting a thought every single night that will remind us of the essence of the chag.
Light Number One: The Light of Ruchnius
The entire essence of the Greek nation was the worship of the body and the self. Luxury, vanity, and physical prowess lured so many Yidden weak in faith into the Hellenist camps and these ideals threatened to take over the holy Jewish nation should the Yevim win over the small Jewish resistance. But the Maccabees fought back, and in their fight for Shabbos and Milah and Rosh Chodesh was a fight for purity and spirituality. They fought gymnasiums and coliseums with Torah and Mitzvos. When they won the battle, the forces of ruchnius won over the forces of gashmius. It is a battle we are familiar with today, though the battlefield is a lot less volatile and bloody. The insidious forces of gashmius are so prevalent in our uber materialistic world, and we don’t even need an enemy reign to force it upon us; we take it on willingly. Chanukah is a time to look back and reflect on our priorities. Have we allowed our gashmius to take over our ruchnius? What is the focus of our lives? What gives us joy and makes us complete? Have we forgotten the call of our soul in the pursuit of the newest and most glamorous apparel, cuisine and lifestyle choices? Chanukah is about reclaiming that. Remembering that Yavan is indeed only darkness; it is the power of Torah that brings light and joy to our lives.
Bringing it Home: Chanukah is a time prone to forgetting the spiritual for the material, so ironic during the week spent commemorating the opposite. But isn’t that what happens when Chanukah becomes all about gifts and parties and tablescapes? This Chanukah, take on a project of a more ruchnius bent. Use your family Chanukah party as an opportunity to finish sefer Tehillim. Daven hallel together with your children on Chanukah vacation, singing it out loud as a family. Have them share the divrei Torah they learned about Chanukah, the lessons they take out of this beautiful Yom Tov, and only then distribute the Chanukah gelt you’ve prepared.
Light Number Two: The Light of Miracles
The Chanukah story is replete with miracles large and small that Hashem performed for His beloved children. We remember that every time we say al hanisim. After the great miracle of the war, when the unlikely happened and our small band of men defeated the world’s mightiest army, the victors went in search of another miracle. They hunted through the vandalized beis Hamikdash, desperate for a pure jar of oil that would allow them to serve Hashem in the purest manner. Not only did they find the jar, but they found a miracle that was a balm to the hearts of a battle-weary nation. For millennia to come, we would light those flames in our window, reminding ourselves that it’s not only about great wars won, but small lights lit, the small but significant ways Hashem is there for us in our daily lives. The more we look for the hashgacha pratis in our lives, the more we will find it. When we say al hanisim, let us thank Hashem for the miracles He performed then and for the miracles He performs now, all of the ways we have seen His Hand orchestrating our lives to perfection.
Bringing it Home: As you sit around your menorah, eating supper or just spending quality family time, go around the room and have each person share a hashgacha pratis story that they experienced that day. At first they may not have one, but once they know you will ask for it, they will go about the next day with a new pair of eyes, eyes that are constantly on the lookout for hashgacha pratis. And once their eyes are peeled, they will certainly find it, realizing that it was there all along in so many different ways. They will find that pure, unblemished spark of hashgacha just waiting to be noticed, to be brought out and lit up in a way that illuminates their entire life moving forward.
Light Number Three: The Light of Gratitude
Now that we have learned to find the miracles in our life, we need to focus on showing gratitude for them. Chanukah is a yom tov of thanksgiving. That was the express purpose for which it was established: lihodos ul’hallel l’shimchah hagadol. When we reflect upon all of the good Hashem has done for us, in those days and again today, we can’t help but be consumed by overwhelming gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Chanukah is a time to work on strengthening our gratitude muscle. It is a time to look around at the beautiful world He created, at the bountiful brachos He has bestowed upon us. The more grateful we are, the more joy and light we will experience in our own lives.
Bringing it Home: This really is a game changer: Start your gratitude journal today. Make sure to write in it every day several things for which you are grateful to Hashem, from the “ordinary” gifts like home and health, to the unique ways you felt His touch today. At your Chanukah party, make a giant poster that says, “This Chanukah I am thankful to Hashem for…” and hang it up on the wall. Let your entire family/neighborhood/school etc. fill in their own blessings as the party goes on. Long after the last latke has been consumed, this poster will live on as a testament to the true meaning of Chanukah.
Light Number Four: The Light at the End of the Tunnel
The prospects facing the Jewish people seemed dim indeed. They were in danger of total assimilation, of being vanquished by a mighty and resourceful foe. It would have been so easy to give up, to lay down their battle-weary bodies and take whatever was coming to them. Instead, they saw hope and they latched onto it. They allowed that hope, that optimism drawn from tremendous reserves of emunah and bitachon to guide them through the dark, dark tunnel to the light. No situation is too dismal for Hashem to come through for us. We may be traversing the darkest trails, but we must never stop hoping for the light. And no matter how dark it may be, the light is always just around the bend. We just need to believe, because it is that belief that will motivate us to take the action necessary to propel ourselves forward into the light of our future.
Bringing it Home: Take the opportunity now to start learning bitachon; read and internalize one of the many magnificent seforim on the topic out there. Bitachon is one of the greatest tools to employ in the quest for more optimism in your life because when you truly believe in Hashem, in His power to bring about any yeshua and in the fact that everything He does is for the best, it is so much easier to see hope in the future.
Take a situation that you are in that looks bleak, and this Chanukah employ the lesson of the Chanukah story to help you fight despair and hope for a better future. Think about the Yidden and the prospects they faced, remember the menorah burning for eight days and nights afterward and then picture your own menorah shining bright at the end of the journey that awaits you.
Light Number Five: The Light of Kindness
It is truly wondrous when you consider the power of those tiny little flames. So many miracles occurred at that time, momentous, historic battles won, and yet it is the licht that serve as the enduring symbol of Chanukah. The flickering flames of the menorah of yore brought illuminating light during a time of darkness, infusing hope into the sagging morale of a nation who had lost so many to assimilation. Those tiny flames showed that Hashem still loved them deeply. He didn’t merely keep them alive through the miracles of war to keep His promise that the Jewish people shall never be wiped out; He embraced them with the miracle of lights to show them just how much their avodah meant to Him. Chazal tell us “me’aat min ha’or docheh harbeh min hachoshech.” All it takes is a little bit of light to chase away a lot of darkness. Look at the powerful impact of those original Chanukah lights; imagine the impact we can have when we become the light. All it takes is a small dose of light, a small gesture of kindness, a few words of warmth and encouragement and we cannot begin to fathom the worlds of darkness we are sweeping away.
Bringing it Home: This Chanukah, take a little bit of that wonderful joy and infuse it in the lives of others. Make one more invitation to your family Chanukah party; reach out to someone you know can use the invitation. Greet the strangers you meet with a smile. Use some of your chanukah gelt to pay for the coffee of the tired looking Mommy on line behind you at the coffee shop. Find ways, maybe even eight different ways, one on each day of Chanukah, to bring a little bit of light into the lives of the people around you. And then, don’t stop on Chanukah! Make it a lifelong habit and illuminate the world with your kindness.
Light Number Six: The Light of Conviction
The Maccabees and those who responded to their battle cry weren’t the cool kids of the era. They had to fight popular trends, go against the prevailing culture and hold steadfast to their belief despite opposition and ridicule. They held firm even despite the threat to their own lives! Sometimes we know the difference between wrong and right, but it takes too much out of us to maintain those standards. We know our skirt is too short, our words are too biting, our interactions too casual. Or maybe it is not us, but those around us who are committing injustices that disturb us, but we dare not speak up. We don’t want to be branded the nebs, the frummies. We need to let the courage of the Maccabees infuse us with strength this Chanukah. The strength to cling firmly to our beliefs and our standards, despite their unpopularity and the conviction to speak up against injustice that we view by spreading the word of Hashem wherever we go. We need to take on a cause we believe in and ignore the naysayers as we embark on the battle l’maan Hashem.
Bringing it Home: You will undoubtedly attend some Chanukah parties where you will be surrounded by friends and family members. Take on that kabbalah you always knew you wanted to but were embarrassed to be caught doing so publically. Proudly wear the head covering you believe in, even if you are the only one there doing so. If conversation turns to unsavory matters, be the one to humbly, but assertively pivot the direction to its taken to more sublime matters. Don’t hesitate to verbalize your increased sensitivity to more marginalized groups or individuals, even if your stance will be mocked. Be proud of your beliefs and don’t be afraid to issue the battlecry, “Mi LaHashem Eilai.”
Light Number Seven: The Light of Your Efforts
The miracle of the oil started before it started burning for eight days and nights. It began with the fact that they even bothered to light the menorah. The amount of oil that they found was so miniscule, they could have understandably thrown up their hands in resignation and waited the eight days until new oil could be made. And yet, they took what they had and ran with it. They put in the effort and took that one small step. And look how Hashem rewarded them for their efforts! He took their tiny jug of oil and gave them eight nights of lights, eight nights that would continue to burn for generations and generations to come. It is through the Chanukah story that Hashem encourages us, “Don’t worry my children about the end result. You just take the first step and I will help you the rest of the way!”
Growth and change can be daunting, especially when we look at the big picture and wonder if we’ll ever get to where we want to be. The impossibility of it turns us off from even taking the first step to begin with. But we have to remember that it is only up to us to make that effort, to show and Hashem will help with the rest.
Bringing It Home: Chanukah is a busy time. But there is a half hour of reflection built into every day, as we are not supposed to do melacha as the candles burn. Take those few moments to think about your goals and the heights to which you aspire. Choose a goal and break it down into manageable small steps and then start today with the first step. That’s it, just the first step. Show Hashem how much you want it, and He will help you along the path you set for yourself.
Light Number Eight: The Light of the Soul
The candle is a symbol of the neshamah, the pintele yid. The flames of the menorah represents the triumph of the neshamah over the forces of guf. The word nefesh stands for the components of the flame: the ner, p’sil and shemesh. Chanukah reminds us that no matter how much darkness our people encounter, it is the light of the neshamah that will persevere, overcoming the darkness and show us the way to dawn. Chanukah is a yom tov that brings out the pintele yid in so many of our lost brethren. They celebrate little else, but they celebrate Chanukah. Their neshamah calls out to them like ours calls out to us, and we each heed the call of our inner spark.
Bringing it Home: Help spread the joy and light of Chanukah to those who may not know as much as you do. Invite that secular coworker to your family menorah lighting or party. Send over a special Chanukah package to your neighbor whose tree and electric menorah vie for space in their window. Counter the modern day Hellenism by being a bastion of warmth and light and kiddush Hashem to every possessor of a holy yiddeshe neshamah out there.
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