Chanukah! During this physically darkest time of the year, we Jews, in gathering our friends, our mitzvot, and our dedication to goodness and to truth, bring light. Far from a Jewish version of another religion’s holiday, Chanukah is a celebration of our refusal to assimilate, of our desire to elevate our ruchnious over our gashmius, of our ongoing reach to raise our essential souls, to declare silently, as well as vociferously, that WE ARE JEWS!
This lifting up, this vocal pride, in which we engage, can, and perhaps, ought, to be achieved in small steps. For instance, we can noise off about gratitude. If we recite even one perek of Tehillim, we can rejoice. We can, as well, exalt our ability to breath, our ability to walk, and our ability to live as free persons. It’s a waste of vital resources if we, has v’shalom, instead, focus our energies on real or on imagined losses.
Consider, as an example, that when we leave a simcha, rather than lament over the time spent there instead of elsewhere, rather than frown about others’ “better” lots, and rather than mutter over our onerous drives home (local drivers being the special folk that they are), we can seek out folks who need us to aid them. We can express thanks for having a vehicle. We can laud, literally and figuratively, the room we have in our cars, particularly, and in our lives, in general, to share our good fortune with others. What’s more, we can enthusiastic about being part of a family or of a circle of friends that is celebrating happy times.
Seen differently, whenever we reach with one hand for a compliment, for a physical gift, or for a bit of encouragement, let us simultaneously bestow upon another person a compliment, a physical gift, or a bit of encouragement. “Please,” “thank-you,” and “you did great” can become our season’s ornaments. If we need to be strident about some aspect of our lives, let us be strident about pushing forward feelings of gratefulness. Let us be gracious.
This holiday, Chanukah, is a holiday of miracles. In our personal, seemingly mundane lives, each of us has many moments of divine intervention over which to delight. Some of these cases are readily revealed, such as childbirth, such as safe passage over frightening terrain, and such as recovering from grave illness. Others of these cases are a little more hidden, but are no less significant. Consider the sensation we feel when discovering that an annual bonus will cover debt, consider the marvel we feel upon realizing that a dear fiend is making aliyah, and consider the magnitude of good cheer that is ours when we learn that a student did not, after all, have to be hospitalized.
On a more minute scale, but nonetheless important, we benefit from regarding, with wonder: that the hand-me-down dresses we received from a colleague fit our children perfectly, that we found a seat on a packed train, and that, despite forgetting to set an alarm, we managed to make a necessary appointment because we woke up on time, anyway. Every bird that sings, every drop of rain that falls, and every green leaf that takes the bad from the environment and morphs it into good is a blessing. Noisy children crowding onto our buses are blessings; they are our continuity. Elders walking seemingly too slowly in front of us, also, are blessings; they are our heritage.
If we look with an ayin tova, we can see the brilliance of creation, the intentionality of Hashem’s reality, the kindness with which our lives are infused. We can emulate the Har Sinai experience and nearly palpate the music of the heavens. In looking at and embracing what is right with living, we protect ourselves from assimilation, proving once and again that there is no “relative worth” in practicing the customs of our neighbors. By greeting our experiences with awareness of their source, we open our spiritual gates to more and more rewards.
It would be enough if, just by dint of our continued existence, we merited to have Chanukah. It would be enough if just by creating apertures, through which Hashem can pour even more loving kindness into us, we lit up concurrent with this holiday’s commemoration. Yet, we possess additional holiday riches. Specifically, during Chanukah we have Al Hanissim and Hallel with which to add luminosity to our immediacies.
Al Hanissim, our formalized recitation of appreciation, our declaration that our study of Torah and our adherence to our mitzvot were preserved because The Almighty strengthened us against our enemies and because He performed various other miracles on our behalf, adds light. In the time of the Maccabees, as is true now, our way of life did not survive because we merited permanence, but because Hakodesh Baruch Hu chose that we should continue to exist. Then, as is true now, we had no idea how we would defeat seemingly impossible adversaries. Then, as is true now, we did not necessarily sense that the Klal was in danger.
Hallel, too, adds light. This series of recitations of select Tehillim praises G-d. Admiration, honor, and acclaim fit with, while functioning distinct from, indebtedness. Whereas these states of mind foster positive reception of heavenly gifts, articulations of pleasure are as much about their recipients as they are about the Gifter, where praise, i.e. tribute, in contrast, is concerned with our Source.
The prayers indigenous to this holiday of light add light. They acknowledge our dependence on our Creator and lead us toward the ecstasy of knowing He is compassionate toward us, no matter our shortcomings. Hashem might desire our volitional rapport, but we indubitably need His goodness. Without us, there would still be The Boss. Without The Boss, there would be no us.