I am always fond of reminding people that our celebrations of Jewish holidays are not about the past. Jews don’t “live in the past” ̶ rather, we continue to be inspired by past values and traditions, which create even brighter, richer, and more fulfilling futures!
There are many moments in Jewish history that are significant, but do not become major holidays. Likewise, our holidays are not merely days of historical relevance. Jewish sages maintain that the holidays featured in our calendar carry within them deep messages that will remain relevant and crucial for all future Jewish generations to learn from.
This is definitely true for Chanukah. While the lighting of the candles, spinning of dreidels, and eating latkes and sufganiyot all make for an enjoyable time of year, there are tremendous lessons (not just calories) that one should gain from experiencing this holiday.
There are many moments in Jewish history that are significant, but do not become major holidays. Likewise, our holidays are not merely days of historical relevance. [They] carry…deep messages that will remain relevant and crucial for all future Jewish generations to learn from.
While Chanukah has many valuable takeaways, one such message is to remember ̶ to quote Coleman Wilde’s only hit song ̶ “It’s what’s inside that counts.” The Jewish revolt of the Maccabees was not a revolt for physical survival, as they were not even under attack. It was a battle of values: Greek culture put a heavy emphasis on physical strength and outer beauty, which they viewed as one’s greatest barometer of value and success (hence the Olympics and the coliseums). In fact, because of the Greek’s profound appreciation for architecture, they never attempted to destroy our Jewish temple. It was a beautiful masterpiece and would be considered a tragedy to destroy. Instead, they “defiled” it: they preserved the external elements, but seeing no value in what happens on the inside, they desecrated every expression of holiness, the epitome of inner shining beauty and strength. Don’t get me wrong, it is not that physical beauty and strength in and of itself is bad; rather it should serve as something which reflects and expresses an even greater beauty and strength in character that emanates from a place deep within.
Is this not a struggle that our society faces to this very day? Do we value what a house looks like on the outside, or how it is home to a family and its values which shine and glow from within? Do we emphasize judging people by how they look or what they wear, or by how they act and what they are like? Do we define the strength of a person by how much they can lift, or by the inner determination and self control they demonstrate in aligning their actions with higher values and morals?
It is not that physical beauty and strength in and of itself is bad; rather it should serve as something which reflects and expresses an even greater beauty and strength in character that emanates from a place deep within.
To the one who might protest, saying, “What value is there in the way we saw things thousands of years ago? It is a new world now, and our values should be updated to reflect what is current,” then perhaps I can offer this parable:
A man was coming home from a long business trip and wanted to buy a special present for his wife. He went into a gift shop and saw a nice new figurine for sale. When he inquired about its price, he was told $230 ̶ a little more than he intended to spend. He was about to walk out and try another store when he noticed another figurine that looked a good few years older, and he hoped that this one would be significantly cheaper. When he inquired about the older figurine’s cost… he was shocked to hear that it was $3850! What?! That is crazy! Why so much money for an older, used version of the exact same figurine?
The shopkeeper immediately responded to his customer’s complaint. “Sir, the first one you picked up looks nice, but it is new and I cannot vouch for its durability to stand the test of time, or its resilience to stay intact when it falls. But this one over here is at least 100 years old, and if it is still standing… well, that must mean it has true lasting value!”
Our Jewish history and values have been under attack for centuries… yet somehow always manage to be victorious when considering longevity and in measuring what they produce. The values that we have held dear for thousands of years continue to be a guiding light for us, when raising beautiful families or living lives that inspire goodness. Their constant emanation ̶ albeit sometimes small when compared to the darkness that surrounds – is a testament to their veracity and importance, and enforces the belief that, just like the “few” that overcame the many in Greece, so too can the small light and mitzvoth that we perform illuminate a world that seems to be enveloped in darkness.
May we all share these messages with our families and friends, because sharing wisdom is just like lighting candles: if you light for another, you don’t lose any brightness yourself; you simply share it and grow its glow with others around you to spread even greater light.
Wishing you a wonderful week of Chanukah – and Shine on!