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Chanukah, Beginnings, and Endings

The headlines greet me every day with their questions regarding The Day After. It’s true that the dilemma of what to do with Gaza seems to be an insurmountable problem, but it is the wrong question to ask during Chanukah. Chanukah is about beginning well, not about planning the end.

The Maccabees battled the Greek army until they finally reclaimed the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple). They removed the idols the enemy had erected, they cleaned, repaired and restored the Temple. Finally it was time to relight the Menorah (seven-branched candelabra), but the Greeks had desecrated the olive oil dedicated to this purpose and it would take a week for new olive oil to be produced. Finally, someone found a small jar of pure olive oil that could be used for the menorah. But it only contained enough oil to burn for one day - the menorah would then be dark for a week until the new oil arrived. The Maccabees were faced with a quandary - to light or not to light? As we know, they kindled the menorah, and Hashem kept the oil burning for eight days until they succeeded in obtaining more pure oil.

It seems clear that the first day of the Menorah’s burning was natural, and the following seven days were supernatural. If so, why do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days? Isn’t it more appropriate to celebrate the seven miraculous days without the first natural day included? Why is Chanukah eight days when the miracle only took seven days? Among the hundreds of answers to this question is one that really speaks to me as a mother, especially this year.

As much as days two through eight were miraculous, the lighting of the menorah on the first day was also a miracle. Basic logic should have dictated that the Jews wait to light until they had enough oil to ensure the lights would stay kindled every day. The miracle is that despite knowing that there was only enough oil for one day, they went ahead and lit anyway. And despite knowing it would take eight days for fresh oil to be prepared and brought, and despite knowing that the Eternal Lamp was supposed to stay lit and that couldn’t happen with the oil they had, they still went ahead and lit the menorah with the small bit they found. That in itself is a miracle. Human nature is to look ahead, foresee problems and delay action when we don’t see a path forward. The miracle of Chanukah and the miracle of the Jewish people is that even when it looks like there won’t be a tomorrow, we act today. We don’t calculate the odds and act accordingly. We do what is right for today and let Hashem take care of the rest of the process.

Chanukah isn’t about the product or final accomplishment. It’s about beginning the process. It’s taking the first step to light the menorah despite the tiny jar of oil. It’s fighting the first battle against the Greek empire, even though it seemed impossible. Chanukah is about beginning a course of action because it is right, holy, and pure, even though we don’t know how it will end.

Parents embody this message of Chanukah. Having children is embarking on a journey without a path forward. No one gives birth knowing exactly how they’re going to raise that child to adulthood. No parent has the knowledge, competence, or wisdom at the time of their child’s birth to know exactly what raising this child will entail. We have children as an expression of faith exactly like lighting the menorah. We raise our children with this same faith as well. We are often faced with parenting challenges that boggle our minds. We don’t know how situations will unfold or what our children truly need to get through a tough time. It doesn’t matter. We take the first step anyway. We have the first conversation, make the first phone call. We begin even though we can’t fathom the end. Our responsibility is to act today to begin the process as best we can, and let Hashem take care of tomorrow.

Every night of Chanukah we sing a song spanning Jewish history, Maoz Tzur. We sing about our miraculous salvations from the oppression of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks. The opening stanza however reminds us that the end is in Hashem’s hand. When “He restores my House of Prayer… then I will complete the dedication of the Altar”. We do what needs to be done today without knowing how it will end because we have faith that He does.

O mighty stronghold of my salvation,

to praise You is a delight.

Restore my House of Prayer

and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.

When You will have prepared the slaughter

for the blaspheming foe,

Then I shall complete with a song of hymn

the dedication of the Altar.

This article is written in memory of Sgt. First Class Ben Zussman, 22, who was killed in Gaza on December 3. Ben left a letter to his family which which inspires me every time I read it.

“I am writing this message to you on my way to the base. If you are reading this, something has probably happened to me. As you know me, there’s probably no one happier than me right now. I was just about to fulfill my dream soon. I am grateful for the privilege to defend our beautiful land and the people of Israel.

Even if something happens to me, I don’t allow you to sink into sadness. I had the privilege to fulfill my dream and my destiny, and you can be sure that I am looking down on you with a big smile. Perhaps I’ll sit next to Grandfather and bridge some gaps. Each one will share their experiences and what has changed between wars, and we’ll talk a bit about politics, and I’ll ask him for his opinion.

If, God forbid, you are sitting shiva (in mourning), turn it into a week of friends, family, and joy. Have food, definitely meat, beer, sweet drinks, seeds, tea, and of course, Mom’s cookies. Laugh, listen to stories, meet all my friends you haven’t seen yet. Seriously, I envy you. I would like to be there to see everyone.

Another very, very important point. If, God forbid, I fall captive, alive or dead, I am not willing for a soldier or civilian to be harmed because of any deal for my release. I do not allow you not to conduct a campaign or protest or anything like that. I am not willing for terrorists to be released in exchange for me. In no way, shape, or form. Please do not twist my words.

I’ll say it again; I left home without even being called up to reserve duty. I am filled with pride and a sense of duty, and I always said that if I have to die, I hope it will be in defense of others and the country. (From the song "Guards of the Walls”) ‘Jerusalem, I have placed the guards’ (Yishayahu 62:6), that the day will come when I will be one of them.”

May his memory be for a blessing and may Hashem avenge his blood.

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