For the week ending 11 December 2004 / 28 Kislev 5765

It's That Time of the Year Again

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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Everybody loves Chanuka. The smell of the burning candles mixed with the aroma of frying latkes is quite intoxicating. The thought of the presents that will be unwrapped and the looks of glee on the faces of the children (and sometimes the adults too) is enough to make any parent smile with anticipation. In fact, one of my childhood memories of Chanuka is that I and my siblings all chipped in together to buy an enormous box of assorted chocolates for our parents (a kind of role-reversal, I suppose, children buying presents for parents). Of course, we had our own agenda together with wanting to give a special present we also wanted to be able to help eat it together with them!

But what is it that makes Chanuka so popular? After all, the chance to gorge on oil-saturated foods doesnt seem to be such a compelling reason (please dont misunderstand me, I am just as keen on latkes as the next person), and there are many other occasions in the year when we can both give and receive gifts. So what is it about Chanuka that has everyone so filled with anticipation and excitement?

Perhaps the answer can be found in a statement of the Rabbis: "When a person comes to perform a mitzvah he should do so with a joyful heart". The message is simple. If we want to connect to G-d, if we want to feel a spiritual awakening we must do it with verve and energy we must want to do it, not feel that we have to do it. And, maybe, that is what makes Chanuka so unique. We wait for this time of the year to light the Chanuka lights (and, yes, eat the latkes too) and to see the looks of joy light up our childrens faces as they also perform the mitzvah.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers from the last generation, explains this idea in the following way. The feelings of sanctity and holiness are supposed to grow as the days of Chanuka pass by. That is why we add a new light for every day until we reach the climax of the holiday on the last night with eight Chanuka lights pouring out their pure and bright message to the world. We are supposed to build and grow and reach a level of understanding of the Divine Providence that will support us and carry us through the travails of the year.

Unfortunately, being human, in reality there is a tendency not to feel like this. We may tend to become somewhat blasé as we repeat the same procedure night after night after night. Prepare the lights... Light the lights How can we combat those feelings of merely going through motions and perfunctory performance of the mitzvah of lighting that can creep into our spiritual lives? I think that the answer lies with our children.

There is a story told about the son of a famous Rabbi who was rather a boisterous child. Once his father was contemplating the mystical significance of the Chanuka lights and was so distressed at the fact that we no longer have the Holy Temple and the Golden Menorah that he began to cry bitter tears. Where was his son while this was happening? Outside running around wildly, laughing and singing. One of his fathers followers came and asked the boy whether he really thought it fitting that while his father was crying his heart out, he was running around without a care in the world.

The boy replied, "Why shouldnt he cry? After all he has a son like me! But I have every reason to be carefree and full of joy because I have a father like him!"

That exuberance is something that we are sorely in need of. The childrens enthusiasm doesnt wane . In fact, it is quite the opposite. They wait with bated breath for each new night, and they count the lights with a certain thrill because they know that each new night brings a novelty with it. That is something that we need to try and emulate.

The French have a phrase to describe the thrill of life: "joie de vivre". We also have a phrase that describes the real thrill of living, the essence of life. It is called "Avodat Hashem". The dedication of ourselves, not to hedonistic pleasures, but to closeness to G-d and to trying to become better people. Chanuka seems to be a very apt place to begin the task. Lets learn from our children. Lets learn how to overcome our ennui. Lets relearn how to be enthusiastic about life. Lets conjure up that feeling of exhilaration that children have when running around wildly, laughing and singing.

Then lets apply that to the way we approach our relationship with G-d.

I am not suggesting that, when we light the Chanuka lights this year, we need to physically dash around the room hooting loudly and driving the "adults" to distraction.

But, perhaps, in your mind, its not such a bad idea.

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