Chanukah: Lessons in perseverance

Chanukah: Lessons in perseverance

Rabbi Fleischmann is a guidance counselor, teacher, and director of Torah guidance at the Frisch School in Paramus

The Torah portion we read each day of Chanukah tells of the gifts and sacrifices that the head of each tribe offered on each day of the dedication of the Mishkan, the desert temple.

The midrash adds a layer to the story. It describes how Aaron the high priest became disheartened upon seeing the heads of the tribes bringing offerings, while his own tribe, the Levites, did not. God comforted him, telling him that he and his descendants had a greater task: They would light the menorah in the tabernacle. This midrash explains why the offerings of tribal leaders is followed by the command to light the menorah.

The Ramban says that this midrash alludes to the future lighting of the menorah at the time of Chanukah. This explains why the simple act of illuminating the menorah in the Tabernacle could lift Aaron’s spirit. God was telling Aaron not be overly impressed by the show that the heads of the tribes made at the Temple’s dedication. It’s typical for people to be enthused when celebrating a new phenomenon. God told Aaron that his tribe would remain committed long after the honeymoon had ended. Centuries after the Mishkan was dedicated, during a time when Jews were attracted to foreign values, the descendants of Aaron stayed connected. Chanukah was a time of spiritual and religious darkness for the Jewish nation. It was only the priests descended from Aaron who rekindled the menorah and remained steady and loyal in their task.

It’s challenging (if not impossible) to stay thrilled by the things that matter in life. It is normal to lose the charge that we feel at the start of anything we love. When the excitement fades we need to gently remind ourselves that it’s only human to come down from our initial high. A sophisticated human trait is to struggle with downfalls from initial bursts of inspiration. One of the greatest marks of a spiritual individual is to rekindle the spark of enthusiasm that burned when we first dedicated our souls to God.

King Solomon taught that “A righeous person falls seven times and rises” (Proverbs 24:16). Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner explains that these words teach us the definition of a righteous person. A righteous person falls, loses their enthusiasm, and then rises again, with passion.

There is only one biblical character who is referred to as righteous – a tzaddik – and that is Joseph. Joseph encountered jealousy, temptation, and power, yet he always persevered and emerged Joseph the Righteous.

Chanukah is the holiday of perseverance. As the days get shorter and darker despair crouches at our doorstep. We light candles in the darkness and aim to increase the light in every realm of life. We reaffirm our spirituality and reconnect to our religion. We rise again and rededicate the temple in our souls. May we be blessed this Chanukah to be like our righteous role models as we rekindle and maintain our fire inside.