Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Rest of the Story: A Channuka Blog

Many years ago there was a wonderful radio personality named Paul Harvey. For decades he had a syndicated 5 minute commentary in which he shared a news item, often one odd and unusual, but at first blush straightforward. Then, after a brief commercial break, he would go on to tell what he called "the rest of the story".
The "rest of the story" turned out not to be so much an elaboration on the headline, but rather to supply additional data that tended to turn the earlier headline on its head. The genius of "The rest of the story" was that it put what you thought you knew into a whole new light and made you realize you hardly knew it at all.

We are in the midst of the celebration of Channuka. It is a wonderful holiday filled with good times and hope. In lighting the chanukiya or menorah each night we recall the miracle of the Temple menora, where oil enough for but one day burned for eight, until new pure oil was available for kindling. In the prayers we recall a different miracle. We celebrate the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Syrio-greeks who sought to hellinize us by force. The victory was miraculous in that the few defeated the many, the weak subdued the strong, the pure overcame the wicked. While the miracle of the oil provides us with the mitzva of the holiday the victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers is the one that captures the imagination. And surely without the military triumph, unlikely as it was, we would not have been able to enter the Bait Hamikdash, rid it of the idols, and purify it. Without the miraculous victories in battle no menora would have been lit!

Yes, our miraculous triumph over our oppressors is central to the celebration of this festival of light. Now its time to share what Paul Harvey called "the rest of the story". Victory! what victory? Judah and his brothers engineered with the help of G-d a great triumph at the time of Channuka in 165 bce. But how long did it last? Shortly after the liberation of the Temple war again ensued. Judah was unsuccessful in ridding Jerusalem of the heathen influence. He himself was killed some 3 years after the Channuka victory in a losing battle. It took another 20 years for the Maccabbees to actually defeat the Syrio-greek army once and for all. By then all but one of the five brothers was dead or killed.

While the Channuka events were a great moment in time, they were hardly a culmination. A battle was won, not a war! Why all the partying? Why the widespread joy? Why the holiday? This is not a story of a happily ever after. This is no final chapter!

Here lies the great truth of Channuka, a truth often missed by those who don't bother to study the story in its fullness. Channuka teaches us that to live in this world is to live in the moment. There are no final victories. There are no lasting triumphs.Life is full of ups and downs. The success of today may have no bearing on tomorrow. We cannot hold on to the moment in a world that is constantly in flux.
If we wait to celebrate until we achieve the final triumph we will need to wait for Mashiach. All we have in life is gift moments, times that we can neither fix nor grasp. Yes, the immediate impact of Channuka was short-lived but that does not make it less worthy to celebrate.

Soon it will be superbowl season. Every football team and fan dreams of winning the title for themselves. It seems at first glance an ultimate win, a reason for enduring joy. But is it? Six months later training camp begins anew. And soon after begins a new season on the playing field. Last year's champion has no edge nor status. What seemed a lasting victory hardly endured six months. Yet the celebrations of the moment are wild and euphoric. That todays events will be irrelevant tomorrow does not make them less of an occasion today for the winners and their fans.

My father had many ups and downs in his life yet when asked how he was he would say "every day is a victory". Just having one more day, today, and being alive and able to make a difference, to love and be loved, is a reason to celebrate. True, tomorrow everything could change and often it does, but that does not make today's reality any less worthy of joy.

This lesson of Channuka is evident even in the miracle of the menora. The Maccabbees found only one flask of pure oil. It was enough to light the menora for one day.
They knew it would take eight until they could get new pure oil. They did not know a miracle would happen and the oil would continue to burn. In that situation it would have been undertsandable to say "Lets wait to light the menora until we have enough oil so it will not go out. After all it will be disappointing to light one day and then have the light extinguished while we await a new supply of oil".
The Jews of the day did not say that. Instead they said "Lets light now! We have the opportunity. Tomorrow will take care of itself!"

The message of Channuka is that in this world there are no final victories. We need to seize the gift moments and enter them fully, unafraid of what tomorrow will bring.
Indeed every day is a victory!

And as Paul Harvey would say "that my friends is the rest of the story".

Channuka Samayach
Shabbat Shalom

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