As we currently stand in the middle of Chanukah I would like to look past our weekly Parsha, Mikeitz, and keep our focus on Chanukah.
HaShem designed the human being with the capacity to train himself to do difficult activities that with enough practice those activities become easy. For example, anyone who changes their daily routine to wake up at 4:30 am will find this quite difficult and yet once it becomes routine the difficulty diminishes if it does not become natural for him. Similarly, this is true with learning a new discipline. A person can train himself to hear the fine differences between the various notes and octaves until it becomes second nature. This is truly a blessing.
This ability has a flip side that works against a person in regards to his relationships. Relationships are built on appreciation. The seeds from which a relationship grows is appreciation. When this appreciation is aroused the relationship sprouts. It will often give way to a new mode of conduct between the two parties. It may express itself by bringing flowers on a weekly basis. As the relationship endures over time very often the appreciation is lost because we become accustomed to it and take it for granted. The ability that we have to train ourselves is the very ability by which we become accustomed to our surroundings and very often what we appreciated last year or ten years ago no longer moves us. It is even conceivable that the flowers will continue to be delivered but the depth of that appreciation no longer exists. It becomes only action with no heart. Such is the consequence of allowing habit to enter our relationships. The only way to keep a relationship alive and fresh is by renewing it constantly as if today is the first day.
Our Sages teach us that HaShem allowed the Syrian Greeks to persecute the Jewish people as a consequence of their lackadaisical attitude towards their serving HaShem. Initially this sounds counterintuitive. How does it make sense that as a punishment for their relaxing their commitment to HaShem they were forced to give up their commitment!? If a child who is capable of doing well in school demonstrates laziness will the teacher punish him by taking away his classroom time and send him out for extended recess? And yet this is exactly what HaShem did. He empowered the Greek emperor to force His people to give up their Torah!
To appreciate this form of punishment we need only to consider how we react when something dear to us suddenly gets taken away or is threatened to be taken away. The moment we are threatened to lose this thing we are struck with its value and what it really means to us. We will suddenly fight to keep it.
Consider the fellow who works hard to build his business and it eventually becomes very successful. This person soon becomes somewhat lax in his commitment to the business and he starts going on extended vacations spending more time abroad than in the office. His business will invariably take a downturn. The moment he realizes the downturn he will probably (or hopefully) return to his original diligence and return to his previous commitment.
This was the method by which HaShem brought us back from the brink. In the period of Chanukah we had taken our Judaism for granted. Keeping kosher was no struggle, keeping Shabbos was no struggle, learning Torah was no struggle, raising Jewish children was no problem. There was nothing we had to fight for and consequently we lost our enthusiasm for our relationship with HaShem. He therefore challenged us with the prospect of losing our relationship entirely by force from the Greeks. At that point we suddenly woke up and rose for the fight. And fight we did. Our relationship took on a sense of urgency that was unparalleled in the history of our people. It was that renewed commitment to HaShem and His Torah that made our people worthy of HaShem’s assistance in their fight.
We live in a world where observing the mitzvos and studying Torah is already habit. There is no real effort in going to shul, that is where everyone hangs out. We can so quickly lose our appreciation of what HaShem does for us and what His service means to us. And given the incredible distractions that draw us away from all relationships and certainly a relationship with Him we stand in a critical moment of history where Heaven forbid HaShem should not challenge us again.
As Chanukah continues to offer us her strength let us grab it and reignite our enthusiasm to serve HaShem and to love His Torah.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and a brilliant Chanukah.
We are starting a new weekly program at the Knish Shop called “Learn & Chill” this Tuesday evening for men between 20-30. We will be serving great food and hear from great guest speakers and local business leaders. Please join us. More info at achim.org