Getting It Backwards

It struck me, in the beginning days of Chanukah, that the traditional approach to all of our holidays, Shabbats and other periodic celebrations more often than not hamstrings us. Until this year, in which I’ve been consumed with other learning projects, I’ve always joined the crowd and tried to study intensively about the upcoming holiday, usually to the temporary exclusion of everything else. But this year has been different and I’ve given only a little pre-thought to Chanukah as it approached.  Counterintuitively, this has been the most moving and engaging Chanukah I’ve experienced in recent memory!

It should be obvious, but we blind ourselves to this fact, that all this preparation creates expectations and, at the very very best, these expectations cap our experiences.  More usually, they force us into trying to preprogram our experience, at best warping what we really experience.

Of course, it’s worth learning what we have to do to participate in each Chag and Shabbat, but, for the most part that’s not very complicated.  There is no need for endless how-to shiurim (classes) to tell us to light one candle the first night, two the second, three the third, etc.  Even the “fine points” of where to start, where to add, which candle to light first, approximately when and where to light and how long the candles should last, can usually fit on the back of the candle box!

While there is value in performing mitzvot, however we actually do them, it’s minimal when we “play” them by rote.  Perhaps a much-needed expression of the emunah, “belief” and bitachon, trust, that are so often touted, is that by performing the mitzva, we’ll receive the inner experience our neshamot, souls, actually require this time around.

Let’s experience Chanukah and everything else just as it comes to us.  We can’t, and shouldn’t waste time trying to, re-experience even our best experiences of the past. Likewise, we can’t “dial up” the most exciting-sounding experience of someone else. It might be useful, afterwards, to study some of the deeper insights and compare them to our own, to see how our experience fits into the great tapestry of Jewish experience, but on the other hand, perhaps all we need to do is share it with family and friends, and, of course, with ourselves.

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4 Responses to Getting It Backwards

    • Yes, there are many wonderful lessons to learn about Chanukah and every other moment of the Jewish calendar. But, perhaps, we should hold off studying them until after we’ve had our own experience.
      HKBH intentionally created many neshamot.

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    “In an article in The Jewish Observer entitled Pesach in Autumn, Rabbi Yisroel Greenwald describes his experience while learning in kollel in Australia. While originally he had gravitated towards those who were particularly successful in their fields of endeavor, his world view became changed and he was drawn to the heroes who were baalei teshuvah.

    One particular individual was particularly successful in his career in acting, with many female followers. When he decided to become a baal teshuvah, he struggled to master Gemara, and was having a particularly difficult time with parnassah and shidduchim, but was unwavering his commitment. Rabbi Greenwald took him to Rav Don Segal shlita for a brachah, and explained that his friend had given up a successful career, and left a life of prestige and fame to adopt a life of Torah.

    Rav Don lowered his head, and told him:
    I envy your share in the World to Come!

    The Rav was not one to offer unfounded compliments, yet he shared with this young [Jew] how precious his decision was in the Eyes of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”

    SOURCE: Al HaTzaddikim 5 Types of Yidden by Rebbetzin Esti Reisman, Flatbush Jewish Journal, 2013 November 7, page 34

    • I’m not familiar with Rav Segal.
      While I appreciate the encouragement he gave the young man, I seriously wonder just how many people in this or any generation are granted the vision into the higher worlds to have any idea what someone else’s, let alone their own, Olam Ha’Ba “looks like”.
      Our Torah is filled with examples of great Zaddikim, especially Ya’akov Avinu and Moshe Rabenu who repeatedly worry if they have lost their own “part” in Olam Ha’Ba. If they’re unashamedly unsure…..
      Nonetheless, engaging with Torah is a valuable endeavor!
      חג אורים שמח!

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