Ready for perfection
We often joke about the stereotype of the Jewish psyche, a spirit never satisfied. This image is best characterized by the mother whose child is swept into the sea and cries and prays for his safe return. Suddenly, the next wave casts the child back into his mother’s arms. The woman turns her eyes up to heaven and screams out: “But he had a hat!”
In truth, the central holidays echo this sentiment. Rather than to simply appreciate moments within the comfort of the status quo, we are commanded to pursue something greater yet. As the Torah introduces our festivals, we are charged to celebrate them by leaving our homes and local communities, stepping away from our work and responsibilities in order to “go up” and seek greater fulfillment through worship in Jerusalem.
After the destruction of the Temple, our sages continued to highlight this sentiment, coupling our joy of the holiday with a yearning for completion. The traditional liturgy includes these aspirations in its central blessings for the day. From the missing main course of the paschal lamb on Seder night to the absence of the High Priest ritual on Yom Kippur, central components are glaringly absent from the way that we celebrate these biblical holidays today.
Rabbi Yehudah Arye Leib Alter, the 19th-century hassidic master, points out (Sfat Emet, Hanukkah, 5644 ) that the holiday of Hanukkah, however, takes on a different tone. On Hanukkah, we continue our routine work and life balance. We don’t leave our homes to congregate elsewhere. We don’t strive to achieve a more ideal ritual. Our liturgy of the day is reflective, but contains no further aspirations than appreciation of the moment itself. We celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah acknowledging the miracles that have been bestowed upon us and our forefathers straight through to today. While the Temple and Jerusalem appear as central to the narrative of the holiday, the appreciation of miracles is celebrated today wherever and whenever we are in its most complete form. The celebration of the Hanukkah holiday is, in his words, “perfect as it is.”
On Hanukkah we mark the miraculous victory after years of a hard-fought war, the struggle for Jewish religious freedom, and the return of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem.
The Talmud (Menahot 28b) depicts that very moment where the Maccabees step forth to light their remaining cruse of pure oil and rededicate the Temple service. However, when envisioning that grand moment of salvation, the Talmud notes that the solid gold Menorah of the Temple wasn’t bearing the oil, as it, too, was likely plundered. The lighting that our eight-day festival has commemorated for the last 2,100 years took place on a makeshift wooden structure. Another opinion in the Talmud suggests that they fashioned a crude menorah using warrior spears. Ironically, the lack of the solid gold menorah is not often spoken of in thinking about the glory of Hanukkah, as its absence was inconsequential to the appreciation of the moment.
The message of Hanukkah is one of gratefulness. This gratitude, in its purest form, acknowledges the moment, “perfect as it is.” May the lights of this thankfulness radiate into our homes and find expression within our typical extraordinary lives.
ON HANUKKAH, we continue our routine work and life balance.