Hanukkah is an eight day Jewish celebration that can teach us much about improving our lives.
Hanukkah (or Chanukah or one of many other spellings) is a Jewish festival that comes around the time of Christmas. Many people know it for the progressive lighting of the candles on its nine branched menorah, for latkes or potato pancakes, for gift giving, for singing and for dreidels. From a religious standpoint, there are many holidays that are more important in Judaism, but culturally many more people have heard of it than more significant Jewish holidays. Each of us can learn lessons from Hanukkah about winning in life. Here are three things we can learn from this festival:
1. Doing something right can pay off. The root of the Hanukkah festival is in Maccabees where it is described how the people only had enough appropriate oil to light a lamp for one night but it lasted for eight nights until more sacred oil could be prepared. When we are faced with a situation that appears impossible, it is common for us to want to give up and not even try or to do something that we would not be that happy about. It is important when we face such a situation to maintain our integrity and to not try and cut corners in what we are trying to do. Similarly, even without having an idea of how it will turn out, we are able to approach the situation and proceed to see how it will turn out. The sacred writings don’t talk about what the people would have done if a miracle had not happened – but they went forward waiting to face that situation when the situation was upon them. By doing our part and trying to still do things right leaves open the possibility that something else will happen or even that a miracle will occur. You may find that someone else is able to help you on your journey of making these decisions. For people of faith, it is often possible to see the way that faithful responses have occurred in the past and to use this as a source of hope for how you proceed and this is part of the reason that the candles are lit at Hanukkah.
2. Our Own Traditions Can Help Us Keep Our Focus. In a pluralistic society, we encounter many types of celebration including secular celebrations and celebrations that come from other traditions. There is nothing wrong with drawing upon our own tradition to keep our focus when others are celebrating as well. Hanukkah is not among the most significant religious holidays in Judaism, but it is more widely celebrated because of falling at a time when others celebrate their own traditions. By focusing on Hanukkah, Jewish people are able to celebrate and experience their own dimension of light in their lives. In the same way, all of us have the possibility of using our own traditions to help our families focus on what is important to us. When multiple things happen about the same time (such as a birthday, an anniversary and the anniversary of the death of a loved one), our perspective can be influenced by what we decide to emphasize in our celebrations. Use your traditions to keep the focus where you want you and your family to focus.
3. Lessons Can Be Learned Through Fun. Playing the dreidel at Hanukkah is a good way of introducing the key meaning of the celebration to the children in a family. The basic reminder that a great miracle happened there (or here, if you are playing in Israel) and this can be relayed by the children. Further, playing the dreidel teaches children other lessons depending on how the game is played. It can encourage the teaching of gratitude and charity, sportsmanship and even the importance of sharing the winnings. Similarly, all of us should remember this lesson and think about how we can teach our children things that are important to us through games and other fun activities. This can be done whether the lessons are spiritual lessons or if they are simply values that we would like to instill in our children. When they are being taught through something that is fun, they are more likely to be remembered by the child and it can be easier to get the idea across.
As we are in the days of Hanukkah, think about the lessons that we can learn from this religious festival. How often do you continue to do the right thing even if you are not certain it would work out? What decisions do you make about what to celebrate? How do you teach your children what is important? May you find blessings as you decide your answers to these questions. In so doing, you may find wholeness and peace in your life.