When I reflect on my childhood Chanukah memories, I immediately recall how my parents, myself and my two siblings gazed at the beautiful, flickering candles, in complete serenity. There we stood, arm in arm, singing Maoz Tzur with the delicious, almost tangible smell of home made latkes and donuts wafting through the thin Colorado air.
When I got married, and began a family of my own, I had similar romantic expectations. I imagined my angelic little children wearing matching Chanukah sweaters taking turns lighting the menorah and then stand obediently in silence while they waited for their siblings to finish. Then together we would all sing the beautiful Chanukah niggunim, staring joyously into the warmth of the majestic candles on a frigid winter night.
It didn’t take long to realize, that, at least at this point in our child-rearing, this fantasy is just that, a mere romantic fantasy. Because the reality is that my precious, well intentioned seven year old constantly bumps the table, shaking the glass in the oil menorah, and toppling the candles in the others ones, providing me with more than a healthy dose of anxiety. My five year old princess is livid that her brother went first, and my three year old son is insistent on holding the candle himself. For some reason, we acquiesce to his stubborn demand, and predictably, he proceeds to drop the candle. At this point, my Better Half steps in, and finishes lighting for him, and he becomes incensed,enraged, and besides himself, screaming his lungs off. At this point, we begin chanting Maoz Tzur, although I can barely hear myself over my son’s angry cries.
After reflecting on this situation, I realize, that this, really, is what Chanukah is all about, and this is an accurate description of the reality in which the Jewish people have found ourselves throughout history. We read last week in Parshas Vayeishev, that all Jacob wanted, after everything he had been through, was a little peace and quiet. And that desire was very understandable. But G-d had other things in store for him. Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch explains that our job in this world is not to just ‘chill and relax.’ This is a world with challenges, that we grow from, and overcome. At this point in our rich history I think it is safe to say that if any nation on the planet deserves a little peace and quiet, it is us, the Jewish People. But for some reason, peace and quiet is not in the cards. Instead, as it has always been, our duty is to carry on, amid the chaos. To continue to illuminate and light up the dark winter night one candle at a time.