For Chanukah: On Just Doing Your Best

You do your best and God will do the rest.   That is what my students told me was the message of a story we read last week about candle lighting.

The story goes like this: Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, a famous miracle worker, one Friday afternoon notices that his daughter is sad and asks her what is wrong. This itself is a beautiful moment, a moment of compassion and caring and seeing the suffering of another (perhaps explaining why this rabbi had access to miracles). The daughter explains that she mistook the bottle of vinegar for the bottle of oil and lit the Shabbos candles with vinegar. Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa responds: What do you care? The One who told the oil to burn will also tell the vinegar burn. And so it was. The vinegar burned through the night and the following day and they took light from it for havdalah.

My students explained that what Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa is saying here is that if you have done your best to do the right thing and fulfill God’s command, you don’t have to worry. You can set your mind at ease. God will take care of the rest.

I once heard a similar explanation of the Chanukah miracle.  On that first day, before the people knew that this little jug of oil would last all 8 days until more could be made, on that first day, what did they think?   Surely they were sad at the prospect of the light only lasting a short time, but they did not let this thought deter them. They simply did their best . . . and indeed God took care of the rest.

The same could be said of the military miracle.   What hope did those Maccabee fighters really have to win? They just did their best  . . . and God took care of the rest.

What about us?  What are we sad about?   Sometimes life is overwhelming and we feel saddened and anxious at the prospect that we will not be able to succeed in our goals.   Sometimes we look at a task and think it is too hard, too impossible, requires too many resources (time especially!), etc … And this makes us sad in a deep existential way.  The task is beyond us.

Indeed it probably is beyond us.  But all we are expected to do is do our best, to make the choices that seem right in our very human minds at the moment, commit ourselves to be of service, and not worry about anything else. The results are not our business. God will decide. We are only tasked to play our part.

I don’t advise switching oil for vinegar this Chanukah, but it is good to keep in mind that such mistakes are human, and if we do them with a full heart of good intention, we need not be sad. All we can do is try our best to do what is right. The rest is up to the One who told the oil to burn.

About the Author
Rachel Anisfeld holds a PhD in Jewish Studies and studies and teaches Torah in a variety of Atlanta adult education settings.
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