Chanukah is more than just dreidels and latkes (or even overstuffed jelly donuts). The first Chanukah, way back when, was the story of a struggle between two very different ways of looking at life. The Jewish outlook has always been that the physical world with all its beauty and pleasures is great, but only if it’s used to do good and express higher ethical values. Greek culture taught that beauty and pleasure are where it’s at – period – and let’s keep values and meaning out of the picture. When we celebrate Chanukah, we affirm our belief that more important than being beautiful or strong, is being moral and good.
In our story a couple of kids discover Chanukah within the walls of a gym.
Avi strained his body to the max; beads of sweat rolled off his face like raindrops. “Okay, push it, push it, Avi. Yeah, you did it, man! You pressed a hundred pounds!”
He and his buddy, Jon, had been trying to make the best use of their winter break by working out every day in the local gym. The long, cold winter usually meant a lot of time indoors and it was hard to exercise. So when the gym advertised a special two-week school-break deal, the guys jumped at the chance to pump some iron.
Avi was good and hungry after the early morning workout, and didn’t know what was taking Jon so long to get changed. Finally Avi’s patience ran out. He went back into the locker room and got his answer. Jon was standing in front of the mirror flexing his muscles.
“Hey, let’s get going, Jon! If you spend any more time in front of that mirror, it’s going to charge you rent,” he laughed.
Jon blushed for a second and then said, “What’s the problem? Don’t you want to see how awesome your muscles look? After all, isn’t this the whole point of doing that record-breaking bench-press of yours?”
Avi shook his head. “No way. I didn’t spend the last 45 minutes sweating bullets just to be able to stand in front of a mirror and admire myself like a peacock.”
Jon clicked his tongue. “Of course it’s not for only us to see,” Jon explained. “All the kids back at school are going to be really impressed too when they see how great we look and…”
“That’s not what I meant.” Avi sniffed. “Didn’t you pay attention to the Chanukah story we learned on the last day of school? How the Jewish way is to use our physical strength and good looks for something worthwhile?”
“And what could possibly be more worthwhile than looking good?!” quipped Jon as he flexed his bicep. “Anyway, don’t be a hypocrite. You work out as much as I do, and if anything your muscles are bigger than mine.”
“That’s just the point. It’s fine to get physical, but for a purpose. Everything physical – including our bodies – are all just packages for our souls. They’re the tools God gave us to use properly for something really worthwhile, not just to admire.”
Jon, who had by now put his arms down and turned from the mirror, looked confused.
Avi went on. “For instance, do you want to you know why I work out? I admit I like to look good – who wouldn’t? – but the main reason I do it is to keep healthy and have more energy to concentrate in school. And I also do it so I can help around the house, like by shoveling out our driveway, instead of my dad who had an operation a couple of months ago. The big muscles are just ‘the package’ that let me do that.”