May the glowing lights of Chanukah radiate your lives with good health and good deeds. A freiliche Chanukah!
This past week I took time out from my daily activities to have a medical checkup – something I highly recommend. I know too many people who only go to a doctor when they don’t feel well, or if something seems out of sorts, but never when they actually feel fine, the excuse being that they don’t have time for a checkup, or can’t fit in a mammogram or a colonoscopy, or a blood test etc. into their busy schedules. They are overwhelmed at work, and their “free” time is saturated with “must do” activities – their chesed project or babysitting grandchildren or taking elderly parents to their appointments. They just don’t have the time, they claim.
The incredible irony here is that making time for medical tests may actually give them more time.
I have friends whose lives were extended because they did go for their pap-smears, mammograms, blood pressure monitoring, and they did have that “little cough” checked, etc. They are alive and well. Tragically, I know others who ignored the tiny lump or bump or stomach ache – “it’s nothing, it will go away by itself” – and tragically weren’t around to dance at their children’s weddings.
When I saw my doctor I asked him to look at a little bulge near the crease of my left arm. I really didn’t think it was anything serious- but wanted him to confirm that. And B”H he did: Just a fat pad under the surface of the skin – something quite common. I was, of course, relieved by his diagnosis (but also a bit annoyed since I weight lift on a regular basis – but I’m not complaining). At least it wasn’t something truly ominous. Like cancer. Which brings me to Chanukah.
“Cancer and Chanukah,” you ask, “what’s the connection?” In both situations you have normal versus abnormal. When you look at the Chanukah story, it’s about “normal” Jews who, due to their exposure to a toxic spiritual environment became “abnormal Jews” – they assimilated and no longer behaved as Jews. Their spiritual DNA – their souls – became mutated. And no content to live and let live, they tried to force their views on the still “normal” Torah Jews and have them become like them – abnormal entities no longer recognizable as Yidden.
Such is the case with cancer. Cancer is not something you catch, like the measles or the flu, rather cancer used to be ordinary, regular cells, e.g. lung cells – that are altered due to toxins or pollution or genetics or viruses that attack its core – its DNA – and they no longer act like normal cells. These now-abnormal cells do not stay put but spread and take over the normal ones.
To get rid of them, a surgeon will take a scalpel and cut them out. So too, Mattityahu, and his team of Maccabeen “surgeons” took up their swords and removed from their midst the spiritual tumor that threatened their existence.
But as is the case in many situations where there is cancer, radiation is utilized to finish the job.
So too the threat of the cancerous, assimilated Jews and their Greek supporters was removed by the radiation emanating from the Torah – in the form of the dazzling lights of the menorah that illuminated the Holy Temple for eight days.
Sadly, in the 21st century, Jews of all backgrounds and hashkafas are threatened by both physical and spiritual malignancies brought on by exposure to a noxious cultural environment. It behooves us to do what we can to fortify ourselves from this life-threatening hazard.
On the physical level, we must do what we can to strengthen ourselves. That means not smoking – ever; getting enough exercise and rest – as there are a lot of sleep-deprived children and adults out there who are at risk because of weakened immune systems or because they are not alert and paying attention; eating nutritious food – in normal amounts – not overindulging and definitely not starving oneself; getting timely check-ups and tests; reaching out to others who are professionally able to help you if you need help; in turn, helping others in a capacity you feel comfortable with – if it’s simply packaging food for Tomchei Shabbos or preparing a meal for a woman who has just given birth; and most importantly being vigilant and aware of your physical and emotional needs and addressing them in a timely and appropriate manner.
On a spiritual level, you can fortify yourself and your family against the cancer of assimilation by being connected to a community via a shul or chesed organizations; ensuring a Jewish education for your children and your neighbors’; filling your household with warmth and an unconditional love in which all family members – wife, husband, children – are included; letting your children see that you practice what you preach; and giving them a love of Yiddishkeit and such a strong sense of their rich culture that they will develop a strong immunity and resistance against an enticing but perilous environment outside your home.