With Chanukah – the Festival of Lights quickly approaching, Jews the world over are busy planning get-togethers, preparing or buying latkes and donuts, shopping for gifts for children and adults alike and generally looking forward to having fun and a much welcome break from the daily grind of life.
While enjoying our Chanukah festivities, we recite, during bentching and davening the story of Chanukah, reminding ourselves of how the Jews in the time of the Syrian-Greek occupation of the Land of Israel were able to stop the threat of spiritual and physical annihilation by destroying the army of the despot Antiochus – this despite being vastly out-numbered. We celebrate the miracle of “beating the odds” both in winning the battle and having a day’s worth of holy oil last for eight days.
But there is an underlying message in the story of Chanukah that today’s Jews – beset, as we are with so many woes, existential, financial and social – should open our eyes to and internalize. And that is taking it upon ourselves when we have seemingly insurmountable goals, to “make the effort” despite the odds, despite the very real likelihood in failing. So many of us give up too soon, or don’t bother trying at all.
Sadly, people – dismayed and discouraged by whatever challenge they want so badly to overcome, tell themselves, “there is no way I’m going to make this happen” – so they don’t even give it a shot. Or after a few failed attempts, they “throw in the towel” convinced they are wasting their time, money and energy.
This is especially true among singles looking for their elusive mate. After going out with dozens, even hundreds of “potential” mates, after years of attending Shabbatonim or going to singles’ events with no chuppah in sight – they give up. They insist they are done and stop trying.
The same can be said about couples whose infertility remain unresolved; those unemployed who have been job-seeking for a long time; those with serious medical problems; or those simply trying to lose weight. After months, years or even decades of failure to resolve their problem, they just give up.
We need to remind ourselves and absorb the words of Yehudah HaMacabee and his brothers when they heard that an army of 400,000 was coming to stop them and their small band of fighters. They said, “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple.”
They knew they were greatly outnumbered and that the odds were extremely high that they would be wiped out, but they made the decision to try. They did not give up, thinking, “What’s the point of fighting, we’re going to lose.” And then the miracle – they actually won. Had they given up and not attempted to do the impossible – there would be no Festival of Lights – very likely, no yiddishkeit.
Whatever the outcome, no doubt history would have viewed them as “winners” because making the effort is what counts. Giving up, doing nothing, wallowing in self-pity and defeat makes one a “loser.”
When we hear of the handful of Jews who escaped to Massada, and held off the Roman army for years, then killing themselves and their families rather than be enslaved when their fortress was finally breached, we view them as heroes not failures.
We honor their memory and those like them, for example, the starving, broken fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto who took on their Nazi oppressors and held them off for weeks – even though they must have known that they were doomed. We are in awe of them and all others throughout our history who “made the effort” despite the fact that they must have known failure was inevitable. They refused to listen to ” the facts” – shrugging off the logical inner voice that warned, “Don’t even think about it – you’re going to fail” and went ahead anyhow.
Sometimes there is a happy ending despite the cold, hard facts, as with the Maccabbees. Sometimes the older/divorced/widowed single does get an “ezer kenegdoh.” Sometimes health is regained despite a doctor’s grave prognosis; sometimes a couple longing for years for a child finally becomes a family. Sometimes, someone unemployed for what seemed forever gets that elusive job.
And sometimes there is no happy ending. Cherished dreams and goals go unfulfilled. But the lesson of Chanukah is to try, to face possible failure – and defy it. To not take “no” for an answer and when success remains elusive, to take a break, “lick your wounds” and try again.
There may come a time when one has to stop and accept Hashem’s will. When all attempts, all avenues are exhausted. When and if that happens, know that despite this unwanted outcome, you tried, you persisted and you did your best. That in itself makes you the winner.