Hanukkah and the Jelly Donut

If we lack the patience to take one step, or bite, at a time, we will live to regret our actions

| Topics: Judaism, Hanukkah
Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90

When it was time to decide how to celebrate the Festival of Hanukkah, the rabbis asked how they should light the eight candles. “Should we light all eight on the first night of the festival or ought we begin with one on the first night, two on the second, and so forth until eight are burning on the final evening?”

The arguments carried on for many weeks and they could not come to an agreement, until one of their students raised yet another question that helped the rabbis see the problem in a better light. “When the Maccabees discovered the small clay pot of oil,” the student asked, “did they pour the whole thing into the seven branched Menorah in the Temple all at once so that it burned for eight days? Or did they keep putting in a little bit every day until it lasted a full eight days?”

The student’s question puzzled the rabbis and stirred even more ongoing debate until their understanding grew and they began to perceive that these two questions are really one and the same. “Is it better to put all the lights on and all the oil in right at the beginning, or should we progress one step at a time until we reach the final goal?” they asked.

As they considered this question they thought about how God created a whole world in seven days, one day at a time. And what about us mortals? Do we too always need to build gradually, little by little? They knew this was true to their experience in growing in understanding, faith, wisdom and even physical strength. All things seem to develop progressively over time, and we cannot reach our goals without patient endurance. Even God, it seems, needs patience as He waits for us to come around to His side.

They thought about Joseph, who as a youngster was arrogant and immature towards his brothers and is called “V’hu na’ar” or “he is just a kid,” like a work in progress. It is only after many trials that Joseph embraces his responsibility of leadership and can fulfill his destiny to provide sustenance for his family. He too had to learn the wisdom of self-control before he could graduate to be called “Tzadik,” a righteous man, and no longer just a kid.

Hanukkah recalls the Greeks who tried to stop the Jews from growing in their knowledge and service to God. They believed the physical body and its beauty as worthy of worship. Helena, the Greek goddess of beauty, was their primary deity, and their Olympics were conducted in the nude. In Greek culture when a child was born deformed he or she would be left to die while those with natural attractiveness were admired.

In contrast, in the biblical worldview it is the development of the soul and spirit that should be given priority, and that only happens one day at a time. The intentions of the heart, thoughtfulness, and the moral instincts that guide men and women develop over time, one step at a time, like Jacob’s ladder connecting heaven and earth. They realized that there must be some light to see the greater light, some oil to ignite an all-consuming fire. “In your light we see light,” says the Psalmist.

Life, the rabbis finally agreed, is like a sufgania, that jelly donut we eat during Hanukkah. Do not try to swallow it all in one bite.

Israel Today Newsletter

Daily news

FREE to your inbox

Israel Heute Newsletter

Tägliche Nachrichten

KOSTENLOS in Ihrer Inbox