Lessons for Modern Life Found in Ancient Story of Hanukkah

Religion Jewish Hanukkah Festival Hanukah

We live in an amazing world. Technological advancements seen in the last 20 years have changed world dynamics. There is so much good will in the world, yet negativity exists as well.

Initially, we begin our lives as selfish babies and only focus on ourselves. Our world starts off so self- absorbed that we are not able to reciprocate any thanks to those taking care of our every need.

A goal in life is to evolve out of this egocentric state, and begin to focus on others. When we grow up in a world surrounded by instant gratification, it’s much harder to evolve into the person we are meant to be.

We used to go to the store to buy food, clothes, furniture, and toys. Today we have Amazon Prime, and life is always a click away. Walking to Blockbuster is a thing of the past. We once had to trek out to the movies, now we watch online.

It seems like a beautiful, easy, and happy life. What’s wrong?

Things that are truly important in life, are often not easily attainable. There’s no app to refine your character so you can have a loving relationship. Amazon “Alexa” is convenient, but it won’t teach how to acquire job satisfaction. Apple’s “Siri” is really sweet but can’t demonstrate how to live a meaningful life.

Author Simon Sinek explains that when kids grow up with instant gratification, it is nearly impossible for them to hone the skills needed to navigate lives that will definitely be filled with challenges, hardships, and bumps. When childhood has provided a life void of hard-earned gratification, and provided a false sense of success, it will be difficult for youths of the future to function in what we call the “real world.”

Dr. Angela Duckworth calls this phenomenon “Grit.” From the TED stage she describes grit as having the “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Having stamina and sticking with your future day in and day out, not just for a week not just for a month but for years; and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

The Story of Hanukah highlights the secret ingredient to live a meaningful life. During the time of the Second Holy Temple, the Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus outlawed Jewish observance. Many Jews, called Hellenists, began to assimilate into the Greek culture. Thus began the deterioration of the foundation of Jewish life and practices.

A few courageous Jews, called Maccabees, openly revolted in the hills of Judea against this threat to Jewish existence. The Maccabees saw that Jewish tradition was in danger, and in the face of a seemingly impossible mission, fought to save the Jewish nation. They knew the secret to success. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Only after three years were they victorious.

We embody this lesson on Hanukkah by lighting one extra candle each night on the Menorah. We remind ourselves that when life throws curveballs, our job is to persevere, have grit, and climb that emotional mountain. Slowly but surely we will taste the sweet reward of success.

This Hanukkah, may we commemorate the enormous courage of the Maccabees, both physically and spiritually, and enrich our own personal lives one candle a time.

Happy Hanukkah!

Yaakov Gruenstein is the Campus Rabbi at LIU Post.