We are now more than halfway through the holiday of Chanukah, and we are nearing the end. What does the word “Chanukah” literally mean?
The word “Chanukah” actually means “rededication” or “inauguration“1 – as in the “Chanukas HaBayis” (dedication) celebration that is performed when a new house or new shul is built. What “rededication” happened on Chanukah?
In the times of the Maccabees, the Greeks were in control of the Beis HaMikdash and forbade the Jewish people from serving Hashem. So the Maccabees fought a war against the Greeks, and, with Hashem’s help, they miraculously won the war. The Jews regained control of the Beis HaMikdash and they were able to serve Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash once again.
Just as the Maccabees rededicated themselves to serving Hashem on Chanukah – and received miraculous Divine assistance to enable them to do this -we, too, should “rededicate” ourselves to serving Hashem during the powerful days of Chanukah.
In particular, Chanukah is a very important time for us to renew our committment to serving Hashem because the Sefarim teach that our judgment from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is actually finalized on the LAST day of Chanukah (known as “Zos Chanukah”). Although Hashem already decided a few months ago how our year will turn out, in some way, the judgement is not fully complete until the last day of Chanukah.
Before we reach the end of Chanukah, therefore, now is a good time to think: Am I still keeping the kabbalos (commitments) that I made on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Am I still keeping everything I committed to do? If not, do my commitments need to be tweaked at all? Does my plan for self-growth need to be adjusted?
If we show Hashem that we are willing to pause, reflect, and rededicate ourselves to fulfilling His Will, then hopefully He will come to our aid like He helped the Maccabees miraculously defeat the Greeks, and continue to give us the strength, health, and resources to be able to serve Him even more in the upcoming year.
What Makes It Hard to Rededicate Ourselves?
It may sound easy to rededicate ourselves to serving Hashem, but when we encounter specific challenging situations, it actually can feel very hard.
Maybe you promised yourself that you would never yell at your sister again, but when she starts getting on your nerves, it feels too hard to hold yourself back from screaming. Maybe you were once inspired to lose 20 pounds, but when you smell the fresh cookies coming out of the oven, it feels too hard to resist. Maybe you promised yourself that from now on, you’ll always have kavannah in Shemoneh Esrei, but when it comes time for davening, you just can’t seem to focus.
What makes it so hard for us to change, and hold to our commitments?
There are many things that can get in the way of our growth, but one factor is that we tend to think in an all-or-nothing mindset. We picture where we need to be, and we see where we are now, and it feels like an overwhelming, impossible mountain to climb!
I promised myself that I would never yell at my sister again, but now I just yelled at her! I can’t believe it! I’m a total failure! I will never be the calm, easygoing person I want to be!
I promised myself that I’ll never eat another cookie, but here I go again, taking second helpings of dessert! I’ll never be able to lose weight!
I promised myself that I’ll always have kavannah in my davening, but it’s just too hard! I’ll never be able to do it!
When we think this way, it can make growth seem impossible. But we need to remember that Hashem only expects us to take one tiny, first step toward growth – and then He will help the rest of the way.
Hashem doesn’t expect you to lose 20 pounds in one week; He just wants to see that you are able to resist temptations every once in a while, on a small scale. (Pun intended!) Hashem doesn’t expect you to have kavannah for the entire Shemoneh Esrei every time you daven; He only expects you to have kavannah in the first brachah, maybe only twice a week. Hashem doesn’t expect us to be perfect overnight. He just wants to see that we are willing to take that first small step, and then He will help us the rest of the way.
How We Merited the Chanukah Miracles
This mindset of “one step at a time” is actually how the Jews merited the Chanukah miracles, thousands of years ago.
The Maccabees could have looked at the huge Greek army and said: “Wow! The Greeks are way more powerful than we are! There’s no way we will ever defeat them! It’s impossible!” But the Maccabees knew that they couldn’t just sit back and let the Greeks continue to control them. They had to fight back, for the sake of Torah and mitzvos! So they said to themselves: “Even though the task looks impossible, at the very least, we’re going to try!”
When Hashem saw how much the Maccabees cared about being free to do mitzvos, and saw how they were willing to take at least that first step to try to go to battle, Hashem did a miracle and helped them win the war the rest of the way.
The same thing happened with the miracle of the oil. Why were the Jews looking for pure oil in the Beis HaMikdash in the first place? It was so unlikely that they would find any pure oil left, after the Greeks had destroyed everything! There was basically no realistic chance of finding any pure oil at all!
But even though the situation looked impossible, the Jews didn’t give up. They searched until they found a jug of pure oil. When Hashem saw how much they cared about finding pure oil – and how they were willing to search even when it seemed impossible to find anything – Hashem did a miracle and made that pure oil last for 8 days.
We learn from the Jews in the times of Chanukah that when we need to accomplish something for the sake of mitzvos, yet the situation seems impossible (like defeating the Greek army, or finding the jug of pure oil), we must nevertheless take a small step, and try to do it anyway. And when Hashem sees our small efforts, He will come to our aid, and even do miracles to help us!
This is the concept of “B’Derech She’Adam Rotzeh Leileich, Bah Molichin Oso – In whatever path a person desires to go, Hashem will assist him in progressing along this path.”2 Hashem will assist you on your chosen path, and He will make miracles to help you accomplish whatever you need to do! Just as Hashem helped the Maccabees win the war and find the pure oil, once they chose the “path” of ruchinyus (spirituality) – Hashem will also help YOU achieve whatever ruchniyus goals YOU want to accomplish, if you just show Hashem that this is what you desire!3
The situation might seem impossible for YOU, but nothing is impossible for Hashem!
So the key to our success is that in whatever area we feel the need to grow the most, we should pick a tiny, small committment, and just stick to that commitment.
Maybe it’s too hard for you to never eat junk food again, but you can commit to not having any junk food on Mondays. Maybe it’s too hard for you to never yell at your sister again, but at least you can commit to not yelling at her every day from 7-8pm. Maybe it’s too hard for you to always have kavannah while saying Asher Yatzar, but at least you can commit to stand in one place while you say it.
If we pick small kabbalos that feel almost “too easy” for us to accomplish – yet they still require us to “stretch” ourselves a little bit – that is the key to solid, steady growth.
Rav Wolbe presents the following mashal (parable): When a plane is flying near enemy territory, the captain makes sure to fly very low, extremely close to the ground. The reason is that the enemies have a radar that will detect any planes that fly above a certain altitude, but if you fly low down enough, you will be able to fly under their radar and not be detected. Rav Wolbe says that the yetzer hara works the same way. If we undertake to make a big significant change in our life, the yetzer hara’s “radar” detects it, and he tries to get in our way. But if we choose just a tiny step, then we can “fly below the radar” and slip underneath the yetzer hara’s detection!
This Chanukah, let’s rededicate ourselves to serving Hashem. Let’s reflect for a few moments on our commitments, how we are planning to grow, and make sure that our plan is realistic and working. When Hashem sees that we are taking this tiny step toward growth, He will help us grow the rest of the way, even doing “miracles” to help us become the people we want to be.
Sources:  Sfas Emes Mikeitz 646;  Makkos 10b;  Based on the shiur by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein, entitled: The Light of Chanukah: How to Achieve Beyond your Capabilities – The Gem of Rabbi Asher Arielli; also see Michav Mei’Eliyahu Vol. III. pgs. 319-320
Think back to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Did you take on any kabbalos (commitments to improve in mitzvos) at that time? If yes – how are those kabbalos going? If not – now is the perfect time to think of a new commitment to take on!
Write down for yourself a small kabbalah to help you improve in an area of mitzvos or middos where you personally feel the need to grow.
It can be a new kabbalah, or it can be a kabbalah that you took on in the past.
If you are rededicating yourself to an old kabbalah, write a few lines for yourself about what happened the last time you tried to do this kabbalah. What obstacles got in your way? What can you do to remove those obstacles for the future? Do you perhaps need to adjust your kabbalah to be more realistic? Write down your answers.
Daven to Hashem in your own words, asking Him to help you stick to your committment.
Do something to ensure that you will check in on yourself about sticking to this kabbalah in the future.
You can either create a calendar/chart for yourself where you put checkmarks for every day you that you succeed in keeping your kabbalah. Or you might want to set a daily reminder on your phone to remind you about your kabbalah. Or join with a friend who is working on the same thing, and you can work on it together.