Chanukah: Doing What We Can
BY RABBI REUVEN TARAGIN
Global events often make us feel like we and our efforts are insignificant. Tens of millions of people have been sick and most of the world has been affected by Corona. What difference does our cautiousness make within the bigger picture? With 150 million people voting in a presidential election, how important is our one vote? In most of the states of the US, the outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion before the voting even began.
Reuven Saving Yosef
The Torah speaks of this in its description of Reuven’s actions on behalf of his brother Yosef. Though Reuven did not completely save Yosef and was devastated when he returned to the pit to find that Yosef had been sold into slavery,1 the Torah describes Reuven’s saving of Yosef from death as a הַצָּלָה (salvation).2 Though he did not succeed fully, it is important to appreciate what he did accomplish.
The Chanukah Connection
The Midrash3 associates Reuven’s salvation with our lighting of Chanukah candles at the entrance to our homes. One fulfills the mitzvah of Chanukah candles through merely lighting them.4 We are not required to ensure that the candles remain lit and we cannot guarantee how widely they will be seen. We are required to do our part by lighting the candles. The rest is not in our hands.
The nature of the mitzvah accurately reflects the historical event it eternalizes. The Chashmonaim fought a seemingly hopeless battle. It was the few against the many, the weak against the mighty. That said, they knew their responsibility was to do what they could to protect
their values and fight for Jewish independence.
Helping One Starfish
There was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, after a big storm, he was walking along the shore and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and the man could see he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. You won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned to the man and said, “It made a difference to that one!”5
Making Sure We Do All We Can
The Midrash6 says that had Reuven known the Torah would record his actions, he would have immediately placed Yosef on his shoulders and taken him all the way back to Ya’akov. Though effort that yields only partial success is also significant, we are responsible to apply ourselves fully, to invest all that we are truly able to.
Though we may not determine the pandemic’s course or who wins an election, we should make sure to value and maximize our efforts. In the merit of our doing so, may Hashem assist us in the same way that He assisted the Chashmonaim – ! בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה
1 Bereishit 37:29.
2 Ibid 37:21-22.
3 See Zechor L’Avraham who brings this Midrash.
See also Rav Shlomo Kluger’s Kehilat
Yaakov, which offers over 20 explanations for
4 See Shabbat 22b which concludes that the mitzvah is fulfilled through lighting and
nothing further is required.
5 Adapted from ‘The Star Thrower,’ by Loren
6 Bereishit Rabbah 34:8.
Rabbi Reuven Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and Dean of the Yeshivat HaKotel Overseas Program.