by Rabbi Ilana Krygier Lapides
(Calgary) – “At this time of year, when the sun is most hidden, the holiday of Chanukah celebrates the rays of hope and light. Often, it is through simple and unrecognized miracles that we are able to feel the warmth of hope and light,” says Rafael Goldstein.
When people (sweetly) ask me how I am doing these days, I have a hard time knowing what to say. There is nothing specific to complain about but I still don’t feel ‘fine’. With the days so cold and so dark (so, so early!), it feels like the weather and the short days are conspiring to exacerbate the stress that so many of us are feeling lately. We are living in a post-Covid world but many people are still getting sick. Our economy isn’t all bad news, but many of us feel pinched financially. Our social circles have opened up but many of us, for one reason or another, are still feeling lonely. And into that equation, stir in some relentless, pop-culture Jew-hatred and you’ve got yourself a tried-and-true recipe for a grim holiday season.
Thank goodness for Chanukah, which arrives to split up the cold winter with warmth and to light a candle in the deep darkness. How does the anticipation of Chanukah help us? Studies have shown that the anticipation of a holiday or vacation can be even more mood-boosting than the actual upcoming occasion. Our brains look forward to something in the future and that releases feel-good hormones that can relieve crankiness in the present. For us, the anticipation of Chanukah can help reroute the old neural pathways and make us feel happy and excited.
American internet personality, Meir Kay (aka Rabbi Meir Kalmonson) created a wonderful teaching: ‘Understanding stress with a glass of water.’ It’s a very short video (easy to find on YouTube) and basically it begins with a professor holding up a glass of water and speaking to his class:
“How heavy is this glass of water?” he asks. The students take turns guessing, “12 ounces?” “16 ounces?”
The professor listens and then waves away their suggestions, “The absolute weight of the glass doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold onto it,” he says, “If I hold it up for a minute, nothing happens. If I hold it up for an hour, my arm will begin to ache. If I hold it all day long, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. The weight of the glass hasn’t changed but the longer I hold onto it the heavier it becomes.”
The professor explains the metaphor, “The stresses and the worries of life are like this glass of water. You can think about them for a little while and there’s no problem but you think for a little bit longer, it begins to hurt you. Think about them all day long and you’ll feel paralyzed, incapable of doing anything.” And as his final point, “Remember, put the glass down.”
I like to think that Chanukah can be our version of putting the glass down. Chanukah allows us to depart from our everyday as we light candles, chant the brachot, sing a few songs. The house smells like latkes, the kids crow over who is winning at dreidel, and we pretend that our Timmy’s jelly doughnut holes are mini-sufganiyot.
Chanukah, at its core, is a victory of freedom and a miracle of light. The story we tell and the way we celebrate can create a small, warm bubble that wards off the cold and the dark and all the other ‘things’ that are in our glass.
May this Chanukah season help us to remember the rich, beautiful tradition from which we come, to look forward to lighter skies, and friendlier moments, and to remind us to put the glass down once in a while so we can appreciate the unrecognized small miracles of our present.
From my family to yours, Chag Chanukah Sameach, A Freylechen Chanukah, Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Ilana is the Beth Tzedec Congregation’s assistant Rabbi, the Jewish Community Chaplain for Jewish Family Service Calgary, and has her own small Rabbinic practice at Rocky MountainRabbi.com