Thursday, December 5, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
3 Teves 5774/December 6, 2013

As of the sixth day of Chanukah I hadn’t had a latke. Not even one! So what, if I had six or seven donuts, and was starting to look like a donut; a latke is a latke! But there’s a good reason for my being deprived. On the sixth night of Chanukah our family returned from an eleven day trip to Eretz Yisroel, where we celebrated the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law, Yaakov and Michal, last week.
As special and wonderful as the trip was, it will be even greater in retrospect, when we have the time to reflect on all we did without the fatigue and stress endemic to traveling. It is of course always great to be in Eretz Yisroel, but it’s even greater during the chagim. Aside for the menorahs lit everywhere each night, the show screen on every Egged Bus blinks the words “Chanukah sameiach”, and there are mounds of fresh donuts – jelly, custard, even cheese, wherever you turn. But no latkes!  
One night during our trip we entered a makolet (small market) to purchase a few things. On the ceiling behind the counter was a tremendous picture of the skyline of New York City. A different night we met our cousins in ‘Apple Pizza’ in Kinyon Ramot. There too, behind the counter, was a tremendous picture of a line of taxis outside Times Square in Manhattan. Both times I told the cashier that in my home in New York I have a picture of Yerushalayim, while they in Jerusalem have pictures of New York City.
While we were on the bus en route to Me’aras Hamachpeilah on Friday, the radio was on. At one point the newscaster announced in Hebrew “Hayom b’Artzot Habrit yesh mah shekor’im Black Friday (Today in America they have what’s called Black Friday).” I had almost completely forgotten about the American post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz, but I was reminded on my way to Chevron! 
Life simply always seems always greener on the other side and isn’t that one of our greatest struggles? We always appreciate what everybody else has, more than what we are blessed with. We in America pine for the sanctity and holiness of the Holy Land, while many of those living there dream of life in America.  
The holiday of Chanukah was primarily enacted as a time of “hallel and hoda’ah”. It’s intriguing that although there is no mitzvah of simcha on Chanukah, the customary blessing we wish each other is “Chanukah Sameiach/Freilichen Chanukah/Happy Chanukah.” [Rambam is the exception in which he states that Chanukah was enacted as ‘days of joy and hallel’.]
Perhaps the idea is that if we fulfill the order of the day properly, i.e. if the holiday moves us to praise and express gratitude to all those who are important to us for everything we are blessed with, and ultimately to G-d for His constant blessing and goodness, than we will naturally feel joyous. 
Tal Ben Shachar, the noted Harvard Professor of Positive Psychology and bestselling author, suggests keeping a gratitude journal. These can be big things (like "I'm grateful for my family") and small things (like "I'm grateful for that nice meal I had today.") In his words, "When we focus on the positive, we stop taking our lives for granted, and we become happier."
Latkes, donuts, and dreidel are delicious and exciting (and fattening). But the main focus of Chanukah is internal. It’s a holiday of thanksgiving on all levels. It may not be a holiday dedicated to joy, but if one observes it properly, how could he/she feel anything but joy? If we can maintain those feelings of gratitude for our health, families, school, livelihood, etc. then we will be able to keep the flames of Chanukah burning brightly and warmly in our hearts, long after the Menorah has been returned to its shelf. 
Oh and by the way, jetlag not withstanding, our family enjoyed plenty of latkes during those last two days of Chanukah. Let the winter diet begin!

      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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