By Rabbi Meir Goldberg, Matzav.com
Chanukah! The mere mention of the day brings us visions of sentimentality and inspiration. The Menorah’s wicks swim on top of the golden brown pure olive oil, like swans floating on an unspoiled, pristine pond. The smell of delectable potato latkes, sizzling and jumping in the frying pan, fills the house with a festive aroma. Little children eagerly anticipate their presents; Mothers contentedly peer into their luminous faces. Bubbies and Zaidies sit back and remember chanukah of years gone by and the cherish the memories of loved ones no longer here.
Chanukah exhorts us to remember the struggle to remain a nation apart and not to be influenced by ancient Greek or modern day ideas that are not true to our Torah. Perhaps one of the most venomous influences that afflict us today is the rampant cynicism and negativity which is part and parcel of the secular media. Much of what passes for news and articles of interest are no more than “gotcha” stories designed to rip down and destroy reputations of people in politics, entertainment, etc. Whole magazines and websites are dedicated to this endeavor which has become an industry within an industry. Even newsworthy articles and reports overwhelmingly paint a bleak picture of our world around us and its future.
It is little wonder that this mind-set and attitude has seeped into our circles as well. I’m often disheartened at the unrelenting negativity that comes up in conversation when discussing with some people the various issues of the day regarding klal Yisroel. We constantly hear of the various crises that afflict our community. How many times have I heard the tired refrain?
“There are no more good Jews anymore. Where is our leadership?”
I have always been told that I’m somewhat naïve. I prefer to call myself positive. Perhaps that serves me well in my profession as a college Kiruv Rabbi. Aside from learning with secular students, we also bring them to frum communities for shabbatons and trips. At first these students are apprehensive. You see, many of them can’t fathom that a family who does not know them will take them into their homes and happily feed them for a whole Shabbos.
“Do we have to bring our own food or linen, Rabbi?” They ask.
“Not really,” I respond chuckling to myself. “You’ll probably gain about 15 pounds by the time Shabbos is over.”
Invariably, at the end of Shabbos the students will talk about the great hospitality and warmth that exudes from these frum homes. The closeness of the families and the meals together make the students feel as though these frum families are having “Thanksgiving every week.”
We show them a children’s gown gemach which has lent out over 12,000 gowns all out of the basement of one family of true gomlei chessed. They visit the hatzoloh and see the dedication of the Hatzoloh members and their families to klal Yisroel. They tour the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse and see firsthand the chesed that is performed in such a sensitive and modest way. Are these not examples of “Yisroel asher bicha espaer?”
The cynics see a world where “Nobody cares about the next guy.” Yet I see myriad tzedakah organizations, and gemachs lending everything from gps’ to humidifiers. In Lakewood alone there are over 40 money lending gemachs. How many millions of tzedakah dollars change hands on Purim?
The naysayers see “a spoiled generation,” but I see hundreds of mechanchim dedicated to teaching Torah despite the fact that they often don’t know when their next paycheck will come. Or the kiruv Rabbis, burning with ahavas yisroel, who eschew a more lucrative profession, in order to inspire those who grew up without the beauty of yiddishkeit.
“Where are the talmidei chachomim?” cry some. But had Rav Chisda and the amoraim of yesteryear stepped into Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood or Mir Yerushalayim with thousands of young talmidei chachomim plumbing the depths of Torah, would they not joyously cry out “Alufeinu mesubalim?! Our oxen – talmidim, are laden with Torah! “(See Berachos 17)
“Our chinuch system only caters to the aleph students” say it’s detractors. But I see a myriad of remedial kriah programs, chavrusa mentoring programs to help children who have fallen behind and people out on the street to helping teens that have fallen through the cracks.
The pessimists cluck their tongue and exclaim,
“We’re in serious trouble,” but I think we should instead proclaim,
“Mi keamcha Yisroel.”
This brings us to another Chanukah lesson. Chanukah occurs in middle of the cold months of winter when the natural world seems to be at its lowest point. The future seems bleak and all hope appears to be lost. The menorah comes along and lights a beacon of hope to the world.
“Don’t give up just yet,” shouts the burning candles. “There is still light; there is still hope. We have Hashem to rely upon and His Torah to guide us.”
True there are myriad challenges, problems and issues facing klal yisroel today. But let us always remember the Chanukah lesson, “Meat min haor docheh harbei min hachoshech,” a little light pushes away a lot of darkness.
Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the Director of Rutgers Jewish Xperience at Rutgers U in New Brunswick, NJ. He resides in Lakewood, NJ with his wife and children. He can be reached at Mgoldberg@Rutgersjx.com.