Taking in God’s strength during Hanukkah


These past few weeks have been a most difficult time for our community. Sandy was New York’s Hurricane Katrina, but as a community, we pulled together with that indomitable Jewish chutzpah and New York spirit which shouts in word and deed for all to hear, “You won’t get us — you won’t bring us down — we can take whatever man or nature brings our way and emerge stronger and more resolute than before.” This, too, is the message that our holiday of Hanukkah, through the millennia, has transmitted to the world.

And so, the question is, “How do we live in a world where the things we love and cherish so much can be here today and gone tomorrow?” And, it’s really a three part question. First, what do you do and how do you live before the storm hits? Second, what do you do and how do you live while it is occurring? Third, what do you do and how do you live after the storm has passed?

The answer to the first question is captured in the Yiddish expression spoken to me by a Jewish mystic and Kabbalist who lives in the magical old City of Jerusalem. And it is, “grab it all in while you can,” because we never know when things may suddenly change for the worse. So, “grab it all” enjoy the good while you have it enjoy it now, while you can. Give your kids time when they are young. Travel while you are healthy. Stay connected to your parents while you still have them. Enjoy what you have while you have it. And for the stressful changes that life inevitably brings, build up a storehouse of nurturing relations with family and friends during the good times to help sustain you during the bad times. That is the second lesson we must learn. At the time of crisis, your possessions will have little meaning to you and you will learn that you can live without them, but your loved ones will mean everything in the world to you. They are the ones who help you through.

This brings us to the third question, “What do you do and how do you live after the storm has passed?” The answer is found in our liturgy as we pray, “BARUCH ATA ADONAY — Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God — who gives strength to the weary.” God does that! God has implanted in all of his children the gift of strength that we seldom need to draw upon, but which is there when we need it. And we all have seen this inner strength in people we know who have gone through unspeakable losses and survived.

So, we can and we should weep when we see the pictures of devastation brought by Sandy. But the lessons of history and life remind us, God gives us strength. In this season of Hanukkah, which shepherds us to the New Year, may God give us the power to meet the inevitable, the inescapable storms and changes of life with courage in our hearts, knowing that “ADONOY OZ L’AMO YITEIN, ADONAY YEVARAICH ET AMO B’SHALOM — The Lord will give his people strength — The Lord will bless his people with peace.”