I have a Chanukah challenge for all of you.
This year, right before you light your menorah, turn off your phones, tablets and laptops and leave them off for 18 minutes after you light. Spend the time with your family and engage them in a powerful discussion that will allow you to plug into the power of Chanukah.
Here is what I suggest, and this is what I plan to do:
Based on an article I read by Shira Heller called 8 Conversations for 8 Nights, I will spend those 18 minutes with my family and friends and take advantage of the “teaching moments” that Chanukah has to offer. Here are eight conversation starters on Chanukah themes that can help families share values and connect. You can make up your own topics and you can change the questions to fit your “audience.” But remember- the phones and tablets have to be off.
Night One – It’s all About Gratitude
The main point of Chanukah is to express our gratitude to G-d for the miracles that He performed on our behalf when He defeated our enemies and protected us with open miracles. It is an opportunity in general to work on acquiring an “attitude of gratitude” in our own lives.
- Do people who are filled with gratitude seem like happier people to you? Why do you think that is? What is it about possessing gratitude that makes you happy?
- How can you work on having more gratitude in your life?
- Why do you think some people, who struggle and even suffer illness and tragedy, are able to have gratitude while others, who have much “better lives,” aren’t?
- Have you ever tried writing daily in a gratitude journal? It’s simple – you write one thing each day that you are grateful for. Then you can choose, if you want, to share it – or not. Chanukah is a great time to start a gratitude journal.
Night Two – Adding Light to Darkness
One of the themes of Chanukah is the idea that a tiny bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. The flickering light of the menorah reminds us of this idea. The Jews have never fought with the sword. We defend ourselves with the sword but we fight by adding light into a world that can be so dark. We read daily about the terrible evil in our world and we sometimes feel helpless. Judaism says that you are never helpless. You can always make the world a better place by adding a little light.
- What are some of the things that you can do to add light into the world?
- Does it have to be something that affects a lot of people and that people all hear about or can it be something done quietly, even anonymously? What would be an example of that?
- How can you commit to bringing a little light into other people’s lives?
Night Three – The Few Against the Many: Overcoming the Odds
The Chanukah story highlights a small group of dedicated Jews who took on the world super-power at the time, despite the tiny odds of victory. With the help of The Almighty, they defeated the Greeks and overthrew their oppression.
- Who do you turn to when you feel like the odds are stacked against you?
- What character traits do you think the Maccabees had that helped them overthrow the Greeks?
- Can you remember a time that you overcame a challenge? How did it feel?
Night Four – Counting up: Chanukah as a Model for Growth
The custom to light one candle on the first night and to add a candle each night is based on the Talmudic teaching of Hillel. Another opinion, that we do not follow, says to do the opposite- to light eight candles on the first night and to decrease one each night.
- Which custom makes more sense to you and why?
- What is the message behind increasing by one candle each night?
- Why do you think the other opinion says it makes more sense to decrease each night?
- How can the custom that we follow of adding a candle each night act as a model for personal growth?
Night Five- Resisting the Tide of Assimilation
The Greeks tried to wipe out Judaism but not the Jews. They tried to get the Jews to assimilate and become just like them and to drop their own customs and laws, and many Jews did cave to that pressure. The Maccabees resisted the tremendous pressure to conform and they retained their Jewish practice and Jewish pride.
- Do you ever feel pressure to hide or downplay your Judaism?
- Do you feel like you have a strong sense of Jewish pride?
- What events or experiences make you feel proud to be Jewish?
- How can you avoid the pressure of assimilation that is so strong in our culture?
Night Six – Miracles in our Day
- Do we still experience miracles in our days? If so, what form do they take?
- Do you think the establishment of the State of Israel was a modern day miracle or natural? How about the Six Day War when tiny Israel defeated a united Arab force of many nations?
- Does G-d intervene into our personal lives? How so?
Night Seven – Showing Off
The Talmud teaches us that the appropriate place to place the menorah is in a doorway or a window where the maximum number of people can see it. In a sense we are broadcasting to the world that G-d performed miracles on our behalf.
- Is that called showing off? Why are we encourage to broadcast this to the world? When is it ok to attract attention and when is it not?
- Have you ever looked on Facebook or Snapchat and seen friends showing off about their boyfriends, girlfriends, vacations and other good fortunes? How does it make you feel?
- Will you perhaps think about this before you post something similar on social media?
Night Eight – Making the Effort
After the Maccabees defeated the Greeks and wanted to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem they discovered that there was only enough oil to burn for one night and producing more oil would take eight days. Even though they didn’t have even close to the amount of oil they needed, they lit the menorah anyway. They put forth the best effort they could.
- Have you ever started something even though you weren’t sure if you would succeed, but you tried anyway?
Rabbi Tarfon used to say (Ethics of our Fathes 2:16), “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to abstain from it either.”
- How does Rabbi Tarfon’s wisdom apply to the Maccabees?
- If we don’t “finish the work” after we start it and give it our best effort, who will? Who finished the work of keeping the menorah lit?
Posted on: Thursday, December 22nd, 2016
Author: Rabbi David
About: For more and more students in the Chicago area, Rabbi David is like a personal tour guide into the world of Jewish thought. He is passionate about elucidating timeless Jewish texts to the contemporary mind and leading each student on his or her own personal spiritual journey. His inspiring and insightful teaching style, coupled with his sense of humor and warm approach, has attracted hundreds of students since he began teaching on the North Shore 12 years ago. Rabbi David and Ali have five children, and currently reside in West Rogers Park in Chicago.