Just one more week and we will be there. Chanukah is so delightful. Its joy is so pure. Don’t you love how the bad guys lost and the good guys won, and left us with so much light that we still see its brilliance. When you also factor in the well-known fact that eating latkes or doughnuts don’t make you fat (or fatter, as the case may be). For one magic week they are calorie free. That’s just a joke in case you were thinking of suing me for malpractice. What could be bad?
Light and war. They don’t form a natural partnership. The Talmud talks about the miracle of the lights; the prayer that is added to the usual daily shmone esre and birkas hamazon takes you back to the war, the persecution, the high stakes, and improbable victory of the righteous few over the evil many.
It’s a story that comes to mind whenever I think about the time that I bought my granddaughter a ball that was simultaneously a globe. The teacher in me demanded that I explain to her how each of the colored shapes are actually pictures of how countries would look if you could get off the world’s surface and see them from space. That would have been more than enough for one day, but no! I had to show her the oceans and the continents. Then she asked me where Eretz Yisrael is. It wasn’t there. At first, I thought that the reason must be that it is just isn’t P.C. for us to exist. Then I realized that the problem wasn’t as sinister as I thought…The reason that there was no little patch of color called Israel was that we are just too small to fit in. There were some barely distinguishable letters not far from Italy, and quite near Saudi Arabia. She was very doubtful when I showed her the point where the letters seemed to emerge. I welcomed her to the ironic reality of Israel. I told her that we live in the most significant country in the world. It’s the one that gave everyone the knowledge that Hashem is there, that He told us how to make ourselves good and how to make the world good. It’s the only country that every other country looks at. It’s still a place of war and light.
She knows about war. She knows that the eighteen-year-old guys in the street are soldiers. She knows that Tehillim are the way we ask Hashem to protect us, and that Torah is the most important thing in the world; she knows about the light.
The way Eretz Yisrael is referred to in the Torah most of the time is Eretz Canaan. The Canaanites were a confederation of seven nations who were descendants of Noach’s third son. When you turn the word into a verb, lihicana it means to submit. The Canaanites evolved as a people who submitted to whatever instincts were in the driver’s seat at the moment. They were capable of extreme cruelty, greed and the rest of the retinue of evil. The word canaani, however, also means a merchant. That leaves you with the obvious question about how all of these words connect. What commonality is there between the aboriginal inhabitants of Israel, submission, and being a merchant?
Jews are good at business, at least that’s what they say. What being a merchant is all about is coming to the marketplace with your cash or your goods, and leaving with something that’s potentially more valuable. The worst mistake you can make is impulsively spending your investment capital on whatever strikes your fancy. You end up like the moshav in the North who were given hundreds of chickens by the government to enable them to start farming. After several weeks of chicken dinners, they were left without anything. If you come down to the world’s “market” and waste your capacity to emerge a person who has something to show for the eighty-ninety years you were gifted, you are left with nothing. Your capital is your inner longing to make something of yourself. You have a subtle inborn love of G-d that draws you towards everything good, decent, and worthy of your dedication. You also have an inborn awe of G-d’s power that you feel when you say no to whatever you know is demeaning, selfish, egocentric and wrong. If you don’t know how to love, you end up loving the kind of thing that ‘s gone in the moment, like the moshav’s chickens. If you misplace your awe, you end up being afraid of your shadow, and worse still of every person and eventuality. Israel is called Eretz Canaan not only because the Canaanites once lived here. It’s called the Land of the Merchants, because it’s a place where you can find unbelievable bargains. A bit of tzedakah buys you connection. Lighting Shabbos candles give you an eagle’s eye view of reality, and bonds you to the Creator of it all. You can step away from everything that is compromising and get far more than the moment could have given you. You have streets named after the prophets, continued visible miracles. If that’s not a bargain, what is?
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with you if you are living Out There. Whether its L.A., or Panama City, it’s not Israel. Nonetheless, Rebbe Nachman would say, “Wherever I am going, I am going to Eretz Yisrael”. That would mean even in the blood-soaked soil of his native Ukraine, you can find really great deals
The Greeks and their way of thinking still covers everything with such deep darkness that you can’t even see where your choices take you. Chanukah is a time to defeat them. It’s also a time of great light, where the fact that you chose to bring light into dark places makes you into a spiritual Bill Gates. You can also help someone else, a friend, or a relative, or just someone you see at work or in school also find a little light. After all, a bargain is a bargain.