Chanukah

Confessions of a Jewish Snob

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

A few years ago I accompanied my mother to a fancy dinner in honor of a worthy charity. I had just landed from a day of travelling, and a comfortable bed was definitely more enticing than a long dinner with plenty of speeches. Lacking my normal sparkle, I was hoping my neighbor to my left (my mother was on my right) would not insist on regaling me with fascinating stories about his summer vacation!

My plan was very simple - to snooze surreptitiously during strategic moments in the proceedings.

My plan was very simple - to snooze surreptitiously during strategic moments in the proceedings. Imagine my relief when I saw that my neighbor for the evening was an elderly, frail looking gentleman who did not look like a great conversationalist.

The first course was served, and then a speech. As the main courses began to arrive, my mother called over our waiter and asked for vegetarian meals. Duly dispatched, the waiter reappeared a little while later with the specially ordered food and we began eating. As I was cutting my attractively designed tomato, my neighbor peered at my plate and asked whether I was really a vegetarian. Well, I am not and I told him so. He then asked why I had given up a generous portion of thinly sliced roast beef in favor of a beef-less plate of assorted vegetables.

So I explained:

While true that G-d commanded us to eat only kosher food, within the dietary laws there are different levels of kosher. Many people are careful to eat meat only after it has passed many stringent tests in order to receive special kosher status. The meat served at the dinner was one hundred per cent kosher, but it had not been through all the extra tests. Hence the vegetarian meal.

When my neighbor heard this he became quite incensed! He kept repeating that he could not understand. Kosher is Kosher is Kosher! How dare I not eat the meat! Being in somewhat of a daze I was prepared to put up with all this in silence, but suddenly the diatribe became personal when he accused me of being…"a Jewish snob!"

"Israeli wine? I don't drink Israeli wine! I only ever drink the very best French wine!"

Before I could respond to this scurrilous charge, my neighbor (he never told me his name) was distracted by the wine waiter. Two types of red wine and one white was enough of a choice to completely absorb his attention. All of a sudden he exclaimed in a very loud voice: "Israeli wine? I don't drink Israeli wine! I only ever drink the very best French wine!"

I could not believe my ears! My neighbor won't drink kosher Israeli wine because it does not reach his standards! And he calls me a snob! Where was the justice?

Slumped in my mother's car on the way home, I started to analyze what had happened. Strangely enough, I began to think that perhaps my neighbor's description wasn't so far off. While not a snob, I am very concerned about what I eat, and that concern may seem exaggerated to others. Unfortunately, whenever we look at people who are being more stringent than we are, we invariably view them as fanatical. "Why are they doing it? After all, the way I do things is just fine!"

That's what makes Chanukah such a uniquely wonderful time. Because there is just one time of the year that we are not just stringent in our mitzvah observance, we are super-stringent. On Chanukah!

Over two thousand years ago a few Jews had the courage to fight for the right to retain their spiritual purity. They fought to remain uncorrupted by the pervasive and negative influence of the Greek occupation of the Promised Land. Today, as in previous generations, Jews all over the world light their Chanukah candles to commemorate the seemingly impossible victory of a small, frail band of kohanim (priests), called the Macabees, against the power of the mightiest war machine at the time, the ancient Greek army. As anyone who has lit Chanukah lights knows, we light one light on the first night, two on the second, three on the third, until on the eighth night we light eight.

What many people may not be aware of is that this universally accepted method of lighting the Chanukah lights is the most stringent one discussed by the Rabbis in the Talmud. There are two other simpler options, and yet we choose to ignore them and light our Chanukah lights as we do. The reason lies in the aftermath of the physical victory over the Greeks. The victorious Jews celebrated their new-found independence, not with wild partying, but by rededicating the vessels in the Holy Temple. The very first thing they did was to relight the golden Menorah with a small, sealed pitcher of the purest olive oil that had been miraculously found in one of the storerooms in the Temple.

What a message! Beginnings are vitally important.

The symbolism is impossible to miss: In order to bring G-d's light of Purity and Truth back into the world, the Macabees began the rededication process by kindling the Menorah. According to Jewish Law they could have used the opened jars that were strewn all over the place, but instead of making do with second best they chose to search high and low to find an uncontaminated jar full of oil to begin anew. What a message! Beginnings are vitally important. Chanukah is teaching us that something that is begun with the correct intent and with an eye to all the details can last forever!

Chanukah - what an extraordinary time of the year! A time when I don't look at my neighbor and wonder why he is doing (or keeping) more than I am, because we are all performing the mitzvah in the same way! Not just that, but we are all keeping it in the very best way possible! No one can be accused of being a snob!

So let's light our menorahs with real pride, because as we do so we are flooding our homes with the same light that the Macabees did all those years ago. The purest, most luminous light that will chase away our uncertainties. Light that will reveal to ourselves and to our neighbors that maybe being a Jewish snob is not such a terrible thing after all.

 

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