Rabbi Doniel Stern discusses the significance of our favourite Chanukah treat – and sticking to your beliefs in the face of adversity.
As a warm trickle of blood red jam rolled down my fingers, I allowed my taste buds to indulge in the ecstasy as the fusion of the sweet icing sugar with the airy dough made the experience a truly spiritual one. Having almost come to the end of my Chanukah doughnut, I caught myself and thought back to the relevance of the oily doughnut, the miracle of the oil in the Temple and the clear outpouring of love that Hashem showed us.
However, an annoying thought popped up. I was brought up in a home that was very health conscious. I was told repeatedly that if I don’t eat my greens, I wouldn’t grow. And at 5’3” I gather that they were correct. How could I justify eating this delicious poison?
Rabbi Marvin Hier served as a Congregation Rabbi in Vancouver. In 1971, he was invited to represent the clergy during the Queen’s visit to British Columbia. He politely refused, explaining that he only
eats kosher. The secretary asked him what it would take for him to attend, and after reassurances that they would provide all that he would require, he accepted the invitation.
He arrived at the function and was shown to his place. He was horrified to see that his food was no different from anyone else’s. At that moment, a familiar bearded face appeared, and he was told that his food was kosher, and that all his plates, glasses and cutlery had been koshered as well.
He relaxed and sat down to his first course, making small talk with those around him. After some time, the lights were dimmed. Bewildered, he turned to his neighbour who explained that at a royal function, everyone exchanges tables between courses to facilitate mingling. Rabbi Hier gritted his teeth, gathered his glasses, cutlery and plates and set himself up on the next table.
Unfortunately, there were eight courses. At one point, another Jew in attendance hissed at Rabbi Hier: “Why are you embarrassing every Jew in the country?” He ignored the jibe, forcing himself onwards.
At the end of the evening, her Majesty and Prince Phillip stood on a small platform as everyone passed by, extending their greeting. As Rabbi Hier passed, Prince Phillip stopped him and asked him: “I thought kosher was about the food. What was with the plates?” Just as Rabbi Hier began explaining, a voice called out: “Please can the line continue.” Prince Phillip schlepped Rabbi Hier onto the podium to continue the conversation. When the other Jew passed by, he tapped Rabbi Hier on the shoulder, and said to the Prince: “I am also Jewish.” Prince Phillip commented “Why didn’t I see you moving your plates?”
It takes real strength to stick to our principles, especially when we know others perceive us as strange. However, as the Rebbe of Kotzk (1787-1859) said: “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!”
The Maccabees disregarded public opinion, and a small group of 12 went out against the entire Syrian Greek army, miraculously emerging victorious. If I am able to unashamedly stand up for my beliefs and principles, that creates an entity called Myself.
The Greeks lived for aesthetic beauty and sports. The world at large still values the same ideals. The consumption of a sweet, jam-filled fried doughnut is the health conscious athlete’s nemesis.
However, when I ride against public opinion just once a year, because that is my Jewish custom, I internalise that what makes me into me is sticking to what I know is correct, battling forward against the little health conscious voice popping into my mind.
It was then that I brought my hand to my mouth, going in for the kill.