July 23, 2024
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Letting Go of ‘Perfect’ This Chanukah

Each year as Chanukah approaches, I look forward to these eight nights during which we have the opportunity to focus each evening on our connection with God and the miracles He has bestowed on us, b’yamim hahem b’zman hazeh, on our people in those days and in our current daily lives. The light of the ner Chanukah is particularly special. Through it we invoke our unique bond with God and His protection, His light, even in the times of our history and personal lives when we can only see darkness. Embedded in these eight nights and days of Chanukah are nissim, that are already in existence, just waiting for us to tap into via the special power of the neiros.

On my journey in therapy these last few years, I often encounter experiences where I feel I could have done better, made better choices, taken different actions or reacted differently. While these occurrences certainly provide opportunity for growth and self-development, one can’t help but feel inadequate or not enough. Wrapped up in feelings of inadequacy is shame.

One of the tefillos that we add during Chanukah is the beloved prayer of Al Hanissim. In this prayer we express gratitude to God for the miracles, victories and salvations that He has bestowed on us. If we consider what this prayer is about, there is one anomaly that doesn’t seem to belong.

“V’al hanisim v’al hapurkan v’al hag’vurot v’al hatshuot v’al hamilkhamot she’asita l’avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.

And for the miracles and for the wonders and for the mighty deeds and for the salvations and for the battles that you wrought for our ancestors in their days and in this day.”

V’al hamilkhamot, and for the battles, stands out: Why are we expressing gratitude for the battles themselves? Isn’t it the victories for which we are grateful?

The Gemara in Shabbos 21b brings down a discussion around what to do if the candles that we light for Chanukah are accidently extinguished. Do we re-light them to fulfill the mitzvah of ner Chanukah in order to satisfy the minimum time requirement for the candles to be lit? The psak is no; We do not light them again if the candles go out unintentionally. The Gemara tells us “kavta, lo zakuk la, one is not bound to rekindle it.” Contrary to what one might think, that in order to fulfill the mitzvah the candle must be re-lit and burn for the minimum time, the Gemara tells us we have already fulfilled the mitzvah and should not re-light the candles.

This halacha is meaningful. It tells us that we do not have to be perfect to succeed in fulfilling the mitzvah. We did our best, and God wants us to move forward and continue living our lives, not spend the evening re-lighting the candles. Showing up with the genuine intent to fulfill the mitzvah in all its requirements, and putting our best effort forward to do the best we can, is enough. Perhaps it’s more than enough, maybe it’s even perfect.

We can now understand why it is that we thank God for the milchamos, for the battles themselves in the Al Hanissim prayer. Our lives were not meant to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion. We are here to stretch ourselves, step out of our comfort zones, to struggle with our imperfections and imperfect circumstances. We see from the Al Hanissim prayer and halacha that Judaism doesn’t believe in shame. In Al Hanissim, we express gratitude for, and we celebrate, our imperfections. They are the very vehicles for perfection in its truest form—the perfection we arrive at after we struggle and grow.

On the other side of struggle is growth—and in that growth is the ultimate achievement and where true perfection lies.

Wishing you a freilichin Chanukah.

*Special thanks to Rabbi Moshe Weinberg for sharing his Torah on a recent visit to Los Angeles and for inspiring this article.


Alanna Apfel is the founder and a patient advocate at AA Insurance Advocacy, which helps therapy patients, individuals, couples and children, negotiate with their insurance plans to collect reimbursement, almost in full, for out of network therapy. Reimbursements range from $150-$350 per session. In the months that AA Insurance Advocacy has been advocating on behalf of patients, our clients have received anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a year in reimbursements, depending on the cost and frequency of therapy. For further information, please contact [email protected].

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