More than 2,000 years ago, the Syrian-Greek empire, led by Antiochus IV, announced many harsh decrees on the Jewish people. We were no longer allowed to engage in any religious practices, learn Torah or perform mitzvot. In fact, many stories that were generated from this time frame (such as Hannah and her seven children) underscore that not only were we not allowed to practice our religion, but we were forced to perform acts against our core values. It was a dark period for the Jewish people, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Judah and the Maccabees, upon the urging of their father, Matisyahu, continued the fight for the Jewish people. Ultimately, we defeated the Syrian-Greek armies and found just enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, that same oil lasted an additional seven days and today we have the holiday of Chanukah to celebrate the miracles that occurred.
While there are many discussions of whether the real miracle revolved around the oil or the miraculous defeat of the Syrian-Greek army, I was drawn to an insight articulated by Tova Bernbaum from Chabad. Tova writes that “the miracle isn’t that they found the flask of oil. It’s that they even searched for it to begin with.” This idea, that the Maccabees had the faith, perseverance and even thought to search, is truly a remarkable trait that we possess as a Jewish nation.
Ultimately, the story of Chanukah gives us strength and inspiration. Despite all the obstacles placed in front of them, the Maccabees still chose to search every crevice until they found the pure oil they needed for the menorah. Interestingly, Tosafot, in the tractate of Shabbat (21b), concludes that the only way the Jewish people could have ascertained that the oil was really 100% pure is if they found jugs of oil buried underground. What an incredible life lesson this is for us in our modern-day era: Sometimes we need to “dig” to find what we are looking for. The reason the Maccabees could move forward and achieve their goal is that first and foremost, they believed there was oil to find. In addition, they also had a clearly defined “why.” The Maccabees had a powerful reason underlying their goal of finding the oil; the Jewish nation’s survival defined their life purpose and was the very expression of their core values. Viktor Frankl, renowned psychiatrist, philosopher, Holocaust survivor and the author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” is often quoted as saying, “If you find a why, then you can bear any how.” I believe the Maccabees were sending a message to their descendants, that we should dig deep in all aspects of our lives and not give up until we find what we are looking for.
As a health and wellness coach, one of the most important roles I play is helping individuals define their “why” and explore their core values. When we dig deep to understand our intentions, we become willing to take healthy risks, engage more actively in our journey and maintain motivation despite the outcome. It always starts with the search and the belief that a route is out there, even if we do not yet know the way.
Life is filled with so many challenges, it’s understandable, normal and even part of the experience to become discouraged. But just allowing yourself to engage in the search, engage in the process, and trust in Hashem that there is a way, however circuitous, can be the beginning of your success. Wishing you a Happy Chanukah and much health and wellness wherever you may be on your health journey.
Note: Much hakarat hatov to Rabbi Simon of Teaneck Chabad for his inspiration and guidance while writing this article.
Jill Friedbauer has been working in the field of health and wellness for 20 years. She is a national board certified health and wellness coach, licensed physical therapist and author of the book “Heal Your Soul, Heal Your Gut.” Jill is available for one-on-one health coaching, family health coaching, group coaching and speaking engagements. Jill can be reached via email at [email protected] To book a consultation, visit her website at www.jillfriedbauer.com.