April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

There’s more to Chanukah than spinning tops and eating potato pancakes. The first Chanukah millennia ago—and Chanukah today—represents a great struggle between two very different ways to look at life. The Jewish outlook has always been that the physical world with all its beauty and power is fine, but only if it is used as a way to express higher ethical values. Back then a culture sprung up against us and tried to say, “Beauty and power are primary. Let’s keep values out of the picture.” When we celebrate Chanukah even today, we affirm our belief that the most important part of life is not being strong or beautiful—but being moral and good.

In our story a couple of kids find themselves living out the Chanukah story firsthand.


Package Deal

Beads of sweat rolled off Gary’s face as he strained his body to the max. “Okay, push it, push it, Gary. Yeah, you did it, man! You pressed 100 pounds!”

He and his buddy Rob had been trying to make the best use of their winter break by working out every day in the local gym. The long, cold winter usually meant a lot of time indoors and it was hard to exercise. So when the gym in town advertised a special two-week winter break package deal, the guys jumped at the chance to pump some iron.

Gary was good and hungry after the early-morning workout, and didn’t know what was taking Rob so long to get changed and head back to his place for breakfast. Finally Gary’s patience ran out. He went back into the locker room and got his answer. Rob was standing in front of the mirror flexing his muscles.

“Hey, let’s get going, Rob! If you spend any more time in front of that mirror, it’s going to crack,” he laughed.

Rob blushed for a second and then said, “What’s the problem? Don’t you want to see how big your muscles look, too? After all, isn’t this the whole point of doing that record-breaking bench-press of yours?”

“That’s not why I do it,” Gary replied, shaking his head. “I didn’t spend the last 45 minutes sweating bullets just to be able to stand in front of a mirror and admire myself.”

Rob clicked his tongue as he flexed his bicep. “Of course it’s not only for us,” Rob explained. “All the kids back at school are going to be really impressed too when they see how great we look, and…”

“That’s not what I meant. Didn’t you pay attention to the Chanukah story we learned on the last day of school? How the Jewish way is to use our physical strength and good looks for something worthwhile?”

“And what could be more worthwhile than looking good?” quipped Rob. “Anyway, don’t be a hypocrite. You work out as much as I do, and if anything your biceps are much bigger than mine.”

“That’s just the point. It’s fine to get physical—but for a purpose. Chanukah teaches us that everything physical, everything we have—including our bodies—are all just packages for our souls. They’re tools God gave us to use properly for something really worthwhile, not just to admire.”

Rob, who had by now put his arms down and turned from the mirror, looked confused.

Gary went on. “For instance, do you know why I work out? I do it to keep healthy and have more energy to concentrate in school. And I also do it so I can really be some help around the house, like shoveling out our driveway instead of my dad who had an operation a couple of months ago. The big muscles are just ‘the package’ that let me do that.”

Rob wasn’t convinced. “That’s all great, but I still say when it comes to looking good, it’s ‘the outside package’ that counts.”

The guys packed up their stuff and headed back to Gary’s place, where his mom had set out some bowls of milk and several boxes of cereal for the hungry athletes. Gary picked up a bright, colorful box and began to pour it into Rob’s bowl.

“Whoa, I’ll take some of that other stuff if you don’t mind, it tastes much better.”

But to Rob’s surprise, Gary hid the second box behind his back and wouldn’t pass it to him.

“Hey, c’mon man! Let me have that other cereal.”

“What do you want that for?” Gary said with a smile. “It’s in such a plain box. This cereal here is in a much nicer looking package, and that’s ‘what counts,’ remember?”

Despite himself, Rob couldn’t help laughing—or getting the point either. After breakfast Rob decided to stick around to help Gary shovel out his driveway, and celebrate Chanukah and what it stood for by not just admiring his muscles, but putting them to good use for a worthwhile cause as well.

Nesanel Yoel Safran is a writer, chef and teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen—and for living.

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