The aim of all competition is victory, to vanquish one's rivals and to come out on top. In the Greek Olympic games, there was no silver or bronze medals. There was only first place. In competition, there are only two types of people: winners and losers.
We try to be good parents and tell our children "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." But they find out soon enough (usually from watching us) that's not the way the world works. Winning does matter. It matters in getting accepted to the right university. It matters in career advancement. It matters in getting the Super Bowl ring.
The Chanukah menorah is a spiritual counterweight to the notion of success by beating someone else, and of results to the exclusion of effort. Judaism says that everyone can be a winner. Each individual is capable of being a unique and precious source of light.
Our ancient tradition records a fascinating exchange between God and the Jewish people:
Jewish Nation: "God, You illuminate the whole world and then tell us to light the menorah?!"
God: "The little lights of your menorah are more precious to me than the lights of all the stars I have placed in the sky."
The Jewish people wanted to know: How can our little candles possibly compete in a world blanketed by a billion stars?
God answers: To be a brilliant source of light, you don't have to be brighter than all the other stars. Don't evaluate the beauty and radiance of your inner light in terms of anything else but ourselves. In the realm of spirituality, there is no competition. There is room enough for a world full of winners -- a world full of precious lights.
Competition puts us in the habit of assessing value by comparing it to something else. In the realm of family dynamics, this can be most destructive. A husband who feels that his wife is always comparing the size of his paycheck with those of other men will become quite resentful. Similarly, a wife who feels that her husband is comparing her with other women will also be resentful. And worst of all, children whose parents want them to be everything their friends' children are, will be deprived of the chance to develop a true sense of self-worth.
Chanukah is the ideal time for families to put aside comparisons, and to focus instead on the inherent beauty in one another.
Try thinking of your family members as menorahs, and each night make it your business to notice and to light another flame.
Before Chanukah buy a special notebook that will be known as your "Family Lights Notebook." Each night, before lighting the menorah, give everyone in the family one sheet of paper to write a response to one of the following statements:
1. You bring light into my life when you ______.
2. I love the way you ______.
3. Whenever I see you ______, it reminds me how special you are.
4. You make our family special because you ______.
Each night of Chanukah, and these "pages of light" to each person's section in the family notebook. By the eighth night of Chanukah, the precious flames of your family will be burning bright.