Today many people are accustomed to giving and getting gifts on Chanukah, which is fine - as long as we remember that fancy gifts are not what Chanukah's about. In fact, one of the main lessons of Chanukah is the essential Jewish belief that it is something's inner meaning that counts and not its impressive price-tag or external appearance.
In our story a kid discovers the meaning of Chanukah in an unexpected way.
"THE CHANUKAH THAT WASN'T - AND WAS "
Chanukah might have been right around the corner, but Josh Feldman sure didn't feel it. What kind of Chanukah could it be anyways, when the gift he had been lobbying for constantly, and the one he was sure he'd be getting - a cool top-of-the-line electric powered Road Skimmer mini-bike - wasn't going to happen?
Well, he sighed, whether or not he felt Chanukah was coming, his teacher sure did, and assigned him and some of the other kids to bring in menorahs to display at the school's holiday crafts fair. The assignment's deadline was drawing near, and Josh realized he'd better get to work.
Half-heartedly Josh fished through his arts and crafts box to find some stuff to use. Let's see ... maybe some shaped wooden spools, glue, colorful paints and lacquer to finish it off. Yeah that ought to do it, he thought.
Josh sat down to work on his project, but it was hard to get into it. He couldn't help thinking about the gift that he wasn't going to be getting. Every year his parents would give him whatever present he wanted for Chanukah. It was the highlight of his holiday. But this year when he asked for the mini-bike, his parents had told him they were sorry, and would certainly get him a different gift they hoped he would like, but the mini-bike was just too expensive. Josh understood, but budget or no budget, without getting his special gift this year, Chanukah just wasn't really going to be Chanukah.
As Josh started gluing the spools together to form eight candle holders, he began to feel more relaxed. He loved doing craft projects, and when they had a special meaning he would really put his heart into it.
Josh carefully glued the candle holders onto a smooth wooden base in a straight line, and then painted each one a different rainbow color. Two hours later, as he brushed on the last stroke of lacquer, Josh sat back to look at this handiwork. Not bad at all, he thought with satisfaction.
The next day he took his creation, wrapped in a paper bag, onto the school bus and sat down in an empty seat. Soon Barry Ellis, a kid from his class, sat down next to him. He was also holding a paper bag, and a couple of shiny silvery poles were sticking out from the top.
"Hey, you wanna see my menorah project?" Barry asked. Without waiting for an answer, he pulled out a big, gleaming professional-looking menorah.
"Wow! You made that?" asked an astonished Josh.
"Sure did," answered Barry with a smile. "It came in a kit. I just had to screw the pieces together."
"Where did you get it?" Josh asked, sliding his own wrapped-up menorah behind him on the seat, hoping Barry wouldn't notice it.
"My mom bought it for me at that new fancy gift store downtown. She said it cost a fortune, but," he laughed, "she said that it was nothing compared to all the expensive presents she bought for me, including a new Road Skimmer. Hey, where's your menorah, Josh?" Barry asked.
The boy squirmed and cleared his throat a couple of times, and took a big breath of relief as the bus pulled into the school parking lot and Barry jumped out of his seat before he could answer.
Josh shuffled into class and sat down.
"Okay, people, everyone please turn in your projects for the fair," said their teacher Mr. Frank. Josh cringed as he watched kid after kid turning in fancy store-bought kits as nice as Barry's and some even nicer. The teacher placed each project in the special display case he had prepared, as the kids looked on in pride.
Josh felt terrible - unlike Barry, he wasn't he going to be getting the gift he wanted. And he felt embarrassed - that he had brought in a dumb looking hand-made menorah that was nothing compared to the beautiful expensive ones his friends had.
When the bell rang he tried to dash out of the classroom unnoticed.
"Oh, Josh!" his teacher called out just before he slipped out the door. "Could you come here a minute, please?"
Josh stopped in his tracks. "I don't believe I received your project, did I?"
Josh shook his head.
"Did you forget about the assignment?"
Josh shook his head again.
"Well?" asked the teacher.
Josh slowly lifted the bag he was holding. "Well, I made something, but it's not very good." He started to unwrap it. "I won't be upset if you don't display it. In fact I'd prefer it if you..."
"This is magnificent!" Mr. Frank cut him off. Josh looked at him to see if he was joking, but the man looked serious. "I can see you really put your heart and soul into this, didn't you?"
Josh didn't get it. "But Mr. Frank, mine is so plain and the other ones are so much nicer."
The teacher shook his head. "The other ones might be fancier, or cost more money, but yours is the one which best captures the spirit of Chanukah."
"I don't understand."
"Chanukah's main lesson is that we shouldn't get caught up in external things, but rather we should learn to see beyond them and realize it's something's meaning which is important, and not what it looks like, or how much it costs. That is what our ancestors fought for back then, and that is what we celebrate now. A lot of people nowadays remember to give Chanukah gifts, but forget to receive this special gift of understanding that Chanukah has to give us."
The boy nodded as the teacher continued. "That's why your beautiful hand-painted menorah has much more meaning and Chanukah spirit in it than if you had just bought and snapped together a kit. And," he smiled, "that's why I'm putting yours in the front and center of the display!" Mr. Frank pushed a big, shiny menorah aside and put Josh's in its place.
Josh went to his next class, but all day the teacher's words about the spirit of Chanukah had him flying and kept ringing in his ears. He thought about his parents and how much they loved and cared for him. And how whatever gifts they would give him were only a way to show him that they cared. That was what was really important, and not the gift itself.
Josh smiled to himself. Mini-bike or no mini-bike, Chanukah was really going to come this year after all, and Josh had a feeling it was going to be his best one yet.
Q. How did Josh feel at first when his teacher wanted to see the menorah he had made?
A. He felt like it wasn't nice because it wasn't fancy or expensive.
Q. How did he feel after talking with his teacher?
A. He realized that what made something nice wasn't if it was fancy or expensive but rather the thoughts and feelings behind it.
Q. What lesson did Josh discover about Chanukah?
A. Josh had thought that how fancy or expensive something is was what made it valuable. Therefore he felt like without the gift he wanted, he couldn't enjoy Chanukah, and that since the menorah he made wasn't as fancy as the others were, it wasn't nice. But his teacher helped him to see that something's inner meaning, like the love and care he put into his projects, and love and care his parents felt for him, was more important than anything external.
Q. What did his teacher mean by the 'spirit of Chanukah'?
A. The first Chanukah happened when our ancestors fought back against an enemy that tried to force them to believe that the only thing that was real was that which could be observed with their physical senses. But the true message of Judaism and spirit of Chanukah is that life is spiritual, and that even if we can't 'see' them, spiritual things such as values, positive thoughts and feelings are just as real and in a sense even more real than something's physical appearance.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What do we mean by the 'inner meaning' of something?
A. The world we see, with its three dimensions, together with time makes up the physical, or outer world. However, beyond this exists a spiritual dimension, which is not measured in weight, height or volume, but rather how close or far a word, thought or act is to the way God prefers it to be. This is the dimension of inner-meaning. For instance, an expensive gift given resentfully or without true love and caring is perhaps great externally, but its spiritual size is quite small, whereas an inexpensive but sincerely heartfelt gift has much more inner meaning. Chanukah is a time to reflect on life's spiritual inner-meanings, and find a way to bring more of it into our lives.
Q. What can we do to become more focused on life's inner-meaning?
A. The traditional mitzvot (spiritual practices) of Chanukah are a great place to start. To light real Chanukah candles each night, and watch the light of their pure flames. To get together these eight nights with family and friends to share a warm snack and warm feelings as we speak about all the good that God has brought into our lives. To read about Chanukah's meaning. (See aish.com listings for plenty of good choices). To set aside from our hectic schedule some special quiet time each day (right after candle lighting is ideal) to be alone with God, to speak with Him and give our inner selves a chance to come to the surface and get in touch with what it has to say. All of these ways will make the inner-meaning of Chanukah and of our lives become much more rewarding and real.