During all eight days of Chanukah, the lights are sacred. We have no permission to make ordinary use of them. We are asked to simply look at them, contemplate Hashem’s greatness and offer thanks for all the miracles in our lives.
The art of “looking” has been lost. Often we fail to see that which is right before us. On Chanukah, we are urged to discern the light that lies before our eyes, to take a few moments to reflect.
We live pressured, distracted lives. With all the daily running, we often relinquish the ability to see our blessings. True thankfulness requires thought. As we kindle our menoros, let us set aside time to be mindful of the brachos we often take for granted. Let us take a few minutes to look at the neiros and see the nissim we have experienced, as a nation and personally.
Let us resolve to try harder to see the lights in our lives, especially the light of our children.
The other week I met a little girl who told me that she was very sad. She described how she had a hard time getting her books together, often forgot her pencils and homework and was always getting into trouble. She decided that she wanted to change. For one week she made sure that she would clean out her bag each night, check her papers, sharpen her pencils and make sure that her books were in order.
“But my teacher did not even notice!” she cried. “I came home from school so sad. I told my mother that I don’t want to go back because my teacher still thinks I am the girl from last week.”
How often do we see our children as the “girl from last week”? How many times do we see our spouses as “the spouse from last week”? People in our lives attempt to change, but we don’t take the time to notice. Even their slightest efforts, if take a moment to recognize them, can become lights in our lives.
If we want to connect with our children, we must recognize their struggles to climb higher and behold the spark that lies within every neshomah. When we can only see problems, we miss out on the miracles that each life brings. This becomes choshech.
The word “Chanukah” connotes “chinuch.” Chanukah provides an opportunity to focus on the chinuch of our children. Many have a custom to give Chanukah gelt or gifts to children. Perhaps before we give Chanukah gifts this year, let us take time to really look at our children. How can we better the chinuch of the next generation so that their lights shine bright? What are the greatest gifts that remain eternal?
Children crave time together with loved ones. They are hungry for positive attention. Kids seek affirmation of love, of our pleasure when we spend time with them. We mistakenly throw toys and gifts at them; thinking that they will now be happy. We then wonder at their whining and seeming unhappiness. “What is their problem?” we ask.
They need less presents and more presence.
Time is the one gift that can never be replaced. Ask your child what he would like to do with you this Chanukah. When you give the gift of time be sure you give it with all your heart. Don’t seem disinterested. Turn off your phone. Don’t go grudgingly. You will never regret time spent together. The memory will remain with your child forever.
Sometimes the simplest gifts are the ones we find most difficult. We smile when cradle an innocent newborn in our arms, but parenting brings challenges. As our children grow we are pulled in so many directions. We forget to smile. We may do all we need to do but the joy is missing. It’s as if we parent in black and white, and somehow the color is gone.
Even if you don’t really feel it, give your child a smile. Smile when you see him in the morning and when he comes home from school. Show that you are happy to see him.
When my mother was a little girl in Bergen Belsen, my zeidah told her that she has a very important mission.
“Here? But I am just a child!”
“Smile at each and every person,” my grandfather said. “When they will see your smile you will give them hope. You will make their hearts sing.”
My zeidah’s wise words speak to us all. If a child’s smile could bring light to such a terribly dark world, imagine the joy we can create today.
Model an Attitude of Gratitude.
Stop the complaining. Stop comparing lives. Stop “awfulizing.”
While it’s true that we have no choice about some situations we face, we can choose how we will react. Our children watch us. They internalize our discontent. They mimic our attitudes. What are we teaching them?
Show me a happy person and I will show you a person who appreciates life. Gratitude means developing an ayin tovah, focusing on that which is good instead of that which gets us down.
When we live with an ayin tovah, we live with hope. The future seems bright. We develop an optimistic spirit. This is one of the greatest gifts to give a child: A can-do attitude. An eye for all of which we have been blessed.
I recall one of the last days that my father was in the hospital. He asked to be taken outside. Though he was very ill and weak, we bundled my father up in his coat and tied a scarf around his neck. It was a cold January day. I wheeled my father to the front of the hospital and we sat together. My father looked up towards the sky and basked in the sunlight for a few moments. Then my father spoke.
“Ah,” my father said to me. “I feel the shechinah of Hashem on me!”
Instead of self-pity, instead of complaining about the pain or expressing fear that life was slipping away, my father chose an attitude of gratitude. My father chose to leave me with a feeling that time here, and time together, was a gift to be cherished.
Children need roots. They need to feel that they belong. When we give our children an identity we bestow our children with a solid sense of self.
Ours is a culture where we forge an identity with the brands that we wear. When our children feel that they are not keeping up with the Goldsteins, there is a sense of inferiority. Sadly, their self-confidence suffers.
“Shoresh” and love of our mesorah teaches children the true source of a greater self. It is not our things but rather our spiritual dynasty that reveals our inner wealth. Shabbos and yom tov coupled with simcha give children time together as a family as well as a positive connection to their roots.
Family means loyalty, kindness, sacrifice, and giving. Our children feel loved when they feel safe. Homes where sarcasm, unkindness, selfishness and criticism flourish do not allow our sons and daughters to connect. Bonding between siblings, between parents and children cannot happen if children are shamed. Constant criticism tears children down.
One of the greatest gifts we can give is the construction of a mikdash me’at, a home filled with compassion, gratitude, consistent boundaries, shalom bayis, and ahavas Hashem.
This Chanukah, strive to see the lights that Hakadosh Boruch Hu has given you. Look at them, “kedei lehodos ulehallel…al nisecha ve’al nifleosecha ve’al yeshuosecha,” and express thankfulness.