When the Torah tells the story of the akeida, the greatest act of Jewish heroism, it says about Avraham, “V’ani v’hanaar nelech ad koh, I and the boy will go hither.” Why does the Torah use the term “koh” and not “sham?” “Koh” is a hint for “kaf heh.” We will walk towards the 25th of Kislev.
Where did the Macabees get their extraordinary courage? Our forefather Avraham embedded it within their genes. From where did Avraham derive his strength? The midrash tells a parable of a bandit who would sit at the crossroads and ambush people as they came close. A sagacious man, who noticed that the bandit had no feet, walked over and stood behind him. The bandit could do nothing, since he could not move.
Life is really a test. The bandit is our evil inclination. The clever man is Avraham who realized that the yetzerhara has no power unless the person himself activates it. He established that wisdom for his future descendants. The Macabees understood that they were being tested. They were determined to pass with flying colors. In life, if we understand that our trials are not truly real, but rather just Hashem’s way of gauging our reaction, then the challenge of the test is greatly diminished.
Another method of handling life’s challenges is to cultivate the power of gratitude. Feeling grateful for what we have, as opposed to being miserable for what we don’t have, helps us maintain our happiness. A bracha is about appreciation. Saying a bracha and meaning it will trigger feelings of gratefulness.
Another way to stay courageous is to utilize the concept of “bashert” – destiny. Many people use bashert to blame their failings or laziness on Hashem. Rabbi Dr. David Gottlieb explains the true meaning of this concept. An ego investment is investing time, energy, and effort into something that you hope will succeed. If it doesn’t, you may feel devastated. On the other hand, if you never try you’ll never succeed. Making bashert part of your repertoire will prevent you from feeling crushed when a project fails. In a sense the person says, “It’s not me who failed, it’s just my project. I’ve done all I could. My challenge is to take the experience and apply its lessons for the future.”
A third and final idea, advocated by the Chafetz Chaim, is kaparah – atonement for sins. The next time you suffer, think “This is an atonement for my sins.” Then you will have taken a painful experience and turned it into something meaningful.
On Chanukah, let us try to implement some of these strategies in our lives so that sparks of the extraordinary courage of the Macabees remain with us throughout the year.