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Chanukah and Burnout

November 23, 2010 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Why didn't God simply give the Jews an eight-day supply of oil?

Every miracle has a special message. And since God can do anything, the particular way He chooses to make Himself known always has a deeper meaning.

That's why the miracle of Chanukah always intrigued me. Here were the Jews who had just succeeded in achieving an incredible military victory. They overcame the Syrian Greeks and were once again in control of the holy Temple. Now they could worship God as they had in the past. They were ready to light the menorah but, as we all know, they didn't have enough oil on hand to last the necessary eight days until they could prepare the amount they needed.

They found a small cruse with oil, sealed with the stamp of the high priest to attest to its purity - but it was only sufficient to last for one day. They lit it nonetheless, in the hope that God would at least be pleased with their effort. Lo and behold they were rewarded with the miracle that put its stamp on the holiday; the little cruse that natural law would have dictated could burn only for one day miraculously continued to give its light for eight.

God solved their problem. Natural law took a backseat to divine intervention. On this one occasion, oil assumed physical properties that scientific rules would have deemed impossible.

But why didn't God handle this matter in a far simpler manner? He could have easily furnished a large eight-day supply container from His heavenly storehouse, without necessitating a violation of natural law.

For some reason, an important part of the miracle was precisely the fact that the oil they found was divinely decreed to burn far longer than its innate capacity.

And that's what makes the Chanukah miracle an almost exact replica of the miracle God chose to demonstrate to Moses when He appointed him to become the leader of the Jewish people.

Related Article: The Chanukah Question

And It Was Not Consumed

We know the scene all too well. Moses was tending his sheep in the desert when he was struck by a vision that clearly transcended the laws of nature. A bush was burning and yet it was not consumed. It continued to burn simply because God commanded it to do so.

Yes, part of the purpose was to demonstrate Divine power, to let Moses know that he was being addressed by a supernatural being who had it within His power to perform a miraculous deed. But there were so many other ways in which God could have made clear His omnipotence. Surely, keeping the flame of a bush burning beyond its expected expiration time is not the most magical act the Almighty has available to Him in his infinite repertoire.

Why was the most relevant thing God could convey to Moses at their first meeting symbolized by a bush that was burning and yet was not consumed?

Burnout is the greatest challenge facing someone with a task that may become overwhelming.

Perhaps we can best understand it by way of a common metaphor. Moses was about to begin a journey of leadership that would last many years and demand of him a tremendous amount of dedication, hard work and commitment. It would certainly not be easy. The greatest difficulty facing someone with a task that over time may well become overwhelming and unbearable is the challenge of burnout. Day after day, year after year, to be forced to confront the interminable tests to his role as rabbi, teacher and ruler over the Jewish people is an undertaking that defies the imagination. It would appear to be beyond human endurance. Moses could have been consumed by his mission.

This is the remarkable truth God revealed to Moses with the sign of the burning bush. There is no burnout in the realm of the saintly. When the bush fulfills the will of God, it is not consumed. In the realm of the holy, natural law no longer applies.

Because Moses was about to begin his career on behalf of the Almighty, his first vision assured him that the despondency and depression of burnout would never be his fate; having a holy purpose for his existence would guarantee his dreams remain fresh and vibrant, continuously alive.

In my own life I have seen many cases of professional and personal burnout - but invariably they revolved around secular rather than sacred commitments.

Those whose careers centered around making more money often became tired of the grind, depressed by the unchanging scenario of daily living. They lost focus and burnt out, consumed and withered. But those who I've known who identified their lives with purpose seem to be invigorated every day by their pursuit of the holy, bringing light to their lives and the lives of others far beyond what might be considered natural.

I have seen many couples who began married life with great hope for the future, only to suffer from marital burnout. Their unions began with great fire and passion. But if their love lacked the spark of shared values and commitment to spiritual goals, burnout tragically followed.

My parents showed me how love rooted in holy lives replaced burnout with ever greater and more passionate commitment. It is a characteristic of marriage I strive strongly to emulate.

Chanukah and Purpose

Chanukah is the story of the first major Jewish encounter with secularism. The Syrian Greeks sought to seduce the Jewish people with a culture that stressed the holiness of beauty. Jews needed to reaffirm the doctrine that made them unique in the world by teaching the beauty of holiness.

By infusing every area of life with purpose and holiness we will never burnout.

The part of the Chanukah story that we don't like to discuss is the tragedy of the Jews who assimilated. Hellenists chose to reject Torah for the glitter and glow of a flame that seemed to shine more brightly than their own beautiful traditions.

The trade-off gave them a fire that consumed; the profane could never prevent burnout.

How beautiful then that the symbol we choose to commemorate the holiday revolves around the miracle that God selected to perform for those who remained true to the teachings of Moses.

The light of the menorah burning far longer than natural law would allow serves as an everlasting reminder that by infusing every area of life with purpose and holiness we will never burnout.

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