Hanukkah and Attaining True Greatness
Consistency and relentless long-term dedication make all the difference in the world.
Let me tell you something interesting about baseball. A person who bats .350 is considered a really top player. He may become the MVP. And if he maintains this batting average for approximately 10 years, he will probably be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. (I know; it’s not your typical aspiration but it’s important to them!)
On the other hand, if someone bats .250, they will probably be forgotten, their baseball card one that nobody wants to collect.
What’s the difference? One additional hit every 10 times he’s at bat. That’s probably one additional hit every other game. Unless you’re watching very closely, chances are you wouldn’t even notice the difference!
And yet that’s the definition of greatness – sustaining very small differences over a long period of time (most likely unnoticed).
I think we can connect this idea to Chanukah. The battle against the Syrian-Greeks was waged over about seven years (I know, you thought it was a lot shorter), with many small skirmishes by a rag-tag band of untrained soldiers with a very limited arsenal. What was their strength? They kept at it day after day, week after week, month after month. The battle wasn’t yet won when they found the oil and rededicated the Temple. So they kept fighting.
Many didn’t even live to see the victory. And yet they kept going. Because they knew that true greatness is sustaining very small differences over a long period of time, they knew that true greatness requires consistency.
And they had one additional component, a crucial ingredient missing from our baseball analogy. They had faith.
We are taught in Ethics of Our Fathers (2:16) that “You are not expected to complete the work and yet you are not free to evade it.” Our job is to keep trying, to get up every day and put a smile on our faces and put one foot in front of the other and keep going. It’s not about the outcome. The outcome is out of our control. That’s in God’s hands. It is truly about the journey (as new-agey as that may sound!)
The Maccabees knew this. The odds were stacked against them. They couldn’t see the end. But they got up every day and got back in the fight. Their rallying cry was Mi l’Hashem alai, Whoever is with God, follow me! That inspired them to keep going. And we take strength from their consistency, from their determination, from their faith even today.
Chanukah is an opportunity and a reminder. The race is not to the fleet of foot. In fact it’s not even a race. If we really want our light to shine forth, if we want the light of our spouses and our children and our friends to shine forth, then we take the slow, consistent approach. We take the approach where maybe no one notices and no one applauds. We take the approach of consistency. We take the approach of small steps. We hold on to our faith and our determination.
Some days we are more successful than others. But the goal is just to get up tomorrow and try again. As long as we keep the fire lit, however small the flame, we are succeeding. And those lights can eventually turn into a huge blaze.