After spending a beautiful Shabbos Chanukah with our family in Toms River, New Jersey, we capped it off with an enjoyable family event on Motza’ei Shabbos. We ate pizza, played games, ate chocolate coins, laughed, ate latkes, and then ate doughnuts. But the highlight of the night for our children was undoubtedly receiving individual presents from their grandparents.
Gavriel and Michoel, our four-year-old twins, received a package of Matchbox cars. They were very excited with their gift and were eager to begin playing with them. The problem was that the cars were secured to the box they came in with what felt like barbed wire. It would have been easier to break out of Fort Knox than to unfasten those cars from their cardboard casing. My real car didn’t come with as much security as those toy cars.
I took out a pair of scissors and began cutting. It took a lot of effort to cut through one of them. It was then that I realized that each car had two wrappings around it. I lost patience with the scissors and asked my sister-in-law where her kitchen knives were. In the back of my mind, I thought that it wasn’t such a good idea, but impatience overwhelmed common sense (story of our lives). After I was able to cut through the first cord easily, I was happy with my brilliant idea to use a kitchen knife. But the second ring I tried cutting wasn’t opening as easily. So, I pushed a little harder on the knife. Three minutes later, I was in my brother-in-law’s car, where he was speeding down the Lakewood roads towards Urgent Care, while I was firmly pressing a pile of paper towels against the deep wound.
A tetanus shot and three stitches later, we were back on our way home. I was under strict orders from the doctor to never bathe our children or do dishes ever again (or maybe it was for a week, I can’t remember minor details).
The worst of all was that my wife told me that, right after I left, one of the children at the Chanukah party looked at the Matchbox cars and said, “Oh, these are easy to open,” and proceeded to open them all in under two minutes. I couldn’t even have the satisfaction of knowing that my pain was for any useful purpose.
Special shout-out to SYC, who quipped right after I left to get stitches that he would probably be reading about the ordeal very soon. Indeed!
As I sat in the Urgent Care waiting room, I contemplated what lesson I could learn from the experience. Yes, Mommy, I know what the obvious and practical lesson is. But I mean an additional lesson connected to Chanukah.
Historically, the Chanukah story has a rather tragic ending. The Gemara relates that there are no living descendants of the Chashmona’im. The heroic family that fought the Hellenists and saved the Jewish people eventually Hellenized and died or were killed out.
Rav Nosson Wachtfogel explained that the descendants of the Chashmona’im destroyed the legacy of their illustrious ancestors. The Chashmona’im/Maccabees carefully portrayed themselves as faithful defenders of the honor of Hashem. They did not depict themselves as militants or fighters for civil liberation. Their sole objective was freedom to serve Hashem and observe the Torah.
Their descendants, however, assumed the throne and portrayed themselves as everything their forebearers did not. In so doing, they essentially destroyed their own legacy and were eventually wiped out physically, as well.
There is a time and place when one must act in an unusual, and sometimes even radical, manner. Desperate situations call for desperate measures.
The Mishnah discusses the concept of “Eis laasos laShem, heifeiru Sorasecha” – that there are times when one must “breach” certain accepted Torah norms in order to preserve Torah observance. (The Mishnah’s example is when Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi recorded the Mishnah from the Oral Torah, which until then was only studied and transmitted orally.)
However, there is a great inherent danger involved in such breaches, in that it can be hard to maintain a sense of balance, and not take it too far. It’s analogous to using a sharp knife to cut through barriers. It doesn’t take much to cut too far and too deep.
On the calendar, as well, the joy of Chanukah seems to quickly segue into days of darkness and tragedy. The fast of Asarah B’Teves commemorates three tragedies: the writing of the Septuagint (which was the precursor to the New Testament), the death of Ezra HaSofer, and the beginning of the siege around Yerushalayim by the Babylonians who eventually destroyed the First Beis HaMikdash. It feels strange to recite S’lichos and fast with Ma’oz Tzur still ringing in the back of your mind.
The challenge of life is always about finding the proper balance. There’s a time to sing and celebrate and a time to fast and introspect. There’s also a time for unusual and extreme action, but such action must always be tempered and measured.
On Chanukah, we are reminded to be careful with fire; and as Chanukah gives way to Asarah B’Teves, we are reminded of the dangers involved when handling sharp objects.
 - Bava Basra 3b
 - B’rachos 9:5