Chanukah presents us with a difficult dilemma. The custom of eating foods that contain a lot of oil, to remind us of our victory over the Syrian-Greeks, has a special place in our Chanukah observance. While most of us really enjoy fried latkes and assorted doughnuts, those aren’t exactly the most healthful of foods. But I am happy to announce that I have found a way that you can have latkes/doughnuts and enjoy them, too, in a manner that doesn’t add any calories, and isn’t at all unhealthful. In fact, the more doughnuts/latkes you enjoy on my program, the better. What’s more, my program is free and doesn’t entail any obligation.
One day, as Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz was preparing to begin saying shiur, his talmidim went to gather chairs. Rabbi Mendlowitz noticed one talmid who brought a chair and sat down to await the shiur beginning. He told the talmid that it was a wasted opportunity. If he had brought two chairs, one for someone else, he could have had a chair for himself and performed a chesed for someone else. But instead, he had only concerned himself with his own needs.
When a new couple stands together under the chupah, the universal custom is for the chasan to step on and shatter a glass.
(As an aside, following the chupah, my father often carefully snatches the cloth napkin with the broken shards in it. He then presents it to the chasan during sheva brachos, as a reminder of the last time he was able to “put his foot down.”)
The well-known reason for doing so is so that at the moment of our greatest joy, we demonstrate that our celebration is incomplete, as long as the Beis HaMikdash has not yet been rebuilt.
The Imrei Emes, however, offered an additional symbolism of the smashing of the glass. Before one is married, he is concerned with his own needs, metaphorically filling his personal cup. Under the chupah, right after he has married, the chasan smashes the glass, symbolizing that he can no longer only worry about his own desires and needs. From now on, he has to care for his wife and ensure that he is tending to and “filling her cup,” as well.
When describing the intensity of the plague of Darkness in Egypt, the Torah states, “No man could see his brother, nor could anyone rise from his place.” (Sh’mos 10:23)
The Chidushei HaRim notes that the greatest darkness is when one doesn’t see or notice others. When one goes about his life, wrapped in his own bubble of needs and wants, and doesn’t stop to consider the situation, perspective, or plight of others, that is true darkness.
Conversely, when one lives beyond himself, investing time and emotional energy to consider others, that illuminates the surrounding world. The intense darkness of Egypt was the result of the fact that “no man could see his brother.” They were too busy caring only for themselves.
At the beginning of Parshas MiKeitz, Pharaoh had two dreams that disturbed him terribly. His advisors tried to offer interpretations – including that he would have seven daughters who would subsequently die – but Pharaoh categorically rejected all of them. It was only when Yosef informed him that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine that Pharaoh accepted his interpretation.
What made Pharaoh so confident that Yosef’s interpretation was correct?
As a monarch, Pharaoh understood that his dreams were not for him alone, but that they affected his entire kingdom. A king doesn’t live for himself, but rather with the weight and responsibility of his entire kingdom. The interpretations of the Egyptian magicians and wise men suggested that his dreams portended personal events regarding his own family.
Yosef, however, explained the national message and suggested what needed to be done for the sake of his entire kingdom, and that resonated with Pharaoh.
We light Chanukah candles in a location where it can best be seen by others. The “festival of lights” isn’t just celebrating the light we generate for ourselves, but more significantly, the light we spread to others. We light one candle at a time, symbolizing our ability to add a little more light to the world through our actions and words.
So, how can you enjoy endless doughnuts and latkes without getting fatter? Give them away to others!
Every doughnut I eat makes me a bigger person, but not in the way I want. Every doughnut I give away also makes me a bigger person, albeit in a manner I hope will remain with me for a long time.
The good news is that even if at the time you’re reading this, Chanukah has already concluded, you can still enjoy the light of Chanukah and doughnuts and latkes.
As long as we are thinking about others, and seeking to make their day a little brighter, the Chanukah candles continue to burn within us, illuminating our lives, and brightening the world.