Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l related that when he was still living in his parents’ home, he had a nephew who stayed there for Chanukah. The night after Chanukah ended, they told his nephew that Chanukah was over, and they wouldn’t be lighting the menorah again. His nephew asked him to dial his mother’s number so he could speak to her. When his mother got on the phone, his nephew began crying, “Please come bring me home! Bubby and Zeidy don’t want to have Chanukah anymore. But I want to have it again!”
The celebration of Chanukah is the result of those who rose to the occasion and were ready to die for their faith and values. At that point, the Maccabees heroically assumed the leadership of our people and saved our ancestors from spiritual destruction. For that, they are eternal national heroes.
The stranger part of the Chanukah story is that the Gemara (Kiddushin 70b) states that there are no living descendants of the Maccabean family. Tragically, the descendants of the original Maccabees largely undid the legacy of their holy ancestors. The later Chashmonai kings brought about civil war, an all-out assault on Torah values, and even murder of Torah leaders. When one of the later Chashmonai kings sent a pig to be offered upon the Mizbei’ach, it was the ultimate betrayal of the legacy of their ancestors. The Maccabean revolt had begun decades earlier because the Syrian-Greeks offered a pig on the altar.
The family that had saved the Jewish people, by assuming the reins of power during a desperate time, failed to relinquish that power when desperate measures were no longer necessary.
The Gemara (P’sachim 22b) relates that Shimon HaAmsuni invested great effort expounding the hidden message to be derived from every time the word “es” appears in the Torah. But then, he came to one particular instance where he could not decipher its message. At that point, he stated, “Just as I have received reward for expounding, so will I receive reward for rescinding.” Despite his previous investment, when he felt his premise was mistaken, he had the fortitude to reject all his previous work.
It’s been noted that although, in his humility, Shimon HaAmsuni stated that he would receive reward for rescinding just as for expounding, the truth is that rescinding is an exponentially more formidable challenge, and therefore garners far greater reward.
A friend of mine who arranges trips for a summer camp noted that his goal is that the trip end when the campers wish it was a little longer. If they feel the trip should have been longer, they remember it positively. But if they feel it was too long, even if the trip was great until then, they will generally remember it negatively.
Mark Twain quipped that he was once listening to a preacher soliciting money. As he listened to the preacher’s passionate plea, Twain decided to give more than he originally planned. After another minute of heartfelt oratory, he decided to double his original donation. But then the preacher continued speaking, droning on and on. By the time the collection cup came around, Twain took a few dollars out of the cup and pocketed them as compensation for his aggravation.
As parents, one of the most challenging tasks we have is to step aside. As our children transition into adolescence and then adulthood, it is vital for parents to grant their children space to make their own decisions (and often mistakes) in order to chart for them to forge their own path in life.
Rabbi Shay Schachter relates that every year before Rosh HaShanah his father, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, asks him if he (Rabbi Hershel Schachter) has passed his prime and whether he can still give shiurim and properly fulfill the roles cast upon him.
Rabbi Shay Schachter notes that it is very painful for him when his father asks him the question. However, his father feels it is important for him to be candid with him. Rabbi Hershel Schachter has mentioned that there were great Torah leaders who were taken advantage of in their advanced years, because they were no longer able to maintain their level of leadership but did not step back and were taken advantage of.
When I first began my career in rabbanus, my predecessor, Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl, gave me a valuable piece of advice. He quoted the first line of the chorus of Kenny Rogers’ old hit song: “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”
It’s true regarding speeches, knowing when to take a stand on issues, and about career decisions generally. There’s a time to jump in and there’s a time to back down. The wise person constantly ponders and weighs the right time for each.
Chanukah celebrates those who assumed leadership when it was necessary for national survival. The tragic aftermath of Chanukah is the result of the inability to relinquish power and control.
You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.
Hold Or Fold
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