I love it when I have someone to share something beautiful with.
When the weather is nice, we try to spend our Sundays doing outdoorsy activities with our kids. One time, we went on a small nature walk to see a beautiful man-made waterfall; the next week, we rode our bikes around Flushing Meadows Park. We visit some of the coolest parks in New York City.
At Turtle Pond in Central Park, we got as near as we could to the water to see slider turtles peek up at us and then glide along in the shallow water (Turtle Pond: It’s a pond – with turtles in it). At the Museum of the Moving Image, the kids had a blast making their own personal stop-motion movies. During our hayride at the apple orchard (thanks, Grandma!), my five-year-old daughter babbled on and on about apples and plants, and trees and rain, in her signature singsong tone, speaking authoritatively, pausing only to breathe mid-word.
The playgrounds are the best. No fancy toys or phones. Kids streak by with smiles plastered across their faces as they play. We get to catch pieces of their conversations, see them share, discover, giggle. There’s real joy there when children play.
Our cameras caught some moments and missed others. Moments can’t last forever and they shouldn’t. When moments are fleeting, every experience becomes once-in-a-lifetime, rare, and precious. This is why we want them to last.
During the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash, in the midst of a terrible conflict with the Syrian-Greeks, the Miracle of Chanukah took place. One last flask of pure oil was found and it burned for eight days. The Beis Yosef asks: If there was enough oil for one day already, why don’t we celebrate Chanukah for seven days instead of eight?
My favorite answer is that we’re being taught the fact that oil that burns is a miracle, too. We can’t overlook the amazing things happening around us all the time.
Chanukah is a time to step back and appreciate everything we have and realize that Hashem still loves us; He is everywhere, hiding in plain sight. Even though He won’t reveal Himself the way He used to in the Beis HaMikdash, we’ll find Him if we’re willing to look. I think that could be part of the reason why we commemorate the miracle of the Menorah and not the military victory over the Y’vanim. The Chashmona’im lit the Menorah, stepped back, and let the Menorah take over. The Menorah shined its light and illuminated the world for what it is, so that we can see all the things we were missing when were clumsily feeling around in the dark, not sure if we were alone or not.
A few weeks ago at the Bnos Malka m’laveh malkah, Rabbi Menachem Penner delivered a resounding, intricate, and touching drashah about the miracle of Chanukah. He had the room in the palm of his hand; half the room was moved to tears when (spoiler alert) he concluded that our children are the biggest miracle of Chanukah. He told the crowd, when we are done lighting the candles and singing that beautiful song of our salvation throughout the ages – “Ma’oz Tzur” – look to those smiling faces of the children, revealed and glowing in the light of the candles.
I try to appreciate my children. I try to appreciate life. I used to wish everything could last forever. I realized that in a way it was a cruel, selfish thing to want. If everything stayed the same, it meant my children would stay the same. It would mean they would not reach more milestones, grow older, mature, and have kids of their own. The moments are hard to let go of, but always seem to lead to greater, prouder moments: I’ll trade kids playing in the sandbox for the day my daughter offers to do the dishes or babysit.
Sometimes I wonder and worry if we are slowly losing our ability to be in the moment and enjoy life around us. Are we becoming too preoccupied to notice our beautiful world?
Sometimes I wonder and worry if we are slowly losing
our ability to be in the moment and enjoy life around us
In the summer, we went to a concert under the stars in Cedarhurst. We spread out our blanket, cracked our glow sticks, and enjoyed the music. I looked around and was surprised see so many moms and dads on their phones, faces aglow, feebly squinting at the screen, and prodding an index finger here and there like an orangutan discovering fire.
At around 10 p.m., Meilech Kohn entered the park gazebo that doubled (poorly) as a stage. Our older son arose from gazing up at the stars and asked to go on my shoulders to see over the small mob as “V’uhavtu” (V’ahavta) started to play. We got closer and closer, but our view was obstructed by outstretched phones recording the show.
This happens at the dinner table, during a street performance, at a siddur play. They are either physically present but miles away, formulating the ultimate snarky but pithy text message, or too worried about missing the moment that they choose to watch it all on a 5.5-inch screen rather than with their own eyes.
When that wonderful summer’s day when we went to Central Park turned into night, after everyone was in bed, I crept over to the kids’ bedsides, watched their serene, cherubic faces, and kissed their warm, clammy foreheads (I think one kid was just pretending to be asleep). I’d hate to live with the regret of not doing enough with them, not hugging or kissing them enough, or listening to them.
I remember walking home from Maariv that same night. In the sky was a beautiful, full moon. It’s grayish, yellow glow radiated beyond the confines of its spherical mass and hovered over our world so beautifully. What made it even more striking was that it resided in a gap of clouds that framed it all around, while fainter wisps of clouds floated in front of it, obscuring it partially while revealing segments of its silhouette.
Light isn’t tangible in a tactile way, it’s not something you hold in your hand or carry with you. Chanukah is remembered by the oil that lit, not the war, because the point is for us to remember a real, personal experience, not an event. Sometimes we need to just experience something, not commemorate it. Maybe it’s that feeling or experience we had in those days of the Chashmona’im that we recall in our time when we bring the lights back.
I don’t have the picture of that moon I saw to share with you. I tried to take one several times, but none of my attempts came close to doing the scene justice. I had to settle for the memory instead. Sometimes, the memory of what you felt becomes stronger than what actually happened. Sometimes things are better that way.
Simcha Loiterman is a resident of Kew Gardens Hills. He is available for speaking engagements and presentations or a cup of coffee and a good talk. He would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels very strongly that you can learn from everyone because we all have stories to tell, lessons to teach, and can kindle a spark of goodness inside. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in “Life.” Visit his blog at thisisloit.wordpress.com to learn more of his ideas and opinions about our beautiful world.