Spiritual Tools: How Far To Look: From Chanukah to Asarah B’Tevet
“We should not look at what is beyond our level of the spiritual ( Rabbi Nachman of Breslov , Likutey Moharan I, 54).” The Mussar Hamishnah explains why the Mishnah opens Tractate Sukkah with the law of a sukkah that is too tall: It is tempting to leave Yom Kippur, after having achieved such incredibly high levels of spirituality, to reach far higher than we should. The Mishnah therefore begins by warning us against setting our sights too high.
There is a similar lesson in the laws of the Chanukah menorah: There is a limit to how high we can place the menorah. It is likely that Chanukah will raise us so high that we will begin to set our sights on achieving spiritual heights that are beyond us, preparing us for disappointment.
I suspect that the Maccabees, inspired as they were by their miraculous victory and recapture of the Temple, were equally tempted to set their sights on spiritual levels that would have been far too high for the people. They therefore, chose to search only for a single jar of pure oil, rather than searching for more. This was their statement that, as inspired as they were, they would set goals that were achievable for all the people.
A few days after the conclusion of Hanukkah we reach the Tenth of Tevet, when the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem. The verse suggests that one of the issues for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders, was that despite all of Jeremiah’s warnings, and despite their terrible suffering, they continued to set their spiritual sights too high:
“Please petition God for us, for Nebuchanezzar, King of Babylon, is waging war against us; perhaps God will do to us like all His wonders, and he will withdraw from us (Jeremiah 21:2).” The commentaries suggest that the King expected God to perform wonders for Israel as He was wont to do in days of yore (Metzudat David). Mahari Kara explains that they considered God as their ‘weapons of war.’ The Midrash teaches that they planned to use the names of the Angels to summon them to protect the city, and that God changed the names to stop them! The people and their King believed, despite everything they had heard, and despite all their suffering, that they still possessed sufficient spiritual power to stop the Babylonians, and that God would ultimately save them. They lacked any clarity about their spiritual status.
Perhaps we can affect a meaningful transition from the joy of Hanukkah to the devastation of the Tenth of Tevet, by making a serious effort to examine exactly where we stand on the spiritual ladder, and to set goals that reflect our standing; achievable goals.