It has become the latest and greatest movement, generating a plethora of “Thank You Hashem” themed clothing, bumper stickers and emojis. What a wonderful idea! Gratitude is one of humanity’s core principles, something we should all cultivate and express.
Yet while it’s easy and worthy to thank God when things go well, we must also believe that challenges and even misfortune are for our best. As Nachum Ish Gamzu famously proclaimed, “This too is for the best.” We must exercise our faith that however difficult our issues, they are custom-tailored for us, helping us grow and blossom. Nothing is for naught and certainly not to our detriment.
For those who internalize this belief and live in this manner, God appreciates their faith to the utmost degree. But what about those who are in pain, who suffer and don’t understand why God has acted with such strictness and judgment against them? Must they ignore their inner turmoil and force their thanks onto a God Who feels so distant and removed? Is God just waiting for their thanks so He can miraculously transform their sorrow into deliverance?
The very nature of the festival of Chanukah, which occurred during the Second Temple era, answers these questions.
While receiving permission to build the second Holy Temple was a tremendous blessing for the Jews, the structure itself was a temporary stopgap. The Holy of Holies in the Second Temple was completely barren of its Ark, Kapporet (Covering) and Keruvim (Yoma 21b). Therefore God’s Presence did not rest there as in the First Temple. The name Chanukah means “dedication,” and the holiday celebrates the rededication of this structure. But if the Holy Temple was anyway incomplete, why was there such great cause for celebration? And if it was known that this building was only a precursor to the later, eternal Holy Temple, why did God bother to perform so many miracles to restore it?
Each day of Chanukah, we sing Hallel (praise) to God. And during the Al HaNissim prayer, we thank God for His many miracles, concluding, “[Our Sages] instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.” The word Chanukah is related to the word chinuch (education). Chanukah teaches us how to live with thankfulness and gratitude.
Because life is full of challenges and difficult moments, the yetzer hara tries to lump all of our problems on us at one time. No person can withstand the mental anguish of dealing with everything at once. But if instead one chooses to think back on the many times God helped and saved him under similar circumstances, he will become hopeful again. If he examines his current predicament and finds some silver lining or measure of consolation, he will be further filled with hope. And when he thanks God for what he can objectively see, even in his present cloudy state, he creates breathing room. He can now once again feel God’s presence in his life.
Now he can turn to God and in sincere prayer ask Him for help with his present pain. “Thank You Hashem” is not a miracle trick, but a means to effectuate honest and humanistic prayer.
This is why the salvation of Chanukah took place during the Second Temple era, in-between the eras of our two great enemies, Babylonia and Rome. God performed so many miracles in order to teach us to see and be thankful for even a temporary reprieve. Then we can feel God even in our pain, and summon the strength to pray for our future salvation and, ultimately, the building of the eternal Holy Temple. Amen!
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Kilai Beheimah #4