As a child, I recall hearing about “the good old days.” The days of the Catskill Mountains, the days of a nascent State of Israel, the days of filled synagogue sanctuaries. I would wonder, “When will the good old days be my days?” Have they passed me by or are they still yet to arrive? As I am now a parent of three young children, this same question has crept into our conversations.
“Abba, what was school like when you were a kid?” This conversation is highlighted in the manner in which we light the Chanukah candles. The famous debate between Shammai and Hillel: Shammai teaches we decrease the number of candles each night with a view to the days that have passed. Hillel taught the opposite, rather looking at the days that are approaching. Shammai saw a glorious past and a tragic present. Hillel observed a glorious past, but a faith that the future has in store.
The Midrash explains that when we see the words “And it was,” it bespeaks a tragedy, but when we see the words “And it will be,” it tells of joy and gladness. Rabbi Israel Levinthal writes that no one can live in the past alone. Yet, when our gaze and efforts are directed toward the future, we must meet simcha, joy and blessing. The Maccabees were not content to look to the past. They had a stake in the future of Israel, and they saw that future as worth fighting for.
As they sang in the Happy Days theme song, “These days are ours, happy and free, these days are ours, share them with me!” Let us use these next 8 nights of Chanukah to search for that joy and share that joy with each other.