As one who tends to see things through Jewish eyes, I could not help but notice that the person who delivers my early morning newspapers, was once again dropping a hint for Chanukah gelt. How else could I explain his good wishes for a happy holiday season, replete with his name and address? Only an Ebenezer Scrooge would toss such wishes aside. But before I search for a crisp banknote to reciprocate such heartfelt wishes, I should like to put in my two cents concerning Chanukah gelt.
Aside from reminding us about a supernatural miracle that occurred over two millennia ago, the flames in the Chanukah menorah that bring so much light into a darkened world, teach a timeless lesson about time. Has anyone yet to realize, that despite defying nature, the pure oil that was found in the holy Beit HaMikdash or Temple in Jerusalem, nonetheless burned for a limited time- period? Ultimately, gelt as in Chanukah gelt or money is the antithesis of time. Consider the following: Many who are employed, are paid by the hour. Those who are not paid by the hour, nevertheless, must factor in the time necessary to complete the project. Similarly, a major concern for those contemplating retirement is, will the amount of money they have saved or set aside, last them for the time they have left in this world? Alternately, not only are we are impressed at those who have amassed a fortune, but we are amazed, when they are able to achieve those riches when they are, say, a mere 35 years old. Place Chanukah gelt beside a Chanukah menorah, and realize that in life it is always possible to get more money, but it is not always possible to get more time. Gazing at Chanukah gelt beside a Chanukah menorah serves as a stark reminder that time is far more valuable than money.
Tevye had it all wrong! Tevyeh was a rich man! Not only was Tevye far richer than he could have possibly ever imagined, but Tevyeh enriched the lives of countless others as well. How else can we explain his appearing on Broadway, his continuing notoriety half a century after that first appearance, not to mention that his eponymous novel (upon which the stage play was loosely based) first appeared over 125 years ago? Precious few can lay claim to such renown. What Tevyeh was pining for, was money, not being rich. Tevyeh had yet to realize that having money and being rich are two different goals, as well as two different achievements. While it is true, that typically, both money and riches must be earned, money is tangible. Not so riches. Riches are experiences. Riches are accomplishments. Riches are an admired reputation. “Who was Judah the Maccabee?” is the most valid question to ask a fellow Jew, who prides himself in his people’s heritage. “What was Judah the Maccabee’s net worth when he died?” is a most preposterous question to ask a fellow Jew unless he is a scholar of that era of history. Observing Chanukah gelt beside a Chanukah menorah, serves as a stark reminder, that preferring an expensive lifestyle over a rich life is a poor choice.
To be sure, candles play a major role in our religion. Personally, I have led a workshop showing how it is possible for candles serving four different purposes to be burning at the same time in a Jewish home: Should it happen that on Shabbat Chanukah, the family is observing Shiva, and should it happen that on that particular night of Shiva, a yahrzeit is also being observed, the one would see, Chanukah candles, Shabbat candles, a Shiva candle, and a yahrzeit candle. Common to all four candles, as well as all candles for that matter, is that the flame serves as a bridge connecting the physical (the paraffin or wax) with the spiritual (the air which is the source for oxygen). If either the physical or the spiritual is removed, the flame is quickly extinguished. It is with good reason that Chanukah has the moniker Festival of Lights. The first step in restoring a ransacked Beit HaMikdash was locating proper oil (physical) to restore the prerequisite flame (spiritual). Contemplating Chanukah gelt beside a Chanukah menorah, serves as a stark reminder, that one’s quest for physical indulgence, must never be at the expense of spiritual deprivation.
Whether it be drachma or dollar, let us be original in the way we value that legal tender. Independent of how Chanukah gelt originated, let us ask ourselves: What is more precious, time or money? What is more desirable, a rich life or an expensive lifestyle? What is more essential in life’s quest, the physical or the spiritual?
Hopefully, Chanukah gelt beside the Chanukah menorah will serve as an enriching experience.