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This Week's Torah Thought
From Rabbi Miller Vayeshev | וישב
December 8th, 2017 20 Kislev 5778
To My Dear Students,
One of Jewish sacred literature’s foremost motifs is that we are tested. The festival of Chanukah provides yet another illustration of this eternal theme.
Our Sages separated the word “Chanukah” into “Chanu,” “they rested,” and “kah,” an acronym for “the 25th.” They taught that the Macabees rested from battle on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev upon re-dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem.
But their “rest” was short lived as further battles were soon to be waged. Though they had fought for several years and no doubt believed they deserved a respite, the war would continue for many more years. Perhaps it is the same with us. When we “retire” we might assume that what tested us is in the past. But, no, for like the Macabees, tests, large and small, continue to confront us daily.
A newspaper article noted that Brazil’s billionaires are loath to distribute some of their vast fortunes to charity. A relative exception is 73 year old Elie Horn, an Orthodox Jewish man who amassed astronomical riches. “In recent years, as he has begun to give away most of his money to charity, his ambitions have taken a different turn….‘You come into this world to do good, to be tested’ by G-d, said Mr. Horn….I’m being tested like everyone else, and I’m doing all I can to pass.’”
Mr. Horn here identifies the purpose of life as passing its tests and teaches that the key to passing is through giving. Judaism influences his giving: “You have to think about your eternal salvation. It’s more important than savings in this world.” We might think that at age 73, with a lifetime of achievement behind him and wealth galore at his command, he would look forward to “resting” and self-indulgence. But Mr. Horn realizes that the goal of life, eternal salvation, is based on what we do here and now, and it transcends this world. His wife agrees, and after giving away almost two-thirds of their fortune, she says, “In the end, what counts is the good we do.” That is the way to pass every test.