Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | December 17, 2014

Chanukah – It’s All About the Gifts

Often, when I’ve already chosen the topic for my article and thought of some catchy title, something else comes to mind which I absolutely MUST write for that issue. So there I was, the night before Chanukah, standing in the kitchen at 4AM in my pajamas making cholent after my daughter commandeered my bed, and my mind started to wander as it is wont to do.

That night, I had received a funeral and shiva notice upon the passing of a friend’s mother. I got to thinking, as I will sometimes, and wondered what would be said at my own levaya. Now, before you go thinking I’m getting all morbid, the fact is that one of the best ways to lead a productive life is to think about what people will say for your hesped (eulogy) and make sure they’re not left grasping for material.

I’m reminded of the time one of the janitors in yeshiva died. The person in charge of campus personnel, Rabbi W., went to the funeral and, to his shock, was called upon to eulogize the fellow. Well, you can’t say someone was a lazy son-of-a-gun with a bad attitude, so he stood there a moment and thought. Then he said, “He lived a good life. He enjoyed good cigars, he enjoyed good whiskey. He knew how to enjoy life.” The message was appropriate for an audience like that and the crowd approved, but rachmona litzlan, if someone had to say that about any one of us…chas v’shalom.

I started to think about what people might say if I wrote my own hesped while I was alive, to be delivered when I was only there in spirit. The listeners would undoubtedly think it made sense, since I am known as a writer. I mean, that’s what I do with my life, right? I write in The Front Page and The Jewish Home magazines, I write a weekly Dvar Torah called the Migdal Ohr which boruch Hashem reaches people all over the world, I have written letters and brochures for yeshivos, mosdos, shuls, etc. I’ve written poetry; I’ve written prose. I’ve written humor, and I write speeches that people feel proud delivering and that the audience enjoys listening to. Once, I was in a printer’s shop and I heard someone debating about the punctuation of a certain sign he wanted to print for his yeshiva dinner. I stopped, walked over, introduced myself as an expert, and helped him reword and edit the sign into a masterpiece.

The question is: Why do I write? Do I do it for the glory? The fame? The big bucks? (As if!)

The answer is quite simple. I write because I can. The Ribono Shel Olam gave me a talent to write. I didn’t study it; I didn’t take long hours of classes to learn how to write; I just write. Now, saying I am a good writer is no more arrogant than a professional basketball player saying that he’s seven-feet tall. It’s not arrogance; it’s a statement of fact. G-d made him tall; He made me a writer.

However, when you’re given a gift (here’s the Chanuka tie-in…) you have an obligation to use it. The basketball player is tall, but unless he practices and uses his height as an advantage in the game, the gift is meaningless.

I can write, but unless I put my talents to good use, using them for k’vod Shomayim, it’s a waste. That’s why I write. I write to inspire; I write to make people think; I write to bring people closer to themselves and to Hashem.

When people tell me they love reading my work, I feel fantastic. Not because I am impressed with myself, but because it means I am accomplishing my goal of touching others through my words. In the Mishkan, different people were blessed with an innate ability to perform the different types of labor and each used his gift to help build the Mishkan.

Chanuka is a time for hallel and hoda’ah, praise and acknowledgement of what Hashem has done for us, and it is a time when we celebrate the rededication of the Bais HaMikdash.

If I could challenge my readers, I would ask this: This Chanuka, take a good, long look at yourself. Recognize the talents and abilities G-d has blessed you with and find a way to dedicate yourself and those abilities to good purpose. Don’t waste the gifts you’ve received.

And getting back to my own hesped, if I could indeed write my own last line, I think I would be happy if people could honestly say, “He used his gifts to serve Hashem.”

This is an excerpt from The Observant Jew, available from Feldheim, Amazon, and Jewish bookstores everywhere.  Check it out here: http://bit.ly/1s8veRv

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