Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, December 2015

Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD


The last day of Chanukah, which this year falls on December 14, is thought to have a special significance. Generally speaking, it is the time when the celebrations and observances of the current Chanukah festival reach their climactic conclusion. Hence, the last day was always referred to as "Zot Chanukah" (i.e. "This is Chanukah") to indicate that our observance of the occasion was completed. Historically, it also reflects the fact that the miracle of the cruse of oil which lasted eight days was not fully realized until the end of the festival. It was also on the final day that the Temple was fully rededicated and procedures restored to their normal status.

Many other occasions in Jewish life emphasize the importance of Jewish enthusiasm and vigor at the conclusion of an undertaking. Thus, the completion of the reading of the Pentateuch calls for the special celebration of "Simchat Torah". Similarly, the completion of a section of the rabbinic literature was followed by a party known as a "siyyum". Hence our tradition made an effort in many ways to counteract the normal, human tendency to lose interest and concern the longer one was involved in a particular activity, by stressing the significance of the conclusion.

This is what our Sages had in mind when they taught: "Let not him who is putting on armor act like him who is taking it off;" "Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death." We must always be on our guard to fulfill our obligations properly and responsibly at every stage of life’s journey because it is so easy to go astray and follow the line of least resistance. How many child prodigies reach maturity in oblivion! How many idealistic physicians start out on their careers with an idealistic passion to heal the maladies of mankind, but end up as slaves to avarice and greed!

How many lawyers who are initially motivated by a passion for justice become prey to cynicism and skepticism with the passing years! The newspaper headlines are filled each day with tales of corruption regarding businessmen, politicians, and community leaders who somehow lose the sense of direction and purpose with which they launched their careers. There is a revealing midrash which relates that Adam foresaw that someday Scripture would say of Moses: "And there never arose another prophet in Israel like unto Moses whom the Lord knew face to face." Adam complained to God that such adulation was not paid to him considering his glorious beginning as the only human being ever formed by a special act of divine creation. Adam was told that even though he began life so gloriously, within twenty-four hours he had violated the only commandment imposed upon him by Almighty God. As a result, Adam and his family were punished by expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Adam, unlike Moses, lacked the all-important capacity to stay on the right track until the end of his life. More significant than our origin is our staying power.

In my younger days as a camp counselor, the owner of the camp would always give us weary counselors a pep talk during the last week of the season at which time he told us to remember the initials S. A. T. F. (Strong at the Finish) as the key to a successful summer. We need to be reminded of the essential role of endurance and persistence as human qualities. The good intentions and noble resolutions we made last Rosh Hashanah, for example, tend to lose their potency as the cold weather moves in. As we complete our celebration of Chanukah and brace ourselves for the long winter ahead, let us be sure to keep alive our fervor and zest for Jewish living, study, and observance throughout the entire year.

Happy Chanukah!

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