by Rabbi Mendy Herson
On the eight days of Chanukah we kindle an eight-candle menorah.
But we dont light all eight every night. On the first
night we kindle one candle, on the second two, and so on until
the eighth night--when all eight candles shine forth.
This clearly displays a very basic theme in Judaism: there
must be consistent progress. I may have lit one candle yesterday,
illuminating my life and my environment, but thats not
good enough for today; Ive got to advance from
strength to strength, making my life more meaningful.
If G-d gives me a day of life, its got to be productive,
substantive--weve got to progress beyond our own status-quo,
our own norms. Chanukah teaches us not to be satisfied with
what was good yesterday.
In the Code of Jewish Law, the laws of Tereifos address
the specific physical abnormalities that would render a properly
slaughtered (kosher) animal un-kosher. A kosher animal must
be a healthy animal, and a mortal wound or life-threatening
blemish will render it unfit for consumption. In chapter 58,
paragraph 7, of those laws, the code paints the following
scenario: Youre standing at the bank of a river and
a kosher species of bird flies overhead. Suddenly, the bird
does a nosedive into the water--striking the water with considerable
force. Now its paddling slowly along the waters
surface. Youre hungry, and youd like to reel it
in, slaughter it and have it for lunch. Should you assume
that it sustained massive internal trauma and damage upon
impact? Or is there a reasonable hope that it's alive and
well, that if you slaughter it and inspect it, youll
find its organs intact?
The Code gives the following litmus test: If its swimming
upstream, against the current, then you can be confident that
its okay. If its floating with the stream, then
try to determine whether the bird is floating more quickly
than the current, or together with the current. If its
swimming more quickly than the current, you can be reasonably
certain that its still healthy; if its just floating
at the same pace as the current, dont bother--its
dying. In Judaism, living means consistent self-betterment.
It means being perpetually pro-active.
I may have had an inadequate upbringing; I may have certain
character flaws--thats a natural part of the human condition.
But we shouldnt just resign ourselves to negative character
traits or behavior. We have to swim upstream when necessary,
to battle our own respective natures. I may see no reason
to swim upstream. Maybe Im basically satisfied with
my character and with that of my community. Judaism tells
me not to rest on my laurels, just following the positive
stream of my life or the virtuous norms of my society. Ive
got to move more swiftly than the norm, more quickly than
the stream of lifes current. Even if things are good,
theres always room for improvement.
If I satiate my desire for productivity with what Ive
already accomplished, Ive basically ceased to live.
The Jewish attitude to life is: If G-d gave you another
day, theres obviously more to do. Never be satisfied
with what you did yesterday. We cant be satisfied until
weve perfected ourselves and our surroundings to an
extent that we live in a tranquil, peaceful, perfected world--a
world of Moshiach.