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Thanks For The Sting, Honey

11/30/2018 09:58:40 AM


What will you be thankful for this Chanukah?

In the famous chanukah prayer, "V'al hanissim", there are some versions which include something very odd:

"We thank G-d for the miracles, for the salvation, for the mighty deeds, for the victories, and for the battles, which you performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time."

It's clear why we are thankful for the miracles. G-d helped the small Maccabee army defeat the mighty Syrian Greeks; they found one flask of pure oil; and it lasted for eight days and nights. But why would we express gratitude for the battles? If G-d had the power to prevent these battles, shouldn't we be disappointed with Him? To quote a phrase from the great commentator Rashi, "We tell the bee: spare us from your sting, and we’ll forgo on your honey."

In fact, this question is what led some to remove these words from their prayer books. But it is still a widely accepted version for many, especially Ashkenazic Jews.

A beautiful answer was offered by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, based upon a teaching of his great-grandfather Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik.

When you are faced with a challenge, and then you are blessed with a fortunate circumstance which saves you, there are two kinds of gratitude:

One kind is to be thankful that you were saved. The other kind is to be thankful for the challenge and for the salvation which followed.

When you are only thankful for the salvation, you are implying that you would have preferred not to have been challenged in the first place. In other words, you feel that upon being saved you're back in the same place before you encountered the challenge. So, in essence the entire ordeal was for naught.

But when you are thankful for both the challenge and the salvation, you are recognizing how the entire ordeal transformed you in a positive way, and upon being saved you are now in a different place than before you encountered the challenge.

Perhaps the pressures of the ordeal pushed and expanded your boundaries; you discovered latent potential and strength; you learned more about yourself; you grew wiser and more mature.

In truth, no challenge is ever for naught. A wise G-d always does something for a reason. A good G-d always does everything for a good outcome.

This idea is so powerful and empowering. We all know how to pray for salvation, but the lesson here is to know how to embrace the challenge as well.

That’s why we are thankful for the ‘battles’. Indeed, a battle is painful. But upon fighting the battle, and fortunately winning as well, we arrive at a new and better place. We are now better off having faced this battle.

So yes, if it takes a sting to get to the honey, then bring it on!

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784