The other day, I was approached by someone at a gathering with people I did not know very well. This person demanded, quite literally, that I explain why I had done something that she noticed. Shocked by the suddenness, my initial response was the “right” answer but also very shallow. Unsatisfied with this answer, she asked me the same question again.
Questions flurried through my brain. Why wasn’t that answer good enough? What did she want from me? Who even was this person? Why is this happening? “Fine,” I thought, “I’ll tell her the real depth of my reasoning and it will probably overwhelm her. She asked for it!”
I began to explain the whole story, starting with the centuries old history of this topic of conversation. And as I continued, my usual social anxiety — that tight-throated, foggy-brained state — melted away. It felt surreal, like there could have been a heavenly beam of light shining down on my head. The woman’s expression went from a grumpy scowl to a bright smile, and she was very obviously excited by what I had to say. In the end, she thanked me for my answer and we parted ways.
For days, this moment has replayed in my mind. Not because I said something so profound, or because I was super cool to someone else for a time, but because the experience was, for me, undoubtedly a Divine lesson.
So let me share another story. Once upon a time, there was a group of people who had, for many years, been oppressed and banned from their own holy temple, which had been desecrated by their oppressors. Forced to violate their own beliefs or be killed, the people had begun to lose hope that they might ever live freely again. Finally, a small band of courageous men stood and fought this oppressive force. Miraculously, they won back the city and retook the temple, despite the massive army against them. After cleaning up the mess inside the temple walls, they lit sacred candles of purified oil and began the sanctification process. Eight days later, the rededication was complete, and, once again, the temple made holy. This is the story of the Jewish holiday known as Chanukah (meaning “dedication”) and, as some of you may know, Chanukah begins this Sunday night (at the time of my writing this).
The Divine lesson mentioned above had come at the heels of certain insecurities I’ve been feeling regarding my individuality and how it fits in with my new religious culture. I have been feeling that age old pressure to “be like everyone else” and not make waves. Be good. Be what’s expected.
Then, I consider not just the story of Chanukah, but the meaning of “chanukah” itself and how the name of this whole story refers almost entirely to the state of Judaism’s most sacred place, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. Dedicated.
So then I think, what am I dedicated to and what does that make me? Am I dedicated to …not making waves? …being like the person next to me so that I can fit in? …superficial reasoning or behavior? Am I dedicated to living within my calling? Am I committed to stepping up when what is required are the things that make me uniquely Me?
Or when someone asks me a question, am I satisfied with giving them someone else’s answer? The truth of the matter, for all of us, is that we each are here for a specific purpose. Sometimes we don’t know what that purpose is yet, and that’s fine, but how foolish am I to know what my purpose is and then shy away from it. I’m not being humble, I’m rejecting the design of my Creator. I can’t help but wonder if this is why this mystery woman seemed angry, genuinely, at my half-hearted answer in the beginning. She somehow knew I was being inauthentic and she was not going to accept it.
This autumn season has challenged me more than I anticipated, with themes I didn’t expect. I feel weathered and a little raw. The experience reminds me of clearing out oppressive forces and sacrilegious stuff within holy borders. It has taken a lot of courage and hard work, a fair bit of scrubbing the interior, and, ultimately, a solid rededication to answer the Divine’s call.