By Rabbi Avraham Kelman
There is a tried-and-true expression which we commonly apply, especially with respect to children, and I wonder if it truly leaves the positive imprint which we intend.
When somebody has great difficulty with a project or a given assignment and there is the possibility that that person may fail in properly completing the task, we usually say something like, “OK, just do the best you can.” Of course it’s true – all we can ask of anybody is to do the very best that s/he can do. After all, everybody has different levels of intelligence, skills, and capacities. We are obligated to aid and assist our children or students or co-workers, to motivate them or to show them how the trick is done, but ultimately if they don’t “get it,” we fall back on, “OK, just do the best you can.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of patience. Sometimes it has to do with the passage of time, or the opportunity to give the brain the space to work things out on its own. I have a feeling, though, that many of us who are told – “Just do the best you can” – are really being given the message that in fact we most likely can’t do it, no matter how hard we try.
Despite this, we also know from experience that very often if we would only invest that extra effort—the little bit more than the best we can do, we can sometimes be rewarded with greatness! A little extra effort can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence!
In the days of Antiochus Epiphanes (the Great- or as the Jews called him Epimanus – the Mad!), the Jewish people seemed at the end of the road. Amphitheaters were built for pagan entertainment in the heart of Jerusalem, and even the Holy Temple was reduced to just another pagan place of worship. The attempt to Hellenize the Jews of Israel was so successful that only a handful of priests were still devoted to the old religion. And yet against unbelievable odds, these peaceful clerics learned the art of soldiering and they succeeded in defeating the Syrio-Greeks, and reestablished the Jewish religion for the entire house of Israel.
Chanukah represents the diametric opposite of doing the best you can- the absolute reverse of mediocrity! Chanukah holds the very secret of the survival of the Jewish people for three thousand years. The observance of Shabbat is not that difficult. The rules of kashrut are not impossible. Making that early minyan is not that demanding. It just takes a little bit more effort.
If we go that extra mile, then a cruse of oil, which was meant to suffice for one day, will burn for eight, and the culmination of our mitzvoth will lead to the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash –Amen!