By Doni Joszef
World peace. Inner peace. Domestic peace.
It’s unclear which of the three is the most elusive goal.
It’s easy to compose songs and attend rallies for world peace. It’s easy to write poems and chant mantras about inner peace. And it’s easy to deliver lectures and pep talks about domestic peace. But when terrorism strikes—be it of the national, psychological, or familial variety—all the hippy songs and love lectures go flying out the window. Because peace is a lot more challenging than we tend to assume.
Perhaps most acute among these three peace struggles is the drama of domestic discord. The world, in general, and our Jewish world, in particular, has seen a drastic decline in marital stability. Marriage counselors may be silently celebrating the boost in business, but no one else seems too thrilled about the demise of domestic normalcy (if such a thing ever really existed). What’s happening to the modern marriage in search of some peace?
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The Rambam was known for his organizational precision.
At the end of most of his halachic segments, the Rambam tends to conclude with some ideological insight on the topic under discussion. Strangely enough, he wraps up his Chanukah comments with a bit of a curveball. Instead of closing his remarks with something directly related to Chanukah, the Rambam concludes with an emphasis on the importance of marital peace and domestic stability. Why not close the discussion in sync with the overall theme? Why veer away from miracle territory and focus on marital territory?
I believe the Rambam is hinting to something deeper than what meets the eye. Unlike Purim, which is a communal holiday, Chanukah is a family holiday—“ner ish ubaiso”—a candle per household. The focus is on family—not because we give each other lots of gifts and eat lots of latkes together, but, more importantly, because we rekindle the relationships which make life most meaningful.
The Rambam closes hilchos Chanukah by reminding us not to shine external “public” light before we tend to our own internal “private” light. We can’t be a “light unto the nations” before we first become a light unto our own families. What good is a lavish home if it’s filled with a hideous home life? What good is an influential community figure if he’s an absent father and insensitive husband? What good is a master marriage counselor if she’s a heartless mother and abusive wife? What good are Chanukah candles facing the public domain if there’s no equally illuminating light in our own private domains?
I believe this is the deeper intention of the Rambam’s concluding remarks, and I believe this is the deeper dilemma which many modern marriages face. We want our public lives to shine, even if our private lives are being extinguished. We want the world to marvel at what we present without, but not to see what we conceal within. We want our Instagram pictures to spell “happily married and in love with our children,” while behind closed doors we struggle to match the portraits we so proudly display.
On Chanukah, we kindle a flame of inspiration for the public—not to conceal, but to reveal what we hope to have burning in private. A light unto the nations? Perhaps. But first, and foremost, a light unto the family.
Happy Chanukah. v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice with adolescents and young adults in Lawrence. He blogs at DeficitOfAttention.com and is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.