Chanukah 5782-2021:Transforming Our Monsters

Eric A. Kimmel’s  book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, is a Chanukah favorite for many children; here’s a brief summary.
Hershel, a wandering Jew, wanders upon a Jewish village on Chanukah and notices that no one is lighting Chanukah candles. The villagers explain to him that a group of goblins have been tormenting the village during the Chanukah and the only way to stop them is to get the king of the Goblins to light the Chanukah candles himself. Hershel, ever the brave adventurer, treks to the shul on top of the hill to defeat the Goblins. Each night of Chanukah a different goblin comes to stop him from lighting Chanukah candles and each night Hershel outsmarts them. He convinces one Goblin he’s super strong by crushing an egg, which he convinces the goblin is a rock. Another goblin is thwarted when Hershel, playing into the goblin’s greed, gets his hand stuck in a pickle jar. Finally, Hershel is visited the last night by the King of Goblins. But Hershel has a plan. The lights in the synagogue are all extinguished and when the imposing silhouette of the King of the Goblin appears, Hershel remains stoic. “IT IS I, THE KING OF THE GOBLINS!” the imposing figure announces. Hershel remains unmoved, “Don’t be silly, you’re one of the boys from the village—you’re trying to scare me.” Frustrated the King of Goblins tries to figure out how he can convince Hershel that he is, in fact, the King of the Goblins. And here is where Hershel makes his move. “It’s too dark,” Hershel explains, if you want to convince me you need to make it brighter. So the King of the Goblins, in order to convince Hershel who he is, lights some candles. Unbeknownst to the King, these are the Chanukah candle and with that the Goblin’s reign of terror is ended. It’s a cute story and is nostalgic for many adults. But there is also a rather profound lesson contained within. “In the very place you struggle most,” explains the 19th century Chassidic master R. Tzadok of Lublin (Tzidkat HaTzadik #49), “is the very area that contains the most potential for spiritual transformation.” There are two ways to approach a person’s struggles: you can ignore them or you can transform them. Sometimes we try to distract ourselves—we ignore our deficiencies; we focus on areas other than our failure. Chanukah, however, reminds us that there is indeed another way. Instead of fleeing from our proverbial goblins, we transform them into sources of light. Instead of waiting for daybreak, on Chanukah we illuminate the night and transform the darkness.
Rabbi David Beshavkin shared this message with the author, Eric Kimmel, whose response was powerful:
I didn’t write Hershel with a particular message in mind. My task, as I see it, is to tell a story. Readers will create their own understandings that grow out of their own experiences and needs. Your response is a good one, and valid. One point I hoped the story would make is that Hershel defeats the goblins without magic or super powers. If kids think superheroes are going to save the day, we’re lost. Those folks don’t exist. All we have are the powers within us.
And this is the lasting message of Chanukah. In a darkened world, Chanukah reminds us that the true power to change and transform the world for good is not by wearing a cape and flying around fighting crime.  “All we have are the powers within us.”We continue to live in extremely challenging time. There’s so much adversity that it sometimes feels like we’ve been visited by goblins. But as Jews have done for centuries, we remind ourselves on Chanukah that the power to transform any difficulty resides within us all. The enemy might be external, life circumstances thrown our way that we didn’t sign up for, but the solution is internal.     Chanukah Samayach / Happy Chanukah