Jewish Grit and Hanukkah
Many studies show that effort is far more important than our natural abilities in anything that we’re trying to accomplish. In her book Grit, Dr. Angela Duckworth examines the trait of persistence. She writes, “Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.”
According to Duckworth, grit is the best predictor of success. The grittiest cadets are the ones that graduate from West Point, the most persistent businessmen are the ones who make the most money and the most persistent spellers end up being the winners of the National Spelling Bee.
In fact, a treadmill experiment that was first begun at Harvard University in 1940 tested which students would push themselves to the limit of their physical and mental stamina and remain for the longest time on the treadmill. The researchers then followed up on the study decades later and they found that the students that had stayed on the treadmill the longest were the most successful in every area of their lives throughout adulthood.
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare,” Duckworth says. That’s why many people buy exercise equipment for their homes but don’t end up using it. Enthusiasm rarely lasts because most goals end up being more challenging than people expect them to be. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” In order to persist in any endeavor, what ends up really counting is not the amount of work we put in on any one day but the “consistency over time” efforts that we put in day after day.
This level of commitment and consistency is the essence of Hanukkah. We don’t light eight candles on the first night. Each night we say another blessing and add another light. There is not just one, epic burst of inspiration that brings us closer to the power of miracles in our lives, because the Maccabees’ battle was not won in one shot of glory. It was won by years and years of learning and spiritual training before they even knew that they would have to fight. It was won in secret caves with children playing dreidel to distract the enemies, day after day without knowing if they would succeed.
They were not stronger than the Greeks. They did not have better weapons. They did not have as many soldiers. But the story of the victory of the few against the many goes deeper. Because what really powers grit is the faith behind our efforts, the belief that God will take our efforts and turn them into something that we never could have imagined was possible. Jewish grit is built on the belief that our faith is worth fighting for, that we know deep in our hearts that God will help us find a way to succeed even if we don’t know how and if we will win.
The light of our Torah and of our nation needs to be kindled not only from generation to generation but every single day. It needs to be kindled not only with the grit of our efforts but with the faith in God and the blessings that actualize that grit into victory. Because a miracle doesn’t just rise and flicker and go out. A miracle weaves its way through every part of our lives, and it is a steady, eternal light that reminds us always that anything is possible.
It is what gives us the faith to keep building even when everything is falling apart around us, even when it’s hard. Every day we kindle another light and at the end, we will have eight beautiful lights.
In Judaism, eight is the number that symbolizes what is beyond us, what is divine, what is infinite. On Hanukkah, we connect to the miraculous place within us all that whispers: Every day I will protect the precious light of my faith and my nation. I know that anything is possible because I believe in the One who does the impossible every day, the One who gives us grit and shows us how to use it, the One who creates light and shows us how to illuminate the darkness with our own light.
One light at a time.