On the first day of Chanuka last year, our children surprised
me by becoming the people I hoped they would. It happened
quite unexpectedly amid circumstances which I would not have
seen as conducive to the achievement of great spiritual
The story started when a relative came for dinner on the
first night of Chanukah. Wishing to please our children and
to be a good guest, he brought along gifts — large
cellophane bags stuffed with candies of every imaginable
color, shape and flavor. We sat down to eat and our guest
noticed that meat was on the menu.
"The candies are dairy. Better put them away and save them,"
said Uncle Bill. "Give them out tomorrow and tell the
children I brought them."
The following afternoon, I suddenly remembered Uncle Bill and
the candy. "Kids" I called. "We've got a special Chanuka
present from our guests."
All the children, from the oldest, aged eleven, to the
youngest, aged three, gathered round the dining room table in
eager anticipation. I distributed the sacks. One of the
children poured his out onto the dining room table: a
treasury of tiny snicker bars, small caramel squares,
licorice sticks with pink and white fillings, even a jelly
candy made to look like a pair of dentures.
The kids were floating in paradise but before anyone could
pop anything in their mouth, eleven-year-old Yossi brought us
back down to earth.
"Ima, " he said, "are you sure those candies have
"Oh my gosh!" He was right. When Uncle Bill presented me with
the treats I had been too busy frying latkes in the kitchen
to check where they had come from. Fortunately, there was a
phone number printed below the name of the store. I dialed
and made the necessary inquiries. Sadly, the answers were not
quite to my liking. Much to my amazement, most of the
children simply gave me back the bags. That just made my
All the tantrums, all the scolding, the breaking up fights,
the sleepless nights and prayers, labor pains, the sweat,
tears and toil that I had poured into these children were not
in vain. They were growing up to be people I could be proud
of and people who would bring nachas to their
Now that was quite enough to put me on Cloud Nine, but then
Yossi said something which I think hit the spiritual jackpot.
"Kids!" he announced with the utmost urgency in his young
voice. "Let's not say a word to Uncle Bill; it would hurt his
feelings. This is all a secret."
Here was my own son showing such sensitivity. My other
children immediately agreed to the pact of silence. Now I was
faced with the problem of what to do with the candy. I
assumed that I'd just dump them in the trash
"Take them back to the store, Ima, and exchange them." said
seven year old Shiah.
The following day, I happened to be near the candy store.
Much to my amazement, the clerk took the sweets, weighed them
and told me their cash worth. I was then free to exchange
them for anything in the store that caught my fancy.
To me, this too was a miracle.
After considerable deliberation and quite a bit of squinting
over microscopic hechsherim, I came up with the
consolation prize, a super-sized Badatz-approved atomizer
that shpritzes sweet liquid directly onto the tongue, plus a
space-aged-looking spinning top that lights up as it spins
and plays "sevivon sov sov sov" — one of each
for each child. Identical gifts to avoid jealousy.
That night after candle lighting, I distributed the
substitute prizes. The reviews were mixed. The younger
children liked the atomizer. The older ones found them
revolting. Some of the tops were sturdy. Others broke on the
second or third spin. There were cries and shrieks and
complaints and everything felt very normal.
But then again, isn't that life? One step forward and two
steps back. Even amid the screams and cries and shrieks, I
shall try to hold that precious moment in my mind when my
young children proved that mitzvos bein odom LaMokom
and bein odom lachavero were more valuable to them
than even a sack of candy.