Sometimes we feel like suckers (in Hebrew, “fryers”). We are playing by the rules, doing what is right, while others are not doing so and are getting away with it. I’ve been good: I am always willing to help, I contribute as generously as I can to the shul, I am honest (mostly) on my income taxes, I don’t take advantage of others, I prefer to give rather than receive. But look at that other guy! He doesn’t pay his dues, doesn’t respect others’ marriage commitments, takes whatever he can get away with, and then lives it up and has a great time.
As supporters of Israel we sometimes feel this way, too. So many governments are engaged in brutality, arms exports and the drug trade — including Western governments — and few pay much attention, but whenever Israel does something wrong it is on the front page. Why do we bother trying to be good?
When we try to do what is right and follow the rules, it is easy to become resentful of others who don’t. Precisely because it is our tendency to feel this way, our sages warn us not to. Our doing what is right must not be dependent on what others do. Our commitment to our shul, to our Torah, to living the life that God wants for us — these commitments must be based on our firm faith in God and our desire to do what is right for its own sake. While sadly some do not yet share our commitments, there are in fact others who do act as we do, and sometimes our actions can be a source of strength for them. This strengthening of others is a happy outcome of our good deeds, but it too is not the essential reason for us to act properly.
As it is written in the Mishna: “Do not be like servants who serve their master expecting to receive a reward; be rather like servants who serve their master unconditionally, with no thought of reward. Let the fear of God determine your actions.”
When we kindle our Hanukia, its light shines as a symbol of hope for the triumph of right over might, of holiness over profanity, of decency over depravity. The primary source of our hopefulness must not be others but rather ourselves. We surely can not control others but we must be responsible for our own actions.
(c) Jon-Jay Tilsen