One of the most famous arguments between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel relates to Chanukah. The debate centers on the sequence of the menorah lighting, whether it should be “top-down” (light a full eight lights on the first evening and then one fewer candle each successive night, the opinion of Bais Shammai) or “bottom-up” (the view of Bais Hillel, in which we begin with one candle and continually add one candle until the last night, when we light eight candles. This is the opinion that we follow.)
The argument is also quite unusual. In most instances, debates between the great scholars that comprised these two “houses” were about levels of stringency. Most often, Bais Shammai assumes the stricter, more demanding view. On rare occasions we see the reverse. Our sages tell us that the law typically follows the position of Bais Hillel primarily because the people as a whole would not be able to adhere to a more stringent expectation. Yet, when it comes to Chanukah, the issue of stringency does not appear to be at play. Rather the question centers on sequence and direction.
I once heard an explanation for this debate from Rabbi Akiva Tatz. He said that the argument here was about how we approach growth processes such as Chanukah. According to Bais Shammai, the first step in achieving growth is to envision the finished product. Look first at a menorah that is filled with light, at the apex of its splendor. Then slowly wean yourself off of the externals day by day, as you seek to internalize the message. The initial inspiration will carry you as you begin the more arduous process of producing your inner menorah.
Bais Hillel argued the opposite position. The first thing that a person needs to do is to begin with the basics. Do something – anything – that will get you moving in the right direction. From there, you can build slowly but surely until you have reached your goal.
In essence, this debate is one of style, not substance. Everyone agrees that the purpose of lighting the menorah – besides the need to publicize the miracle and express appreciation for it – is to engage in our own light-filling process. We, too, must banish the darkness that continually threatens to envelop us with clarifying light. The question becomes what is the best way forward.
Of course, when it comes to menorah lighting, we can only choose one direction. However, as we seek to grow along our own spiritual pathway, we may be best served borrowing from both concepts simultaneously.
Without question, goal setting is a very important component of any growth process. We need to know where we want to go if we are to ever arrive at our destination. Seek to develop a clear picture with rich detail, in which you are able to describe your goal in actionable terms as well as in how you would feel from achieving your objectives.
But no goals, no matter how lofty and exciting, can be advanced without an action plan that will help you map out your course of action in a way that is realistic and sustainable.
One way by which we can get closer towards actualizing our potential is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for ourselves. “S.M.A.R.T.” stands for specific, measurable, attainable/realistic and time-related.
- Specific – well defined, you know exactly what you seek to achieve;
- Measureable – quantifiable in a way that helps determine whether the goal has been achieved;
- Attainable/Realistic – a goal that is within reach, largely because of your deep desire to attain it;
- Time-related – set to a timeframe to ensure continued, focused efforts towards attainment.
A person, for example, who seeks to daven with greater concentration, fervor and awareness, would be wise to apply this formula. Set specific goals of what you would like to work on that allow you to focus your energies. Determine how you will measure success, in terms of ability to translate more words, sustain concentration for extended periods, etc. Make sure that the goals that you set are attainable and not beyond the pale of what is presently realistic (this, of course, can and should change as you grow in this area). Then set a timeframe for your goal to keep you on task and moving in the right direction.
This process of setting proper goals and sticking to them may require the help of others, such as a spouse, friend or a coach. We are all busy and can sometimes lose focus or drive if we don’t have others supporting and pushing us to reach higher. The key is to contract and commit, so that this Chanukah does not become another flash of inspiration that quickly became a distant memory.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching and Consulting. He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at email@example.com.