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Thought for the Day: Chanukah 2021

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When we cannot control the events that affect us, we nonetheless can control our response to them.


“There is no joy as great as the resolution of doubt.”

This comment, attributed to the 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, rings true for so many of us. Whatever the challenge, we prefer, by far, to live with the answer rather than to live with the question. 

Doubt can play havoc with our minds, such as during the gap between the appearance of symptoms and the diagnosis, or between losing one’s job and re-employment. Sometimes, uncertainty is short-lived, as it was when a false alarm was sounded in the Today studio earlier this week, while on other occasions it plunges us into continuous anxiety, such as when the turmoil of a pandemic strikes our vulnerable world. 

Just as global uncertainty seemed to be receding, new restrictions designed to halt the spread of the Omicron variant have thrust us back into a familiar spin of uncertainty about what the future might hold,  casting doubt on our hopes and plans for the coming months. 

The Hebrew word for ‘doubt’ – ‘safek’, comes from a root meaning ‘enough’. That’s because doubt should prompt us to seek out enough information to resolve the uncertainty in our lives.

However, fascinatingly, the word ‘doubt’ does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. Not because it never arises, but because the essence of the Bible is a recognition that even in the most trying of circumstances, the certainty of God’s protective presence will shelter us. 

Throughout the Pandemic, I have been inspired by so many people who haven’t allowed the immediate to eclipse the profound. By accepting that uncertainty is unavoidable, they have been able to move forward through the unanswered questions, making peace with the fact that sometimes we cannot control if or when we will discover the answers.

This is a key theme of the festival of Chanukah, which Jews around the world are celebrating this week. Chanukah recalls the trauma of existential uncertainty faced by Jewish people more than 2000 years ago, when the Seleucid Empire sought to rid the world of Jewish belief and practise. Through it all, deep-rooted faith gave hope and inspired resilience. Navigating through the dense clouds of doubt, the Maccabees discovered that an uncertain future and having peace of mind were not mutually exclusive. Their capacity to live with the question gave them added tenacity to prevail under the most trying of circumstances.

Paradoxically, the one thing that is certain in life is its uncertainty. When we cannot control the events that affect us, we nonetheless can control our response to them.