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The Man Who Has Everything
Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

Q: What do you get the man who has everything?
A: Monogrammed soap on a rope.

At one time, people actually thought this was funny. It was a joke that was told and retold. Let’s examine it to see why it was repeated.

The question itself was a good one, one which is commonly asked this time of year. When trying to find Chanukah gifts for people, we sometimes find that they’ve already got everything they need and wonder what they are missing. Baruch Hashem, we’re not living in a time when too many people need shoes or socks as a gift. Even if they did, we’re less likely to get them that than something useless but whimsical.

The answer given was monogrammed soap. It became an item of value based on the person’s initials being on it, and they got washed away after use so you could buy it again another time. I think the “on a rope” part was added after the ridiculous fad began of putting a rope into bars of fancy soap so they were harder to drop down the drain. It was a silly thing (don’t see too much soap on a rope these days) and besides, it just sounds funnier.

So, the pondering begins. “What do I get so-and-so for Chanukah?” Now, I’m not really sure where the whole idea of presents for everyone you know began. As I recall, the Midrash somewhere states that a child found the little jar of oil that burned for eight days so the custom of giving Chanukah gelt to kids began as a way of showing appreciation to them (and enabling the boy to “sell” the oil he found to the Kohanim at that time.) However, it began, now people give gifts to adults too.

“What do you want for Chanukah?” If you were on the receiving end of this question, what would you say? Go ahead, make your list in your head. That’s OK… I’ll be here when you’re done.
Done? OK, great. Now, ask yourself, if you didn’t get what was on your list, would you be able to live? If you got the same item for your grandparents, would they appreciate it? How about your Rav or Rebbetzin?

Since we’re asking questions (I know – it’s Chanukah not Pesach,) what do you think about when you say the brachah each morning, “She’asa li kol tzorki, Who provided me with all my needs”? If you really meant that you had it all, we’d all be getting a lot of monogrammed soap. So why do we have items on our Chanukah wish lists? The answer is that for the most part, while we may have everything we need, we don’t have everything we want.

The following conversation really took place. When I heard it, I felt I would mention it in an article because it really struck a chord with me.
Someone I know was asked by his exasperated wife, “What do you want for Chanukah?” She had been trying to find something he would enjoy but was coming up blank.
He replied, “I don’t need anything.” “I know,” she persisted, “but what do you want?”

“There is nothing I want. If Hashem gives me everything I need, why would I want anything? If I don’t have it, I must not need it. It might even be bad for me.”
Now, there’s no way to argue with that, and the last I heard she was searching the dollar stores for old untouched boxes of soap on a rope, but let’s think about that.
He’s right. Hashem gives us everything we need and anything else might be harmful. Given those conditions, is there anything we should “want for Chanukah?”

I think so. Material things are kind of ridiculous because it’s decided on Rosh Hashanah what we’re supposed to get, and as we say each day, we have what we need (although there’s nothing wrong with asking Hashem for more, and it’s a good thing to do, in fact.)

But if I had a list of “What I want for Chanukah,” I would try to put things on it like:
I want more kavanah in my davening. I mean, I want to be able to stay in one place long enough to get through a few brachos without my mind taking me on trips around the world (although the ideas for some of my best articles pop into my brain during davening. The trick is to push them out and remember them after.)

I want the will power to stop eating latkes, donuts, etc. at some point before I burst.

I want people to be able to be happy with what they have and see how good and wonderful Hashem is to us. Instead of complaining about what they don’t have, I want them to recognize what they do have. I want them to stop feeling pained by the things they want and come to realize that they have all they need.

I want people to subscribe to my weekly dvar Torah (e-mail info@jewishspeechwriter.com and write “subscribe” in the subject) and then print copies and share it with others. I want to know that my articles are making people think, and I want siyatta diShmaya to make sure I’m writing things that are correct according to Hashem and the Torah.

I want the understanding and will to be able to control my mouth so I don’t shoot it off and embarrass people (including myself), or say inappropriate things at inappropriate times.

I want to learn more, and find the joy in it that is sometimes so elusive. I want the time to focus on my Neshama and do what it needs.

I want Moshiach to come so we can all be close to Hashem and enjoy it(!) instead of dreading it.

I want to reach my potential and help others reach theirs.

My list would go on and on, but I think you get the point. The real gifts are ones that you can’t get at Best Buy or Target and that you don’t need to wrap or carry around. They are spiritual, meaningful, and are pretty much one-size-fits-all. Chanukah is less about physical “presents” and more about “presence” of mind.

This Chanukah, as you’re checking your list twice, see what kind of items you’ve gotten. And if you didn’t get the kind of gifts I’ve written about, Chanukah is the perfect time to ask your Father for them. As they say, there’s no time like the present.

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