It was over a hundred degrees in our first apartment in Israel. We had only been married for one month as we sat across from each other on the dusty, marble floor of our bare dining room. All of our possessions were being held in storage at the port in Haifa because there was a government strike,which had no discernible end in sight. So there we were: two clueless newlyweds with no refrigerator, no air conditioning, no table, no chairs, no beds and only the few outfits that had fit in our suitcases.

I was experiencing culture shock I was, to put it mildly, in a bit of culture shock. Fresh out of one of the finest universities in America, I hadn't cooked a meal or washed even one load of laundry in the past four years. I had literally been living in an ivy tower, and I was poorly prepared for reality. And with no washing machine or dryer, I wasn't doing all that well with our laundry either. After a month and a half of the continuing strike, I thought about suggesting that we check into the nearest Hilton for a couple of months. But I didn't want my husband to think that I was some spoiled girl from New York who couldn't rough it. So I learned how to use a laundry line and how to cook somewhat edible meals on a gas burner. I learned how to clean a marble floor and how to sleep on the floor as well.

I can't say that I would have chosen those circumstances for our first two months of marriage. But if you really want to get to know a person, there are few better alternatives than moving into a boiling hot, empty apartment with only the clothes on your back and a shared dream. And for maybe the first time in my life, I realized: I can tolerate discomfort. And looking back on those months, I can see that I not only tolerated circumstances that I never thought I could deal with for more than a few days: I flourished in the struggle. I found new strengths within myself and within my new husband that I could never have found in the cuddled, temperature-controlled rooms of my past.

But we are a generation that longs for comfort. There are times that we yearn for truth and purpose. However, when the struggle for truth is painful, or challenges deeply rooted parts of our personalities, we are often too quick to abandon our search altogether. We use excuses like: It's just not me. It's too extreme. Or: It doesn't fit into my life right now. Maybe next year. Or quite simply: It's too uncomfortable. Today most of us just want the answer to one question: What will make me happy?

The problem with this question is that sometimes the things that make us happy in the short term are the very obstacles to our long term growth. In order to grow we need to face the discomfort of change. We need to be able to tolerate the times when not everything "feels" inspiring. And sometimes growing means taking a second look at some deeply held assumptions of the way we see the world, and that process is uncomfortable.

We need to face the discomfort of change The Greek way of seeing the world was: If I think it, then it's true. If it feels good, then it's right. If I see it, then it's real. They saw beauty and physicality as ends in themselves because they couldn't see beyond the narrow confines of their own versions of reality. They couldn't believe in another world after this life because they couldn't see it. They didn't recognize the soul because they couldn't touch it. And today, we have absorbed some of this "Greek-think" as we search endlessly for the easy way out. That is why we are a generation of escape artists on so many subtle levels. If you're bored then go shopping or plan a vacation. Take a drink. Run until you drop. Work until you are numb. Because growing is the most painful risk of all, and most of us would rather not take that risk, ever. Recently, I was re-reading a classic favorite of mine, Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled, and I was startled by his words:

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. (Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p.15)

All of life represents a risk, and the more lovingly we live our lives the more risks we take. Of the thousands, maybe even millions, of risks we can take in a lifetime the greatest is the risk of growing up… (Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 67)

What startled me about these words was that I had read the book about ten years ago, and I didn't remember them at all. Perhaps I hadn't been ready to hear them yet. But it seems to me that these ideas are even more relevant today as technology allows us to take more and faster shortcuts through our lives. Shortcuts can take us off course. They can get us lost. Sometimes we can even forget where we were trying to go in the first place. The scenery is distracting. We're comfortable. We're tired. We shrug our shoulders and throw away the map. Whatever, we say. Maybe this is all there is anyway.

In Dr. Abraham Twerski's Happiness and the Human Spirit, he writes about the danger of ignoring the signals for growth:

How can a lobster grow? It is encased in an inflexible shell that does not expand. The answer is that the lobster grows until the shell becomes confining and oppressive. The lobster then retreats under a rock to be safe from predatory fish, sheds the shell and produces a more spacious one. As the lobster continues to grow, the new shell will also eventually become oppressive, and the lobster will repeat the process of shedding the confining shell and producing a larger shell. The signal for the lobster that it is time to shed its shell, so that it can continue to grow, is discomfort! Just think: if lobsters had access to doctors, they might never grow. Every time they felt the discomfort of the oppressive shell, they would get a prescription for a painkiller or a tranquilizer. With the discomfort gone, they would not shed their shell and produce a more spacious one. They would die as tiny little lobsters. The same is true for human beings: discomfort is often a signal that it is time to grow. (Twerski, Happiness and the Human Spirit, 113-4)

Shortcuts can take us off course The time of Chanukah is a time to listen for the signals for growth that are taking root beneath the surface of our lives. It is a time to gaze into the climbing flames and to believe that we, too, can climb. It's a time to remember that reality is so much deeper and so much bigger than the limits of our senses. When the Jews lit the menorah so long ago, they could have said: Let's use any oil. Why does it have to only be pure oil? If we use the other oil then we'll have enough for eight days… But instead they bore the discomfort of uncertainty. They took a risk. They climbed beyond their own perceptions. They didn't know how long the oil would last. But they lit it with the pure oil anyway.

During this time of year, G‑d gives us a special strength to take our own personal risks in order to grow. When we light our candles, we can give up the parts of ourselves that are clinging to ways of life that don't fit us anymore. We can bear the discomfort. We can pick up our maps and get back on the right road, however long it may be. And in the light of the menorah, we should all be blessed with the greatest miracle of all: the miracle of growth.