The guy running next to me was clearly not an experienced runner. Everything from the clothes he wore to the fact that he was holding on to the treadmill while running, made his lack of experience clear. I looked at him and for some reason, allowed myself to feel good about being a better runner.
The night before I had watched a friend of mine, one of the best runners I know, on the treadmill. I had blocked out all thoughts of how much better he is than me. Why is it that I only compared myself when it was to my advantage?
There are times when the challenges of life feel overwhelming and I allow myself to get down. One of the great rabbinic thinkers of the Middle Ages points out that we tend to compare our spiritual level to those below us and our physical level to those who have more. This allows us to stagnate spiritually and to always feel like we should have more. He suggests making the opposite choice. Keep an eye on those ahead of us on the spiritual path. Always keep in mind that there is much room to grow. In terms of possessions, it is to our advantage to realize how blessed we are as compared to other people.
As Chanuka comes to an end, it is worth thinking about the message of inherent in lighting one extra candle each night. Keep on growing. Keep on striving. That, not presents, is the real message of Chanuka.