Hanukah Commentaries

47 thoughts on “Hanukah Commentaries

  1. Wendy Berk

    From Reb Simcha Raphael

    I learned this from my teacher, Reb Zalman, z”l…

    In the Talmud, the Rabbis had a discussion about how late in the evening one could light Hanukah candles. In answer to this question, one of the phrases we find is this: “Ad sh’tichle regel min hashuq ”- עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק – literally “until the foot leaves the market”. What this means is “until people stop walking on the street” or “until there is no wayfarer in the street.”

    The Hasidic masters interpret this in an interesting way – “regel”, רגל – foot, is also related to the word “hergel”, הרגל – habit. In other words, lighting Hanukah candles allows us to unlock from our usual habits of busyness, distractibility, irritability, judgment and other habits of mind which we human folks live with all the time.

    On Hanukah, to rebuild the inner Sanctuary, we have to unlock from our habitual ways of living life, of seeing things; this is what the Zen tradition would call “see things with new eyes, beginner’s mind” – to see the unexpected and unprecedented.

    It is helpful on Hanukah to ask ourselves: what are our own particular habits of routine that keep us from being able to rebuild the inner Sanctuary? If we keep our usual habits of busyness, addiction, shopping, television, too much email, Facebook, Instagram, reading online stories, etc. then it may be difficult to have access to the miraculous, to see the blessings and the gifts in our own lives, and to sense the many ways in which we are inherently connected with the divine light.

    But on Hanukkah, by allowing ourselves not just to light candles and eat latkes, but to contemplate the light radiating outwardly from the candles, mirroring our inner light, we can unlock ourselves from habit. And when we do that we see that miraculous order of G!d’s Presence is real in our lives.

    So this Hanukah, may we be blessed to begin to see the divine light amidst the darkness, instead of chaos and confusion inside our own inner Temple!

    Reb Simcha Raphael

  2. Wendy Berk

    From Ghiora Aharoni

    The Noah Menorah from Ghiora Aharoni Studio.

    As chasms are widening around the world, the menorah, the centerpiece of Hanukkah, serves as a reminder of humankind’s ability, as well as obligation, to persevere in a time of darkness. Both the menorah and birds—who migrate to ensure their survival—are symbols of new beginnings. Birds, whose migration of the planet is epic, are also a reminder to humanity that boundaries can be crossed, and that distances—which may be perceived as too vast by the Earthbound—can be connected.

    When I was a child, my grandfather would tell us the story of the dove, which after the Great Flood, flew back to Noah on the ark with an olive branch—and olives from that branch were pressed into oil, placed in a small vessel by Noah, and passed down to his son. His son passed the oil to Abraham, and the tradition continued for centuries until it was placed in the Temple…and this was the oil, in the Hanukkah story, that miraculously burned for eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in the third century BCE. So the Hanukkah story begins long before the Maccabees, with a flood that forced humanity to rethink its path, setting a miracle in motion.

    The Noah Menorah, an assemblage sculpture, re-frames that narrative in a contemporary context as a work of art, where we, like Noah, are facing unprecedented environmental and societal challenges, and need to rethink boundaries and assumptions in order to survive. The sculpture, which is comprised of diverse elements and narratives, invites the viewer to revisit those ancient beliefs and stories as parables for the present.

    Vintage silver birds, formerly used as decorative table objects and gradually acquired from around the world, surround the centerpiece: an antique menorah from Mogador, Morocco that was used by Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were forced to migrate—a destiny they shared with the Muslim community—during the great expulsion in the 15th century, and with whom they co-existed in Morocco.

    The sculpture melds these narratives of migration, perseverance and, via assemblage, the dynamic of reuse/recycling—an essential aspect of ecological sustainability. This cyclical energy is embedded in both the circular form of the sculpture’s back plate—a vintage Moroccan table tray—and echoed in the chiastic structure of the Genesis flood narrative, in which narrative and numerical elements of the text are mirrored and repeated, metaphorically recycling themselves.

    With the approach of Hanukkah—The Festival of Lights—The Noah Menorah embodies the timeless call to persevere in the face of adversity, our responsibility to preserve our planet and the notion that vast chasms have the potential to be bridged. It invites us to cross boundaries and imagine a different future, and is a reminder that even in situations that seem untenable, hope still exists.

    Wishing you a Happy Hanukkah, filled with the energies of hope and renewal.

    With love and light—

  3. Wendy Berk

    A taste of Shades of Flame…

    “The reason we may not use the lights of the Chanukah Menorah to provide us with light by which to read or eat is to remind us that we ought not fall into the error of perceiving the Divine Light as illuminating our lives from outside of us, as an external force operating from without, for the Divine Light already glows brilliant deep within us, and that is where we need to focus. Had the Maccabeean warriors looked for, waited for, the Divine Presence to come to their aid from the outside in, the Chanukah miracle may never have happened. It occurred as it did by virtue of the Maccabeean fighters believing staunchly in the Divine Light that shone from within; that although the Greco-Assyrians succeeded in extinguishing the sacred flames of the Temple Menorah, they could not extinguish the sacred flame that is the soul, as is written: “The Soul of the mortal is of the Light of God” (Proverbs 20:27). For the holy is not something that is to be found only in the heavens above, but as well on the earth, in each and every one of us. This was the whole concept behind the Holy Temple, to mirror to us the holiness that dwells within our earthly bodies and our physical world. After all, the Temple implements were comprised of material originating in stone, plant, and animal. The whole purpose of the lights of the Chanukah Menorah is thus to remind us that we do not need them [i.e., the lights] to kindle our own; that the world operates by its own light.”

    The Late Rav Moshe Feinstein, זצ”ל

    Translation © 2023 Gershon Winkler

  4. Wendy Berk

    From the Hebrew College

    Divine Light and Human Hands: A Mystical Teaching on Hanukkah
    By Rabbi Or Rose

    “Blessed are You, YHWH our God,
    who performed miracles for our ancestors
    in days past, at this time.”

    What does it mean to light the Hanukkah candles?

    One response that I have found intriguing over the years comes from the early Hasidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (d. 1809). The Berditchever (as he is affectionately called by his disciples and admirers) was part of the vanguard of Hasidism, the great spiritual revival movement that first swept through the Eastern European Jewish community in the late 18th century.

    In a brief but daring sermon, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak calls our attention to the last words of the second blessing recited over the candles each night—ba-z’man ha-zeh. This phrase is usually translated as “at this time,” meaning that God performed miracles for the Maccabees and their people at this time of year centuries ago.

    The Berditchever reminds us that the words ba-z’man ha-zeh can also be read as “within time,” meaning that God’s participation in the events of Hanukkah took place within the bounds of nature, within the limits of space and time as we normally experience them, and not in a supernatural manner.

    According to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, while God played a miraculous role in this ancient drama, God’s work was “hidden” and involved a delicate interplay with the human actors in this saga. He contrasts this mode of divine engagement with God’s actions in the Exodus, in which the Almighty overturned the natural order, using great “signs and wonders” (Exodus 7:3) to put down Pharaoh’s army and free the Israelite slaves.

    Interestingly, in this teaching, the Berditchever leaves aside the Rabbinic legend about the wondrous jug of oil that lasted for eight days after Judah the Maccabee and his forces recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem—the story that has become the great miracle-tale of Hanukkah.

    Rabbi Levi Yitzhak instead views Hanukkah as a model for understanding how the Divine interacts with Israel and the world in contemporary times—ba-z’man ha-zeh. While one might wish for God’s supernatural intervention, the Divine acts in a subtler manner. In the mystical terminology of Hasidism, God functions from within a state of tzimtzum (delimited or veiled presence), active but not easily perceptible to the seeker.

    The Berditchever does not explain in this teaching why God might choose whether to engage in a revealed manner or a concealed one during different periods of Jewish history. However, in other teachings he argues (following his mentor, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch) that tzimtzum offers the devotee the opportunity to become an active participant in shaping a life of holiness and to work with the Divine to sanctify all of existence. In other words, God’s concealment is an invitation to us to take greater initiative.

    In my mind, I imagine the Berditchever standing before his Hasidic community on a cold night in December with the shamash (“attendant”) candle in hand, gently reassuring his followers that the Eternal is with them just as God was present to the Hasmoneans long ago; that despite the darkness they may experience individually or communally, the search for divine light is not in vain. As the Berditchever stretches forth his hand to light the hanukkiah (holiday candelabrum), he might remind his flock that this sacred act is emblematic of the Divine-human partnership in their time and place: God is the ultimate source of light, but the human being must channel the light through their actions.

    What I appreciate about this teaching is the creative way in which Rabbi Levi Yitzhak imbues the ritual of candle lighting with a spiritual message of hope and inspiration, while also acknowledging the mystery and complexity of the religious life. By offering his community an alternative reading of the second blessing over the candles, he seeks to provide them with a compelling theological vision that they can internalize through this simple embodied ritual. Like the Maccabees, you have the capacity to actively participate in the renewal of Jewish life by lighting up the night, envisioning your home, place of business, synagogue, or elsewhere as a sacred space—a contemporary temple.

    Having said that, I must also admit that I struggle to understand the nature of the Divine-human relationship. While I am attracted to the Berditchever’s language of the miraculous within the mundane, at this point in my life I have more theological questions than answers.

    What I do know is that the religious language of Divine-human partnership, of tzimtzum and of hidden light has helped me to cultivate a sense of personal responsibility, of humility and of hope. I know that the world is both beautiful and broken, and that I must play a role in healing it. I also know that my role will be limited, but that I can contribute meaningfully to this sacred project. And I yearn daily for greater spiritual clarity.

    Surrounded by family and friends, I hold the shamash in hand, recite the blessings, and light the Hanukkah candles. As I do so, I also feel the presence of past luminaries like Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev urging us to rededicate (Hanukkah = “Rededication”) ourselves to living lives of meaning and purpose—in our time and place—using the teachings and rituals of the Jewish tradition to guide us through the darkness.

  5. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Lavey Derby

    This is Rabbi Derby’s teaching for the 8th night of Chanukah.

    Eight Candle
    Tonight, as we watch the hanukkiah aflame with light, is a good time to contemplate the darkness.
    The fear that arises in the darkness seems to be deeply ingrained in human consciousness, there from the beginning of time. In the dark, children fear monsters and ghosts. As adults, we might find ourselves afraid again, faced with a darkness that hides uncertainly, vulnerability and the fear of our own mortaluty. If we are at all self-aware, how can we not be afraid?
    The Rabbis of the Midrash engaged in a telling discussion of darkness. “When is it dark? At dawn: the moon and stars exit, the planets depart and there is no time that is darker. At that moment the Blessed Holy One raises up the dawn from darkness to give light to the world.” (Midrash on Psalms)
    The Rabbis’ poetic trope that it is in the moment of greatest darkness that light peeks out at us, has an analogue in science. Even in a total eclipse, the sun never completely grows dark. There
    is a corona, a halo of light that remains. A scientist friend tells me that the corona is actually new light, light we would never have seen, except for the sun being blocked. I don’t know if that’s true, but the image tickles my fancy. Only in the dark of the eclipse do we see new light.
    Can we believe that light surrounds us, like the corona of an eclipse? Can we believe that embedded in the darkness there is a ray of pure light? Are we willing to believe that a light glows deep in the recesses of our own being, a light so bright it has the power to roll away the darkness?
    Hanukkah is an invitation to return to the light. To the light that dwells outside and to the light that is found inside. Hanukkah calls us to come home to the light that helps us be unafraid. Come home to the light that shines from the face of every person. Come home to the light of the heart. Come home to the light that illumines a path to justice, love, and compassion. Come home to the light that gives us the courage to see the blessing even in the darkness.
    The book of Proverbs teaches “The soul of man is the lamp of God,” (20:27), and the Hasidic master known as the Sfat Emet comments, “A human being is created to light up this world.”
    We have the potential to be the sparks of light that illumine a world gone dark. Ultimately, our task is not to light candles, but to be candles.
    Tonight, decide to be a shamash. Go out and light as many candles as you can.

  6. Wendy Berk

    From the Alter of Kelm

    “Rather than living our lives attributing regularly occurring events to “nature,” we might bring a deeper spiritual dimension to all of life if we work to recognize that all events, even the most common, are in reality regularly occurring miracles. If we can elevate our awareness to this level, we can train ourselves not to take smaller moments and events for granted.”

  7. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

    I hope everyone is enjoying the Chanukah season and kindling the Chanukah Lights in the evening. At the heart of the festival is the joy of the Temple rededication in Jerusalem after the incredible victory of the vastly outnumbered Maccabees over the Syrians who had defiled it. The rededication of the Temple would have been impossible if there had not been a powerful commitment on the part of the Jewish people to their heritage and their faith. However, our Sages remind us that we should also remember to rededicate our personal temples, the temples in our hearts at this time as well. We must continually bring more light into the world amidst the transient darkness. Just as the community of Israel is instructed to build a sanctuary for Hashem, so too we are each instructed to build a sanctuary for Hashem in our hearts. Just as we were given the mitzvah of purifying the oil in the Holy Temple, so too we must ensure that there is pure oil in our personal temple.

    If the truth be told, not all Jews at that time (2nd Century BCE) had this sense of dedication, and in every generation, we are tempted to assimilate to the cultural values of the larger community that surrounds us. In those days, there were in fact the Hellenists who were quite content to assimilate into the larger Greek culture. They adopted the Greek gods, the Greek language, Greek sports, Greek modes of dress, Greek names. Hebrew was neglected. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals were gradually replaced by pagan observances. Some of the Hellenists even underwent a painful surgical procedure to undo their circumcision so that they might appear in the public arena in the nude. But because there were enough Jews who cared enough about preserving Judaism, their distinctive way of life, and their own spiritual identity, they decided to oppose this vast assimilation. Without their fierce determination, there would have been no temple rededication. That is true in our very day as well. We live under very tempting opportunities that lead us away from our tradition, yet Chanukah reminds us that there will always be a strong contingent of people who will fight for continuing the beauty of our tradition. These souls recognize the importance of ensuring that our tradition thrives and flourishes in the very culture that we live in and that we shine its light in the world.

    The historian Josephus writes that in the 2nd century Jewish community there was also an immense struggle WITHIN the Jewish community as well, leading to a near civil war. Different factions in the community fought to shape the future direction of the Jewish people. Torah-based Jews clashed with Hellenistic Jews, traditionalists vs. assimilated Jews: would be Greeks contended against senior, committed Jews. However, Josephus points out though the traditionalists were victorious, they did not banish Greek culture in its entirety. Not only have hundreds of Greek words and concepts entered the Talmud and Midrash, but Greek science, philosophy, and aesthetics, have found a place in the writings of Maimonides and other commentators. (The Septuagint, a translation of the Torah into Greek also suggests a mutual influence that was prevalent. The Talmud (Megillah 9B) says that the Sages permitted the Torah Scrolls to be written in Greek. Though this allowed the reading of the Torah in the vernacular to increase the spread of the Torah amongst the masses, the commentators also suggest that this translation to the vernacular was a ‘curse.’ It had detrimental consequences since translation into the vernacular allowed people to read the Torah text without mastering the holy Hebrew language, and though the literal level increased to a wider number of people within the community, the deeper level of Jewish knowledge was attenuated).

    The Midrash Shachar also affirms the positive influence that Greek culture added to Jewish tradition. As it states in Genesis 9:27, (in Noah’s blessing to his sons Yiftach and Shem”): “May the beauty of Yiftach dwell in the tents of Shem.” The Midrash identifies Yiftach in the future as Greece and identifies Shem as the forerunner of Israel. This suggests the validation of extracting the positive aspects of Greek culture, (music and poetry) and adding its beauty to the sublime concepts of our eternal Torah and its communication with the Divine. As Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German Romantic Poet, born to assimilated Jewish parents, famously said, “For the Greeks, beauty is truth, and for the Hebrews, truth is beauty.”

    Can the positive aspects of modernity (science and art) integrate and complement our Jewish tradition today, our eternal values of ethics, humility and awe before G-d; can this dance increase the harmony in our world? Can Jewish culture make a positive impact on the outer culture and inject ethical values, values of justice, of loving behavior within our community as images of what an enlightened ethos can achieve.

    There are those who believe (traditionalists) that our modern culture is too overwhelming with temptations, with excess of materialism and hedonism, that lead one away from a life of ‘Holiness’ and thus it is prudent to live separately from the outer culture; and those who believe that encounter with the larger culture enables us to introduce our enlightened values to others, while imbibing from the positive dimensions of modernism. The latter view claims that Judaism throughout our history has integrated positive dimensions from various cultures throughout the eons, and introduced new customs as we grow and change through history. The historian Josephus confirms this in our encounter with Hellenism. However, the lure of the outer culture is so intense, that it may at times require the balancing voice and practice of extremists such as the Maccabbees to ward of a disastrous, extreme assimilation

    The different energies prevalent at the time of the 2nd century BCE, and the story of Chanukah awaken us to the complexity and tensions of living in a modern culture, and preserving our unique destiny as a people of ‘Light’ who must bring a unique message to our world, one that emphasizes holiness, justice, love ,and awe and gratitude to our Creator. The tensions that different groups within our community create to maintain their cherished view as the correct response to modernity makes our challenge all the greater. Only with increased tolerance for the views of disparate groups can we create an example of harmony that will be the example, (the guiding Light ‘ of Chanukah) necessary to create the Messianic world that we are charged to create.

    May we all imbibe from the beauty of the shimmering candles, always giving off light and never diminishing in the process, may we be inspired by this Light and , the shining candle within all of us and bring the rededication of the pure oil that burns with each of us. May the light of the Shabbat candles combine with the Light of the Chanukah candles to make this Shabbat the brightest illumination and revelation of G-d’s Light waiting for us to spread its beauty throughout our world, and may it be so! Amen.

    Have a beautiful Shabbat, one filled with both beauty and truth,

    Rabbi Mel

  8. Wendy Berk

    From The Hebrew College

    Chanukah Heroines of Yore
    By Rachel Adelman

    When we light Chanukah candles around the winter solstice, we shunt back the darkness, defy the long nights, and, placing the menorah on the boundary of our homes, proclaim the Chanukah miracle [pirsumei nisa]. Yet the debate as to what that miracle may have been still rages. Most Jews are familiar with the rabbinic account of the little cruse of pure oil found in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, which should have lasted a day but miraculously persisted for eight. Some are even familiar with the historical account of the Maccabean Revolt (167-164 BCE) against the tyrannical decrees of Seleucid Greek rule under Antiochus Epiphanes IV, led by Mattathias and his five sons (as recounted in the Book of Maccabees). But very few know the stories of Hannah, the daughter of Mattathias, and Judith from the Apocrypha. These Chanukah heroines of yore highlight the fraught relationship between political power and the source of miracle: God’s guiding hand in history.

    While the story of Yehudit does not appear in the midrashic corpus until much later (see this article by Deborah Levine Gera), it is found in “The Book of Judith” of the Apocrypha. The story opens with a siege upon the town of Bethuliah (literally, “virgin of God” [betul-i-yah]), which is strategically placed at a narrow pass into the Judean hills. Holofernes, the Assyrian general, had cut off access to the water sources in an attempt to force the town to surrender so that he could then proceed to conquer Jerusalem. The residents, seized with panic, turned to their leaders, urging capitulation, but Uzziah, the town magistrate, begged them to hold out for another five days. In the meantime, the beautiful, wealthy, and highly-respected widow Judith concocted a plan.

    After fasting and prayers, she beautified herself and went into the Assyrian camp with her faithful maid to “woo” the heart of Holofernes. Over the course of four days, under the pretext that she would act as an intercessor on the part of the Assyrians to God against the Jewish people, she visited their camp by day and left just before nightfall. On the last night, Holofernes planned a great banquet, hoping to satisfy his lust, and she dressed up in all her finery especially for the occasion. She urged her handmaiden and all the military officers to leave them alone, and, when the general had fallen into a drunken stupor, she took his sword and lopped off his head. Off she and her maid went, through the army camp, just as they had on all the previous evenings, but this time Judith had the general’s head tucked in her food basket. When the Assyrian army discovered their decapitated leader, they fled in terror. This beautiful widow thus saved Jerusalem from being ravaged, her sanctuary from begin defiled: “For the Lord Almighty had foiled them by the hand of a woman.” (Judith 16:5)

    The story of Hannah (or Channah), daughter of Mattityahu (as recorded in Midrash Le-Hanukkah, in Beit haMidrash, ed. Jellinek), describes a series of decrees issued by the Greeks that differ radically from those Antiochus imposed on Judea in the second century BCE. First, they issued a proclamation that Jews could not place a bolt or lock on their doors. To evade the edict, the Jews took the doors off their posts and surrendered their sense of honor [kavod]. Then the Greeks decreed that any man who allowed his wife to go to the mikvah would be pierced by the sword, and so they ceased having marital relations. Then the Greek magistrates imposed “the right of the first night” (otherwise known as ius primae noctis, or droit de seigneur): Every Jewish bride on her wedding night would first be forced to have relations with the local Greek governor. Many refrained from marriage altogether.

    The decree continued for over three years, until Hannah, daughter of Matityahu, was engaged to marry Elazar the Hasmonean. On the night of her wedding feast, when they all sat down to eat, Hannah stood up from her bridal chair, clapped her hands, and tore her purple robe, exposing herself to all the guests. When her brothers saw her, they bent their heads in shame and stood up to kill her, but she cried out:

    Listen my brothers and my uncles, now that I have stood before you righteous ones, naked with no sin upon me, you are seized with zeal against me, yet you were not so zealous on my behalf in sending me to that uncircumcised one [so he could] abuse me. Should you not learn from Shimon and Levi the brothers of Dina who were only two, yet were zealous for their sister and slaughtered the residents of Shechem and risked their lives for the integrity of God, and God came to their assistance and did not destroy them. Yet you are five brothers—Yehuda, Yochanan, Yonatan, Shimon, Elazar—and over two hundred young priests! Place your trust in God and God will assist you!

    Hannah confronts their hypocrisy—the shame culture that would call for an honor killing of their sister but turn a blind eye to her rape. Galvanized by her words, the Maccabean brothers and their priestly allies rise up to fight. Like Shimon and Levi (in Genesis 34), they plot in guile to willingly give Hannah over but only to the one worthy of the daughter of a High Priest—the king himself. Into the palace she was sent, a female Trojan horse, along with her zealous brothers as “guests.”

    And God [indeed] wrought a great salvation for them, and they heard a divine voice [bat qol] come out of the Holy of Holies, saying: “All Israel, the young priests have been victorious against Antiochus.”

    The victory is declared from within the inner sanctum by a bat qol—literally, daughter voice—affirming the public military victory without. And the Holy of Holies remains intact, wholly private, exclusively accessible to the High Priest on Yom Kippur, only because Hannah was willing to expose herself, to challenge her brothers’ hypocrisy, and galvanize them to action. The integrity of the Temple is mirrored in the integrity of the daughter.

    Both in the story of Judith and the story of Hannah, we see God manifest “not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6), through the unconventional weaponry of women—feminine wile and audacity. These heroines cry out from the private interstices of their being when women’s bodies and the collective inner sanctum are most vulnerable. And the heavenly voice (bat qol), from the Holy of Holies, resonates with their cry and their courage. The miracle of Chanukah begins from the inside—a little flask of oil, a woman’s sense of honor. So the lighting of the menorah is on the border between the home and the public sphere from where the news of the miracle radiates outward.

    Addendum: Per Rabbi Lavey Derby, on the basis of the story of Judith, the Sages said that women are commanded to light the Chanukah lights.

  9. Wendy Berk

    A Mystical Message About Chanukah from R’ Zalman Schachter Shalomi z”l
    by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

    Several times the Bible tells us that God wants to have a Place “to make His Name dwell therein.” It’s interesting that God does not say ‘I will dwell there,’ but that ‘My Name will dwell there.’ While everything is God and in God, and the whole cosmos is not separate from God, the point that a Temple makes is that there is a concentrated, stronger focus of the quality of Divinity for those who enter there. So while it is true that God is in everything, and everything broadcasts its own quality, a Temple could be understood as a kind of “broadcasting tower” from which a signal goes out to the world.

    The carrier wave is a field of blessing, and the message stream is the way in which God would like to see the world be in harmony in order to receive that blessing. There would also be a certain kind of beacon in the broadcast, giving meaning to life and beaming the sense of justice and compassion for the world. In each human being there is a receiver for that broadcast – because Divine Compassion broadcasts on human wavelengths. People who are open to God and want to be open to receive that beacon can in this way recalibrate their moral and ethical life.

    Although the First and the Second Temples were destroyed, the teaching is that the Third Temple is already present on a higher and more subtle vibratory scale. The broadcast comes even now from that Temple, is received by some people and, alas, not by others. The beacon to us, as human beings, also invites us to contribute to that broadcast. In the way in which we invest energy we boost the signal strength in public worship and in private prayer, in meditation and then acts of justice and compassion.

    We beam these back to the Source of the broadcast that we call the Name of God. [There are many more possible models for this process. Usually an organismic model is preferable, but for this process I find that the technical model of “broadcast” will help me make the point]

    There are two modes of looking at reality in Jewish mysticism:

    1) Yichuda ila’ah, and

    2) Yichuda tata’ah.

    Yichuda ila’ah, the higher union, is when we unify everything in God to the point where the infinite is the only reality there is. This points to the sentence and its intention: Sh’ma Yisrael — Echad.

    Yichuda tata’ah on the other hand is indicated by the sentence that follows: Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto l’olam va’ed, May the Name of the Glory of His Kingdom (the reflection of majestic effulgence) reach us here in our world. Yichuda tata’ah sees the universe as God embodied in all the details of life from galaxies to humans, and from humans to energy particles, as one organismic, living, conscious whole.

    There is a further teaching which touches the cosmic process of Yom Kippur: each Yom Kippur a new “Shem” – a “God-Name” is emanated downward to energize the world for the coming year. Embedded within it is the direction that Divine Providence wants each part of the cosmos to take. The Name that came down the year before is no longer serviceable for the present year. Kabbalah describes it as if the energy matrix of the last year has been corrupted (by human beings trespassing on the Divine intention). [Imagine: the house has a hot-air furnace and every room has filters through which the heated air passes – and it gets clogged and needs to be replaced]

    The great broadcast of Divine Indwelling beams to the human heart, the inner sanctuary that is a hologram of the cosmic Temple, which is a receiver. It therefore also depends on our attunement to receive the broadcast. I believe that every spiritual discipline is set to attune us to be able to receive this broadcast with greater fidelity. So in our liturgy we ask: “ v’Taher libeynu l’ovdecha beh-Emet – Cleanse our hearts so that we might serve You in Truth.” Emet/Truth has the sense of being attuned to what it is, and how it is, in reality.

    Prior to the building of the Temple in Jerusalem we had a traveling Tabernacle that was built after the Exodus from Egypt. The Bible tells us how it had to be built to very precise specifications. At the end of the book of Exodus there is a description of how, when the Tabernacle was completed, the Divine Presence made Her entrance to reside there. Later when the Bible tells us about Balaam the prophet. Sent to curse our people he could not help but say “How good are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling place O Israel.” He saw the tribes encamped about the Tabernacle in the center, and all the tribes in harmony with that broadcast. What a remarkable vision that is – to see all the nations on earth receiving that broadcast and living in harmony! It is such a vision that likes to appear to us in our vision of the messianic era. The teaching we received about how the Tabernacle in the desert had to be prepared to receive the indwelling also includes the final act of anointing the surfaces of the Tabernacle with sacred oil. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Apter Rebbe, in his great work Ohev Yisrael points out that the Tabernacle came to life as a result of that anointing. In addition the lighting of the sacred candelabrum brought awareness to the sanctuary. You have here the image of the Tabernacle as something organic, alive and aware of being the center from which the sacred broadcast issues.

    When The Broadcast Is Denatured

    It is quite easy to understand from our own lives and existence to what extent we have been flooded with information and impressions from all kinds of sources. It requires a great deal of stilling the mind in order to tune into the Divine broadcast. However, the media have usurped the bandwidth of our consciousness, so that now only with great difficulty can we tune in to the broadcast that wants us to live in harmony.

    This is the preface to the story of Chanukah. When the people had come back from Babylon and rebuilt the Temple, although it lacked some of the Sancta of the first Temple, it nevertheless was able to broadcast the message: “the universe exists on three coordinates: on Torah, on Avodah and on Gemilut Hasadim.” The Divine Name had settled in the Temple and the broadcast was resumed.

    A new culture, that of the Hellenists, was spreading over Asia Minor and the Fertile Crescent with a broadcast that was inimical to the one that came from Jerusalem. They invaded the Temple, desecrated it, offered swine on its altar and thereby changed the broadcast. This proved allergic to the soul of the Jewish People, who under the Maccabees took up the sword against the Hellenists, and after fierce battles in which they experienced that God helped them, they freed the Temple and purified it. Now they needed to light the sacred Menorah. In order to do this one needs specially and meticulously prepared olive oil. Finally after much searching they found one little cruse of oil still sealed with the seal of the High Priest that contained just enough to light the Menorah for one day.

    It takes seven days to make fresh oil. They didn’t want to wait until he had enough oil for the continuous lighting. That would’ve meant a delay. They so craved to receive the sacred broadcast that they did not wait. When the oil in the Menorah burned for eight days, until fresh oil could be produced, it was seen as a miracle.

    The natural order was at one time seen by religious teachers as being superseded by the supernatural order. I like to speak of it as the “miraculous order,” that at times becomes visible to our awareness, but which steadily suffuses what we call the natural order. Much of liturgy and teaching prepares us to tune into that miraculous order. Culturally, the natural order has been subverted to utilitarian purposes. The stronger that template covers the natural order, the less we are in touch with the miraculous order.

    The ritual and liturgy connected with Chanukah and the candles are there to cleanse the doors of our perceptions so that we might again be attuned to the order of the miraculous. So we are taught that “these candles and their light are sacred and we have no permission to make use of them. All we must do is to just look at them”.

    Gazing at the candles, as they are in themselves, is the meditative contemplation we are urged to do on Chanukah.

    While it is important to display the (Chanulah) menorah so that it could be seen from the street, the purpose is that even the street may receive the benefit of Pirsuma d’Nissa, to be made aware of the miraculous order.

    Olam, Shanah, Nefesh, As Eons

    The Sefer Yetzirah speaks about the three dimensions of Olam, Shanah and Nefesh. Olam – world – denotes the dimension of space, Shanah – year – denotes dimension of time and Nefesh – soul/spirit – denotes the dimension of the person, the individual. There is a view that describes each of these three dimensions as dominating a separate Eon. (Joachim de Fiore, a Christian mystic, spoke of it as the Eon of the Father, which is followed by the Eon of the Son and then followed by the Eon of the Holy Spirit).

    When the dimension of space – Olam – dominated, we speak of the Temple in Jerusalem in a particular locale. When the Temple was destroyed a paradigm shift happened, and we speak of the next Eon as the one of Shanah. Now we no longer had the sanctuary in space, but the sanctuary became one of time: Shabbat and the holy days.

    Here, the High Holy Days serve as the source of the broadcast for the whole year. We lived our spiritual life in the dimension of sacred time, in ‘illo tempore’ – ‘in that time.’ A new paradigm shift occurred in our day after the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Moon-walk and Internet. The Gaian crisis brings us into an Eon where things depend on the individual, the nefesh. At this point the receiver of the broadcast is what is in our heart. In order to fine tune this receiver it is also necessary to be in some connection and communion with individuals who are attuned to the sacred broadcast.

    The rules stated in the Talmud specify that all that is necessary is for each household to have one candle at the door facing the street, located as follows: “the mezuzzah at the right and the Chanukah candle at the left of the door and below 10 handbreadths.” The Talmud then tells us further that there are people who are more meticulous and generous in their observance, “the mehadrin,” and that they’ll have one candle per person of the household. Then the Talmud says that those who are the meticulous-of-the-meticulous, the “mehadrin min ha-mehadrin,” the generous of the generous, will each light one to eight candles following the teachings of Hillel, beginning with one the first night and going up to eight by adding another candle each night. Shammai’s school opted for beginning with eight and going down to one reducing each night by one candle. [In another area of difference of ruling Hillel says that light has many colors whereas Shammai says that there is only one color to light. It has been my custom to use two electric menorahs one with colored light bulbs following the rule of Hillel and one with only white bulbs following the rule of Shammai] on each (Chanukah) menorah.

    To return to the main theme: Chanukah is all about Pirsuma d’Nissa, and being in touch with the miraculous order. The place from which we can tune in to the miraculous order is by opening ourselves to the imaginal realm, and to look at what is before us – the light of the Chanukah candles.

    At the very time when we are in the darkest days of the year,

    lighting the candles for Chanukah brings us back to the miraculous order.

    This is what we need to invoke for ourselves and for the rest of the world at this time. May we be granted the vision of the good world that is to emerge from the present dark chaos.

  10. Wendy Berk

    From Reb Shlomo

    This is one of Reb Shlomo’s teachings remembered by Aryae:

    According to R. Hillel we light one light the first night, two the second, and so on, until we get to eight lights. According to R. Shammai we light eight lights the first night, seven the second, and so on, until we get to one light.

    So what does this mean? asked R. Shlomo.

    According to Hillel, we light one light, and we see there’s light in the world, even at a time of darkness. Then our eyesight gets a little better, and we see there’s more light, so the second night we light two lights. Then the third night our eyesight gets even better, so we light three, and so on. Until on the eight night, our eyesight is so good that we can see 8, infinite, lights all over the world.

    So according to Shammai? On the first night we see 8/infinite lights around the world. Then on the second night our eyesight gets a little better, and we can only see seven. And so on. And on the eighth night our eyesight is so good that we can see that there is only one light in this world.

  11. Wendy Berk

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    From his book, The Month of Kislev Rekindling hope, dreams and trust

    … The Chanukah lights are, in this way, a purely aesthetic or contemplative object. Meant to be appreciated, enjoyed, and engaged for what they are, rather than for what they can do. In this way, the lights of Chanukah can remind us of the inherent beauty and holiness of so many parts of the material world that we have completely translated into purely utilitarian ends, and therefore taken for granted. Chanukah comes to remind us that the Hidden Light resides within all seeming opacity, just waiting for us to kindle and appreciate its gentle glow, through a slight shift in our perception. Gazing upon the Lights of Chanukah trains our eyes to see this Hidden Light within ourselves, others, and all Creation.

  12. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan


    Maoz Tzur. Your favourite Chanukah song — or not. But likely the one you know best.

    What do the lyrics to Maoz Tzur mean?

    We all know what they do not mean. The words of the popular English version are not a translation. But, here they are:

    Rock of Ages Let our song/ Praise thy saving power./ Thou amidst the raging foes/ Wast our sheltering tower./ Furious they assailed us/ But thine arm availed us./ And thy word broke their sword/ When our own strength failed us.

    Americans: surely this sounds familiar? Because it’s a bit like The Star Spangled Banner:

    O’er the ramparts we watched…/And the rockets red glare /the bombs bursting in air…

    Not surprising, really. It was written by two German-born American Reform rabbis. Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil wrote it in the late 1800s. By then, The Star Spangled Banner was a popular patriotic song. So, it’s no wonder these rabbis, both adult immigrants to the USA, hinted at it. With the song, they subtly pledged allegiance to their new home.

    So, Jastrow and Gustav’s song is not Maoz Tzur. Even though we can sing it to the same tune. But, does their “Rock of Ages” have anything to do with Maoz Tzur? I’ll argue: YES.

    The original Hebrew Maoz Tzur is a piyyut, a formal liturgical poem. Thus, it uses regular meter and complex rhyme. It speaks in biblical references. Finally, it tells us its author’s name. Take the first letter of each stanza, and you spell it: Mordehai.

    Poet Mordehai riffs on the biblical book of Daniel (chapters 4 and 7). Daniel prophesies that four empires will rise and fall. Poet Mordehai imagines himself in the time of the Maccabees. How delighted they must have been to see the fourth empire fall! So, Mordehai tells their story in five stanzas.

    God, you like praise through song. Slaughter our meat, slaughter our enemies, and we will be ready to sing.
    In Egypt, we groaned under the weight of our slave-labour. God, you sunk our enemies in the sea, like a stone.
    In our land, we had a temple. But we worshipped foreign Gods. So, Babylonia exiled us for 70 years. But you, God, appointed King Zerubavel to end our domination.
    Haman came to power in the Persian court. But he tripped over his own pride. So, you, God raised up the Benjaminite leader Mordehai. And Haman was hanged.
    Greek armies gathered against us in Hasmonean times. They broke our towers and tainted our oils. But you, God, worked a miracle. So our sages set eight days for song and praise.
    But something is not right. Poet Mordehai begins by asking God to defeat his people’s enemies. As you read, you expect him to present his case to God. “You saved us four times. Now, please do it again.” But master poet Mordehai never completes the thought. Thus, it looks like a stanza is missing.

    What might that stanza say? Something too controversial to publish, perhaps?

    Apparently, by 1700, three versions of the missing stanza were found. But only one ended up widely published. Anonymously.

    It says something like this:

    06. Now, God, bare your holy arm! Take revenge! The days of evil seem to never end. So, push out the evil empire that rules under the cross. Raise up our leader!

    Did Mordehai himself write this version? Obviously, we don’t know for sure. But this stanza certainly completes Mordehai’s line of thinking. It names the enemy still at large. Christian antisemitism. And it corrects a mistake in Mordehai’s interpretation of Daniel. Of course Daniel isn’t predicting the Exodus from Egypt. For him, that’s already ancient history. So, for Daniel, Babylonia would be the first empire to fall. And, for his Jewish readers, the fourth would be Christian Rome. The stanza also fits Mordehai’s time. Riots, blood libels, and expulsions marked Jewish life in medieval Europe. But publishing this 6th stanza would have been a risk. Until the 1700s, when ideals of religious equality became popular.

    So, has Mordehai’s prayer been answered? Have the evil days ended? Are Jews free from Christian anti-semitism? No. Not today, in 2019.

    But what about 130 years ago? The USA was a Christian-majority country. Yet, it welcomed Jewish immigrants. Thus — maybe — the evil days had ended.

    So Jastrow and Heil wrote a new stanza for Maoz Tzur. Purposely, they wrote in English. They used American motifs, along with Biblical ones. But they stayed in line with Daniel’s prophecy. Because some scholars saw Daniel hinting at a fifth kingdom. This new kingdom would rise but never fall. No one could best it in battle. Because its leaders would be armed with justice, equity, and powerful words (Isaiah 11). And thy word broke their sword/When our own strength failed us.

    Maybe if you can sing it, you can imagine it.


    This post is an original integration and interpretation based on the following sources. Rabbi Adam Stein (sermon at Congregation Beth Israel), Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk (conversation), Chancellor Ismar Schorsch (article “A Meditation on Maoz Tzur), Professor Yitzhak Y. Melamed (blog post, “Maoz Tzur and the ‘End of Christianity’”), Annette Boeckler (article, “Rock of Ages in Changing Times. A History of Jewish Identity in Chanukkah Songs”), A. Katz (article, “The Last Stanza of Ma’oz Tzur,” Catherine Bell (discussion of rituals of American identity in the book Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice). Thank you all.

  13. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Mikkets

    By: Dr. Tamar Marvin

    Hope In History: A Closer Look at Ma’oz Tzur
    Torah Reading: Genesis 41:1– 44:17
    Haftarah Reading: Zechariah 2:4– 4:7

    Of the rich tradition of piyyut—liturgical poetry—composed for ?anukkah, today two are customarily used: Ha-Nerot Hallalu and Ma’oz Tzur, which are sung after lighting the ?anukkah candles. The first, Ha-Nerot Hallalu, is cited in Massekhet Soferim and reappears later in the medieval period, when Maharam of Rothenberg mentions it again. Reflecting rabbinic discussions of the mitzvah of the ?anukkah candles, this straightforward hymn recalls the miraculous events, explains that the candles’ light is not for practical use, and expresses gratitude. The medieval piyyut Ma’oz Tzur, by contrast, though widely known, remains a remarkable, unsettling composition, its meaning often concealed by heavy-handed translation. The skillful rhyming pattern carries with it painful words: “Establish the Temple, and there I shall sacrifice in gratitude. For the occasion, prepare an offering of the braying enemy.” One of the central themes of Ma’oz Tzur is vengeance; it longs, with anguish, for an end to exile and the dawning of a new, better age—one, which, the author hints, has already begun to unfold. Ma’oz Tzur recalls the rededication of the Temple only obliquely, centering it as a motif and drawing it into the author’s present rather than the Hasmonean past. As the following stanzas reveal, Ma’oz Tzur is not so much a poem about ?anukkah as it is a poem about calamity and triumph throughout Jewish history, prompted by the remembrance of the Hasmoneans. Reciting it, we are transported from Egypt to Babylon to Shushan, and finally to Jerusalem. Interestingly, its sixth and final stanza reemerges in print only in the eighteenth century; because this lost stanza includes the acrostic ?azaq, scholars believe it is original to the piyyut.

    The author of Ma’oz Tzur is known only by his personal name, Mordecai, preserved in an acrostic formed by the first letter of its first five stanzas.. Textual evidence suggests that Ma’oz Tzur was written in early thirteenth-century Ashkenaz, after violence from multiple waves of Crusades and blood libels had greatly affected the old center of Jewish Ashkenazi life in the Rhineland Valley. As well as causing the loss of life and the destruction of Jewish homes and institutions, the threat of grave danger impelled many to take the lives of friends, family members, and themselves. We see several responses to such external and internalized violence arising over the course of the twelfth century and into the thirteenth, and I would suggest that Ma’oz Tzur is to be included among them.

    When Rashi was a young student, he had to travel the 250 miles from his home in Troyes, in the Ille-de-France, to the Rhineland Valley in Germany, then the center of Jewish learning in northern Europe. After the First Crusade, that center shifted to France, as the lesser-effected communities of ?arfat and the influence of Rashi’s teaching prompted the flourishing of Tosafist academies with their new ways of reading Torah, Talmud, and the liturgy. In Germany, the pietistic movement of the ?asidei Ashkenaz responded to changed sociocultural conditions by cultivating ascetic behaviors, emphasizing the need for repentance, and taking a renewed interest in mystical traditions. Another Ashkenazi response was the writing of prose chronicles that recorded the events surrounding the Crusades. Interestingly, in modernity six additional stanzas recounting deliverance from harm in later periods were appended to Ma’oz Tzur, including one attributed to Moses Isserles (the Rema). There are also poems from medieval Ashkenaz, which try to make sense of the violence by analogy to biblical persons and events. The community is imagined, collectively, as Isaac during the Akedah, only no angel comes to stay Abraham’s hand. David bar Meshullam of Speyer recalls in a poem, “Children and women assented together to the binding (le-eked).” Alternatively, the poetry may draw upon the language of accusation directed towards the community, as in Ephraim of Bonn’s words, “I am stoned, I am trampled so as to be crucified.”

    Ma’oz Tzur reflects both an interest in historiography and in the use of typological interpretation. Our first hint at Mordecai’s purpose is in the opening words which also provide its title, an allusion to Isaiah 17:10: “For you have forgotten the God Who redeems you, and the Rock of your strength (Tzur Ma’ozekh) you did not recall; because of this, though you plant delightful saplings, nevertheless you shall sow foreign shoots.” (My translation follows Radak; see also Psalms 31:2, from which Mordecai likewise draws.) Along pietistic lines of thinking, Mordecai seeks a reason for the violence and prolonged exile he experiences, and suggests that it stems from a lack of faithfulness. His poem, then, is an expression of faith—in God as a timeless source of strength, and as a just agent in human history. Each calamity Mordecai recalls is subsequently overturned: in the second stanza, the people are saved from Pharaoh’s enslavement; in the third, the nation returns from Babylon to rebuild the Temple; in the fourth, Haman is hanged, his plot foiled; in the fifth, the Greek’s defilement of the Temple is miraculously subverted. In this way, Mordecai suggests a hopeful typological motif present in Jewish history, one of repeated exile and annihilation—even for ancient and revered generations—but, always, eventual deliverance. In closing, Mordecai expresses a deep yearning for redemption in his own time: “Hasten the end of salvation, wreak vengeance upon the wicked people on behalf of your servant. For the hour has greatly lengthened for us, and there is no end to these terrible times.” Though these stirring words may be challenging, they powerfully demonstrate the dialectic of self-searching and hope that characterized the Jewish response to the uncertainty and fear of prolonged insecurity. By understanding the words of Ma’oz Tzur in their context, we can bring them into our own, engaging with them authentically and meaningfully to explore our own deep fears and abiding hopes.

  14. Wendy

    From the Mussar Institute

    Chanukah: An Opportunity for Appreciation
    By Avi Fertig

    Gratitude toward God is an underlying theme of all Jewish holidays. At Pesach, we express gratitude for being freed from bondage and taken to be God’s holy nation. On Shavuot, we thank God for giving us the Torah that guides our lives. On Succot, we express our appreciation for God’s loving protection, originally in the hostile desert, but also throughout Jewish history.

    We know well that actions often speak louder than words, and so on the holidays, we add actions to our verbal expression to make our appreciation more meaningful. At Pesach, we experience the pain of bondage by eating bitter herbs, and the joy of freedom by reclining as we drink wine. On Shavuot, we stay up all night studying Torah, and on Succot, we leave the comfort of our homes and eat in a Sukkah — a makeshift dwelling with a flimsy roof — under the protection of God.

    The Ramban says: “The purpose of all the mitzvot is that we have faith and thank God for being created.” In other words, underlying whatever spiritual practice we do should be the feeling and expression of gratitude toward God. Lighting candles Friday night, giving charity to the poor and any other mitzvah you do should have the express intention of expressing gratitude for the many blessings in your life.

    This week we will celebrate the holiday of Chanukah. Here, too, the sages tell us [Siddur] that the eight days of Chanukah were “established to give thanks and praise to the Great Name.” The Hebrew words are l’hodot u’l’hallel. The word modeh or modah (feminine) as in the morning prayer, “modeh ani …” or l’hodot has two meanings in Hebrew. One is “to thank” and the other is to “acknowledge” (or sometimes even “admit”). Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, a product of the Slabodka Mussar yeshiva, explains that the reason these two words are identical in Hebrew is that a person’s ability to give thanks is based on his or her ability to admit that he or she is incomplete. If a person gives thanks to someone, it indicates that he or she has received and appreciated something, and so in order to say thank you, a person must have the ability to admit that he or she is incomplete.

    My Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, a student of Rav Hutner’s, once explained why it was necessary to establish Chanukah as days of both l’hodot (thanks) and l’hallel (praise). Greece ushered in the era of secular humanism, believing in the primacy of man, the perfection of the human body, and the soul unconnected to spirituality. Ultimately, Greece caused the worshipping of human desires. Until that time, the world may have had idols, but there was generally unanimous agreement that man must serve God (or gods). The Greeks believed in the perfection of the human mind and body, but that is basically where it ended. Judaism also teaches that man must perfect the body and mind. However, the body and mind are to be perfected in the service of God and not as an end in itself. It’s the difference between the number seven, which represents the perfection of the natural order, and the number eight, which says that there is something beyond that gives meaning and purpose to the natural. Eight keys us in to the miraculous and charges us to strive for holiness.

    To deal with this new challenge, the sages established the days of Chanukah to remind us that we must thank the One Above to Whom we owe everything and to Whom our lives are to be dedicated. However, as students of Mussar know well, an intellectual realization of appreciation is not enough. Hodaah — thanks — has the danger that it can often remain an intellectual exercise, a realization of dependence that is only the first step. To truly combat this new challenge, that realization needs to express itself in praise. Hallel — praise — is the emotional expression of thanks from the deepest recesses of our souls. Together with the more intellectual hodaah, the deep emotional response of outward praise gives us the power to combat the challenge of a Greek view of life.

    Living life in a constant state of gratitude causes us to continuously deepen our awareness of our blessings and brings us unlimited energy and joy. Recognizing the blessings we receive and expressing our appreciation is the most powerful means to deepen our relationship with others and with God, which, ultimately, is how we align ourselves with the purpose for which we were created.

    Happy Chanukah!

  15. Wendy

    From Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits

    Hannukah Expansion and Contraction by Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits

    Have you ever thought about how many candles are lit during Hannukah?

    On the first day of Hannukah one candle is lit, the second day two,.. on the eighth day eight candles are lit. Each day an additional candle is added,

    Talmud documents dialogues of diverse schools of thought and methods; some practiced in community and others not. Talmud is a glimpse and invitation into the ongoing conversation. Increasing the candle count each day was initiated by the Hillel Academy. It invites a sense of growth, expansiveness, and encouragement.

    It turns out that a different candle lighting method was initiated by Shammai Academy – they began by lighting the maximum number of candles, eight, on the first day, seven on the second reducing to a single candle the eighth day. Later Kabbalists teach that in the future to come, when Messianic consciousness fills the world, the Shammai Academy’s method will prevail.

    Jewish traditions started in the Northern Hemisphere, and so holy time is referenced from here. During Hannukah, the nights are dark and the days are short.

    Months on the Jewish calendar begin with the new moon, peak with the moon in fullness when many festivals are celebrated. Then, cycle back to the new moon. The eight days of Hannukah begin while the moon is waning on the 25th day of Kislev; the darkness peaks during the holiday just before the new moon of Tevet and continues a day through the second day of Tevet as a sliver of Moon is visible. Candles are lit bringing participation, a sense of mystery, vision, and brilliance.

    The total number of Hannukah candles lit (aside from the shamus) is the same in both methods described. How many Hannukah candles are lit during the total holiday? 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36.

    A total of 36 Hannukah Candles.

    The Hasidic Master Bnay Yisaskhar from his book by the same name (1783-1841) http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=dinov.htm) writes:

    …(The early rabbis ) established 36 candles in correspondence to the 36 hours of initial pure potent light available to the very first humans in the Garden of Eden (Pesiktah 2:2)…

    (The holy rebbe, Ba’al haRokayah; Master of the Apothecary) …whose words of Kabbalah come directly from Eliyahu haNavih z”l says, the glow of the Hannukah mitzvah candle is the glow of the Ohr Ganuz; this light hidden. It was intentionally established (in this way) through Ruah Hakodesh* for the future generations because they (the early rabbis) knew that each and every year this light would be revealed.

    That is why these days are called “Hannukah”, – that is, it is “hinukh” training (same Hebrew root as Hannukah.) for cultivating familiarity with the coming Future Redemption. Then, this light (first light of Eden) will be revealed in fullness.

    Like the sages said in Hagigah 12b – ‘and they hid it for Tzaddikim in the future to come’, also as it written in Is 60:19, ‘you will no longer have the sun to light your days and the glow of the moon will no longer illuminate for you, Hashem; G!D Who Is Was and Will Be, will be your eternal light.’

    It is true that technology offers humans many conveniences and much of it is a blessing. It is important to be aware of the shadow side of privilege. Information available today is endless – too often distracting our attention, consciousness, and time. Stress and overwhelm are on the rise. Electricity lights up our dwellings and break awareness of the natural cycles of night and day, cars and planes make travel efficient. Expediency is valued; more, faster, cheaper are “better.” Information and change happen very very quickly. All this, and more, serves to separate humanity from the natural rhythms of Earth resulting in people becoming increasingly isolated from each other, nature, and Spirit. This pattern is self-perpetuating and left alone will continue to spiral out of control.

    Heykhalot literature, early Jewish mysticism, offers Rabbi Yishma’el’s accounts of his journeys into the heavens. He is guided by the angel Metatron; The Holy One of Blessing’s most trusted minister. In these writings Rabbi Yishma’el gives over visions from the inner essence of the heavens that the angel Metatron shared with him. Consider this text from Heykhalot Rabboti (Yalkut haRoeem haG’dolim page 2):

    …The first human and their generation would sit at the opening of the gates of the Garden of Eden to gaze into the patterns and forms of Shekhinah’s glowing light, for Shekhinah’s glowing light travels from one end of the universe to the other… All who absorb this Shekhinah glow – the bees and flies do not go near them, not only that they do not get sick, they do not get stressed, no demons can get to them, and that’s not all, even angels do not rule over them…

    The glow of this Sh’khinah is a cure for what ails humanity.

    What if? What if this light is available here and now and no one can see it?

    Hannukah offers an opportunity to train ourselves to be accustomed to seeing with the first light of Eden. It is true there are multiple ways to cultivate vision as we see from the examples of Hillel and Shammai. Every person is unique and individual. Each one of us has special skills and work to accomplish in this life. So too, training of any kind is best when it considers the qualities and capabilities of the individual. Everyone receives at their own level in their own way.

    Simply, setting an intention creates a shift. Even if you question the potency of the light of Hannukah candles themselves, no doubt there is a benefit to pause and open to light during these dark days and its impact in your own unique way.

    Regardless of whether you light candles according to Hillel, Shammai, both or not at all, Hannukah is an invitation to cultivate your inner vision. The Shammai Academy offers an alternative and valuable way of relating movement and responding to it. Earthly resonance includes ebb and flow, winter and summer, peak and valley, inhale and exhale, gel and sol, and life and death.

    We can use Hannukah for personal reflection. The school of Shammai suggests acceptance of the ebb, the lessening of ability that happens in life. Change happens due to vicissitudes in time; external events, illness, changes as we age. Our personal physical reality will diminish from time to time; it is a natural part of the movement.

    Hannukah’s oil brings the ongoing need for sustainable energy sources into awareness. Fossil fuel, like the temple oil, is limited, valuable and not quickly renewable, if at all. It’s availability is diminishing. Fossil fuel is expensive on many levels. Action is needed before the environment is ruined and oil runs out making no viable options are available. Some say it is already too late. It takes time, intention, and planning to shift the infrastructure to sustainable methods.

    Hannukah offers opportunity to recognize a greater world view. Humans are finite beings living in a finite world. It is, indeed, wondrous to open to magic, mystery, and hope of Divine intervention especially in dark moments. May we each be blessed with what we need when we need it.

    The expansive blessing of the of the single day’s portion of oil miraculously lasting for eight days makes people feel safe, builds excitement, and opens hearts. Simultaneously we can choose to consider the ongoing aspect of diminishment as the Shammai Academy did. The ebb is part of any cycle. Anticipating any loss, by talking with trusted community and developing plans in advance serves to minimize fear and cultivate sustainable comfort, intimacy, ease, and joy.

    A light filled Hannukah to you and yours.

    Ruah Hakodesh* – Prophetic, literally “Holy Spirit”

    http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5542-eleazar-ben-judah-ben-kalonymus-of-worms 1173-1238

    The Bnay Yisaskhar

    http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=dinov.htm 1783-1841

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    There’s a custom to gaze at the menorah, to receive its light as the purest of gifts. Gazing at the Hanukkah candles or oil lamps becomes a kind of fixing for the eyes, a training in how to see. Gaze at the candles well, and your eyes get retuned.
    The same thing can happen when you gaze at the heavens. Two springs ago, when Mars was coming the closest it had been to Earth in a decade, I started paying attention to what was up there, and I began learning basic things, like how to tell a planet from a star. It’s simple: a planet is a steady, unwavering, untwinkling point of light, while a star twinkles.

    Mars’s steady and growing brightness that May inspired me to buy my first telescope in June. It turns out that you have to retune your eyes and your mind to see through a telescope. The first time I saw Jupiter’s moons, I wondered if I was “seeing things”—maybe those dots were just reflections of light in the lens. I moved my eye closer and farther away from the eyepiece to find the spot where the image was brightest and most in-focus, to make sure of what I was seeing.

    To see Jupiter’s belts, you have to look even harder, more intently. It took me a few days before I understood how to see them.

    Like gazing at the menorah, looking through a telescope can also be a kind of fixing for the eyes, a tikkun that opens up a person to see not just images but worlds.

    There’s a prayer about how to see that is traditionally recited after lighting a chanukiyah or menorah. It goes, “Hanerot halalu kodesh heim” – “These candles are holy” and continues, “and we are not free to use them, but only to see them…” Hanerot Halalu defines our relation to holiness as “seeing without using.” It is not the light from the flames, but our way of seeing them, that needs to be pure. Seeing becomes an act of grace and a gift we give, instead of a step towards what we can take.

    Keeping the candles holy is why we have the shamash. Reading Hanerot Halalu, or Maoz Tzur, or spinning a dreidl by the light of the menorah is using the light to see something. So we imagine we are using the light from the shamash to read by, not the light of the other flames.

    Hanerot Halalu further explains that we only see the candles “in order to give thanks to Your name for Your miracles, Your salvation, and Your wonders.” Not just the miracle and wonder of Hanukkah, but all miracles. How does our seeing the lights without using them to see something else lead to becoming aware of miracle and wonder and giving thanks?

    It’s not hard to understand if you look at the stars in a place where the sky is dark. People almost instinctively ask, how can we be so blessed to live under such an endless expanse of beauty? As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, wonder or radical amazement leads to appreciation of the divine.

    What I realized thinking about this is that gazing at the stars, even without a telescope, can also retune our eyes. A clear and dark night sky is full of texture, feeding our eyes with so many magnitudes and hues of stars, bright to faint, red or yellow or blue, while feeding our minds with awareness that there are so many more stars, beyond what the eye can see. Stargazing teaches us to peer into the depth of the darkness that surrounds the stars, to understand that what is invisible is so much vaster than what is visible. Feeding our eyes fills our hearts with wonder, and hearts full of wonder overflow with gratitude.

    Just so, wonder comes to us when we gaze at the menorah lights against the backdrop of the darkest nights of the year. And the very darkest night is not winter solstice, the year’s longest night, but the new moon close to solstice, which is the seventh night of Hanukkah. Beyond the visible miracle of the flames that are lit, or the oil that stayed lit in ancient times, there is the miracle of the darkness. The small steady flames of the menorah are a tikkun, a healing for our vision, because they teach us to see both miracles.

  17. Wendy

    From Ibrahim Baba

    Chag Urim Sameyach: Hanukkah blessing
    Ibrahim Baba Dec 2013

    In this season of the play of darkness and light,
    Of death and re-birth,
    Of the many and of the One,
    May we be blessed to be the People of Light, those who carry within us and body forth in the world
    Light upon LIGHT!

    In these times of brokenness, alienation, fear of each other, fear of fear
    May we be blessed to find our inner tzaddik of all genders,
    May we be blessed to go to the places where we are called to release and raise Divine sparks;
    May we liberate those sparks of Light wherever we go,
    Especially amongst those and in those places that are the most forgotten and ignored.
    May Daylight break in the middle of the Night
    And turn into Day a Night which is still there
    But which becomes a Night of Light:
    Light upon LIGHT!

    May we as People of the Wisdom of the Heart
    Be blessed to draw near, like our many holy ancestors, to the
    Brilliant luminosity in darkness and the brilliant darkness in luminosity
    May we, like the lights of Hanukkah which shine towards the outside,
    Be blessed to have inside become outside
    And outside become inside,
    Both dwelling and indwelling radiantly together.

    May we then be blessed to go together into the world
    As bold tikkun olamologists,
    Healing the world,
    Transforming the world
    As we transform ourselves:
    Light upon LIGHT!

    May we create a world where beings of all species go from strength to strength in blessed harmony
    With Light before us and behind us,
    Above us and beneath us
    On our left and on our right
    Within us and outside of us:

    Light upon LIGHT!

  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi Yoel Glick

    Hanukkah: A Holiday of Illumination and Rededication

    Rabbi Yoel Glick
    December 7, 2017

    The Light of the Atman, the Spirit, is invisible, concealed in all beings. It is seen by the seers of the subtle, when their vision is keen and is clear….
    Awake, arise! Strive for the Highest, and be in the Light!
    Katha Upanishad, part 3 [1]
    Light is the language of the spiritual life. Light is the medium that dominates our experience of God. The reality of the supernal worlds manifests as resplendent light.
    Our experience of this inner radiance is constantly evolving. Each year, we receive another level of luminosity. Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that Hanukkah is the time when we receive this new light, the unique light that will illuminate the whole of the coming year.
    This process of receiving new light is at the heart of our spiritual evolution. We are always moving into greater and greater illumination. This, Rebbe Natan explains, is why one more candle is added to the Hannukiah (Hanukkah menorah) every day. We are entering into an ever-increasing revelation of Divine light.
    New light, Rebbe Natan tells us, means further illumination of the mind. This illumination is expressed in a greater clarity of vision. Our consciousness is covered over with layer after layer of illusion. When we receive extra illumination, we break through another level of the “great illusion” which clouds our hearts and minds. Hanukkah is the moment of that breakthrough.
    This spiritual breakthrough, Rebbe Natan says, is facilitated in two ways. The first method is through prayer and praise of God. These spiritual practices expand our consciousness out of the narrow limitations of mundane existence. This is the reason, Rebbe Natan explains, that we say Hallel (special Psalms of praise) on Hanukkah.
    The second way of facilitating this breakthrough is by giving tzedakah (charity). Tzedakah opens and expands our heart. This also loosens the hold of material reality upon us and brings in new light.
    This is the reason why the Hasidic Master, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, counseled his followers to always give charity before they prayed. He knew that this would open their hearts and draw the flow of Divine blessing into them.
    According to Rebbe Natan, the initial attempt to discover our inner light is always the most difficult. When we strive to peel back the layers of illusion that surround us, the forces of illusion react to try and block our way. The very fabric of this physical reality resists our attempt to release its grip upon us. As we press against the barrier in consciousness, it increases the strain between these two competing realities, like the strain that builds up when we try to push through a physical barrier. This tension increases until the barrier finally shatters and we break through into a higher plane of consciousness.
    In the Hanukkah story, when the Maccabees entered the Temple, they could not find a jar of undefiled oil. They searched and searched but not one jar of sacred oil was to be found. Once they finally discovered the first small jar of oil, however, the miracle occurred and the menorah burned from that one jar for eight days. Similarly, in our own spiritual quest, once we have overcome the initial barrier, the light will begin to build on its own, gaining more strength and illumination with each new day.
    This, Rebbe Natan continues, is another reason why we add one more candle to the hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) each day, to remind us that the light of the previous day or days is never lost. On the contrary, the light of each previous day supports and bolsters the light of the next day until on the final day we get a full- fledged blaze of light.
    If the light of a thousand suns suddenly arose in the sky, that splendor might be compared to the radiance of the Supreme Spirit.
    And Arjuna saw in that radiance the whole universe in its variety, standing in a vast unity in the body of the God of gods.
    Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 11:12-13 [2]
    In a real spiritual experience, the inner effulgence is overpowering, so much so that it makes all else seem insubstantial and unreal. We experience this inner light by diving deep into the temple of our hearts. There we will find a jar of pure oil that is stamped with the seal of the High Priest – a place of pure devotion that is untainted by worldliness and selfish desires. This inner space holds the light of Hanukkah – a light that is clear and welcoming, a light overflowing with joy.
    In the Hanukkah story it is the Assyrian Greeks that overrun the land and desecrate the Temple. They represent the culture of the gymnasium – the worship of the body, of physical pleasure and prowess. They represent the illusion of the power of man. Hanukkah is about tearing down this illusion through increased illumination and inner light. Hanukkah is a revelation of the truth that there is more to life than this material reality which we perceive with our senses.
    The light of Hanukkah leads us to rededicate our lives to God and the spiritual life. It deepens our yearning for God and our desire to live a life of service and high aspiration. It strengthens our resolve to find purpose and meaning in our lives.
    This is why the rabbis specified that the commandment of lighting the Hanukkah lamp is fulfilled “Ner, ish ubeito” – a light for each person and their household. On Hanukkah we realize that it is not enough for us to dedicate our religious practices to God, we need to dedicate and sanctify every aspect of our lives – every word, thought and deed – every encounter and every relationship.
    Psalm 30, which we recite on Hanukkah, begins: “A Psalm of dedication of the house.” The rededication of Hanukkah is the rededication of our lives to the work of building a place for God’s presence upon earth. We construct this divine house by transforming ourselves into a temple through which the power of the supernal planes can flow into our physical plane of existence. We bring the Divine Presence into the world by giving of the illumination that we have received to others – by filling the world with divine love, generosity and compassion, by permeating the planet with light, energy and peace.
    In the Scriptures of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak declares:
    My mind is in ecstasy, hearing, that the Lord is to come into my Home.
    O my friends, Sing now the Wedding Songs, for, my Home has now become a Temple.
    Guru-Granth Sahib, Ramkali M. 3, Anand: 34 [3]
    This year as we light the Hanukkah lamp, let us sing the wedding songs. Let us rededicate our lives and our household to God. May our homes be transformed into a temple for the Divine Presence. May we experience the sublime ecstasy of a new light entering into our heart.

    Copyright © 2017, by Yoel Glick
    Acknowledgements (↵ returns to text)
    Upanishads , translated by Juan Mascaro, p. 61↵
    Bhagavad Gita, translated by Juan Mascaro, p. 53↵
    Guru –Granth Sahib, Vol. III, p. 878, translated by Dr. Gopal Singh↵

    This is also from Rabbi Yoel Click 2021

    The last day of Hanukkah is a time of tremendous spiritual potential. It is the moment when the process of illumination that began on the first day comes to full fruition. The eighth day is when the first spark of inner awakening becomes real enlightenment where we are truly united with the divine.

    The journey from that first experience of light to the final moment of completion can be long and arduous. We may go through many ups and downs, wrong turns and detours, but in the end, the goal will be attained. This truth is valid for us as individuals, as well as for the Jewish people, and the whole of humanity. This voyage of light is what life is really all about.

    Hanukkah comes to point out the markers on the path, and to remind us that no matter how often the darkness surrounds us, or how many obstacles we may face, the light is ever growing—each night, each day, each year, each incarnation—the whole unfolding of a soul over many lives.

  19. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits

    For the Love of the Ordinary

    For the past six months, at least (!) my children have been planning for Hanukkah: making sure we know what kinds of presents they are hoping for, or perhaps better yet, expecting; anticipating a visit from grandparents who live far away; and planning for a vacation from school and a family trip. And so, this Shabbat, a time we typically look forward to as a family, when our normal junk food rules go out the window and we have plenty of time to play together, will be transformed into a day that I know my children will be looking to “just get through” so that we can light our Menorahs, fry fresh latkes, and most importantly, open a first batch of gifts!

    Anticipating this challenge – of Shabbat being potentially overlooked as a result of our anticipation of the onset of Hanukkah – drew my attention to a ruling of Maimonides in his collection of Hanukkah laws. (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Purim and Hanukkah 4:14) There he declares, “If one is so terribly impoverished that he or she can only afford to purchase candles for either Shabbat or Hanukkah candle lighting – then Shabbat candles take precedence and Hanukkah candles are set aside.” While Maimonides himself clarifies his rational for this ruling, explaining that Hanukkah candles are meant to shine their light outward, to the world at large, while Shabbat candles, even more crucially, are intended to light the insides of our homes, allowing for a peaceful and loving domestic life. Perhaps however, Maimonides also prefers that we purchase Shabbat candles based on a famous rabbinic principle, Tadir, v’She’eino Tadir, Tadir Kodem – Mitzvot that are common are given preference over mitzvot that are uncommon. Yes, you heard that correctly, all things being equal, our classical literature teaches us to give precedence to the normal over the extraordinary in observing Jewish ritual.

    There is something beautifully counter cultural in this rabbinic axiom. It recognizes that while we are naturally drawn to the new – be it an iPhone 7 over an iPhone 6, or the Menorah that has sat in our breakfront unused for the last 11 months over our Shabbat candle sticks – that which is ordinary can be incredibly important, perhaps even more important, than that which is bright and new. The rhythm of both our religious observance, and of our daily secular life as well, is necessary to provide structure, balance and meaning to the schedule of our lives.

    This lesson of “Tadir, V’She’eino Tadir…” seems even more important in the life we live today, than I imagine it may have been in a time of gradual change. Today, with the dynamism of our lives, it can be exceedingly difficult to establish patterns and create the structure that makes sense of our existence. In this environment, it can be the most mundane things that allow us to sustain healthy relationships and personal wellbeing. Whether it’s regularly unloading the dishwasher for a roommate, or reading a nightly bedtime story to a child before she drifts off to sleep, everyday rituals are the traffic lights that keep us safe. While extraordinary ceremonies can inspire and lift us, let’s not forget the importance of the ordinary, especially in this extraordinary time of the year. Shabbat candles are just as important as Hanukkah candles. Thank you Maimonides for reminding me of the importance of ordinary acts, especially during this season of the unexpected.

    Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

  20. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Every person must know and understand
    That a candle burns deep within him,
    And his candle is unlike his friend’s
    And no man without a candle exists.
    And every man must know and understand
    That he must strive to uncover
    The light of the candle publicly
    And light it into a great torch
    And light the whole world

  21. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Ba’nu Choshekh l’Kadesh: Savoring the Darkness, Seeding the Light


    Also by Reb David on the same theme in 2021

    The metaphorical use of “darkness” to mean evil or ignorance, part of the idea that we are banishing the dark on Chanukkah, carries along with it a whole heritage and litany of white supremacy. That is true despite the fact that there are meaningful reasons to associate darkness with not knowing simply because one can’t see as much in the dark. (Because structural racism.) In any case, the rabbis said there must be darkness between the candles or it doesn’t count as a menorah, which pretty much requires that we value the interweaving of light and darkness on Chanukkah, rather than eliminating darkness. Also, Chanukkah is first and foremost rooted in winter solstice — not in “banishing” solstice (a ridiculous idea), but in being in it and coming through it in wholeness.

  22. Aryae Post author

    From NeoHasid.org by Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Meditation song for Chanukah

    It’s a custom to meditate on the light of the menorah and it’s also a custom to sing while meditating. Most of the usual Chanukah songs won’t quite get you there—they are written for children after all.

    The nigun I learned to use for this comes to me from the great-granddaughter of the Skolyer Rebbe, and is attributed by some to the Besht (Baal Shem Tov). She learned this deveikes nigun from her grandmother, who would sing the entire prayer of Ana Bekhoach to this nigun sitting in front of the menorah while watching the Chanukah candles burn.

    You can find the nigun at Meditation song for Chanukah.

    You can find a collection of different melodies to the worlds of Ana Bekhoach, including melodies from Reb Zalman and Reb Shlomo, at Ana Bekhoach.

  23. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Rabbi Aaron Alexander

    A Single Flame – A Deep Light

    Hanukkah, unlike many other Jewish holidays, is pretty much a one-pony show. There is no Seder, no required festive meal, and no forbidden activities (melakhot). Along with a handful of liturgical additions – the primary ritual of Hanukkah is lighting the candles. In fact, almost every chapter on Hanukkah in Judaism’s major law codes explicates various details about candles: why do we light the candles, what kind of candles, who lights them, where do we light them, and when is the choice time for lighting candles –

    Perhaps the most fascinating for me personally, is the directive that our hanukkiot should not be similar to a bonfire (Shulhan Arukh, Orach Hayyim, 671:4). That is to say, they should be in a straight line across, so each and every candle can be individually discerned when looking directly at it. If the candles are arranged in a circle, or if the flames are combined, it would be impossible to differentiate between the lights. The legal principle behind this directive (and the legal principle behind almost all the laws related to lighting the hanukkiah) is pirsumei nissa, or publicizing the miracle. By allowing each person to see the distinct light of each candle we simultaneously recall the story of Hanukkah and offer the chance, and challenge, to experience the miracle anew.

    The idea of an individual candle or a single flame in our tradition reaches beyond just the Hanukkah candle. Before Passover, our tradition commands us to remove all of our leaven (hametz) from our possession. This obligation is manifest in the ancient practice of using a single candle to search each crack and crevice in our homes, a job that a large flame or torch could not easily accomplish. The individual candle does not only function practically, it is also a reminder that the spiritual cleaning for Passover, the removal of our internal hametz (often understood to be excessive pride and hubris), cannot be done with a superficial once-over. The small flame, the dim light, takes us another step deeper to access the space of our psyche that we are more hesitant to engage.

    The Mei Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza, 1800-1854) embellishes this point, exploring the difference between a torch and a single flame. He claims that while the Torah, represented by a torch, is capable of refining the whole person over time, an individual mitzvah, or a single flame can penetrate the depths of one’s immediate religious experience. He illustrates this point from the Talmud, “Concerning which mitzvah was your father most scrupulous – He answered that it was the mitzvah of Tziztit (fringes).” (Shabbat118b)

    The Mei HaShiloach comments that he needed this particular mitzvah–a candle, as it were–to replenish that place in his soul in which he saw himself as deficient. By wrapping himself each morning in his tallit, this gentleman was reminded of where he needed to focus his energy – on the miracles of the tradition to which he needed to be awakened. The tallit was for him an impetus for growth.

    Each of us may also have a specific mitzvah that moves us in a unique way, and forces us to open up to the world in a fresh way through the lens of Judaism and its minor and major miracles. Viewing the candles collectively arouses in us an awareness of potential for future growth. Each Hanukkah candle represents a specific moment in our lives, a specific mitzvah that penetrates us, or a miracle that we have yet to allow ourselves to experience. By keeping them separate and distinct, the task of recognizing each one is realistic.

    So I ask you – what will you recall as you light each candle this Hanukkah – What miracle will the light help you recognize – How can each candle kindle your soul –

    Hanukkah Sameach.

  24. Wendy

    From Kol Aleph

    The Prophetic Green Menorah: A Tree of Light by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

    On Shabbat Hanukkah (this year, Dec. 19-20), we read an extraordinary passage from the Prophet Zechariah. Speaking during the Babylonian Captivity, he envisions the future Great Menorah, taking its sacred place in a rebuilt Holy Temple. The Menorah he imagines is alive! — a cybernetic organism, a living Tree that bears the sacred Light.

    Zechariah, in visionary, prophetic style, goes beyond the Torah’s description of the original Menorah (literally, a Light-bearer). That Menorah was planned as part of the portable Shrine, the Mishkan, in the Wilderness.

    First Zechariah describes the Menorah of the future that he sees: “All of gold, with a bowl on its top, seven lamps, and seven pipes leading to the seven lamps.” It sounds like the original bearer of the sacred Light. But then he adds a new detail: “By it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on the left.” (4: 2-3)

    And then –– in a passage the Rabbis did not include in the Haftarah reading for Shabbat Hanukkah – –- Zechariah explains that the two olive trees are feeding their oil directly into the Menorah (4: 11-13). No human being needs to press the olives, collect the oil, clarify and sanctify it. The trees alone can do it all.

    Now wait! This is extraordinary. What is this Light-Bearer that is so intimately interwoven with two trees? Is the Menorah the work of human hands, or itself the fruit of a tree?

    Both, and beyond. In our generation it might be called a “cyborg,” a cybernetic organism that is woven from the fruitfulness both of “adamah” (an earthy sprouting from the humus-soil) and “adam” (a human earthling). Just as earth and earthling were deeply intermingled in one of the biblical Creation stories (Gen 2: 7), so the Divine Light must interweave them once again, and again and again, every time the Light is lit in the Holy Temple.

    What stirs Zechariah to this uncanny vision? If we listen closely to the Torah’s original description of the Menorah for the wandering desert Shrine, we may not be quite so surprised. For the Torah describes a Menorah that has branches, cups shaped like almond-blossoms, blossoms, petals, and calyxes (the tight bundles of green leaves that hold a blossom). (Exodus 25:31-40 and 37:17-24)

    In short, a Tree of Light, a Green Menorah. Small wonder that Zechariah envisioned its receiving oil directly from the olive-trees!

    Since Zechariah is seen as a Prophet by Christians and Muslims as well as by Jews, his vision may invite all three Abrahamic communities to connect with the Green Menorah Covenant.

    And in the more specifically Jewish legend told by the Talmud as the origin of Hanukkah, the Light itself is a miracle. Oil that would normally have been enough only for one day’s worth of light lasts for eight days, until more oil can be consecrated.

    At the physical level, “One day’s oil meets eight days’ needs.” This is olive oil, a growable, replaceable, sustainable source of light.

    Different from coal, oil, and frackable unnatural gas. For all these are limited, and as their easily available sources run out the corporations whose profit depends on them turn to extreme extraction: mountaintop destruction for coal, using chemicalized water under extreme pressure to smash shale rock for gas, mining ultra-carbon-heavy Tar Sands, drilling miles deep beneath ocean floors. All these damage and endanger the local communities where they are used.

    And now we know that burning these fossil fuels in huge amounts scorches our planet as well. Floods our rivers and our coastal cities, parches our cornfields, imposes higher food prices on everyone and brings famine and starvation upon the hungry billions, storms our subways, melts the snows of Kilimanjaro and the Himalayas that meet the water needs of whole civilizations.

    So the Talmudic legend of the eight-day lamp takes on a Prophetic wisdom for our day: Conserving energy.

    Seen this way, the Green Menorah can become the symbol of a covenant to renew the miracle of Hanukkah in our own generation: Cutting oil consumption by seven-eighths – and quickly. If not now, when?

    If this seems overwhelmingly hard to accomplish against the entrenched power of our own oil empires, Hanukkah also reminds us of the victory of the guerrilla band of Maccabees over the great empire of their generation: Small groups of seemingly powerless human beings can face huge and powerful institutions – and change the world.

    But let us not stop at the economic, political, or even ecological levels of meaning. At the spiritual level, “seven” is the number of Fullness and “eight” is the number of “Beyond.” So the storied One Light that becomes Eight Lights reminds us that the Infinite is always present in the One.

    It reminds us that conserving oil, or coal, or our planet, is not just a political or economic or even ecological decision. It comes when we take into our hearts the knowledge that addiction to material possessiveness, hyper-ownership – needing to make eight bottles of oil in order to “own” the Temple’s Light – is likely to be a form of idolatry, not a path to our well-being. Blowing up mountaintops, raping the Gulf of Mexico, mining Tar Sands, fracking shale are likely to be forms of idolatry, not paths to our well-being.

    Beyond every “thing” is the Infinite – and the Infinite is always present when we choose to light the Light.

    Blessings of a Light-filled Hanukkah to light up our path ahead – the path to heal our wounded earth, to pursue shalom, salaam, paz, peace for earthy humankind in the midst of sacred Earth.

    Also by Reb Arthur

    We light one candle and contemplate The One: the Breath of Life that unifies all life upon our planet.

    Two candles: We contemplate I-Thou: the relationship of open heart-connection in which neither party is a tool to Do and Make, but a being to Be With.

    Three candles: We contemplate Time will; Time is; Time was.

    Four candles: We contemplate The Four Worlds: Atzilut: Being/ Spirit/ Sheer Will to create, before/beyond Creation; Briyyah: Creative Intellect, Idea; Yetzirah: Relationship: Ethics & Emotions; Asiyah: Actuality, Physicality.

    Five candles: We contemplate Fingers poised to act, to caress, to smash.

    Six candles: We contemplate Work.

    Seven candles: We contemplate Fullness, Restfulness, Enoughness.

    Eight candles : We contemplate Infinitude. Beyond.


    Rabbi Shoshana Leis & David Eber, RRC student and intern at The Shalom Center, each independently raised the question: In the midst of a Shmita year, should we light the Hanukkah candles as Shammai taught, beginning with eight and going down to one? These are my thoughts about this question:

    The Sages decided that Hillel’s teachings should be followed in ordinary history, but Shammai’s teachings would apply in Mashiachtzeit.

    Applying this to the Hanukkah candles, what would be Messianic about Shammai’s teaching that we begin with eight lights and night by night go down to one?

    In ordinary history, we are afraid of the dark. So as the sun dwindles and the moon vanishes, we light more and more and more lights to keep our courage up.

    BUT — ven kummt Mashiach, we will no longer be afraid of the dark. We will instead welcome it as Mystery. So then we can act as Shammai teaches: Darker and darker, till only the ONE remains.

    And we might see Shmita as a foretaste of Yemot HaMashiach.

    Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth! — Arthur

  25. Wendy

    From Kol Aleph

    The Inner Practice of Chanukah by Rabbi Shefa Gold

    Chanukah celebrates the re-dedication of the ancient Holy Temple, the place where the infinite meets the finite, where the spark of God bursts into flame within us. Each year we recall the “great miracle that happened there.” And that same miracle is happening inside as we heal the desecrations we have suffered and re-dedicate our lives to Holiness.

    The Temple of our Soul is desecrated when we endure a sense of separation from God, and from each other. The Temple of our Soul is desecrated when we become cynical, when we feel unworthy or afraid, when we stop trusting the essential goodness of Life. On Chanukah we have an opportunity to clear away the debris that has accumulated in our inner Temple, and then kindle the flame of our renewed intention to stay connected to the Mystery at the center of all Life. That connection to God is our lifeline. That remembrance of God gives us our Freedom. When we forget God, that expansive mystery at our core, we risk becoming enslaved to the illusions of our most narrow perceptions.

    Each day we remember and celebrate the foundational story of our journey to Freedom. God has brought us out of Egypt, the place of narrow perception, for one reason –“to be Your God” – to exist in holy relationship. For this is the key to our Freedom. Conscious connection to the reality that lies beneath the surface of things frees us from the bonds of the material world and allows us to expand beyond the arbitrary limits of a particular conditioned perspective. Yet Freedom is elusive. When we left Egypt in search of it, we were blocked by the great impossible sea. When we crossed the sea and fled to the wilderness we encountered within us the enslaving attitudes and habits of rebellion and complaint. And even after we stood at Sinai and received that moment of clarity, we still fell back into the habits of busy mind and cluttered heart.

    And so God says to us, “Make for me a holy place so that I can dwell inside you. Yes it is possible to stay connected with me at all times in all places, even as you engage in the life of the world.” When we make a place for God to dwell in our lives, then we will never be caught in the illusion of separateness. God will be available and accessible to us in the innermost chamber of the heart and in the inner dimension of all Creation.

    Spiritual practice is about making our lives into a Mishkan, a dwelling place for Divine Presence. About one third of the Book of Exodus consists of the detailed instructions for building the Mishkan, (the portable sanctuary that we carry through our wilderness journeys). The purpose of the Mishkan is to send us to the space within where we can receive the Mystery of Presence. Just as a great poem points us towards a truth that is beyond mere words, so the beauty that shines from the Mishkan of our lives illuminates the beyond that is within us.

    As Judaism evolves, the function of the Mishkan (the place of connection with God) is represented by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple is destroyed, the place of our connection to God moves inside. Prayer takes the place of sacrifice and the altar of sacrifice is hidden in the dark recesses of our own hearts.

    The story of Chanukah reminds us that even the holiest place within us can become desecrated. We must enter the darkness of our own wounded hearts, survey the damage, clear away the rubble, and then light a candle to rededicate ourselves to holiness, to our own wholeness and connection to the cosmos. It is truly miraculous that a single spark of hope can ignite the radiant fires of passion that illuminate our way forward, even on the darkest night.

    As the days grow short and the night darkness long, we are invited to enter into the darkness of our own hearts. There, buried beneath the rubble of our disappointments, we find the miraculous spark of our Divinity, the awesome knowledge that we are each created in the image of God. This is the spark that kindles our Festival of Lights. Each night of Chanukah, we light another candle. Each night the light grows brighter, shining its radiance into our own hidden places.

    The “Great Miracle” of healing is happening right here within us when we call light into our own places of Darkness, when we bring the healing light of compassion into hidden crevices of shame or fear.

    As we light the flames of Chanukah, may we kindle the flame within that will shine the light of awareness across the true expanse of Soul.

  26. Wendy

    From Kol Aleph

    The dreidl: a simple toy – or is it? by Rabbi Marcia Prager

    On my shelf, I have a wild assortment of dreidls. After all, it is rare that any mitzvah that can be artistic remains unembellished. I have jars of plastic dreidls of all colors, dreidls of silver filigree, dreidls carved of olivewood, ones made of clay, and even one tiny dreidl – easily a hundred years old – made of oferet yetzukah, pressed lead.

    Stories of the origin of the dreidl suggest that the toy and its “gambling” game were used by Chanukah celebrants living under the Roman occupation to circumvent Roman edits forbidding group gatherings, and thereby plan acts of resistance. In later times, opting to downplay the military context of the story, the rabbis emphasized the theme of light, the holiness of the miracle of the oil, and the rededication of the Temple as a spiritual victory over darkness.

    The great Rebbes of Eastern Europe elaborated on these themes, using the lessons to offer guidance on the inner work we must undertake when we wish to grow spiritually. Reb Nachman of Bratzlav, the great grandson of the Holy Baal Shem Tov, offers this unusual teaching on the dreidl: The dreidl, he says, is a symbol Creation itself. Why? Because all existence is like a rotating wheel. Existence is dynamic, and full of movement, always revolving and oscillating, never static! Yet also, just like a dreidl which spins on a single point, all of Creation too, emanates from point, one root, one Source.

    The Holy Beis HaMikdash, the Holy Temple when it stood, was also a symbol of this essential nature of Creation. How can we say that the Temple was like a revolving wheel? Because through our sacred service in the Temple, we initiated a movement of the Divine into the world and elevated the world closer to the Divine. God into world and world into God, round and round. The Temple, (like the human heart) Reb Nachman says, is like a dreidl – a rotating “wheel” where God and world spin in a sacred dance. The Temple is an energy cycle, as is the process of redemption. Even the revelation on Mt. Sinai is such a cycle, a holy choreography in which Moshe and God ascend and descend.

    Reb Nachman invites us, as we spin the toy dreidl, to reflect on our own lives. Where are we in our own cycles of ascent and descent? How connected are all our ups and downs? How is God moving in our lives, or have we lost the “point”? Reb Nachman reminds is that the journey of our own souls is like a dreidl. Of course! Whenever a soul descends into the world, a holy possibility is elevated. This holy possibility is the fulfillment of your own soul’s unique destiny, the realization of your unique potential to learn, love, and choose the good.

    I wish you all a happy spin of the dreidl, and a happy Chanukah.

  27. Wendy

    From Maggid Zelig Golden

    Rededicating Our Sacred Fire

    by Maggid Zelig Golden
    30 Kislev 5774 | December 3, 2013

    Hanukkah, which means “rededication,” commemorates the Maccabee army’s military victory against the Syrian empire, which had nearly defeated the Jews and temporarily occupied the Temple. After the victory of the rebel Macabees, the Jews rededicated the Temple by relighting the sacred fire.

    We know from this story and from the Torah’s description of the Temple activities that our Hebrew ancestors were powerful sacred fire keepers. The Torah instructs, “the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood upon the fire” (Leviticus 1:7). This fire was used in Temple times to make offerings, in Hebrew קרבן (korban), which also means to “come near.” Thus, through the process of making offerings into the sacred fire, we brought ourselves closer to the Divine.

    This fire was so essential to our Divine connection that we kept it burning continuously for hundreds of year: “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it…. A permanent fire shall remain aflame on the altar; it shall not be extinguished” (Leviticus 6:5-6).

    Nearly two thousand years later, how is this relevant to us?

    The element of fire plays a central, sacred role in every ancient culture. It lights up every creation myth, becomes the gathering place for the most powerful stories, supports our rites of passages, and provides a powerful vehicle for healing and connection to Spirit. In this time of reconnecting with our earth-based traditions, there are few traditions as powerful and as important as our sacred relationship to fire.

    Sacred Fire Passover 2013At Passover in the Desert this past year, we kindled and tended a sacred fire continuously from the beginning to the end of the festival to explore how we might begin to reclaim our ancient relationship to fire. Our sixth Passover in the Desert festival was markedly transformed for me and for the many participants who commented that the fire provided a palpable presence and a powerful space that many described as healing and transformative. We experientially learned about the sacred power of fire, something difficult to capture with word, and we will certainly kindle such a fire again at Passover in the Desert this coming spring.

    It is about this power of fire that Rowan, a recent B’naiture graduate, teaches us through his encounter with the Divine that opened for him around his sacred fire, which he tended all night alone to complete his B’naiture experience. Through tending this fire, he awakens new levels of relationship to himself, Creation, and our ancestral stories.

    During Hanukkah, we are particularly invited to tap into the sacred power of fire by kindling flames during eight of the darkest days of the year. These flames, our sages teach us, possess אור הגנוז (Or Haganuz), the hidden light that connects back to the power and purity of the first moments of Creation. On the first day of Creation, the Torah teaches that from the depth of darkness Creator brought forth light with its first words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:1). This first light was a primordial, pure source of energy — different from the light we experience in daily life — and became hidden, we are told, to protect it from those who abuse its power.

    We are also taught that Or Haganuz can provide access to the deepest wisdom and healing. When we light our Hanukkah lights with the purity of intention that matches the purity of this first light, we can gain access to this pure primordial power, which, although hidden from us, has never been extinguished. As we light these flames, we can begin to enter into relationship with the power of this light, which we can carry within us beyond Hanukkah.

    Access to the wisdom of hidden light and the healing power of sacred fire might seem farfetched from our modern perspective. The Hanukkah story of redemption and rededication provides a powerful parable:

    Hanukkah “is also the festival of lighting the fire … for when our ancestors were led into [exile], the sacred priests hid some of the fire. … Many years later Nehemiah sent their descendants to retrieve the hidden fire, but they found only thick muddy water. … Nehemiah commanded the priests to sprinkle the wood and offerings with this water. …then the sun shone, which afore was hid in the cloud, there was a great fire kindled, so that every person marveled” (Maccabees 1:19-22).

    Like the fire hidden by the earlier priests in this Maccabee legend, our ancient sacred fire traditions, used to create powerful connection, have also gone into hiding. While they may seem strange or impossible to recover like fire from muddy water, we have a powerful, ancestral sacred fire tradition just waiting to be rekindled.

    So, as we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Tevet (the new moon of Tevet), may we honor the final days of Hanukkah and the darkest days of the year by perceiving the enormous opportunity of rededication. May we each rededicate our awareness to the power of bringing light into the darkness, the importance of the hidden qualities present in the fires we stoke, and our traditions that point us to new, ancient relationships to the flame that simply awaits our tending.

  28. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Zaslow

    Light: here is a deeper understanding: The 7th and 8th nights of Hanukkah are on the new moon, meaning they are the darkest days of the year. Not necessarily the shortest, unless they fall on 12/21 and 12/22, but the darkest. So we say that with the menorah we are adding light into the darkness. But that’s not really what light is about. When the Holy said “yehi ohr” we translate it as “let their be light,” but it would be better to say “let light be.” in other word, Hashem doesn’t have to create light, but simply reveal the light that is already there. So tonight don’t light your candles, but think of your action as releasing the light that is already there. You are the holy agent to simply release that light.

    Now, let’s kick it up a notch. In the deepest sense we often think of light like we think of matter…as a kind of thing, an ethereal thing. But it is the most non-thing. Light is the profound energy that permits us to see through the darkness. It does not eliminate the darkness. Choshech is always there, as the underpinning of everything. Darkness is beautiful, but gets a bad rap in poor poetry and song lyrics. It is so holy that it just is…in Genesis 1 it is the pre-condition for creation. It does not have to be created….”darkness was upon the face of the deep…” In other words darkness just is, the most pure isness there is. So light is not a thing. If it were a thing it would block the darkness.

    Rather the light is G-d’s formula for giving us x-ray vision, the ability to see through the darkness. Everything I want to say about the light will come out making it into a thing. So we have to change our thinking. Light is the ultimate revealing agent. Tonight on the darkest night of the year we will light seven candles. Tonight is the seventh day of the week. The Shabbat of Hanukkah gets an extra measure of kedushah, holiness. So tonight let’s not add light to the darkness when we bring the menorahs to the window. Let’s envision the light and dark at their wedding. We have the honor to wed the light to its partner, the darkness.

    Let’s not add light to the darkness as if darkness somehow needs to be dispelled because it is bad. It is like Esau, it just needs it’s brother Jacob to be complete. And Jacob cannot be Israel without his brother Esau. Tonight for once, let’s not add light to the night. Let’s use our X-ray vision to see into the future, a future of harmony, love, peace, shlaymut, wholeness for everyone, all sentient beings, for the planet and cosmos itself.
    Shabbat shalom,
    Reb David

  29. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler


    Why Chanukah is neither a festival of lights or of oil.

    A Teaching from Gershon…

    Quick question: If Chanukah supposedly commemorates the teeny-tiny drop of oil that enabled the Menorah of the ancient Temple to burn for eight days, why don’t we celebrate oil? Why do we celebrate Chanukah as a festival of lights instead of a festival of oil? I mean, maybe just have eight days of oil wrestling, or eight days of castor oil, or, instead of a Menorah, display eight cans of WD-40 on our window sills, or something like that. What does the ritual of kindling flames on the Chanukah Menorah have to do with a miracle that had nothing to do with light and everything to do with oil? And why Eight?

    The first question is resolved by the second question.

    In ancient Jewish tradition, eight represents finality of commitment. We can make commitments to do this or that, but until we actually lock ourselves into the manifestation of that commitment, it remains in limbo, it remains an “Almost, but not quite,” like a readied clump of dough that is shaped like a challah but not yet baked, like a building that has been assembled but is not yet ready to be lived in. The eighth phase of any unfolding represents not even its finale or climax, but more so beyond its finale or climax, meaning that the eighth phase is about activation. Sort of like the credit card you just got in the mail. It looks great and will work in any ATM machine and is accepted at all restaurants, but it will do you absolutely no good until you participate in its unfolding, until you personally go through the motions of activating it.

    For example, in the Hebrew creation story, God completes Creation in the seventh cycle, but Creation does not actually take until the eighth phase and on. In the words of the Torah: “And Elo’heem blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, for in it did [Elo’heem] settle back from all of [Elo’heem’s] work that Elo’heem had created לעשות — to do” (Genesis 2:3). The wording “created to do” clearly implies that the finale of God’s direct “hands-on” participation in primordial creation included the gifting to Creation of the capacity to participate in its own unfolding. And this sacred occurrence follows the seven phases of Genesis, beginning with an eighth cycle. This is why, after telling you the whole story of the sequence of Creation in Chapter One of Genesis, the Torah then breaks the news that actually nothing had happened yet – all of it waiting for the Human to activate it: “And it came to pass that there was no cable or internet, because God had not yet subscribed, and the Human had not yet come around to activate it” (Genesis 2:5-6).

    This concept is then played out across the length and breadth of the Tenakh, the Hebraic scriptures. Eight consistently represents the bridging of one series of like phases to a whole new level of realization. Thus, the משכן Mish’kan, the sacred sanctuary space that the Hebrews constructed in the desert some 3,300 years ago, was not activated until “the eighth day.” Its assembly had already been completed, but its activation did not occur until the eighth day of its dedication (Midrash Sif’ra, Shemini, No. 14). Likewise, the first initiation of the priesthood, of the כהניםko’hanim, also involved a seven-day ritual, with the eighth day being the actual activation of the initiation (Leviticus 8:33-9:1). Also, the sacrificial rites upon the altar disqualified any animal not at least eight days old: “Seven days, it shall be with its mother, and on the eighth day…it shall be acceptable as an offering” (Exodus 22:29 and Leviticus 22:27). The healing rites of the leper also took seven days, yet the actual purification did not take effect until the eighth day (Leviticus 14:8-23).

    The Torah also introduces the eighth day of Sukkot, of the harvest ritual, as “A festival of עצרתatzeret, of closure, dedicated to you” (Numbers 29:35) – not to God, but to us, to Creation, in honor of Creation’s unique selfhood. The Zohar goes deeper and interprets atzeret to imply כנישתאk’neesh’ta, which means “gathering” – that the eighth day is a phase of “gathering in the blessings that flow from the Above [i.e., the Beyond]” (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 64a).

    Eight, then, represents Beyond-ness, beyond the givens of life; the invitation to become active participants in perpetuity by crossing the line between what is, and what beckons to happen beyond it.

    “This is why the ברית מילה Brit Milah [ritual circumcision] happens on the eighth day,” taught the 16th-century Kabbalist, Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague, “for all that is under the influence of Nature is associated with the number seven since Nature was created in seven cycles. And thus, whatever is beyond Nature is associated with the number eight. Therefore, Brit Milah, which is beyond Nature – as in Nature a man is born uncircumcised — takes place on the eighth day” (MaHaRaL in Chidushei Aggadot, Vol. 1, folio 5 – mesechet shabbat). In other words, the removal of the foreskin is symbolic of moving beyond the constraints of Nature and dedicating the physical impulses to the One Who Created Nature, to begin with, in the hopes that like consciousness will eventually follow.

    Eight is then representative of what you and I dare to do in the world that is out of the ordinary, beyond the constraints of the laws of the universe. The laws of the universe state unequivocally that a teeny-tiny drop of olive oil will not suffice to keep a flame going for more than fifteen minutes, so why bother? Why bother lighting a short-lived flame from one miniscule drop of consecrated oil? Just leave well enough alone and start from scratch.

    Yet, you chose to kindle it anyway, knowing full well that it would take at least a week to fetch enough olives, compress them for their oil, process that oil, render it flammable, and consecrate it for Temple use. You defied the finite boundaries of the Realm of Seven and dared traverse the Realm of Eight. You rekindled the ebbing life force of your people and its near-obliterated tradition. You dared stand up against an empire tenfold larger and more powerful and better equipped militarily than your handful of rookie warrior wannabees and their duct-taped slingshots.

    The miracles that resulted — your victory over the mighty Greco-Assyrian armies, and the teeny-tiny-itsy-bitsy drop of oil lasting long enough for a fresh supply of kindling oil to be delivered – had to do neither with oil nor with fire, but with your bold, audacious act of kindling, of making happen what by the Laws of Nature ought not to have happened, of turning darkness into light, resignation into hope, tragedy into celebration.

    Having won back our freedom to practice our traditions, the elders decided to celebrate the most recent festival which we had been forbidden to celebrate: Sukkot and Sh’mee’nee Chag Ha’Atzeret, the Festival of the Harvest and the Festival of the Eighth [day of] Closure, a combined eight-day festival that would have been celebrated nearly two moons earlier were it not for the religious oppression by the Greco-Assyrians who forbade it (Second Book of Maccabees 1:10).

    And so we kindle eight lights for eight days. Eight representing transcendence, beyondness, chutzpah, miracle – Eight representing beyond seven, as seven represents the ordinary, the known, the revealed world that was created in cycles of Seven, while Eight represents taking it all one bold step further.

    With the lighting of each flame, every day our menorahs glowing brighter and brighter, we fan the sparks of courage and kindle the flames of the gift of selfhood and dignity modeled by the bold action and conviction of women and men and children in the Land of Israel some 2,200 years ago. By the eighth night, we are fully ablaze with their daring souls burning fiercely in each our hearts, moving us beyond our self-perceived limitations. For Eight moves us beyond the boundaries set for us by our culture, religion, society, and way beyond even our own self-assumed capacities and self-limited possibilities into the realm of the Sacred Eight, the place of transcendence. The place of Healing, and yes, the place of Miracle.

    So when you light the flames of your Menorah, remember that it isn’t so much the oil, or the lights, as it is the act of kindling, of bringing forth something from out of nothing. And may that be a blessing in your own personal life, to call forth the impossible from the cyclic spin of the holy Seven into the unbridled dance of the holy Eight.

    And you don’t have to be Jewish to do that sort of kindling.

  30. Wendy

    From Rabbi Miriam Maron

    from Rabbi Miriam Maron
    © 2011 Miriam Maron

    On Chanukah, let us not forget that the original Menorah which we built in the desert about 3300 years ago, was a central column with six branches protruding outward from it, three on either side of the column. From the teachings of the sixteenth-century Rabbi Isaac Luria, we learn that the central flame represents the Shabbat. The three branches on one side of the central column represent the three days preceding the Shabbat, namely Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, while the three branches on the other side of the central column represent the three days following the Shabbat. The three days preceding the Shabbat are referred to in the Talmud as מקמי שבתאmikamei shab’ta, “the rising of the Sabbath”, and the three days following the Shabbat are referred to as אחר שבתאachar shab’ta, “after the Sabbath” (Talmud Bav’li, Pesachim 106a). Basically, then, the central point of the Menorah represents the Shabbat, from whose radiance of spirit all the other days of the week are nurtured. One ought therefore to prepare oneself for the Shabbat during the three days prior to the Shabbat (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday), and celebrate the residual light of the Shabbat during the three days following the Shabbat (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday).

    The three branches on either side of the Menorah are then symbolic of the waxing and waning of our soul’s approach toward and departing from the Light of Shabbat. On Wednesday, we begin the approach by tuning into the body aspect of our soul, the נפשnefesh. On Thursday, we continue the approach by tuning into the emotive aspect of our soul, the רוחru’ach. Then, on Friday, we tune into the consciousness aspect of our soul, the נשמהneshamah. And by Shabbat, we become unified with the She’chee’nah, the Central Column by which The All is unified with all. After Shabbat, on Sunday, we depart, tuning back into neshamah. On Monday, we tune back into ru’ach. By Tuesday, we are back in nefesh mode. On another level, this cycle also mimics the Kabbalistic take on the unfolding of Creation through the Four Worlds, or phases: on Wednesday we move through the World of ah’see’yah, the realm of manifestation; on Thursday we move through the World of yetsirah, the realm of imagery; on Friday we move through the World of be’ree’yah, the realm of conceptualization. By Shabbat, we arrive in the World of atzee’lut, the realm of emanation. Conversely, on Sunday we move through the realm of be’ree’yah; on Monday through the realm of yetsirah; and on Tuesday we are back in the realm of ah’see’yah (16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham in Sefer Ha’Sh’LaH, Mesechet Chulin, Perek Torah Ohr, Ch. 53).

    Like the Menorah, there are three protruding branches on either side of the human body as well, each pair – from bottom up – longer than the one above it, the legs longer than the arms above them, and the arms longer than the ears above them. And the seventh branch is the head, from which all the other branches are lit, are influenced and empowered (16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham in Sefer Ha’Sh’LaH, Sha’ar Ha’O’ti’o’t – O’t Kuf, Kedushah, Ch. 5).

    So when we light our Menorah on Chanukah, commemorating the rekindling of hope in a dark period of our history, let us rekindle as well the lesson, the symbolism of the original Menorah, and bring blessings to each day of the week, every day of our lives throughout the year.

    A concluding teaching about the word Cha’NU’KaH:

    חCha the letter ח whose numerical equivalent, or Gemmatria, is 8 as in the miracle of the little drop of oil which lasted for 8 days.

    נוNU comprised of the letters נnun and wahv ו, whose combined numerical equivalent is 56, which, in turn, represents the 8 days of the miraculous flames ablaze on the 7 branches of the Temple Menorah (8 x 7 = 56).

    כהKaH comprised of the letters כchahf and הhay, whose combined numerical equivalent is 25, the date on which the miracle of Chanukah began: the 25th Day of the Moon of Kis’lev (Source: 16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham in Sefer Ha’Sh’LaH, Ha’ga’ho’t L’sefer B’reisheet, Va’yeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, Torah Ohr, Ch. 12 – Menorah).



  31. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler



    A Teaching from Gershon…

    In the Jewish mystical tradition, Chanukah belongs to a period older than itself by close to 5,000 years, and refers to the great mystical master Chanoch, or Enoch, famous for being taken up into the Heavens alive (Genesis 5:24). Before this occurs, Chanoch is described as “walking God” (literal reading of the Hebrew). It is sort of like he gives God a guided tour of the Creation Manifested, and God in turn gives Chanoch a guided tour of Creation in Divine Thought until the two merge as one and Chanoch is taken up alive to become Matat’ron מטטרון , the highest of the angels (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 27a and Vol. 3, folio 283a).

    Chanoch is recorded as “walking God” twice (Genesis 5:22 and 24). He takes God on a tour of the darkness of the world and of the lightness of the world, of the positive and of the negative, of the hatred and of the love, of the sadness of the world and of the joyfulness of the world. And the more they walk together, the more the constricted pathways to Eden begin to loosen their tightness for Chanoch, to the point that he eventually finds himself in the primeval arena of Eden itself, the very cauldron of Genesis, the very Thought of God. And there, in turn, the angels impart to him wisdom from beyond the beyond and from within the within (Tosefot L’Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 277a).

    At the beginning of Beginning, Genesis opens up with בראשיתberei’sheet, which etymologically breaks down to two words: Bara בראand Sheet שית. בראmeans “Created”, or “Externalized”. שית means “Garment”. Creation is then described in the Torah as the drama of God moving Itself beyond Itself, externalizing an aspect of Its Inner Essence to become the Embodiment of Genesis, the Mantle of Creation, the Divine Space within which the unfolding of all would be enabled. As is written: “You enrobed Yourself in splendor and majesty; donned Light like a mantle” (Psalms 104:1-2).

    This great Divine Light, however, slowly began to ebb as the world began to fall apart and humanity started ripping at the seams (Genesis 6:6). And the angels rolled their eyes and restrained themselves from saying to God: “See? We told you so. We warned you to leave well enough alone and not create Humans” (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 8:6). But lo and behold! In the arena where only angels can flourish, walked now a mortal, a man named Chanoch, who was gradually becoming enrobed in the very Light that was slip-sliding away from Creation. Here now walked a Human, elevating hope and possibility, and embodying all that was Divine, like the very angels who had once contested his existence altogether. And the Light returned to the world and remained to this day. For it is said that Chanoch, who is now Matat’ron, swoops down upon our world now and then to rekindle our dying hopes and illuminate the dimness of our long-forgotten dreams and visions of a better world. In the words of the Zohar, Chanoch – as Matat’ron — softens things for us when the world draws upon itself too much Divine Judgment (Tosefot L’Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 277b).

    He is Chanoch. He is Chanoch, the angelic force responsible for our world. He is חנוכ to whose name is added the letter ה which symbolizes this world (Talmud Bav’li, Menachot 29b), thus transforming his fuller name to חנוכה Chanukah (16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham in Sefer Ha’Sh’LaH, Ha’ga’ho’t L’sefer B’reisheet, Va’yeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, Torah Ohr, Ch. 12 – Menorah). And so, every year when we approach the Winter Solstice, the period of ever-increasing darkness and ever-ebbing light, we draw from the inspiration of Chanoch, the kindler of Divine Light in the world, and we kindle our menorahs with ever-increasing flames as we scale the fence of Darkness back into Light on the other side of the Solstice. After all, it was Chanoch, as Matat’ron, who showed Moses the image by which he was to sculpt the original Menorah in the desert (Tikunei Zohar, folio 119b).

    A joyful, meaningful, enlightening Chanukah to all…

  32. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    Chanukah: Of Lights & Man

    Lights seem to speak to us in a very deep way, particularly those gentle lights that dance atop of candles. There are few visuals that are as warming to us as the sight of a burning flame, a pure simple flame luminous and ethereal.

    To the mind, lights and festivities also seem to go together. Lights are deemed the perfect vehicle to express joy—a firework display at a festive occasion is but one example, as is the lighting of candles or the hanging of colorful bulbs at a birthday party or any other joyful event.

    Within a Jewish context, every Shabbat, holiday or other special occasion demands the lighting of the candles. As the day is about to begin, at the moment immediately preceeding the beginning of the auspicious and dedicated day, the tradition is to light a candle. More precisely, the Shabbat candles are lit for the purpose of kavod – honor, to pay tribute to the day, and also for the purpose of oneg – pleasure, so that we eat our Shabbat meal in the pleasing glow of light and not stumble in the darkness. On Yom Tov, we have the additional advantage of it being a day of simcha, a day of joy.

    The oddity of all of this is that the candles of Chanukah are not meant to be used for our personal pleasure whatsoever. It’s quite clearly stated that one may only gaze at the lights and not use them for any other purpose. In fact, another light or candle must be lit to ensure that the room is lit even without the light of the Menorah.

    The intensity of these lights are not meant to be a channel for something else, no matter how lofty that purpose may be. They are not intended as a means, but are there as an end unto themselves.

    “The soul of man is a lamp of G-d” (Proverbs 20:27). The soul is our higher self. Our soul is the self of our potential and possibility, the part of us that stands above ego, selfishness, aggression and resentment. The soul is the background of our being, the light that masters our thoughts, emotions and actions, and essentially the whole of life. It is not something we posses, rather it is who we are, it does not belong to us, it is us.
    And yet we have the ability to eclipse the light of our soul, and use its reverberating power to destroy and wreck havoc. Light can be warming and bring comfort, but it can also be the source of much destruction and devastation. We can harness our internal light to bring love and joy, but the converse is also true.

    Thirty six, the mystical and mysterious number, is the amount of times the word light appears throughout the Torah. After the incident in the Garden of Eden, God asks Adam “ayeka?” (where are you?), not merely to be polite, and show the way we should enter a conversation. The question is essentially, “where are you?” What have you done? It is a question that has been asked and re-asked of every one of us throughout time. The inner voice within challenging us once in a while and questioning, “Where are you?” What are your priorities? And what do you want out of life? Are you living up to your potential?

    Midrashic sources write that the numeric value of the word ayeka is thirty-six. The question is then more pointedly: “where are you?” “What have you done with your light?” The Hebrew word sapir, as in the English derived term sapphire, refers to light, a stone of light. The word sipur – story is rooted in the word sapir. And so the question of ayeka is a question of, what is your story? What kind of tale are you weaving? Are you bringing warmth and joy, are you illuminating and bringing light, or have you forgotten your essentiality and are writing a story not worth repeating? This echoing sound of ayeka is a question, but more importantly a prodding, to be more, to live up to our potential.

    These are the lights, our lights, that gently whisper to us to turn aside, refocus, and reengage our attention from the overwhelming bombardment of the everything and take notice of what is right here, who we are, and what we can be, allowing us to glimpse inwards to a place deep within us, and rediscover that which has always been there.

  33. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
    The First Book of Maccabees was written about 100 BCE, not long after the first Chanukah was celebrated. It’s an embarrassingly political book, celebrating the power of the Maccabean family, the Hasmonean (Chashmona’i) dynasty.

    Animal Torah- Elephants and Chanukah

    The book begins by praising the power of Alexander the Great, who spread the best of Greek culture through the ancient Mediterranean region by building schools and libraries. But Antiochus, a minor king of Hellenized Syria, tried to spread Greek culture using coercion and violence. The Judeans, led by the Maccabees, resisted successfully. They restored the Temple, and crowned the leaders of the resistance as their kings. This is the story line of the book. It does not include the miracle of the oil. That part of the story was first told hundreds of years later in the Talmud.

    The animal stars of the First Book of Maccabees are the elephants. Not just any elephants. Gigantic, mythical, monstrous elephants, trained in battle, wearing wooden towers on their backs, carrying thirty-two soldiers each. Exactly the elephants you saw in Lord of the Rings. Because the designers in the Lord of the Rings took their design straight out of the First Book of Maccabees, chapter 6, verse 37.

    According to the First Book of Maccabees, Antiochus’ army had one hundred and twenty of these living tanks, each escorted by 1,000 infantrymen and 500 cavalry. One brave Jewish soldier named Eleazar Savaran ran underneath an elephant, stuck a spear in, and killed it. The elephant collapsed on him, he died, and the rest of the Jewish army ran away in terror.

    Did these gigantic elephant warriors really exist? Of course not. They are fantastic literary images that make the battle story more exciting. And (of course) they are metaphorical hints about the nature of the miracle of Chanukah.

    So let’s explore what the metaphor of an elephant might mean in Jewish literature – specifically, in the Talmud.

    Chazal, our Talmudic sages, had three strong opinions about elephants. Elephants are really smart, really large, and really strange.

    If you’re thinking along with me, you’re already interpreting the meaning of the elephants at the center of battle. They represent Antiochus’ army: really large, commanded by really smart generals, using really unusual tactics. But the Maccabees miraculously defeated them. (“Stronger and smarter than an elephant!” – that’s the Maccabean slogan.)

    Let’s look a little more deeply into the three Talmudic opinions about elephants: smart, tall, and strange.

    Chazal recognize that an elephant is smart enough to serve as a courier. So they ask, “Can a trained elephant deliver an item of symbolic significance?” Some say that a reliable elephant can be trusted to find its destination. But others explain that when the elephant arrives, it will not be able to explain the meaning of the item. So chazal conclude, if the sender has let the recipient know in advance what he or she is receiving, the item may be delivered by an elephant.

    Meaning: an elephant may be amazingly smart, but it is not part of our society, it does not speak Hebrew or Aramaic, and it does not think in our symbol system.

    Chazal recognize that an elephant is tall enough to serve as the wall of a sukkah. So they ask, “Can you use an elephant for the wall of your sukkah?” No, they answer, because it might walk away. But what if you tie it up, or tie it down? Well, no. It won’t walk away, but it might die.

    Meaning: An elephant may be amazingly tall, and thus it may be useful for all kinds of odd jobs. But we do not get to use the elephant, because it has not consented to be part of our project.

    Maybe the elephants represent Antiochus’ soldiers. They do not buy into Antiochus’ project of forced cultural assimilation. And without commitment to the cause, they cannot support the building of an empire. To build a society, you need love and commitment – which the Maccabees have, at least in their own opinion.

    But there’s more.

    Chazal say: when we are lucky enough to see an elephant we should bless God, and say: Blessed is the One who varies the creatures – or, in Hebrew, Baruch mishaneh et haberiyot.”

    The Hebrew verb mishaneh is related to the noun shinui, which means change.

    Maybe, in the book of Maccabees, elephants represent faith and hope. The Judean soldiers saw how difficult it was to challenge a living tank, and they ran away in fear. But later, when they gathered to debrief the battle, they analyzed the symbolic power of the elephants said, “God, you introduce change! We do have the courage to continue.”

    The Hebrew word for elephant is pil. Chazal said, “If you see a pil, an elephant, in your dream, then pela’aot, wonders, will manifest in your life.” And that’s what happened to the Maccabees. In the crazy, chaotic, nightmare of battle they saw elephants. At first, the elephants seemed to be terrible a symbol – and in the end, they announced a pelah, a wonder, and a nes, a miracle.

    We all know how amazing elephants are. They are social, gentle, and loyal, open to friendship across species. They speak a language we can’t hear. And their survival is endangered. But my point today isn’t about elephants.

    It’s about Chanukah, and its messages of hope.

    Sometimes we encounter challenges that are as great as a giant beast. We try to meet them, and they collapse on top of us. We run in fear, because we are at the end of our resources. And sometimes it seems that we are truly defeated.

    But with time, and reflection, and love, and commitment, and support from someone who buys into the goal, and faith that things can be different, we can heal and arise and move forwards.

    Even though this does not always seem true. Sometimes things seem really dark. At those times, if a friend dares to say, “You’ll get through this…it just takes time,” we may feel as if they’re the beast we should skewer from below. You know this experience. But if we read the same message in a book, we are more likely to let it seep slowly into our consciousness.

    That’s the hint whispered in a dream, the secret miraculous power, of the elephants of Chanukah. That’s the hidden treat in the embarrassingly political First Book of Maccabees: The reminder that we can go beyond the end of our resources.

    It’s the same teaching offered by the miracle of the lights – enough oil for one day burns for eight. But it is older, more subtle, and perhaps – because it comes through an animal — even more alive.

    You may remember Perek Shira, the medieval text in which every animal is assigned a verse of praise in accordance with its spiritual nature. In Perek Shira, the elephant sings, Ma Gadlu Ma’asecha Yah, Mi’od amku machshevotecha. How great are your deeds, God, how deep and subtle are your thoughts.

    Chag sameach.

    — Laura Duhan Kaplan, 2010

  34. Aryae Post author

    Reb Shlomo

    Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb

    Shlomo teaching about Chanukah at Temple Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, 23 Kislev, 5741 / November 30, 1980

    You know, my sweetest friends — Listen, I’m sure the children wouldn’t mind if you tell them just to be a little bit quiet, without hurting their feelings. I’m sure they’ll be with it. It’s okay, it’s okay, just — Friends, let’s concentrate, okay?

    Everybody knows, Tuesday night is Chanukah, the Festival of Light. And, you know, sometimes it’s so obvious — you know, there’s the book, “Who is Who in Judaism,” you know? “Who is Who in the World,” right? Sometimes it’s so obvious who is real and who is not. For those who are not so real, they say, “Chanukah is a very unimportant holiday” — ‘cause it really is, and what’s so important about it, you know? Basically, on Chanukah you can do anything you want to. It’s not like Yom Kippur — you’re fasting, you go to shul. Chanukah, you can sell your herring. In the middle — in between one piece of herring and the other — you run to the window, you kindle a little light, so who cares, right? So it’s not important.

    But the truth is, the Holy Baal Shem Tov, the holy of holiest, told us that Chanukah is higher than the highest in the world. Yom Kippur is very special — Simchas Torah is special — it’s all beautiful. But how does it compare to Chanukah? How does it compare to what a person feels when you kindle light?

    Okay, now, sweetest friends, in a nutshell, I’d like to share with you what our holy rabbis teach us — what is light? What does it mean? Okay, I’m sure everyone has about ten million answers. Let me tell you the Torah from the holy Ishbitzer. I just want you, really, to open your hearts.

    You know, I can tell you something — something very holy and exalted, which you didn’t know before. And now you know it. So, you have an added [piece of] information. Imagine a person didn’t know that there is one G d. I meet this person. I explain to them, and I prove to them — there is one G d. “Oh,” they say, you know, “that’s very nice, very beautiful. Thank you very much. I didn’t know it.” Now they know.

    Or I’ll tell you something. Did you think the whole world — the way it is now — that’s the way it’s supposed to be? People cheating each other, killing each other, hating each other? Let me tell you that our great prophets prophesied that tomorrow morning there’ll be peace in the world. And you’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t know that. But it sounds good.” You know? “Thank you for telling me. Where can I get that book?” “Oh, it’s a dollar twenty-five.” “So do you have any second-hand, where I can get it for seventy-five cents?”

    Okay! What are they missing? What are they missing? They know the words. There’s no light behind it, right? Let me tell you what light is. Light is that which lifts you up beyond you. Beyond you. Suddenly I’m reaching somewhere, to a place I didn’t even know existed.

    You know, let’s put it this way. Imagine I didn’t know there was one G d, and suddenly somebody tells me, “There really is one G d!” So, gevaldt, am I reaching! Suddenly my soul expands two billion miles. Somewhere else. So, you know, sweetest friends, all the holidays, all our life is beautiful, but unless — unless there is light in it — you’re dead.

    You know, I always tell my friends, What do you think is happening in cemeteries? They have a committee — a cultural committee — they’re having lectures, they have all the dead people get together, and they exchange ideas, you know? Without hurting anybody’s feelings, if someone has a problem, he goes to a psychiatrist, right? Try one in the neighborhood, right?

    What are they missing? They’re dead, right? It doesn’t change them. Doesn’t lift them up to a higher place. You know what dead is? Can’t move, right? Always the same. I’m the same when I say hello; I’m the same when I say good-bye. I’m the same when I eat an apple, and I’m the same when I kiss my child. Always the same.

    You know what light is, sweetest friends? This is so precious. But now, one more step, friends. Light can only burn on pure oil. You know, the Maccabees came back, and they wanted to kindle G d’s light, and they realized, we need at least one drop of pure oil. Defiled oil — impure oil — doesn’t produce light. Yeah, at the window maybe, but not in the heart, not in the soul.

    I’m sure you share my feelings. Sometimes you hear a word from somebody, the same word you heard from a holy man yesterday — nothing happens to you. And the next time you hear the word you heard from somebody unholy — somebody holy — someone who’s operating on pure oil — and suddenly a great light is shining inside of you. Such a deep light. So precious, so holy.

    And you know, sweetest friends, do you know where we can reach? Does any of us know how high and how deep we can reach? Infinite, right? We’re [made] in G d’s image. You know what’s so special about the light of Chanukah? The Talmud says that basically G d’s light does not get that close to this world. There must be at least a little in-between of ten inches. {Ten tefachim (handbreadths). Shlomo is choosing not to get too technical here.} Chanukah, it goes all the way to the ground. You know what that means? All year long, without light, I understand “holy” is cute, sweet, beautiful, but let’s face it — it doesn’t reach down to this world, right? Really, let’s face it. Do you really think you can sell herring and be holy? Do you really think you can be a stockbroker and be honest? Let’s face it. You can’t. You know why you can’t? Cuz you have no light. If you have light? The lowest place [can be made holy].

    And now, sweetest friends, listen to me. All of us know a lot of holy words. You know why it doesn’t change us? Because we have this little in-between. I say, “You know, don’t get too deep into me. Leave me a little space where I keep my unholy stuff. You know, really. Don’t overdo it.” So I never get anyplace. I never change. Chanukah is that moment when G d’s light reaches me in the lowest, lowest places in the world. The lowest.

    And you know, friends, what’s so beautiful about it? And here I want you to open your hearts. Do you think G d wants you to be somebody else? Is there really such a thing as “low”? There is no such a thing. It is only because I had no light I thought there was high and there was low. Until the light of Chanukah reached me, I understood when I’m standing in the synagogue, I’m praying, I’m high. When I sell herring, I’m low. [On] Chanukah, I realize — what’s wrong with selling herring? It’s G d’s world, right? I can be the highest when I’m selling herring. Do you think I’m only close to G d when I yell “HaShem Echad!”? G d is one? A person can come into my store and buy herring, and I give him change from a dollar, but the way I give it that person — that person knows there is one G d.

    So Chanukah is so good — so good. It’s just the highest there is. And just one more thing, sweetest friends. You know what’s wrong with the world? Any person who has a little bit light in his heart, just a little bit light — they always close the doors on you. I say, “Listen, face it. You are not as high as I am. I have a lot of light, but you can stay outside,” right? “I mean, who are you? I mean, really. Let’s face it. I cannot tell you all the great mysteries of the world, of the Bible — I mean, really, who do you think you are? You have no titles — “ And whatever it is.

    The holiness of Chanukah is that I’m putting the light right at the door of my house. Because if I have light, I’m just waiting for you, please, please come to my house.

    One more thing, friends. G d’s light burns forever. G d’s light burns forever. Don’t worry. Sometimes we think the world is going to the dogs, ‘cause tomorrow morning nothing will be left. We don’t have to worry. It looks to you like the oil is just enough for one night. What am I going to do the rest of the week? You don’t have to worry. G d’s light is burning forever! If you have enough courage to kindle G d’s light for one night, I swear to you it’ll last forever. It’ll last forever.

    Someone comes to you and he says, “Would you like to keep Shabbos?” You’ll say, “Yeh, this Shabbos it so happens that I have time. But, really, next Shabbos, I can’t.” You just keep one Shabbos. But that Shabbos will burn inside of you until you keep the next Shabbos.

    Someone will tell you, you know, “It’s very bad to get angry.” So, you say, “Today I just came back from my vacation in the Bahamas, and I am relaxed. Today I can manage not to get angry, but really, tomorrow, when I’m back in my business, don’t tell me stories about ‘not getting angry’ — you cannot. You gotta yell at your secretary — you gotta yell at everyone; otherwise nothing is ever done.” According to them, the way G d created the word, first He yelled — and then He created the world. ‘Cause otherwise nothing would have been done, right?

    So you tell me you can just not be angry for one day. Okay. You start. You start for one day, for one minute, and G d says, “I promise you — “ Can I ask you why you’re laughing? [Man he addressed answers:] “I was thinking to myself, when you said you were high selling fish, it’s the idea that you did something that you liked…so much and it made you enjoy life so much. I was talking to a dealer in Puerto Rico — “ [Shlomo interjects:] “He’s saying good stuff, this man. Okay, let’s hear it.” [Man resumes speaking:] “I was talking to a dealer in Puerto Rico, and I said, ‘What a job you have — you get to deal blackjack all day long.’ He said, ‘Not me. If you do it for a living it’s just work.’ And you were describing just how high you were, just on life.” [Shlomo says:] “How about becoming partners with me, brother?” [Man responds:] “I didn’t hear.” [Shlomo repeats himself:] “I said, how about becoming partners with me and selling herring?” [Man replies:] “Not a bad idea.”

    [Shlomo strums his guitar and launches into another song.]

    — Recorded by Reuven Goldfarb, and subsequently transcribed by him on the 29th anniversary of the event, in honor of Juliet Lowenthal, z”l, his wife Yehudit’s mother, and Eliana Devorah, his granddaughter. The two honorees share the same Hebrew birthday, 23 Kislev, the day this recording was made, though they were born 95 years apart. Eliana’s Daddy, Yeshayah Simcha, was then 2 ½ years old, and quite vocally present. Her uncle Elishama Hesed was also present, in utero. Thanks are due, of course, to Jerry and Leah Strauss, who organized Shlomo’s visit to Santa Rosa.

  35. Wendy

    Listen to the Flames
    by Rabbi Simon Jacobson

    If we look closely at the details of Chanukah – the Menorah, the history, the number of flames – they can reveal the nature of our soul.

    As the sun sets and the shadows of night descend, we kindle the Menorah creating light in the darkness. Listen carefully to the flames and they will tell you a story, a story that will empower you to live a more profound meaningful life, enabling you to rise up toward challenge and overcome difficulty. Sit near the flames and study them quietly.

    “The flame of God is the soul of a human being,” says the Torah. As flames warm and illuminate their environment, so too you can use your soul to infuse life with warmth and light. Unlike all other physical entities that are drawn earthward, the dancing flames flicker upward defying gravity. Likewise your soul, not satisfied with mere physical comforts, aspires up toward something beyond.

    Chanukah is not just about lighting up our own lives. By placing the Menorah in the window of your home or at your doorpost, you allow the light to radiate into the dark street, illuminating your surroundings. Chanukah reminds us of our ability and responsibility to effect the world around us and prompts us to shine light into the lives of others with daily acts of goodness and kindness. Just as a flame lights another without diminishing itself, so too by sharing yourself you become enhanced rather than diminished. Every day we must increase illumination of ourselves and our environment – each day adding another good deed, lighting an additional flame.

    Chanukah tells yet a deeper story, a story that penetrates the darker shadows of our lives. The Menorah shines a tunnel back through time to the aftermath of a great victory in which a small band of Jews defeated the might of the Greek Empire. In amongst the debris of the desecrated Temple the Maccabees searched ceaselessly until they found a single sealed cruse of oil that miraculously burnt for eight days. When you are defiled, when your inner Temple has been desecrated and there is no oil to be found, you have the power to reach deeper inside and discover light. The soul always remains intact like a “pilot light.” When you light your Menorah under such difficult circumstances, creating light in the darkest moment, that light can never be extinguished. The light that has dealt with challenge, that has transformed pain into growth, is a light that transcends nature and transforms darkness into light.

    This power to transform darkness must come from a place beyond the conventional. We therefore light eight candles, the mystical number of transcendence and infinity, one beyond the number seven that represents the natural cycle. In order to pierce darkness with light, you can’t just rely on the natural, you need to reach a deeper resource which is the eighth dimension.

    These elements of Chanukah – the eight flickering flames, the miracle of the oil, the light shining into the dark street – beckon us to connect to the power of our soul. Our soul rises like a flame toward that which transcends itself, not only repelling darkness as is the nature of all light, but transforming the darkness into light.

  36. Aryae Post author

    Moshav Meor Modiim, Kislev 5749
    Reprinted from Cong. Kehilath Jacob News

    Everybody knows that Chanukah is the culmination of the high holidays. We are accustomed to think that joy and bliss are the highest a human being can aspire to, but our holy rabbis teach us that light is even deeper. So after Simhas Torah, when we experience the greatest joy in the world, we come to Chanukah. Chanukah is the Festival of Light. Chanukah is when we initiate the Third Temple, which shall be rebuilt soon. It is the one week of Chanukah, when every Jewish home is a little bit of the Holy Temple, which gives us the strength to hold out until the Holy Temple will be here for always.

    It is possible to know every word of the Torah, but if the inside light of the Torah is not shining into you out of every word, you are still an outsider.

    Chanukah has two outstanding characteristics:

    On every other holiday you don’t need a house. On Chanukah you need a house to kindle light at the door. On Chanukah when I see someone else kindling, I also say a blessing. When do I know that I’m at home with the Torah? When do I know that the light of the Torah is really my own? If I blow my mind over everyone else’s good deed and I can’t control myself, I have to say a blessing over it.

    It is possible to live in the same house as your wife and children and be strangers to one another. On Chanukah every person in the house is kindling light; every night the light is becoming stronger and deeper and more. Our age is the age of strangers. We’re strangers in our own homes; we’re strangers in our own land; we’re strangers in our own religion.

    Let this Chanukah open the gates for all of us – the lights of Chanukah at the gates [are] to show [us] how holy everyone else is. Let this Chanukah give us the strength to bring light to the whole world, because people only hate each other when they have no home. So our light of Chanukah will show the whole world how deep life is — how deep it is to serve G-d.

    The holy Ishbitzer says the greatest blessing one Jew can give another is to feel at home with the Torah. So many of our generation are assimilated only because nobody made them feel at home with Yiddishkeit. You and I should be privileged to kindle light at the gate of everyone’s heart to make everyone feel at home.


  37. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Raza De Hanukkah
    The Secret of Hanukkah
    In eight poems and a lullaby


    Neir li neir li
    Neir li dakik
    Ba Hanukkah
    Neiri ad-lik

    Ba Hanukkah
    Neiri ya-ir
    Ba Hanukkah
    Shirim a-shir (2X)

    C – F – C
    C – G – C
    Am – G – F
    Em – F – G – C

    On the first night

    We asked questions:

    What kind of light?
    Mai Hanukkah? [Shabbat 21b}
    What is Hanukkah?
    A miracle but which one? [Rashi]

    It hasn’t clarified yet.
    Backwards we are telling the story
    the prophet Elijah standing on a street corner –

    Fire, he said
    as well as light
    some specially created light

    or fire –
    We call Hanukkah
    the festival of lights

    Josephus did too –
    the kind of light
    that burns.

    On the second night

    the Chernobler Rebbe came
    dressed as an angel in Japanese embroidered silk.

    The Chernobler Rebbe opened:
    oil is wisdom
    poured over the head
    of the Priest King Messiah
    overflowing like precious oil on the head
    running down the beard of Aaron. [Ps.133:2]
    The pure finely-beaten, most excellent olive oil –
    the olive that releases its finest product when pressed.

    Smell this, said the Chernobler Rebbe,
    pressing his wrist to my nose
    another quality of oil
    the capacity to absorb.
    I smelled yasmina

    When I make perfume the scent is absorbed into the oil –
    then distilled. Wisdom
    is absorbed from the world this way
    – both its beauty and its contaminants.

    Now, said the Chernobler Rebbe,
    one small vial of pure oil
    when fired up lights everything.
    Wisdom when it is tended burns pure
    burns long burns sure.

    We are all in the game –
    attaching to the pure
    resisting the contaminants lurking
    everywhere around us within us.

    Bind me to the purifications
    separate me from the contaminants –
    O God — a heart of purity create in me. [Ps.51:12]

    On the third night

    an angel came in the form
    of a master of Kabbalah
    he opened with
    Darkness IS Light –

    God separated the light from darkness
    called light day
    and darkness night
    And it was evening and it was morning
    day one.

    In the beginning, darkness and light one,
    a single seamless sourced good
    then the challenge
    subdue the dark
    illumine the good
    the fearful dialectic.

    Light from the luminous essence of darkness –
    this the Hanukkah light.

    Temple menorah lit by day to illumine the night
    Hanukkah menorah
    lit by night to reclaim dark –
    light from darkness itself

    the source of light.

    On the fourth night

    We remembered the opposing Greeks,
    who defiled all the oil except
    one small vial of the pure,
    uncorrupted oil
    shemen tahor
    one small vial that when fired up
    lit up the entire eight days.

    From our prayers –
    The miracle of the few
    Against the many,

    So it is with the quality of light
    – when it is tended it burns pure

    From the holy Temple in Jerusalem
    Lit up
    – the world.

    On the fifth night

    Rebbe Nachman appeared
    he spoke out of a thatch of black beard

    He told this story:
    a young man left home traveled to a faraway land
    where he learned the art of making menorahs.
    When he returned home he went to work.
    He worked alone covering the menorah with a large cloth
    – even the father had not seen it.

    When he was done, he asked his father –
    gather together the townspeople in the square.
    He unveiled his work
    – everyone was silent.
    Each one saw a defect
    – each a different defect.

    The father told his son,
    what one person praised another person cursed.
    That’s what I learned, said the son,
    each defect is in the eyes of the person who sees it.
    I fashioned a menorah entirely out of defects,
    I made the menorah out of flaws.
    Now I will begin its repair.

    Rebbe Nachman always giggled when he came to the end of a story.
    When you find a flaw, he said,
    you find your own flaw.

    On the sixth night

    a tarnished angel appeared

    We fired up the lights, stood staring into the fire.
    What’s the miracle?
    he asked us.

    Light victory power revenge clarity purity
    dedication –

    Afterwards, he asked for a ride to the Metro Link
    and maybe a couple of bucks to get downtown.

    What’s the miracle? I asked him back.
    Grateful, said the angel
    – the miracle is gratitude
    find that and you won’t need anything.

    You’ll breathe into the souls of your feet
    and live as long as you want to.

    On the seventh night

    We turned to the purity within,
    resisting the many contaminants
    Lev tahor bara li Elokim,
    a heart of purity create in me, O G*d [Ps. 51:12]
    we chanted.

    We located this wisdom in the language of soul,
    With tending, caretaking,
    midwifery, it requires our attention –

    Oh Hanukkah
    we fire up the quality of soul
    every year it strengthens
    this is the secret
    the raza of Hanukkah –

    Light up the wisdom within
    let it be brought into the world
    separate it from the contaminants
    care for it in the common
    and uncommon methods
    of soul tending.

    Begin now.

    On the eighth night

    We stared into the candles

    The Temple lit seven
    Hanukkah we light eight
    all natural cycles given in seven.

    Eight –
    surrounding the seven
    the extra measure set around nature
    beyond nature
    the eighth lamp
    light from darkness itself
    darkness as an aspect of light.

    It’s all light
    all over.

    james stone goodman
    united states of america

  38. Wendy

    Chanukah Lesson
    It’s Never Too late From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    Chanukah commemorates an historic event in which a disarmed invaded minority of Jews
    overthrew a powerful, heavily- armed invading majority of Greco-Assyrians some 2,200 years ago. It was then a very dark time for the Jewish people living in Israel, a period that seemed to grow darker and darker as the invading ruler not only stripped them of their national autonomy but also enforced religious edicts that were antithetical to their own ways. Those who violated the bans were slaughtered (First Maccabees 1:44-61).

    Inspired by the bold speech and action of Channah the daughter of the then High Priest Matit’yanu (Midrash Ma’aseh Chanukah, and Midrash L’Chanukah), the Jewish people dared to engage the massive war machine of the Greco-Assyrians and miraculously succeeded in recovering their commonwealth.

    Having won back our freedom to practice our traditions, the elders decided to celebrate the most recent festival which we had been forbidden to celebrate: “Sukkot and Sh’mee’nee Chag Ha’Atzeret, the festival of the Harvest and the Festival of the Eighth (day of) Closure, a combined eight- day festival that would have been celebrated nearly two moons earlier were it not for the religious oppression by the Greco-Assyrians that forbade it.

    And so, to this day, we celebrate eight days of what we all Chanukah, literally “re-dedication”, commemorating our determination to not cancel Sukkot just because the appointed time had passed, but to celebrate it anyway— to remember that it is never too late. Never. In fact, so powerful was this determination, that the elders instructed other Jewish communities, outside of Israel, to celebrate a “second” Sukkot festival for eight days beginning the 25th of Kis’lev, the period when the Jewish people redid their temple rites of Sukkot, however belatedly (Second Book of Maccabees 1:10).

    Not to take away from the original Sukkot festival by focusing on a second one two months later, we decided to celebrate more the miracle of the tiny drop of oil we found when we retook the Temple and re-kindled the Sacred Menorah, a tiny drop that lasted eight days, long enough for us to process fresh olive oil and sanctify it for ritual use.

    Later teachers, in the first century B.C.E., chose to completely ignore the part of the miracle of Chanukah that had to do with military success. Instead, they focused on the miracle of the oil. They felt that while military action is at times a necessity, it must never be a preference, never a first choice, and certainly ought not be celebrated. “Not by might, and not by force,” did the Creator communicate to the Hebrew prophet Zechar’yah three centuries earlier, “but by my Spirit” (Zachariah 4:6).

    Instead of marching about with bows and arrows and flaming torches the Jewish people have for more that two thousand years commemorated this great event – made possible by a miraculous military victory – with gentle flames of hope and of peace. Military victories are great, but also tragic. Armies are necessary, but do not deserve celebration. On the contrary, war was despised. “I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land” (Hosea 2:18). The vision of the Hebrew scriptures was that swords would one day be beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks, and that eventually “no one would learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:-4). This at a time when Plato and Aristotle, on the other hand, were glorifying war (Politics 1:8). On the other hand, the Hebrew King David was disqualified from building the Temple of God because his hands had shed blood in battle (Second Chronicles 22:8). “If one sheds blood, “the Torah warns, “It is considered as if he has diminished the image of God” (Genesis 9:6). In fact, it was for this very reason that the altar of the ancient Jews was not to be constructed with the use of knives or swords, since these could also be used as weapons (Exodus 20:22). And even when the ancient Jews went about warring, compared to those around them they were considered even by their enemies as a compassionate folk (First Kings 20:31).

    What we do need to celebrate is possibility, the possibility of peaceful co-existence on this tiny, fragile planet. Chanukah is a reminder of this. Just when the nights are getting longer, and it is growing darker and darker, precisely at that time do we celebrate with light, with demonstrations of our belief that no matter how hopeless it seems, it isn’t. Like my teacher Rav Eliezer used to say: “When you are at the very edge, reach out for the Creator’s hand and take one more step.”

    Because it’s never too late. Never.

  39. Wendy

    From Rabbi Ivan Ickovits 2007

    Some years ago when talking with Pir Vilayat he mentioned the dervish practice of gazing at a fire for insights into the future. This time of year I find myself putting that into practice.

    One of the exercised of Chanukah is gazing at the lit candles each night. If you look at the sum total of all the candles for the 8 nights not including the lighting candle there are a total of 36 candles.<1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 = 36> Some midrashes connect this 36 with the number of hours in the Garden of Eden that the primordial light at the beginning of creation was in place, before the exile from the garden, and before hiding of that primordial light. Now according to some traditions, we don’t have ready access to that primordial light, but do get temporary access at very special times of year. Chanukah is a time of access. So when repeating the blessings over the candles some people say Ner shel Chanukah, and others say Ner Chanukah. This is because for some this is just a cyclical return to lighting candles for chanukah, and for others this is the reconnection with the primordial light of creation back in the garden which was reputed to be of such clarity and purity so as to allow prophetic vision of what is to come. (some traditions relate the 36 candles with the need or 36 enlightened beings who sustain the flow from the upper regions into manifested creation sometimes known as the lamed vavniks—the thirty sixers.

    In the spinning of the dreidel, some folks take the 4 faces of the dreidel to be indicative of the 4 kingdoms that have ruled and governed the children of Israel over the years. The central axis of the dreidel is indicative of the power of unity focused on a central point of rotation—the Holy One of Being. Again gazing at the spinning dreidel one can be pulled into the flow of history and human evolution continuously transforming but anchored on the One.

  40. Wendy

    From Neo Hasid Website, http://www.NeoHasid.org

    Reb Nachman from Rabbi David Seidenberg
    The Existential Dreidel
    Heh is Hiyuli, primordial; Nun is Nivdal, the transcendental; Gimel is Galgal, the celestial; Shin is Shafal, the physical.

    from Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom (Sichot Haran), sec. 40

    A Rotating Wheel

    The world is a rotating wheel. It is like a dreidel, where everything goes in cycles. Human becomes angel, and angel becomes human. Head becomes foot and foot becomes head. Everything goes in cycles, revolving and alternating. All things interchange, one from another and one to another, elevating the low and lowering the high.

    All things have one root. There are transcendental beings, such as angels, which have no connection with the material. There is the celestial world, whose essence is very tenuous. Finally, there is the world below, which is completely physical. All three come from different realms but all have the same root.

    All creation is like a rotating wheel, revolving and oscillating. At one time something can be on top like a head with another on the bottom like a foot. Then the situation is reversed. Head becomes foot and foot becomes head. Man becomes angel and angel becomes man…

    For the world is like a rotating wheel. It spins like a dreidel, with all things emanating from one root.

    (The feet of some are also higher than the heads of others. For in the transcendental worlds, the lowest level of an upper world is higher than the highest level of a lower one. And still, everything revolves in cycles.)

    The Temple: Highest Below and Lowest Above.

    Chanukah means dedication. This is the dedication of the Holy Temple, “the highest below and the lowest above.” This revolving wheel is the dreidel. That is why we play with a dreidel on Chanukah.

    The primary concept of the Temple is the revolving wheel. The Temple was in the category of “the highest below and the lowest above”. God lowered His presence into the Temple and this is “the highest below”. The Temple’s pattern was engraved on high: “the lowest above”. The Temple is therefore like a dreidel, a rotating wheel, where everything revolves and is reversed.

    The Temple refutes philosophical logic. God is above every transcendental concept, and it is beyond all logic that God should constrict God’s self into the vessels of the Temple. “Behold the heaven and the heaven of heaven cannot contain You, how much less this Temple!” (I Kings 8:27).

    (Philosophy cannot explain how humanity can have any influence on high. It cannot say how a mere animal can be sacrificed and rise as a sweet savor giving pleasure to God. They [theologians] explain that this pleasure is the fulfillment of God’s will, but how can we even apply the concept of desire to God?)

    But God placed God’s presence in the Temple and accepts the animal as a sweet savor. God made the fact contradict philosophical logic. Such logic is crushed by the dreidel, the rotating wheel which brings the “highest below and the lowest above”.

    One Root to All Things

    Between potential and existence stands the power of hyle [primordial matter from which the world was created]. The three categories of creation—transcendental, celestial, physical—all come from this one root. As they interchange, they all revolve around this root.

    The letters on the dreidel are Heh, Nun, Gimel, Shin.

    Heh is Hiyuli, primordial [from the Greek word hyle].
    Nun is Nivdal, the transcendental [from the word for separation].
    Gimel is Galgal, the celestial [from the word for sphere].
    Shin is Shafal, the physical [from the word for fallen].

    The dreidel thus includes all creation. It goes in cycles, alternating and revolving, one thing becoming another.

    Redemption Is a Wheel

    Redemption is also an alternating cycle. Like in the Temple, the highest are below and the lowest above. Redemption was for the sake of the Temple, the revolving wheel. For when the highest are below and the lowest above, it shows that all things have one root.

    This is the aspect of the verse, “You redeemed the tribe of Your inheritance, Mount Zion.” This is [again] the meaning of the letters on the dreidel. They are the first letters of the verse: Go’alto Shevet Nachalatekha Har Tziyon.

    It is the aspect of the Holy Temple [on Mount Zion, Har Tziyon], symbolizing the revolving wheel which is the main concept of redemption.

  41. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jill Hammer The Jewish Book of Days

    Woman of Fire

    Seventh Day of Hanukkah/New Moon of Tevet

    The book of Judith tells that Holofernes, a general of Nebuchadnezzar, beseiges Judith’s city, Bethulia. The city elders want to surrender. Judith, a wise, beautiful, and pious widow, promises to save the city. She goes to the enemy camp an convinces Holofernes that she believes in his victory. Flattered, he plans to seduce her. While he sleeps, she cuts off his head. The enemy flees, the city is saved, and Judith leads a procession to the Temple. Though Judith’s story is not a Hanukkah story, many medieval menorahs bear Judith’s image. Judith is a flaming branch, a symbol of the light chasing away the darkness of winter. When she returns from her brave deed, the people light candles to welcome her. We remember Judith’s story at the season of inner fire.

    Jews of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia celebrated 1 Tevet as the Festival of the Daughters, a time to honor Judith and all heroines. Mothers would give their daughters gifts on that day and pass inheritances to them. Old women and young women would come together to dance. Another tradition was for women to pray for the health of their daughters. 1 Tevet, the darkest night of winter, is a time to draw the generations together, letting the root of one generation grow into a new cluster of strong branches.

    Source cited, Judith 13:3-16

  42. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jill Hammer The Jewish Book of Days

    Feast of Double Life

    According to the commentary known as the B’nei Yissachar, the matriarch Leah conceives Issachar during Hanukkah. In Genesis, Leah’s son Reuben brings her some mandrakes (an aphrodisiac and fertility aid) and her sister, Rachel, wants them because she has never been able to conceive. Leah trades Rachel the mandrakes for a night with Jacob, their husband.

    Leah, the mother of six sons and one daughter, is intimately linked to Hanukkah. Leah plus all her children equals 8. Furthermore, the Hebrew word “Leah” adds up (in the Jewish numerology known as gematria) to 36, the nember of Hanukkah candles we light. The Hebrew word for “life”, chai, equals 18; and 36, in gematria, is double chai, or twice life.

    Thus double chai of Hanukkah could refer to Rachel and Leah, the sisters who battle over their husband, Jacob. In the midrash by Norma Rosen, Leah and Rachel conspire to pour their life forces together. Each acknowledges the other’s share in creating the tribes of Israel.

    On Hanukkah, as we light the 36 candles, we remember Leah–whose name equals the double chai— and Rachel who helped Leah give life. We too ask for double life: life for us and for the world.

  43. Wendy

    From Rabbi Hershel Yolles

    A few words about Chanukah:

    It was, if you will, an energy crisis. The pure, uncontaminated oil for the Menorah should only have lasted for one night, but it lasted for eight. So, it was not an energy crisis in the mundane meaning, but rather a spiritual energy crisis. .., and thus there was a spiritual solution provided by HaShem to show His appreciation for the self-sacrifice of the Jews, few in numbers and weak militarily. For their self-sacrifice in battling the mighty Greek armed forces of a super power. And as we conclude in the Haftara “lo bachayil v’lo bakoach ki im b’ruchi amar HaShem Tzivakot” ” ‘not through armies and not through might, but through My spirit’ says HaShem Master of Legions” (Zechariah 4:6). In fact the light of the menorah that burned on the first Chanukah IS the OR HAGANUZ. The light of “let there be light” from the beginning of Creation.

    Indeed the Or HaGanuz shines in each one’s Chanukah candles. The Chanukah candles that we light, each and all of us, is the Or HaGanuz that shines in our homes. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the Or HaGanuz (the light that was hidden at Creation) was hidden in Torah study. By our dedication to increase our learning Torah, not coerced but with the joy that it brings, we hasten the inflow of the total and perceived Or HaGanuz. And through our contribution this will be revealed for all to see at the time of the eagerly awaited Tikkun Olam with the arrival of Mashiach.

    L’Ilui Nishmat HaRav HaTzaddik Rabbeinu Chanan Velvel Simcha a”h ben Reb Elya sheyichye



  44. Aryae Post author


    From: HolyBeggars: A Journey From Haight Street to Jerusalem

    December 1968 – House of Love and Prayer

    “By the big Hassidishe rebbes,” Shlomo says, “the greatest thing in the world is to make wicks for the Hanukah lights.” It’s late afternoon before the first night of Hanukah. We’re sitting around the big table in the dining room, across from the prayer room. A dozen of us around the table, another eight or ten on metal chairs between the table and the cabinets across the room. A few more people are sitting on the floor, leaning against the cabinets.

    On the table there are shot glasses, dozens of them, and blue boxes of cotton, the kind you get at the drug store. At the other end are a couple of large bottles of olive oil. I watch Chaya open a box. She does it very carefully, slowly pulling out the paper roll from inside, gingerly pulling back the blue paper and removing the fluffy white cotton. She lays it on top of a little pile of cotton rolls near the shot glasses. Shlomo is also watching her. He sees me looking at him and suddenly flashes me a smile. “Chayale’s the sweetest!” he says.

    I look up at Bernice, who’s sitting in a metal chair, holding Judy in her lap. She grins at me. The chair looks too small for her. Marvin, sitting next to her, is whispering something to a young guy sitting on the floor. They laugh. I can hear the front door open and close, and then Donna walks in. Shlomo sees her, stands up to give her a hug, and invites her to join everyone at the table. Someone gets her a chair. It’s hard to squeeze it in at the table, so she sits back a little, near Marv and Bernice.

    The late afternoon light is glowing in from the dining room windows. It makes Alex’s red beard and payas look even redder. He’s sitting directly across the table from Shlomo, facing the window. I’m sitting next to Shlomo, on his left, facing the room. It’s starting to get dark inside but no one wants to break the mood by switching on the ceiling lights. In a couple of hours, when it’s time to light the candles, other people will come to be with us, lots of them. I don’t know how they will find out. We haven’t done any publicity. But when Shlomo’s here, it always seems to happen. All of us sitting around the table can feel it. For now, we’re enjoying the quiet, the sweetness of this special time together. No one is saying anything. I can hear people breathing. Time is moving so slowly, or maybe not at all.

    Shlomo picks up one of the cotton rolls, tears off a piece of cotton, and rolls it into a wick. I’m surprised at how quick and expert his hands are at this task. Soon he has a small pile of wicks in front of him. One by one, the rest of us at the table start doing the same. I feel the soft cotton in my hands. My wick is bulging in the middle. I try to even it out, to make it straight. My hands feel clumsy. Alex seems to have gotten the hang of it, and soon has as many wicks as Shlomo.

    “By Lubavitch,” Shlomo says, “the wick is the symbol of the body, and the oil is the symbol of the soul. Everybody knows that eight days is the symbol of infinity. The whole thing of Hanukah is the holiness of this one drop of oil. We each have it, one drop of pure, holy oil.

    “You know, the first two Hebrew letters of Hannukah are hes and nun, which stand for hinuch, education. How does the world say we should educate our children? Children, what do they know, right? So in kindergarten, we give them some toys to play with, and in first grade we teach them the ABCs, and in 2nd grade, maybe we teach them the multiplication tables. Then by the time they get to graduate school, if we haven’t already turned them off to everything, maybe we can start to talk about what really matters, about the meaning of life, about what they’re here in this world to do, right?

    “Let me ask you something else. How do you teach Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? Hardest thing in the world, right? I remember I sat in a class at Columbia University, where a distinguished professor gave a lecture on the Theory of Relativity. It was so complicated, I hate to say it, but I couldn’t understand what he was talking about.” He laughs. “There was another professor sitting next to me. After the class he says to me, ‘You know, once I was privileged to hear Professor Einstein himself, teaching Relativity to a class of 2nd graders. And you know what? They understood it!’

    “So you know, my darling friends, you know how deep this is?” He closes his eyes and rocks back and forth, like he’s davening. Then he stops and looks around at us. “It means that someone who really knows, like Einstein, knows with a different kind of knowing. He sees how a child has the vessels, and he knows how to give him the whole thing.”

    The room is very quiet. I look across the table. Alex has his eyes closed. He’s stroking his beard and rocking back and forth like Shlomo. Judy is sleeping now in Bernice’s lap. Miriam is on the stairs, holding Noah, looking at Alex and Shlomo.

    “After the Holy Temple was desecrated, people said, ‘Why bother?’ Right? There’s not enough oil.” Suddenly Shlomo looks up. His eyes quickly scan the room, taking in everyone. He smiles at Miriam. “Okay my friends, listen with your heart. You know what our problem is? We underestimate ourselves. We underestimate our children. I look at myself, I look at them, and I say, ‘How long can this drop last? How far can it go?’ The miracle of Hanukah is, just light it. Just light the light, and with this one drop, you can keep going forever.”

  45. Aryae Post author

    Reb Shlomo

    Collected by Reb Sholom Brodt

    Chanukah Gems from Reb Shlomo zt”l on

    Why does fire flicker all the time? Fire flickers because it is longing so much for something holy and exalted.
    Light is the level of the reaching higher than yourself, deeper than everything in the world. You can learn something and know more or feel more.
    This is not the level of light yet. Sometimes you learn a word and it gets very deep in your heart. Suddenly you reach somewhere deeper than the deepest part of yourself. This is called light. That is where you have your house.
    The house is the one place where you are yourself. More isn’t the best word.
    You are really yourself. You reach so deep that it is infinite.
    On Chanukah we want to wipe our pagan worship. In Hebrew pagan worship is called, ‘Avodah Zarah’ – strange worship. That means pagan worship is worship that you are a stranger to. You are serving God, but you are serving God like a stranger. You do everything like stranger. The whole meaning of Chanukah is that we are wiping out ‘Avodah Zara’, wiping out ‘strange worship’. Everything we do has to flow from the deepest depths of our hearts.
    Many of us Jews are strangers to our own holidays. We are strangers to everything holy. We do it, but who cares about it? We don’t feel anything before we celebrate a holiday, and we don’t feel anything afterwards.
    Why are we losing our children? There is nothing in the Yiddishkeit that we offer them. If you tell children something and it doesn’t come from the deepest depths of your heart, they don’t want to listen. They are 100% right. To tell the truth, I don’t want to buy it either.

    I want to bless you and me and all our children that we should always find people to teach us about God. We should feel close to it. We should feel at home with it.
    If we danced with our children each time they learned one more letter, they would keep on learning. Each time a child learns one letter it is mind blowing! If we realized this, each time a child learned one more word of Torah we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves for joy. Then our children would keep on learning.
    The blessing that we say over the light is, ‘l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah’ – to kindle the light of Chanukah. We don’t say, ‘…b’Chanukah’ – to kindle the light on Chanukah. We kindle the light OF Chanukah. That means that the light is there already. We have only to kindle it. The light we are seeing right now is the light of my grandfather and your grandfather. It is actually the light of the Kohanim, the Priests. It is the same light that burned from the bit of oil which lasted eight days in the time of the Holy Temple. It’s the SAME light. It is waiting in Heaven all year to be brought down through kindling of the Chanukah lamps.
    Rav Nachman said that any time you make a mistake, you hate one person in the world. This is because a mistake makes your heart unholy. Obviously, the people who hate the whole world have made many mistakes.

    I want to share something unbelievable with you. On Yom Kippur, God forgives us for our mistakes. On Simchas Torah we dance them off. When does God fix our hearts? When does He take out all the hatred and all the evil from our hearts? When does God give us back the holiness of seeing somebody else’s light and saying a blessing over it? When do we see that somebody else’s light is SO beautiful? On Chanukah!

    Chanukah is the time of Aaron the High Priest. Aaron’s specialty was making peace between two people. How can someone make peace between people? Aaron HaKohen had the holiness of being able to actually cleanse a person’s heart of hatred. This is a very special blessing.

    Each time you make a mistake you hurt somebody. But you know what else? Each time you make a mistake, sadly enough, you love your children less. Your heart is not pure enough any more. Children need a pure heart. The need the purest light.

    When does God clean our hearts again so we can have the privilege of giving over Torah to our children? On Chanukah.

    The holiness of Chanukah lights is that they burn even in the middle of the night. We are crying, “If I make mistakes again next year, let this Chanukah light shine oil into all my darkness. Let this Chanukah light keep me from ever hating people. Let this Chanukah light give me so much holiness that all the darkness of the world can not take away my love for my children.”
    Chanukah is the highest kind of fixing the world.

    If each time you make a mistake you hate somebody else, let’s face it, each time you make a mistake you hate yourself. Each time you make a mistake you get further away from your own neshamah, from your own heart. On Yom Kippur God fixes your soul. But when does your light shine again? When can you look in the mirror and see a great light instead of a shmendrik? When do you see your light again? On Chanukah. All year long whatever you do you think is nothing. Whenever you do anything you think, “It’s bad. It’s stupid. It’s nothing.” This is because you think so little of yourself. On Chanukah you kindle a candle and you know it’s God’s light. You realize you are bringing down God’s light. You realize that you have been bringing God’s light down into the world all year long.

    I want to bless you and bless myself that this Chanukah should fix us. It should reach the darkest corners in our hearts. Everybody knows that the nights of Chanukah are the longest and the darkest nights. This means that the light of Chanukah reaches into the darkest places. In the dark night I suddenly realize, “Gevalt, this is God’s light!”
    The young people of today are not unlike the young people in the days of the Maccabees. They too have strayed from their holy tradition. We need someone like Judah Maccabee to show us how beautiful it is to be a Jew. Young people must understand that G-d needs each of them to make a special contribution to our religion, that only they are capable of making. Every day we are supposed to add new lights. G-d wants even the most alienated person to be a shining light. On Chanukah we see in the shining lights only the beauty of people.
    Everybody knows that Chanukah is the culmination of the high holidays. We are accustomed to think that joy and bliss are the highest a human being can aspire to, but our holy rabbis teach us that light is even deeper. So after Simhas Torah, when we experience the greatest joy in the world, we come to Chanukah. Chanukah is the Festival of Light. Chanukah is when we initiate the Third Temple, which shall be rebuilt soon. It is the one week of Chanukah, when every Jewish home is a little bit of the Holy Temple, which gives us the strength to hold out until the Holy Temple will be here for always.
    Chanukah has two outstanding characteristics:

    On every other holiday you don’t need a house. On Chanukah you need a house to kindle light at the door. On Chanukah when I see someone else kindling, I also say a blessing. When do I know that I’m at home with the Torah? When do I know that the light of the Torah is really my own? If I blow my mind over everyone else’s good deed and I can’t control myself, I have to say a blessing over it.

    It is possible to live in the same house as your wife and children and be strangers to one another. On Chanukah every person in the house is kindling light; every night the light is becoming stronger and deeper and more.

    Our age is the age of strangers. We’re strangers in our own homes; we’re strangers in our own land; we’re strangers in our own religion.

    Let this Chanukah open the gates for all of us — the lights of Chanukah at the gates to show how holy everyone else is. Let this Chanukah give us the strength to bring light to the whole world, because people only hate each other when they have no home. So our light of Chanukah will show the whole world how deep life is — how deep it is to serve G-d.

    The holy Ishbitzer says the greatest blessing one Jew can give another is to feel at home with the Torah. So many of our generation are assimilated only because nobody made them feel at home with Yiddishkeit. You and I should be privileged to kindle light at the gate of everyone’s heart to make everyone
    feel at home.
    Chanukah is the Festival of Light, the one Light, the only\Light. The Light which will save the world. Let it be soon.\
    Sometimes we blow out our own candles; so on\Chanukah Hashem gives us back the light we need the\most.\
    Chanukah is the holiday when the Talmud says,\”Chanukah is a man and his house,” meaning that the\whole family has to come together. Because between\husband and wife, parents and children, you can stand\next to each other for a thousand years and be as far\away as two million eternities.
    Chanukah is the great\light when we see each other again; according to the\Kabbalistic tradition it is deeper than Yom Kippur. It\is the holy of holiest, not in the Holy Temple, but in my\own house. We kindle the light by the door to tell the\people — the outside people — who have not yet found\their own house, who have not yet found their own\soul, who have not yet found even their own friend.\And we share our light with them.\ \ All the hatred in the world is only because people\don’t see each other.
    Chanukah is the holiday that we\are closest to the Messiah and, gevalt, do we need the\world to see us one time! And gevalt, do we need all\the Jews one time to see the holiness of being Jewish!\Let it be this year. Amen.\
    Thank G-d we have good street lights. People can find the banks, the movies, the nightclubs and the ice cream parlors. But the world is still dark, because the light in the world is to see your own heart, to see the people you love, to really see the deepest depths of life, the deepest depths of the Torah.
    Good Chanukah, Good Yom Tov, G-d needs every light of Hanukah. G-d needs every Jewish home. The world needs every Jewish home to fill the whole world with light.


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