Written and Presented by Rev. Debi Brady
(Originally given as Hanukkah-A Different Kind of Light on 12/7/2001 and posted on The Spiritual Spa in the early 2000s)
The Bible passage is taken from the Living Bible, Psalm 67:
O God, in mercy bless us; let your face beam with joy as you look down at us.
Send us around the world with the news of your saving power and your eternal plan for all mankind.
How everyone throughout the earth will praise the Lord!
How glad the nations will be, singing for joy because you are their King and will give true justice to their people!
Praise God, O world! May all the peoples of the earth give thanks to you.
For the earth has yielded abundant harvests. God, even our own God, will bless us. And peoples from remotest lands will worship him.
I’m taking my topic from a book entitled “A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book of Celebration.” Hanukkah for the Jewish year of 5762 begins this evening . For those of you who are unfamiliar with how this Jewish tradition began and its deeper spiritual significance-let me illuminate you.
Hanukkah is the mid-winter holiday preceding Christmas. And, although, most Jews do not celebrate the birth of Jewish mystic and Christian savior we call Jesus of Nazareth, these two holidays do share some other common elements. For eight days, Hanukkah, which is the Hebrew term for rededication, is celebrated with ritual gift-giving and candle-lighting. Religious significance and reflection upon personal and family awareness are also integral to both holidays. And, there can be a deeper, healing significance as well.
During Hanukkah, a Menorah with its special arrangement of nine candles is lit. Eight of the candles are for each night of Hanukkah, and the highest candle, known as the Shamash or “servant”, is used to light the other candles. These eight special candles are blessed and then lit each evening, and a gift is then exchanged between family members. Eight days and eight candles are symbolic-they commemorate the miracle that a flask holding only enough oil for one night’s work burned for eight.
Noam Sachs Zion, who edited the book entitled, “A Different Light,” refers to Hanukkah in terms of his forthcoming book, “Soul Print-Our Personal Essence,” as our hidden light, which he calls the DNA of the soul. He uses the metaphor of the whirling dreidel as the dance of life which transforms our occasional lows into meaningful experiences. For those of you who are not familiar with this, a dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters printed on its sides. In Israel, these letters mean “A Miracle Happened Here.” I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood where I learned to spin a dreidel as a game played during recess. At the time, I didn’t draw any special meaning from this game, but remember being fascinated with the Hebrew characters. I knew what each letter represented along with the rules of the game. Now, many years later, I’ve become fascinated by the deeper spiritual meaning.
As children, we learn things of the physical realm through games, instruction and experience. We generally take things at face value. But, as we mature, we become increasingly aware…and often distressed…about how many familiar things seem to have changed meanings. The comfortable definitions that we learned as children take on a different significance. The holidays are just one example of this. It’s important to keep in mind that we are a combination of physical and spiritual dimensions as we explore the various meanings to be found in this Jewish celebration.
In an article, Rabbi Shaya Karlisky noted that there are still a number of questions which frequently arise when discussing Hanukkah, such as, why is it important to distinguish between the Written and Oral Torahs and why is it celebrated for eight days. The answers provide a deeper understanding of how Hanukkah has shaped modern Judaism and can enhance our lives as metaphysicians.
As the story goes, after capturing the region, which included Jerusalem, the Greeks placed many restrictions on the Jewish people, referred to as “decrees.” One of these decrees was that the written Torah would be translated into Greek and thereafter the oral Torah would be banned. You should understand that Greeks actually appreciated the wisdom of the Torah. They believed in nature, and they worshipped it. They placed primary importance externals, such as the physical body and the survival of the fittest, which still have a great influence on our culture even today.
In contrast to this, the Jewish philosophy is that we are the outward revelation of God, the Divine in every aspect of creation. Rabbi Karlisky points to how modern discoveries in quantum mechanics has shown us that the physical world works on an atomic level similar to the metaphysical world of the Kabalists. It is by exploring this duality between these two ancient cultures that we can better understand our own spirituality.
The fundamental conflict between Israel and Greece is illustrated in the two dimensions of our reality: the inner dimension, or what appears obvious on the surface; and the hidden essence of “what you see is what you get.” The exterior dimension of the Written Torah is found in the Old Testament of the Bible and is the basis of three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is the Oral Torah’s inner hidden dimension, which hides its Divine aspects. When studied by a scholar, the Written Torah has no real impact without its inner dimension which is found in the oral tradition. The Greeks believed that the essence of the person was not altered by external wisdom and therefore has no inner affect. They thought that by keeping the Written Torah to themselves they could eliminate the Oral Torah. It is the Torah’s inner, hidden dimensions, which Jews view as life itself.
Jews also believe in an ongoing relationship between God and man, and that the natural laws are related to our spiritual reality. As Rabbi Karlisky put so eloquently, “Without man’s input, there are holidays with no holiness. Man can actually create hidden spiritual reality.” Judaism maintains that we have the ability to transcend our natural instincts and that we are the unification of the external shell that we call our physical body and our internal dimension often called our soul.
We turn now to the significance of the use of the number eight in the celebration of Hanukkah. An important aspect of the number eight can be seen by understanding the very common use of seven found in scripture and throughout the natural world around us. Picture the six directions, north, south, east, west, above and below, of our three-dimensional world with ourselves in the center, representing seven points. We are this seventh point that represents the spiritual dimension existing within nature. It is man’s ability to transcend his nature which is represented by the number eight and celebrated by the eight days of Hanukkah.
The number eight transcends the order of nature. Our culture reflects an existence, which is limited to the dimensions of nature, and based on “seven.” All things can have a deeper meaning, if they based on this eighth dimension. It is within our ability as humans to transcend nature, to rise above those things which we can easily relate to with our five senses, and become one with the Universe. We are, in essence, God expressed in physical and spiritual forms. It is this aspect that we see embodied in the Christ. This is not a matter of being saved in the classical sense taught in most Christian churches, but rather, we are “saving” ourselves from the trap of living solely in the physical form. We can be “saved” by transcending these seven dimensions of nature in which we’ve come to put our trust.
There is another aspect of this holiday season that is inherent in both the Christian celebration of Christmas and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. It is the great potential for physical and spiritual healing.
Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, the Director of the National Center for Jewish Healing, said in her article called “Blessing And Extending The Light,” that beneath usual meanings of the holiday, a deep universal and personal significance may be discovered. The Temple represents the “house of God” within our bodies. If we recognize our bodies’ sacredness and offer thanks for all their inherent miracles, we can then rededicate ourselves to God and humankind.
Since this holiday takes place during the winter solstice, it is literally the darkest time of the year. By the lighting of candles, we can draw a little light into the world and appreciate it as a blessing.
We are also reminded that it is during this time that we should keep all those who are in need of healing in our thoughts and prayers. When we think of praying, we should consider any expression of sympathy or concern an act of prayer. Prayer is not only a structured verse found in religious texts, it can be as simple as a couple of words of thanks for that which we enjoy or even meditation, if our intention is one of thankfulness. Healing starts at home, with ourselves at the center of our thoughts and prayer…radiating this awareness out from the center of our being into the Universe. By meditating upon the light in a darkened room with clear intentions for healing, we can find comfort, inspiration, and perspective in this simple and personal ritual.
The Rabbi notes that greatest “Hanukkah gift” is that of light. Our prayers and deeds of loving kindness can spark hope and illuminate our lives with renewed meaning and direction. Isaiah 58:8 says, “Then shall Your light burst through like dawn, and Your healing spring up quickly.”
Let me leave you with Rabbi Weintraub’s Ritual of Healing for the First Night of Hanukkah.
After reciting or chanting the appropriate verse from Psalms, a candle is lit. And, since this is first night of Hanukkah, the following verse from Psalms 27:1 would be used:
Adonai is my Light and my Salvation – whom will I fear? Adonai is the Strength of my life – who can make me afraid?”
Let me close with the prayer blessing this night’s intentions:
Adonai, my God, Source of healing and hope, we dedicate this night of Hanukkah to those who are experiencing pain or symptoms.
Give them and those who care for them rich blessings of strength and support, solace and determination.
Illumine their lives with insight and guidance, and shine peace and serenity on their path.