MIRACLE OF LIGHT
With Hanukkah fast approaching this Sunday eve, there is a welcome pause that occurs in my world before the mayhem of December. My aunt and I joke about the holiday being “early” this year as many people compare the holiday, all Jewish holidays as a matter of fact, to the Christian ones close by. I can hear my former mother in law asking me, “When is your Christmas? When is your Easter?” Patience. Breathe. Don’t react. Jewish holidays are never “early or late;” they are perfectly on time because they are based on the cycle of the sun and moon, the Hebrew Calendar, not the Gregorian calendar we have been born and raised with. The holiday falls on the twenty-fifth day in the Hebrew month of Kislev, the darkest day both solar and lunar. Hanukkah falls during the waning moon into the new moon. If you are eager to learn about the moon cycles and Jewish Holidays this article is excellent-
There is no accident that the Festival of Light would fall on a waning moon and take eight nights to move towards the new moon. We are lighting a symbolic candle each night adding one to complete the holiday, reminding me at least that we have the power to bring our own light slowly and steadily to the proverbial table. We celebrate the miracle of light because the famous story goes that after the temple was destroyed around 165 BCE and the rebuilding was about to happen, there was not enough oil to keep the light burning- then a miracle happened and the oil burned for eight days. This has been the story we have taught our children for generations, but there is so much more to the story. This minor holiday is filled with symbolism of miracles and divine intervention, of resilience and resistance, but it is a minor holiday. In fact the whole gift giving is really not historical, but likely more of a tradition that happened because of its regular proximity to Christmas. I am not here, though to discuss physical ‘presents’ but rather the magic of reflection and the symbolism of light in its darkness.
What is light anyway? Why is it so important? As aging human beings, it is likely that we will experience areas of darkness in our lives, death, loss, tragedy, sadness are all part of the fabric of our lives. Darkness is part of the day, but so is light and the light is the wake up call. In Darkness, we go deep within, in Light, we open our hearts and broaden our view. In lightness we can see further on the horizon. Every Jewish holiday requires candle lighting. It is welcoming the light in the beginning of each holiday and it is the moment of reflection and meditation as we say hello to the moment. Thank you God for reminding us to light these candles by your commandments. It is a commandment to literally stop and smell the roses. Not just on Jewish holidays, but on every single Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, the most important ‘holiday’ in Judaism actually.
I did not grow up in a religious family; I grew up in a cultural one. This is the luxury in some ways of Judaism; there are so many options within the scope of its history to participate. This is also the potential downfall as it is not nearly as easy to “keep the faith,” when everywhere you turn there is the white bearded Santa Ho Ho Ho-ing and the Easter bunny hop hop hopping. So in some instances especially with no Jewish family around except for my son and me, I must make my own traditions. What I treasure about the Jewish Holidays is the lack of obvious predictability in their schedules; precisely their lack of consistency each time they roll around. Shabbat, though, is predictable. Every Friday night, every Saturday until the first three stars show up in the sky, Shabbat never lets me down. It is always there for the taking and most often I let it pass by with barely a glimmer except when I am visiting my grandfather, then it is full throttle Shabbat. Synagogue and all. Shabbat is the glorious reminder, if you are a believer in the divine, that God knew the days of the week would fly by and would come with excessive work. That life comes at you and despite it all, you need a day off to rest and recover and reconnect with a higher purpose. I take great comfort in this knowing that I can take a gigantic step back into the call to rest on a Friday night whenever I need to. I am usually surprised that I don’t because I feel so good when I do.
Last year Hanukkah landed on Christmas, this year it is December 2nd, a Sunday night. With the world accelerating each year passing me by, the Jewish Holidays are a welcome respite to bring light back in, to pause, to invite friends to replace my absent family, to see my son in the middle of a school week, to end the year with connection and spirituality. Hanukkah, this year, “early” in the month, gives me a chance to slow down and cook for people I love and to share my own light. This time around it also reminds me of my spirituality that in the busy-ness of my life has left the building. Judasim, my faith, my interpretation of its symbolic presence in my life kind of like an Alanon meeting is always there and I am guilty of taking it for granted thinking that because it is always there, it will always be there. This is a mistake that needs correction.
This year, after the horrors of what seems like a mass shooting a day, I must attend to my spirituality with more consciousness. Not doing so allows assimilation to move in and claim what my great grandparents escaped from when they left the Russian pogroms in the early twentieth century. Ambivalence and taking my faith for granted does not honor the prevalence of hate crimes increasing daily, it does not recognize the tragic loss of life at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg or honor any other group of citizens practicing and worshipping at their own churches and congregations. Whatever I decide to do, however it unfolds, there will be more of a conscious purpose to get back to something that I love. Judaism’s traditions and rich history of survival and resilience feeds my soul in a way like no other. This upcoming Hanukkah, like most of the Jewish Holidays gives me that gift. The gift to stop, think, act, participate, love, connect with my own light and with the people in my life who feel the same. This is a true miracle. May you have much light on any dark days and when there seems to be an absence of light, may the pause and connection remind you that the sun does indeed come up every day.