Hanukkah: A Light Meditation

Looking into the flame.

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What Do Colors Represent?

What do these colors represent? The Zohar describes the following;

"In the flame itself there are two lights: one white and luminous, the other black or blue. The white light is the higher of the two and rises steadily. The black or blue light is underneath the other, which rests on it as on a pedestal. The two are inseparably connected, the white resting and being enthroned upon the black…This blue or black base is in turn attached to something beneath it which keeps it in flame and impels it to cling to the white light above. This blue or black light sometimes turns red, but the white light above never changes its color. The lower light, which is sometimes black, sometimes blue, and sometimes red, is a connecting link between the white light to which it is attached above and to the concrete body to which it is attached below, and which keeps it alight. This light always consumes anything which is under it or which is brought in contact with it, for such is its nature, to be a source of destruction and death. But the white light which is above it never consumes or destroys and never changes. (1 Zohar. p. 51a.)

So there are two differences, one is that the darker light continually fluctuates and changes colors, whereas the white light is a constant. Another variant is that the darker fire, unlike the white light, needs to consume and destroy another to exist.

This lower more dense fire is a reflection of all of physical life, in which life feeds off death and everything in nature is continuously altering and putting on different coats. In the physical plane of existence, in order for one living organism to survive it must consume another form of life. After the body has served its purpose, it slowly rejoins the earth and transforms into the soil upon which new life grows. Mineral becomes plant, plant becomes animal, animal man, and man in turn returns to earth.

White Fire

Higher, white fire is our spirituality, that which does not need to overwhelm or negate the other to exist. The whiter and more transparent the shade of fire becomes the deeper the level of soul it represents until the peak of the flame, a point in which the transparent fire becomes almost invisible and dips into the infinite space and merges.

Within the human psyche there are levels of varying consciousness. The outermost manifest surface self is our autobiography, that which is in a constant state of motion and movement, so long as we are sensing this part of self is expanding, much like the lower fire that fluctuates, jumps around, changes colors depending on the heat. Higher and deeper within us rests the core of self, the essence of soul. The self that is the unchanging that registers the changing, the continuous that observes the discontinuous, the uninfluenced that informs the influenced.

The ecstatic dancing flames as well as the more subdued gentle flames mirror life itself. Every moment we live, and with every breath we take we are constantly moving, shifting back and forth, inhaling and exhaling, expanding and contracting. Meta-physically speaking, every moment of life we are continually being recreated, becoming embodied and expiring and then re-embodying again.

The movement upwards and beyond is ratzu--a deep desire to expire and lift off, whereas the movement downward and within is shuv--a deep awareness that the purpose is within the here-and-now. The constant flickering of the lower flames jumping and leaping higher is the ratzu. Shuv is the more settled and clearer whiter light. The spiritually less evolved levels of self desire expiration, to transcend world, and in the process neglect body, yet the deepest awareness is one that is in total harmony with its divine purpose, which is to be within the world, as you are intentionally embodied, and there catapult a transformation. Obviously, the shuv reality is a profounder level and state of bitul-negation of separate self, as one is more in tune with the divine reality and the ultimate purpose.
hanukkah candles
Both the ratzu and shuv serve and enhance each other. The ratzu ensures a lightness of being--that our involvement with world and body does not devolve into preoccupation and eventual existential anxiety, whereas the shuv ensures that we do not slip fully into ecstasy and eventually expire.

Healthy living depends on balance, both physically as in breathing and spiritually as in ratzu and shuv. "Ve'ahavta Es Hashem"--You shall love Hashem. True love is movement in both directions; ratzu and shuv, drawing closer and moving back, rising upward and returning. The Hebrew letters that comprise the word ve'ahavta--vav (6), aleph (1), hei (5), bet (2, taf (400)--has the numeric value of 414, twice the value of the word or-light--aleph (1), vav (6), riesh (200)= 207. Genuine love, on all levels of reality, has direct light, as in giving, contracting and reaching out, and reflective light, as in receiving, expanding and opening up.

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.