Rabbis Without Borders
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I have always found it difficult to romanticize the tale of right and might that belongs to the Maccabees. I have not resonated with the destruction of the site of our sacrificial cult and, until recent years, gave little thought to the meaning of the Temple menorah or the religious significance of the miracle of its sustained light.
It was not until my children were grown, and my husband and I traded our food-and-gift-centered family celebration for an adult meditation on the Hanukkah lights, that I began to contemplate light, itself, as a focus.
Eternal light in the Temple symbolized an uninterrupted connection between God and Israel. The Temple’s desecration ruptured that connection but when the menorah was rekindled with the tiniest amount of remaining oil, the Temple light did not go out! This miracle was an event of great comfort within the Maccabee narrative, and is, to us, in any age.
Imagining the horror of a Godless world prompts me to consider the threats to divine connection in our own time and my role as a partner in maintaining eternal light. Through this lens the holiday has taken on profundity, asking something serious of me, something consequential to the nature of God and to the repair of our world.
My personal question, regarding the miracle, is whether the lasting light is a gift of God’s grace or whether it is a divine response to human action. I am inclined to think that the miracle is born of collaboration between God and man, an act of God aroused by human conduct. As the Psalmist says, “Olam chesed yibaneh” – “You will build a world of loving kindness.” And as my teacher and friend Menachem Creditor interprets: “If we build this world in love, then God will build this world in love!” We lead, and God follows!
Our Torah speaks of God’s heart as a rock, “tzur levavi,” a stalwart fortress, a fortress the great Hasidic Master Nahman of Bratslav says is broken open in empathy when stimulated by displays of human empathy. God’s heart opens in compassionate response to our human acts of compassion. As below, so above.
So it is that in my spiritual community, here in Vancouver, British Columbia, we will focus, in this season, on what it means to be a light that kindles God’s compassionate glow.
We are asking our children what it means to be a light in one’s family. We are challenging our youth to consider the Maimonidean “ladder” of giving and to light a candle in our community by cooking for and delivering food to those in need. Our adult community has identified eight leading lights on Vancouver’s East Side, where we reside: individuals who make a difference in the lives of children, women at risk, First Nations students, refugees, our homeless population, even in our personal lives as fire fighters from our local firehouse. We will publicly honor these individuals as our Hanukkah lights, with faith that their actions, and ours, maintain eternal light by stimulating an outpouring of shefa (abundance)– divine flow, so that God’s light flows from the uppermost reaches of Eden, filtering through all the upper realms as it streams forth to irrigate our world.
The deep miracle of Hanukkah is that, despite profound ruptures, the flow of divine energy into our world has never ceased. And the miraculous empowerment Hanukkah has to offer us is that humankind has always, and unceasingly, partnered with God in maintaining this wonder.
Pronounced: KHEH-sed, Origin: Hebrew, lovingkindness, compassion.
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.
Pronounced: khah-SID-ik, Origin: Hebrew, a stream within ultra-Orthodox Judaism that grew out of an 18th-century mystical revival movement.
Pronounced: muh-NOHR-uh, Origin: Hebrew, a lamp or candelabra, often used to refer to the Hanukkah menorah, or Hanukkiah.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.