Wednesday, December 8, 2010
"Ah, Harry, we have to stumble through so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our home-sickness." - Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse
Tonight is the 8th and final night of Chanukkah, the holiday of light. I'd like to share some thoughts I had while hiking in the beautiful and oxygen-deprived trails of the Annapurna circuit as I approached the first night of Chanukkah, which I celebrated with some Israelis I'd met along the way.
Chanukkah comes as we approach the darkest time of year, as R' Shai pointed out, unlike other holidays like Pesach or Sukkot, it starts not with the full moon in the middle of the month, but on the 25th of kislev, as there's almost no light from the moon and the night feels darkest. The dark of night and the dark of season parallel the dark period of history for the Jewish people whence Chanukkah emerged. This time found the Jews subjected to the sovereignty of the Greeks, who were intent on wiping out all Jewishness from the Jews, banning Torah learning, attempting to cut us off from Hayyei Torah and Torat Chayyim, the life of nourishment which is true Torah. We call this gallut, exile, not just being outside Israel, but being uprooted. In essence, to cut us off and make us forget our very essence, stripping the candle of its wick, leaving our holy Beit haMikdash in ruins, and us in the darkness of alienation from self and despair for the future. The story ends happily, of course, with the miraculously successful revolt of the Maccabbees and the restoration and rededication (ie Hanukkah) of the Beit haMikdash, the Temple.
In the Hasidic tradition, there is an emphasis or hermeneutics on the inner dimension, thus outer events and occurrences correspond to parallel inner processes and the emotional/spiritual/psychological dimension. Thus the Mikdash, or Temple, is not just a building that once was, textually and traditionally created to facilitate the indwelling of the Divine, but each person too is considered as a mikdash, or mishkan, a place wherein the Divine dwells. And just as there was a time of darkness and foreign occupation which destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, so do we all struggle with darkness in our lives which estranges and alienates us from our own nourishing essence, from the Divine spark that is always and ever in every person. For us there is often darkness in the form of unpleasant parts of life and unattractive, scary parts of ourselves- the things and situations and realities that we prefer not to deal with, that are uncomfortable. When we really look into it we see that so many people are spending so much of our lives and time and energy running away from facing life face to face- we do this with entertainment, with relationships, friends, trips, projects, TV, internet, text messages, housework, and the like. Chanukkah, first with the lighting of just one candle, invites us to bring all those fearful dimensions into the light, into the light of awareness of the heart, into the light of courage that comes when we act from the deep knowing and rootedness in the spark of Divine light in each of us. As we begin to accept all parts of ourselves and all parts of life, so our lives begin to feel more light in our lives, to see more light in others. Each night we add one more candle and the light and warmth grow, we learn to live more and more as full embodiments and expressions of our deep inner selves. This is the real redemption from galut, from spiritual exile and alienation. Chanukkah, in Hebrew, comes from the root word- like the word for educate- which means to use, or inaugurate, or begin to activate the potential of. Historically Chanukkah marks the return to our home, to rootedness. When we light our Hanukkiahs (aka menorah), we put them on the windowsill to show and share with the world. Likewise, only when we connect to our inner spark,the light inside each of us- and it's always there in spite of whatever darkness might keep us from feeling it- only when we cultivate it and let it shine out unto the world will we feel ourselves truly at home. May it be a Chanukkah of reconnection, of meriting to feel the warmth and love within and sharing it without.
love and light,