Chanukah Lights


By Dasee Berkowitz

I don’t know about you, but whenever Chanukah comes around my main obsession is whether I have enough “stuff.”  By stuff I mean – plans for the family, activities and gifts to keep the kids engaged, and the latest latke recipe that will dazzle the masses (or at least dazzle the handful of folks who come over for the holiday.)  There’s always a kind of frenetic feeling to Chanukah for me. Instead of other holidays that might require a lot of prep-time but once the candles are lit a sense of release takes over and I can relax into the deeper meaning of the holiday, Chanukah feels more diffused.  Spread out over eight days it’s easy to get lost in the transitions from home, to work to Chanukah gathering and back home again. It’s easy to forget to ask the question – how will Chanukah hold meaning for me this year?

Honing in on a few of the central themes of the holiday can be a good start.

One thing that I love about Chanukah is that the focus on the home is paramount. The Rabbis of the Talmud had it that the main mitzvah of Chanukah is to light a lamp on one’s doorstep or windowsill – one lamp for each household.  It might have made more sense to light the lamp in the windows of our communal institutions – after all the battle of the Maccabees against the Assyrian Greeks was a battle to safeguard Jewish life, a communal endeavor. The statement of the Rabbis was clear. Jewish life begins at home, and the most powerful way to remember the rededication of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem (or the Beit Hamikdash) is to replay the miracle in our own intimate sanctuaries, in our homes.  

This Chanukah, let’s think about how we can clear away what might stand in our way of rededicating ourselves to an aspect of Jewish life that we hold dear.

The placement of the Chanukah menorah in our windows is known as a way to publicize the miracle (persumei d’nisa) of God’s presence in our lives and the cruse of oil lasting for eight days. The window or the doorway is a liminal space or boundary between the private and the public spheres.  The lights of the chanukiyah shine a message to the world that what we do in our homes, the values we carefully inculcate within our families matter and can have an impact on the world.  

This Chanukah, what is a value that you inculcate within your family, which you hope will illuminate the street or the wider community?  What situation in your public life can you shed light on? What dark place in our world today do you hope to bring light to?  

But the Chanukah lights don’t only illuminate the external world at our windowsills.    They shed light on our inner worlds as well. The Sefat Emet, a great Chassidic master teaches, the Chanukah candles hold spiritual meaning, as they help search out our inner selves, helping us to discern the hidden divine light within.

What is one area of your inner life that you need the Chanukah candles to shine their light on?

Chanukah always falls at the darkest time of the year.  The days are shorter and the nights are colder. It is harder to get going to volunteer, or take any other kind of initiative for things you care most about (the “I’m going to change this year” feeling that comes with Rosh Hashanah starts to fade come the month of Kislev.)  The zeal, energy, and power of the Maccabees serve as an important counterpoint to our sluggish feelings. Stories of sacrifice and courage abound in the stories of Chanukah.

In what way do you want the Chanukah narrative to inspire you to take action this Chanukah?  Pick one thing that you have been “putting off,” a cause that you believe in or a project that you care deeply about and take a small step this Chanukah toward action.

Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that takes place in the land of Israel.  After your powerful JWRP trip to Israel, what are ways that you can reignite the energy you felt on your trip and have it inspire you this Chanukah – is it reaching out to a friend you made? Supporting a project that you visited? Or sharing the stories of the powerful time you had in Israel with others?

This Chanukah, how can you reconnect to Israel?

As we light our chanukiyot this year, let’s shift our preoccupation with the stuff of Chanukah to the stuff that really matters: a rededication of our homes and ourselves and bringing light into the world.

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