8 Meditations for the 8 Nights of Hannukah
Hanukkah honors the house. It is the Maccabees' renowned rededication of the House, the House of Holiness, the Beit Hamikdash. It is the lighting of the fire in the heart, the hearth, the home of a people.
A Hanukkat Habayit is the celebration of settling into a new home, a housewarming party of a sacred sort. It's as if with every move to a new house we celebrate a miniature Hanukkah. For each home is the manifestation of the Holy Temple in our times, in our own lives. Thus our four walls call for a Hanukkah — a dedication — the lighting of the fire that warms and sanctifies our space.
And Hanukkah's lighting of house is no less than the illumination of the inner Self. For the Self, with her secret stairways, her observing windows, her half-closed doors, is a many-storied home, the abode of the soul. Our task on these eight nights is to rededicate the Temple, in our own times, in our own lives. Each night illumines a different aspect of the self, lighting a new alcove in our inner House of Holies.
First Night - Dedicated to Darkness: The Cellar
Before you light your first candle, stand quietly for a moment in complete darkness, and let the darkness indeed be complete, with no want for anything, no need for the distractions of sight, simply sense the quiet self that sits there patiently waiting for you to take notice, to turn off the television, to turn off all vision, to be quiet and sense the sanctuary that is the self.
Standing in the cellar of my self, with an unlit candle in my hand, in the darkness I discover a deeper self than light lets in.
This night I dedicate to inner darkness, to the unknown, unspeakable
seclusions of the soul. It is the darkness that keeps me searching . . . a worthy opponent,
provoking my path to further reaches, my thoughts to further depths. It is the as-of-yet
unillumined, unanswered aspects of an unraveling self, the landscape of dreams and
nightmares, tragic truths and fears.
I dedicate this night to every question I have quested after,
to every confusion that has humbled me,
to every challenge I have mastered,
to the thrill of secrecy.
As this candle casts a shadow, my self in dark outline,
I integrate and dedicate the darkness with the light.
The first night is for the dark cellar of winter,
that which illumines a deeper insight.
Second Night - Dedicated to Ascension: The Stairway
Standing at the stairs, sights set on ascension.
As you light your candle, envision a stairway rising before you, each step a soul ascension made with a worthy act, each good word you have spoken, each good work done by your hands. See how each step leads to the next. Dedicate yourself to singular steps in an upward direction; go out of your way to do one new kindness every one of these eight days, for each is a link in the ever increasing chain of compassion that stretches out before you.
This night I dedicate to increase, to the second step of every path. This is the move towards abundance, to building in increments, an ordered process. The treasures of the house of Hillel tell of holiness that it should only increase, ever-rising. Thus it was decreed that we light an additional candle to mark each night. For holiness, like light and all luminescent goodness, should always advance, like an ascending staircase, ever more inclined, increased, enhanced.
Just as each good act gives forth another, one spark springs forth to a second wick, while a string of candles await. I stand at the stairway from my depths, ready to rise, to explore. Having found my foundation in the darkness, I move with upward momentum, the second night, the second step, the strength to start....
Third Night - Dedicated to Decisions: The Hallway
Imagine yourself in a hallway, an endless corridor stretches before you. This hallway offers options. Each dark wood door opens a different opportunity, each offers an unknowable path, letting you choose, demanding you move, challenging you to act.
Which door do you lunge for?
The hallway is where I will my way through the world. It is the narrowness that leads to expansion, where one knock determines entire destinies. This hallway calls for precision, decision, the analysis of options, the care and the courage to choose true, exact, correct. This corridor is the tension before any great act — when the moment calls for a deeper determination to raise it from the vast heap of mundane happenings, to let it become a great occurrence in the course of life.
This night is dedicated to direction, to making decisions in the dark, to taking the leap of faith that leads to miracles. From the narrowness of the Greek domination, the Maccabees chose no less than the doorway to vastest freedom. They did not remain confined, nor walk through assimilation's passive door, but rather lunged for the doorway of self-dominion and independence, fearless of the fight on the other side.
Standing in a hollow hallway, doorways blind my eyes, I contemplate the path to my future, light three candles as my guides.
Fourth Night - Dedicated to the Senses: The Dining-Room
See yourself seated at a silvered table, set stately for some feast,
You are guest and host and caterer, called to task, to eat.
How full is your plate, how great is your need? Is your spirit nourished as your body feeds?
The fourth night is dedicated to the dining room and her sister space the kitchen. This is the seat of appetite, brimming with all things delightful to the senses. At the center of the table is a fine serving bowl of shemen, olive oil, for shemen is the sign of the paradox of the sensual, where the sublime and the material meet and dine together. Shemen, the anointing oil of Kings, the markings of Messiah, the essential symbol of Hanukkah, is the dripping robe of Redemption itself. It is the nourishment for the candle, that upon which the holy flame feeds. It is the utmost of sublime, but it is also the basest of the mundane. Meaning also "fat" (shuman), it signifies all that is thick and physical, the ultimate image of the material world, where spirit resides.
This night is dedicated to delicate balances
where our desires come to dine
offering pleasure in each embellishment
fuel for the fire of life
though oil anoints and nourishes,
overpour and it will put out the light.
Fifth Night - Dedicated to Defiance: The Outer Courtyard and the Inner Will
See yourself standing in a courtyard stained with suffering.
Stationed before you are Hannah and her seven sons.
They stare down Antiochus and a torturous task --
denying their identity or facing their death.
They are a family forced to the edge of existence, given ultimatums they refuse to fulfill. You are an observer in the outer courtyard, what says your inner will?
The fifth night finds my strength tested. This night is dedicated to standing strong against external forces, refusing to fold to the host of voices that beckon me away from my core. This is the night of Hannah and her seven sons, caught in an outer courtyard, called upon to convert, to conform to an alien world.
This is a night dedicated to persistence, a night not afraid to sacrifice. It is a night of knowing one's identity, of being grounded in an inner courtyard of calm and courage, regardless of the chaos of the world outside.
In the cold of the outer courtyard, crowded with calls to comply,
I call upon the powers of my own inner will, to courageously defy.
Sixth Night - Dedicated to Rebirth: The Bedroom
Your eyes are clouded beneath a canopy,
your limbs lie in linen, in your mouth one last breath.
Recall the colors of your days, are you satisfied with the path you have tread?
Make peace with your self, and resigned to dying, find yourself re-birthed instead.
The sixth night leads me to the bedroom, painted with scenes of the self in her several stages, the same four walls redecorated and redecorated. For one lifetime witnesses many lives, many bodies worn and shed, personalities developed and discarded, many births and many deaths. Just as Jerusalem's Temple was lost and won and lost again, so too are we forever falling, and redefining, losing and re-finding, a new beginning born with every end.
Nightly I lay my soul to rest here, my breath slows, the world recedes. I experience the end of all, only to dream, and be reborn, burdenless to the morning. The bed a soft cocoon, a womb, a tomb, a room of rejuvenation. These are the four walls of rebirthing — where the bed of birth becomes the bed of death — the drive to end, and to begin again.
The six flames lift from the ash like a phoenix, reviving life in her circular stride. Though history be a looping spiral, Redemption lies at the end of the line.
Seventh Night - Dedicated to “Advertising the Miracle”: The Light in the Window
As you stand lighting at the window, raise your eyes to look outside,
And behold a face before you, some curious passerby
And then realize it is your reflection, in the window glass your own eyes.
What have you seen in the window's mirror? What miracle do you advertise?
The seventh night is dedicated to the window to the world. This is where the strength and purpose that I have nurtured within are celebrated in the sight of others. This is the show of lights that sparkles forth from self. It is the commandment of Hanukkah to pirsum hanes — "to advertise the miracle," the miracle that was wrought in history, and that is wrought within me.
May my eyes behold the miracles shining forth from each passing soul.
As I gaze into their windows may my own miracle be beheld as I behold.
Eighth Night - Dedicated to the Transcendence – The Rooftop
Imagine yourself standing upon a rooftop, enacting that ancient human rite of watching the night fall. As the blue deepens into black you witness a single star shutter forth, and another, and another. The darkness kindles starlight upon the sky as surely as you kindle light upon your menora. By the time the eighth star appears the entire sky releases her storehouse of sparks. Dazzled by stars beyond count, you face the seeming infinitity of space. Beholding this limitlessness from your rooftop perch, you are reminded of the infinitity of your very soul.
The eighth and final light.
The menora stands luminous before us. Ignited in its entirety. Complete. These 8 lights are the grand finale of the entire Hannukah journey. And finales, with all their pageantry always signal that we have reached an end. Just as the rooftop is the upper limit of the house, this is the limit of our Hannukah lights. And yet, just as standing upon the roof allows us to grasp a sense of the skies limitlessness, looking upon the 8 lights we are reminded of God's light, the 'or haganuz' that has no end.
The eighth and final night is thus dedicated to transcendance. Just as the seven days of the week represent linear time and the completion of the physical, the number eight is an elegant leap beyond the linear, and beyond physicality. Eight represents transcendence Just as miracles themselves transcend the limits of the physical realm, so does the number eight beckon us to transcendence.
Although the eighth night is the exuberant end of this holiday, it also hints at the limitless holiness of every day. Yes, there were eight nights of miraculous oil, but beyond that - every day holds its own miracles. When we are in touch with the infinite light of our own souls, the very rooftop of our selves, then we are in touch with the infinitude of God. From that place, miracles are not only possible they are a given. This final night of Hannukah celebrates our transcendent spirits, and God's promise of His miraculous daily presence in our lives.