This year, we’ve all experienced change and transformation, the unexpected and challenging. Each of us has had the opportunity to discover that, even in the midst of incredible difficulties, there’s more strength, hope, and love inside of us than we know. Whether or not you celebrate it, the holy light of Hanukkah can help us remember the divine store of faith and courage available to us. The meaning of this holiday goes back to a real moment in history. 2,500 years ago, a Jewish family witnessed a miracle. While resisting their Syrian-Greek rulers, Judah the Maccabe, re-sanctifying the desecrated Holy Temple in Jerusalem, had only enough oil to light the temple for a single day. Instead, the lamp burned miraculously for eight days. Hearing of the miracle, ancient Jewish sages proclaimed an annual eight-day festival in celebration of the redemptive power of light.
And so, we celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights, with the ritualized lighting of menorah candles. Nightly, when we light one candle, and then another, we step into an ancient tradition set forth by our ancestors. Hanukkah observance coincides with the darkest season of the solar year, and this is a part of its spiritual significance – it’s a celebration of light. No matter how small, a light emerging in darkness symbolizes faith in a time of fear and hope in a time of desperation. In this blog, I’ll share some of the light of Hanukkah – how that flame reflects what we all carry inside of us, a light we’re meant to share.
The Holy Light
Beginning with the lighting of the first candle, Hanukkah joins in the season of many holy-days. The holiday tradition of honoring the light that emerges from darkness spans a wide breadth of spiritual orders. The glow of the menorah sets the space for all our Solstice observances, Christmas celebrations, and Yuletide rites. The candle symbolizes growth, transformation, and expansion. Fire gives life, and when we light the menorah candles, we honor our holy light within, that it shines even in the darkest corners. A menorah has eight branches, with one special branch called a “shamash” which is used to light the other eight. “Shamash” translates to “attendant” or “caretaker” in Hebrew, and its purpose is to stay lit to light the rest of the candles. It’s a crucial element of the menorah, representative of spiritual teachers and leaders creating a way for the rest of us, sharing the spark that allows everyone to shine.
The word “Hanukkah” means “dedication” in Hebrew, and this year has, in many ways, asked us to investigate and honor what we’re committed to. In the face of these circumstances, who we are – our strengths and our personal struggles – have been thrown into the light. How are we dedicated to showing up for ourselves and for others, to using the light within to make the world we live in shine a little brighter? In lighting our spirit candle night after night, we reaffirm our commitment to ourselves and each other. It’s important, now more than ever, to look inside of ourselves and discover and celebrate the vast light within. Whether your sacred space hosts a glowing menorah, a tinseled-tree, or a manger under the light of a star, may your holy-days be filled with the radiant light that shines from within us all. The portal is open, and the candles are lit. And so it is.
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