Eight Lights

Tonight we kindle the eight lights of Chanukah. During the time of the Macabees, Chanukah signified the miracle of the few over the many, darkness illuminated by a light that increased each day. Take a few minutes to contemplate the power of darkness and the power of light. In darkness we are lonely, fearful, ashamed, oppressed. In a dark room we cannot see where we are going or what we are doing. If darkness fills every inch of space in a room, we are blind. But light one match, one candle; the amount of space taken up by the flame is minuscule compared to the space occupied by darkness, yet that tiny flame can illuminate the entire room. And if each day you add even a little more light, the darkness becomes less daunting, until the eighth night when all the flames are lit and darkness is no more! This is the miracle of Chanukah. In that regard, the miracle of Chanukah continues to occur each day. We learn from an historical event, but the miracle continues and is real today. Every kind word or good deed is a flame that illuminates the darkness of someone’s spirit. Every joyful expression, act of compassion, or sympathy extended, we contribute to the miracle of someone’s life. Each time we shed a little light for someone else to see their way forward, and with every prayer we utter to benefit the spirit of some soul and thus the spirit of this world, we are kindling the Chanukah light! A miracle occurs!

If you are able on this last night of Chanukah, draw up a seat near the Menorah, gaze at the flames as they flicker, and begin to reflect on the miracles you have experienced in life. After a while, one begins to realize that life itself is a miracle of magnificent proportion. Reflect on times when you felt G-d’s hand guiding you, times when you were saved from danger, times when the odds were stacked against you yet a miracle occurred and you prevailed. As you reflect on the miracles of your life, and the miracles of Chanukah, open to the wonder of your life and the events that have brought you to this place in this time.

Just like the menorah whose light grows with each day, others will begin to reflect back the light, too, much like a window reflects back the light of each Chanukah flame and the miracle it represents.

Finally, as you recognize the Chanukah miracle that lives within you, and with the acceptance of your life’s current reality, be open to receive greater!

I humbly thank you for taking a Chanukah journey with me this year. It has been a blessing for me to review and reflect on the meaning of Chanukah, the customs we observe, games we play, food we eat, and to share this special holiday with you. As we head into the new year, may you be blessed with prosperity of body, mind and soul; may you celebrate life’s joys, grieve its losses, and carry the miracle of Chanukah where ever you travel.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Shalom!

Chana/Cecelia Futch

Five Question Friday (Sort of): December 23, 2011

 

Not surprisingly, no questions were listed for today. Therefore I’m doing things a little different than usual. Instead of answering five questions, I thought it would be nice for each one to share five holiday traditions that you celebrate in your home. You can elaborate if you choose, or not. You decide. Since I’m writing each day about our observances during Chanukah, I will just list five of our customs and let you read more detailed descriptions in the holiday posts that have already begun to appear here.

My best wishes to all of you during these days and holiday observances, however you choose to celebrate . . . or not! Have a great weekend and I hope to see you back here next Friday. :-)

Five of our Chanukah traditions ~

1. Lighting the Menorah each night for eight nights.

2. Eating latkes and applesauce (explanation coming soon)

3. Reading an inspirational Chanukah story after lighting the chanukiah each night.

4. Playing dreidle (explanation coming soon).

5. Learning Torah lessons for Chanukah.

 

Happy holidays everyone!

Day Three and the Light Still Shines!

Why do we light the Chanukah lights the way we do?

According to the Talmud, we are only required to kindle one light each day of Chanukah. Nowhere are we told that we must kindle more lights. So why do we kindle eight lights? And why do we begin the first night with only one light, and then add a light each succeeding night?

It has long been customary to beautify a mitzvah, or commandment, when possible. Beautification is not meant to alter the meaning or direction of the commandment, rather to reveal the beauty and wonder of what we are doing. When it came to the mitzvah of Chanukah light, the sages desired that the light show the world that we celebrate a miracle that took place over eight days. The next question was how to do that.

Well, this all goes back millennia to the time of two men who are listed among the names of our greatest sages: Hillel and Shammai. Each was head of his own academy, or “house” of study, Beis (house) Hillel and Beis Shammai. Although both men were very learned leaders and wise men in the study of Torah, they often formed differing opinions and in true Jewish fashion, an argument would ensue. One of their more famous arguments concerned kindling the Chanukah lights.

According to Beis Shammai, one begins with the maximum potential of the light, meaning that to begin the holiday people should kindle all eight lights. On each succeeding night, one less candle would be lit signifying the number of days left in the holiday. One begins lighting with the maximum potential, and gradually decreases till the last night when only one candle is lit.

Beis Hillel on the other hand, argued we should light according to “realized potential,” or actual days celebrated. Thus, on the first night since we realize the first day, we light the one candle, the second night we light two candles, etc. until the eighth night we light all eight candles.

At first glance it appears that Hillel won the argument. But things are not always as they appear! When two men of such great knowledge and stature among Jewish religious leaders of all time form opinions on an issue, every effort is made to figure out ways in which to observe the rulings of both men. While the assembly of religious leaders voted to follow Hillel’s teaching on the Chanukah lights, the Talmud tell us that Shammai’s reasoning and analysis was generally deeper and sharper than Hillel’s. So, why do we follow Hillel’s model of lighting the Chanukiah?

The sages tell us that Hillel’s argument was good for the pre-Messianic times. We are looking ahead at how the light grows and increases the nearer we approach those days, and therefore we light each day looking forward to increased potential, adding light and excitement each day till we realize all eight days.

Shammai, on the other hand, is more appropriate for the Messianic times when the world has reached a higher level of being, or realized it’s full potential. In that case, we start with the maximum and light according to how many days are left.

Obviously we have not reached the messianic age yet, so we light according to Beis Hillel,  but we look forward to the messianic days when we can light according to Beis Shommai.

The Lights Continue to Burn

The second light is kindled.

A few thousand years ago, back when Alexander of Macedonia of the ancient Greek Empire ruled (including Israel), the Jews and the Greeks were getting along pretty good. This was during the Hellenistic period. At that time many Jews studied the Greek philosophers, and King Ptolemy commissioned writers to translate the Torah into Greek. But relationships between the Greeks and the Jews began to sour. When Antiochus became King, he implemented a series of decrees in an effort to Hellenize all Jews. Core beliefs and practices were forbidden under his rule: ritual circumcision, study of Torah, observance of Shabbat, celebrating Jewish holidays. Antiochus’ edicts eventually culminated with the requirement that all citizens, including the Jews, worship Greek idols.

The Jews struggled with the strangle-hold on their religious practices, but when it came to idol worship, the Greeks had gone to far. War ensued. The problem was that the Greek army was huge, strong, a well organized fighting machine. Jews were poor, small in number, a rag-tag band of malcontents as far as the Greeks were concerned. How could the Jews resist such an army? Many Jews were slaughtered for resisting the many edicts against their religious practices. On the other hand, Jews feared they would be wiped out altogether if they engaged in battle with the Greeks.

Jews fled Jerusalem and other parts of Israel to hide in the hills. Life was bad. Food was scarce. The Jewish High Priest was assassinated. Fear gripped the Jewish people. The Greek army desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, mocking the Jews. Ritual vessels were stolen or destroyed. Sacrifices were made to various Greek idols. The Temple became a place for Greek prostitutes (temple prostitutes) to conduct their business. The Jewish people wept and prayed, crying out for a miracle.

A handful of brothers, now known as the Maccabees, a renegade group of “lawless” priestly Jews, were a thorn in the side of the mighty Greeks. The Maccabees were the fleas on the dog, so to speak. The Maccabees strongest weapon however, was their belief in God’s desire for the Jews to return to their homeland to restore Jerusalem the sanctity of their Temple. Much like David and Goliath, or Samson’s destruction of the Philistines, through a series of miraculous victories and events, the Greeks were driven out of the Temple, and out of Jerusalem. But, that was not the miracle of Chanukah!

Once they had regained their holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people set about cleaning it up and restoring it to a place of holiness and prayer. A menorah always burned in the Temple but its light had gone out during the Greek occupation. Now the Jews longed to see the light burn once again from this holy place. A menorah was found, but what about the oil to fuel the flame? Only oil that was pressed, bottled and sealed with the High Priest’s stamp could be used in the Temple. People searched and found one vial of oil, enough for one day only. It would take eight days to press enough olives to render new oil pure enough to use in the temple.

The menorah was lit anyway. Even if only for a day. The second day however, the priests returned to the Temple to see that the light still burned bright. A miracle had occurred! The light continue to burn all day and night, and when the priests returned the third day, the light still burned. This continued for eight days at which time fresh oil war was ready for the menorah. Eight nights of light from one day’s worth of oil is the miracle of Chanukah.

The year after these events occurred, the High Priest issued a decree that from that day forward, every year on the 25th of Kislev (the day the miracles occurred), the people would observe the festival of Chanukah to commemorate this momentous event. Since then, rabbeim have studied and expounded on the many miracles of Chanukah, and this minor holiday has become a beloved observance in Jewish families everywhere. Chanukah is the one holiday where we are required to show the Chanukah light to the world as we acknowledge God’s hand in creating miracles and saving the Jewish people from annihilation.

Chag Chanukah Sameach! Happy Chanukah!

It’s Chanukah, Come Light the Menorah. . .

Last night was the first night of Chanukah. Good friends joined us last night to help celebrate this holiday (a minor holiday for Jews, nothing like Christmas for Christians.) Neither Lori nor Heather had ever celebrated Chanukah so I had the privilege of teaching them a little about this special celebration. Richard worked late, but when he got home, we lit the candles and Richard even sang a few bars of a time-honored Chanukah song.

The menorahs depicted in this photo were purchased a few days ago. Our silver menorahs are in storage and I was a bit sad that we couldn’t use them. But the sadness did not last very long, because we celebrate miracles and light on this holiday, not the trappings or elaborate Chanukiah. So, when we lit the candles last night, the light was a beautiful reminder of that time long ago when the Jewish people weren’t sure there would be light in the Temple, but through a miracle, the flame was lit and that flame lasted not one day, not two days, but eight days it shed its light for the people to see.

Here is what the Talmud has to say about Chanukah:

On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev begins the days of Chanukah, which are eight, on which lamentation for the dead and fasting are prohibited. For when the Greeks (Assyrians) entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Chashmonayim (Hasmonean dynasty) prevailed against them and defeated them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil which had the seal of the High Priest, which contained oil sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle occurred and they lit the Menorah (the Temple candelabrum) for eight days. The following years, these days were appointed as a holiday to sing praise and offer thanks. [Shabbes 21b]

Last night the festival began. On the first night we kindle one light. Each of us lights our own menorah. What you see in the photo above is that there are two kindled lights in each menorah; the light that is higher than the other, set apart from all other lights is called the shamash. The shamash is the “guard” light, and it is used to light the Chanukah lights. If one needs light to see by, we see by the shamash, not the Chanukah lights that are strictly for remembering the miracle that happened there (Temple in Jerusalem).

One other rule is that the Chanukiah should be lit by the doorway (or in our case, by the window) for all passersby to see. This is the one holiday that is “advertised” for the public. We do that to draw attention to the miracle that God performed on the first Chanukah, so that people will ask questions and give us the opportunity to share how God performed a miracle in the Temple.

So, come back each day of Chanukah and I hope to share more of our celebration with you. Thank you Lori and Heather for joining us last night, eating latkes with us, and in general enjoying the laughter and chatter of friendship.

Five Question Friday: Decembr 16, 2011

The wind is ferociously howling outside our windows tonight as I work on this. Winter is just days away and we’ve already had two light snows. I’ve been working on “My Etsy” shop (see link in the menu across the top of this page), choosing which cards to sell, and that means looking through pictures of summer flowers and butterflies, and thinking of warmer climes. Even so, I must admit that snuggling under the warm blankets, peering out the window at wind-whipped trees while tapping away on another 5QF, a cup of hot chocolate within arm’s reach, is rather comforting tonight.

This has been a slow week for me. Once I handed in my final final, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. That will change I’m sure, but I have enjoyed the slow pace of the last few days. Sometimes taking time to stare out windows as my body recovers from too many late night study sessions is just the thing to rejuvenate my spirit.

So, while in this mellow mood, let’s go to the questions! Enjoy!

1. What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

The best present I ever received in my life was a gift from my three children. This was years ago when they were quite young; I think Mary, the youngest, was in kindergarten or first grade. The had no money to buy us an anniversary gift but they wanted to do something. Being artists every one, they made paper book marks and went house to house throughout our neighborhood selling them for a nickel apiece, all without my knowing. They were able to earn about $2.00 this way, which they took to a dollar store (I don’t know how they managed that, but someone drove them) and bought four glasses–“real crystal,” according to Tim, the oldest at 8- or 9-years-old. The glasses had flowers painted on them along with stripes. Unique glasses, but those glasses were the best gift I ever received. Sadly, the glasses broke rather easily and within days we were down to just one glass, which I wrapped and put out of harm’s way, to no avail. I never forgot those glasses, nor how much they meant to me. For a five-year-old, a six-year-old, and an eight- year-old to come up with the idea and then to pull if off amazes me. It was a sweet gesture I shall never forget.

2. Worst/Funniest White Elephant gift ever received?

I don’t know. I’m scanning my brain to remember but can’t think of anything. I have not attended many office parties or participated in gift giving that involved gag gifts. If anyone reading this who has known me for many years, call or facebook me if you remember something. I WILL include it if you refresh my memory, but I’m not recalling anything at the moment.

3. Is your Christmas tree plain and simple (white lights and matching ornaments) or is it wild and crazy (colored lights with lots of ornaments collected over the years)?  Is your Chanukiah plain and simple, or is it elaborate?

Well, our Chanukiah (Menorah) is still packed away this year and in storage quite far from where we are presently living. We have two that we use; the large, ornate silver one is Richard’s to light, and my smaller, pewter Chanukiah sits next to his in front of the window. This year we will go the simple route, though. I will pick up a couple of inexpensive menorahs at the Jewish bookstore near our home. We will light them, after all Chanukah is to celebrate the miracle of lights, eat some latkes and maybe share a story or two. We will do this for eight nights.

4. “How” do you iron your clothes? The old-fashioned iron/ironing board way, the shower, back in the dryer, etc.

Iron clothes??? Are you serious? I didn’t know that people still ironed! I take clothes straight out of the dryer when the cycle finishes. If I’m not there at the exact time, I spritz the clothes with water and throw them back in the dryer. I do not iron.

5. How much baking do you do for Christmas and what are your “must make” items? (I’m looking for recipes here, peeps…)

I don’t bake much anymore. For one, most of my kitchen tools and utensils are out in storage. Our kitchen is teeeeny tiny making it difficult to work in. But the real reason I don’t bake, I don’t rally enjoy cooking or baking. Now that the kids are grown and out of the house, I will fess up and tell every one that the kitchen is not where I want to be spending my time!

That’s it for this week. I look forward to reading what y’all have to say. Enjoy your weekend. :-)