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

Advertisements

Fifth Day and the Light is Spreading!

Day five of the Miracle of Lights!

What is “gelt” and why is it associated with Chanukah?

Gelt is the yiddish word for money. Back in the 18th century (and maybe earlier) in Poland, parents would give their children gelt to learn Torah during Chanukah. The children would save the gelt and on the last day of the holiday, each child would take 10% of the money they saved and give it to charity. In this way the children were learning Torah along with the importance of sharing what they had earned with those who were in need.

In addition to giving gelt to children to learn Torah, parents would give gelt for the children (usually boys because girls did not go to school at that time) to take to their rabbis during Chanukah, a gift of gratitude. Gelt was used for playing dreidel, too, and in early 20th century America (1920 to be exact) chocolatiers began making chocolate gelt, wrapping them in gold or silver foil, and packaging the gelt in small yellow net bags (money bags) for Chanukah treats. These treats make their appearance around Chanukah time to this day, and we are reminded of the importance of learning Torah, giving charity . . . and playing fun games and eating sweet delicacies during Chanukah!

Chanukah gelt English: Chocolate coins for Cha...
Image via Wikipedia

Winter is definitely here!

Saturday it snowed for most of the day. Being that it was Shabbat (the sabbath), I was free to sit in front of the living room window and watch for long periods of time. It’s strange, but like sitting before a fireplace and gazing endlessly at flickering, dancing flames, I can watch snow fall for hours and not grow bored. Watching the fine snow slowly whiten the ground as it eventually formed a winter blanket, calmed the cacophony of sounds and thoughts that tend to run through my head on a normal day. Coffee (and later, hot chocolate) in hand, I reflected on the season and the fact that during the darkest time of the year, Chanukah brings us the miracle of light. This holiday reminds us that when in life’s bleakest, coldest, darkest moments, miracles can and do happen. With the first night’s candle, and for each day following, the miraculous light begins to increase little by little, shedding light on hopelessness and thus restoring awe, wonder and hope for spiritual renewal.

The peacefulness of watching snow fall added to the sanctity of the Sabbath, slowing down our bodies and minds, pausing to reflect on the spiritual aspects of life, refraining from the busyness of “creating” our existence. To sit and watch, reflect and listen, is a form of prayer, too. Days like Saturday remind me to connect to the Divine Presence, ubiquitous throughout creation.  The formal prayers of the day prevent one from becoming too insular, singular in thought, or isolated from the world at large. Yet, the isolation of the moment, sitting by my window watching the snow fall, was a time of connecting with Holy Presence and refreshing my soul; a beautiful, peaceful “island” in time.

And then yesterday, Sunday, I pulled on my boots and headed out into the invigorating air. I couldn’t let a photo-op pass me by! These photos were taken with my little Olympus point-and-shoot. I had let the battery run down on my D-SLR (Pentax), but I’ve taken many great photos with the little pocket camera, so I wasn’t too worried. After about thirty minutes though, the battery gave out on the Olympus, too. Fortunately I did get some shots depicting the fun and beauty of the day. AND, I decided I needed to do better about keeping back-up batteries charged and read to go. Oy. . . after all these years, you would think that I would learn. Oh well. . . enjoy these few photos. There will be many more in the days to come, I’m sure.

And there will be more days to contemplate the more holy aspects of life, too, while I watch snow fall.

Thanks for stopping by. For those of you in the southern hemisphere (or more tropical climes), enjoy your warm weather and/or SUMMER!

Five Question Friday: Sept. 2, 2011

Good morning, and time for another Five Question Friday.  I hope your week was excellent! Ours was hectic, as many of you know, but we are both in one place now, and in a sweet little apartment that fits our present needs.  So in spite of boxes and “mess,” we are confident that this is the place for us at this time.  Now, on to the five questions, here they are!

1. Shoes in the house – yay or nay?

Yes, we allow shoes in the house.  I sometimes think about how nice it would be to have everyone leave their shoes at the door, but then I would be the enforcer and become a nag . . . all the time.  That really doesn’t suit my personality, so it is definitely shoes in the house!

2. What do you call them — flip-flops, slippers, thongs, etc?

I’ve always called them flip-flops.  Always.

3. What song are you almost embarrassed to admit you know all the lyrics to?

I don’t know about embarrassment, but I know most of the words to American Pie (but then I think just about everyone from that era knows that one.) My husband and I like to sing “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” when we are traveling.  Don’t know why, but we do. Then there is “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me,” which the last time I checked, my kids hated. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that when one or all of them were whiny and complaining, I would go off into a rousing rendition of the ditty. I may have ruined my kids. I’m not sure. I am sure though, that there are more songs that I embarrassingly know the lyrics to, but these are the first to come to mind.

4. What is the best quality to have in a friend?

Best quality?  That’s a tough one.  Kindness, love, fun, loyalty (but not blind), honesty, support, listener, sharing, playful, laughter. . . The list is endless.  It’s these qualities together that make for friendship.  It’s the stick-to-it-ness of growing and learning together, sharing the ups and downs of life, being there for each other, calling each other out when need be.  So many things.  There is no “best quality,” friendship requires many qualities.

5. Do you know what you want for Christmas?

Since we do Chanukah, I’ll tell you a little about that holiday.  We celebrate for eight days to commemorate the successful Maccabean revolt in which we regained our Holy Temple. Sadly, Antiochus and the Seleucids whom he ruled, desecrated the temple and contaminated the holy oil for the menorah as well (simple explanation), except for one vial that contained enough oil for one day.  The Hebrew people decided to burn the oil, but miraculously the lamp burned for eight days instead of the one, giving the people time to press fresh olive oil to replenish the lamp and maintain the required perpetual flame. Thus, we light candles each night of Chanukah, starting with one and then adding another each night till the last night when we light 8 candles. Historically, parents and teachers gave gelt (coins) as reward to children for studying Torah during Chanukah. The dreidel game began as one way of teaching children the history of Chanukah. Other Chanukah traditions emerged through the years adding to the festivities of the holiday.  Gift giving was not a part of Chanukah until recent years when Christmas became such a big celebration along with gift giving and receiving.  Jewish parents wanting their children to feel more a part of the mainstream culture while at the same time maintaining a Jewish identity, began giving gifts to their children each of the eight nights of Chanukah.  You will most likely not find this widespread practice outside of the Western culture where Christmas and gift giving are synonymous.  We do not take part in this latest custom, but we do sing, eat latkes (potato pancakes} with applesauce), read Chanukah stories, and of course, light candles.

Now it is your turn.  I look forward to seeing your answers!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

I have never “settled down.” We have been nomads our entire lives, living in many houses, in various neighborhoods, and in numerous states.  My husband lived in many countries as well.  When the photo challenge for this week was “home,” I wasn’t sure how to photograph that concept.  Do I photograph a house? a place? what?  What is “home” to me.  As I perused my photos to get ideas I came across this photo of our Chanukia fully lit on the last night of Chanukah last year.  It occurred to me that home to us is more about who we are than it is about where we live.  Our rituals and customs are our connections to family and community where ever we live at any given time.  A house is a house is a house. I’ve learned to “love ’em and leave ’em.”  Home is our heart, our beliefs, our family, our groundedness.  Rituals connect us to our ancestral values.  Home is a spiritual place and experience for us. Home is where the heart is.

On the other hand, this little critter’s home is very much tied to a physical environment.

Perspectives From a Hospital Bed

I slowed down a bit this week.  An eye infection got the best of me and I am writing this from my hospital bed on the eighth floor of Inova Hospital.  My eye is improving quite a bit.  I don’t have to have surgery as was originally rumored, but will be on meds and follow-up with an opthomologist when I return home.  My first thoughts as this saga unfolded were about writing, photography, school.  But being in a hospital with nothing much to do, and eyesight that makes writing, reading or TV viewing difficult, I had a lot of time to think.  Listening to the news was a shock to my system.  We don’t have TV so the only news I get is an ocational radio broadcast or quick snapshots on the internet as I wend my way to my on-line classroom.  Having large blocks of time to listen, and to see the pictures of devastation from Japan, albeit blurry, has been sobering to say the least.  I sit here with my problems and aches, but how can I complain?  My challenge is addressed with some antibiotics and then I go home.  How will the Japanese address their problem?  A massive earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded; a devastating tsunami destroying everything in its path and taking thousands of lives as it washed over the land; nuclear disaster as two nuclear power plants are distressed to the point of melt down, if not complete, at least partial.  I wish antibiotics would erase their challenges, but it won’t.  What do we do in the face of such a monumental catastrophe.

Sadly, there was another catastrophe this weekend that weighs on my heart, and few people outside the Jewish community know about it.  Friday night, or was it Saturday, two Palestinian murderers stole into the home of the Fogel family living in Israel, and brutally murdered five members of that family while most of them slept: both parents, an infant daughter, a 3-year-old son and an 11-year-old son.  Two of the three surviving children slept while this was going on, being spared only because they were not in their bedrooms and were simply overlooked by the murderers.  The oldest, a 12-year-old daughter was out at a youth event, and was the one to discover the gruesome scene upon her return home shortly after midnight.  To be honest with you, I want the monsters who did this found, and tortured for what they did.  What do we do in the face of such tragedy?  To be Jewish in this world is to be hated by many. . .still.  Needing antibiotics for an infected eye is not a problem.  Would that I could share antibiotics with the surviving children and bring their family back to life. Ridiculous thought, yes.  But I would if I could.

Reflecting on these events, I was humbled and my complaining turned to gratitude as I sit in this hospital bed and get poked, prodded, questioned and all-around bothered in this healing process.  Gratitude because there is healing, even as I feel enormous grief for the losses that defy explanation or understanding.

I have googled and searched for responses to both events, struggling to read, listening to what I can.  It occurs to me that we do have choices in how we respond to these heartrending events of recent days.  I share with you some of my thoughts mingled with the thoughts of others that I have come across as I sit in this hospital bed.  I don’t know their names, the ones who put some of this together, but I do know that good portions of what follows are from our Jewish prayers–Tehillim/Psalms–our ageless response to evil.

Grieve in its proper time.  The dead are worthy of our grief, our send-off, acknowledgement for their having lived and loved. They were part of our physical world, and now a permanent part of our spiritual lives.

Live in joy, as our ancestors have done for millenia.  Despite the evil, there is good.  Do not forsake the good to chase after evil.

Do one more mitzvah, one more good thing: Teshuva/Repentance, Tzedakah/Charity, Tefillah/Prayers, Torah/learn righteous living.

Return again to the path of your soul.  The derek/path to the heart of who we were meant to be.

Remember that your prayers rock the heavens and the earth. Pray from your heart for your nation, your people, all that is good and holy.

Now is the time for love beyond logic.

Pay attention to where you put your thoughts.  We become what we focus on! This is a law of nature.  Don’t spend too much time watching videos about the enemy.

The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  Remember that.

From Tehillim/Psalms. . .

Be not disturbed by evildoers. . . like grass will they soon be cut down, and like green vegetables will they wither.

Trust the Eternal and do good. . .

Dwell in the land and nourish yourself with faith. Only a little longer, and there will be no wicked one. . .

Their sword will enter their own heart and their bow will be broken. . .

Let them be ashamed and disgraced, those who seek my soul, may they draw back and be humiliated, those who devise my harm.  Let them be like chaff before the wind, and with the angel from the Eternal drawing them away. . .

Be gracious to me, G-d, I am calling out to You by the day.  Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You , G-d, do I lift up my soul.

The following words are a constant reminder to us of who we are and whose we are.  We say these at least three times a day, and for me it has become a holy mantra when I doubt, fear, question or wonder about the events of life:

Shemah Yisrael/Listen Israel: Hashem Elokaynu/The Lord is G-d, Hashem Ekhad/G-d is one.

To those who inspired me with their words and thoughts, thank you.  As I stated, many words here are from those other sources, but I don’t know your names.  I took the liberty of mingling your words with mine as I reflected on the many thoughts of anger, despair, grief, love, repair, hope, and trust.  If you recognize your words or thoughts, please feel free to comment.  If you wish to share your thoughts and reflections here, please do.  Above all, seek the good.