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

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.