This Great Light of Ours

I pray you all enjoyed Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebrations filled with gratitude and connections with family and the month ahead. The weeks that included and surrounded these holidays provide opportunities to focus on commonality even where there are differences, and on the enduring importance and nurturing of relationships, making sure those in need have a place and sustenance to share in the bounty, and rededicating ourselves to our Jewish values and traditions. It is the reflection of us living, as Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan framed Jewish life in North America- in multiple civilizations at once. This includes the deep Jewish practice of “Hoda’ah” of offering gratitude and at least One Hundred blessings and thanks a day for a healthy soul diet.

During these Hebrew calendar months of Kislev and Tevet, we commemorated Human Rights Shabbat on December 4th, and honored and welcomed more than a dozen new member households since last year at this time!

We ushered in Kislev with an eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, our Festival of Lights and Rededication. We  gathered communally with our school families, lit candles every night and gathered together online for our first of three annual Community Meetings.

When the ritual of lighting the Hanukkah Menorah evolved, it was originally an oil lamp that was lit on the outside of the home doorway, as a way of rededicating ourselves and claiming Jewish identity and the willingness to shine our light into the world and not hide from engagement in the larger society. Sociopolitical and meteorological realities as we dispersed around the world forced the menorah indoors, and the custom developed in some communities to put it on the windowsill instead. Either way the shining our light within and into the world to illumine the night in the shortest days of the year is a vital balancing energy to the hate and division so many of us are rising to heal and overcome in our daily lives.

In more recent years, Hanukkah has taken on a life of its own, in terms of religious freedom, responding to the tensions of commercialization, and dedication of one’s values in personal and public life. We can do this through giving of tzedakah to a different cause by every day of Hanukkah. We can also rededicate ourselves to our relationships and strengthen our commitments to each other in our Mishkan community and beyond. Interestingly the books of Maccabees (I and II, as well as the later III and IV) were only preserved in the Christian Bible and not in the Hebrew Bible. The story of the miracle of oil that last eight days is a later rabbinic layering on the Hanukkah event to distance from the initial political and spiritual revival in 167-8 BCE that had descended into corruption by the time of the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, saw Hanukkah as a key festival in the ongoing reconstructing of Jewish life to remain relevant and compelling in our time:

“If the observance of Hanukkah can awaken in us the determination to reconstruct Jewish life, by informing it with a religious spirit characterized by absolute intellectual integrity, unqualified ethical responsibility and the highest degree of aesthetic creativity, it will indeed be a Festival of Dedication.” The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion.

In explaining why, the Hasmonean Jewish leaders constructed the blessing “to kindle Hanukkah light” and not “lights”, Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel writes, “A person drawn to one light believes if another person is predisposed to different lights the quality of light is diminished. However, as each person strives to strengthen the positive aspect toward which they are naturally inclined, the collective is built up and improvements multiply… Peace will prevail in the future when it is clearly recognized that all of the different, individual lights are in fact one single light.” Olat Re’iyah, p.435

Our Jewish tradition, spiritual practices, and core commitment to tikkun (repair and rebalancing of the world and of our own souls) can and must guide us through the turbulent seas we now navigate. The possibilities and challenges of Hanukkah are imperatives for us today. I wish all of you a hag sameach as we explore the season of light in the darkness and darkness in the light- with all of us realizing we are in fact part of one precious planet, and one radiant light- AND this light will not self-regulate. We will need to re-dedicate, “Hanukka-ize” ourselves if you will, through love, radical and responsible welcoming and determined activism over-and-over again to be shomrim/upstanders of the principles, and values we hold dear.

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