Shabbat Shalom. Hanukkah Sameach (Happy Hanukkah).

It's kind of an obvious thing to state but Hanukkah always comes at the darkest time of year. This holiday is the only one that spans two months in the Hebrew calendar and therefore also coincides with Rosh Chodesh, the new month, the new moon. Spanning these moons, this holiday wants to embrace, to spread its arms open wide, to bring integration.

Hanukkah always brings its light during the moon closest to the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.

Hanukkah also always corresponds in the annual Torah reading cycle to the Joseph story. The story of the dreamer with the multicolored robe who is thrown into a pit left for dead, sold into slavery. The soul that ends up in a dungeon cell in a foreign land. From a kaleidoscopic visionary to a forgotten dreamer at rock bottom who is then again elevated to the highest position in the land, the King of Egypt's right-hand man. The dizzying life of Joseph reminds us of the fate of the dreidl. The mind-bending vicissitudes of life. On one face the vivid vitality and on the fallen face of another moment the dull display. All the varieties and vulgarities and variegation of awareness. The unending and sometimes chaotic dance and play of consciousness.

And although Hanukkah isn't mentioned in the Torah — it commemorates a historical event many generations after the Days in Eden and the Captivity in the Narrow Places and the Desert Generation — it is alluded to in the copious chapters dedicated to the MISHKAN/משכן, the desert dwelling, the Tabernacle. This collapsible portable temporary temple which mirrors the world and mirrors the body has a few salient but meaning-saturated features.

An ark for the tablets; pans for the luxurious incense; a table for offering the aromatic bread. And of course the Menorah, the golden lamp. This MENORAH/מנורה — the floral, branched lamp of pure solid hammered gold — is like a small sculpture of the vast solar system.

As a symbol of Judaism, it is far older than the MAGEN DAVID, the Star of David. In ancient Roman reliefs that celebrate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, it is an image of the Menorah being carted away as booty. The symbol of the desecration and deactivation of the BEIT HAMIKDASH, our "home of holiness." Our Axis Mundi. The umbilical connection of earth to cosmos.

Three other CHAGIM/חגים, three other pilgrimage festivals, are mentioned in the Torah. PESACH, SHAVUOT, and SUKKOT. The REGALIM/רגלים, the times we are meant "to take foot" and appear before the One —m Passover; MATAN TORAH/מתן תורה or the celebration of revelation of the gift of Torah; and SUKKOT/סכת, "booths," the harvest celebration — these are mentioned... but Hanukkah is a holiday hidden in the Torah, hidden from the Torah. Perhaps because it is a celebration hidden in plain sight. In luminous darkness.

Perhaps Hanukkah is not explicitly mentioned as a pilgrimage because there's nowhere to go. Not that there's no Temple any longer, that's obvious. Rather there's no Temple to turn to other than the one clearly in plain sight.

Our teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, teaches that the temple was a living being. In moments of presence and clarity and stillness, we all know this. We know that all is alive. Formerly inanimate and disparate aspects of nature and universe have voices, have names, have relationships, have stories. The Temple Mount and the Temple of our Lives breathe with vitality. And when in Zion, in the temple, the Menorah was lit, the temple not only was living, but the temple became conscious. As we live through this dark winter and trying times, pandemic and other health challenges, political divides, climate chaos, the weaponization of both facts and faith, the invitation of this season is to rededicate ourselves to illuminate a divine consciousness within the temple of our being. To kindle that connection with Root and Source of Consciousness, the already aflame.

When I took out our Hanukkah box this year, the gift of a wicker box my friend Chani gave us many years ago, and I rummaged through the collection of candles and menorahs and dreidels and oil and wicks and wax, I saw the charred evidence of only dimly remembered Hanukkahs past. And I also saw that the light, the potential, the increase of hope was already imminent in these unlit simple gifts. In these tiny tools of awareness.

So as we enter more deeply into the second night of Hanukkah tonight we recall the two schools of thought, Hillel and Shammai, on whether or not to start the commemoration off with a bang and light all eight candles at once on the first night, decreasing over the week to a simple unity at the end. And there are good arguments for this. But I like the notion of Hillel's HOLECH VEMOSIF/הולך ומוסיף, "start small and increase." We wake up to the already present, already perfect, luminous light of Life, little by little. And before we know it, the temple of life is rededicated. Every moment is sacred. The Menorah is eternal. We practice linking small moments of presence and insight at first distinct and separate and disparate into an ever-growing chain, connecting the dots of love and dedication and connectedness. A garland glowing and growing throughout our lives.

When in the ancient Temple the Menorah was lit and the building became conscious the people shared in this conscious oneness... Reb Zalman also taught that the Menorah resembles and angel. In the book of Ezekiel, that mystic's profound vision includes the CHERUVIM/כרובים, the Cherubs, a six-winged being. Two of those wings covered the Cherub's face; two wings stretched upwards; and the two remaining outstretched to the sides. By relating to the menorah as an angelic being the object becomes a subject; a thing becomes an entity. A form we can relate to. Perhaps even communicate with.

  • So now, here, in your body, in this moment, before the being of the menorah...
    How are two wings within you embracing your body and its fundamental need for safety, touch, health, and intimacy?
  • So now, here, in your body, in this moment, before the being of the menorah...
    How are two wings of yours reaching up towards growth and grief and surrender?

  • So now, here, in your body, in this moment, before the being of the menorah...
    How are two of your wings reaching out with the embrace of community, the path of service, generosity, towards the horizon of Mother Earth?

And how does your heart, the light of consciousness that makes you a living temple too, yearn to illuminate our world so much in need of illumination?

The book of Proverbs teaches NER HASHEM NISHMAT ADAM/נר ה׳ נשמת אדם "The lamp of God is the human soul." May our very being, already perfect, be a light for the world shedding light on ways of goodness, dispelling shadows of doubt and despair, and shining a beacon for the unfolding perfection of all life. In this world. In all worlds. For the sake of all life.

L'CHAYYIM ("To life!"). CHAG URIM SAMEACH ("Happy Holy Day of Light"). Shabbat Shalom.

shir feit


Shir Yaakov is Kol Hai's founder and spiritual director.