Tonight is the last night of Hanukah. My hanukiah, (the technical term for the menorah), has been lit, and all but one of the candles is out.
Hanukah is probably my favorite Jewish holiday, because when all the lights are lit, I can actually see them. So in a way, even with all the frustration involved with lighting them, I hate to see it go.
On an ordinary level, Hanukah is considered a minor holiday. Work is permitted except when the lights are burning, and there are not a lot of changes to the prayers. But kabbalistically, Hanukah is considered to have more significance than most other Jewish holidays.
Hanukah is a holiday that touches everyone since it encompasses all ages. Everyone easily relates to it and feels part of this special time. But what are the deeper dimensions of Chanukah?
The very fact that Chanukah lasts for eight days, already distinguishes it as an unusual holiday. Other holidays such as Pesach and Sukkot are seven days long. (Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah,which falls at the end of Sukkot, is considered by the Talmud to be a holiday unto itself.)
Hanukah, however, is different. It lasts eight days rather than seven. What is the significance of the number eight? Hanukah reaches just beyond the seven-day structure, which signifies the creation of the world. The seven-day week is universally accepted—beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday—the cycle then repeats itself.
The fact that Hanukah extends beyond these seven days and lasts for eight indicates that Hanukah originates in an extremely high and exalted place. It wasn’t taken from this world at all, but rather from the future perfected world. From there, God drew down a type of light to give us a certain momentum—a yearning and hope—to exit from this long exile. This is the essential message of Hanukah, and it is a completely new concept having nothing to do with what transpires during the regular annual cycle. Hanukah draws its power from a place far beyond our conception, infusing us with such great hope, despite our inability to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” This gives us a point of faith from which to draw, infusing us with a spirit of life. The light of Hanukah is a completely different type of light, since its source is higher than the seven days of creation. It is an eternal and everlasting light beyond any familiar concept of light where darkness inevitably follows. This special light, and its hope, is what Chanukah imparts to us, especially on Zot Hanukah, the eighth day of Hanukah which is the culmination of the festival.
HANUKAH And THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY
According to kabbalah, the eight days of Hanukah correspond to the thirteen Attributes of Mercy. How does this work if Hanukah is only eight days? The first seven days each correspond to the first seven attributes:
- to anger,
- abundant in kindness and
Zot Hanukah, however, encompasses the remaining six attributes in a single day:
- “Preserver of kindness
- for thousands of generations,
- forgiver of iniquity,
- [forgiver of] transgression,
- [forgiver of] sin, and
- Who cleanses.”
For this reason, together with Hanukah being a time of miracles, it is also a time of hope and redemption from spiritual and physical trials, and a time to pray more intensely about what is going on in our lives that we need help with, and to also take action where we can of course, because prayer goes hand in hand with the efforts we make to improve our lives where possible.
Of course, I’m not saying that we should pray and then sit back and do nothing, and I’m also not promising instant success in everything we do. But for me at least, this last day of Hanukah is a time to contemplate the abundant mercy that God not only displays towards me, but also the mercy I want him to display towards those I love. This day for me is a special time to take stock of my efforts, to try to start increasing them where I need to, and to pray about all the things I can’t directly control.
I hope all of you have at least some time during this holiday season to take stock, forgive yourselves where you need to, and that this time is full of joy and peace. And I also hope that those for whom the holidays are a difficult time can also experience a measure of peace. Spend time with your friends if they’re around, because having fun can also be a form of redemption and can provide hope in what can be a very dark time.
Until next time.