Hanukkah Torah

A Water from the Well blog post, Hanukkah
by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
December 13, 2020

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Hanukkah, as we know, takes place at the darkest time of the year, not only because the days are the shortest of the year, with the least amount of sunlight available, but also because it falls in the last week of the lunar month. This is the time of the month with the least amount of moonlight as well. On Hanukkah we create light in the midst of apparent darkness, as we celebrate the re-dedication of the Holy Temple. (Hanukkat haBayit)

By contrast, Tisha b’Av, which marks destruction of the Temple occurs just after the Summer Solstice, when the light is at its fullest. One could say that this memorial day calls our attention to darkness in the midst of light as opposed to Hanukkah that celebrates light in the midst of darkness. Every year we cycle between these 2 poles reminding us that we are always moving through cycles of transformation. And most importantly, that not all light is devoid of darkness and not all darkness is devoid of light. And this is a comfort.


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In particular, in the midst of this dark time, Hanukkah celebrates a very particular kind of light;  a light that comes from a fire that does not consume. The Hanukkah miracle we celebrate is that the fire did not consume the oil for eight days. This Hanukah fire-light can be likened to the fire of the burning bush, that did not consume the bush, but which instead, calls our attention.

What is this kind of fire-light that does not consume?  It is a light that just gives of itself. In our tradition this light is known as the Or Haganuz– the primordial light of Creation. The is the light that emerged when Elohim said, “Yehi Or- Let there be light!” This is the light that emerged before there was sun and moon. It is this light that is tucked away in our world. Indeed, the word for world is Hebrew is Olam which stems from the root meaning ‘hidden’. From this we understand that the nature of the world (Olam) is such that God is hidden within it, hidden within all of Creation.

We can catch a glimpse of this Or Haganuz,  the hidden primordial Divine light in many ways. Perhaps you have seen it in the gaze of loving eyes, in the eyes of one who loves you, in the eyes of a parent, a lover, a child and even in the eyes of your beloved animal friends and pets.

We might also understand this kind of ever-giving light in terms of the inner quality of Trust/Bitachon. Trust is the foundation stone upon which all loving relationships are built and upon which all peaceful societies rest.  It is the foundational light that we recognize as shining between us in a healthy relationship and in a healthy society. As we move through these dark days, developing trust in one another and in the highest and best outcome for all is not only our challenge but I would suggest, that this is the real gift of Hanukkah.

As we return to our Hanukkah story, we recall that despite the utter chaos and destruction of all that was holy, the Hashmona’im, in the end, were able to restore kedusha/holiness to the Temple. They restored the everlasting light and re-dedicated the Bayit/the House of God to its sacred purpose.

May we take strength from this story and these images. Let us take the Hanukkah challenge to renew our sense of trust in one another and seek out the hidden light that resides in all of creation, in all human beings, so that we might recreate, restore and rededicate this Bayit/ this world home to a vision of peace.

Chag Sameiach! Happy Hannukah!

Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman