A Water from the Well blog post,
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
The root of the word Chanukah, Chet-Nun-Khaf (ח–נ–כ), means dedication, but the root of this root is Chen, Grace (חן). The light we celebrate at Chanukah expresses grace in two ways. First, there is the miracle of the light that lasted for eight days, that is, the gift of grace by God that allowed the light to shine beyond its normal duration. Additionally, the return of the sun’s light is a kind of annual miracle, grace on a cosmic scale. The Chanukah candles, arrayed in the menorah, growing in light each night, create a bridge of light across the darkest nights of the year. We begin with a drop of light on the first night, which always falls before the winter solstice, and over eight nights, we watch the light strengthen. By the end of the holiday, with our menorot all aglow, we have passed through the solstice and can see the daylit hours also begin to lengthen. In this way, our menorah acts as a bridge across time.
In our tradition we understand the existence of light itself to be a miracle. It is the first creation: Yehi Or (Let there be light). We might tend to feel that light is something we deserve or have a right to, but our spiritual challenge is to reject a sense of entitlement and recognize that the root of all blessings is grace. This is our true Chanukah gift.
The birth of a child is one of the greatest life experiences of grace. When a new soul is born, a new light comes into the world. So I am especially delighted to announce the birth of a new soul in our community, a boy born to Christine Caputo and Ben Martindale, a little brother for Vivienne. Mazel Tov to them and to us!
There are wonderful connections between a bris and Chanukah. The bris was one of the Jewish rituals that was prohibited by the Greeks during their rule over Israel. It was denied because it is the quintessential act that marks Jewish identity for men. Because the Maccabees prevailed, Judaism and Jewish identity survived. A bris is also symbolically connected to the eight days of Chanukah, for it takes place on the eighth day after birth.
In Hebrew the words for soul, neshamah, oil, shemen, and eight, sh’monah, all contain the same Hebrew letters.
Neshamah, soul, contains the letters nun, shin and mem.
Shemen, oil that lasted eight days, contains the letters shin, mem and nun.
Sh’monah, number eight, also contains shin, mem and nun.
In our tradition, all of these words represent the concept of transcendence. Just as the soul transcends the physical body, the little bit of sacred oil transcended its physical nature by lasting so long. Our rabbis teach that the number seven represents the cycles of time within this physical world. However, the number eight goes one step beyond these physical rhythms to represent a spiritual reality. Therefore, Chanukah itself, with its eight days, is a festival of transcendence, a festival of miracles.
May the lights we kindle this season enable us to see more clearly all the everyday miracles that permeate our lives.
חג אורים שמח!
Chag Urim Sameiach – Happy Festival of Lights!