Hannukah Expansion and Contraction by Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits
Have you ever thought about how many candles are lit during Hannukah?
On the first day of Hannukah one candle is lit, the second day two,.. on the eighth day eight candles are lit. Each day an additional candle is added,
Talmud documents dialogues of diverse schools of thought and methods; some practiced in community and others not. Talmud is a glimpse and invitation into the ongoing conversation. Increasing the candle count each day was initiated by the Hillel Academy. It invites a sense of growth, expansiveness, and encouragement.
It turns out that a different candle lighting method was initiated by Shammai Academy – they began by lighting the maximum number of candles, eight, on the first day, seven on the second reducing to a single candle the eighth day. Later Kabbalists teach that in the future to come, when Messianic consciousness fills the world, the Shammai Academy’s method will prevail.
Jewish traditions started in the Northern Hemisphere, and so holy time is referenced from here. During Hannukah, the nights are dark and the days are short.
Months on the Jewish calendar begin with the new moon, peak with the moon in fullness when many festivals are celebrated. Then, cycle back to the new moon. The eight days of Hannukah begin while the moon is waning on the 25th day of Kislev; the darkness peaks during the holiday just before the new moon of Tevet and continues a day through the second day of Tevet as a sliver of Moon is visible. Candles are lit bringing participation, a sense of mystery, vision, and brilliance.
The total number of Hannukah candles lit (aside from the shamus) is the same in both methods described. How many Hannukah candles are lit during the total holiday? 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36.
A total of 36 Hannukah Candles.
The Hasidic Master Bnay Yisaskhar from his book by the same name (1783-1841) http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=dinov.htm) writes:
…(The early rabbis ) established 36 candles in correspondence to the 36 hours of initial pure potent light available to the very first humans in the Garden of Eden (Pesiktah 2:2)…
(The holy rebbe, Ba’al haRokayah; Master of the Apothecary) …whose words of Kabbalah come directly from Eliyahu haNavih z”l says, the glow of the Hannukah mitzvah candle is the glow of the Ohr Ganuz; this light hidden. It was intentionally established (in this way) through Ruah Hakodesh* for the future generations because they (the early rabbis) knew that each and every year this light would be revealed.
That is why these days are called “Hannukah”, – that is, it is “hinukh” training (same Hebrew root as Hannukah.) for cultivating familiarity with the coming Future Redemption. Then, this light (first light of Eden) will be revealed in fullness.
Like the sages said in Hagigah 12b – ‘and they hid it for Tzaddikim in the future to come’, also as it written in Is 60:19, ‘you will no longer have the sun to light your days and the glow of the moon will no longer illuminate for you, Hashem; G!D Who Is Was and Will Be, will be your eternal light.’
It is true that technology offers humans many conveniences and much of it is a blessing. It is important to be aware of the shadow side of privilege. Information available today is endless – too often distracting our attention, consciousness, and time. Stress and overwhelm are on the rise. Electricity lights up our dwellings and break awareness of the natural cycles of night and day, cars and planes make travel efficient. Expediency is valued; more, faster, cheaper are “better.” Information and change happen very very quickly. All this, and more, serves to separate humanity from the natural rhythms of Earth resulting in people becoming increasingly isolated from each other, nature, and Spirit. This pattern is self-perpetuating and left alone will continue to spiral out of control.
Heykhalot literature, early Jewish mysticism, offers Rabbi Yishma’el’s accounts of his journeys into the heavens. He is guided by the angel Metatron; The Holy One of Blessing’s most trusted minister. In these writings Rabbi Yishma’el gives over visions from the inner essence of the heavens that the angel Metatron shared with him. Consider this text from Heykhalot Rabboti (Yalkut haRoeem haG’dolim page 2):
…The first human and their generation would sit at the opening of the gates of the Garden of Eden to gaze into the patterns and forms of Shekhinah’s glowing light, for Shekhinah’s glowing light travels from one end of the universe to the other… All who absorb this Shekhinah glow – the bees and flies do not go near them, not only that they do not get sick, they do not get stressed, no demons can get to them, and that’s not all, even angels do not rule over them…
The glow of this Sh’khinah is a cure for what ails humanity.
What if? What if this light is available here and now and no one can see it?
Hannukah offers an opportunity to train ourselves to be accustomed to seeing with the first light of Eden. It is true there are multiple ways to cultivate vision as we see from the examples of Hillel and Shammai. Every person is unique and individual. Each one of us has special skills and work to accomplish in this life. So too, training of any kind is best when it considers the qualities and capabilities of the individual. Everyone receives at their own level in their own way.
Simply, setting an intention creates a shift. Even if you question the potency of the light of Hannukah candles themselves, no doubt there is a benefit to pause and open to light during these dark days and its impact in your own unique way.
Regardless of whether you light candles according to Hillel, Shammai, both or not at all, Hannukah is an invitation to cultivate your inner vision. The Shammai Academy offers an alternative and valuable way of relating movement and responding to it. Earthly resonance includes ebb and flow, winter and summer, peak and valley, inhale and exhale, gel and sol, and life and death.
We can use Hannukah for personal reflection. The school of Shammai suggests acceptance of the ebb, the lessening of ability that happens in life. Change happens due to vicissitudes in time; external events, illness, changes as we age. Our personal physical reality will diminish from time to time; it is a natural part of the movement.
Hannukah’s oil brings the ongoing need for sustainable energy sources into awareness. Fossil fuel, like the temple oil, is limited, valuable and not quickly renewable, if at all. It’s availability is diminishing. Fossil fuel is expensive on many levels. Action is needed before the environment is ruined and oil runs out making no viable options are available. Some say it is already too late. It takes time, intention, and planning to shift the infrastructure to sustainable methods.
Hannukah offers opportunity to recognize a greater world view. Humans are finite beings living in a finite world. It is, indeed, wondrous to open to magic, mystery, and hope of Divine intervention especially in dark moments. May we each be blessed with what we need when we need it.
The expansive blessing of the of the single day’s portion of oil miraculously lasting for eight days makes people feel safe, builds excitement, and opens hearts. Simultaneously we can choose to consider the ongoing aspect of diminishment as the Shammai Academy did. The ebb is part of any cycle. Anticipating any loss, by talking with trusted community and developing plans in advance serves to minimize fear and cultivate sustainable comfort, intimacy, ease, and joy.
A light filled Hannukah to you and yours.
Ruah Hakodesh* – Prophetic, literally “Holy Spirit”
The Bnay Yisaskhar
Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits, BSE, is the founding rabbi and spiritual leader of Holistic Jew. She is known for her work with Kabbalah, Torah, and nature. An educator teaching at a variety of venues, Rabbi T’mimah works in support of traditional, cost effective, end of life options in creating The Green Gamliel Initiative in partnership with Kavod v’Nichum. She teaches “davvenlogy” highlighting holy sparks in liturgy in seminary and privately. Authorized to teach “Continuum Movement” by Emilie Conrad obm, and a spiritual director, she meets with clients in private Liquid Kabbalah and spiritual direction sessions. Rabbi T’mimah runs the Holistic Jew garden serving homegrown produce at community meals.
GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES
LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE
The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practices (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January 9th, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2). The instructors will be Rabbi Stuart Kelman and Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, with some guest instructors during the course.
The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).
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