Hannukah Expansion and Contraction by Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits

December 15, 2017
Chanukah menorahChanukiah

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”

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5542-eleazar-ben-judah-ben-kalonymus-of-worms 1173-1238

The Bnay Yisaskhar

http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=dinov.htm  1783-1841

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.

Photo of Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits
Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits




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).

There will be an orientation session January 2nd.

Information on attending the online orientation and the course will be announced and sent to those registered.


You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or see the information at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.


Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session, held mnthly. Each month, different person(s) will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is December 20th with a discussion of the creation of the Chai Mitzvah curriculum on discussing Jewish dying and death by Rena Boroditsky and Rabbi Joe Blair.

Starting in January 2018, the Gamleil Café will move to the third Thursday evening of each month at the same time. Watch for information on these events.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.


Gamliel Continuing Education Courses

Gamliel students should be on the lookout for information on a series of Gamliel ‘Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first course took place in Fall 2017, focusing on Psalms. The next course will be in April, and will look at death as seen in the Zohar, taught by Beth Huppin. Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Contact us for information, by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/.


16th annual Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

Mark your calendar and hold the dates! June 3-5, 2018, in the Washington D.C. area. Details to be forthcoming soon. And Gamliel Students – remember to hold an extra day for the Gamliel Day of Learning that follows immediately after the conference!



Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the annual conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Continuing Education courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).



If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED and When Other Relevant Items are published!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.



Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.