Lighting a menorah for the eight nights of Hanukkah has been part of our home’s holiday tradition for years. Today, as I write this, I’m looking forward to the first candle tonight. Travis and I will read traditional prayers in both English and in stumbling, phonetic Hebrew. It’s a sweet part of the season for me — there’s something tender and quiet about this ritual that I find refreshing amidst the flash and jangle of so much of the rest of it.
You probably know this already, but Hanukkah is actually a fairly minor holiday in Judaism. I don’t say this to diminish it in any way — just to point out that it’s not a biggie compared to Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah or Passover. It’s gotten extra emphasis in the United States because of its proximity to Christmas. I imagine that this is mostly so that Jewish kids and families don’t feel left out of all the Christian-pagan-secular merriment. Christmas tends to bulldoze over everything else, so the menorah has to shine a little brighter, the dreidels have to spin a little faster to keep up…
Still, I quite like the smallness and simplicity of it. It’s a small celebration to remember a tiny wonder. The story goes that there was only enough lamp oil to last one night but it lasted for eight nights. This was important — it made possible the re-dedication of the temple — but as far as miracles go, it’s not exactly earth-shattering. I’ve had tea lights that seemed to be flickering their last which somehow went on to keep burning for many hours longer — maybe that’s notable, but I don’t go around declaring a miracle about it.
Maybe I should, though. I mean, why not? Couldn’t hurt. I’m pretty sure I would enjoy a little more astonishment in my life.
If I don’t let myself experience appreciation and wonder for the small things, the little miracles, then I’m going to squander a lot of my life being over-it and kind of cynical, just biding my time while I wait for something truly inexplicable to happen. And, honestly, on the rare occasions when I do get my mind blown, that’s usually fairly unsettling. I don’t think I really want ginormous miracles all the time. The little ones are just fine for the most part.
I’m thinking about this in the context of the year we’ve just had — small miracles generally, and the Hanukkah story in particular. Something about how we keep on keeping on, even when we think we can’t do it anymore.
Most of us are feeling pretty depleted. Not being a front-line healthcare worker, I know that I can’t even imagine how run-down and exhausted some folks are. But I think it’s fair to say that we are all of us, collectively, fatigued and depleted. It feels like our relationships and communities and country and world are running on empty — emotionally, psychologically, financially, some of us physically…
This running on empty feeling is exactly the miracle of Hanukkah, isn’t it?
I believe that it’s a wonder and a blessing that we’ve kept it together as well as we have. It’s a testament to our deep strength and fortitude. It’s an example of the power of hope and faith. The fact that we haven’t torn each other to pieces is evidence of an abiding love that can and does sustain us through the darkest hours. It’s a blooming miracle, is what it is — WHAT WE ARE.
There’s a teaching in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, about Divine Sparks distributed throughout all creation — Holy Light embedded within everything existent. It is the work of people of faith to seek out and find these sparks, to lift them up, and construct our lives in them, with them.
Abraham Isaac Kook writes: “The scattered light stammers in the entirety, mouthing solitary syllables that combine into a dynamic song of creation. Sprinkling, then flowing, this light of life is suffused with holy energy. We raise these scattered sparks and arrange them into worlds, constructed within us, in our private and social lives. In proportion to the sparks we raise, our lives are enriched. Everything accords with how we act.”
We might start right where we are. In fact, that’s the only way to start: here and now, with ourselves. It’s time to raise the Holy Sparks within each of us and within each other — however we’re feeling, whatever we’re thinking, however we are, no matter what. The Divine Light awaits our astonishment, our acknowledgment that we ourselves are the miracle to be arranged into the future that we’re creating together.
We don’t have to be all flashy about it. It doesn’t always have to be some huge dramatic gesture. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the trumpeting angels and sweeping garlands and choral hallelujahs — I love all that — but it also can be about just one candle in the window.
One small candle that begins to light the other candles, from one to eight to on and on, infinity… Because the thing about sparks is — they fly.
Let’s fly together, my sparkling ones. Happy Hanukkah! XO, Drew
©2020 Drew Groves