I’ve been studying a great sefer lately, Shefa Tal by Shabbtai Sheftel Horowitz, a kabbalist living in Prague about four hundred years ago. He begins explaining one of the Proverbs of King Solomon, נר אלקים נשמת אדם, Ner Elokim Nishmat Adam, literally the candle of God (displaying the facet of form/organization/nature) is the soul of man. He expands the word נ”ר (ner, candle) into an acronym for נפש רוח, Nefesh-Ruach, two fundamental levels of the soul. He demonstrates that our expanded soul, adding the level of Neshama to Nefesh and Ruach are of the very light of God. He goes on to explain that, in fact, the only way our unique human souls differ from the ultimate, unknowable essence of God is that He is the whole while we are individual sparks, and differ only in that from our side of the arrangement we lack the completeness of the whole. (In other words, we’re finite, as we should be, with boundaries to our understanding and knowledge.)
He further develops this thought that this Divine Soul, reflected in us, is comprised of 248 white lights (pure energies of Chesed, Love) and 365 red lights (pure energy of Din, organization and structure)–in other words, the 613 positive and negative commandments while they are still in a purely spiritual, completely non-material state. These lights, these energies, stretch between God and each individual Jew, first in a purely spiritual, ethereal, form, later coalescing and materializing into the physical (which includes our actions).
A “modern” way to imagine this is as a bundle of 613 optic fibers, each pulsing with its unique light, first pure energy and eventually materializing into a form that can animate and power us, along with allowing us the ability to glance back up the relationship in order to have some intuition, at least, of the Divine. Whenever, from our end of the relationship, we enhance the power of an individual “optic fiber”, we strengthen that “light” above so it flows more powerfully back to us and the entire physical world.
Curiously, on Chanukah, our specific mitzvah is to light a candle. Not merely do we perform an arbitrary mitzvah whose effect will be to “light up” a stream of light, but we light up that stream of light which is all about lighting up light itself! This is the beauty of a metaphor of a metaphor of a metaphor! We are doing something so powerful and so abstract but in a manner that was initiated by a very concrete and directly-connected action.
Rabbi Twerski zt”l pointed out that there is almost no Talmud at all concerning Chanukah. What little is said is tangential to a discussion about Shabbat. He teaches from this that Chanukah is so removed from our understanding that we can’t really even talk about it effectively. This is also pointed out by many of our sages in the idea that eight, the number of nights/candles of Chanukah transcends seven, the days of Creation, representing our physical world.
The most we say for Chanukah is the simple prayer, אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדלים נר חנוכה, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner chanukah, who made us holy with his mitzvot (commandments, but containing the deeper meaning of binding together) and commanded (bound us together with Him) us to light the Chanukah candle (נ”ר נפש רוח). Without any specific idea what we’re really doing, but with the אמונה and בטחון, emunah and bitachon, “belief” and “trust” that it will be good, it’s almost like we light a soul-fuse which energizes the connection of light, the spiritual soul connection between us and The Creator, illuminating the upper worlds and allowing that enhanced light to return to our material world, spreading its energy and healing and love and tikkun.