Invitation to Soar

It’s oft-mentioned that Chanukah is the least mentioned and least explained of our holidays.  The Talmud only refers to it in passing when discussing Shabbat candles.  Rather than further illuminating this holiday, this fact has contributed to the trivialization of Chanukah as “just for children” or “the Jewish Christmas”.

The profundity of Chanukah, however, lies in this very silence.  There is but a single mitzvah associated with the chag (holiday), to light candles each night for eight days.  Too often, once the Chanukiot (Chanukah Menora) are lit, all the attention is focused on eating and parties.  Of course, celebration is good and important and I’m not knocking it, but I’d like to suggest that we take at least a few minutes just gazing, in silence, at the silence of these candles, watching the flames strain against their anchors/wicks as they try to rise heavenward, to transcend their limits.

We teach that the number eight, which is how many days we celebrate Chanukah, always points to the spiritual.  Seven, as we’re very familiar, always points to the physical, material world which was created in seven days.  Eight breaks these boundaries and lift us to the realm of the miraculous.

We use words to define our reality.  This process, however, simultaneously limits our thoughts and perceptions.  Of course, this is necessary in order to communicate specific thoughts and feelings, but it’s an artificial limitation nonetheless.  Ludwig Wittgenstein, 20th century mathematician and philosopher, famously wrote that “What can be said can be said clearly.  What cannot be said clearly must be passed over in silence.”  Perhaps this is why music and visual art are experienced as more universal languages.

Another teaching about Chanukah, mentioned in a previous post here, is that the original miracle was initiated from above.  We bore the constant attacks on our ways of life and our world view, not to mention the desecration of our holiest site, but were unable or unwilling to unite in opposition against them.  Rather, we’re taught that God, at His own initiative, inspired a small band of men to expel the invaders and bring about the miracles we celebrate today.

The Talmud is “silent” about Chanukah not because it has nothing to teach us, but because the essence of the holiday is above mere words.  It is in the realm of “8”, transcending the material.  Our mitzvah (mode of binding ourselves with the Divine Infinite God) is to send our silent flames, actually our unbounded souls, in response and thanks for the holy light that God sends into our world in these days as in the days of past.  We’re invited to break our own boundaries and limitations and to soar even higher than we can imagine.

Chag Urim Sameach

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