Hanukkah for grown-Ups -- and for everyone

Photo of manorha

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 11/24/2004

Dear Friends,

The spiritual and political meaning of Hanukkah is so profound that although its teachings come in a uniquely Jewish form and metaphor, I would welcome everyone who is committed to peace, justice, and the healing of the earth to try the spiritual discipline of the candle-lighting described below.

Hanukkah begins the night of Tuesday, December 7, with the lighting of one candle that is considered not to count - it is lit in order to light the other candles - and then by the lighting of one single candle for the first night, as there will be two on the second night, and on so on up to eight.

On the sixth night, December 12, The Shalom Center will celebrate in New York with an outpouring of light, song, and teaching from Ruth Messinger and Sy Hersh and Peter Yarrow about how to bring new light into the world in these dark times. See the lead story on our Website for details and for arranging to come.

Sometimes we treat Hanukkah as a holiday for kids. But it has profound spiritual significance - celebrating the reemergence of light in a time of darkness, of freedom in a time of tyranny, of hope and rededication in a time of despair.

And we learn something about conservation of the earth's resources — especially of Oil — from the story of how the Temple's rededication was achieved when one bottle of sacred oil — one day's worth — lasted for eight days until more oil could be consecrated.

The Rabbis taught this is why we celebrate eight days of Hanukkah. They taught that this "conservation of oil" was a Divine miracle. We might translate this to mean that it is a sacred act, carrying out God's will and following God's lead, for US to conserve oil, trees, water, air — all the strands of earth. To conserve, to renew, to heal.

There follow several ways of approaching the candle-lighting as a spiritual and political practice for grown-ups, and then two songs - one by Rabbi Shefa Gold, one by Peter Yarrow.

May we all be blessed to kindle lights of hope in this dark time.

- Arthur

II. The Meaning of Hanukkah

[On the first night, you might read and absorb the following passage, If you are in a group, the paragraphs might be read aloud, one by one, by each person present:]

When the moon turns dark and the sun turns dark, we light a growing blaze of candles: Hanukkah.

When the world turns dark because a Great Government is threatening our freedom, our autonomy, our community - or a Great Corporation is threatening our jobs or poisoning our earth and air and water - or a Great War is threatening our lives and shattering our hopes - we light a growing blaze of candles: Hanukkah.

When our lives turn dark because we have lost someone beloved, or lost a loving relationship, or lost our sense of purpose in the world - when we have no hope of changing, we light a growing blaze of candles: Hanukkah.

When our sense of hope and change darkens, we think ourselves helpless; but then as we light the candles we remember the Maccabees and the Rabbis, who faced a power much greater than their own.

So on each of the eight nights, as we light the candles we say aloud our intention, our kavvanah, the commitment we are making to ourselves and each other, to create light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of depression and despair:

III. Focus for each night

What follows are meditations for each night of Hanukkah, to stir our hearts and renew our strength,

Each night, before lighting the shammas (the ninth candle with which all the other eight will be lit), sit quietly in the dark. Then light the shammas, focus especially on the spot of darkness that is at the heart of the candle-flame, and say:

In darkness, be light!
And in your light preserve
a spark of darkness,
a spark of the Mystery
from which light grows.

Then light the shammas, and before saying the blessings over the 1st candle on the first night, the 2d and 1st on the second night, the 3d and 2d and 1st, etc, say the following (one each evening, as shown):

1. For sun, moon, and earth,
for the spirals of their dark and light,
for cold and heat, for summer and winter,
for seedtime and harvest, for day and night,
for the One whose covenant entwines all spirals -
I light one light.

I pledge one evening time
each week
throughout the year
to set aside the eighteen minutes of this candle
to learn and teach what keeps the earth alive.
[After lighting, work out with the other members of the household which night each week you will reserve some time for study of how to heal the earth.]

2. For oil of olives, always growing,
for the trees that give us light and warmth,
I will write one letter to demand that
ancient forests not be plundered for the sake of wealth,
olive trees not be uprooted for the sake of conquest.
[After lighting, set aside time to write a letter to a major corporation that is destroying forests or a government that as an act of war is uprooting trees.]

3. [Use this kavvanah for the evening just before the Shabbat of Hanukkah.]
For the sake of rest,
I pledge to seek a Shabbat for the earth,
a time when we will turn to see and celebrate
our work but will not
make, invent, do, act
and will instead praise all perfection.
[Set aside a time to talk with your rabbi or other community leader about sponsoring a neighborhood festival to celebrate the earth, with free music, crafts, cooking, etc. with streets, etc., closed to traffic and businesses shut down.]

4. For the sake of balancing the cold and heat
that keep our earth in balance,
for warding off the scorching of our planet
that could bring drought and flood upon all peoples,
I pledge to set aside one day each month
when I will use no gasoline.
[Work out together how to set aside one day for walking or biking so as to relieve the air of the carbon dioxide from automobiles. Could this be one day a week?!]

5. For the sake of the weak
who are trampled under foot
by elephantine power,
for the many forms of life that vanish every week
from off our planet,
I pledge to join with Noah and Naamah
to affirm God's covenant
with all that lives and breathes -
to save each species from extinction
by making all of Earth an Ark of comfort.
[Write a letter to the synagogue board urging it to invite a speaker on the Preservation of Species Act.]

6. For the sake of Holy Temple,
the microcosm of our holy cosmos,
affirming that the earth is not for burning,
and that our planet is not for desecration,
I pledge to be a Maccabee of strength
against all idol
that would distract me
from the Holy Source.
I pledge to pool
my way of transportation
with another household that i
coming to this Temple.
[After lighting the candles, take time to call a friend or neighbor and begin to plan a car pool for Friday evenings at your synagogue, havurah, or temple.]

7. For light,
and for the sake of stored
reserves of life
that give us light,
for the body electric of the earth,
I pledge to seek out bulbs of light
that draw less energy from hidden
places in the earth.
[After lighting the candles, take some time together to plan how to find and buy low-energy electric bulbs.]

8. For sun, moon, and earth,
for the spirals of their dark and light,
for cold and heat, for summer and winter,
for seedtime and harvest, for day and night,
for the One whose covenant entwines all spirals -

I light all lights.

IV. Two Hanukkah songs:

The first of the two songs is by Rabbi Shefa Gold. It comes from the great Zechariah haftarah (Prophetic reading) for Shabbat Hanukkah - the one with "Not by might & not by power, but by My spirit, says the Infinite Breathing-spirit of the world." (Zech. 2: 14 - 4:7). The song is called "Rani v'Simchi" (Celebrate and Rejoice). It is on the tape called "Chants Encounters." To order it:


"Rejoice, rejoice, daughter of Zion,
For I am here, and I have come,
to dwell within you.
These are the words of God -

(CH:) Rani v'simchi, rani v'simchi, Bat Tzion - ki
Hin'ni vah, ki
Hin'ni vah, v'shochanti b'tocheych, n'um Yah.

"We will prevail through the dark night,
but not by might, and not by power,
but by Your Spirit. -
These are the words of God.

CH: Rani v'simchi -------

"And on that day you will call to your
friends, to celebrate under your vine,
under your figtree -
These are the words of God!

The second song is by Peter Yarrow. He wrote it as an Israeli-Palestinian peace song. (See the last lines of the first verse, and the [somewhat coded] meaning of the whole second verse.)

I heard him sing it in New York at a pro-peace rally in 1988 or 1989 after he had received death threats for his commitment to peace between Israelis & Palestinians. He will sing it again at the Shalom Center's Hanukkah celebration in New York on December 12.

It goes -

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
Give thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
Light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peace-maker's time is at hand

Don't let the light go out
It's lasted for so many year
Don't let the light go out
Let it shine through our love and our tear
Don't let the light go out

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
Light one candle for those who are suffering
The pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
Let anger not tear us apart
Light one candle to bind us together
With peace as the song in our heart


What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep alive in that flame
What's the commitment to those who have died
When we cry out "they've not died in vain."
We have come this far always believing
That justice will somehow prevail
This is the burden and this is the promise
And this is why we will not fail



Jewish and Interfaith Topics: