Light & Delight for Hanukkah and Other Festivals

“It is the worst of times, it is the best of times … it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness,” to carry into our own generation a famous novel of the French Revolution.

This morning, as we face the danger that the “Tax Deform” may pass despite its cruelty, the world is growing darker than it was. Yet we can also see the growing glow of Light, like fireflies in the night,  in many hearts, minds, hands that are kindling the candles of commitment.

And many festivals of Light dispelling darkness are soon to come upon us.

The roots of Hanukkah are in a Tree.  A Tree of Light in a time of Dark. A Tree of Growth in a time that threatens death. 


Hanukkah begins the evening of December 12 with the lighting of one candle and continues till the evening of  December 20 -- including the lighting of one more candle each night till eight candles are lit on the evening of December 19. 

The festival begins on the 25th of the lunar “moonth” closest to the winter solstice, and watches over the disappearance  of the moon and its reappearance. It thus celebrates with light the darkest time of the moon and the sun in the Northern Hemisphere.

This pattern suggests that almost certainly its true origin was an earth-time festival. It has been overlaid in Jewish tradition as the celebration of the victory of a Jewish revolt against an oppressive and idolatrous empire –- ruled by a king known as Antiochus the Mad. Thus it translated the earthy and spiritual victory of light and hope over a time of darkness and despair into a political and religious level, as the victory of a ragtag guerrilla uprising against a powerful Empire. 

And the rabbinic tradition also defined Hanukkah as the celebration of a miraculous “conservation of energy” when oil capable of lighting the seven-branched Temple Menorah for just one day lasted for eight full days.

On the Shabbat of Hanukkah we will read the Prophetic and ecstatic envisioning by Zechariah of the rebuilding of that Temple after its destruction by another empire -- Babylonia. Zechariah proclaims that in the rebuilt Temple the Menorah will be lit up by two olive trees that will secrete their oil directly –--  without human intervention -- into the Menorah. (The Menorah itself was fashioned in imitation of a tree, with branches and buds and flowers.)

Thus what is made by human hands and what is earthy are intertwined,  just as  the Earth (adamah) and the human “earthling”  (adam) are in Hebrew intertwined, and as they are intertwined in the life-giving ecosystems of our planet.

So Hanukkah can be celebrated at many levels: 

  • As a time to renew active and activist hope and Light in a time –-- like the present! –-- when many of us feel darkness and near despair about the future of democracy, the future of human civilization, and the future of our planet’s web of life;
  • As a festival to celebrate and act on the conservation of energy and the reduction of our use of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels;
  • As a time of resistance to our modern Empires, both corporate and governmental, including one ruled by a Mad self-worshipping Emperor devoid of empathy and honor;
  • And as a time for celebrating the interwoven, interbreathing life we share with all living beings as part of Mother Earth.

Meanwhile, we are on the verge of other festivals  that also celebrate the emergence of Light in a time of darkness:

The Christian festival of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (December 2) and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24.

The Muslim festival of Mawlid un Nabi, Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, began last night for Sunni Muslims and continues till this coming evening, and for Shia Muslims will begin the evening of December 5.  

Bodhi Day, the Buddhist festival recalling the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, occurs on December 8.

For those who want to celebrate any of these festivals not with tchotchkes but with gifts that bring Light  into our lives, two books and a CD  from The Shalom Center might meet your needs and fulfill your desires.

In one of these books, Godwrestling – Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths, I share the new Torah that emerged from Torah as I read and reimagined it in the context of my own life in the midst of new Jewish communities (feminist, Earth-centered, peace-pursuing, Spirit-called).

In the second book, Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I draw on our lives together to look at the bold, mournful, hilarious, heartbreaking stories of breaking free from slavery and seeking to birth a new society.

In the spirit of the Freedom Journey itself, we invited a radically spiritual white Christian American, a feminist Muslim scholar, and an activist  Black American teacher who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King each to write a chapter on the role of the  Exodus/ Wilderness stories in their own traditions and communities.

You can read these books, a chapter at a time,  to yourself, a teen-age child, a companion, a lover, a spouse. Taste the chapter, talk about it, savor the sparks of Light that rise when you strike the Rock of Torah with the Hammer of our own lives.  And have your companion read the next chapter to you. They will bring sparks of renewed Light into your conversations and your lives.


As for the CD named Sing Shalom!, it begins with an improvised jazz duet on flute and shofar by Paul Horn and Reb Zalman. It includes Pete Seeger singing for the first time in public his song Rainbow Race; Peter  Yarrow singing his poignant Hanukkah song Don’t Let the Light Go Out;  Debbie Freedman with  Not by Might, Not by Power;  Shefa Gold with Roni v'simchi;  Kim and Reggie Harris with Go Tell It on the Mountain and stories of the civil-rights movement; Margot Stein, David Shneyer, Linda Hirschhorn, Leila Gal Berner, Jack Kessler, Miraj, Juliet Spitzer, and a dozen others.

There is no other CD like it, weaving together  Jewish and other Songs of the Spirit Rising as our lives need to do.To order these or other Gifts of the Spirit Rising for the Festivals of Light, please click to <>

Our lives have been, still are, a Time of Darkness; we are the glimmering fireflies that can gather to make ourselves a Menorah  of new Light. More light!


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