Holiday offers chance to rekindle dedication
Decembear 12, 2009
Growing up, I used to hear Hanukkah referred to as the “Jewish Christmas,” a silly consequence of a seasonal coincidence. I knew better.
Hanukkah means “dedication;” it commemorates the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem and its recommit-ment to its original purpose of divine service. As I grew older, though, I began to wonder how this “dedication” applies to a life lived without a temple.
Hanukkah is an eight day-holiday, and in the Jewish tradition eight is symbolic of the infinite. After the six days of creation, and the seventh day of rest, eight alludes to the source that lies beyond creation.
The Talmud teaches that with the words “Let there be light,” a primordial light of inner wisdom, purpose and truth was created. This light illuminated the world for 36 hours. Over the eight days of Hanukkah we kindle 36 lights as our way of returning, step by step, to the knowledge, the light, and the holiness that underlies creation.
I began to see that a consciously lived life is a journey toward reconnecting with that infinite source. I see in each light I kindle during the eight days a symbol of the journey that each of us must make toward the realization of our purpose for being here. Perhaps the dedication that Hanukkah commemorates lies in the recognition that with each day, with each light, I am growing toward a greater light, reconnecting my life with my soul’s mission.
But there’s another sense with which I understand the meaning of dedication.
In order to make this step-by-step journey toward my own means of divine service, I must make full use of that which I share with my creator: my free will. I have the power to affirm life, or deny it. Mindful exercise of this power to meet my needs allows me to reach out to the infinite light with my own light. Mindless consumption to feed my greed serves only to diminish this light.
Hanukkah is a holiday that grew out of our historical experience. It is our own offering back to G-d, our individual lights reaching out to the source of light. Nowadays, when the temple no longer stands, the entire planet becomes the temple, and our own actions determine whether it will be a site of dedication, or one of desecration.
Certainly the unconscious ease with which we can exploit resources in the service of consumption makes a life of dedication difficult. All of our daily behaviors, actions and attitudes can contribute to the desecration of our planetary temple.
Yet Hanukkah comes to remind us that even in the midst of this breakage, when the temple seems to have been irredeemably desecrated, it is still possible to experience “nissim v’niflaot,” miracles and wonders. Each small step I take, every moment of mindfulness I practice, as when purchasing local organic food, traveling less by car, or buying from Earth-friendly producers, is like kindling another light of dedication to my life’s soulful purpose.
Ben Avraham is a member of Lane County’s Jewish community. This column is coordinated by Lane Interfaith Alliance to offer inspiration, share spiritual experiences and bring a deeper understanding of individual faith perspectives with the intention of blessing our community and the world. For information, visit www.laneinterfaithalliance.org or call 344-0430.