Magazine article Tikkun

Chanukah: Honoring the Gentle Transitions in Our Lives

Magazine article Tikkun

Chanukah: Honoring the Gentle Transitions in Our Lives

Article excerpt

Chanukah: Honoring the Gentle Transitions in Our Lives

Karyn Berger

Karyn Berger is a fourth-year rabbinic student in the Jewish Renewal Movement. She lives in Ann Arbor, where she is active in the Reconstructionist Chavurah and in Pardes Cahna, the Jewish Renewal minyan.

As fall rolls into winter, the Jewish calendar turns toward the months of Kislev and the holiday of Chanukah. Over the centuries, Jewish authorities downplayed this holiday, focusing on the "miracle" of the one-day supply of oil that instead burned for eight, teaching us that lighting candles with proper intention helps us dedicate our lives to God. In stark contrast to this peaceful myth of Chanukah lies what we might call the history; the Macabees' sucessful revolt over the Greek Syrians--a struggle that took place some 1,500 years ago. Whether this revolt represented an internal civil struggle or an armed insurrection against foreign invaders remains in question. Nevertheless, this struggle resulted in the overthrow of the Greek government and placed the Hasmoneans firmly in the seat of political and religious power in ancient Israel.

How can we find a way to integrate this spritual myth with the martial victory? Symbolically, lighting candles invites us to contrast the actual physical states of dark and light. If we go one step further, the metaphors that we associate with "light" and "dark" invite us to other contrasts--summer vs. winter, peace vs. war, good vs. evil. But these metaphors invite us to engage in a "spiritual" kind of war. They imply that we can win or lose the struggle of good versus evil.

What is the evil to be banished? For the Macabees, evil was external. This idea, that evil exists outside of ourselves, is alluring, if only because it simplifies the struggles that we encounter in our lives and the world surrounding us. Yet this approach to good and evil is misleading precisely because it allows us to believe that life and the choices we make are simple. We forget that in reality, light and dark gently transition back and forth from one state to the other, from night to dawn to daylight and back again. The difference lies in the amount of time that each transition takes. By slowing down and appreciating the moments of change, we pay attention to both the contrasts and the transitions. Instead of trying to expel the darkness inside of our hearts and bodies, we can learn to explore our pain and to claim it as our own. We can learn to honor both dark and light, both joy and pain. In doing so, Chanukah can become a path of personal transformation--one that leads us to God as we find the ray of light that shines through the darkness to make our path clear.

Chanukah falls in December, when animals in the northern hemisphere hibernate and those in the southern hemisphere are made drowsy by the strength of the sun. Symbolically, it is a time when it is easy to hide ourselves in an inner darkness. Sometimes, that darkness becomes what we elsewhere call "evil."

The rabbis teach us that people are not evil by nature. Instead, evil occurs because we ignore the wrongs occurring around us. Think of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The men of the town attempt to sexually assault one of Lot's guests. The city is subsequently destroyed. …

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