Candles and Covid

I light 2 menorahs each night of Chanukah. One is the traditional House of Hillel (what we were taught in Hebrew School) way that increases the number of candles each night. The other is according to the House of Shammai that decreases the candles each night. I have been doing this for years.

Rabbi Hillel’s practice is “Ma’alin Ba’Kodesh ve’ayn Moridin,”: “One increases in matters of holiness and does not diminish.” From small to large you are creating unity by joining one light to another expanding together. 

Rabbi Shammai goes in the opposite direction. The potential is all there on the first night. We decrease to create a unity of the many who have become one.

The light of Chanukah expands and contracts. Each night we kindle the cadence of its spirit. Candles and oils bring menorahs to fullness of energy whichever direction they go. Their flames dance with our prayers. This is the grace that Chanukah gives us. The light glistens as it swells and reaches toward the infinite, and then contracts to its center. Menorahs working in tandem like this illustrate the spiritual meaning of this holiday for me. Just as consciousness needs to move, light needs to expand and contract in order to thrive and keep in balance. It can’t be day or night all of the time. We need them both. This dynamic is part of all life.

Friends have become accustomed to my taking up more room on the table as we have gone from home to home to celebrate together bringing our menorahs with us. Now they would feel something were amiss if I did not bring them both.

But this Chanukah will be different. I will not be packing up my menorahs every other night. I will not be making copious amounts of latkes. Well, at least I will not have to get into another existential battle between my dieting soul and deep fried sufganiyot. But I will remind myself that we are all in this together.

I will go to Zoom parties from the responsible safety of home. Even though ‘Zooming’ can melt into vaguely forced frivolity that sometimes leaves me feeling there is no gravity to my world; visual and communal connection is vital. It helps me when I am stress-jettisoned into a cavern where I struggle to keep from being splayed against its rocky walls. The jagged reality of where we are scrapes against my heart.

The visceral truth of our factionalized humanity has come forward. It is daring us to reckon with it. We are experiencing our vulnerability on a raveningly huge scale. We are scared and we are raw. But we are also creatures of great capacity for resilience and love. We can move through this with compassion and action, but it must be based on the understanding that our individuality must be moved from our central vision. It is time to see that we are one of the many and to stand side by side as we light each other with the flame of connection.

Chanukah cannot come soon enough for me. I need to wrap it around me like a tallit, like a balm for a season that will challenge us all. Winter has always nurtured me. I have been happy to be cloistered within, by choice, and excited to reach toward the snows that I adore. But this winter is bound to be heavy with dire hardship and pain for many. I find myself calling upon the days to hasten toward the holiday. I need a spiritual path through this time and know my menorahs will illuminate my way.

To be in the presence of fire is to be in the duality of what it means to be alive. Fire warms but it can also burn. Fire transforms and it destroys. It overtakes and it can be controlled. We can be on fire with passion and fired up by rage. Fire creates light to see and creates the dark when it is quelled. I see all of fire’s ways in my lit menorahs. We are creatures of the elements.

From nothingness to somethingness, from expansion to contraction; lighting candles that grow and diminish each night creates an energy flow in both directions. We heal from what the dark has to offer as well as from the light. This is the richest metaphor that I can think of for where we are at this moment. These movements are the breathing of the universe and the breaths that we each take. They are the words we say to ourselves and to each other that can bestow love and understanding or hurt and anger.

Chanukah has days in 2 months that have different spiritual and emotional teachings. Kislev is about support and Tevet is about seeing the truth. Trust that you are supported and nourished while you learn to see your truth and work to reconcile the polarities of life even though there will be times that this seems too hard to bear.

I invite you to sit with your menorahs to let this sacred time nurture you and see the veracity of your soul. Contemplating and directing teachings of the months toward what we want to fix, what we want to accomplish and what we want to diminish and increasing the holy and diminishing the negative is the emotional work we can do.

I will find faith and solace in my menorahs. I will fill them with candles inscribed with hope that we will move through this time with heart and clarity and prayers of mourning those we lost and continue to lose before we are out of this thing.  

We can break through the darkness, heal with radiance and connect with the infinite which holds us all. This is Chanukah. This is Tikkun Olam.

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