Far from being “hypocrisy” as the New York Times opinion page called it last Sunday, Hanukkah can teach us deeply important lessons for our world. Albert Einstein changed the world, and he knew something about thinking creatively. He famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
In these short, dark days of winter, we look back on the past year and see a bleak picture of worsening storms, fires, droughts and floods. We are ruining our world because we have looked at it as an inert machine, instead of a living, sacred gift. We see our country fragmenting in hatred and suffering in loneliness because we have separated our intellect from our heart and in the process separated ourselves from one another. Where can we find a model for a different way of thinking? The light of the Hanukkah menorah is a good place to start.
The Menorah in the ancient Temple was designed to look like a living tree, with branches coming off of a central trunk or stem. That tree/Menorah in the Temple was blazing with fire, just like at the burning bush where Moses first encountered the God of Israel. It was placed at the center of the Temple in Jerusalem, where the High Priest lit it every day.
That “every day” is actually where we get the expression “Eternal Light” or “Ner Tamid” which is a part of every synagogue to this day. But, unfortunately, we usually misunderstand what “Eternal Light” means. We think it’s a light that never goes out. But it really means a light that is constantly renewed, constantly growing and changing like a living tree. We think it’s a noun, “Eternal Light.” But in fact, it’s a verb: “light constantly/eternally.”
Now, add to this the fact that light has always been a symbol of knowledge and we understand that in Judaism, knowledge and ritual, emotion, mind and spirit are not supposed to be separated. The light of the Torah shines out from the heart of our spiritual and emotional center, the Temple.
The holiday of Hanukkah took that symbolism from the ancient Temple and put it right into our homes: the sacred center of our lives. The place where we cook, clean, eat and love, raise our children and grow old is also the center of our knowledge. The Hanukkah lights shining from our kitchen table or our living room windows are teaching us a different, ancient and new way of thinking.
This is an old/new paradigm of knowledge that we badly need to learn today. Whether we are doing science or politics or business or medicine, we can no longer separate our caring heart from our reasoning mind. We need to see the natural world as a living gift, not a commodity; we need to see our health as a part of the whole interconnected weave of our lives; we must see politics as a way to bring peace and prosperity to the disparate and bickering parts of one related entity, be it town, nation, world or our own homes.
We must learn from Hanukkah that the living Tree of Life wisdom starts from the sacred center, has always started from the sacred center, although we have censored and hidden that fact away. Perhaps the latest lesson in this dynamic, emerging holiday of Hanukkah is that it reminds us that women, who have too often been confined to the home and excluded from learning, who’s wisdom has too often been ignored, should now more fully and equally add their wisdom to the whole. May we of all genders be blessed to shine like the Hanukkah lights from our center, our homes and our hearts, out into the world.
Hanukkah, which means dedication, is also a great time to rededicate ourselves to spiritual practice. If you would like to dive more deeply into teachings like this one, and develop practical spiritual tools for your daily life, consider signing up for our 2019 class: The Royal Road to Relational Spirituality. We’d love to have you in our community of seekers, builders, and doers! Click here for more information.