by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
Why don’t we light eight candles on the first night of Hanukkah, and work our way down to one? Why do we start with one candle and work our way up to eight? So familiar are we with our traditional way of lighting the candles and increasing the light, that imagining doing it the opposite way is almost impossible. Reduce the amount of light each night? No way!
Yet, in ancient times this custom seems to have been practiced. In the Talmud, the School of Shammai said, “On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced,” but the School of Hillel said, no, no, no! “On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased.” We all know who won that argument! Hillel’s reasoning? “We increase in matters of holiness but we do not decrease.” (Shabbat 21b)
Thus, we learn from Hanukkah – the festival of re-dedication – that in regard to holiness, we are never to decrease, only to increase. So, this is what happens when we light the Hanukkah candles – we increase the light, the holiness, the positive energy, the goodness, in the universe.
I think of that game, “I’m going to my grandmother’s and I’m taking with me…” Each person “takes” their own new item, but also all those named previously, so that the list grows longer and longer and longer. This is what happens with increasing holiness. Each night we bring into the room, into the universe, into our lives, all the goodness and holiness of this particular candle-lighting, as well as the goodness and holiness from each previous one.
This week, we will post a bit of holiness for you to bring to your candle-lighting, and each night we will add a new bit, eight pieces of a puzzle to fill in and create something whole over the eight nights of Hanukkah. Each night we will add two verses from a “Litany of Harm” to the planet, written by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Freidman, to help us stand in witness and solidarity with all those who are being harmed by climate change. It will also include one verse from “A Climate Change Call and Response to Action” written by Rev. Jim Antal. And at the end of each of these sets of verses you will find ideas and questions to help you decide to what to re-dedication yourself that night. Each day will provide a different theme.
I invite you to keep adding on, as we do with lighting the candles and with the “I’m going to my grandmother’s…” game, so that on the 8th day of Hanukkah, you read the entire Litany of Harm, the entire Call to Action, and re-dedicate yourself to all of your actions.
Hanukkah Night 1:
We first the candles and recite the traditional blessings.
We then begin the Litany of Harm to our Planet:
For all those in island nations, where rising sea levels and superstorms threaten their very existence. We stand in witness!
For all coastal cities and villages, where storm swells and flooding put lives and homes at risk. We stand in witness!
We begin our Call to Action:
We’re ready to act because we have a favorite place on Earth that we want our great-grandchildren to experience. With love in our hearts, Compassionate One, move us to action.
We start to act:
For the first night, we focus on the spiritual. What are the ways that you want to re-dedicate yourself to your spiritual life? How do you want to continue to strength and deepen your relationship with the Holy One? Prayer? Meditation? Spending time outdoors? What will enrich your spiritual life the most? You may want to consider these questions alone, or discuss them with those lighting candles with you.
Here are my thoughts for tonight:
Eloheinu v’elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu, Our G!d and G!d of our ancestors, give me strength on this first night of Hanukkah, and help me to rededicate myself to remembering that I am created in your image, in the image of the Holy One of Blessing.
What are your thoughts? For the last part of tonight’s Hanukkah meditation, put your intention about spiritual re-dedication into words and share it with those around you.
Chag Urim Sameach – Happy Hanukkah,