1. For Light One, it seems natural to begin with the first night. We begin with one candle and gradually work our way toward eight. This reinforces the fundamental capacity to delay gratification. The discipline that underlies the capacity for incrementalism is grounded in our core belief in the basic goodness and safety of the universe. This provides the foundational fearlessness required to see things through to their end.
2. Light Number Two requires a spiritualized understanding of the Jewish legal details regarding the time one is meant to light the menorah, “when it darkens” and “when the last workers of the marketplace have headed home.” If the entire reason for highlighting the miraculous nature of Hanukkah (pirsumei nisa ‒ “publicizing the miracle”) is achieved by placement outside, where everyone can see them, is that purpose not defeated by the requirement to wait till everyone has arrived home? Hence the importance of broadening our understanding of these requirements to encompass the existential meanings that the laws symbolize. The darkness that I speak of here is loosely a symbol for the dark corners of our lives that house our deepest unresolved traumas. Usually, we discover that our greatest untapped power lies at the very scene of our greatest fears. This light highlights the emotional laziness that impedes personal transparency. We aren’t afraid of the dark because we are scared of what happens there. Our reluctance stems from the discomfort of committing to the change that new realizations of self inevitably demand.
3. Light Number Three is based on the Talmudic prohibition to “use the Hanukkah candles to see by.” For example, using its light to read a book. This begs the question: Isn’t that the whole point of what I’m trying to establish here? Obviously, we need to differentiate between using the light as a physical source of light, versus leveraging its spiritual, intangible benefits. On a deeper level, we can differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable “usage” within the existential spiritual realm itself. We can “use” spiritual light as a short term comforting shield, in which case the light is effectively coating the darkness with yet another layer of darkness, as opposed to a light that doesn’t push away the darkness but rather exposes it for its dark reality.
4. Light Number Four “revolves” around the dreidel and its four letters. But first an overall light: The spinning top that has become synonymous with this holiday reminds us that solemnness of personal growth need not be equated with somberness. A key factor to remaining committed in the long term to a path of truth and honesty that will often pose unimaginable hardships requires a mindset that welcomes a joyful element of human playfulness. Now to the dreidel itself. The four letters on a Dreidel outside the land of Israel stand for the four words “[A] Great Miracle Happened There.” The Israeli dreidels on the other hand contain the four letters that stand for “[A] Great Miracle Happened Here. In order to personalize this story so that it becomes our personal growth narrative, there must be a moment where we transport ourselves to an imaginary Israel (in viewing Israel as a paradigm that looms larger than its geographic location, one can be part of this transitional mind exercise even if one actually lives in Israel). In fact, saying those words as a meditative mantra – “A Great Miracle Happened Here” – wherever we might be sets the stage for miracles to unfold right here, within the reality of our own consciousness.
5. For Light Number Five, we have the Maccabees. The five brothers remind us that conviction, like one’s sense of self, is inward based and qualitative centric, as opposed to the inherent shakiness of an outward, approval driven self-image. Also, a note on superheroes: They are essentially ordinary people who are simply filled with an abundance of positive self-awareness that encompasses a thorough knowledge of their unique gifts and abilities, otherwise known as superpowers.
6. Light Number Six illustrates the Talmudic-based requirements of how, when, what, and where are extensive. Let’s focus on “where” for the purpose of personal growth. Jewish law stipulates that in order to fulfill the precept of pirsumei nisa, the publicizing of the miracles that took place, we must place and light the menorah “at the doorway of our homes, but on the outside,” right before the entrance but not in the actual home. (Though most of us light indoors in the states and elsewhere, in Israel it’s still lit outdoors.) A commonly accepted psychological understanding is that 5 percent of our mind is our conscious mind while the other 95 percent resides outside our perception of our own reality in our subconscious. As such, being that the largest chunk of “who we are” resides just beyond the boundaries of our perceived selves – our “homes” – the kindling of the menorah “at the doorway of our homes” and most importantly “from the outside” signals our need and willingness to broaden and stretch the boundaries of that perceived self to encompass more of our unknown.
7. Light Number Seven explores the role of “mindset as religious norm” in designating “publicizing of the miracle” as its own component of the performance of the Mitzvah. In fact, though the very requirement to cultivate a particular mindset might seem counterintuitive, it is actually in perfect alignment with the approach advocated here. The very process of bridging the huge gap in our minds between the conscious and subconscious is not a different process than bridging the perception gap that divides the ordinary and the miraculous.
8. It seems natural for Light Number Eight to highlight the “unnatural nature” of this number. The number eight itself resonates with one’s willingness to ponder what might lie beyond the ordered existence of the “known” – or the predictability that characterizes a seven-day universe. We can never grow at a faster pace than our curiosity. This idea is also the last one due to it being the axiomatic “dreidel” around which all the others spin. The courage to ponder the universe and one’s role within it signals a willingness to extend and stretch the boundaries of one’s self. Many see this as the most accurate definition of love. It is this love that powers us to grow far beyond our limited “one-day” capacity, and transform our sense that our “oil” is sufficient fuel merely for “ordinary existence” to a new limitless place of “eight-day capacity” and our faith that our “oil” can last long enough to fuel a truly “ miraculous existence.”
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker is the director of Chabad of the North Shore.