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Eight Meditations for the Eight Nights of Chanukah

Eight Meditations for the Eight Nights of Chanukah

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Chanukah honors the house. It is the Maccabees’ renowned rededication of the House, the House of Holiness, the Beit Hamikdash. It is the lighting of the fire in the heart, the hearth, the home of a People.

Hanukkat Habayit is the celebration of settling into a new home, a housewarming party of a sacred sort. It’s as if with every move to a new house we celebrate a miniature Chanukah. For each home is the manifestation of the Holy Temple in our times, in our own lives. Thus our four walls call for a Chanukah—a dedication—the lighting of the fire that warms and sanctifies our space.

Each night illumines a new aspect of selfAnd Chanukah’s lighting of the house is no less than the illumination of the inner self. For the self, with her secret stairways, her observing windows, her half-closed doors, is a many-storied home, the abode of the soul.

Our task on these eight nights is to rededicate the Temple, in our own times, in our own lives; each night illumines a new aspect of self, lighting a new alcove of our inner House of Holiness.

While the mitzvah of Chanukah is to publicize the miracle of the menorah, there is also something vital to us having a personal connection with each mitzvah that we do. The following meditations are based on my personal experiences and connections to each night of Chanukah and the unique lessons and ideas that exist in each night. I have found that through focusing in this way, each night comes alive and becomes a part of me as I grow with the increasing lights.

First Night—Dedicated to Darkness: The Cellar

Before you light your first candle, stand quietly for a moment in complete darkness, and let the darkness indeed be complete, with no want for anything, no need for the distractions of sight; simply sense the quiet self that sits there patiently waiting for you to take notice, to turn off the television, to turn off all vision, to be quiet and sense the sanctuary that is the self.

Standing in the cellar of my self, with an unlit candle in my hand, in the darkness I discover a deeper self than light lets in. This night I dedicate to inner darkness, to the unknown, unspeakable seclusions of the soul. It is the darkness that keeps me searching a worthy opponent, provoking my path to further reaches, my thoughts to further depths. It is the as-of-yet unillumined, unanswered aspects of an unraveling self, the landscape of dreams and nightmares, tragic truths and fears.

I dedicate this night to every question I have quested after,
to every confusion that has humbled me,
to every challenge I have mastered,
to the thrill of secrecy.
As this candle casts a shadow, my self in dark outline,
I integrate and dedicate the darkness with the light.
The first night is for the dark cellar of winter,
that which illumines a deeper insight.

Second Night—Dedicated to Ascension: The Stairway

Standing at the stairs, sights set on ascension.

As you light your candle, envision a stairway rising before you, each step a soul-ascension made with a worthy act, each good word you have spoken, each good work done by your hands. See how each step leads to the next. Dedicate yourself to singular steps in an upward direction; go out of your way to do one new kindness every one of these eight days, for each is a link in the ever-increasing chain of compassion that stretches out before you.

This night I dedicate to increase, to the second step of every path. This is the move towards abundance, to building in increments, an ordered process. The treasures of the house of Hillel tell of holiness that it should only increase, ever rise. Thus it was decreed that we light an additional candle to mark each night. For holiness, like light and all luminescent goodness, should always advance, like an ascending staircase, ever more inclined, increased, enhanced.

Just as each good act gives forth another, one spark springs forth to a second wick, while a string of candles await.

I stand at the stairway from my depths, ready to rise, to explore. Having found my foundation in the darkness, I move with upward momentum, the second night, the second step, the strength to start . . .

Third Night—Dedicated to Decisions: The Hallway

Imagine yourself in a hallway, an endless corridor. Before you an offering of options, a series of dark wood doors; each opening widens with opportunity, each offers an unknowable path, letting you choose, demanding you move, challenging you to act. Which door do you lunge for?

It is the narrowness that leads to expansionThe hallway is where I will my way through the world. It is the narrowness that leads to expansion, where one knock determines whole destinies. This hallway calls for precision, decision, the analysis of options, the care and the courage to choose true, exact, correct. This corridor is the tension before any great act—when the moment calls for a deeper determination to raise it from the vast heap of mundane happenings, to let it become a great occurrence in the course of life.

This night is dedicated to direction, to making decisions in the dark, to taking the leap of faith that leads to miracles. From the narrowness of the Greek domination, the Maccabees chose no less than the doorway to vastest freedom. They did not remain confined, nor walk through assimilation’s passive door, but rather lunged for the doorway of self-dominion and independence, fearless of the fight on the other side.

Standing in a hollow hallway, doorways blinding my eyes, I contemplate the path to my future, light three candles as my guide.

Fourth Night—Dedicated to the Senses: The Dining Room

See yourself seated at a silvered table, set stately for some feast,
You are guest and host and caterer, called to task, to eat.
How full is your plate, how great is your need. Is your spirit nourished as your body feeds?

The fourth night is dedicated to the dining room and her sister space the kitchen. This is the seat of appetite, brimming with all things delightful to the senses. At the center of the table is a fine serving bowl of shemen, olive oil, for shemen is the sign of the paradox of the sensual, where the sublime and the material meet and dine together, either in harmony or in utter disarray. Shemen, the anointing oil of kings, the markings of Messiah, the essential symbol of Chanukah, is the dripping robe of Redemption itself. It is the nourishment for the candle, that upon which the holy flame feeds. It is the utmost of sublime, but it is also the basest of the mundane. Meaning also “fat” (shuman), it signifies all that is thick and physical, the ultimate image of the material world, the mass where spirit resides.

This night is dedicated to delicate balances
where our desires come to dine
offering pleasure in each embellishment
fuel for the fire of life
though oil anoints and nourishes
overpour and it will put out the light.

Fifth Night—Dedicated to Defiance: The Outer Courtyard and the Inner Will



See yourself standing in a courtyard stained with suffering.
Stationed before you are Hannah and her seven sons.
They stare down Antiochus and a torturous task—
denying their identity or facing their death.

They are a family forced to the edge of existence, given ultimatums they refuse to fulfill. You are an observer in the outer courtyard. What says your inner will?

It is a night of knowing one’s identityThe fifth night finds my strength tested. This night is dedicated to standing strong against external forces, refusing to fold to the host voices that beckon me away from my core. This is the night of Hannah and her seven sons, caught in an outer courtyard, called upon to convert, to conform to an alien world.

This is a night dedicated to persistence, a night not afraid to sacrifice. It is a night of knowing one’s identity, of being grounded in an inner courtyard of calm and courage, regardless of the chaos of the world outside.

In the cold of the outer courtyard, crowded with calls to comply,
I call upon the powers of my own inner will, to courageously defy.

Sixth Night—Dedicated to Rebirth: The Bedroom

Your eyes are clouded beneath a canopy,
your limbs lie in linen, in your mouth one last breath.

Recall the colors of your days, are you satisfied with the path you have tread.
Make peace with your person, and resigned to dying, find yourself re-birthed instead.

The sixth night leads me to the bedroom, painted with scenes of the self in her several stages, the same four walls redecorated and redecorated. For one lifetime witnesses many lives, many bodies worn and shed, personalities developed and discarded, many births and many deaths. Just as Jerusalem’s Temple was lost and won and lost again, so too are we forever falling, and redefining, losing and re-finding, a new beginning born with every end.

Nightly I lay my soul to rest here, my breath slows, the world recedes, I experience the end of all, only to dream, and be reborn, burdenless to the morning. The bed a soft cocoon, a womb, a tomb, a room of rejuvenation. These are the four walls of rebirthing—where the bed of birth becomes the bed of death—the drive to end yet begin again.

The six flames lift from the ash like a phoenix, reviving life in her circular stride. Though history be a looping spiral, Redemption lies at the end of the line.

Seventh Night—Dedicated to “Advertising the Miracle”: The Light in the Window

As you stand lighting at the window, raise your eyes to look outside,
And behold a face before you, some curious passerby
And then realize it is your reflection, in the window glass, your own eyes
What have you seen in the window’s mirror; what miracle do you advertise?

The seventh night is dedicated to the window to the world. This is where the strength and purpose that I have nurtured within are celebrated in the sight of others. This is the show of lights that sparkles forth from self. It is the commandment of Chanukah to do pirsum hanes—“to advertise the miracle,” the miracle that was wrought in history, that is wrought within me.

May my eyes behold the miracles shining forth from each passing soul.
And as I gaze into their windows may my own miracle be beheld as I behold.

Eighth Night—Dedicated to the Transcendence: The Rooftop

This is the show of lights that sparkles forth from selfImagine yourself standing upon a rooftop, enacting that ancient human rite of watching the night fall. As the blue deepens into black you witness a single star shutter forth, and another, and another. The darkness kindles starlight upon the sky as surely as you kindle light upon your menorah. By the time the eighth star appears the entire sky releases her storehouse of sparks. Dazzled by stars beyond count, you face the seeming infinity of space. Beholding this limitlessness from your rooftop perch, you are reminded of the infinity of your very soul.

The eighth and final light.

The menorah stands luminous before us. Ignited in its entirety. Complete. These eight lights are the grand finale of the entire Chanukah journey. And finales, with all their pageantry, always signal that we have reached an end. Just as the rooftop is the upper limit of the house, this is the limit of our Chanukah lights. And yet, just as standing upon the roof allows us to grasp a sense of the skies’ limitlessness, looking upon the 8 lights we are reminded of G‑d’s light, the or haganuz that has no end.

The eighth and final night is thus dedicated to transcendence. Just as the seven days of the week represent linear time and the completion of the physical, the number eight is an elegant leap beyond the linear, and beyond physicality. Eight represents transcendence. Just as miracles themselves transcend the limits of the physical realm, so does the number eight beckon us to transcendence.

Although the eighth night is the exuberant end of this holiday, it also hints at the limitless holiness of every day. Yes, there were eight nights of miraculous oil, but beyond that—every day holds its own miracles. When we are in touch with the infinite light of our own souls, the very rooftop of our selves, then we are in touch with the infinitude of G‑d. From that place, miracles are not only possible, they are a given. This final night of Chanukah celebrates our transcendent spirits, and G‑d’s promise of His miraculous daily presence in our lives.

Chaya Kaplan-Lester is a long-time Jewish educator, psychotherapist and writer. In addition to her extensive doctoral work in Jewish Studies at Oxford University in England, she holds an Ivy League BA in English & Jewish Studies, and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three children.
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Discussion (8)
December 10, 2012
Beautiful meditations
This is the first Chanukah I have read these meditations and love the insight I have been given. Thank you for sharing this, have a happy Chanukah. Avigayil New Jersey
Avigayil
New Jersey
December 21, 2011
Thank you
Today my husband was laid off from his job. Although we are not Jewish, I wanted to educate my children about this special holiday, and found your beautiful writing.
Such strength I have discovered as I meditated on these truths!
Peggy Ingels
Cleveland, TN
December 6, 2010
1st Chanukah
My family, friends and I graciously thank you for posting your insightful thoughts and wisdom about Chanukah. We are thrilled to share Chabad.org and the privilege to learn more. This is our 1st year to celebrate Chanukah!
Grace
G, TX
December 3, 2010
Beautiful
Very inspiring. Hope you are all well and having a good Chanukah
Josh Shupack
Ashland, OR
December 2, 2010
Eight Meditations
What a beautiful way to express the Holiday and meaning of Hanukkah. I am speechless. I sent it to everyone in my family to give them another perspective .
thank you and Happy Hanukkah!
Jen Buschel
Newtown, Pa/USA
December 1, 2010
good stuff!
Nice to see you here! Looking forward to more. Oh my soul, march on in STRENGTH!
shalvi
Jerusalem
December 1, 2010
8 Meditations for Chanukah
bs"d

It is impossible to "summarize" such a far and in-reaching essay. And since "essay" also can mean "attempt," this "attempt" truly represents the writer's never-ending reaching for completion in prayer and spiritual growth.

Chaya Lester-Kaplan has written a prose-poem--she has given us a new prayer. Thank you.
Anonymous
Jerusalem, Israel
November 30, 2010
Eight Meditatios for the eight nights of Chanukah
Marvellous thoughts Chaya. Thanks you very much for such a piece of jewelry from your knowlege of yourself, from your heart, from your jewish light.
Have a Happy Chanukah !!!!!!!
Luisa Zitzer
Buenos Aires, Argentina
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