I feel sad. The Chanukah candles just went out. They 'died'.
I never had this sensation before, but then I have experienced life (and death) differently this year.
My husband z”l (of blessed memory) died this year. This is my first Chanukah without Marcel z”l standing next to me or even lying in hospital beds as I stood next to him. (Not sharing candles as I grew up doing, but each with "our own chanukiyah", his Orthodox childhood custom, Marcel explained to me 36 years ago.) In the hospitals we used my Velcroed quilted menorah, cloth candles and flames: the hanging menorah -- a gift from the Russian family I had adopted. No candles allowed in ICU's. I really tried to bring Chanukah to Marcel while in hospitals, as did our daughter with her bride-groom. This year, because of my dedicated advocacy on behalf of Jewish patients, our local (Catholic) Northridge Hospital now has 15 individual electric menorahs for patients and a large menorah in the lobby, and a Jewish Chaplain, my Chabad Rabbi Eli Rivkin.
I released new energy into the world, when tonight, I said the blessings and lit the Chanukah shamash and four candles. I was co-creating with the Source of All BlesSings by kindling candles. But then suddenly, I started over and I sang the blessings again because I realized that I had said them quietly mostly to myself, and I needed to sing them more cheerfully and out loud with alive energy, while inviting Marcel in to join me. (I would do the same on Sukkot, inviting ushpizin, the spiritual guests.) Maybe Marcel held my hand while I kindled. I opened the door to my heart, my Tiferet space. That felt better. Then I sang Marcel's favorite Chanukah song, "Maoz tzur yeshua-si, Lecha na-eh li-sha-beyach..." O Rock of my salvation, with delight we praise You.
I have not yet eaten a latke or played dreidle, but I did have half a jelly donut and chocolate gelt (coins) at synagogue. I sent tzedakah, charity. I skipped all the Chanukah celebrations except at shul on Shabbat. On the first night, I was somewhat sad in synagogue but I loved seeing the Rabbi warmly bless the children by the menorah. At home, I did create a computer artsy menorah, and in the zechut, merit, of my husband's neshamah, soul, I sent it with Chanukah greetings filled with teachings and meditations on ohr, light, to my family and community. "The light represents the light of Divine teachings," I am reminded of my teacher, Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen's words. "Torah is Light." (Proverbs 6:23)
Tonight I gazed at my candles. Meditating, I stood right next to them peering into them. From the distance was not good enough; I wanted to see the insides of the flames; their neshamahs, souls. (Could I be inside the flame?) I was searching for meaning. I felt blank. I could not feel the warmth, nor feel like a shamash myself. The ner, candle, consists of three parts, the ner itself, the patil--the wick, and the shemen --oil. Ner, Patil, Shemen: the first letters of the three parts of the candle spell out Nefesh--soul.
I looked into each flame individually. They were related, almost same size, height, width and dance. I was disappointed that within, they were mostly bland without 'fiery' color except for the lower blue and wick. I thought of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s teaching; that I could let the Chanukah light shine into all areas of my darkness. I gazed at the light knowing it is wondrously, the same Ohr Ha-Ganuz, primordial light, already here from Creation, Temple days and miracle days. I brought the light into my heart space yearning to experience my own soul at this moment. This Chanukah, while alone, there have been more 'grieving' tears. What happens when a tear meets a flame? (I observed my tears flowing into water while swimming this summer.) Probably for the first time in my life, I placed my moist finger into a flame, to feel its reality. I needed to do this.
Then facing the dark window on the other side of my menorah (I rescued it from an antiques store just before being married), I gazed at the dark illuminated reflection of me gazing at the barely dancing lit candles. I liked seeing myself with the candles. It was a different experience. It was dark 2D of me. I could see the outline of the flames more clearly than the ones in front of my face. Strangely, it was easier to describe the light by it's reflection, than by it's own full being. Try communicating a flame's form... Revealed, the transcendent light is real, a paradox: does and does not have substance of its own, or definable form, and yet allows us to experience higher truth and G‑d.
Are the Flames watching me? I am observer and maybe observee.
Maybe Marcel, z”l is watching over me.
Toward the end, the candles were as if souls returning to the Creator with their last breath. No longer reaching upwards in a dance between heaven and earth, they were a fragment of their former selves, returning to their grounding wick. Pure blue light while ending their life. No other colors. Holding their own, I watched them each slowly die without even a flicker. Just poof and gone to G‑d. I tried feeling for a rising soul. OHR (light), G‑d's expression of existence, was no longer revealed to me.
Do flames have souls?
"Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam."
The flame of The Compassionate One is the human soul, says Proverbs 20:27.
So, maybe I am not so far off.
Maybe G‑d is closer than I am feeling.