Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Darkness comes in many forms- physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
We recall that Chanukah was established at the darkest time of the year. In late December we encounter the shortest day, a day with the least sunshine of the entire year. And as Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the lunar month during the waning moon cycle, the nights are also their darkest.
Darkness is also a spiritual metaphor for lack of awareness and particularly, the lack of awareness of God, for light is the physical metaphor for God. In Torah God appears to Moses as a burning bush. The Eternal Flame in our synagogues represents the constant presence of God.
At this time of year, when we turn inward, when cold and darkness is abundant, our ancestors, the Rabbis, created this festival of light, as if, in answer to the yearning we feel at this time of year for light and warmth.
It is interesting that on Tisha b’Av which falls in the summertime, just about 6 months earlier in the Hebrew calendar, we recall the destruction of the Temple. This is an experience of darkness arising in the midst of light. On Chanukah we celebrate the rededication of the Temple by creating light in the midst of darkness.
The beauty of our calendar cycle reveals the ever-changing nature of life and gives us spiritual tools to navigate these changes. When we are frolicking in the pleasure of summer, we take pause to recall the dangers of unrestricted fire. Misguided passions can erupt into destructive forces and destroy the place where the Divine dwells. So too, in the dark of winter, lest we fall into despair, we engage in kindling lights for eight nights. We remember that the light is returning; that the light in fact, always returns just as the sun rises each day. We nurture an attitude of trust as we are reminded of the hidden light that dwells in all of creation, even when there is an abundance of apparent darkness.
Unlike all Biblically-based holidays, there is no havdalah at the end of Chanukah. Rabbi Dovber Pinson teaches that this is because spiritual light and the quality of trust are always available to us at any time, in any day, week or year.
As we welcome the Chanukah lights this year, may we cultivate our vision to recognize the hidden light that permeates our lives; the Divine grace by which we experience a myriad of small miracles every day and the inner light that shines in every human being.
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
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