Finding Deeper Meaning in Hanukkah

At each of our nightly virtual Community Candle Lightings, our clergy will offer some “spiritual gelt” and highlight one of the many Jewish values (middot). We hope these middot will bring additional light and meaning to your Hanukkah celebration and look forward to seeing you on Zoom.

1st Night: Enhancing the Mitzvah (Hiddur Mitzvah)
2nd Night: Repairing the World (Tikkun Olam)
3rd Night: Showing Appreciation (Hakarat HaTov)
4th Night: Courage and Strength (G’vurah)
5th Night: Education and Dedication (Hinuch)
6th Night: Giving (Tzedakah)
7th Night: Faith (Emunah)
8th Night: Jewish Pride (Am Yisrael Chai)

Please check back each day of Hanukkah as we add to this blog. We hope you will enjoy following along and adding deeper meaning to your holiday this year!
Night 1: December 10
Hiddur Mitzvah (Enhancing Mitzvah through aesthetics)

Exodus 15:2 states, “This is my God and I will glorify God.”

“Is it possible for a human being to add glory to his Creator? What this really means is: I shall glorify God in the way I perform mitzvot. I shall prepare before God a beautiful, beautiful sukkah, beautiful fringes (tzitzit), and beautiful phylacteries (Tefillin).” [Rabbi Ishmael’s comment, Mechilta, Shirata, chapter 3, ed. Lauterbach, p. 25.]

The [Shabbat 133b] adds to this list a beautiful Shofar and a beautiful scroll which has been written by a skilled scribe with fine ink and fine pen and wrapped in beautiful silks.

Ideas to practice Hiddur Mitzvah for the 24-hour period:

1. Take notice of the world that exists around you. Make a list, mental or written, of 8 beautiful things you see, be it in creation, your home, or your loved ones and friends whom you are seeing regularly.

2. Beauty enhances the mitzvot through the senses. Consider ways that you can heighten information you obtain through your senses. Perhaps using a new spice in your cooking to bring a new flavor to your palate, displaying flowers in your home for additional beauty, boiling cloves and cinnamon on the stove for added fragrance or using your most ornate ritual objects for Shabbat and Hanukkah. Use this as an opportunity to exist in the world through your all of your senses.

Night 2: December 11
Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)

The Aleinu prayer reminds us that each of us is obligated to work as God’s partners in repairing the world. We join together in dedicating ourselves to the task of making our world whole.

Merger Poem
by Judy Chicago

And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

Ideas to practice Tikkun Olam:

1. There are many ways we can make this world a better place. Consider using this holiday of light and time of giving as the impetus for bringing light into this world. While donating our time is difficult in this time period, giving donations (monetary, clothing, food) is still a wonderful act of tzedakah we can fulfil.

2. Taking care of our environment is essential to making sure that our world will sustain a diversity of life. If you take a shabbas walk, consider taking gloves and trash bags with you to pick up trash along our road ways, sidewalks and rivers.

Night 3: December 12
Hakarat HaTov (lit. Recognizing the Good; Showing Appreciation; Gratitude)

On Hanukkah we recite a prayer of gratitude for the miracles God wrought for us during the time of the Hasmoneans. This prayer, Al Hanissim, includes the following text:

You, in Your enormous mercy, stood up for them in their time of great need, upheld their cause, judged their case, and avenged their oppressors. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few… And afterward, Your children came to the Holy of Holies in Your House, and they cleansed Your Palace and purified Your Temple and they kindled lights in the courtyard of Your Sanctuary and they established these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and to praise Your great name

Ideas to practice HaKarat HaTov for the 24-hour period:

  1. Two nights ago, we encouraged you to practice Hiddur Mitzvah by recognizing the beauty that exists around you. Recognition is only the first step. The next step is to show appreciation for what you witness. Use this day to cultivate a practice of gratitude. Give thanks for 8 things you appreciate in the world around you.
  2. Each morning, when we wake, we often go about our day without taking a moment to recognize the miracle of being alive. How different might your day be if you begin it with a simple prayer of gratitude, giving thanks for the gift of your soul? Tomorrow, when you wake, say the following prayer, then take notice as to how you go about your day after having begun it with a show of appreciation.

“I give thanks before you, Adonai my God, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness!”

Night 4: December 13
G’vurah (courage/strength)

For 10 months, we have been living under stressful and complicated circumstances. Our lives were turned upside down overnight. It has taken all of our strength and courage to live fully under these circumstances.

In Psalm 112 we read in verses 1 and 4:

Happy is the one who fears of Adonai. God’s commands are keen desires. Light dawns in darkness for the upright, gracious and merciful and just.

Rabbi Yael Levy modifies the translation to read:

Fulfilled is a person who lives in awe, who deeply desires connection. For him, lights shine in darkness, lights of grace, compassion and justice.

We are reminded through this psalm that to bring light to the darkness, we must be gracious, compassionate and just in all of our interactions.

Ideas to practice G’vurah for the 24-hour period:

  1. For today, consider this practice. When someone passes you, whether walking, biking, in a car, etc., send a silent prayer of health and goodwill their way. If your own words fail you, try this:“May God watch over you. May you be safe, healthy, and blessed.”
  2. The Hasmoneans demonstrated great courage. We may not bear arms, but through these past months, we have faced a different type of prevailing force. We may not be able to control everything that happens in our lives, but we can control how we approach our reality. With that in mind, consider creating a morning mantra you say to yourself as you look into the mirror that will give you strength and courage to face whatever may come your way. If words fail you, here is an example you can start with. Feel free to modify it as you become comfortable with the practice:”I am strong. I am resilient. I am amazing.”

 

Night 5: December 14
Chinuch (Education/Dedication)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote in his Haggadah,

“Education means teaching a child to be curious, to wonder, to reflect, to enquire. The child who asks becomes a partner in the learning process, an active recipient. To ask is to grow. ”

As a Jew, we are lifelong learnings, always asking, always growing.

 

Ideas to practice Chinuch for the 24-hour period:

  1. Curl up with a good book that you have been meaning to read but haven’t set aside the time to do so.
  2. Sign up for a new class on a topic you have been meaning to learn about. Now is the perfect time!

 

Night 6: December 15
Tzedaka (Righteous Giving)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote on Tzedakah,

“Giving to others is one of the most beautiful things we can do, and one of the most creative. We create possibilities for other people. We soften some of the rough edges of the world. We help alleviate poverty and pain. We give God the sacrifice God most desires of us: that we honor God’s image in other people.”

Ideas to practice Tzedakah for the 24-hour period:

  1. The Reform movement has dedicated the Sixth Night as a night of giving. Spend a few minutes thinking about organizations and causes you support, or perhaps even individuals who you know are in need. Make tonight about giving tzedakah, a gift that most honors God.
  2. During this COVID-19/pandemic period, it has been difficult to find opportunities to take part in actions that repair the world. There are many, many who are hungry in our community. You can safely drop off food at Manna Food Center, or at WHC if you can’t get to Manna. Tonight, and during this next day of Hanukkah, put aside a few items of food to start your food donation in honor of the middah of tzedakah.

 

Night 7: December 16
Emunah (Faith)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote in Celebrating Life,

“Emunah means that I take your hand and you take mine and we walk together across the unknown country called the future. It is what I call a covenantal relationship. That is our relationship with God. It is also the relationship of marriage.”

Ideas to practice Emunah for the 24-hour period:

  1. Traditionally, a Jew recites the Shema before going to sleep at night and upon awakening in the morning. If this is not part of your personal practice, perhaps try that tonight and tomorrow morning. What feelings does this evoke for you?
  2. Emunah is also about belief. We often struggle to put our beliefs into words. Take a few minutes to write down your ideas about faith/belief/God. This does not need to be in paragraph form, but can be simply a list of ideas. If you want to talk more about what faith means to you, any of our WHC clergy would be happy to have a conversation and/or suggest resources as you continue exploring your understanding of and relationship with God.

 

Night 8: December 17
Am Yisrael Chai (Jewish Pride/Connection)

Albert Einstein wrote,

“There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle. You can live as if everything is a miracle.”

Ideas to practice Am Yisrael Chai:

  1. During this Festival of Lights, our season and holiday of miracles, take a moment to thank God for the miracles in your life and in the world around us. These do not need to be parting of sea types of miracles, but the everyday miracles we often take for granted. What is one miracle you witnessed and/or experienced today?
  2. Hanukkah reminds us that we have the ability to make miracles happen. As we conclude our Festival of Lights, what will you do increase the light of the Jewish people? How will you contribute to ensuring that our Jewish people will continue to live and thrive?


Susan N. Shankman

Rabbi

Rabbi Susan Shankman has been a Rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation for more than 20 years. In addition to officiating services, life cycle events and pastoral care and counseling, Rabbi Shankman coordinates the Confirmation program, works closely with the Women of WHC, focuses on programming for families with young children, outreach t...

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