The Light of the Atman, the Spirit, is invisible, concealed in all beings. It is seen by the seers of the subtle, when their vision is keen and is clear….

Awake, arise! Strive for the Highest, and be in the Light!

Katha Upanishad, part 3 [1]

Light is the language of the spiritual life. Light is the medium that dominates our experience of God. The reality of the supernal worlds manifests as resplendent light.

Our experience of this inner radiance is constantly evolving. Each year, we receive another level of luminosity. Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that Hanukkah is the time when we receive this new light, the unique light that will illuminate the whole of the coming year.

This process of receiving new light is at the heart of our spiritual evolution. We are always moving into greater and greater illumination. This, Rebbe Natan explains, is why one more candle is added to the Hannukiah (Hanukkah menorah) every day. We are entering into an ever-increasing revelation of Divine light.

New light, Rebbe Natan tells us, means further illumination of the mind. This illumination is expressed in a greater clarity of vision. Our consciousness is covered over with layer after layer of illusion. When we receive extra illumination, we break through another level of the “great illusion” which clouds our hearts and minds. Hanukkah is the moment of that breakthrough.

This spiritual breakthrough, Rebbe Natan says, is facilitated in two ways. The first method is through prayer and praise of God. These spiritual practices expand our consciousness out of the narrow limitations of mundane existence. This is the reason, Rebbe Natan explains, that we say Hallel (special Psalms of praise) on Hanukkah.

The second way of facilitating this breakthrough is by giving tzedakah (charity). Tzedakah opens and expands our heart. This also loosens the hold of material reality upon us and brings in new light.

This is the reason why the Hasidic Master, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, counseled his followers to always give charity before they prayed. He knew that this would open their hearts and draw the flow of Divine blessing into them.

According to Rebbe Natan, the initial attempt to discover our inner light is always the most difficult. When we strive to peel back the layers of illusion that surround us, the forces of illusion react to try and block our way. The very fabric of this physical reality resists our attempt to release its grip upon us. As we press against the barrier in consciousness, it increases the strain between these two competing realities, like the strain that builds up when we try to push through a physical barrier. This tension increases until the barrier finally shatters and we break through into a higher plane of consciousness.

In the Hanukkah story, when the Maccabees entered the Temple, they could not find a jar of undefiled oil. They searched and searched but not one jar of sacred oil was to be found. Once they finally discovered the first small jar of oil, however, the miracle occurred and the menorah burned from that one jar for eight days. Similarly, in our own spiritual quest, once we have overcome the initial barrier, the light will begin to build on its own, gaining more strength and illumination with each new day.

This, Rebbe Natan continues, is another reason why we add one more candle to the hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) each day, to remind us that the light of the previous day or days is never lost. On the contrary, the light of each previous day supports and bolsters the light of the next day until on the final day we get a full- fledged blaze of light.

If the light of a thousand suns suddenly arose in the sky, that splendor might be compared to the radiance of the Supreme Spirit.

And Arjuna saw in that radiance the whole universe in its variety, standing in a vast unity in the body of the God of gods.

Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 11:12-13 [2]

In a real spiritual experience, the inner effulgence is overpowering, so much so that it makes all else seem insubstantial and unreal. We experience this inner light by diving deep into the temple of our hearts. There we will find a jar of pure oil that is stamped with the seal of the High Priest – a place of pure devotion that is untainted by worldliness and selfish desires. This inner space holds the light of Hanukkah – a light that is clear and welcoming, a light overflowing with joy.

In the Hanukkah story it is the Assyrian Greeks that overrun the land and desecrate the Temple. They represent the culture of the gymnasium – the worship of the body, of physical pleasure and prowess. They represent the illusion of the power of man. Hanukkah is about tearing down this illusion through increased illumination and inner light. Hanukkah is a revelation of the truth that there is more to life than this material reality which we perceive with our senses.

The light of Hanukkah leads us to rededicate our lives to God and the spiritual life. It deepens our yearning for God and our desire to live a life of service and high aspiration. It strengthens our resolve to find purpose and meaning in our lives.

This is why the rabbis specified that the commandment of lighting the Hanukkah lamp is fulfilled “Ner, ish ubeito” – a light for each person and their household. On Hanukkah we realize that it is not enough for us to dedicate our religious practices to God, we need to dedicate and sanctify every aspect of our lives – every word, thought and deed – every encounter and every relationship.

Psalm 30, which we recite on Hanukkah, begins: “A Psalm of dedication of the house.” The rededication of Hanukkah is the rededication of our lives to the work of building a place for God’s presence upon earth. We construct this divine house by transforming ourselves into a temple through which the power of the supernal planes can flow into our physical plane of existence. We bring the Divine Presence into the world by giving of the illumination that we have received to others – by filling the world with divine love, generosity and compassion, by permeating the planet with light, energy and peace.

In the Scriptures of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak declares:

My mind is in ecstasy, hearing, that the Lord is to come into my Home.

O my friends, Sing now the Wedding Songs, for, my Home has now become a Temple.

Guru-Granth Sahib, Ramkali M. 3, Anand: 34 [3]

This year as we light the Hanukkah lamp, let us sing the wedding songs. Let us rededicate our lives and our household to God. May our homes be transformed into a temple for the Divine Presence. May we experience the sublime ecstasy of a new light entering into our heart.


Copyright © 2017, by Yoel Glick


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Upanishads , translated by Juan Mascaro, p. 61
  2. Bhagavad Gita, translated by Juan Mascaro, p. 53
  3. Guru –Granth Sahib, Vol. III, p. 878, translated by Dr. Gopal Singh