Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that on the holyday Hanukkah we receive the light of the Beit Hamikdash or Temple. The Beit Hamikdash is the place where we can access the Mind of God. It is the treasure-house which holds the prayers and desires in the heart of the Creator. It is the inner chamber from which God’s boundless compassion shines forth into the world.
In the Torah (Exodus 25:8) God tells the Children of Israel: “Make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in your midst.” The Beit Hamikdash represents our faith that God can dwell among us, that we can turn this world into a fitting vessel for the Divine Presence; that humanity can evolve and grow into a bright lamp that radiates God’s Eternal light.
This is the essence of the holyday of Hanukkah. The light of Hanukkah, Rebbe Natan explains, is the light of the Ein Sof, the Absolute. The avodah or spiritual work of Hanukkah is to reveal the light of God’s Infinite Goodness in our finite physical world.
The light of Hanukkah is the light of wisdom. It is the light of understanding that reveals the underlying Divine reality and the true nature of life on this physical plane of existence. Wrong understanding is the cause of much of our suffering. Due to incorrect perception, we become caught up in the whirlwind of physical objects and desires. We lose track of the true purpose of our life. We forget the reason why we have come into the world.
This is why the miracle of Hanukkah is symbolized by a jar of oil. Oil represents wisdom. It symbolizes the illumination of mind that expands our consciousness and enables us to see the true meaning of our existence.
The wisdom that we are searching for, however, is not intellectual knowledge or information. It is an intuitive understanding that comes from a place beyond the intellect. This wisdom is beyond the grasp of the normal mind. It is a deeper understanding that lies at the very core of our being. It is a knowledge that touches on the essence of who we are.
So how do we access this inner wisdom – this pot of sanctified oil that is sealed with the seal of the High Priest?
The Ethics of the Fathers 3:13 states: “A fence for wisdom is silence.” We need silence to integrate the wisdom of the Ein Sof; words only get in the way. We need peace and stillness to delve deep within.
This, Rebbe Natan believes, is the reason that we are not allowed to use the light of the Hanukkiah for practical uses. The Hanuukiah is meant to be gazed upon. As the tradition tells us, “ain lanu reshut lehishtamaish bahem, ela lerotam bilvad” – we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them. We contemplate the lights so that we may receive from the Source of light itself. Light is the door which leads us to the Infinite.
We have come to dispel the darkness
In our hands is fire and light
Each of us is but a small candle
But together we create a powerful light
Traditional Hanukkah Song
We have come to dispel the darkness of this material reality.
We are all composed of light, fire and energy.
Each of us is a small soul candle.
Together we create a blaze of spiritual power.
The Bhagavad Gita 10:20 speaks of light in a windless place. It is a center of calm and stillness inside us where God dwells. The light that shines in that place is the light of Hanukkah. Once we have kindled the light of our inner temple, we become a candle to dispel the darkness of the world.
Each candle makes a difference. Each candle helps to clear away the darkness and gloom. Every attempt to uplift another, every act of compassion and generosity, every word of inspiration and aspiration brings the Divine light into the world. The more we tap into the inner place of goodness inside us, the more the light will brighten and grow. We keep on adding one more act of light, and again one more act of light, until finally there is light all around.
The key is for people to work together: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When we are united, we form a solid vessel for the light. We create a spiritual nucleus through which God can work.
We need to join with others who are striving. We need to uphold and support each other in our efforts. If even a small number of people dedicate their lives to God, the results will be spectacular. As Swami Vivekananda once said:
“Men, men [and women] – these are wanted…strong, vigorous, believing young men, sincere to the backbone, are wanted. A hundred such and the world will be revolutionized.”
Rebbe Natan believes that the light of Hanukkah not only connects us to the light of the Temple; it also links us to the Light of the Messiah. There is a new wisdom and consciousness that flows into the world on Hanukkah. We can tap into this source of inspiration if we are properly attuned. We can cleanse our inner temple through the power of messianic fire. We can rededicate our mikdash using the higher awareness of inner experience.
Hanukkah is a time of rededicating ourselves to a life of meaning and purpose; a time when we decide that we will not let the negativity in the world turn us away from the path of hope and light. Hanukkah is about holding on to our aspirations despite the failures. It is about clinging on to our dreams even in the moments of darkest night.
On Hanukkah, we envision a world where human beings work in harmony with each other and with the planet. On Hanukkah, we become a living candle to dispel the doubt and hate and fear.
Copyright © 2011, by Yoel Glick
- Swami Chetanananda, God lived with them, p. 52↵