Be the Eighth Candle: A Teaching for HannukahPosted on November 28th, 2012 No comments
I write to you from the football-crazed city of Houston. (The Texans are currently ranked number one. Just saying.) So please excuse the following sports analogies. When the player reaches the end zone, he may make a gesture of celebration (e.g., “the pose” of Desmond Howard in 1991, look it up). Or it is common for climbers who reach Mount Everest’s summit to raise their hands in victory. So what does this have to do with Hannukkah?
The Jewish equivalent of “spiking the ball”, doing a touchdown dance or raising one’s hands in victory is to…light some lights, sing and give to charity. And “our” Hannukkah is only one of many such moments of triumph. Pesikta Rabbati contains an extensive midrashic examination of Hanukkah’s meaning, one of which enumerates seven different Hannukkahs:
- The Hanukkah of finishing creating the heaven and earth, which God observed by “turning on” the two great lights (the sun and moon) in the sky (Genesis 2:1, 1:17).
- The Hanukkah of completing the wall enclosing Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:27), observed with lots of singing.
- The Hanukkah of the successful return from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:17), observed with lots of singing and offerings.
- The Hanukkah of the Hasmonean priests, for which we kindle the Hannukkah lamps, symbolizing their complete victory. The original menorah in this case was probably fashioned from spearheads turned into torches, since the original menorah had been taken away. (See Daniel Sperber, Magic and Folklore in Rabbinic Literature, “An Early Meaning of the Word Shapud”, Bar Ilan, 1994, pp. 34-39.)
- The Hanukkah of the World to Come (Zephaniah 1:12-1), in which the wealthy and unjust are utterly annihilated by God, accompanied with the sound of crying, this time cries of sorrow, not joy.
- The Hanukkah of the princes’ anointing the altar (Numbers 7:84-89). After all twelve princes finished bringing their offerings of silver and gold items, the whole array, clanging mightily, we might suppose, accompanied by the bellowing of the sacrificial oxen, was followed with what one might call, “the still, small voice” that Moses hears from beyond the ark’s cover.
- And the Hanukkah of the First Temple’s dedication (Psalm 30:1), celebrated with this psalm. (Pesikta Rabbati 2:3)
So these seven Hannukkahs are logical: each celebrates the finishing of some important work. But why didn’t the midrash name eight Hanukkahs? There are certainly enough occasions in Jewish history to have made for “8 great finishings”, e.g., the rededication of the first Temple after King Josiah’s reforms were completed (II Kings, chapter 23). So why did the midrash stop at seven?
Perhaps the midrash is allowing us to supply our own, personal Hannukkahs. The hallmark of a Hannukkah is that it marks the finishing of a large project. So one way to observe Hanukkah would be to make a commitment to a project that can be finished in a year, so that, next year, it will become the eighth Hanukkah. We can personally dedicate ourselves to enrich our practice of Judaism, to lead healthier lives, to pay off debt, to wrestle addictions to the ground and so forth. Or perhaps you have recently finished a large effort. If you have made it to the end zone, the summit, make your own personal triumph the eighth Hannukkah.
May your Hanukkah be filled with light and may your own dedicatory candle burn with joy this year, next year and in every year!
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