This year I crafted eight reflections on the Hanukkah candles, one for each night. I put these up on my TikTok, and also shared to Facebook and Instagram. You can see them on TikTok without an account by clicking here. And here they are, all in one place:
Night 1: What is the Miracle?
Hi my friends, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah when we celebrate the story of a miracle, that when the ancient Temple was being rededicated after being defiled, and the Jews went to relight the lamp, they found a small vial of oil, enough to last one day, but it lasted eight days instead.
With all that is going on this year, I think many of us feel like that one vial of oil. That we only have limited resources to give, and yet we are expected to do much more. And that’s ok. The fear, the anxiety, the discomfort we feel at this time—its all ok.
Thus we need to think about the miracle of Hanukkah differently. It’s not just that a small amount of oil lasted eight times longer than expected, but it’s that when that small amount of oil was first found, the Jews lit it anyway, without knowing how long it would last. Whatever you have to give is enough, and whatever you have to offer does make a difference.
The miracle of Hanukkah is you.
Night 2: 100%
Two players show up to team practice one day, and the coach tells them that they are going to be doing push-ups that week. So I want you to get down to the ground and do as many push ups as you can in one minute.
The first player gets to the ground the ground and furiously does push-up after push-up until the coach blows the whistle. The second player drops to the ground, does one push-up and gets up.
Afterwards, the first player turns to the second and says, “Really? One push-up, that’s all that you can do?!”
The second replies, “Well, tomorrow I will do two pushups, and I will have improved 100%. What about you?”
Tonight when we light two candles on this second night of Hanukkah, we will have doubled the amount of light we bring into the world, we will increase our output by 100%. Sometimes we may never know what influence we have, or who may need what we have to give. Just keep shining your light.
Small actions can have huge impact.
Night 3: Pay Attention!
Tonight’s candle on the third night of Hanukkah is about paying attention.
Think about it—when do you think the ancient Jews of the Hanukkah story realized that something special and miraculous was happening? Not the first day they lit the oil, that was expected and what was supposed to happen. Not the second day, that can be attributed to luck—maybe there was a bit more oil in that vial than they previously thought, and perhaps like me you’ve had the experience of a candle lasting longer than expected.
No, it was the third day that they realized something unique was happening. And the only way to realize that something unique is happening is to pay attention. We need to pay attention. Pay attention to how we feel, pay attention to what is going on around us, and pay attention to who we are. The Hanukkah candles may all look the same, but there is only unique one third night candle, just as there is only one unique you.
So be the unique and authentic you.
Night 4: Balance
A long time ago two rabbis Hillel and Shammai had an argument over over how to light the menorah. Hillel said on the first night you one should start with one candle and each night you add an additional candle, Shammai said you should start with eight candles and each night you remove a candle. Today, of course, we light like Hillel.
So what’s special about the fourth night of Hanukkah? It’s the night that these two conflicting opinions would be the closes together in practice.
The fourth night of Hanukkah is about balance—with four candles lit and four spaces empty, we have an equal amount of light and darkness. We are continually seeking balance in our lives. Whether its with those we are in close relationship with, or with ourselves and all that is asked of us, or with the traumas of the past and the hopes of the future, let us continue to strive for honesty, fairness, and wholeness.
Night 5: In Between
Well my friends we made it. We turned the corner on this fifth night of Hanukkah as this is the first night that we have more light than darkness
And yet we are still in the middle. The fifth night does not have the novel excitement of the beginning of Hanukkah nor the climactic fullness of the end, but the middle does have its own importance.
So much of our lives are lived in the middle, in the in-between, in the potential. Living into new experiences and opportunities on our way to realizing our goals and dreams. It’s up to us therefore to not only continue to light the lights, even if as on Hanukkah we add just a little bit each day, but to also remember that it’s these middle moments that make all the difference. We need to think about not just what could or will be, but what is.
And we must celebrate each small step, each victory, on our journey.
Night 6: Patience
There is an ancient story in the Talmud about Adam, the first human, who began to notice that the days were getting shorter and therefore began to panic and fear that the world was ending. Then when the solstice came and the days began to get longer, Adam was relieved and realized that this was just the way the world worked, and so celebrated.
We can hear the echoes of Hanukkah in this ancient story, especially tonight as we light the 6th candle. For tonight on the Jewish calendar is also Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new month, and the new moon, when there is no moon visible in the sky. And as tonight is the closest new moon to the solstice, it is the darkest, longest night of the year.
So while we do what we can to bring light to the world, we know too that with the turn of the season the light will return. Things work in cycles, and we can confidently say, this too shall pass. What we need is patience.
Sometimes the greatest healer, the greatest change agent, is time.
Night 7: Meaning Making
Seven is a number of completion, of wholeness in Judaism. In the mythic story of Creation in the Torah, six days of work plus one day of rest, makes 7 days, one week.
The idea of a week is interesting. A day marks a complete rotation of the earth on its axis, a month is a complete revolution of the moon around the earth, and a year is a revolution of the earth around the sun—all ways nature imposes time on humanity.
A week however, is arbitrary. It is a way humanity imposes time on nature.
Life is messy and confusing. Our plans don’t always work out, tragic things happen, we need to shift and change direction. Lighting the Hanukkah candles, like counting a week, is one way of setting an intention, of exerting control. Lighting the lights is a reminder that we have the power to create meaning and order out of chaos.
Night 8: Join the Light
It’s the 8th and last night of Hanukkah, and all the candles are lit. On this night we have the most light to give, and hopefully to light our path forward as we move out of Hanukkah tomorrow night.
Tonight is the night of extra, of pushing beyond our boundaries and comfort in order to make change in ourselves and in our world.
The Torah teaches two fundamental things about humanity. That we are all descended from the first humans, and that we are made in the image of God. These metaphors imply, one, that we are all related, and that no one is better or more important than another, and, two, that we are all sacred beings, worthy of respect, compassion, and love.
You are a shining light. And when we see that light in others, all of our individual lights combine into one great light.