A Kavannah of Hanukkah

by Student Rabbi Roberta Glick

There are 2 themes: gratitude and tsheuvah that I want to talk about today with regards to Hanukkah. Hopefully something old and something new for everyone.

We sometimes think of Hanukkah as a “minor” holiday, maybe celebrated to balance against another big holiday in December. And we know Hanukkah is about a war that the Jews won against the Greeks, against assimilation. We rededicated the temple, and the oil for the menorah was only enough for 1 day but lasted 8 days. A miracle! That’s what the rabbis want to stress: the miracle of the light; not the fight.

Hanukkah is not discussed in the Torah. Rather, it’s in the Talmud, our oral law (tractate Shabbat) in a discussion about animal sacrifices. In ancient times, animal sacrifices were numerous and a great variety of types were offered each day but decreasing in number each day. This led to a discussion by the two famous Rabbis in the Talmud and their schools: How to light the Hanukkah candles.

Beit Shammai (who was stricter) said: Just like Sukkot sacrifices, we start with many and go down in number each night, from 8 to one. Good reasoning but Beit Hillel (who was a bit more humble and inclusive, but by no means pluralistic,) said NO. We do it differently. We start with one candle and we INCREASE the number of candles lit each night. And thus we do it as per Beit Hillel. Because Hanukkah is about increasing Light in the world, we increase holiness in the world, not decrease.  מעלין בקודש, ואין מורידין

Hanukkah comes at the darkest time of the year. There are holidays in other faiths in December that also point to bringing light into a dark world. For example, the Indian holiday Diwali, the Christian holidays of solstice and advent, the African holiday of Kawanza, the Muslim holiday of Mawlid un Nabi (birthday of Muhammed).  For Jews, “the light of the Lord is my soul.” The prophet Isaiah says that our job as Jews is to be a “light unto nations”, to bring the moral and ethical teachings of teachings of Torah to the entire world. Light is holiness.  Light is G-d. Light is Torah. Light is soul.

Another place where the Talmud talks about Hanukkah is in reference to the type of candles or oil we use on Hanukkah versus Shabbat, and how they are used on these days. Shabbat is about separation, distinction. We stop the work we do all week and rest.  Heschl describes it as a cathedral in time, not space. It’s a taste of the time of our future redemption, when all is perfect, and nothing needs to be fixed or created. Special preparations are required for Shabbat. Some people go to the mikveh for ritual purification. And only special candles designated just for Shabbat can be used. Once you light them, no other work can be done, and the light of the candles can be used for reading or studying; utilitarian value. Prepared and special for Shabbat.

In contrast, any oil or candles can be used for the Hanukkah menorah; clean dirty, broken, whole, special or not, and not much preparation is necessary.  It’s a “come as you are” party. And once you light them, the mitzvah of Hanukkah is to gaze upon their beauty, their holiness, their light, and not use them for anything else. The Hasidic masters describe the candles as a metaphor for us, for our lives.  Whether we are broken, common, rich, pure, impure; and whether you are prepared or not ready to be holy, you can come and participate and be included in the mitzvah. All types of people, all types of candles and oil. We enter from the place where you are, and each of us may enter from a different place in our lives. But we can all make the leap, or step. We can all participate in bringing holiness into the world, and light into the darkness.

The Hasidic masters were concerned that it is not enough to just do the mitzvah and just follow the law mindlessly. Rather, they were concerned with our internal experience, our religious consciousness, and even the mystical experience: being aware that you are in the Divine Presence when we participate in a mitzvah.  We may say this is Kavanah, the intention, also mean “arrow or direction” we are aiming, and many of us call this mindfulness.  And just as we bring the light into the darkness of the physical world, the Hasidic masters, and in particular Sfat Emet, taught that as we gaze at the candle, we should deeply “look” for a long time, 5 or even 30 minutes, and see how the flame changes, and is constantly moving. Again, like our lives. Perhaps some of you were like me and liked to look at fireplace fires or campfires for a long time like this. The Hasidic masters teach that as we gaze at the candles we need to look “deeply.” It is important to “see” what is not visible to the eye, as well. We need to look deep inside ourselves, and shed light on our own dark spaces, our shortcomings, our resentments, our neediness, our excessive wanting or grasping for materialism, our turning away from the beggar or homeless or sick or elderly, our lashon hora or yetzer hara.  We can shed light on these internal dark spaces, and do t’shuvah. Sfat Emet says that within each of us is an inner point, and inner spark, and we can infuse this point into the entire soul of a person by being joyous through Hallel (praise) and Hodaah (thanksgiving), meriting to be included in the community of Israel.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says that choshek, darkness, is forgetting; turning away. Light is “seeing”, remembering, memory, the secret, the hidden good, and bringing it forth. Only with the “heart” can one see what is right. Think about how we “see”, how we “look”, for this determines how we “relate” to one another. So as we shed light on our own dark internal spaces, in our lives, in our hearts we can try to bring more light into ourselves, more loving kindness, more generosity, more shalom, more joy, more gratitude into our own hearts, into our own consciousness, and as we open our hearts we can bring these attributes, the attributes of G-d, into the world: “be a light unto nations”.

A final sharing about Hanukkah from my Zohar class.  The Zohar is a beautiful mystical book holding deep wisdom, secrets and meanings to the Torah and everything else.  I see it as a poetic look at life and Torah. For me, poetry is like an impressionistic painting; you get a few evocative words and images, and you fill in the rest, creating an experience. What I learned from my wonderful Zohar teacher, Rachmiel Drizin, is that Hanukkah is really a holiday of gratitude and t’shuvah. On each of the 8 days we are supposed to recite the complete Hallel, songs of praise and thankfulness. And each of the 8 days of Hanukkah are associated with a particular Sefirot, from Kabbalah. These are representations of the attributes of G-d superimposed on man. We are a microcosm of G-d in that we are made in G-d’s image. These Sefirot, middot, attributes include wisdom, loving kindness, truth, balance, beauty, etc. On each day of Hanukkah, we are supposed to instill a sense of gratitude through recitation of Hallel and focus on one of the attributes of G-d, and try to emulate it that day, to practice it in your life, and repair the brokenness. Hanukkah is considered the last chance to get in your “high holiday” T’shuvah, to renew the vows you made on Yom Kippur, about improving your life this year: physically, intellectually, spiritually, with yourself and others, with Chesed and generosity and compassion.  It’s like the “new year resolutions” some of us make.

Here is a really nice conversation piece from Orot. The theme is “The lights we need”. On this Hanukkah, which types of light do we need? Which light do YOU want to bring into your family or the world. Finish this sentence: “Tonight we will consider the light of…”Courage, stillness, comfort, joy, growth”. In closing, may you be blessed with the light of Chesed and compassion in your lives. May you be blessed with eight days of internal light and repair, fixing chaos in your life, and illuminating the dark days of winter and increase light in the world.

Meditation: From the priestly blessing: May G-d shine Divine Light upon you and be loving to you: A Prayer of luminous light and Love to you. Think of a time when you were luminous or you were loved.

Shalom.

Hanukkah and Our Highest Self

My Grandson recently said this about his twin Aunts:

“Whenever I see a tree it always feels deep inside me that I am earth.

And when I am with Beth and Ella it feels like they are earth with me.”

While this haunting call to Oneness comes from the heart of a six year-old, philosopher Ken Wilber also calls us to mindfully live in the light of our Highest Self.

“… you are a genuine co-creator of a reality that every human being henceforth will pass through. Make sure, therefore, that to the extent that you can, always act from the deepest, widest, highest source in you that you can find ; let every word out of you mouth come from the Highest Self you can discern; let every action spring from the deepest Source you can possibly summon. You are laying down Forms that will be stored in that great storage bin in the Kosmos, whence they will one day reach down and mold the future with their own special insistence. Make sure those Forms will be something you can be deeply proud of. You do realize that you are directly co-creating a future World, don’t you? Please, never, never, forget that….”

May you create a reality of light and love everywhere you go.

Chag sameach,

Alison Brown

 

We Return to Health When Our Body and Soul are Balanced

 

Well-being includes physical and spiritual health.

We return to health from sickness when our body and soul are balanced.

Join Hebrew Seminary for a panel discussion on

 

NEW DIMENSIONS IN MEDICINE:

Where Body and Soul Meet

 

Sunday, October 28, 2018 from 2:00-3:30 pm 

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, Hebrew Seminary President and Professor of Jewish Mysticism, and author of two books on Kabbalistic Healing Prayer.

Dr. Roberta P Glick is a Professor of Neurosurgery at Rush University and Rosalind Franklin Chicago Medical School. She worked for over 30 years at Cook County and Mount Sinai Hospitals where she was dedicated to improving care for low-income patients with malignant brain tumors and traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Gary Slutkin is founder and CEO of Cure Violence and Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. He initiated the first national programs for AIDS in Central and East Africa for the World Health Organization (WHO) and created and led WHO’s Intervention Development Office.

 

HEBREW SEMINARY

A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING

4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076

847-679-4113  [email protected]

ASL interpreted      Refreshments served

Where Body and Soul Meet

Well-being includes physical and spiritual health.

We return to health from sickness when

our body and soul are balanced.

 

Join Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, Dr. Gary Slutkin

and Dr. Roberta Glick for a panel discussion on

 

NEW DIMENSIONS IN MEDICINE:

Where Body and Soul Meet

Sunday, October 28, 2018 from 2:00-3:30 pm

 

HEBREW SEMINARY
A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING
4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076
847-679-4113
[email protected]hebrewseminary.org

 

ASL interpreted                                                     Refreshments served

An Absence of Color and Light

By Student Rabbi Stacey Robinson

We sat among the willows,
and we wept,
there by the river
that flowed
clear and cold and swift,
–branches dancing,
barely dancing–
as they swayed
and swept the ground.

We stood among the weeping trees,
Prayers mixed with
visions of ash.
and smoke
that rose and billowed,
Black against purple-stained blue
— the blue of periwinkles
and royalty–
and a sky smudged with soot and
an absence of color
and Light,
and the altars we had left behind.

How can we sing
with no stone walls
adorned with lapis and gold:
— the blue of royalty
and the blaze of the sun–
How,
before that pillar of fire,
that billowing smoke
that is empty of God
and absent of Light?
That raged in a fiery, metallic storm,
licking at loose rubble,
that once was strong walls,
that once was adorned with
the presence of God?

We wept,
and did not sing,
and found no music
in our unstrung lyres
and broken harps.
We wept,
for how could we sing?

And after the weeping
and the fire
and the absent,
Empty,
broken altars–
Pale morning.
and skies of purple-stained blue
shot through with scarlet and gold.
Mist tangled in those willows,
their branches dancing–
barely dancing–
barely skimming the swiftly flowing waters.

A moment–
A breathless,
silent
sacred moment.
that was a psalm,
A hymn of color,
and holiness
Made anew.
And there was no absence.
And there was light.

And there,
among the willows
by that swiftly flowing river,
We found a new prayer
And sang.

 

For Tisha B’Av

 

Practical Applications of Kabbalah for Your Daily Life

“Practical Applications of Kabbalah for Your Daily Life”

A ten-session class

With Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Sundays, February 25 – May 6

12:00 – 1:30pm

Kabbalah has many important practical applications that can impact your life on a daily basis – your health, your finances, your relationships with others.  Learn how to connect with Hashem, and activate the Divine within you.  In this class, noted scholar and author Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer will focus on the fundamental principles of Kabbalah and how it can change your life for the better.  If you are new to the mysteries of Kabbalah, or want to learn practical applications of Jewish Mysticism for your life, this is the class for you.

 

Hebrew Seminary’s 2018 Spring Semester
begins February 11.

Visit Hebrew Seminary and visualize your possibilities!

847 – 679 – 4113

 

Even Adam Kvetched About the Long Winter Nights!

We all know the story of Hanukkah. But, there is another narrative that many of us don’t know. Last week, Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub taught us a lesser known story that prominently features Adam.

The better known Hanukkah story is derived from the Babylonia Talmud, Shabbat 21b. The text tells us that the Greeks entered our Temple and defiled all of the oil in the Sanctuary. When the Hasmonean monarchy rose up, defeated the Greeks and entered the Temple they found one remaining vial of oil sealed with the imprimatur of the high priest. This vial, as expected, contained oil for only one day. The Hasmoneans lit the oil and it burned for eight days and nights. The following year an eight day holiday was established for hallel, praise and thanksgiving. This text has given rise to the widely known interpretation that Hanukkah is about the miracle of the oil, defeating oppression and celebrating religious freedom.

Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a tells an alternative Hanukkah story that portrays Hanukkah as Adam’s encounter with the winter solstice (translation from Sefaria.org.)

“ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח’ ימים בתענית [ובתפלה]

With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.

We read on:

כיון שראה תקות טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים הוא קבעם לשם שמים והם קבעום לשם עבודת כוכבים

Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Our text makes reference to the festivities of later generations because Adam’s two observances resemble the pagan Roman holidays Calenda and Saturnalia. It could be said that the Rabbis use this opportunity to trace these “revisionist” festivals back to Adam who established them for the sake of Heaven, that is giving thanks to God, whereas the Romans established them for the sake of the stars, i.e. idolatry.

While Avodah Zarah 8a doesn’t overtly mention Hanukkah, this text ties Hanukkah to the winter solstice and Adam. Hanukkah then did not begin with the Hasmoneans, it started with Adam. We offer this lesser known Hanukkah story in recognition of the salient symbol here – the gift of increasing light. In many ways this text establishes a universal holiday. We wish you all Ramadanadawalichristmakwaanzukkah!™

 

Toldot & Thanksgiving

by Alison C. Brown, Executive Director

Fear not, while it currently feels as though some of our world leaders have purposefully severed our ancestral roots, I suspect every generation feels that way.

Parashah Toldot is a Jewish narrative about our ancestral roots and serves as another installment in the guide to being fully human. Together with the many Jewish texts redacted and commented upon over the millennia, there is no misconstruing the values that bind us.

Our ancestors live within us. We connect with and build upon the consciousness of previous generations. To borrow an image from science, we need only connect to the stardust of which we are all made. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught a general principle that wherever we go, we go to our roots. Pull the camera out to include contemporary times: we may move or change jobs, but our roots accompany us. To access our roots for decision making we need b’hirut hasaichel, clarity of reason. Through prayer, meditation and mindfully being in the present moment we experience an unchanging awareness and clarity of reason that is divine. We can practice and learn to experience rehovot, spaciousness. Rabbi Shefa Gold writes that, “The well of our ancestors becomes a fountain connecting the dark depths of our human story with the wide skies of awareness.”

Not to get off topic, but the Buddhists are right, life is suffering. The human story includes dark depths. Some of them stem from severed roots. We find our way back through the breath and faith. In Psalms 150, verse 6, our ancestors teach, “Let all that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah.” Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer adds, “The action of breathing in and breathing out indicates the continuous Presence of God in our life.” In the Jewish narrative darkness is balanced by the light. Hallelujah!

In the ancestral narrative of Toldot, “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of living water.” The well symbolizes, Rabbi Norman Lamm suggests, “the great well of personality and being that beckons us to access what we might learn from its depths.” My well of being is sometimes muddy. I feel weighed down by tons of earth. I have so many things I want to do and need to do. When I move the stone to access the living waters I am distracted by thoughts of list-making and judgement. To escape this suffering of my own making, I must begin my day practicing rehovot, spaciousness. A well of clear living waters can later reveal b’hirut hasaichel if we make time to intentionally be in the present. In the flowing, the breath and the stardust we coexist with our ancestors and the divine.

Our ancestral roots offer fundamental beliefs to guide our behavior. Judaism also invites us to question these beliefs. “Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt”, wrote renowned therapist Dr. Rollo May. “To every thesis there is an antithesis, and to this there is a synthesis. Truth is thus a never-dying process.” When we live or legislate with severed roots, truth dies. James Joyce wrote, “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” In my interpretation, consciousness is forever evolving within each of us and the smithy of my soul coexists with my ancestors and the Divine. Welcome, O life!

In 2017, we encounter the ancestors of Toldot just before Thanksgiving. This American holiday makes me think of the Amidah. During the Amidah, we bow before and after Avot, the blessing of the Patriarchs, and before and after the berachah of Hoda’ah, a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Rav Kook wrote that bowing our head, “signals an attitude of deference and humility.” In bowing, as in breathing, we acknowledge and give thanks to God and our ancestors.

And let us together pray privately:

Talmud Berakhot 17a

By Lawrence Kushner (translator)

May you live to see your world fulfilled,
May your destiny be for worlds still to come,
And may you trust in generations past and yet
to be.
May your heart be filled with intuition
and your words be filled with insight.
May songs of praise ever be upon your tongue
and your vision be on a straight path before you.
May your eyes shine with the light of holy words
and your face reflect the brightness of the heavens.
May your lips speak wisdom
and your fulfillment be in righteousness
even as you ever yearn to hear the words
of the Holy Ancient One of Old.

Go Forth To Your Deeper Self by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Lech Lecha, Genesis 12-17:27

The opening scripture of this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha, “Go forth from your native land, from your kindred, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1) has a number of different translations and meanings.  In the literal translation of the text, God calls Abram (this takes place before his name is changed to Abraham) to drop everything, leave his family, leave his friends, leave his community and to wholeheartedly trust in God’s call, because God is leading Abram to a chosen country that God wishes for Abram and his descendants.  The Ma’or Vashemesh reads the expression “Lech Lecha” (Go Forth) as a call addressed to every person to penetrate beyond the more external aspects of the Self to his deeper, inner self, which can be identified as an aspect of the Divine.

In this text, we are privileged to see two interpretations of this Divine verse:  one that is behavioral and one that is psychological.  When God tells Abram to “pay attention to Me for your own benefit,” God is teaching him that he should understand and pay attention to the way he travels and does things. Hashem loves Abram so much that He teaches him to focus on his behavior, as a father does with his son.

But. Hashem also wants Abraham to examine his spiritual state and elevate it.  When we internalize God’s loving commands, we recognize that these two interpretations depend on one another. Our behavior, when we improve it, inspires in us a higher spiritual awareness. And a higher spiritual awareness inspires a higher spiritual behavior. When we understand the relationship between spirituality and behavior, we know that this is no ordinary text, but it is indeed a book given by God, inspired by God and even written by God.  How blessed are the people of Israel.

This weekend, I have a perfect example of two potential meanings for “Lech Lecha” (Go Forth). On Saturday morning, at our Kabbalistic Shabbat service at Congregation Bene Shalom, we will practice meditations created by the great Hasidic master the Baal Shem Tov.  We will “go forth”-into ourselves. We will dig deep into our own souls.  We learn in the Zohar, Sitrei Torah 1:66b, that the Neshoma or Divine Soul is identified with Abram. The Baal Shem Tov, embracing this Zohar, taught that the Neshoma is not happy to come down to this material world of change. The Neshoma enjoys the spiritual realm, where it lives at One with God. In Keter Shem Tov, the Baal Shem Tov teaches that the Neshoma is afraid of the uncertainties of the material realm, but God insists that the Neshoma leave heaven to come down to perfect the body and the entire world. Therefore, God commands the NeshomaLech Lecha, Go to yourself,” which the Baal Shem Tov, teaches as “to yourself, for your own tikkun or perfection.”

And on Sunday, October 29, we wll celebrate the ordination of Tirtzah Israel from Hebrew Seminary.  Our seminary is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, and I am very proud to ordain Rabbi Israel.  She has been an outstanding student—who has gone forth from her physical persona of an African-American hard-of-hearing woman—and she has gone forth to discover her spiritual connection to God and to her Jewish identity and her connection to the Jewish community. After Sunday, she will physically go forth to embrace a new life as a leader of the Jewish people.

From the second verse of this week’s parasha, we learn an even more inspiring bit of wisdom.  In Genesis 12:2, God says, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, … and you will be a blessing.”  In the first verse, God’s name is expressed as YHVH, which gives the connotation of a God of love and blessing.  In the second verse, God’s name is expressed as VHYH.  According to the great Kedushat Levi, this text proves that our actions can bring joy and great blessing to the Holy One. This gives us humans great power, since God’s response to our action, is the gushing forth of Divine blessing (shefa) and joy.  This reciprocal blessing has greatly improved the world and the relationship between God and mankind.  Abraham was the first person to reverse the flow of blessing from below to above, reflected in the word “VHYH” which is the inverse of YHVH.  Because of Abraham’s actions, we have one of the great spiritual laws of the Universe:  Our good actions necessarily cause God to send blessings down to us.

It took the power of Abraham’s kindness to arouse God’s blessings from above and to inspire the Israelites’ blessing from below; that is, the Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton inspired the Israelites love from below to above. From the time that Abraham arrived as God’s great prophet and patriarch, there was arousal of the Shefa.  This is an amazing gift that God gave to the Universe.

When I sit down with my class and discuss with my students the amazing texts that God lays before us, asking us to govern our lives with these commandments, I feel so blessed and so honored to be one of the world’s teachers of Torah.

So  often students will ask me if spirituality is an integral part of our religion.  I can only answer with a smile on my heart, saying that spirituality is not only an inintegral part of our faith, but it is the most essential part of our teachings. And we are enormously blessed to have this teaching from this Torah.

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is the senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.