In the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, there is a saying: “The greatest revelation of Godliness is the light that emerges from the darkness.” Our sages were teaching us that our task as human beings is to uncover, to reveal, those sparks of light, of love and of kindness, that reside in each and every human being. To be a Jew, they teach, is to be like a star bringing light into those places, those moments of darkness, of despair. But stars do not eliminate the darkness. They only mitigate it. And this imagery is at the core of Chanukah. Winter looms. Days are getting shorter and nights longer. The moon has all but completely disappeared. All around us is darkness. And so, we light a small fire. On the first night of Hanukkah but one candle. Two on the second night. And so forth for eight nights. Our Menorah never brings an end to the dark- ness, but merely soften its effects. The Book of Proverbs tells us “The soul of man is the lamp of God,” (Proverbs 20:27). That we all have the potential to be those sparks of light. That no matter how fleeting, how precarious this light might be, it can help us to restore our hopes and our dreams.
The ancient Jewish process of Repentance, which in the Hebrew, Teshuvah, literally translates as “returning.” An intentional act of changing extant assumptions, habits, and patterns. In fact, Teshuva is not at all about repentance, but really a return, a journey home. Teshuvah is the longing, the yearning, the pining to return to that state of embracing our internalized God…
How do we, as Jews, collectively deal with the death and despair that permeates much of our history? How do we actualize our Covenant with God, to become a Nation of Priests that thinks and acts aspirationally? How do we process the losses and traumas, ever so present in our collective memory and psyche, without becoming a cult of death? Where our defining story, our defining metaphor as a people is that of death and survivalism? How do we not become entirely about memory and loss, to the exclusion of the present, let alone the future?
The first Shabbat was like the primordial light of the first day of creation, in which it was possible to see from one end of the universe to the other, for on both days the light lasted and the darkness was held back.