Zion is aspirational. Beyond the physical land. Beyond a specific place, a particular piece of real estate. That the story of arrival to the Promised Land was never about arrival. That as with all things Holy, Kedusha in Hebrew, what matters is to bring Divinity into our lives. And so, regardless of whether we live in Jerusalem, Paris or Chicago, we must ask ourselves, ask of our community: Now that we are here, what do we have to do in order to make our lives matter? Holy? The Promise Land, after all, is a state of mind.
Throughout the canon of Jewish literature and history, situation after situation unfold in which our ancestors are thrust into the messy reality that is everyday life. And a thread runs through our stories of acceptance, an embrace of the inherent vulnerability that all of life is. Health, success, love, even hate—everything can change, radically, overnight. Our Jewish traditions teach us to savor the sweetness that is life, the magic of the everyday. Every minute counts because everything eventually comes to an end.
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…