Hanukkah is the the Holiday of Lights or the Holiday of Miracles. How do we bring the miracles down? How do we bring the Light down to our mundane life? What is the Kabbalistic dimension of Hanukkah? How do we celebrate Hanukkah as a spiritual holiday?
Hanukkah According to Tradition
The eight day celebration of Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev. The holiday commemorates the victory of the Hasmonean/Maccabees over the Syrian Greek Empire, the inauguration of the temple, and the miracle of the oil.
Lighting of the Candles
The main mitsva of the holiday is the lighting of the Hanukiya’s (Hanukkah Candelabra) candles. On day one, one candle (in addition to the shamash – the extra candle lit every day) is lit, day two, two candles, etc. This Mitsva is in memory of the miracle of the oil. It is said in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat) that after the Hasmonean victory they wanted to recommence the temple’s activity but found that there was only enough pure oil to light the Menorah (Temple Candelabra) for just one day. Miraculously, this oil burned for eight days, allowing time to produce new pure oil to maintain the light in the Menorah. In memory of this miracle, the great sages amended the tradition of lighting the candles on the eight days of Hanukkah.
The Mitsvah includes reciting three blessings: “to light a candle of Hanukkah” and “Al HaNisim”, and on the first day we also add “Sheheheyanu”. It is customary to sing songs afterwards about the great miracle – the victory of the few against the many and the miracle of the oil – among these songs are: “HaNerot Halalu” and “Maoz Tsur”. According to Halakha, the candles are not allowed to be used, but only to be looked at. It is also customary to put the Hannukiya on the windowsill or by the front door of the house in order to publicize the miracle.
(You’ll find below more details about the ceremony)
During Hanukkah when blessing our food, we add The Silent Prayer the “Al HaNisim” prayer. On Shaharit we add the Hallel prayer and read in the Torah from Parashat Nasso in the section of the sacrifices of the12 presidents of tribes and the dedication (Hanukkah) of the Tabernacle.
An additional custom is the giving of Hanukkah money to children (Hanukkah gelt) and to eat fried food such as Jelly Donuts and Potato Latkes, to remind us of the miracle of the oil. It is also customary to tell stories about the heroism of women, such as Yehudit, Yael (who killed Sisera) and Hannah and her seven sons.
Hanukkah According to Kabbalah
According to Kabbalah each holiday opens a gate during that particular time of the year and offers us spiritual powers that are not available during other days. Each holiday opens a gate to a unique and different kind of spiritual enlightenment.
On Hanukkah the gate that opens connects us to the power of miracles and the power to overcome the mundane nature in order to turn the impossible into a reality. Matityahu (Mattathias) the Hasmonean discovered this spiritual power and paved the way for us. Now, on every Hanukkah we can draw into our lives the power of miracles. Many Kabbalists teach that the 25th of Kislev was designated as Hanukkah since the time of Creation. Matityahu discovered this and made it available to each and every one of us.
Historically, Hanukkah’s miracle happened at that time (the 2nd century B.C.) and in that place (Israel) because there were people who were willing to do everything possible and to go against the limitations of nature and reason in order to fight for their right to protect their beliefs.
What is a Miracle?
According to Kabbalah, not every event that is extraordinary or supernatural is considered as a miracle. Kabbalists teach that the root of the word miracle (נס ness) can also be read as “Nass” (to flee, to escape), meaning that the miracle is a result of a test (Nisaion ניסיון) each person must go through in order to escape from his/her nature and to transcend above it. The resulting transformation in one’s nature then changes the way the rules of life affect us and our destiny.
According to Kabbalah miracles are not random events. We have the ability to draw them into our reality at anytime, anywhere and in every aspect of our lives. The intensity of the miracle depends on how much effort we make to change who we are and to overcome our inborn negative and limited nature. The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches us that since we live in a material world, in order to awake the power of miracles and to bring spiritual light into our lives we need to take action and not just to rest on good intentions.
On Hanukkah we receive the power to create miracles for the whole year and to reconnect to the source of life’s energy, health, success, confidence and continuity. Hanukkah resembles Tishrei’s holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur etc.) that enable a similar access to those powers. Of course, on Tishrei the connection is more powerful and yet there are those who call Hanukkah “little” Rosh HaShana. Some even say that although one’s destiny is determined on Tishrei, until Hanukkah there is still an open hand in the heavens waiting for people to repent and transform their destiny.
The Zohar teaches that events in the material world correspond with unseen events in the spiritual world. The Hasmonean victory over the Syrian Greeks occurred on Kislev under the astrological sign of Sagittarius. The combination of Jupiter, which controls Sagittarius, creates a connection for extra luck, success and abundance in an unreasonably miraculous way.
As opposed to the different illustrations of the zodiac, Sagittarius in Hebrew is KESHET – The Rainbow: and written as קשת which can also be read by mistake as KASHAT meaning The Archer. The Rainbow is the true sign of Kislev that resembles the power revealed in the universe at that time. The rainbow with its amazing colors contains the three columns which are the three basic forces from which our personality is built: Right column (the desire to share), Left column (the desire to receive) and Central column (the desire to receive in order to share). These three forces exist in everything around us and according to Kabbalah whenever the rainbow appears it is a sign that the upper spiritual world injects powers of balance and harmony into the whole universe. If we know how to connect to these forces we can use them during the month of Kislev.
Hanukkah’s Menorah (Hanukiyah) and the Lighting of the Candles
The Ari explains that when we light the Hanukkah candles, we draw spiritual light into our material world which can help us to live a better life and to nourish us with this power to help overcome obstacles of routine. The Hannukiya is lit not to commemorate the historical miracles and events, but rather to help us make a spiritual connection to the light that is revealed. By lighting the candles with this intention we directly connect to spiritual abundance.
The total devotion revealed in the triumph of the Maccabees continues today. The power revealed then is available for us now as we light the holiday candles. This power will help us to triumph in our own personal battles requiring our own individual devotion, endless faith, and consistency. Miracles and wonders in all aspects of our life – livelihood, health, relationships, personal development, etc. are available to us. Using these powers is what makes the difference between a fulfilling and pleasurable life and the life of an observer.
How to light the candles?
The Mitsva of Hanukkah is lighting the candles during the eight days of the holiday. The three blessings over the candles represent the three columns – Right, Left and Central (the third blessing, She’eheyanu, is being said only on the first night). Many light the Hannukiya by the window in order to publicize the miracle. According to the Shulhan Arukh and the Ari, the Hannukiya should be lit in the entrance of the house on the opposite side of the Mezuza (The right side while facing the door from within the house). The Hannukiya should be set on a small table (not less than three handbreadths (24cm) and not higher than 10 handbreaths (80cm)). It should be lit from above in a downward motion toward the Hannukiya to symbolize the light we draw down from the upper worlds to our material world below.
After we light the candles it is custom to sing songs such as “Ha’Nerot Halalu” and “Maoz Tsur” and to keep on sitting by the candles for half an hour after being lit, in order to keep on connecting to their spiritual light (You can download a Hanukkah Blessings and Song Book (English-Hebrew) using this link).
The power of the candle
Kabbalah teaches us to use a candle to bridge the gap between the spiritual and material world. When we want to connect to a spiritual force that we cannot perceive with our five senses, lighting a candle helps us to do this. The candles of Shabbat and Holidays connect us to the spiritual light of that moment. A Yahrzeit (Memorial) candle connects us to the soul of the deceased which no longer is manifested in the material world. A candle is used also during meditation as a connection to spiritual frequencies that we may not be able to connect to otherwise.
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