How will you dedicate your Hannukah?
The Hebrew word Hannukah literally means dedication, referencing the (re)dedication of the Temple over 2500 years ago after it was desecrated and destroyed in the battle of the Maccabees against the army of Antiochus. The re-dedication was enacted with the lighting of the 7 branched menorah in the Temple. Later, because the 7 branched menorah was not supposed to be outside the Temple (Talmud Menachot 28b), and in connection with the symbolism of the Talmudic version of the story when the last tiny cruse of oil miraculously lasted 8 nights (Talmud Shabbat 21b), an 8 branched Hanukkah holding 9 candles, aka a Hannukah menorah, was instituted.
I'd like to offer another way of understanding that word: dedication.
Perhaps while the candles are burning, we take the opportunity to just be. Just be in the moment, in the present. Hannukah is a holiday but it's not like Shabbat or other chagim (festivals) where we miss school or work. In this way, Hannukah integrates the sacred and the every day. Perhaps Hannukah can be an opportunity to remind ourselves the power of integrating small rituals into our daily lives, to bring more holiness into our routines.
According to the laws of Hannukah, women are to refrain from work while the Hannukah candles are burning. Reasons for this are two fold: firstly the candles are intended simply to celebrate and publicize the miracle of Hannukah and must burn for a minimum of 30 minutes and are not to be used in a utilitarian way to provide light for work. Secondly, this was seen as a reward for women to be exempt from work while the candles are lit, in honor of the heroine Judith, whose book, along with the book of Maccabees, is not in the Hebrew bible but is part of the Jewish apocryphal literature, but is a female heroine associated with Hannukah.
Perhaps this is why most Hannukah candles only last 30 minutes, unlike most Shabbat candles which last hours providing light all night and are often still burning when it’s time for bed. There are times I wish the Hannukah candles burned longer, but alas. We must savor the light while it does last.
You may find this practice of women’s exemption from work while the candles are burning to be sexist (implying they should be working all the rest of the time and that’s the only time they have “off”). Perhaps you find this a comforting, freeing, relief that gives you permission to take advantage of not working and to just enjoy the candles, (or perhaps a bit of both -I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions), I admit, I am inspired by the opportunity and idea of compulsory rest and reflection.
Whether or not you see yourself as “exempt” from work while the candles are burning or whether this idea is an invitation for exploring your spiritual practice, let’s use the time while the candles are burning as sacred time. So many of us don’t always get to take sacred time for ourselves for a variety of reasons.
Here is my challenge for us:
Dedicate Hannukah, or the light of the candles, or the 30 minutes when the candles are burning to ourselves.
How might dedicate your time? Here are 8 suggestions:
1. Curl up with a blanket and your favorite novel or book of poetry
2. Do some stretching or yoga poses
4. Have a nourishing meal with friends or a loved one (or just sit down to eat)
5. Take a bath
6. Journal about your dreams - the ones you have while asleep and awake. Or take the time to think about your core desired feelings for winter - how do you want to feel over the next few months and let that be a guide for decision making and scheduling for this season. Or carve out some time for thinking about the end of 2018 and transitioning into 2018
7. Revisit any intentions you made for 5779 back at Rosh Hashanah (remember those?) and use the secular new year to recommit or pivot your goals.
8. Dedicate each night to someone. Ever notice when a yoga teacher invites you to dedicate your practice to yourself or someone else? That feels special. It’s a way to sending positive vibes, loving energy, healing prayers toward someone else. It feels good. Maybe you dedicate your candle lighting each night to someone you love, someone you miss, someone who inspired you, someone you appreciate or someone who is in need of healing.