The Chinukh of Chanukka

The Chinukh of Chanukka
Chanukka 5781 / 2020
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

שע”כ קראו לימים האלה חנוכה שהוא חינוך והרגל לגאולה העתידה ב”ב
This holiday is called Chanukha because it is training (chinukh) and practice for the future redemption.[1]

So the question becomes…What do we know about the future redemption? And how does Chanukka prepare us for that?

Background

Our Messianic era is characterized by messianic consciousness, and the biggest clue we have as to what that looks like is its paradisiac prototype—Gan Eden. Though, actually, our future version of enlightened consciousness will be even better than Adam and Chava’s because the flaw that enabled their sin will now have been fixed.

Judaism teaches that creation’s genesis odyssey (like every story in the Torah) is literally true.  In addition to its psychological and metaphysical teachings, the Bible’s creation tale did actually occur. This literal reading seems farfetched relative to the physical laws of our world, yet (says kabbala) until Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the lowest level of the universe was the mental plane (in Hebrew, עולם הבריאה).[2] The creatures of Eden (including Adam and Chava) were more like thought forms than physical entities. The whole story played out on (what we now call) the mental plane. Only after their infamous misdeed did reality shatter, tumble, and settle into our lowly material plane where every sliver of soul is surrounded by an opaque skin or shell that marks it out from every other, promoting the illusion of multiplicity when the deepest truth is that there’s only One.

When Adam appeared, on day-six, the universe was a teeming throng of diversity.  Each creature emanated a unique ray of Divine beauty (and possibility) out into the world. When Adam arrived he/she/they added the uniquely human contribution of daat, the permeating field of awareness that organized this multitude of creatures into a single coordinated whole with Adam’s I-center at its core. That is the power of daat. It integrates whatever it touches, and in so doing it dissolves the chasm between self and other.

This unification of reality into a single integrated whole was not an oppressive conquest. It did not limit the free expression of any other creature. Rather the opposite. Adam’s expanded vision incorporated the unique contribution of every single thing. Their[3] consciousness both permeated and encompassed the entirety of reality. Like an all-embracing field it united the diversity of creatures into a higher order unity greater than the sum of its parts (and yet dependent upon the presence of each and every one of them). This permeating, unifying, consciousness is called, Shekhina.

I
On Chanukka Every Person Lights Their Own Menorah

(although husband and wife customarily light only one between them)

One of the central features of the messianic era is the “Third Temple.” Most expect this to be a magnificent structure of stones and beams and tapestries situated on the Temple Mount (which it might well be).[4]

It seems more likely, however, that this messianic sanctuary will embody the original intention of Divinity which was for a different kind of dwelling place, that never got built.

“Make for me a Tabernacle, so I can dwell in the midst of you (בתוכם).”

Some interpret this verse as a request for the community of Israel itself to become a living Tabernacle. That the people themselves going about their God-centered lives would embody G‑d’s Presence and shine it into the world . Each person’s life would be, metaphorically, a thread in the tapestry, a beam on the wall, a bolt in the plank, or a curtain ring.

Yet with the Golden Calf we forfeit our ability to serve at that level. We lost the purity required to host the Shekhina. We needed a refuge apart from ourselves, of wood and cloth and skins—a physical structure dedicated to spirit—that could serve as our sanctuary. And this is how it’s been.  Our desert Tabernacle and both Temples were of this sort. It’s all we’ve ever known.

The question becomes, what about the Third Temple?  Will it be like the previous two?  Will it also be of stones and wood and cloth and skins…or will it be more like the originally envisioned Sanctuary, the living community of Israel holding the Presence of God and shining it into the world through the integrity of their God-centered lives.

The messianic age (by definition) is the era that emerges when we’ve healed our souls from the Golden Calf and reversed the damage of the Tree of Knowledge. It is clear (and the Zohar confirms)[5] that our Third Temple will really be the First Temple, meaning the first one to actually embody what HaShem truly envisioned as our Sanctuary.

The Baal HaTurim, commenting on the verse: “And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests…”, states that in the messianic future (if we merit), every one of the people, Israel, will function as a kohen gadol (high priest).[6]

ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים – אלו זכו ישראל היו כלם כהנים גדולים….

And so, on Chanukka, we act out that future vision as we practice the priestly duty of lighting the menorah—not just one per household, but everyone. Throughout these days of Chanukha, when Jewish homes shine their holy lights out into the world, we “taste and see” that future redemption by catching a glimpse of its third Temple—the living community of Israel radiating the presence, oneness and goodness of G‑d to the world.

II
The Mitzvah is to Shine Our Chanukka Lights Outward, to the Public Domain

based on R. Tsadok HaKohen, Likutei Maamarim 16.

We light candles to mark all of our holy days—Shabbatot and festivals—yet those candles are for our own benefit. We don’t display them to the world.  The Chanukka lights are different. Their whole point is to illuminate the Public Domain—the realm of strangers, outsiders, stragglers and even enemies.

Tsadok notes that the original menorah, the one that shone in King Solomon’s Temple, was also arranged to shine out to the world (rather than just illuminating the Temple’s sanctum).[7] That becomes the metaphor of our Avrahamic mission—to spread the light of ethical monotheism out to every corner of the planet.

When Avraham charges his servant, Eliezer, to return to Aram, to find a wife for Yitzchak, he speaks the following words:

I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live …The Lord God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me, and who swore to me, saying, To your seed will I give this land; He shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there…. [Gen 24:3-7].

The rabbis note that in the first verse Avraham refers to HaShem as “the God of heaven and the God of earth,” whereas further on, he refers to HaShem as simply, “the God of heaven.” Rashi, (quoting the midrash) explains:

Now HaShem is “the God of heaven and the God of earth” because I [through my preaching and role-modeling] have made His name familiar in the mouths of men, but when he first “took me from my father’s house” He was the “God of heaven” but not the God of earth because the peoples of the world did not know Him and His name was not familiar upon the earth.

“The human soul is God’s candle,”[8] and, in particular, His/Her/Its Avrahamic emissaries that shine the truths, values, will and vision of the Holy One out into the world through the numinosity of their God-centered lives. And just as Adam wove the diversity of creation into a single, universe-encompassing entity so must Israel do the same. We can only enjoy our reward-phase of history (called mashiach) when everyone comes along.  It takes “one” to know One. The prophetic vision of messianic consciousness, where “knowledge (daat) of G-d fills the earth like waters fill the ocean bed,”…that can only happen when the entirety of creation fuses into a single, universe-encompassing one below.  We must become one, to know One.

And so, on Chanukka, we embrace this imperative both literally and symbolically, as R. Tsadok explains:[9]

מצות הדלקת נר חנוכה שאנו מאירין בעולם ניסיו…הכנה לראיית כל בשר דלעתיד על ידי מה שמאירין לפניו בעולם הזה, ממילא זיו יקריה מליא כל ארעא וניצוצין החוזרין מאירין לכל העולם כולו כמו שנאמר (ישעיה ס’, ג’) והלכו גוים לאורך וגו’, וזהו נר חנוכה שמצותו בחוץ

By kindling our chanukiyot, we shine the light of faith out into the world. And in so doing we train for our mission of serving as HaShem’s emissaries to enlighten the world. The goal (and promise) is for everyone (eventually) to see the light.  The glory of G-d [or Shekhina Presence] will fill the earth [including its darkest corners, and even its abyss]. The fallen sparks, released by this awakening will incandesce and illumine the world, as Isaiah prophesied: “The nations will walk by your [Israel’s] light.”[10]  This is the literal and symbolic power of our Chanukka lamps shining out to the public domain, [releasing sparks, enlightening the world and reminding us of the global merger that redemption entails].

KNOW that our Chanukka lights shining out from the doorways and windows of Jews throughout the world, are the foundation stone of our long-awaited Beit HaMikdash—a beacon of messianic consciousness. May we all—insiders and outsiders alike—take their message to heart, that redemption/freedom/nirvana/enlightenment/peace/rapture (whatever you want to call it) requires the input of us all.

No spark left behind!

חנוכה שמח


[1] Benei Yisachar, in his section on זאת חנוכה
[2] Zohar Kedoshim 3:83a/b; R. S. Elyashev, HaDrush Olam Hatohu, II, p. 16, 79.
[3] “[HaShem] created Adam, male and female He created them.” In these writings, Adam, unitalicized, means Adam as opposed to Chava.  Adam, italicized, refers to Adam and Chava together, and so I employ the plural pronoun, they, when referring to them.
[4] These two perspectives can be reconciled by positing (as the midrash and Zohar suggest) that there will be a Temple built from below and one that descends from above. The one from below will be built with stones and tapestries and it will serve the larger world. The one from above will be the living community of Israel and it will serve, primarily, the Jewish world. Aurukh LaNer on TB Sukka 41a and Zohar 3:220b-221a.
[5] Zohar 3:220b-221a.
[6] Baal HaTurim, Shmot 19:6, and he brings Yishayahu, 61:6:
אלו זכו ישראל היו כלם כהנים גדולים. ולעתיד לבא תחזור להם שנאמר (ישעיה סח, ו) ואתם כהני ה’ תקראו.
[7] Menachos 86b: King Solomon made windows for the Beis Hamikdash with the narrow part facing inward and the wide part facing out. Had the purpose of the windows been to bring exterior light into the Holy Temple the opposite should have been the case. The paradoxical shape of the windows communicated the message that the House of Hashem required no light from the world but rather provided light for the universe.
[8] Prov. 20:27.
[9] ר’ צדוק הכהן, ספר ליקוטי מאמרים – אות טו
[10] Isaiah 60:3.

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