ZOT CHANUKKA–A TRIBUTE TO THE SHEKHINA

Chanukka 5779 / 2018
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

It can happen that  when something is deeply true, it transcends itself and enters the category of archetype. Its lessons then apply to things that have nothing (apparently) to do with its story, yet it provides the template for making sense of those other things because, beneath the surface, they actually do share a common root.

So it goes for Chanukka which celebrates our Maccabean victory and the miracle of oil that enshrined our reclamation of the Temple. This eight-day festival of lights is so profound (says the Maharshal), that it (along with Purim) are the only two holidays that will remain significant in post-messianic times “when knowledge of G-d fills the earth like the sea fills the ocean bed.”[1],[2] In that future era, we will be so enlightened, that the devekut produced by a festival will be like a candle in broad daylight.  The (metaphoric) water level of ordinary consciousness will rise to a point that the peaks of awareness represented by the chagim will remain submerged and insignificant. The only summits still poking above the water line—still contributing chidushim—are Chanukka and Purim.

Beit Ganzee explains that all the (Torah-prescribed) festivals draw their bounty (shefa) from the past—from our birthday chag—i.e., from Pesach. At the kiddush commencing each holiday, we connect ourselves back to that formative event by “remembering our Exodus from Egypt.” Conversely, the rabbinic holidays of Chanukka and Purim reference toward the future and draw their bounty from there—from the messianic transformations ahead.[3]

The kabbalists read into Chanukka’s eight days, a journey of progressive tikun down through the sefirot from Binah to Malchut. Curiously, Binah associates with the higher Shekhina called Ima (literally, Mother) and Malchut associates with the lower Shekhina called Nukba (literally, Woman). Chanukka thus begins and ends on a feminine note. The first candle (of Binah) accompanies all the subsequent lights, and its last candle (of Malchut) gets honored with a name of its own—Zot Chanukka­—(in part) because it enacts the last frame of the Shekhina’s moonlike odyssey (as we shall see).

Zot is the feminine form of the Hebrew word for, “this.” It associates with the cosmic feminine (called parzuf Nukba, aka the lower Shekhina) because the first place that word appears in the Torah is in the verse where Adam designates Chava as woman. And in that verse the word zot actually appears three times.

וַיֹּאמֶר הָאָדָם זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי וּבָשָֹר מִבְּשָֹרִי לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקֳחָה-זֹּאת.

 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, for from man was she taken.” [Gen. 2:23]

To understand the mystery of Zot Chanukka we need to examine a teaching by the master kabbalist, R. Shlomo Elyashiv (the Leshem). He comments on a verse from Isaiah:

אֲנִי רִאשׁוֹן וַאֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן וּמִבַּלְעָדַי אֵין אֱלֹקים:

I am the first and I am the last.  Besides me there is no G-d. [Isaiah 44:6]

The Leshem asserts that this is spoken by the Shekhina, the cosmic feminine: “She is the first and She is the last…”[4]  This verse captures the existential mystery of the feminine—that two opposite and paradoxical truths jostle at her core, though one is evident, and one more hidden.

Her more visible archetype (at least historically) is as Malchut, the moonlike feminine that wanes and waxes and has no light except what she receives from her sun, ie her spouse (the partzuf called man) who incorporates the upper sefirot from Chesed through Yesod. (Remember, we are speaking about archtypes; real people always include a full set of sefirot and something of both genders within them). As Malchut she is the lowest point of the system—its footstool—utterly dependent upon the sefirot above that are functioning as her (metaphoric) sun, providing her with light, bounty and provisions. The Shekhina, in her moonlike archetype, is the enabler whose merit comes (not from her own accomplishments) but from enabling others to thrive. As the Talmud bluntly states… “a woman earns her olam haba by taking her children to school and supporting her husband’s spiritual ambitions.”[5] That, says the Leshem, is the Shekhina’s Nukba mode where she embodies the pole of “…I am the last.”

But there is another, hidden face of the feminine that is equally true but (even in our modern times) not equally visible.  That is her “I am the first…” expression.  In this mode she occupies the highest sefira of Keter (or Crown).  As Keter, says the Leshem, she births the entire world into existence and nurtures it constantly.  Whatever anyone has they have drawn it from her and are beholden to her.  She is actually the (hidden) source, wellspring and mashpia to all those that she “serves” in her Malchut/Nukba role. Everything (including her sun) are (secretly) utterly dependent upon her. This is the hidden truth of the cosmic feminine, that:  “She is the first…”5

The Leshem’s teaching applies to the feminine archetype on all scales, whether as Shekhina in relation to HaKadosh Boruch Hu, Israel in relation to HaShem, women in relation to men, or anima (the inner feminine) within every human being. One thing they all share is that wholeness requires them to incorporate both extremes, even if only in the quiet of their mind. One approach is to dance back and forth between them…between Keter and Malchut, first and last, hidden and revealed, mashpia and mushpa (without any “shoulds’ regarding the length of time spent in each.) Finding one’s pace in this regard is the challenge (and art) of womanhood.  

This esoteric wisdom is an Oral Tradition passed down from mother to daughter. The Zohar, describes its transmission as follows:

ואמא אוזיפת לברתא מאנהא וקשיטא לה בקישוטהא

 [The cosmic] Ima lends her keylim [vessels/clothing] to her daughter and bedecks her with jewels.[6]

The Zohar employs symbols to convey the paradoxical wisdom that a mother imparts to a daughter: 1) Her keylim (vessels) are her malchut mode, the secret of her receptivity, the wisdom of knowing when (and how) to step back and make space for others to shine and feel their power. 2) Her jewels are her keter mode, the art of how to claim her royalty, wield her power and exert her influence with grace, dignity, humility and resilience.

Similarly, on a mini scale, day by day, on Chanukka, the Shekhina’s dance of Keter/Malchut drives the chag’s tikun.  Ima/Mother/Keter/Crown births each sefira into the world and then slides down to its lowest edge to become the makom (or receptive space, ie Malchut) that draws out the potential of that sefira by encouraging it to do so.

Yet on the eighth day, which is Malchut’s turn to shine Her truth out into the world, something unexpected occurs. When there are no more sefirot needing to be born, and no more dependents seeking her nurture, there is nothing binding the Shekhina to her Nukba role (as footstool, makom and enabler) anymore. Her new mission is to integrate the hidden parts of herself and embody them fully. Yet when she does so, says the Leshem, she instantly flips into her position as First…or Crown to all the previous sefirot (that she conceived, birthed, midwifed and nurtured) from Chesed to Yesod.[7] Whereas before she was their maidservant, now she is their Crown, as it says, “A woman of valor is a crown to her husband.” [Proverbs 12:4]

The 8th day of Chanukka corresponds to the 7th Millennium (the Cosmic Shabbat or World-to-Come) because we started our candle-count with Binah which is above the Seven Creation Days.[8]  Zot Chanukka celebrates the hidden truth and future glory of our Diminished Moon (and, by extension, the destiny of all things Feminine). The day will come, blessed and welcomed by all, when Malchut/Woman/Nukba will spring up to her root (in Binah) and serve as the Keter or mashpia to creation, ushering in the world to come, and using her newfound influence to bring everyone along.  The Shekhina’s motto is: No spark left behind.

Now…Zot Chanukka!!


A source sheet is available by clicking this link.


[1] “כל המועדות יהיו בטלים חוץ מחנוכה ופורים” Text included in sourcesheet.
[2] Habbakuk 2:14.
[3] רפאל משה לוריא, בית גנזי-אור יקרות חנוכה ד’ לט – הארת חנוכה מלעתיד לבוא Text included in sourcesheet.
[4]ר’ שלומה אלישיב, ספר הדע”ה, דרוש מיעוט הירח, סימנים ט’ וי.Text included in sourcesheet.
[5] TB Brachot 17a.
[6] Zohar 2:2a.
[7] — ד”ה אמנם המלכות עצמה כשהיא בלתי הו”ק … ספר לשם שבו ואחלמה – ספר הדע”ה חלק ב – דרוש ג ענף ז Text included in sourcesheet.
[8]The Seven Creation Days correspond to the seven lower sefirot from Chesed to Malchut as well as to the Seven Millennia of human history. The first Creation Day t corresponds to the sefira of Chesed and the first thousand years of the Jewish calendar (from yrs. 0 – 1,000). The second Creation Day corresponds to Gevurah and to the 2nd millennium (yrs. 1,000-2,000). The third Creation Day to Tiferet and the 3rd millennium (yrs. 2,000 – 3,000). The fourth Creation Day to Netzach and the 4th millennium (yrs. 3,000 – 4,000) the fifth Creation Day to Hod and the 5th millennium (yrs. 4,000 – 5,000). And the sixth Creation Day corresponds to Yesod and the 6th millennium (yr. 5,000 – 6,000). According to the Jewish calendar’s count, we are presently in the year 5,779 which places us toward the end of the 6th millennium. The 7th Millennium, corresponding to Malchut and the Shabbat of Creation, is set to begin around the year 6,000. It corresponds to the era of history called the World-to-Come.
Now, since the first night of Channuka starts with the sefira of Binah, a sefira that is above the lower seven sefirot that are mapped onto the Seven Creation Days, our correspondence between the Chanukka-day and the Creation-Day is skewed by one day. Consequently, it’s the 2nd day of Chanukka that corresponds to Chesed and the first Creation Day. The 3rd day of Channuka corresponds to Gevurah and the second Creation day, etc. And finally then, it is the 8th day of Chanukka (Zot Chanukka) that corresponds to Malchut and the seventh Creation Day, ie, Shabbat.

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