Illuminate Eight Nights with 8 Big Ideas

by Nancy Gershman

For eight nights in a row this year, Jews will light up for Hanukkah*. Not just literally with the traditional tool kit of 9-branched menorah, candles and lighter – but metaphorically speaking. We will light up our hearts to make room for love, for joy, and for gratitude in the best of all possible worlds: a pitch black space.

*Known as the Festival of Lights, (or facetiously as Christmas without Christ, Santa or tree) Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days to “publicize” the miracle of the one-day supply of oil that miraculously lasted eight days during this revolt.

Jews don’t have a monopoly over using darkness for enlightenment, but we seem to employ it quite often. When reciting a blessing, with darkness eliminating the distractions around us, we may close our eyes or cover them with the palm of our hands to help us concentrate on the meaning of our words and on the rhythm of our breathing. Without one, how would we manage the other?

What’s particularly notable, though, about Hanukkah are the rules of the ceremony; namely, the manner in which the candles are lit over a period of eight days. The Rabbinical School of Hillel favored starting with one candle and lighting an additional one every night, up to eight on the eighth night – perhaps because it appeared the more upbeat solution. But what fascinates me is the idea of constancy for eight nights. In the Jewish faith tradition, there is a marvelous verb “Veshinantam” which literally means “to teach through repetition.” When one combines the lighting each night with a blessing of your own making – one imbued with meaning and with wisdom – you have the opportunity of adding yet one more miracle to the holiday.

Let me give you an example. Every time a menorah candle is lit in absolute darkness, imagine being exposed not only to light but to an idea:

  • On the first night, light a candle and give Hanukkah gifts to the children. If you don’t observe the holiday, simply exchange small gifts with one another.
  • On the second night, light a candle and let everyone honor and name the acts of goodness given to them by their MOTHER.
  • On the third night, light a candle and let everyone in the family honor and name the acts of goodness given to them by their FATHER.
  • Let the fourth night be TEACHER night. Let each member of the family relate how a teacher or instructor changed the way they now look at learning.
  • Let the fifth night be STRANGER NIGHT: Let each member of the family share how a total stranger changed the way they now look at the world.
  • Let the sixth night be the GIFT OF SELF night. On this night let each member of the family promise to do something nice for the family.
  • Let the seventh night be GIFT OF SELF-IMPROVEMENT. On this night let each member of the family name a behavior they will try to keep in check in the future
  • Let the eight night of Hanukkah be GIFT OF GIVING NIGHT. On this night, let each member of the family give a gift to a different charity.

This year on Hanukkah, the words of Chicago-based Rabbi Nina Mizrahi come to mind:

“Life does not come with guarantees, but it does come with possibilities. It is our ongoing spiritual work to remove the shells of bitterness that harden our hearts, preventing love from streaming in or flowing out. Love takes practice and is itself a practice. We can practice sending loving thoughts even to those we may not be inclined to love or to those for whom we feel indifference. One may never know how this practice of loving impacts the world, but it does.”

Let us – Jews and non-Jews alike – try and “remove the shells of bitterness” that surround us like a dark force field by lighting up in the dark.

About the Author: Nancy Gershman is a digital artist based in New York City who creates custom healing photomontages for one individual, one couple, or one family. Visit her studio online at Art For Your Sake. Email her at nancy@artforyoursake.com or call her at 773-255-4677 (EST).