Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hanukkah and Home

A lovely set of meditations for the Hanukkah candle lighting, written by Jerusalem poet Chaya Kaplan-Gafni, can be found here. Her focus is on lighting of the fire in the heart, the hearth, the home of a People.

Here's what she writes for the 7th night:

As you stand lighting at the window, raise your eyes to look outside,

And behold a face before you, some curious passerby

And then realize it is your reflection, in the window glass, your own eyes

What have you seen in the window's mirror; what miracle do you advertise?
The seventh night is dedicated to the window to the world. This is where the strength and purpose that I have nurtured within are celebrated in the sight of others. This is the show of lights that sparkles forth from Self. It is the commandment of Hanukkah to do pirsum hanes — "to advertise the miracle," the miracle that was wrought in history, that is wrought within me.

May my eyes behold the miracles shining forth from each passing soul.And as I gaze into their windows may my own miracle be beheld as I behold.

Hanukkah celebrates the sanctity of home. No other festival is so home-centered. Even Passover and Sukkot, which have extensive rituals done at home (or just outside), also have lengthy communal rituals (i.e. services). Not so for Hanukkah. While the December craziness around us has compelled many Jews to celebrate the miracle in the public square, it is primarily from the window or lintel of the home that the menorah's light needs to shine.

A recent issue of Sh'ma looks closely at the Jewish home, going from room to room and exploring what exactly makes a home Jewish. Even the front porch is discussed:

The front porch is a liminal space — both public and private. It faces the street, making it far more open to the world than a secluded back deck. It also invites visitors into the front hall — the most public of spaces inside the home. Like the chuppah, the porch is covered from above and open on the sides; it protects and welcomes.

Hanukkah candles perform that same function, even when they are not lit near a window. Their glow invites outsiders in, but even more, it invites those inside the home to feel more comfortable sharing that light with those dwelling beyond the walls of the house. We don't need to be lighting at Government Center (which we are doing today) to be proud Jews. That influsion of love and pride can and most properly should begin at the source, where hearth meets heart, at home. We then take that infusion of light and become its vessels, transporting it into the world, wherever it is needed.

We needn't wear our Judaism on the sleeve to be a proud Jew. But we need to cultivate the light in our hearts, and then let it shine. And then, once we have shared that home-grown light with the world, we can return to the hearth, transformed.

As T.S. Eliot wrote,

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Every journey, then, is a journey home. On Hanukkah, we set forth on that journey day-by-day, one candle at a time.

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