Hanukkah Blessings from the Jewish Emergent Network
Why do we add a candle for each night of Hanukkah?
As Hillel the Sage once said, l’ma’alin b’kodesh, to increase the sacred: every act we perform should increase holiness in the world. We add a candle each night to bring more and more light into our communities and into our consciousness. The Rabbinic Fellows of the Jewish Emergent Network created these eight blessings, one for each night of Hanukkah, with the intention of helping us light up our minds as we light up the world….
Growing up, Hanukkah was the only Jewish holiday my family celebrated, and my memories of the first night always include rummaging through the cabinet to find the Hanukkah how-to guide. We could never remember what side you were supposed to start lighting from (the right), or what blessing to say first (l’hadlik ner). I had a sense that “real Jews” always remembered the words. That memory was supposed to exist as a profound, unbroken chain, always accessible.
But memory ebbs and flows. Certain memories surprise you, riding into consciousness on the back of another sense, like a powerful smell or the notes of a forgotten song. I try to ask the question: what is this memory coming to teach me now?
Holy One of Blessing, allow these candles to channel our stories. Grant us access to the storehouse of our forgotten memories: the ones that challenge us, the ones that give us strength, the ones that remind us who we are and who we want to be. Help us know where to look for answers when we’ve forgotten, and find our way back to the chain of history, adding our own voices to the flow.
– Rabbi Lauren Henderson (Mishkan, Chicago)
When we light the Hanukkiah, we call up the miracle. In life, we call on our might. In yesterday’s world, we witnessed God’s outstretched hand. In today’s world, we extend our own. We’ve been trained to strategize, criticize, hyper-intellectualize. We understand how to do, work toward, achieve. And when we’re challenged, we damn well know how to get boots on the ground and fight for what we know to be true and just. We’re good at being Maccabees. But in these dark times, when we see our reality unraveling before us, a part of us yearns for something more to believe in. This year may we tap into the two sides of Hanukkah: our ability to act and our capacity to believe. May we grasp our power to shape the world, and be in touch with our longing for the Creator of the world. May we continue to pray with our feet, and learn how to pray with our heart. Amidst our communal effort to combat the impending darkness, may we embrace the equally hard work of cultivating a felt-sense—deep in our kishkes—of the sacred fire within each of us, the burning blaze we become when we band together, and the Source of light, life, and love that suffuses all.
– Rabbi Jonathan Bubis, (The Kitchen San Francisco)
Maybe there’s something about the taste of latkes that erases time. The crispness of the edges, the golden center, and just the right combination of toppings: with one bite we’re young again. This Hanukkah, by emanating and embodying our own wide-eyed sense of childhood glee from across the ages, may we generate the kind of radiant, collective light being called for in this moment. While it may be dark outside this winter, inside it’s lit and ready to rage. In the days and months ahead, may our fires grow tall and our sweet flames soar, with kind hearts warmly lighting the way.
– Rabbi Nate DeGroot (IKAR, Los Angeles)
On the fourth night of Hanukkah, we ask for the blessing of being able to listen: deeply and profoundly. When we truly listen to others, we gain insight into their worlds. Listening leads to understanding and understanding leads to compassion. In today’s world, when many speak with a loud voice and few listen with an empathetic ear, we need this gift more than ever. We must listen to the voices of the poor and disenfranchised, those who feel left behind, those who feel disengaged. We should emerge from our echo chambers and have the uncomfortable conversations, face-to-face, with people who do not share our views. We can use the blessing of listening to find allies in the most unlikely places. Our declaration of faith says “Sh’ma Israel…” “Listen, Israel…” We are all of us commanded to listen, we are bound to this holy gift.
– Rabbi Sydney Danziger (Kavana Cooperative, Seattle)
On the fifth night of Hanukkah, we ask for clarity of vision and purity of intent. Throughout the year we tend to see what we want to see. We seek out facts that confirm our preconceived reality and we shelter ourselves from viewpoints outside of our normal vantage point. But each year on Hanukkah, during the darkest time of the year, we are invited to see the world anew. Like the Maccabees, we have a choice to make. Do we focus our gaze on a divided world and a fragile country torn asunder by fear and distrust? Or do we set our sights on something we know to be true? That the lamp of God, the light of hope, can never be extinguished. As the sages taught, we add one candle to the Hanukkiah each night because light begets light, hope begets hope, and faith begets faith. The first light of creation, represented by the Hanukkiah, can never be extinguished so long as we remember to focus our sights on that which is good, holy, true, and sacred. It is our job on Hanukkah to take a cue from the Maccabees. Instead of seeing a world of diminishing returns, a single cruse of oil, we must change our vantage point and see all the invisible threads—light, hope, glory, companionship—that we are required to light day after day until our vision is restored, and hope becomes our new reality.
– Rabbi Suzy Stone (Sixth & I, Washington, D.C.)
Our tradition teaches that God created the world through speech. It was through the power of words that the Source of All Life transformed darkness into light. Too often in life we forget how strong words can be. We speak harshly to someone, or we gossip. Words can tear down and destroy, but words can also transform, heal, and brighten. When we recite a blessing over the Hanukkah candles, we set an intention to bring more light into the darkness. Baruch She’Amar v’hayah h’Olam. Blessed is the One who through speech created the world. May we also use our words to create worlds of light, love, and justice.
– Rabbi Joshua Buchin (Romemu, New York)
In the long nights of winter, in moments of uncertainty and challenge, remember to dance. Remember to take your friend’s hand and dance to a shared rhythm in the living room. Remember to car dance to Aretha. Remember to dance like the Hanukkah flames dance, keeping alight into the long night. Because nights like these, we need to remember: we are hot stuff. We are powerful and delightful. We burn and yearn for joy. On the seventh night, let us wiggle our way to happiness. Let us choose joy.
– Rabbi Kerry Chaplin (Lab/Shul, New York)
In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of wholeness—of completion, of Shabbat—and eight is the number of abundance. Through any one of these modes (memory, sight, sound, speech, touch, smell, and movement) we can grow our consciousness of the world around us and our ability to shape it for the better. This year—as Hanukkah ends and we welcome 2017—may we use every single one of our senses to live in awe of the holiness that surrounds us, and may we be illuminated with more than enough light to know the path ahead.