Chanukah - The Festival of Lights

Chanukah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, but it takes place in the same month as Christmas, and so it gets bumped up in its importance to the outside world due to timing.  It isn't that there aren't beautiful ideas that can be gleaned from Chanukah. There are lots of concepts to discuss - such as bringing Light into the world, what Freedom really means, and whether miracles really happen.

In years past, I have been intentional about studying each night of Chanukah, preparing themes to discuss with the children, and making sure we are not engaging in commercialism.  One night we usually count the tzedakah from all year that we contributed before lighting candles on Shabbat, and then chose where we wanted to donate it.  This year, it sprung up on me, and to a degree, I engaged in a full-fledged commercialization of Chanukah. It was a little bit of Keeping Up with the Joneses (or the children's father) and a little bit guilt for putting the children through divorce, even though it has been pretty tame compared to others I know.  Still, I am pretty disappointed in myself.  I will try to better next year. 

With regard to Kavannah (intention) on the first night of Chanukah, I like to draw from the words of Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin. She says, with regard to the famous debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel about whether to increase or decrease the lights each night of Chanukah,

"This choice of counting up or down encapsulates two approaches to life: Are the blessings of life so finite – so that with each one bestowed our cup is diminished? Or are they as infinite as the Source from which they come? And even if they are finite; do we imagine a growing darkness as each is used up, or do we gather all the revealed ones together, basking in the light that grows with each new blessing? How we answer these questions colors the way we receive each new day and each new blessing... So, while practicality forces any one of us to choose only one way to act, our recounting of the ways of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel keep the possibility of both ways alive. And lest practice divide us, our stories unite us."