Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev – Chanukah is 25 days away! In this message I’ll share some thoughts about miracles, Chanukah and how these relate to our spiritual practice.
For those who want to learn Rebbe Nachman’s Hitbodedut practice, or want a refresher, I invite you to join an on-line practice course I’m teaching for the Institute for Jewish Spirituality on Hitbodedut starting on December 2 – 28, 2018. You can find out more and register here.
Final announcement – for those who have Gentile allies who are wondering how to support their Jewish friends, family and neighbors during this time of rising Anti-Semitism – take a look at this blog post I wrote for a Christian Evangelical organization on how to be in solidarity with Jews. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The Miracle of Channukah – A Spiritual Practice Perspective
The 13th Century German Jewish leader, Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg looks for the meaning of the Chanukkah miracle in the relationship between the specific ways the Greeks oppressed the Jews and what the Jews needed to do on the spiritual level to end the oppression. He writes that the decree to stop practicing certain Jewish rituals like Shabbat and all the sacrifices and rituals of the Temple, including lighting the Menorah, came about because the Jews were slack in their own spiritual practice. In a way the message was, “You don’t seem to be appreciating these spiritual opportunities, so let’s see if taking them away will remind you how much you actually want them.” Their teshuva was to risk their own lives to practice shabbat, circumcise their sons and celebrate Rosh Chodesh. Thus, the miracle was with a ritual practice – having enough oil to light the Menorah- to reflect how dedicated the Jews were to spiritual service. Chanukkah is celebrated with the Menorah and also with special songs and prayers, which are also service of the heart.
While I personally don’t parent this way, taking things away from my children to increase their appreciation, the message that resonates for me, particularly at this time of year, is their change in behavior. During Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I feel so excited about my spiritual practice. My Mussar practice is strong, I’m doing hitbodedut with fervor, I’m learning more Torah and am committed to bringing this fervor into the year. Then Tishrei ends and we have Mar Cheshvan with no holidays. Daily life resumes with its full work weeks and all the deadlines that were put off because of the summer and holidays. Invariably my practice falls off somewhat. Channukah is a reminder to us to rededicate to our spiritual practice.
The shooting in Squirrel Hill is an unfortunate reminder that, even today, spiritual practice can mean risking your life. On a more daily basis, our practice does take self-sacrifice of some kind. This can mean sacrificing time, giving up something else that you like doing, risking vulnerability and more. The month of Kislev, and Channukah, are opportunities for us to be honest with ourselves and look at where our practice has gotten slack and weak. What is one way you could put more effort and enthusiasm into your practice this month? Remember, in Mussar we always want to take small steps. What are you willing to sacrifice this month to renew your dedication to practice? It is this renewal that generates the renewal of light we will celebrate for eight days at the end of the month.