Note: I am republishing, with permission, a beautiful piece by my friend and colleague Rabbi Shefa Gold entitled, “The Inner Practice of Chanukah.”
Chanukah celebrates the re-dedication of the ancient Holy Temple, the place where the infinite meets the finite, where the spark of God bursts into flame within us. Each year we recall the “great miracle that happened there.” And that same miracle is happening inside as we heal the desecrations we have suffered and re-dedicate our lives to Holiness.
The Temple of our Soul is desecrated when we endure a sense of separation from God, and from each other. The Temple of our Soul is desecrated when we become cynical, when we feel unworthy or afraid, when we stop trusting the essential goodness of Life. On Chanukah we have an opportunity to clear away the debris that has accumulated in our inner Temple, and then kindle the flame of our renewed intention to stay connected to the Mystery at the center of all Life. That connection to God is our lifeline. That remembrance of God gives us our Freedom. When we forget God, that expansive mystery at our core, we risk becoming enslaved to the illusions of our most narrow perceptions.
Each day we remember and celebrate the foundational story of our journey to Freedom. God has brought us out of Egypt, the place of narrow perception, for one reason –“to be Your God” – to exist in holy relationship. For this is the key to our Freedom. Conscious connection to the reality that lies beneath the surface of things frees us from the bonds of the material world and allows us to expand beyond the arbitrary limits of a particular conditioned perspective. Yet Freedom is elusive. When we left Egypt in search of it, we were blocked by the great impossible sea. When we crossed the sea and fled to the wilderness we encountered within us the enslaving attitudes and habits of rebellion and complaint. And even after we stood at Sinai and received that moment of clarity, we still fell back into the habits of busy mind and cluttered heart.
And so God says to us, “Make for me a holy place so that I can dwell inside you. Yes it is possible to stay connected with me at all times in all places, even as you engage in the life of the world.” When we make a place for God to dwell in our lives, then we will never be caught in the illusion of separateness. God will be available and accessible to us in the innermost chamber of the heart and in the inner dimension of all Creation.
Spiritual practice is about making our lives into a Mishkan, a dwelling place for Divine Presence. About one third of the Book of Exodus consists of the detailed instructions for building the Mishkan, (the portable sanctuary that we carry through our wilderness journeys). The purpose of the Mishkan is to send us to the space within where we can receive the Mystery of Presence. Just as a great poem points us towards a truth that is beyond mere words, so the beauty that shines from the Mishkan of our lives illuminates the beyond that is within us.
As Judaism evolves, the function of the Mishkan (the place of connection with God) is represented by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple is destroyed, the place of our connection to God moves inside. Prayer takes the place of sacrifice and the altar of sacrifice is hidden in the dark recesses of our own hearts.
The story of Chanukah reminds us that even the holiest place within us can become desecrated. We must enter the darkness of our own wounded hearts, survey the damage, clear away the rubble, and then light a candle to rededicate ourselves to holiness, to our own wholeness and connection to the cosmos. It is truly miraculous that a single spark of hope can ignite the radiant fires of passion that illuminate our way forward, even on the darkest night.
As the days grow short and the night darkness long, we are invited to enter into the darkness of our own hearts. There, buried beneath the rubble of our disappointments, we find the miraculous spark of our Divinity, the awesome knowledge that we are each created in the image of God. This is the spark that kindles our Festival of Lights. Each night of Chanukah, we light another candle. Each night the light grows brighter, shining its radiance into our own hidden places.
The “Great Miracle” of healing is happening right here within us when we call light into our own places of Darkness, when we bring the healing light of compassion into hidden crevices of shame or fear.
As we light the flames of Chanukah, may we kindle the flame within that will shine the light of awareness across the true expanse of Soul.