Directing the Heart for Hanukkah

LeadAs you gather with family and friends these eight nights of Hanukkah, I would like to share with you a wonderful practice that may deepen our experience of the holiday. Opportunities for blessing surround us at all times; they are liminal moments. How can the joyous act of lighting a hanukkiah be transformed into a profound, meditative experience? Meditation is about awareness, and awareness hinges upon intention. This guide is about harnessing intention to open a deeper awareness of all the wondrous experiences that take place around you during the ritual lighting of the hanukkiah.

This practice was inspired “The Seven Seekers,” a story by great Hasidic master, Reb Nahman of Bratzlav. The practice of directing the heart is drawn from this story of a wedding feast that lasts seven days. During each day of the feast, one beggar shares a blessing with the bride and groom who are married in the darkness of the forest. Every time we light another candle on the hanukkiah, we have the capacity to draw forth another spark of blessing. The beggars' gifts reveal potential that was hidden in plain sight. With each candle, these gifts are illuminated as blessings, made lucid by the light of the hanukkiah.

1st Candle: Blessing of long life
1stNight The gift of the Blind Seeker: To see beyond a blink —
You think I am blind. In fact, I am not blind at all, but to me the time of the whole world is not worth a moment’s fleeting glance. I am very old and still very young: despite my great age, I have not even begun to live.

Blindness is in fact acuity of vision so great that one does not perceive the details of mundane existence. Rather, one learns to see everything from the perspective of eternity. The duration of time is not merely measured by years, months, and hours; time matters in our lives in terms of the content and the significance of events that fill it. Consider one extraordinary moment of touching eternal time that you have experienced this year and how to carry forward that awareness into life. This is the gift of blessing being offered in this candle.

2nd Candle: Blessing of good life
The gift of the Deaf Seeker: To hear beyond need —
You think that I am deaf. In fact, I am not, but to me the whole world is worth nothing, so why should I listen to its cries of want? All the sounds in the world are brought forth by want; everyone cries for what s/he lacks. I, however, live a good life and lack nothing, and so these wants are not for my ears.

Deafness to the vanities and troubles of the world sometimes allows the gift of the good life before us to emerge more clearly. Too often, we get caught up in the white noise of life, keeping up with the Steins and the cries of pain uttered by those who think they are enjoying true abundance. Yet what emerges is nothing more than gratification of ephemeral needs. Living a good life is about remaining focused on eternal pleasures. Lasting relationships are the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

3rdNight4thNight3rd Candle: Blessing of mellifluous life
The gift of the Tongue-tied Seeker: To speak poetry —
You think that I am heavy of speech. In fact, I am not really a stutterer at all. I am unwilling to speak, because all that humans say lacks praise of the divine. In fact, I am extraordinarily eloquent; I am a master of poetry and speech, and when I begin to speak, there isn’t a creature on earth that does not desire to listen, and in my words there is all wisdom.

Stuttering is often indicative of a high spiritual level. When speech is lofty, we often only hear fragments of it. Like Moses, the stuttering seeker has the wisdom to bridge the material and spiritual worlds by relating to the divine utterances that flow through the created world. Awareness of both the totality of time and the uniqueness of each individual minute is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

4th Candle: Blessing of melodious life
The gift of Twisted-neck Seeker: To be beyond spirit —
You think I have a crooked neck. In fact my neck is straight and fine, but I twist it to prevent my breath from mingling with the vanities and ephemeral pleasures which fill the world. My throat is beautifully formed, and I have an excellent voice, with which I can imitate every sound in the world that is not speech.

Music is symbolic of the creation of harmony. The Twisted-neck Seeker can discover the inner connection between things and draw them together, creating harmony. No matter how disconnected we feel in exile from each other and from the Divine, redemption will come when all the gifts of these seekers are integrated. Listening to the music of your soul as it opens you to a more melodious life is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

5th Candle: Blessing of joyous life
The gift of the Hunchback Seeker: To be humble and contain much —
I am not a hunchback at all; in fact, my shoulders are so powerful as to be the little that contains much.” The Hunchback Seeker, like Jacob, is the pillar that supports the structure of all our worlds. While it seems as though the Hunchback Seeker can apparently bear nothing, the opposite is true. The ability to control the world is to perceive the infinite within the finite. Living life fully requires cultivation of humility to make space for others, and most importantly to make space for the Divine presence to dwell in our midst. Knowing your place in the world and in those relationships that allow for the light of the other to shine forth is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

6th Candle: Blessing of balanced life
The gift of the Handless Seeker: To be dexterous in healing —
You believe that my hands are stumps, but they are really quite sound. In fact, they are extraordinarily powerful, but I do not use my strength in this world, because I need it for another purpose.” The Handless Seeker, like Joseph, has a unique ability to act on the material world, to heal the pain of the world by extending more light and love into it. By returning to your authentic self and sharing in acts of justice and righteousness with others, the giving here becomes a receiving. How you choose to extend more light and love into the world is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

7thNight7th Candle: Blessing of redemptive life
The gift of the Footless Seeker: To be footloose in the dance redemption —
This day of the story is never told, but Reb Nahman hopes we shall complete it on our own. The Footless Seeker, like David, brings redemption. It is the dancing of David through the power of the feet, grounded on earth but reaching the heavens, that represents the deepest conviction of ‘emunah. Considering how to extend redemptive consciousness into the world is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

8th Candle: Blessing of integration
The gift of this final candle is the overflow that comes with redemptive consciousness. It is an opportunity to return to that opening acuity of vision and now begin to integrate it into our lives. Seeing everything from the perspective of eternity allows us to see every moment of life as extraordinary, every moment as touching eternal time. These eight lights are now installed in my soul so that I may continue to carry forward that awareness into life. This is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credits: Lead image, Flickr user Bart (CC BY-NC 2.0); 1st, 4th, and 7th night candles by Flickr user slgckgc (CC BY 2.0); 3rd night candles by Jordan Sangerman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)