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  • Writer's pictureIOWA Project

Chanukah: A Holiday for These Times

By Rabbi David Jaffe

A particular Chanukah teaching from the contemporary Chassidic Rebbe, Shalom Noach Barzofsky of Slonim resonates strongly for me in this time of destruction, war, and deep suffering. He writes about the difference between Shabbat and Chanukah candles, pointing out that Shabbat candles are ideally placed somewhere high, in the home, and at least 3 feet off the ground, while Chanukah candles are ideally placed below 3 feet. In addition, Shabbat candles cannot be lit with certain kinds of oil that give off a foul odor, while Chanukah candles can be lit using any kind of oil. These differences in practice are due to purpose and intended impact of each type of candle. Shabbat candles have a purity to them connected to the inherent holiness of Shabbat and their purpose in creating a peaceful environment in the intimate space of the home. Symbolically, they need to be placed in a high, protected space and only use pleasant oil. In contrast, Chanukah candles symbolize light in the midst of destruction and defilement. They are placed below three feet, the domain of confusion and opposition, according to the mystical tradition. They can use any kind of oil, because in chaos of daily life, any source of light is good. The Chanukah candles are ideally placed outside the home in the street, where violence and estrangement are always possible.

The resonances to our moment are obvious and the spiritual practice of this month is never more clear. This time of war, destruction, deep divisions in our communities and movements, as well as fights for justice and peace, calls on us to find light wherever we can. That light can be found in many places depending on how you are engaging with this war. For some it may be found in the care given to families of victims of the 10/7 massacre, in letters written on behalf of hostages and for others it may be found care expressed for civilian victims in Gaza in the hard work and comradeship of a well-organized political action. I am finding it most bright in those who are fighting for what they believe is right and are able to hold complexity with a caring heart for both Israelis and Palestinians. But when destruction rages it takes resilience and spiritual practice to recognize the light.

It is in recognition of the need for robust spiritual practice in times like these that we invite you to join us on December 6 at 7:00 PM Eastern on Zoom when we will be lifting up Inside Out Wisdom and Action’s five years of bringing Mussar and Chassidic wisdom and practice to the work of justice. The evening will feature music, art, and reflections from past participants and teachers on the power of these practices and their relevance to this moment. We will also be unveiling our new logo and name. This event is the centerpiece of our week-long crowdfunder, collecting the resources we need to continue bringing Jewish spiritual wisdom and practice to bear in our efforts to create a more just and compassionate world.

May our efforts, in partnership will all of you, give us strength to do what is needed right now and bring light when and where it feels most hidden. Chodesh tov, David


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