We are in the month of Kislev, the month of Hannukah, the festival of lights. The story of Hannukah is a story of bravery, of rediscovering and reclaiming who we most deeply are as Jews, and finding the courage to live that truth, despite opposition, fear and disapproval.
We can also read the story of Hannukah as the story of our practice.
In our practice we are asked to be warriors – Maccabees – warriors of the heart who are willing to confront and embrace even that which is most terrifying.
And, in that confrontation, through that bravery, we reclaim our true nature. We strive to recapture our joy, wonder, lightness and illumination; to reclaim our play and delight (once more light!), to uncover all of those parts of ourselves, especially those childlike parts of ourselves, which we were taught we had to hide away as we got older
Yet how do we do this and how is Hannukah a process of allowing this reclaiming?
The name of the holiday Hannukah, literally means a dedication, consecration or even preparation, because the holiday is based in the dedication, consecration or preparation of The House (hanukat habayit), the Temple in Jerusalem.
This rededication was not only a historical event. R. Zadok HaCohen of Lublin teaches, rather “the Hannukah of the Hasmoneans is that each person must do a consecration of the house (hanukat habayit) for God to dwell within their heart.” Our work is to make ourselves a fitting dwelling place, to consecrate ourselves so that everything can be at home in our house. The aspect of God which is the lightness but also that aspect which is the creator of darkness.
To do so requires courage. The deepest courage of confronting, embracing and loving that which is most threatening.
To be who we truly are, to claim our true nature as the Maccabees claimed their Judaism, is scary because it brings us into opposition with inner and outer voices of disapproval which tells us we can’t be ourselves. It is scary because it can feel that a lot of the time, a lot of our lives, we weren’t accepted for who we were. That if express who we truly are, we may be rejected. We can see this so clearly in in judgment in the mind, in the spinning tape of critique and condemnation, which is about feeling safe, controlling the self, so that we don’t mess up to much or let go too much; we don’t embarrass ourselves or let people see who we truly are– vulnerable, playful, ridiculous, wide-eyed, adventurous, curious, naïve, and sensitive. The courage Hannukah calls on us to access is the courage to confront and love those parts of ourselves.
Pirkei Avot famously teaches “Who is a hero? One who conquers his evil inclination.” Avot deRabbi Natan continues in a similar vein “Who is a hero of heroes? One who conquers his evil inclination” but then goes on to say “and there are those who say: One who makes his enemy into his beloved” (23:10).
How do we make our enemy into our beloved, the inner enemy and the outer enemy?
The answer is through opening and love. We open to that which is in us and we open to that which is without us and, despite the fear, we love it and embrace it. It is the courage to face hate with love, to approach anger with love, to approach criticism with love. It is not passive, it is active, loving and challenging, whether we are embracing the inner enemy or, in the tradition of the protest of love we know from the civil rights movement and elsewhere, the outer enemy. It is not easy. It is something we have to train in again and again, but it can shift the way we live and experience our lives and it can bring the liberation which is the promise of the Hannukah holiday, the Festival not only of Lights but of Freedom. May we all taste both the illumination and liberation, the joy and the freedom of this holiday and may we find the courage to rededicate our selves, our house, to being who we truly are.