A Call to Rights and Action
by Shaul Judelman, Yeshivat Bat Ayin
Stand up for diversity! Take a stand for cultural heritage! Light a light against the darkness of cultural imperialism and McAmerica!
Yes you can take a stand in the struggle of light against dark. The light is the vision of what could truly be in the relationships we live in. The dark is that force that hides from our eyes that potential: the depth in those around us, the depth in ourselves and our ability to live life in a more conscious connected way. Our people have fought this struggle for many a time. If you never connected spiritual light and searching with the world of the synagogue and the Hebrew school, that is because the Greeks beat the Maccabees.
Our people’s exiles have been described in the Torah as chaos, void, darkness and abyss. We are currently in the abyss, which unfortunately includes all the dimensions of the previous exiles. Not identifying in a deep personal way with Judaism is a manifestation of exile. We all have it, the religion itself (wherever that is located) is in deep exile. Each one of these challenges to the spiritual development of our people has been real. Some sought to kill us physically, some sought to remove our keeping of our commandments.
The exile that is commemorated in Chanukah is unique in that it was the only exile in which we weren’t driven out of Israel. In fact even the Holy Temple was functioning. It was not a physical threat — rather a spiritual threat. It is referred to as darkness. Darkness doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there: it means that I can’t see it. Much like modern Judaism as I grew to know it America, it was very much lacking the depth of spiritual life. There were great big synagogues and community centers, but it was largely a place for basketball and socializing, not searching. Some bright cases involved food drives and social action. Those were real, but even they were barren of the light that spiritual awareness can offer those actions. This darkness in the Jewish community was coupled with the general mainstream American values which don’t exactly support spiritual development for the sake of righteous action, which I feel is the core of Judaism. Yet the mono-culture and drive to standardize leave our Judaism bereft of its teeth. We are blessed with a spiritual faith that holds transforming this world into something better as the major tenet. For those who were lucky to have a guiding light to this message of Judaism, we found no role-models until going off on our own, like Abraham had to, or as every spiritual seeker must.
The structures of religion very easily turn into the exact darkness we seek to disspell. This is part of the secret of the dreidel. Didn’t know the dreidel had secrets? Truth is, I have been reading lots of amazing kabbalah about the dreidel. It is a meditation tool. The Chassidic Rebbes in Europe used to sit in front of their Chanukah lights and spin dreidels, not for money of course, that was for the kids. The dreidel and the lights are openings to higher forms of seeing. Prophecy: that used to be the spiritual focus of our people. Not mitzvah machines in black coats, but people turned on to new paths on which the world could move. Visionaries, seekers and seers. At a certain point (actually before Chanukah) the establishment and vessel for those prophetic lights became impure. Impure in a deeper sense means closed off — not connected to the flow that is life. Death is the absolute source of impurity, because we are a religion of life. L’chayim, right? So when things get stuck and closed off, they leave the circle of life and get boxed in. That is how a dreidel starts: The strictures of four sides, be it a classroom, a way of thinking or a prison cell. On Chanukah, we spin that dreidel, until the spinning turns into a circle: an access point for beyond what is, what has become stultified. And the light of those candles can find a way into our stuck minds. Opening your mind is only half the game, because the nature of being and doing in this world demands a full yet, humble mind. The candles hold a holy medium of yearning and believing, warm and transformative energy.
As a Jewish people in the time of the Greeks and Macabees we had “left the path of righteousness” so to speak. Our national character was no longer holy. That falling is still with us today, but it still remains the goal to really become a nation not driven by petty nationalism, but by real holy goals. Please G-d, let that come soon, because it hurts so bad till we get there.
But the path of individual seekers is still there, and Chanukah, where there is a mitzvah for each individual Jew — man, woman, and child — to light their light; to open their channel to the sacred. Watch your soul flicker in the flame.
That is our belief, fellow Jews, that the thing religious people call “holy” is in the light of that candle lit after sundown during these, the eight darkest nights of the year. And to light that candle is to truly make a radical act of resistance. To reclaim your heritage, your own peoples’ struggle. Light it anywhere, in any which way you can. Start with your home, then maybe at work. Just tell people the light is here to tell us that we live in an amazing world where things will get better, just like this room got brighter with this light.
I once lit in a prison cell with 20 other holy brothers on a hunger strike against the WTO. The strength the story gave me was so real in King County lock-up. That is another dimension of Chanukha: Bring your own soul into the lighting. Chanukah is historically the birth of the oral Torah, the Torah that wasn’t given to you from somewhere else, but flew from your own soul, and your own eyes. What does it mean to hold onto your heritage in the midst of 2006 reality? That is your Torah.
Don’t let the darkness get in the way. You are the inheritor. The establishment, Sunday school, the annoying pushy purveyors of “truth” — they are not living your life, and have not patented all forms of light. The Chanukah candle is yours to reclaim. Light it and chant, light it and sing your own blessings of thanksgiving for being alive and searching. Do it for yourself, make light for others. A person connected to oneself, and their spiritual inside is a much more powerful actor in any sphere. Turn your own dreidel, write your own Torah about the meaning behind the relationships and actions of your life. Gain strength from the flames striving to go up. Light a wick on olive oil and watch it burn for hours on end. And tomorrow night? Light one more candle, and each night on. Chanukah only stops lighting at eight because it means infinite. Meditate on a source of darkness in your life and light it on fire, every night, or a new one each time. Find a person to share the light with whom you know needs it. It may very well be your local synagogue. That’s okay, the holy Ba’al Shem Tov taught us that it only takes a little light to push away so much darkness.
The light means that there is so much more to live for. Each flame is drawing from the element of fire that represents the driven aspects of this world. Harness your fire, if it’s for your beloved, if it’s for justice, if it’s for healing — and live a life more en route to where your soul yearns to go.