Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chanukah - Our Inner Lamp

When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils that were in it. When the Maccabees entered the Temple, they searched for pure oil in order to light the Temple Menorah (lamp), but they found only one container of pure olive oil which had been laid aside in a hidden place with the seal of the "Kohen Gadol" - High Priest. There was, however, only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day. A miracle occurred, and the oil gave light for eight days! This gave the people the opportunity to prepare and bring to the Temple a fresh supply of pure olive oil. The following year, the sages fixed and established these eight days as a festival of praise and thankgiving which became known as Chanukah. (Shabbat 21b)

"Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your holiness and kindled lights in the Courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name" (Al Hanisim)

Our Inner Lamp:

"The lamp of the Compassionate One is the neshama of the human being, which searches one's inner chambers." (Mishlei 20:23)

Our neshamah is a spiritual entity - the higher soul which is a spark of the Divine essence. Why then does the Compassionate One send the neshamah into this physical world? According to the above verse, each neshamah is a "lamp" which contains the Divine light. If the Compassionate One sends each of our neshamot into this physical world, then this indicates that this world is meant to be filled with the Divine light. In fact, at the very dawn of the creation of this world, the first Divine proclamation is "Let there be light!" (Bereishit 1:3)

The world, however, is a big place. Where, then, should each neshamah begin the task of bringing the Divine light into this physical world? As the above verse indicates, the task begins "in one's inner chambers" - the organs within our body. The Hebrew term for "inner chambers" which appears in the verse is, "chadrei baten" - which literally means, "the chambers of the stomach." The stomach and the related inner organs of digestion represent our physical senses and drives. And the life force of these physical senses and drives is the nefesh - the lower part of the human soul. We begin the task of illuminating the physical world by having the neshamah guide the life force of the nefesh to a higher, altruistic purpose. The neshamah is to become the "rebbe" - Torah teacher and guide - to the nefesh. For without the guiding light of the neshamah, the nefesh becomes devoted to the selfish goal of self-gratification, and selfishness is the greatest darkness. A great Chassidic Rebbe, known as "Chidushei Ha-Rim," finds an allusion to this form of darkness in the following biblical passage concerning one of the ten plagues which struck our Egyptian oppressors:

"Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt for a three-day period. No one could see his brother..." (Shemot 10:22, 23)

The Rebbe writes: "The worst darkness is when a person does not want to see his suffering brother and to extend to him support" (Mayana Shel Torah).

Our neshamah begins the task of illuminating our inner world by searching all the chambers of our physical being to ensure that they are not enveloped by the darkness of selfish gratification. Through the light of the neshamah, they are to be consecrated for a higher, altruistic purpose - one which enable each of us to truly "see" our brother and sister.

If we allow our neshamah to illuminate our inner world, then the light within will spread to the outer world. We will then merit the fulfillment of the following messianic prophecy:

"Arise! Shine! for your light has come...Nations will walk by your light and sovereigns by the brilliance of your glow." (Yeshayahu 60: 1, 3)

In this spirit, we light the lamps or candles of the Chanukah Menorah in a place where the light can be seen by others. (See note 1 below.)

The main way we share this light, however, is not through "preaching" or "missionizing"; we share this light through serving as an ethical and spiritual example. This is why the Prophet emphasizes, "Nations will walk by your light." As Yigal Allon, the late Defense Minister of Israel, once said, "Before we can be a light to others, we first have to be a light to ourselves."

- Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

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