Chanukuh and Christmas: Honoring the Light

Rabbi Michael Lerner offers a very solid and non-sentimental understanding of Chanukah in a recent article in the Tikkun magazine that he oversees.

Hanukkah lamp unearthed near Jerusalem, c. 1900. From the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Commons.

One point he makes is that when the fundamentalist movement of the Maccabees rose up against Hellenistic rule, the rabbis of the Talmud did not want to legitimize the militarism, corruption, and violence of the regime that the Maccabees installed in place of Syrian Hellenistic rule, so they created the myth of the oil that burned for eight days and made that the miracle of Chanukah.

But, says Lerner, what they ought to have done instead is: identify the real miracle: that people can unify against oppression and win against what at first seems like overwhelming odds against the forces that have all the conventional instruments of power in their hands, if and only if they can believe that there is something about the universe that makes such struggles winnable. 

Monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, designed by Natan Rappaport and made of stone quarried for a Nazi victory monument. The memorial was unveiled on April 19, 1948. Photo by Dennis Jarvis, on Flickr

Whether one calls that force “God” or not, he says, the issue is above all to

...develop some consciousness that there is something in the universe that makes liberation possible. That something is celebrated when in the darkest and (for many) scariest time of each year many of us light candles of Chanukah, or Christians light the candles celebrating their own version of that force in the birth of a baby who they believed would become a liberator or savior.

Lerner urges us to move beyond “the logic of the capitalist marketplace” where we are instructed  to out-buy and out-shine our neighbors, and instead embrace the possibility that Chanukah and Christmas both celebrate — the miracle of liberation, of a struggle for justice and compassion that is worth the struggle.  That for him constitutes the miracle of both Chanukah and Christmas.  The light of the universe and the sparks within all beings applies to human struggle and values we all carry within us.  One might say to our enlightened consciences and consciousness.  Light brings hope even in times of darkness.

“The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.” Photo by NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

In this context, it seems to me, the many deep traditions of light found in the Bible as well as in the Jewish mystical tradition of Zohar and Kabbalah, take on even deeper meaning.  Consider for example how the word Zohar means radiance, splendor, or brilliance. We are told that the “radiance of Shekinah shined in Moses and when he was born the whole house was filled with light!”  The Shekinah is said to rest on the heads of those who do good deeds.

The Zohar also describes creation as “a blinding spark flashed…from the mystery of the Infinite.” 

In subsequent Daily Meditations we will further develop meditations on Light from various world spiritual traditions as well as today’s science.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, p. 63.

Banner Image: Menorah candles. Image by kevindvt from Pixabay

Queries for Contemplation

We are told those who “do good deeds” exude the radiance of Divine light.  Is that your experience too? 

Rabbi Michael Lerner tells us that the “real miracle” is taking on forces of oppression and injustice.  This seems to resonate with the teaching of Thomas Aquinas that the “greatest miracle” of all is a life of virtue.  Justice is such a virtue.

Since the real meaning of “miracle” is “marvel,” what examples do you see of marvels all around you? And within you?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.

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2 thoughts on “Chanukuh and Christmas: Honoring the Light”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew Fox for deepening my understanding of God and creation. I Share your meditations with family and friends. You are a gift in this world

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Thank you, Ellen. We are glad that these meditations have deepened your spiritual understandings and opened up avenues for you to share what has moved you with your family and friends. I sent this very meditation to several of my family members, attempting to open up the holidays to a deeper level. Slowly we weave the web…..
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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