Hanukkah Teaching

Sholom Aleichem begins his delightful story, Hanukkah Money, like this: “What’s the best holiday? Hanukkah, of course. You don’t go to Hebrew school for eight days, you eat latkes everyday, spin your dreidel to your heart’s content and from all sides money comes pouring in. What holiday can be better than that?” I’m with Sholom Aleichem. Thank God Hanukkah is coming! I’m hungry for latkes and light. Each of our holidays is a kaleidoscope revealing a different face of God and Hanukah is the time to remember miracles, but I’m not talking about a little bit of oil lasting eight days. I’m talking about light not only from olive oil but the light from within ourselves.

What I learned about miracles this year I learned in New York from other women who are spiritual leaders. That they were few, they were outnumbered, reminded me of a time long ago, 164 bce, to be exact, when a few believed that they could save Judaism from the Syrians and from their own people who thought Greek culture was far more beautiful and powerful than being Jews. We celebrate their victory by lighting a little candle that burns for no more than a half hour, one each night, until eight little lights make a great light. These flames move us because they mirror the little hidden light each of us carry within.

Now I know Jews have no problem with talking about miracles like a new baby or the miracle of a sunset. But I want to talk about something even more audacious than the idea that women can be spiritual leaders. I’m talking about the miracle of being healed, or what we call the laying on of hands. I met women who believe that it is not only doctors who can heal people. They believe that by laying on hands, by literally touching others, they can heal. What do you think? Is this crazy, something ridiculous?

What I learned from these healers is that each of us carries light that makes all of us healers and all of us can be healed. Let me be clear in what healing means. I’m not talking about only physically cures. We are all fragile, like a beautiful piece of china, capable of being shattered and shattering each other. When we pray for healing in the mishberach we are speaking of healing not only the body but the heart, the part of us that connects us to each other and to our highest selves. Healing is a restoration of balance, of restoration of wholeness, which is what shalom means. When we pray for peace, we pray for healing, repair of ourselves and the world.

And notice that it takes two to heal, two to create a world, a child. When God makes the world, God speaks to another. The first word of Torah begins with a bet, because its numerical value is two. Where is God? We are in the divine image, and God dwells between two of us. Two of us can in partnership create a miracle of healing. There are studies that suggest that when we are prayed for, even if we don’t know who is praying for us, and they don’t know us, that those who are prayed for recover more successfully. Yet I have learned also that the one who develops a practice of prayer for themselves, who works in partnership with others in their recovery by praying, changing lifestyle, and believing that whether they are cured they can still be healed, that one will be healed. It takes work to be healed and it depends upon a leap of faith. If we can do that, if we can be inspired by the Maccabbees who had no business believing that they , a few hundred, could defeat thousands, then we too can be healed.

What I witnessed wasn’t hocus pocus, unless you consider prayer that. The difference was that I saw human beings who believed that they had the power to bless each other. How can we get there without violating our rational minds? How can we believe in our great power which cannot be seen or touched.?

Before the sun, moon, and stars, God spoke and said, Let there be light. The rabbis asked, What light is this that preceded physical luminaries? They understood it as primordial light that was hidden in the world’s imperfection, in the darkness that keeps us from loving each other. This light, the or haganuz, was hidden at the time of creation for the day when we stop hurting each other. And Hanukkah, the story of the survival of our tradtion against all odds because of a few who never stopped believing in our light that has power to heal the world, gives us a glimpse of the hidden primordial light . It reminds us that so often our great light of healing is invisible, within us, often forgotten, often disbelieved.

When we believe our embrace is a comfort, our words can be blessing, we are like little hanukkah candles burning at the darkest time of the year, one lighting another, until at the end, all eight candles give a great light. The miracle of Hanukkah is not that the oil lasted, not even that we won the war. The miracle is, that despite despair, despite being outnumbered, a few risked being seen as crazy, foolish, and gave all they had to save their people.

We too have great opportunity right here in this room to save ourselves from loneliness, disbelief, alienation, and darkness. I’m suggesting a small experiement, like a little candle. Let’s ask each other for what we’d like blessing for this week. Let’s risk our separateness and trust each other to have blessing. This is how I understand faith healing, the renewal of body and spirit, by letting God dwell between us.