By Rabbi Ora Weiss
The Hebrew month of Tivet, so dark. Even though the longest night has recently passed, the small increments of light are not yet discernable to us. The sense of the month is just ongoing darkness, and the cumulative effect is hard for some. Difficult times often push us to change, to seek ways of understanding, or of coping, that in easier times would be rejected outright. As Hanukah continues into the first days of Tivet, it brings just such a message of change, one which we haven’t fully acknowledged.
Let’s start with a story, my story. I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that shows up only in the darkest months. Many people in northern latitudes have some reaction to the loss of light when the nights grow longer: increased eating, increased sleeping, grouchiness. With SAD, these symptoms are intensified. 20 years ago, for a couple of years, I took antidepressants in the winter months. They worked, but I hated taking them.
The next year, upon mentioning to my spiritual director that I was starting to need the medicine again, she suggested that I first try adding to my morning meditation a 10 minute visualization of sitting in a sunny place, feeling the sun on my face. For a week, each morning I envisioned sitting on a beach in Maine that I love, pictured everything about it, joyfully felt the heat of the sun beating down on me. By the end of the week, no more thoughts of taking medication. The meditation worked nearly as well, with no cost or side effects!
Wait – what was going on? At first I resisted understanding, surmising that my brain was just a mechanical instrument which couldn’t distinguish between real light and imagined light. And by “imagined” I meant “not real”. I didn’t understand that I could be creating anything by imagining it. I didn’t believe that we all might have the ability to bring forth change through visualization, even though I had been desperate enough to try my guide’s suggestion.
As Hanukah approached several weeks later that year, I had a realization: that although what I was “seeing” wasn’t physical light, I was nonetheless drawing down another form of light through my meditations, a very real, spiritual light. And this is the light that we are to remember when we light the Hanukah candles, which hint at a true miracle of that time, and of possibility of miracles for these times.
At that time of reclaiming and rededicating our Temple, and finding only a small bottle of oil, we many Israelites gathered and imagined/envisioned the oil lasting, and we were joyful. By doing so, we co-created that light which lasted 8 nights. The many were able to do what one could not. You know the Hanuka song Banu Choshech: “each one is a small light; all of us a mighty light”. It was perhaps thought by one who wrote it to be a metaphor. It is also a reality. Yes, it is within our ability to imagine and envision, with a strong component of positive emotion (joy, gratitude, peacefulness), to bring in the transcendent light, to co-create a different outcome. Anyone who can visualize well has this ability; with a group of us the ability multiplies. As you sit with your candles, know they point to the light inside you, that you can bring forward.
This supernal, transcendent light, created on day one (Genesis 1:3), was thought for centuries by the rabbis to be hidden away so the wicked could not use it. But, they felt, it would be accessible by the righteous in olam ha-ba, in the world to come. (B. Hagigah 12a). The mystics of the Kabbalah, however, knew a deeper truth: that one who is engaged with Torah attains a share in olam ha-ba, which they translate as the world that is coming – continually coming. (Zohar, Pritzker Ed. Vol 1, p. 255, 1:47a). They explain how it is possible to access this other dimension in the here and now: one who rises at midnight to study Torah shares constantly in the world that is coming. (Zohar, Pritzker Ed. Vol 2, pp.80-81, 1:92a-b). I would re-read their words as “One who rises up from the darkness to connect with a greater consciousness may access the dimension of the world that is constantly coming, filled with the supernal light.”
Truly, this was our Hanukah miracle – with great passion the many Israelites at that time connected with the world that is coming, and the supernal light. The lamp continued to shine. The Hanukah candles burning today remind us of our ability to co-create the miraculous. We can support small miracles for ourselves (banish our winter depression), but together we can truly envision and foster a great tikkun – a healing of our broken hearts, our broken world, our broken earth. Let us unite in practical action to heal our earth’s systems that are so depleted and burdened with toxins, and let us also support our actions with our vision, our collective joyful prayer by envisioning a newer world that is coming.
My blessing for all is that we have the courage to envision the world anew, daily, with joy and the trust that our vision is supported by the light of God/Source of All.