Hanukkah’s Last Light
Dispelling five myths that block us from connecting to God.
Eric Clapton wrote something beautiful in his autobiography about his rock bottom moment:
“I stumbled through my month in treatment much as I had done the first time, just ticking off the days, hoping that something would change in me without me having to do much about it. Then one day, as my visit was drawing to an end, a panic hit me, and I realized that in fact nothing had changed in me, and that I was going back into the world again completely unprotected…I was absolutely terrified. At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way, and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with. Then I had remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it, but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help. Within a few days I realized something had happened for me.
An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude, and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was more to it than that. I had found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day on I have never failed to pray.”
As Hanukkah draws to an end, we are about to hit the ‘rock bottom’ of winter. The coldest, darkest time of year is upon us, and our beautiful, holy menorah lights will not be there to illuminate our way. Some of us went through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and even the first seven days of Hanukkah hoping that something would change within us without us having to do much about it. But now it’s the last day of Hanukkah, and what has changed? We are about to go back out into the world completely unprotected, and it is terrifying.
This last day of Hanukkah is called Zot Hanukkah from the Torah verse read on this day, “Zot hanukat hamizbeach – this was the dedication of the altar.” According to Jewish mysticism, this day is the last “seal” of our judgment from Yom Kippur, and it is a chance to return again to God but this time out of love. This time out of complete surrender to God’s compassion. This time turning to that place we have always known existed but never really wanted or needed to believe in.
The Sages tell us that even after all of the brilliant builders and artists constructed all the parts of the mishkan, the portable Tabernacle the Jewish people built in the desert, they could not put it together. That last step had to come from God because the final seal of transformation is always a compassionate miracle. That’s moment we realize we can't make it on our own. On this eighth night of Hanukkah, God reaches out to help us. He brings down to the world a perfect, pure light from another world. How do we access this light? How do we find the place that we have always known was there for us? How can we connect to God and build on this last day of Hanukkah?
We can begin by getting rid of the following five myths that block us from reaching towards God's compassionate light.
1. You don’t have to do anything. Building a connection with God requires effort; it's not a passive process. We have to prepare for miracles in order to be able to receive them. It is immeasurably harder to connect with God without learning His Torah and His attributes. Becoming spiritually attuned is a proactive journey.
2. You need to already be religious. On the other hand, connecting with God doesn't require that you be far along in your religious observance. You just have to have the desire to connect and to reach beyond yourself. And the willingness to learn how to receive the inspiration from His light.
3. You need a lot of time. To learn how to pray and how to understand God's Torah you don't need big chunks of uninterrupted time. You need small increments of daily study. You need frequent moments when you turn to Him during the day, however brief they may be.
4. You need perfect faith. You don't have to be free of doubt to connect to God. He accepts your questions and your struggles. He wants you only to work on your beliefs. He knows how hard it is for us to make our way in the darkness.
5. You need to deny yourself pleasure. Judaism is not about denying ourselves the pleasures of this world. God wants us to have pleasure. He wants us to use and appreciate everything that He has created. He wants us to be happy.
God gives us the eighth day of Hanukkah as an opportunity to find that place inside of us where the light doesn’t go out, where the parts come together, where we feel safe and connected. It is just one last light, but it is so much more than that. It is the chance to transform all the lights of the menorah and all of the steps that we have taken into an infinite place within us.