Chanukah celebrates the Maccabees’ rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s sacred home, and the relighting of the ever-burning menorah within the Temple, after they had been desecrated by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE under the oppressive rule of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Much later, rabbinic tradition ascribed the 8-day rededication celebration to the miracle of discovering a single, undefiled jar of oil, enough to last just one day, but miraculously lasting for eight days until new, purified oil for sacred use could be made.
The timelessness of Jewish teachings and insights reverberate with the good medicine that is most deeply needed when we can hear them addressing both eternal human questions as well as the live challenges of the present moment. So, I ask – what is the sacred home in need of cleansing and rededication? I want to engage with Chanukah as an opportunity for the rededication of our ecological concern, awareness and action. The water, the air, the soil of this precious planet have been defiled by our overuse, polluted by our carelessness and our society’s greed. We have burned the oil of polluting fossil fuels and have built economies that are dependent them. We have engaged in destructive methods of extraction and have depleted our resources out of proportion with their ability to regenerate.
The Hasidic master, Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (known as the Me’or Eynayim) teaches that the Hebrew word “Chanukah” is made up of two words – chanu – “they encamped,” and koh – “here.” Koh refers to a saturated awareness of the “here-ness” of sacred presence – in every moment, around us and within us. It is the foundation of moral concern, discerning and responding with awareness to what is needed from me in this moment. The Greeks, Me’or Eynayim teaches, were oblivious to this koh-consciousness. Everything served as an instrument for their expanding empire and the forceful imposition of their beliefs. The Maccabees, on the other hand, dwelt or “camped” in koh-consciousness. Their cleansing and rededication of the Temple restored the very home of Presence and the people’s ignited relationship with it. They didn’t merely find one jar (pach echad) of oil. They relit the menorah with the essence of echad – Onenness. The physical victory could not have happened without spiritual clarity.
Our environmental challenge is not only that our home is being ruined. We are facing a clash of culture, values and consciousness akin to the ancient clash between Hellenizers and Jews. While the dominant, consumerist-driven culture relates to the earth and its resources as a commodity, Judaism calls on us to live in sacred, interdependent relationship with it. When we relate to the earth as a sacred home for all Life, for One Life, it demands from us responsibility, dedication and a restoration of its sacred, illimitable worth. We are being called upon to make our precious resources last. And this is a potent time to generate new light – both in terms of the very real resources we use and in terms of the inner illumination, fire of dedication and the consciousness of sacred here-ness that we cultivate.
For ideas of climate action for each of the 8 days of Chanukah, take a look at The Shalom Center’s teachings – theshalomcenter.org/hanukkah8days4climate
Be sure to celebrate with us at our Chanukah Arts Fair and Festival on Sunday Dec. 15th 1-4pm.