It’s the sixth day of Chanukkah and the light burns ever stronger. I’m a fan of the School of Hillel, whose view we follow, that each day we should light one more candle, because, as the Talmud expresses it, ‘In matters of holiness we go up’ not down.
I think I’ve become more of a ‘yes’ and less of a ‘no’ person as I’ve got older. I partly attribute this to the good influence of Nicky. I also ascribe it to the privilege of working as a rabbi, where I witness so many people striving to use their days with creativity, courage, generosity and kindness, that it feels like a dishonour to life itself not to try to do likewise. Conversely, I see at close hand what we all know, that fate can be harsh and cruel. All the more should we appreciate the opportunities we have to respect, serve and cherish life.
Furthermore, the light does grow stronger. Or perhaps the hidden light, as the mystics call it, is always the same, always equally present, only there are times when we notice it more.
For a hidden light does glows within all life; it is life’s essence. It is there in the winter trees, their branches shining, the bark almost like white silk in the frost, the last amber leaves frozen and transfixed. It greets the dawn in the song of the birds, and sings again in their swooping flight as they seek shelter before the twilight. It is present in all consciousness. It is known in joy, in beauty, also sometimes in sadness, and in the silence of the contemplating heart. It is a kind of love, experienced not as the romantic desire to embrace the entire world but rather as a quiet sense of kinship with life, of solidarity, of feeling for life’s suffering and respect and veneration for its integrity, together with a sense of hurt and shame in the hurt and shame to which any part of life may have become exposed.
We realise in our best moments that such awareness can and should be the most significant motivating force in the way we live our days and years. It is the impact of God’s unceasing ‘I am’ in this world, from which flow all the commandments regarding how we should behave towards each other, towards all feeling beings and all things.
Of course, at times, even for long periods, we scarcely perceive that light or inner life or voice at all. Yet, as Yehudah Halevi wrote,
Who can say they have not seen you?
Behold the heavens and their hosts declare the awe of you
And their voice isn’t heard at all.
Sometimes we don’t hear or see. Perhaps that’s the inevitable result of all the distractions and preoccupations to which we are constantly exposed. Sometimes we perceive only our own wants and needs and those of the people immediately connected to us. But then we catch once more a glimpse of the hidden light and, becoming aware of it once again, know what it is that we have to do with our lives.