December 11, 2015 admin

The hidden light

Before we lit the candles I asked the group around the table to introduce themselves and add a word about light. No one demurred: ‘Light is hope;’ ‘Light is inspiration;’ ‘Light is music;’ ‘Light is morning’.
Chanukkah is the festival of lights, (the best greetings are either simply ‘Good Chanukkah’ or the modern ‘Chag Urim Sameach’) and lights have many depths. They shine like the reflections, and reflections of reflections, of the candles of the Chanukkiah in the windows.
The mystics distinguish between two kinds of light, Or Olam, the light of this world, (though ‘eternal light’ is at least as good a translation) and Or Hane’elam, the hidden light. The division goes back to creation itself.  Since on the fourth day God made the sun and the moon to rule over the rhythms of time, what became of the earlier light God formed on the very first day to pierce the darkness of the void? God concealed it, the mystics answer, but not so deeply or so distantly that we are incapable of rediscovering it.
Each day our prayers begin with thanksgiving for the light of this world: ‘You fashion light and create darkness,’ we say in appreciation. It’s so easy to take light for granted; it’s ubiquitous as dust. But when one wakes before dawn and watches the gaps among the branches grow bright as the first birds sing; or when one stares as the light is withdrawn from between the black trees and the last birds cry – then wonder stills us and awe keeps us silent in the rushing, noisy world. At such moments we don’t pray; rather, prayer absorbs us into itself.
The hidden light, the light of the spirit, blesses us too. The Talmud employs the euphemism sagi nahor, ‘one of great light’, to describe someone blind, in testament to the inner light which burns within each person. The idea is probably that the blind person ‘sees’ the world by means of the inner light’s wisdom, undistracted by the ceaseless ephemera which, by making us focus on the eyes, obscure the heart’s perception.
But everyone is blessed with that hidden light, each of us differently according to our spirit. It is the image of God in which we are created, and it shines uniquely in every person; so that to destroy, torment or humiliate a life is to extinguish an irreplaceable portion of God’s light in this world. It is the light acclaimed in the verse from Proverbs ‘A candle of God is the human soul’. That is why my friend and colleague Arik Ascherman wrote for International Human Rights Day: ‘In my prayers today I added to the Psalms of Hallel verses beginning with the letters for “Ner HaAdam – The Light of the Human Being”.
We could not live without each other’s light: we’d have no companionship, no music, no poetry, no courage, no inspiration, no one to re-illumine our own light when the darkness overwhelms it. It’s as the Psalmist wrote: ‘I said “The darkness will crush me”. But the night is light round about me.’ (Psalm 139) Most often the light which makes our inner night bright again reaches us from other people.
This hidden light is present in all creation; it is the radiance of creative energy in all living beings. When we fail to sense it, life is just a series of transactions. When we do perceive it, life is wonder once again.
That is the miracle of the light which the candles of the Menorah proclaim.

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