We are taught that Rosh HaShanah begins the ten days of awe and repentance, a period during which the whole world is judged. At the final Neila prayer of Yom Kippur the judgment is sealed. Nonetheless, our oral/mystical tradition teaches that the final judgment really occurs on Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of Succot. The seven circuits of the synagogue on this day represent the closing of the cycle that began on Rosh HaShanah. Chassidut later revealed that though the judgment is sealed on Hoshanah Rabbah, it is not really “delivered” until Chanukah. The question is why would Chassidic thought stretch the sealing and delivering of the judgment till Chanukah.
One explanation is that the prayers and judgment of the High Holy Days are very ethereal and are in a state of pure potential. Starting with Rosh HaShanah and ending with Simchat Torah, the potential judgment and changes engendered by our prayers only begin slowly to filter down to this world. At Simchat Torah, when we begin the Torah anew, we are given a grace period before the judgment is actually delivered and actualized in order to give us a chance to put into action all those lofty realizations, promises and hopes created by the prayers we so sincerely offered up during the holidays. Therefore, it is on Chanukah, when we light the candles that we shed light upon whether or not we really have lived up to transforming our potential into actual, our dreams and hopes into reality.
The process of transforming potential into actual is similar to the stories we read in the Torah at Chanukah time about out father Jacob, who is first cloistered in the tents of learning and then is forced by circumstances to go out into the world and strive to translate theoretic spiritual concepts into living reality. This can be clearly seen in the ladder in Jacob’s dream, which was firmly implanted in the earth and reached the heavens. This symbolizes the intrinsic need for spiritual energy to be grounded in physical reality – one of the absolute foundations of all Jewish thought – to take the physical world in which we live and uplift and rectify it, infusing all material reality with Divinity.
In the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Formation, one of the oldest of Kabbalistic texts, each of the months has a “sense.” The sense of the month of Kislev, the month of Chanukah, is sleep, or as understood in a deeper manner, the “sense” of dreaming. It is very interesting to note that of the ten dreams mentioned in the Five Books of Moses, most of them occur during this month; beginning with the dream of Jacob and the ladder, the dreams Joseph reveals to his brothers and ending with all the dreams of the baker, butler and Pharaoh as interpreted by Joseph.
During the historic time period of Chanukah, the dream of a independent, sovereign Jewish nation living in its home land according to the Torah was in great danger of being snuffed out. When the Maccabees arose to challenge the Greeks it was a last attempt before Greek culture and force totally swallowed up the remaining Jews still holding on to their ancient beliefs. Only by taking the spiritual truths and dreams that had sustained them for so long as a people and translating it into an effective fighting force were the Maccabees able to defeat the greatest empire the world had known to that point.
And what is the relevance today? As individuals we can learn that dreams are made to be translated into reality. Each person, when looking very deep within, has a sense of what their purpose and soul potential in life is. Every Jew deep inside has a drop of pure, holy oil, a potential spark waiting to be ignited. This is the symbolism of the one cruze of undefiled oil found by the Maccabees when they came to rededicate the Temple. This is the secret of Jewish survival and rebirth. Though not all dreams come true, we are bidden nonetheless to try to actualize them.
As a nation today we are facing difficult and dark times. Not by coincidence, the most recent wave of violence in Israel broke out on Rosh HaShanah, 2000. While the motives of our enemies in the beginning were not so clear, it has become apparent since then that the war the Maccabees fought so long ago and the many wars that have occurred during the last sixty years are not yet over. Just as the darkness of the Holocaust was turned into the light of the rebirth of the Jewish state after 2,000 years of exile, we pray now too that the darkness and forces of judgment that were launched against us on Rosh HaShanah will be transformed into the eternal lessons Chanukah teaches us – of true Jewish leadership, strength and vision, in order to assure the Jewish dream of ultimate peace and brotherhood in the world. Some dreams are worth fighting for.
May the lights of Chanukah reveal new Jewish inspiration and determination to live our Judaism with joy and commitment, and in so doing, make the dream of universal peace come closer. One candle can light a thousand lights. May your candle inspire not only you, but all those around you.