“To die,—to sleep;— To sleep: perchance to dream:—ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come…”
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene i
“The Midrash asks: Where was light created from? And the answer is whispered: ‘God cloaked Himself in a white shawl, and the light of its splendor shone from one end of the world to the other’ (Bereishit Rabbah 3:4). In other words, light, fundamentally, does not belong to this world; it is, rather, an emanation of a different essence, from the other side of reality.” (Adan Even-Israel Steinsaltz, “Shades of Light”)
The primary act of the Creator was the installation of light. The concept of light is so prominent in Jewish tradition that such primary, transcendent ideas as redemption, truth, justice, peace and even life itself are spoken of as “light.” Israel, and its Messiah, are deemed the source of true spiritual light in this world: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” [Isaiah 60:2] It speaks of its own existence through the words of Scripture: “The light of the righteous rejoices” (Proverbs 13:8). It is the ultimate symbol of wisdom and beauty as well as the definitive hallmark of practicality and usefulness: “Wisdom excels folly as far as light excels darkness” [Ecclesiastes (2:13); Adapted, Steinsaltz, “Shades of Light”]
At Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, we challenge the darkness; we confront negativity. When we light the candles each night, our children watch as we, the parents, take action, within the warm
confines of our own home, to speak of and rekindle the fire of hope, to bring fire to bear on the evil that lurks in the frozen darkness just outside the window, the blackened chill that is winter’s night. The Master told His disciples, “I am the Light of the world.” On another occasion, He instructed them, “You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16). In the same way, it is traditional to place the Hanukkah menorah in a window so that its light radiates outward and illuminates the darkness of the outside world. That a lonely passerby might catch a glimpse of eternity. That a broken heart may see the victory of Light over the oppressor, eternal night, and be saved.
It is appropriate that Kislev, the month of Hanukkah, is likened to the month of sleep and dreams. We tend to snuggle all the more beneath the cozy down of our comforters, increasing the opportunity to dream. As winter deepens, we seek solace before a dancing fire. We light scented candles and lamp wells brimming with colorful oils. During the month of Kislev what is impossible in the mundane daytime world suddenly becomes possible in the sleep-world, the dream-world of night. In the darkness of winter another kind of light is made accessible for those who dream, for those who believe. This other kind of light is of a spiritual character, a metaphysical nature; it is this “other light” that warms like no other that is represented by the Hanukkah lights.
Shakespeare, in Hamlet, compares sleep to death as an end to suffering. But Hamlet decides not to commit suicide in fear of the unknown afterlife. He rearranges the metaphor to include the possibility of dreaming. He does well to do so. The dreams of a believer have space enough in them to be filled with brightest hope; not so, those with no eternal hope to pack tight the stuff of winter night’s deepest dreams.
May your nights be filled with supernatural light, which is to say, may your light be His Light. And may you dream the dreams of those who believe, for that is the stuff that true dreams are made of. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to one and all.
- Rabbi: Hanukkah teaches tolerance (toledoblade.com)
- President Obama hosts Hanukkah reception (cbsnews.com)