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Imagine how we might respond if someone said to us, as Joseph does to Pharoah in next week’s Torah portion, Miketz:
כט הִנֵּה שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים בָּאוֹת שָׂבָע גָּדוֹל בְּכָל־אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: ל וְקָמוּ שֶׁבַע שְׁנֵי רָעָב אַחֲרֵיהֶן וְנִשְׁכַּח כָּל־הַשָּׂבָע בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְכִלָּה הָרָעָב אֶת־הָאָרֶץ: לא וְלֹא־יִוָּדַע הַשָּׂבָע בָּאָרֶץ מִפְּנֵי הָרָעָב הַהוּא אַחֲרֵי־כֵן כִּי־כָבֵד הוּא מְאֹד
“Immediately ahead are seven years of great abundance in all the land… After them will come seven years of famine, no trace of the abundance will be left in the land because of the famine thereafter, for it will be very severe.” (Gen. 41:29-31, JPS 1985)
We are promised abundance – but it would not be lasting. The riches are not for our enjoyment. Rather, they must be allocated carefully in order to enable us to make it through the impending scarcity. We would likely feel great anxiety in such a situation and a pervading sense that our blessings are fleeting. Perhaps we would live those years on edge, never quite feeling that we were doing enough to prepare. I imagine that during this time it would be incredibly difficult to simply feel a sense of being settled and content. Well beyond the pressure to prepare for the practical needs of the time of lack, the impending famine would surely impose a great psychic toll. Even in a time of plenty, one can easily have a mind and heart of famine.
Hanukkah offers a counter-orientation to this famine mind and heart. As the Talmud tells it:
מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ”ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה.
What is Hanukkah? The Sages taught, on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight…When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest. And there was [sufficient oil] there to light [the Menorah] for only day. A miracle occurred and they lit the [Menorah] from it for eight days. The next year [the Sages] instituted those days and made the holidays with [recitation of] hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)
Hanukkah’s teaching, embedded in this rabbinic version of the miracle of the oil, is about affirming that what we have is enough–even if it does not seem like it will be. From this place of “enoughness”, of hopeful confidence and healthy satiety, we are strengthened in our capacity to be present in our lives, and with praise and gratitude to bring light into the world.
We should not confuse this healthy sense of enoughness with a passivity or unquestioning acceptance of our lot. Rather, it can serve as a greater context within which experiences of lack can be understood and engaged with differently. Our practice – especially practice during Shabbat or holidays – can cultivate our capacity for staying anchored in this deep sense that I have enough.
This Hanukkah, try a meditation in which you sit by the light of the candles. Begin by connecting to your breath and body, close your eyes. After a few minutes, open your eyes, and look at the candle. Witness its movement. Affirm with the breath: (inhale) this light, (exhale) is enough. Let that feeling of “enoughness” fill you. Repeat.
Wishing you a Hanukkah of warmth and light,
Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell