How many times has a teacher, website, or flyer promised to reveal to you The True Meaning of Hanukkah?
How many times have you hoped for an esoteric teaching about increasing awareness of the Divine Light within your own soul?
And how many times have you been disappointed, learning only that the true meaning is gathering political strength under oppression, or choosing a cultural allegiance, or relying on God to perform a miracle — but not, heaven forbid, all three at once?
Today I offer an esoteric teaching about holding three true meanings in a single human consciousness.
In The Thirteen Petalled Rose, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz says that reality is multi-layered. We live simultaneously in multiple “worlds” – worlds of action, feeling, thought and spirit. The worlds touch one another, and an event in any one world has effects in the others.
Our daily experience fits this metaphysical view. For example, we know that a strong feeling can generate thoughts, actions, and spiritual yearning. Our multi-layered consciousness offers us glimpses of each world, and of their connections. Sometimes a connection takes us by surprise, when an experience from one of the other worlds – a thought, feeling, or Presence – bursts through. The surprise can remind us that multiple meanings and causalities move behind the scene of life.
Hanukkah reaches across multiple worlds.
Our earliest versions of the Hanukkah story clearly express this teaching.
The First Book of Maccabees, written in Hebrew during the second century BCE, celebrates the political and military activity of the Hasmonean family. It describes Hanukkah as a national holiday of independence, not unlike Canada Day or the Fourth of July.
The Second Book of Maccabees, written in Greek during that same century, describes the hidden dynamics of God’s relationship with Israel. Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple is an expression of a rupture in the Jewish people’s connection with God. When the Judeans turn towards God, restoring the relationship, the Temple, too, is restored. Here, Hanukkah celebrates collective affirmation of a religious culture’s bond with God.
Neither of these books mention any miracle involving oil.
Only the Babylonian Talmud, compiled in Aramaic in the sixth century, describes that miracle. “They found only one jug of oil sufficient for one day’s lighting. A miracle was wrought and they lit for eight days.” This miracle did not depend on military strategy or national religious repentance. The light of God simply burst through when it was needed most. Here, Hanukkah expresses gratitude for the unearned miracle.
What is the true meaning of Hanukkah? A reminder that all these meanings coexist. That reality itself consists of multiple, linked meanings. That our awareness of multiple points of view can grow. That we can learn to see from another’s more empirical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual perspective. That awareness of Divine light can grow within us. That guidance for this growth can burst through from another “world.” That miracles are possible, in every world.
Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan works as Interim Director of the Iona Pacific Inter-religious Centre at the Vancouver School of Theology. Previously she served as Rabbi of Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver (2005-2014) and Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (1989-2004). She blogs at On Sophia Street.