Channukah is generally called “The Festival of Light”, for on Channukah we light candles or oil in the menroah. As we all know candles or fire – physical light – is very symbolic of spiritual light, and this is what Channukah is all about… Bringing down spiritual “light” into the “darkness” of this world.
We start on the first night of Channukah with one light, and then on the second night with a second light, third with a third and so on, till we get to the eighth night and light all eight candles. The eighth night is called “Zot Channukah” – “This is Channukah” – Meaning, this is the true essence of Channukah – the culmination and meaning of it all.
So, what does this point to? We’ll go step by step… In this physical world it seems like G!d’s Presence is not so visible, that there is so to speak a lot of “darkness” in this world. Spirituality or the revelation of G!d is called “light” for it helps us to see the truth of what is really here. The truth that all is G!d and G!d is One. We as humans, and particularly as Jews, have the great honor and responsibility of bringing this “light”, this revelation of G!d’s Unity, into the world. And this is exactly what Channukah stands for.
So, why the one candle, then two, and so on till eight? Why not a full light – 8 candles – every night? This movement or progression from one to eight points to a very special and important lesson about the nature of this world, the spiritual path, and the process of awakening, which is that awakening, bringing “light” into the world, takes time. It’s an evolution, a step by step process of growth.
And the teaching continues… This ‘process paradigm’ is the nature of our natural world, and it’s so beautiful! A tree doesn’t just pop up a full grown tree the moment a seed is planted in the earth, we humans don’t become full grown adults the moment we’re come out of the womb. These things unfold slowly over time, they are the slow and natural processes of nature – olam hazeh. And so too with the spiritual path, but before we go there let’s look at the symbolism of the number eight and it’s correlation to “Zot Channukah“.
In the Jewish tradition the number seven is related to nature – olam hazeh – and the perfection that can be born through natural means. There are seven days in the week, six, plus Shabbat… Even though the seventh day is Shabbat and transcends time – is perfection in relative time, it is still limited by the six days that precede it and follow it, it is still limited by the olam hazeh paradigm or “galut paradigm”.
The number eight on the other hand is considered to be above nature – l’maalah me’hatevah – and it represents infinity (the 8 turned sideways). This is the meaning of “Zot Channukah“.
The purpose, the point of it all – of this life – is to arrive at/embrace the paradigm of living in the eighth day of Channukah, in infinity… The full revelation of Light, of G!d’s Presence and Oneness… “Zeh Hachaim!” But this is a process, it takes time, all the light can’t be revealed in one moment… we couldn’t handle it… we’d burn up. So, we must go through this process of lighting one candle at a time, until all the candles are lit, and we move into the “geulah paradigm” and Olam Habah – the world to come – that is coming.
The candles or lights represent the human soul, the flame ever-burning and reaching upward toward re-union with the Divine, with G!d. Each night we light up another soul, bringing it closer to G!d and retroactively bringing us, as a collective, closer to G!d, Divine Revelation and Olam Habah.
Our own soul on it’s personal journey toward re-union with G!d also has to go through the same step by step, slow, evolutionary process of growth and awakening as the collective and everything else in nature. It’s born into a body and under the “right” conditions it can slowly grow to be revealed as the divine spark it is in this body and in this world. A slow process of unifying/synthesizing soul and body… heaven and earth, until it’s full revelation as a fully awakened human being is manifest.
So, as you see, Channukah is a metaphor for both the individual and the collective spiritual paths, and the whole journey and process of life itself. A slow movement from one to infinity… And a joyous celebration of everyday along the way! And that’s just it – it’s important not to get to wrapped up in trying to get to the end of the process, the eighth night, of Olam Habah. The goal, and what Channukah directly points to, is that we should be celebrating the entire process along the way, every day, every breath, of this magical journey.
And one other thing… As most of us know, the story of Channukah is about miracles… miracles are in the nature of the Eight, that is, they go above and defy nature. Sometimes in this world of nature we need miracles to help us forward along the path. Remember that miracles exist, don’t depend on them, but keep an open heart and watchful eye. Always expect the unexpected : )