Chag Sameach! I wish you and your family a joyous, sweet and healthy Hannukah. I wanted to take some time to reflect a moment on the lighting of our Hannukiah. I began to think about the symbolism of increasing the lights every night, instead of starting out with all the candles lit and then decreasing light. There is Midrash about this option, as you would expect! But we increase the light every night. So, how could this reflect upon our own aging process?
I wanted to just take some time and suggest the idea that we can use this festival to re-vision how we look at out own aging. Maybe we can understand the gradual lighting of lights as symbolic of our own life journey. After all, we probably have gained some wisdom over the life course. Experience, as we know is a great teacher. Maybe each candle can represent a moment in our own life journey that we acquired new wisdom, a new sense of self, perhaps a new identity. Maybe we can look at Hannukah as a celebration of our own aging. Each of us have become the repository of years of life experience and that experience has combined to produce real wisdom. We, at times, even joke about it when we say things like “if I knew then what I know now!”. Properly understood, this sense of wisdom allows us not to focus on a life of regret, but to accept what we have chosen in the past, to learn from it, and to keep on “keepin on”. Light, in our tradition, symbolizes many things, including a sense of the sacred. As we increase our years, maybe we can puase to celebrate the increase in the light of experience that, we hope, has provided us with the light of wisdom.
We have even seen the creation of a ritual that celebrates the acquisition of wisdom. The “simchat hochmah” (joy or celebration of wisdom) ritual has been created by some to be said at a service on the “bimah”. It is said when one reaches a certain age, say 60, or 70, or 80. It is a public declaration of the power of life experience and being granted the gift of life and time. Part of one such ritual reads as follows: “River of light and truth, You have sustained me these many years and brought me to this place in my life’s journey. Let me look out with wisdom, from the high ground of my years and experiences, over the terrain of my life. Let me gaze out toward the past and the future with a heightened sense of Your presence as my Guide. Let me see that growth is not reserved for any one season, and that love and fulfillment are not the exclusive provinces of the young.” (“To Honor and Respect”: URJ Press. p. 61)
At this Hannukah season, may you celebrate the light of your wisdom and may that wisdom of your life grow and increase as the light of the candles do, night by night, year by year.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.