One of the reasons I love Hannukah so much is that it invites us to experience each and every day in a robust and interconnected way. Which is to say, each candle both stands on its own but is connected to what was, and what will be. To that end, I offer these eight kavannot(devotional/intentional focus points) as potential pathways to elevate your hannukiah-lighting ceremony each night.
Night #1: Tonight, a single flame endures as the multi-wicked havdallah candle is extinguished. Beginning the Hannukah journey demands seeing what lies on the other side of just one, lonely, flickering illumination. Miracles often hide themselves in a crack that only a singularly focused flame can penetrate. Tonight you have the opportunity to see what no other light will allow you to capture in this way - the miracle of one-ness. In what ways do you experience variant pieces of your life coming together, unified, in a miraculous way?
Night #2: Tonight we tangibly experience, for the first time, what it means to ascend in holiness, rather than descend (ma'alin b'kodesh ve-lo moridin). We add a candle to the hannukiah. What's different in searching for - and discovering - miracles with the shimmer of two flames, rather than one? What might you find in between the two, hidden until this point? Focus for a moment on the power to recognize and embrace empty space and limitless potential, the transcendent notion of 'more than one'. This is the miracle of a sacred relationship. Whom do you see amidst the two lights? Whom might you like to see?
Night #3: Tonight we understand why the rabbis asked us to place our candles in a straight row. As we increase flames it becomes difficult to see the distinctions that exist between them, so we line them up for clarity. So too our lives. We so often, and naturally, surround ourselves with limitless and endless distractions hoping to fill the void and blur reality, but ultimately obscuring truth. By demanding that each and every light be seen for itself, our tradition asks us to recognize that life often calls for not only quantity, but the quality of distinction, individuality, and singular moments that emerge as holy.
Night #4: Tonight we are halfway there. Fifty percent, sitting in the liminal space of what was and what will be. It is so easy to look back or to dream forward. But a half-filled hannukiahinvites us to live in precisely the place we are right now; in this moment. Our fast-paced lives don't often allow for moments of the here and now. Don't let this one pass you by. What miracle are you thankful for right now?
Night #5: Tonight five candles encourage us to reflect on the miracle of Torah (5 books) in our lives. Explicit Torah (study and mitzvot) and implicit Torah (living the lessons of our familial and historical ancestors) shape us in ways that are quite remarkable. Torah, in its grandest definition, is nothing short of a miracle for the Jewish people. Stop for a moment and reflect on the ways in which it impacts you. Think beyond synagogue and holidays. Think about the patterns of your life you instinctively live that are organically enmeshed in Torah. Allow yourself a moment to celebrate your life with Torah.
Night #6: Tonight another lesson of the rabbis vis-a-vis the hannukiah permeates us. Namely, unlike the light of Shabbat candles, which ought be used for enjoyment, the Hannukah lights serve only one purpose - publicizing the miracle (pirsumei nissa). The bright light emanating from six candles nags at us to use them for the purpose in which they were created - actual light. But we can't. We won't. Instead, we vow to make public - as the flames demand - the resilience to imagine that the 'seeming' impossible is actually possible. We affirm that we don't have to accept the world as darkness - that we, that Israel, that Jews, each of us - has a mandate to claim our place in history as miraculous and human, both - and that we can choose to either perpetuate or deny that miracle.
Night #7: Tonight, the penultimate night. In many ways, the essential night of Hannukah. It isn't often in Jewish life that the complete cycle of 7 is followed by a natural 8. But when it does it invites us to bask in temporary completeness - like this very Shabbat we find ourselves in - only to stand up the next day with the realization that true completion is but a religious illusion, a falsehood that begs us to see beneath and between the lines of certainty to something deeper and more profound... the wholeness of process, rigorous doubt, and receptiveness to the sacred unknown.
Night #8: Tonight, a fully lit hannukiah. Until this moment we have instinctively fulfilled our rabbinic mandate to only elevate in moments of holiness. One more candle each night, succumbing to the natural flow. But tonight we reach the pinnacle and live with the powerful image for an entire year. Our challenge - harness the past 8 nights of transcendence, hold them tight, let them insert sparks of light into crevices of spiritual darkness... And crave beginning again next year.