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What I Want For Hanukkah: A Little Nature Connection

Daniel Schaefer | 24th Kislev 5772

Every year we go through a cycle of light and darkness. Our earth tilts on its axis and day by day we slowly get less and less light from the sun. We experience this as shorter days, colder nights, and more darkness. The rain or the wind or the snow arrives. The leaves and the flowers disappear and the crops and grasses go into hiding.

It used to be that we changed with the seasons too. We moved with our tribe to a warmer climate with better hunting grounds. We stayed inside more and went to sleep earlier. We listened to the Earth and did what it invited us to do. Pick this, plant that, hunt this, pickle that. Our bodies and our traditions are still tied to these rhythms. The echo of earlier times is ever-present in the holidays we celebrate, the foods we eat, and the songs we sing.

But for most of us, our lives don’t change. We do the same thing, day after day, week after week, on the same schedule. At Wilderness Torah, we celebrate Judaism’s three great Pilgrimage Festivals on the land, in the natural setting of that festival – Sukkot on the Farm, Passover in the Desert, and Shavuot on the Mountain. There’s something subtle, yet profound that resonates inside you when you surround yourself with community and honor your tradition, ancestors, and Creation, in the original context.

Hanukkah invites us into a similar relationship with the earth, the seasons, and Creation. Where Sukkot connects us to the land and what we harvest from the Earth, Hanukkah connects us to time and what we harvest from the great lights. Where Passover reminds us that we were once slaves, Hanukkah reminds us that we must always face darkness. Where Shavuot asks us to open to revelation, Hanukkah reminds us that even when it is darkest and we are facing seemingly insurmountable odds, we must consciously bring light into our world and dedicate ourselves to the task before us.

This year, I invite you to celebrate Hanukkah by living in rhythm with the seasons. Just as we place ourselves in the Desert to experience Pesach, may we place ourselves in the darkness to experience the Festival of Lights. I wonder what would happen if we allowed ourselves to celebrate Hanukkah in such a way? What would it feel like to inhabit shorter days and all the darkness that follows? What would we learn?

I can’t know what will come of it, but I plan to try it and I invite you to join me. For eight days, I hope to wake up with the light, work a full day, and experience the cycle of the sun, moon, and stars. I plan to watch the sun set and see the beauty of light and darkness coming together. And as darkness descends, I intend to honor it, and bless the light that I kindle in my home and the homes of my friends and family.

Once it’s dark, I plan to use light and energy consciously and sparingly. I want to listen to nature and hear what she has to say. I can’t wait to find out.

May your holidays be filled with warmth, light, meaning, and love. Happy Hanukkah.