Monday, December 22, 2008

Eight Lights

Well, last night was the first night of Chanukah, and today is the first day. In case you're wondering, Jewish holidays begin at sundown because in Genesis we begin with darkness, then God says let there be light, and that's how the day ends. The conclusion, then, is that a new day begins at dusk. When you think about it, the idea that a new day begins at midnight must be a relatively recent historical invention, as there was no easy way to determine the midnight hour before the invention of the mechanical clock circa the 13th century. Relying solely on natural signs, sunrise and sunset are the obvious markers that separate day from night. And we still tend to think of daybreak as the beginning of the day, in part also because it's associated with the biological phenomenon of waking up, while night is associated with going to sleep, sleep being the transitional period from one day to the next. This was illustrated in last year's television program Daybreak, whose run was cut very short by poor ratings, not to mention the more successful romantic comedy film, Groundhog Day. The idea of sundown marking the beginning of a new day may seem counterintuitive, but a vestige of this worldview remains on the Christian/Roman calendar, as the Christmas holiday begins with Christmas Eve, and we begin to celebrate that auld lang syne and happy New Year on New Year's Eve.

So anyway, as you no doubt know, Chanukah lasts for eight days, and we commemorate the holiday by lighting candles, one on the first day, two on the second, and so on until all eight candles on the Chanukah Menorah are lit. The Chanukah Menorah, or Chanukiah, actually uses nine candles, one being the shamash or helper, which is used to light the other eight (interestingly, Shamash is the name of the Sumerian sun god). Oh, and just in case it's not obvious, a Menorah is a candelabrum, but when I hear the word candelabrum I can't help but think of Liberace (if this confuses you, never mind, you're probably just too young to get the reference). So why is this week different from all other weeks? On all other weeks, the Menorahs that are used only have six lights, plus the seventh shamash. The six lights of the standard Menorah correspond to the six points of the Star of David, the symbol of Judaism, but the Menorah itself is said to symbolize the burning bush, and it is said that the design of the Menorah was part of God's revelation to Moses. It was a feature of the Temple in Jerusalem, and remains one of the symbols of our faith, and the Jewish people as a nation. Here's one image of a Menorah, patterned after the one that existed in the ancient Temple:

And here is the Coat of Arms of the State of Israel, where the Menorah is used as a national symbol:

And now, here is a traditional image of a Chanukah Menorah:

And here's the national Menorah of the United States, on the Mall in Washington, DC, courtesy of National Geographic:

And now, these images below look pretty sad after the professional National Geographic photographer's work, but I took them with my camera phone last night at the community Menorah lighting outside of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia:

With snow on the ground even, but I can't see dreaming of a White Chanukah, oy!

So anyway, last year one of my MySpace poet friends, Moses Roth, known on MySpace as "Moses the One and Only (aka Moses the Holy Dude)," suggested I write a poem about Chanukah, which I did. I actually wrote it as a series of eight little poems, with the idea of trying to give a special meaning to each one of the eight lights, meanings that correspond to the meaning of the holiday, of course. And I decided to post it as if I were lighting the candles, so on the first night I posted "One Light" with just the first verse, then the next night I added the second verse and reposted it as "Two Lights" and so on until it was complete. This generated a very enthusiastic and positive response, as many readers came back each night to see the new verse, looking forward to the next verse with some degree of anticipation, and feeling more of a sense of involvement than is usually felt with a blog post. This really reinforced for me the point that a blog post, like all forms of electropnic media, is an event, not an object. That's why people are much more likely to leave comments on a blog post if it's recent, much less likely if it's from the archives. Posting the way that I did last year created a sense of an ongoing event, which in turn created a sense of a community, at least for that period of time. If you want to get a sense of it, you can check out the archive here: Eight Lights on MySpace 12/12/07 (if you look through the comments, note that they are not all in chronological order, as can be seen by the dates on the comments).

So this year I just reposted the poem in its entirety over on MySpace, and I thought I'd also shared it with you here. So now, without any further ado, here we go:

Eight Lights


Freedom from slavery and tyranny
From oppression and persecution
Freedom to live in harmony
With the Earth and with Heaven

Justice and equality
Human rights and human dignity
Peaceful coexistence
An end to war and violence

To stand up for liberty and bow to the law
To lead by example with courage and wisdom
To be a hammer that builds as well as a hammer of war
With a passion for peace, for justice, and for freedom

Four on a dreidel
Twenty-two in total
Infinite in combination
Endless in education
An alphabet aligned with order
A numbering of our works, days, names
Books—greater than any leader
Knowledge stored transcends our times


Reading, writing, remembering
Studying, questioning, understanding
Preserving tradition
Saving continuity from being lost
Moving forward—evolution
Avoiding errors of the past
Teachers—the highest calling
Bring to the world much needed healing

A sacred gift
Most precious of all
Vessel of the spirit
Root of liberty and law


Courtship and Family
Friends and Neighbors
Community and Humanity
Creations and Creators


Spinning dreidels
Chocolate gelt
Jelly doughnuts
Potato latkes
Giving gifts
Singing songs
Saying blessings
Children playing
Family visiting
Friends gathering
Lifting hearts
Kissing keppellahs
Glowing candles
Eight nights
Eight lights
Happy Chanukah!

8 8 8 8 L 8 8 8 8
G E E R T T D 2 E
H 7 6 N S E E 2 R
T 7 6 I 0 R R 2 T
E 7 6 N 0 S S 2 Y
R 7 6 G 0 4 3 2 1
8 7 6 5 0 4 3 2 1

And there you have it. So, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Everything!

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