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There's More to Light Than Meets the Eye
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

"There is nothing as frigid as natural, human intellect. When one's natural intelligence comprehends a G-dly concept, and the emotions latent in intellect are enthused and moved by the pleasure-within-intellect - that is true revival of the dead". - The Rebbe, Hayom Yom, p.61

Of all the special dates on the Jewish calendar, there's only one that celebrates light and of course, that's Chanukah. Not that we are short on themes for this holiday: There's the miraculous military victory compared to which the Six-Day-War was blasé. There's the absolute commitment and epic heroism of the Maccabees that makes the raid at Entebbe look routine. There was even the archetypal culture clash between Athens and Jerusalem that has reverberated throughout Jewish history down to this very day.
But the main observance of Chanukah wasn't hooked on any of that. It's all about light.
The lights of Chanukah commemorate the miracle of oil, and the details are instructive too. The eight days reflect unity, infinity and the supernatural. Think seven and you will see why. The number seven characterizes nature. For instance, in space, we have six directions (left, right, back, front, up and down) around any central point. In time too, there are seven days of the weekly cycle. In music, the seven notes of the scale.
Eight indicates unity in music, for example, by completing the scale then returning to the same note but at a higher level. The same applies to time. After a seven day cycle we're back to the same day we started with.
Eight expresses infinity by showing we don't stop at one series but cycle over and over again. Eight starts the new cycle of weeks, of octaves, of oscillations. And by virtue of the simple fact that eight is more than seven (nature), it implies the miraculous, the supernatural.
We could have marked those eight days with eight jugs of oil, eight latkes or eight psalms for that matter. Why specifically lights? Of course it's because the oil was used for lighting the menorah, but still we can learn some lessons from light itself.
Our sages remark that although the Chanukah lights are only a rabbinic mitzva, its date, the 25th of Kislev, is alluded by the fact that the 25th word of the Torah is "Or" - light. The Hebrew word "Or" too has its inner meaning. It's numerical value is 207, which spells "Raz," or "secret." Not only does light reveal whatever is secreted away in the darkness, but light itself has its mysterious aspects, as any physicist will tell you.
For example, no one would doubt that light is physical, yet it is very elusive. Try holding it in your hands or weighing it on a scale. Of course we can't smell it, taste it or hear it, but the funny thing is, it's hard to even see it. Light reveals what is there but doesn't reveal itself. When we enter a lit room are we looking at light or at a room lit up? Even if I trace it to its source, is it light that I see, or a light bulb, or the sun?
Light is like the divine energy that fills the world, it's apparent but not visible. Or like the light of the soul - "ki ner Hashem nishmas adam" - the soul of man is the candle of Hashem. I, for one, have never seen a soul. But like anyone else, I can tell the difference between a body that has one and one that doesn't.
And this brings us to another dimension of Chanukah - the battle against Hellenism was a battle for the soul, including the soul of man - the neshama; the soul of the universe - G-d; and the soul of our activities - mitzvah - "ki ner mitzvah v'Torah or" - a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light.
The Hellenists fought against the idea of mitzvah, bringing heaven down to earth, manifesting G-dliness in the physical world. The remedy was to go flat out the other way, to protect and defend exactly this, the holiness of the deed, of the mitzvah, and that's why we celebrate with a mitzvah candle. It's the victory of light over darkness.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe refers to the deeds of Moshiach as his light. His presence in the world, on the other hand, is comparable to air - it's everywhere although you can't see it. Breathing the air of Moshiach is wonderful, inspiring in every sense of the word, but without his light, it's not good enough.
One of his principal deeds will be the Chanukas HaBayis, rededication of the Mikdash in Yerushalayim and when that happens, we will see him playing the harp of eight strings in a place above space, a time out of time, in the radiance of a divine presence that will shine forever.
What a happy Chanukah that will be.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at



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