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Winning the Lottery, with some Powerball® thoughts (a series of “missing” posts) March 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Lent, Life, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Purim, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or starting a new year!

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, March 16th, which was when I talked about Purim, with a little note related to Thursday, March 17th and Saturday, March 19th! (But this is not the story you think it is.) You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

*

– quoted from Journals (IV A 164), 1843 by Søren Kierkegaard

You know how there are some stories, like the Star Wars movies, that begin as one thing and then over time and generations become something else? That question can be answered as it relates to the story, but here I am specifically talking about the sequence.* When the original movie came out in May of 1977, it was just Star Wars. When the next movies came out – in May of 1980 and May of 1983 – they had their own titles. However, if someone referred to them numerically, they would be first, second, and third (or 1, 2, and 3). Fast forward over two decades from the originally released movie and there were prequels, which (while I am loath to admit they exist) changed the order of things. Fast forward another decade (going on two) and there were (pretty amazing) sequels to the originally released movies. The story continues… and I love that.

I love of stories and storytelling. I think it’s fascinating that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously work forwards and back. We don’t always think about it, but the way the Star Wars movies were released is actually how we meet and how most of the stories we read, hear, and watch work too. It’s very rare that we meet characters at the beginning of creation. A story usually begins in the middle or at the end. So, part of what I love about storytelling is how the storyteller (or the story) chooses to unfold the tale. In fact, part of the beauty of the story is watching it unfold.

One of my favorite stories – in part, because the way the story unfolds is part of the story – is the story people tell on Purim. It is the story in and around The Megillah or The Megillat Esther.

In case you are unfamiliar with the holiday and the story, Purim [פּוּרִים] is a Hebrew word meaning “lots” – as in “casting lots” or “lottery.” It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the story told in the Megillah (“scroll”) of Esther, which is the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil plot of a man whose actions are good examples of someone who was narcissistic, power hungry, and also anti-Semitic. The “Book of Esther” is not only found in the Hebrew Bible it is also one of the five megillot (“scrolls”) that make up part of the Christian Old Testament. Some people think of it as a great story about the power of a woman – and while it is that, it is also something more; because the story has a lot of “hidden” elements.

The story is quite literally about things that “someone” decided to “hide and hide” [הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר].

“Another approach, found already in rabbinic literature, takes the absence of God as a positive statement made by the author. The Rabbis, and numerous other readers since, understood the literary absence of God to be merely a surface-level fact, and in fact to be a subtle argument for the hiddenness of God, rather than his absence. A Talmudic comment (in B. Hullin 139b) playfully asks, ‘What is the source for Esther in the Torah?’ The answer given is that Esther was foretold in Deuteronomy 31:18: ‘I will indeed hide (haster astir) my face on that day.’ In part this is a pun, linking the name Esther to the Hebrew phrase ‘I will indeed hide’ (haster astir), but in part it is a serious theological claim: where did the Torah foretell a story with no God?”

*

– quoted from “8. Diaspora revisions: rethinking Exodus and rethinking God – Entering the fray: Esther as a political book” in Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought by Aaron Koller

People celebrate Purim by dressing up in costume – hiding one’s true identity – and having a party or feast. People may also have a parade and a pageant. The costuming and the party (even the parades and pageants) are all, symbolically, part of the story. To add yet another symbol from the story, the feasting includes hamantaschen, a yummy triangular shaped pastry that I always think of as Haman’s hat, but which literally means “Haman’s pockets.” In some Jewish communities they are referred to as “Haman’s ears.”

The story is symbolically reinforced in many different ways during the celebration of Purim, because the biggest part of the holiday is the story itself. In fact, listening to a public reading of the Book of Esther, in the evening (since the holiday starts at sunset) and in the morning, is one of four mitzvoh (“commandments”) related to Purim. The other three take place during the day and are sending food gifts to friends; giving charity to the poor; and eating a festive meal.

While I don’t read the actual text** to people during the practice, I do tell the story. And for years, I have used the music to help me tell the story – just like I do with all the other stories. Up until this year, however, my Purim playlist was a little… shall we say, problematic. Because there was something hidden in my playlist – and not in a good way.

“This desert rose
Whose shadow bears the secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
And now she turns
This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
This fire burns
I realize that nothing’s as it seems”

*

– quoted from the song “Desert Rose” by Sting

Some of my playlists have always reflected the culture behind the story or theme of the day. For instance, my Saint Patrick’s Day playlist is full of Irish musicians and musicians with Irish heritage, just like my Cinco de Mayo playlist is full of musicians with Mexican heritage. As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, I’ve very deliberately made some playlists multi-cultural to highlight the fact that so many cultures celebrate things like light overcoming darkness. Then, years ago, a friend’s comment really made me consider why my playlists mostly featured men. Despite all that, I never really considered that there was something off about my Purim playlist.

And, that takes us back to why certain songs were popular, while other also very good songs were not as popular.

“It’s so not an accident that most of the kirtan and “yoga music artists” on our playlists are NOT from within the tradition. (It is called erasure and happens to people of color in our own traditions ALL THE TIME.)⁣⁣⁣”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

Susanna Barkataki is a yoga advocate, a teacher, a public speaker, and the author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. In her book, her articles, and her classes, she encourages students and teachers to (re)connect to yoga’s ancient roots. She strongly recommends that teachers consider why they do the things they do (and say the things they say) when teaching. She also suggests that teachers take a look at how some of the things we say and do are the result of colonization and cultural erasure. However, she does not simply point to how elements of our modern, Western-centric practice are problematic. She also offers tools and solutions. For instance, she specifically points to music and highlights the fact that those of us using kirtan – which is a form of bhakti or devotional yoga – are almost always using non-traditional musicians. Sometimes, even using musicians that mispronounce the Sanskrit words.

To be clear, Ms. Barkataki uses the words “cultural erasure,” but it’s a concept I’ve always known as whitewashing. And, above and beyond anything else, she encourages us all to be mindful about the choices we make. Being mindful meant that when I was getting ready for Purim this year, I realized that in most of the ways that counted, my culturally-specific playlist was specifically the wrong culture.

In my effort to pick songs that told the story, I neglected to pick Jewish musicians. Even worse, given the context of the story, my original playlist included several songs with Arabic lyrics and/or Arabic-related references that had nothing to do with Jewish heritage. To be clear about my own hubris, I knew this… I just leaped over the issue. In some ways, my mental gymnastics included the fact that those songs could be about a Jewish woman like Esther. They could very easily have been songs written by people who didn’t know their beautiful “Persian” queen was born Hadassah. Anything is possible.

However, the reality was that they were just popular songs that were also really good, worked with the practice, and could fit the story. They were songs that I knew, because I had heard them on the radio.

“Erasure is when the originators of a particular tradition are surpassed, replaced or ignored. Why? Because it makes it easier to colonize and exploit our cultural and spiritual wisdom and wealth.”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

I recently heard a young, up-and-coming artist compare achieving a huge milestone to winning the lottery. For sure, I can see that. Especially when you consider how many people commented on the fact that this artist hit this much deserved milestone, before his much lauded collaborator. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big fan of both artists, but there’s something more than talent at play here.) I think having a hit song is also like that. Because while there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a hit song, there’s also a lot of luck. It’s like that old adage about how you can’t win if you don’t play. Of course, most people who play, don’t win – at least not really big – and it’s the same thing with being a big star in music.

Streaming services and social media mean that a lot of hustle and marketing on the part of the artist (and their community) can get an artist noticed today, in a way they couldn’t get noticed 20-plus years ago. That attention can really push a song up the charts. However, we’re still in a time time when songs are hits (in part) because they are played on the radio. And for all that hustle, many songs are played on the radio because of the way the musician looks. This is true across genres. This is even more so when it comes to music in and from certain countries and cultures. Being talented and having the “right” size, complexion, ethnicity, and (on a certain level) gender and sexuality, is like hitting the Powerball®.

“The Multi-State Lottery Association encourages all lottery players to be responsible in their amount of play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are a number of helpful resources listed below.

National Council on Problem Gambling
24 Hour Confidential National Helpline
Call: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat
Text: 1-800-522-4700

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators

*

– quoted from the “Play Responsibly” tab on the Powerball® website

While I’ve been known to play bingo in a church basement (for charity and the chance to win a homemade quilt), I’m not really one to play the lottery. My limited understanding, however, is that there’s a lot of different ways you can win with a Powerball®. However, just like with music and other things that could make you wealthy beyond your dreams, you have to be responsible and avoid the scams. You have to balance the temptation and your desire with reality. The reality, again, being that if you don’t play you don’t win, but most people don’t win… big.

If you’re talented and have the aforementioned equivalent of the Powerball®, you can do things other people can’t do. You can write songs that make people re-think the world. You can sing songs other people not only wouldn’t think to sing, but might be afraid to sing. You can inspire people to sing your songs… even when they don’t always understand you. To me, Bob Dylan and his eponymous first album are a great example of a musical Powerball®.

Bob Dylan’s debut studio album, Bob Dylan, was released March 19, 1962. I didn’t use it for the anniversary this year – because I thought it would distract from this past Saturday’s sūtra study – but normally I use one of the playlists that I also use on Bob Dylan’s birthday (hint, hint). It’s a playlist that combines music from the original album, which only included two original Bob Dylan songs, with Bob Dylan songs covered and/or made famous by others. It’s good way, I think, to highlight the fact that Dylan is as inspired as he is inspirational.

Bob Dylan, the album, was actually recorded November 20th and 22nd of 1961, and only featured two original Dylan songs. The other eleven tracks were covers or traditional folk songs (including Negro spirituals). While Bob Dylan did arrange some of the folk songs, there’s one arrangement that he famously, uhmm… “borrowed” (without permission) from folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Exactly a month after recording the album, Bob Dylan had an informal recording session in a Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room with Bonnie Beecher and Tony Glover. Those bootleg recordings may or may not have been distributed out of someone’s trunk, but they were the equivalent of modern-day artists streaming their music. They got people excited about Bob Dylan as a musician and may be considered a better glimpse (than the studio album) of what was to come from the artist.

The bootleg recordings did not, however, drum up enough attention to really sell Bob Dylan. The album has never been super popular (chart wise) in the US or the UK. Neither did it, initially, receive a lot of critical recognition or attention. However, some reviewers did compare Dylan – as well as his voice and his style – to Elvis Presley.

Which is weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bob Dylan fan (on a lot of different levels). I even dig that first album. However, the comparison to Elvis is curious, when you really think about it. Because (to me) the only thing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley had in common, especially when compared to other also talented musicians at the time, was that elusive Powerball® of talent, drive, and other people’s perceptions.

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”

*

– quoted from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

The playlist for Wednesday (March 16th) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Purim 2022”]

I plan to post the Bob Dylan playlist for Tuesday, May 24th.

*NOTE: Here’s a funny aside. In 2020, just as we started locking down for the pandemic, I blogged and posted a playlist about stories and music. That would have been Part I, except that it was for March 22nd – which means that if I ever get everything posted in sequential order it would be Part III (after the Purim or Saint Patrick’s Day post and the Bob Dylan post).

**NOTE: Since I don’t actually read the Purim text during the practice, I almost always leave out the part where Haman is begging for his life and the King misreads the situation. In some ways, it is an important part of the cause-and-effect of the narrative – and it definitely brings up another aspect of how our perceptions affect our stories – but it’s comes at the end so I often overlook it.

*

Here’s something fun that’s on the YouTube playlist, but is not (yet) available on Spotify.

*

And, here’s an old favorite.

### Are You Lucky or Are You Blessed? ###

When Do You Shine Brightest? (a Monday post practice post) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

This is the post for Monday, November 29th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

*

– quoted from the speech “Is Theology Poetry” as printed in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis

Yes, it is strange (and some might even say disrespectful) to start off a class about Chanukah with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In my defense, the first day and second night of Chanukah this year coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the author (born Clive Staples Lewis, November 29, 1898) and, as I’ve mentioned before, his faith and career as a Christian apologetic have roots in some of the same elements we find in the story of Chanukah: Judaism, Torah study, and Greek philosophical discourse. But, more to the point, this particular quote, from a speech “Jack” presented to the to the Oxford University Socratic Club (November 6, 1944), speaks to the connection between light, faith, and how we see the world based on the light of faith. In turn, it also highlights how our beliefs shape our behavior – and these are all, very much, themes related to Chanukah.

Light and the symbolic meanings of light have been celebrated since the beginning of time and by every culture on the planet. During the darkest times of the year, people celebrate light as well as the symbolic meaning of light overcoming darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have a whole long list of winter celebrations that start around Halloween and will continue into the beginning of the new secular year. This year’s celebrations started with Samhain (October 31-November 1); which was followed by Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights, (November 2-6); and now Chanukah, the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, which started at sunset on Sunday. The highlight, some might even say the culmination, of the Chanukah story is “the miracle of the oil,” the miracle of light. However, the fact that there were eight nights and eight days of light when there was only enough oil for one day is just one of many miracles in the story – and one could argue that it’s not even the final miracle.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

*

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

*

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

More often than not, I question where to begin this story. For some, it makes sense to start with Matīṯyāhū and his sons, the ones who would become known as the Maccabees, and how they defied the orders of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But, I like to put certain actions in context – which means going back over two hundred years to the rule of Alexander the Great who, in the 4th century BCE, conquered Persia and expanded the Greek empire – an expansion that included the Jewish people.

Alexander’s attitude towards the Jews and their faith is sometimes described as “tolerant.” He didn’t really care what they did or what they believed, because he didn’t see them as a threat. Life was hard if you were a Jew under the reign of Alexander the Great, and even under the rule of many of the Greek kings that came after him. It was hard to make a living and you would face harassment and bullying, but you could do you (as we say these days).

Of course, some people wanted an easier life. Known as Hellenic Jews, these people changed the way they dressed and wore their hair; the things they ate; how they talked; and what they talked about. They even changed the way they practiced their faith. They stopped observing the Sabbath and (publicly) studying Torah. They stopped circumcising their male children or devised ways to hide the circumcision. This last part was necessary, because of there were many aspects of Greek life that required men to be nude. However, by the 2nd century BCE it wasn’t enough to hide who you were. King Antiochus made it illegal, under penalty of death, to be Jewish or to practice the faith. He also created situations, like appointing High Priests and building a gymnasium outside of the temple, that made it harder for people to hide.

It’s one thing to keep the faith when doing so just makes things a little uncomfortable. It’s another thing altogether to keep the faith when doing so could result in your death. Yes, I know; throughout the history of religion there has been religious persecution and there have been people who kept the faith despite that persecution. But, whenever it happens, I think it’s a bit of a miracle.

To understand why people keep the faith, sometimes it’s helpful to understand what the believe. Definitely, in this case, to really understand the Maccabees and the gravity of what they did, we have to understand what they believed – which means getting into a bit of Torah… and, eventually, going back to the beginning of time.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

*

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

So, in the beginning of the Abrahamic creation story, there was God, there was heaven and earth, there was water, and there was “the spirit on the water.” There was also emptiness and darkness. Then, depending on how you translate or interpret the text from the Hebrew Bible (which is also the Christian Old Testament), God either created light with a command or predicted the existence of light. Either way, in the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word is ohr (“light”) and Chanukah begins, every year, on the 25th of Kislev. (Similarly, Christmas occurs, every year, on the 25th of December, but that’s a another story.)

Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed this creation story, believed in God and the power of God, and lived their lives according to their faith. They were priests who studied the word and the laws of their people and, therefore, observed the commandments and the commanded holidays. Of course, if you look at VayikraLeviticus 23, where the appointed festivals and holy days are outlined, you won’t find any mention of a festival of light. Neither will you find mention of Chanukah in the similar list located in DevarimDeuteronomy 16. After all, the word chanukah means “dedication” and that doesn’t happen until later in the story.

What you will find instead, at the beginning of VayikraLeviticus 24, is a commandment to “take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually” and detailed instructions on how the menorah should be publicly displayed (24:1-3). You will also find, at the end of DevarimDeuteronomy 16 and the beginning of DevarimDeuteronomy 17, commandments on what not to do; instructions to investigate reports of transgressions; and instructions on punishments. Now, I am not going to support or condone the instructions on punishments. I am just pointing out that they are there and that Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed in these instructions.

When the father was told to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused. When a Hellenic Jew stepped up to perform the desecration in his place, Matīṯyāhū killed him. His actions meant that he and his family had to flee to the caves in the wilderness. Others followed them – and I don’t just mean physically. They also followed them spiritually. In the caves, the people studied Torah, observed the Sabbath, and kept the faith. They were a light in the wilderness.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

*

– quoted from the song “Shine” by the Maccabeats

At some point, someone suggested that this father and his sons, this band of brothers, should take on the Greek army. Now, keep two things in mind. First, Matīṯyāhū and his sons were Kohens, they were priests and scholars. They weren’t warriors or athletes, like the Greeks. In fact, one could say that they were the polar opposite. Second, the Greek army at this time was (reportedly) the biggest and best trained army in the world. Remember, they were the army of a people and a culture that prized physical prowess. So, it was kind of ludicrous to consider going up against them.

Yet, take them on they did… which brings us back to their beliefs and the power of their beliefs.

Remember, the earlier commandments on setting up temple, observing the Sabbath, and all the different ways of keeping the faith were codified within the context of God leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Matīṯyāhū and his sons may not have been physically ready for the battle, but they were mentally and spiritually ready. They knew the wilderness and they knew the Torah. They knew that in ShemotExodus 15, their ancestors sang of the power of God. They knew that story included the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!” (S-E 15:11) And that, at least that first part, became their battle cry.

They put the initials of the battle cry on their shields and banners. When Matīṯyāhū died, Judah, the son he left in charge, became known as Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus, in Greek). While there are several other explanations for the name and for the meaning behind the name, the one I learned first was that Maccabee (the acronym) sounded like the word for “hammer” and so the people in the revolt became known as God’s hammer. For seven years, the hammer came down on the mighty Greek army and eventually defeated them. This, depending on how you count, is the second or third miracle of the story: the light breaking through the darkness.

“But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?

*

And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:

*

For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven.”

*

– 1 Maccabees 3:17-19 (DRB)

The Maccabees returned to the temple and found it was completely wrecked. Everything forbidden had taken place. There were idols and evidence of sacrifice. The menorah was not lit and bottles of olive oil had been shattered and in other ways desecrated. Cleaning up the temple became the new battle. Rededicating the temple became the new mission. In the process of cleaning up and restoring the temple, they (miraculously) found one vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest. Who knows how old the vial was? Who know who found it? Doesn’t matter. It was another miracle.

It would take several days, over a week, to make the oil required to light the menorah as detailed in the Torah. Using the one vial of oil they found would be a symbolic gesture – one might even call it a sign of faith. But, it wouldn’t fulfill the commandment, because they wouldn’t be able to keep the candles “continually” lit. They had to make a choice: wait or do what they could do.

They decided to do what they could do. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit. As I point out each year, going into the first day and the second night – even the second day and the third night – people might have thrown the word “miracle” around lightly. After all, there was always the possibility that someone had measured the oil incorrectly and there was more than expected in the vial. (We won’t get into the odds of that happening or the odds of that particular bottle being the one that wasn’t violated.) However, as the nights and the days progressed, there was no denying that “a great miracle happened.”

Letters on dreidels (outside of Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש)

Letters on dreidels (in Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and pei, (פ)

– Hebrew letters symbolizing the phrases (in Hebrew) “A great miracle happened there” and “A great miracle happened here”

Every year, people celebrate the miracle of the oil and commemorate the rededication of the temple. Part of that celebration is a game that involves spinning a four-sided top, a dreidel. Each side contains a Hebrew letter that represents a word. While many people only think of the dreidel in the context of modern celebrations, the practice of spinning the top actually dates back to the time of the Maccabees. It was a way for children (in particular) to study in secret.

Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) next to their door or in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith. In some traditions, each person lights their own individual hanukia – again, in a place that is visible. Lighting the candles is a sign a faith, a sign that people are keeping the faith, and after all this time, that is itself a miracle.

Lighting the candles in as public of a way as is possible is a way to see someone’s faith and, also, a way by which the faithful “see everything else.” If you look at a hanukia you will notice that it is different from a regular menorah. The primary way it is different is that there are nine candles instead of seven. I know, if you are unaware of this, you’re thinking, “Wait. Aren’t there supposed to be eight candles?” One would think that, except for the fact that the eight candles (and lighting them) are part of a mitzvah (“commandment”). Therefore, they can’t do any other “work.”

The ninth candle, the one that is set apart – either out to the side or on a different plane than the others – is a worker, an attendant, a caretaker: the Shamash. It is the candle that lights all the other lights and, in Orthodox homes, it is the light by which people read the Torah and play the dreidel. It is the light by which people see.

Take a moment to notice, in this story and in all the other light related stories of this dark season (even the ones from faiths that don’t share roots), to notice there is always a worker, an attendant, a shamash or caretaker of the miracle. There is always someone who is the source of light. Whether that light is goodness, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, or joy there is always someone shining bright. And if we see that world in that light, by that light, we all end up living a better world.

Before I start the recording for the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, I always offer a prompt question (for anyone who chooses to answer). The loveliest thing about these prompts isn’t the question though; it’s the answers. This Monday the question was, “When do you shine brightest?” Part of me asked this question because light always seems brightest when surrounded by darkness. So, part of me wanted to know when people felt it was darkest and maybe even a little bit of information about how they shine.

But, I rarely explain how I think about the question, because if I did the answers might not be as lovely. This week, for instance, everyone who answered mentioned the means by which they shine brightest. There were great answers. All of them were great answers – and great reminders. As we head into the darkest part of the year, your answer is a reminder to consider what helps you shine. Then do what you need to do to shine brighter… because the world needs your light.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

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– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

### YOU WILL BE LIGHT ###