Our stores and streets seem transformed: has the population suddenly doubled or has the clock suddenly switched to some kind of double time? There is a sense of frantic haste in the stores and streets. It’s that time of year. The time of year people leave their families at home while they spend hours scouring stores to buy mountains of gifts for those very people they left at home. The time of year when consumer products vaguely related to the holidays to which they refer cloud the spiritual traditions that inspired those holidays. Is there some wisdom in those spiritual traditions that can help me step outside of the commercial haste and give more meaning to this time of year?
In the Jewish tradition, we celebrate Chanukah, a joyful festive occasion focusing on miracles and delicious fried foods. It’s also a celebration of an ancient military victory of a small group fighting for religious freedom. The holiday is observed by blessings, igniting candles, playing games, singing songs and by exchanging gifts. Chanukah is usually focused on children; as an adult, I have to myself how this holiday is relevant to me and to my spiritual yearnings today.
Let’s look deeper. The word “Chanukah” comes from a Hebrew root meaning ‘dedication’, or ‘consecration’. To ‘dedicate’ is to set apart for a sacred purpose; to devote is to give a large part of one’s time or resources, a kind of holy commitment. By considering Chanukah that way I realize it’s an opportunity to re-think my priorities and perhaps set a new course; it’s not just a tasty pause point in the darkness and cold of winter.
That leads to questions:
?1. To what or whom am I dedicated?
Am I dedicated to my work? Organizations value dedicated employees, those who jump in and think of solutions even if they aren’t managers, who think of organizational problems as their own. Are the values of the places for whom I work aligned with my own values? If ‘dedicate’ implies setting apart for a sacred purpose, is the time and energy I ‘devote’ to work appropriate?
Am I dedicated to my family and community? Since dedication implies holy commitment, what aspects of my family and community life do I consider holy? How do I demonstrate my commitment?
2. What do I set aside for sacred use?
Do I set aside time for sacred use? Daily meditation or spiritual practice, observing the Sabbath in a way that allows for renewal and reflection, or even being dedicated to the daily walk with the family and the dog can count.
Do I set aside objects for holy purposes? Getting out ‘the good china’ for guests on holidays indicates a kind of dedication, as is polishing the candlesticks or putting on the new outfit for an anniversary dinner.
3. How do I demonstrate my dedication?
We all show dedication by how we allocate our personal resources: time, money, energy, and attention. The essential question is this: Does my ‘portfolio’ of allocations reflect the sacred purposes to which I am deeply dedicated?
At this time of year, in the midst of the hubbub, I ask myself these questions. I invite you to do the same.
Rabbi Min Kantrowitz is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, teaches about CryptoJews and Conversos of New Mexico for Road Scholar/Elderhostel and has private students. She directed the New Mexico Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program for 12 years, serving unaffiliated Jews throughout the state. A 2004 graduate of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, she is the author of ?Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide?. Rabbi Kantrowitz is a former psychologist, a former architect/planner, a wife, mother and the proud Bubbie of three grandsons.