Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf
Excerpt from ” Eight Nights of Light Eight Gifts for the Soul”, Leviathan Press
Let’s begin by making one thing clear. If no one gives or receives even one present on Chanukah, they have not omitted or missed out on anything central to the holiday. The holiday of Chanukah has little if anything to do with the giving and receiving of gifts. Chanukah is not the Jewish season of giving. If any Jewish holiday could be construed to be the holiday of giving, it would be Purim-which does not happen to be celebrated around December 25-and not Chanukah, which usually arrives around the same time as Santa.
Having said that, please don’t think that you’ve just met the Grinch who stole Chanukah. I’m not a sullen old kill-joy and the goal of this book is not to drain the fun out of Chanukah but rather to peel away the outer layer, the wrapping paper if you will, and reveal a profoundly rich spiritual core to the holiday. This book will help you find insights within the Chanukah celebration that can illuminate important issues that we all struggle with in life. It will also help you uncover ancient spiritual pathways that grow out of the practices that do make up the essence of the Chanukah celebration. Through your discovery of deeper layers of meaning contained within every facet of Chanukah you will gain a new “take” on this wonderful holiday; and perhaps on your ultimate potential as a Jew and a human being. I hope that after having read this book you will come to appreciate Chanukah not as a season of giving but as a season of growing. It is a time for acquiring fresh insights into Jewish life and a bold new inspiration for living. And what greater gift, after all; could there be?
To a baseball fan there is nothing quite so magical as opening day. Opening day, the first day of the baseball season, represents the vitality of fresh potential. A new line-up of players-of potential-prepares to take the field. It’s a crisp spring afternoon; the harsh winds of winter are but a fading memory, the President himself winds up to throw the first pitch-and anything is possible. Opportunity fills the air. It’s time for each player to try it all again, to give it his very best shot and to set his sights on nothing less than the World Series.
Every Jewish holiday is opening day for a new season of spirituality. Every holiday is a fresh encounter with a familiar experience and new opportunity for insight, for personal growth and for reaching new levels of spirituality. At the same time, no two holidays are alike. Each comes with its own distinct opportunities and potential. Each calls our minds to consider and contemplate particular ideas; each asks us to assess and further develop aspects of our character; each asks us to pause and reflect upon life through a uniquely Jewish lens; and each calls out to our souls and asks us to lift our eyes, discover the presence of God in our lives and strive to become more of who we want to be and who we can be.
Every holiday is a season brimming with fresh opportunities. The Passover Seder is opening day for the season of freedom. The first time someone walks into a sukkah it’s opening day for the season of joy. The lighting of the first Chanukah candle is opening day for the season of soulful living.
Chanukah is about two ever present forces: darkness and light. It’s about a struggle between two world shaping ideologies: Hellenism and Judaism. It’s about the imperceptible human spark that enables people to reach far beyond their perceived limitations. It’s about the power in a diminutive flame to banish an enormous darkness. It’s about a tiny people that is able to overcome the most daunting of foes.
Chanukah is about the awesome subtleness of life. It’s about how little things can make a profound difference, and it’s about discovering the soul in the flame, the soul in everyday life and the power of the Jewish soul in history.
Presents are wonderful-to give and to receive. And latkes-well, to many of us they are the taste of heaven itself. The goal of this book is to introduce you to dimensions of Chanukah that will broaden the parameters of your holiday experience. In so doing it is my hope that you will discover a new, more spiritually inspiring context that will give new meaning to Chanukah, and even to its presents, and add a fresh taste to every batch of latkes.