These meditations were prepared for the year of “Thanksgivukkah,” when the first day of Hanukah coincides with Thanksgiving. For that reason, and because gratitude is always a virtue, I chose to approach healing the environment from a perspective of thanksgiving for what has been given and entrusted to us, rather than out of the all-too-common motivation of fear for the future.
Each brief meditation asks a question that encourages small, incremental steps toward better stewardship. In other words, we don’t need to do everything all at once. Just add a bit of light at a time – as we do each night when we add one additional candle to the Hanukah menorah.
It would be equally loyal to the Hanukah story (and in some ways more accurate) to light eight candles the first night and then take one away each night, as Rabbi Shammai suggested. After all, that is the way it works with resources: you can and do run out. The oil gets used up and, if provisions have not been made, darkness ensues.
But Rabbi Hillel prevailed in his approach, and we light an additional candle each night. The reason given is that “we grow in holiness.” We can always add; we can always contribute. We can always take one more incremental step toward the sacred, and thus bring more Light to the world.
Therefore, even after you take one new action each night of Hanukah this year based on these meditations, you can do the same next year (moving the Shabbat meditation to coincide with Friday’s candle.) Isaiah (6:3) witnessed angels declaring to one another,“Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.” One way I like to translate this extraordinary message is:“holy, holier than your first imagining, and continually growing holier is the way of the Lord of Hosts. Thus is the earth filled with God’s glory.”
May you be among those hosts who shine more brightly from night to night and from year to year. – Rabbi Debra
First candle – Give thanks for your home. Hanukah saw the rededication of our communal and spiritual home, the Temple. What do you love about the place you live (your home and the natural world)? How can you conserve energy to help protect the environment (lishmor et ha’adamah) and save resources (bal tashchit)? What lightbulbs, insulation, appliances, and other products or strategies could help you make even small gains in conservation?
Second candle – Give thanks for the transportation you use. On Hanukah, the nimble Maccabees defeated an army that used elephants – massive “tanks” and transporters. What do you value and appreciate about your car, bike, train, or bus? How might you better protect the environment (lishmor et ha’adamah) and save resources (bal tashchit) in the way you travel?
Third candle – Give thanks for Shabbat. Antiochus punished Sabbath observance with death. The Maccabees went to war, in large part, because they could not tolerate living without Shabbat. A traditional Shabbat observance involves “unplugging” and minimal use of carbon-emitting energy. What do you love about unplugging? How might your Shabbat observance protect the natural world? How might it help you enjoy the natural world more (e.g., by taking a leisurely Shabbat walk)?
Fourth candle – Give thanks for your food. Like almost every Jewish holiday, Hanukah has its special foods: in this case, they are fried in oil, in memory of the miracle of the oil. Most often, the foods that are healthiest for your body are also healthiest for the environment. (For example, a pound of wheat can be grown from 60 pounds of water, whereas a pound of meat requires up to 6,000 pounds.) What do you love to eat that is local and takes relatively few resources to produce? Given that we are bound to eat a few latkes and jelly donuts, how might we choose most of our diet to nurture our bodies and the planet? What can you adjust in the way you shop, garden, recycle, and compost to reduce food packaging and food waste?
Fifth candle – Give thanks for trees. The original Menorah in the Temple was shaped like a tree, and its ornamentations were called flowers. Of course, it was lit with the product of a tree: olive oil. There is so much to appreciate about the beauty and usefulness of trees. They provide food, shade, habitats, blossoms, wood, vivid colors, and even purification of the air. What do you love about trees? You might want to share memories of a favorite tree or grove. How might you save trees this year (e.g., by recycling or by opting out of catalogues or credit card offers)? Where might you plant trees this year? Visit jnf.org to plant trees in Israel.
Sixth candle – Give thanks for water. The final verses of the Second Book of Maccabees reference water joyously: “… As wine mingled with water is pleasant and delights the taste, even so speech finely framed delights the ears of those who read the story. And here shall be an end.” When has water been most delightful and refreshing to you? We take clean drinking water for granted, but it is a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Approximately 3.4 million people die each year for the lack of it. What adjustment could you make in the way you load your dishwasher, wash your clothes, use tap water, purchase water bottles, or irrigate your lawn that would save precious resources? Consider making a donation to water.org as part of your tzedakah giving.
Seventh candle – Give thanks for air. Take a deep breath and enjoy! The word for “breath” in Hebrew is identical to a word for “soul” – neshama. Antiochus was not initially trying to kill the Jews, but his policies against Jewish practice were a stranglehold against diversity in general and the Jewish soul in particular. Hanukah asserts that people have a right to be different and to breathe free. If you have endured an asthma attack or stayed under water too long… if you have felt smothered physically or spiritually … if you have traveled to places where you could see and smell the air… then you know what a breath of clean, fresh air is worth. What can you do to improve the air quality in your home (e.g., quit smoking, prevent mold, install radon or carbon monoxide detectors, avoid toxic cleaners and paraffin candles)? What can you do to improve air quality for people around the globe, especially the poor, who tend to suffer from pollution the most?
Eighth candle – Give thanks for innovation. Which energy saving strategies and inventions do you value most? What new development are you expecting from Israeli scientists, NASA scientists, Elon Musk, the next generation, and yourself? In the Hanukah story, a vial of pure olive oil that could rightly be expected to last for one day lit up the Temple for eight days. Imagine: what would become possible if, through improved technologies and conservation, one day’s (crude) oil could meet eight days’ needs? The Maccabees innovated guerilla-style warfare, transforming the small size of their army from a weakness to a strength. May our innovations turn apparent weaknesses, disabilities, and problems into sources for renewal and rededication!
* With thanks to Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who created the original Green Menorah project.