Psychoanalysis And Hanukah for Everyone

How do we light candles on Hanukah? On this there is a famous dispute between Hillel and Shammai. There we read:

Our Rabbis taught: The mitzva of Hanukah is one light for a man and his household. The zealous kindle a light for each person [in the household]. And for the extremely zealous, Shammai says: On the first day, light eight and thereafter, gradually reduce; but Hillel says: On the first day, light one and thereafter progressively increase … two sages differ [about the reasons]. One maintains that Shammai’s reason is that lights should correspond to the days still to come, and that of Beth Hillel is that lights should correspond to the days that are past. The other maintains that Shammai’s reason is that the lights should correspond to the bull sacrifices of Sukkot; while Hillel’s reason is that we increase in matters of sanctity, not reduce. (Shabbat 21b)

It is clear that we follow Hillel’s view regarding how the extremely zealous ought to light. There is much that has been and could be said to defend the view of Shammai, but what about the view the ordinary zealous person ? Why does the Gemara entertain the opinion to kindle a light for each person in the household? What is the significance of this stance?

An answer might come from Proverbs where we learn, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inward parts.”(Mishlei 20:27) Here we depict that every person uniquely holds a divine flame. Some how this lamp is used to search all around the person. This resonates with much of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis assumes that a person’s development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood rather than by inherited traits alone. In order to liberate the elements of the unconscious one has to bring this material into the conscious mind.

This practice echoes the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Hanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Hanukah. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil that was in the Temple. And when the rulers of the House of Hashmonean succeeded in gaining the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were established and made into festive days of Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

The story of Hanukah it the discovery of that which was hidden. Metaphorically we bring the unconscious hidden material into the conscious to ensure that live enlightened lives.

As a nation a miracle happened in the Temple. And on the simplest level we relive this by recreating our homes as the Temple by the lighting of a menorah with just ” one light for a man and his household”. The more zealous observance is to make sure that each and every member of the house does the work of exploring our collective and individual past. When we do this work we will surely increase and not decrease in light.


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