Rabbi Label Lam
Days of Eight
What is Chanukah? The sages learned that on the 25th day of Kislev the
days of Chanukah are eight ...(Talmud Shabbos)
Men of Understanding...Days of Eight... (Lyrics to Maoz Tzur)
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your
philosophies Horatio...(Shakespeare, MacBeth)
The Sfas Emes points out that saying "the days of Chanukah are eight"
means much more than some subtle poetic nuance. There's a world of
difference between saying, "eight days" and "days of eight". One tells us
of the number, the mere quantity of the days while the other tells us
about the quality of these days of Chanukah. Somehow they are "days of
eight". What does that mean and what does that mean to us?
The Greek civilization presented a competitive culture, which sought to
substitute and supplant Jewish life. They offered intellectual rigor,
spirited sports, the catharsis of theatre and art. The Jewish Nation was
allured to this sister system which was at first friendly and only later
proved a poisonous and deadly affair.
While the Greeks were genuinely interested in categorizing and
artistically mapping the mathematical beauty and truth of the universe,
their vision of reality was by definition limited to the distorted lens of
the fleshy human eye and its empirical methodologies.
That the world was a seven-day production, and that we operate within that
framework creates a natural boundary for even the most perfect description
of reality. Everything experienced is enveloped within the arena of our
existence. The logical limits of Greek thought and life was by definition
within the reach of "seven".
The word for eight in Hebrew - "Shemonah" - when shuffled as an anagram
spells out the word "Neshamah" - the Soul - and also "Mishnah" - the
building block of the Oral Torah. Truncate delicately, and we are left
with the "Shemen" - Oil, the stuff of the Chanukah miracle and the
centerpiece of the celebration.
The Hebrew word for nature is "Teva". "Teva" has two connotations that
may help us gain an insight into the nature of nature. "Teva" implies
drowning or sinking, because we are sunken into and swallowed up by this
"Teva" also is related to the word "matbeah" - coin - referring to a coin
that has an image impressed upon it. Similarly the natural world
impresses; so much so that our senses are so stimulated that any inkling
of anything beyond is naturally overwhelmed.
The Hebrew word for "The Natural World", HaTeva, has the same numerical
value for the Holy Name - Elokim. Meaning that our definition of nature
is actually "repeating miracles." If something happens predictably we
call it natural. When it happens once, we call it a miracle. We are
alerted, jolted to a super state of awareness, a higher consciousness of
Now the idea of the oil, of eight, of soul, of the Oral Torah, rises and
rides high above and beyond the confines of mere nature. Eight encompasses
the sphere of seven enriching and extending it. When penetrated it anoints
even natural life with a tinge of the miraculous.
Now we come to the crunch, really. The Talmud tells us, "If we are not
prophets ourselves, we are at least the children of prophets." Seeming
simple activities and customs done by so many holy Jews over so many
thousands of years must be packed with profundity, even if we don't
perceive it at first. I'm talking about "latkes". I think we can now
understand "latkes" - potato pancakes. No joke!
When that potato mix is cooked in oil to be joyfully ingested, we are not
engaged in a mere Epicurean exercise. It is rather an expression of how
the concept of eight, manifest on Chanukah, can be made to saturate and
enrich the ordinary and natural dimensions of our lives.
It's the Oral Torah's authentic recipe of how to mix the oil, to engage
the eternal soul, breathing ultimate meaning into every molecule of life.
If that lowly potato can be so educated and so dedicated then there is
hope for us also to gain much more than just mass quantities of calories,
enjoying quality time during these days of eight.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.