Community Blog These Candles That We Light:
A Meditation on Sacred Uselessness
I have been thinking a lot about the words of Hanerot Hallalu this year (the prayer traditionally recited as we light the candles each night of Hanukkah).
This phrase, in particular, has captured my attention:
הנרות הללו שאנחנו מדליקים . . . קודש הם, ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם, אלה לראותם בלבד, כדי להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול . . .
“These candles that we light . . . are holy, and we are not permitted to make use of them. Rather, we are only to look at them, in order to give thanks, and to praise Your great name . . .”
Why am I so taken with this phrase, and why this year?
I think because, in a world where everything and everyone seems so relentlessly at risk of being turned into a transaction, Hanerot Hallalu reminds us with a few simple words: Be careful. Not everything has to be useful.
So here is my personal meditation on Hanerot Hallalu for this Hanukkah:
Be careful. Not everything has to be useful.
More than that.
You are not permitted
to look at these candles with hungry eyes.
What they can do.
What you can do.
These candles are useless.
Their light is not for
Once, a teacher invited me to walk in the woods
And ask permission of each leaf I picked.
With every yes and every no
I built my altar to You
And then walked away
These candles that we light
Kindling them is the easy part.
But if we linger
With eyes resting
Searching for nothing
Only words of gratitude and praise
On our lips
We too will be kindled,
Useless and holy
Amidst the many important and useful things that we do, may we all be blessed with a few moments of sacred uselessness this Hanukkah!
With love and blessings,
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is president of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.