When people ask me to describe the God I believe in, I often start by using the image of a flame. We are taught that each of us has a divine spark within us. That divine spark at times burns brightly, often in the moments of our lives when we find ourselves in balance and in tune with our spiritual needs. Other times, our flames seem to burn a bit lower. There is much we can do to nurture the flames within us. Like hands cupped around a match on a windy night, when we acknowledge the blessings in our lives, when we take time for reflection or prayer or quiet, and when we notice everything as fundamental as the power of our own breath, our flames grow stronger.
My mother is currently battling stage IV melanoma, and like most families facing serious illness, her experiences have brought much in my life into new focus. The word “quarterly” has taken on new meaning, as each three months now bring new scans and new treatment plans.
My parents are both retired. And yet, as my mom was reflecting on her outlook on life a few weeks ago, she said to me, “Each day I wake your father early, saying ‘Get up, get up.’ When he asks me, ‘Why?’ I say, ‘I want to see the sunrise.’ ” Perhaps, one thing that living scan-to-scan teaches you is that when each moment is so very precious and each new day a radical gift, nurturing one’s divine light is not something that should be put off until tomorrow.
For me, this year’s once in our lifetime intersection between Thanksgiving and Chanukah seems fitting. As the days are growing shorter and the preciousness of life is drawn into sharper focus, a convergence of light and gratitude is exactly what I’ve been seeking.
One of our sacred tasks during Chanukah is pirsum hanes, or to publicize the miracle. This mitzvah to share our light is why we place our chanukiyot, our Chanukah menorahs, in our windows. These days are times when we are invited to share our light.
It seems to me that a lit up window is as apt a place for gratitude as a Thanksgiving table is for light.
Jewish tradition teaches us that we are to begin each morning with the most basic of prayers, “Modeh Ani,” I am grateful. These words, which root us in gratitude, offer us a daily connection between thanksgiving and light. They are also intentionally offered in the first person singular: I am grateful. In difficult times or in moments of joy, the utterance is the same.
P’sikta D’Rav Kahanah provides a beautiful commentary on Psalm 57:9, which declares, “I will awaken the dawn.” The midrash explains, “I will awaken the dawn: that is, ‘I will awaken the dawn, the dawn will not wake me’” (P’sikta D’Rav Kahanah, Piska 7:4). And so, whether we jump to see the sunrise or enjoy our few extra moments of rest, the spiritual orientation remains the same. Each day we have a choice: Either to greet the day with gratitude or to allow the moment to pass.
This year, with our historic pairing of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, we are given a powerful reminder: Gratitude nurtures our inner spark and our inner spark grows our gratitude. All we have to do is cup our hands and nurture the flame.
Rabbi Jocee Hudson is rabbi educator at Temple Israel of Hollywood.