Chanukah: The Hidden Light, Revealed

Creation begins with light. The words “יהי אור, let there be light” signify the primordial beginning point when the Creator extended outward to create the known universe. According to the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba 11:2) the initial light of Creation was so powerful that it enabled a person “to see from one end of the universe to the other.” But, the rabbis teach this original light only lasted a short time in this world. Upon seeing the human potential for wickedness and cruelty, God decided to conceal this powerful light, preserving it for the righteous at some future time.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the rabbis intended with this teaching, but we might infer that this light provided a clarity in perceiving the universe. The ability to “see from one end... to the other” implies a kind of total vision of things, and an ability to grasp reality in its true nature. Kabbalistic and Chassidic teachings draw upon this concept of the “Hidden Light” of Creation - in Hebrew the אור הגנוז (“Ohr Haganuz”) - and unpack its basic message: There is something profound at the root of all that is; something that we cannot see, but that exists nonetheless in a hidden way. And, that something is a primary animating force of our universe - it is as ancient as Creation itself, and will be accessed again at some future time.

Kabbalistic and Chassidic writings identify Chanukah as a time in which this Hidden Light takes center stage. During “the festival of lights”, we are given special access to this Hidden Light, and the candles that we light during this time of year represent a way of making contact with the original light of Creation.

Come explore some of the essential Chassidic teachings about the Hidden Light, and its relationship with the holiday of Chanukah.

Rabbi Israel son of Eliezer (1700-1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov, was the originator of the Chassidic path of service of God. One of the hallmarks of Chassidic teachings is that they apply the most transcendent spiritual concepts of Torah and Kabbalah to the human experience. The Baal Shem Tov identifies the Hidden Light not as something that is reserved only for the righteous few in some distant future, but that is accessible to every one of us - even now.

שמעתי בשם רבינו הריב"ש זצוק"ל בענין מה שדרשו רבותינו ז"ל שהקב"ה גנז האור הזה (בראשית רבתי פ"ג ופי"א), והאיך גנזו, אחר שהוא אור גדול שהיה מלא כל העולם ואדם צופה בו מסוף העולם ועד סופו, ואמר הוא ז"ל שגנזו בתורה, שהתורה הוא גדול יותר מאוד כמה אלפים פעמים מן העולם (עירובין דכ"א ע"א), ומי שלומד תורה לשמה זוכה לאור הגנוז הלז ודפח"ח:
(חינוך בית יהודא פרק ה'.)

I heard in the name of our Rabbi, the Rebbe Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing) regarding the teaching of our Sages of blessed memory, that the Holy Blessed One concealed the light (Bereshit Rabbah ch.3 and ch.11) - how could God hide it, if it is such a great light that it filled the entire universe, and a person could see with it from one end of the world to the other?! And he taught (may his memory be a blessing) that God hid it in the Torah. For the Torah is so much greater - thousands of times more vast - than the universe (Eruvin 21a), and one who studies Torah for its own sake is granted access to this hidden light.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, the hidden light is not “somewhere out there” - it is deeply embedded within the Torah itself. For this reason, it can be accessed by anyone who approaches Torah with proper intention, and with an awareness of its endless depth and vastness.

Rav Tzvi Elimelech Spiro (1783-1841) was a Chassidic Rebbe and prolific writer of Chassidic and Kabbalistic works. Because of his deep love for the holiday of Chanukah, his Rebbe - the Chozeh (or “Seer”) of Lublin - called him “mein kleine Chanukah licht” (Yiddish for, “my little Chanukah light"). There is a Chassidic tradition that the Chozeh once explained to R’ Tzvi Elimelech that the reason he was so attached to this holiday was because he himself was a reincarnated soul from the House of the Hasmoneans - the leaders of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, during the time of the original Chanukah miracle. The concept of reincarnation of souls over time, space and bodies is a key Kabbalistic idea that appears in many Chassidic stories.

כסל"ו. עיין להלן במאמרים הבאים הגם של או"ר המנור"ה אשר בחדש הזה הי' מבחי' אור הגנו"ז שנגנז בתורה ועיין שם מ"ש בשם הרוקח שע"כ ניתקנו ל"ו נרות כנגד ל"ו או"ר ונ"ר ומאורו"ת שנזכרו בתורה הוא רמיזת אור הגנוז ששימש ל"ו שעות לאדה"ר ואח"כ נגנז ונתכסה בתורה ולדעתי ע"כ שם החדש (שהאיר בו הארה מן האור הגנוז ומכסה בתורה נקרא כסל"ו כ"ס ל"ו כיסו"ו ל"ו או"ר ונ"ר ומאורות נתגלה הארה בחדש הזה ומצורף לאור הזה טב"ת. או"ר כי טו"ב:

The miracle of the light of the Menorah during this month is derived from the hidden light that was concealed within the Torah. And see what is written [further on] in the name of the Rokeach (Rokeach HaGadol 225) that for this reason they instituted [a total of] thirty-six candles, to parallel the thirty-six times that “light” “candle” and “luminaries” are mentioned in the Torah, which hints to the hidden light that shined for the first human being for thirty-six hours but was then hidden away and concealed within the Torah. And in my opinion, this is the reason that the name of this month (in which there is an illumination from the light hidden and concealed within the Torah) is “Kislev” - ki”s le”v - a covering [kisui] for the thirty-six [l”v] appearances of “light”, “candle” and “luminaries” of which an illumination is revealed during this month. And attached to this light is Tevet, “the light was good.”

R’ Tzvi Elimelech relates the Chanukah miracle to the hidden light itself. It was a revelation of that ancient light, at a later time. Based on an earlier Kabbalistic teaching, he explains that this is the reason for the total number of candles that we light over the course of the eight days of Chanukah (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 = 36). The candles parallel the number of times that the word “light” appears in the Torah, which is also equal to the amount of hours that the original light of Creation existed in the world before it was concealed in the Torah. Here, we see him masterfully thread together the early rabbinic Midrash, with a medieval Kabbalistic text, through the lens of the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that this light was concealed within the Torah itself.

על כן קראו לימים האלה חנוכ"ה שהיא חינוך והרגל על לעתיד גאולה העתידה שאז יתגלה לנו האו"ר הגנו"ז בשלימות כמשארז"ל וגנזו לצדיקים לע"ל כדכתיב לא יהיה לך עוד השמש לאור יומם ולנוגה הירח לא יאיר לך והיה לך ה' לאור עול"ם והנה זה יהיה אחר שתשלם הגלות החל הזה מלכות רביעית והנה עוד בהשלמת מלכות יון מלכות שלישית האיר לנו הש"י במעט קט מן האור ההוא אחר שנפסק' הנבוא"ה בכדי שיעמוד לנו האו"ר ההוא בגלות החל הזה במקום נבוא' כי האור הזה אדם מביט בו מסוף העולם וע"ס ע"כ נקר' נ"ר חנוכ"ה נ"ר חינוך והרגל לאור עולם בגאול' העתיד' שיתגל' אור הגנוז נאמר בי' יה"י אור (רל"ב ע"ב ס"ג מ"ה ב"ן) וזהו והי"ה לך הוי"ה לאו"ר עול"ם היינו השם הוי"ה בד' מילואיו כנ"ל בגימ' יה"י אור ונגנז בתור' והנה נ"ר חנוכ"ה חינוך והרגל להאור ההוא וע"כ הוא מסוגל לתור"ה ע"כ הרגיל בנ"ר (אמרו לשון הרגי"ל מרגיל א"ע לאור העתיד) הוויין לי' בנים תלמידי חכמים:

For this reason these days are called Chanukah, from the word chinuch [preparatory training] and practice for what is to come, for the future redemption. For then, the hidden light will be revealed to us in its fullness, as the Sages taught that “God hid it away for the righteous in the future”, as it says, “the sun will no longer be your light in the day, nor will the glow of the moon be a light for you. But God will be an eternal light for you” (Isaiah 60:19). And this will be at the end of this exile that began with the fourth Kingdom. But even before the end of the third Kingdom, the Kingdom of Greece, the Blessed God shined a small bit of that light for us, even after prophecy had ceased, so that the light can remain with us in this current exile in place of prophecy. For through this light a person can gaze from one end of the universe to the other. And it is therefore called the Chanukah candle, the candle of chinuch [preparatory training] and practice for the eternal light of the future redemption, when that hidden light - about which it was said “let there be light” - will be revealed.

This passage encapsulates the primary identity of Chanukah in the Chassidic tradition: It is a holiday that reaches back to the very beginnings of Creation, to the original hidden light; and that extends forward into the future, granting us a taste of the Messianic era in which that Divine light will be fully revealed and manifest. The light of Chanukah offers us a small glimpse of the great light that we will one day perceive in full. Even in our extended exile, as the world and our lives are still deeply imperfect and fraught, there is a bit of light that illuminates this darkness.


  • When have you felt an encounter with something incredibly vast and deep? Does it have to be “visible” for it to feel real?

  • Have you ever sensed a palpable, hidden depth in the Torah, or in moments of spiritual practice or ritual? Does that sense ever accompany you when you engage with Torah or ritual now?

  • What is something that helps you see “the big picture”, that opens you up to a broader perspective about life? Do you want to make space for more of that vision in your life? What are some ways that you can bring that perspective a bit closer to your heart and mind - practices, activities, relationships etc. that can help make that perspective more accessible?

Chanukah Music!

Enjoy this gorgeous, modern rendering of the Chassidic Breslov tune to “Maoz Tzur,” recorded by Nehora and Hadas Yisraeli. This version brings out both the longing for Divine connection, and the invigorating delight of tasting God’s closeness and salvation.