This passage from the Zohar offers a meditation on the light of candle as a vision of Divine unity:

אֲבָל תָּא חֲזֵי, מָאן דְּבָעֵי לְמִנְדַע חָכְמְתָא דְּיִחוּדָא קַדִּישָׁא. יִסְתַּכַּל בְּשַׁלְהוֹבָא דְּסָלְקָא מִגּוֹ גַּחֶלְתָּא. אוֹ מִגּוֹ בּוֹצִינָא דְּדָלִיק. דְּהָא שַׁלְהוֹבָא לָא סָלְקָא אֶלָּא כַּד אִתְאַחִיד בְּמִלָּה גַּסָּה (נ''א אחרא).

Come and see, one who desires to know the wisdom of holy unity should gaze upon a flame that rises from a coal, or from a lit candle. For the flame only rises when it is attached to a coarse (alt. other) object.

The Zohar turns our attention to a burning candle as an object of meditation on “holy unity.” The first quality of this unity is noticing that the flame requires a coarser, physical object to grab hold to. The flame itself is a source of light, it contains a spiritual nature, but it requires something more tangible to attach itself to.

תָּא חֲזֵי, בְּשַׁלְהוֹבָא דְּסָלְקָא אִית תְּרֵין נְהוֹרִין. חַד נְהוֹרָא חִוְורָא דְּנָהִיר. וְחַד נְהוֹרָא דְּאִתְאַחִיד בָּהּ אוּכְמָא אוֹ תִּכְלָא. הַהוּא נְהוֹרָא חִוְורָא אִיהוּ לְעֵילָא וְסָלְקָא בְאוֹרַח מִישׁוֹר. וּתְחוֹתֵיהּ הַהוּא נְהוֹרָא תִּכְלָא אוֹ אוּכְמָא דְּאִיהוּ כָּרְסַיָא לְהַהוּא חִוְורָא. וְהַהוּא נְהוֹרָא חִוְורָא שָׁארֵי עִלָוֵּיהּ וְאִתְאֲחִידוּ דָא בְּדָא לְמֶהוֵי כֹּלָּא חַד. וְהַהוּא נְהוֹרָא אוּכְמָא אוֹ גַּוָון תִּכְלָא דְּאִיהוּ לְתַתָּא הוּא כָּרְסַיָא דִיקָר לְהַהוּא חִוָּורָא. וְעַל דָּא רָזָא דִּתְכֶלְתָּא. וְהַאי כָּרְסַיָא תִּכְלָא (או) אוּכְמָא אִתְאֲחַד בְּמִלָּה אָחֳרָא לְאִתְדַּלְּקָא דְּהוּא מִתַּתָּא וְהַהוּא אִתְעַר לֵיהּ לְאִתְאַחֲדָא בִּנְהוֹרָא חִוְּורָא (ס''א עלאה).

Come and see, in the rising flame there are two lights. One white, shining light; and one light to which black or blue (techelet) is attached. The white light is on top and it rises in a straight path. And the blue or black light is beneath it, and it is a seat to the white. The white light rests upon it and they are attached to one another, forming a single unity. The light that is either black or a shade of blue that is below, is a throne of glory to the white [light]. And herein lies the secret of techelet. And this blue (or) black throne is attached to another object below it that kindles it and arouses it to attach itself to the white light (alt. above).

The next stage of unity has to do with noticing the colors that form the flame. There is a “white” light and a “blue” or “black” light within the flame. The darker part of the flame rests below the lighter part of the flame, and together, these colors form a single, unified flame. The Zohar once again draws our attention to the physical wick that rests beneath the darker flame, which in turn serves as a “throne” or seat to the white flame above it. Here the Zohar depicts all three elements - the wick, the blue/black, and the white - as existing together in a continuous thread that becomes more majestic and ethereal as it ascends.

וְדָא תִּכְלָא אוּכְמָא לְזִמְנִין אִתְהֲדַר סוּמְקָא. וְהַהוּא נְהוֹרָא חִוְּורָא דְּעֲלֵיהּ לָא אִשְׁתַּנֵּי לְעָלְמִין דְּהָא חִוְּורָא הוּא תָּדִיר. אֲבָל הַאי תִּכְלָא אִשְׁתַּנֵּי לִגְוָונִין אִלֵּין. לְזִמְנִין תִּכְלָא אוֹ אוּכְמָא. וּלְזִמְנִין סוּמְקָא. וְהַאי אִתְאֲחִיד לִתְרִין סִטְרִין. אִתְאֲחִיד לְעֵילָא בְּהַהוּא נְהוֹרָא (ס''א עילאה) חִוְּורָא. אִתְאֲחִיד לְתַתָּא בְּהַהוּא מִלָּה דִּתְחוֹתוֹי דִּמְתַקְנָא בֵּיהּ לְאַנְהָרָא (מלין דשויין ליה לאדלקא) וּלְאִתְאַחֲדָא בֵּיהּ.

At times, this blue-black changes to red, but the white light above it never changes, for it is constantly white. However, the blue changes to these [other] colors; at times it is blue or black, and at times it is red. And it is attached on both sides. It is attached above to that (alt. supernal) white light, [and] it is attached to that object below that has been set to give it light (to serve as kindling) and to attach itself to it…

Within the various layers of color of the flame, there are those that change their hue, and those that remain the same. The blue may change to black or red, representing the dynamic ebb and flow of life that takes place in proximity to the physical realm of experience. These changing colors are attached on both sides: they are joined from above to that supernal white light, and below to the physical object that serves as its kindling. In this way, the procession includes the concrete, physical realm (wick) at the bottom; the changing, fluid realm in between (blue/black/red); and the unchanging, transcendent light (white) that constantly hovers above. All of these layers of reality are unified in the candle’s flame, as they remain rooted to something in the physical domain.

וְעַל נְהוֹרָא חִוְּורָא, שַׁרְיָיא לְעֵילָא נְהוֹרָא סְתִימָא דְּאַקִּיף לֵיהּ. וְרָזָא עִלָּאָה הָכָא. וְכֹלָּא תִשְׁכַּח בְּשַׁלְהוֹבָא דְּסָלִיק וְחָכְמְתִין דְּעֶלְיוֹנִין בֵּיהּ.

And resting above the white light is a concealed light that surrounds it. And herein lies a supernal mystery, and all of it can be found in the rising flame, in which the wisdom of the higher realms are present

Now, the Zohar turns our attention to the light that radiates beyond the white of the flame - a hidden, concealed light that surrounds the bright contours of the flame itself. This relates to a hidden Divine realm that is present but not directly perceivable. It is attached to all of the other levels of the flame, but rather than perceiving it directly, we may relate to it through its mystery.

Taken as a whole, the Zohar sees a burning candle as a mirror of Divine unity. It embodies a single continuum that unites the most sublime and elevated realms to the most concrete elements of physical reality, holding all of these layers together in a single unity. The Zohar invites us to meditate on the burning candle, and allow ourselves to be enveloped by its exquisite vision.


Lighting the Chanukah candles in the dark of night allows us to see their light with more fullness and clarity. Taking our cues from this passage from the Zohar, consider taking some time to sit by the candles and gaze at their light. Notice the different elements that compose the candle’s flame - the wick, the various colors, shapes and hues. Bring your attention to the space that surrounds the flame itself. Let your attention dance between the differentiated parts, and behold them all together as a single, unified whole.

Light of the Body and the Soul

One of the central features of the Chassidic tradition is to take earlier Kabbalistic concepts and teachings and make them more accessible and applicable to the realm of personal experience. In this spirit, the teaching below from Rebbe Aharon Perlow of Karlin (1802-1872) is an adaptation of the Zohar’s teaching about the “dark” and “white” colors of the candle flame. The Rebbe of Karlin relates the image of the hues of the single flame to the interaction between the body and spirit, and offers a model to frame our path of elevating and connecting ourselves with the light of the Divine.

וסיום המדרש. הקב"ה נקרא נר וישראל נקראו נר. אמר הקב"ה הואיל ואורכם הוא אורי ואורי הוא אורכם שנינו נלך ונאיר לציון. הה"ד קומי אורי כי בא אורך.
“The Holy Blessed One is called a candle, and Israel is called a candle. And the Holy Blessed One said, ‘since your light is My light, and My light is your light, let us walk together and light up Zion’. This is as it is written, ‘arise, My light, for your light has arrived’”
כתיב כי עמך מקור חיים באורך נראה אור. כי כל איש ישראל צריך להתעורר מתחלה באור השי"ת שבקרבו. כי כל אחד יש לו זאת כ"א לפי ערכו ומדרגתו. רק שהוא טמון ומכוסה בשטותים והבלי עולם. וצריך מתחלה לעורר עצמו בכל עוז ולהאיר זה האור כ"א לפי מדרגתו. ואח"כ מגיע אליהם האור של מעלה להאירם יותר ויותר. וזהו באורך. פי' באור השי"ת שהוא אצלינו נראה אור. הוא אור השפע שמשפיעין עליו מלמעלה. ודיבר בענין הזה עפ"י מאמר הזוה"ק. נהורא חוורא לא שריא עד דשריא נהורא אוכמא לתתא. כמו שאנו רואים באור הנר שמלמטה הוא שחור ועל האור השחור שורה אור לבן מלמעלה והוא עפ"י מה שמוזכר בזוה"ק בכמה מקומות קדרותא דצפרא. כי קודם שמאיר היום נחשך ביותר כמו שאנו רואים זה בחוש. ובגוף האדם ג"כ כך. כי התערותא דלתתא נקרא נהורא אוכמא. כי האדם צריך להתעורר דווקא בעת שנחשך אצלו. כמאמר הכתוב ותקם בעוד ליל"ה. וכשמתעורר כראוי אז שריא עליו נהורא חוורא מלעילא. וזהו קומי אורי נהורא אוכמא דלתתא. כי בא אורך. מוכן להשפיע עליך נהורא חוורא דלעילא. ומהו קומ"י. כי האדם צריך להיות קומה שלימה. וזהו קומ"י אורי. כל הקומה שלך תראה להאיר:
It is written, “for with You is the source of life, in Your light we will see light” (Psalms 36:10). For every member of Israel must first awaken themselves through the light of the Blessed God that is within them. For each and every one possesses this, each according to their own state and level. But it is merely buried and covered up by nonsense and worldly vanities. And one must first awaken themselves with all their strength, to cause this light to shine, each according to their own level. And then, the light from above will reach them to cause them to shine more and more. And this is [the meaning of the words] “in Your light” (Psalms 36:10) meaning in the light of the Blessed God that is within us, “we will see light” (ibid) referring to the light of abundance that pours upon one from above. And [the Karliner Rebbe] spoke above this in terms of the statement from the Holy Zohar: “The white light does not dwell until there is a dark light below.” As we see, that the bottom of a candle is black, and there is a white light that rests upon the black light from above. And this relates to what is mentioned in a number of places in the Holy Zohar, “the darkness of the morning.” For before the light of day arrives, it becomes increasingly dark, as we see with our own eyes. And likewise within a person. For the arousal from below is called “a black light”, for a person needs to awaken themselves specifically in their time of darkness. As the verse says, “and she rises when it is still night” (Proverbs 31:15). And when one is roused sufficiently, then a white light from above rests upon them. And this is [the meaning of] “arise, My light” - the black light from below - “for your light has arrived” - the white light from above is ready to pour upon you. And what is the meaning of “arise” [kumi]? For a person needs to be a complete edifice [komah shleima]. And this is [the meaning of], “arise [kumi] My light” - you shall seek to cause your entire stature to shine.

There are times when we experience ourselves as existing in darkness, when we feel distant or devoid of God’s light. The Rebbe of Karlin teaches that it is specifically here, in the realm of our own personal experience, that we must seek to uncover the light that exists within us. Drawing on the Kabbalistic concept of “an awakening from below”, this teaching points to our own inner desire and yearning for God as a vehicle for uncovering light from within our very experience of darkness. It is this movement towards our own inner desire that can allow our light to meet the Divine light beyond. In the Karliner Rebbe’s rendering, the gift and the calling of this movement is that we may stand in the fullness of our being, allowing our “full stature to shine.”

Chanuka Music!

According to Kabbalistic tradition, there are a number of songs and prayers that are chanted by the light of the Chanukah candles. One such prayer is “Ana Bekoach”, which is a meditation on a mystical Divine Name. This recording from Israeli musician Keshet Margalit, is based on a Chassidic chant. The Chassidic tradition is to repeat each word seven times to this tune before moving on to the next one.