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