Happy Archetypal Hanukkah

Whose holiday is Hanukkah? In the mode of examination that we use in our book, "God's Favorite Prayers," we answered that it is the "priest's" festival. The holiday prayer, "And for the miracles..." recounts a narrative of historical figures who serve as "avatars of the priestly archetype". In fact, we explain there, "The Hanukkah narrative glorifies an actual priest, Mattathias, and celebrates his victory of reclaiming and purifying the Temple."

But we do admit with glee that there are more archetypes at work in this liturgy and in the festival. We see elements of the redemptive theme of the "celebrity" in the assertion in the prayer that the Hanukkah victory, "...brought about a great deliverance and redemption for your people Israel to this very day."

And we see the "scribal" values of the importance of the Torah and commandments interjected in the liturgy in the depiction of events that brought about the priestly struggle and ultimate victory: "...when the wicked Hellenistic government rose up against your people Israel to make them forget your Torah and violate the decrees of your will."

And the "performer," the archetype who takes the message out to the congregation, steps forward into the limelight with the lights, the favorite practice of the holiday, and explains that this public performance derives from the the ancient victors who, "kindled lights in your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to your great name."

Where then is the "mystic" archetype? Miracles, like the miracle of the oil, always suggest heavenly intervention into earthly affairs. And perhaps we should recall as well that historians of religion have attached to the lamps of the Temple a strong heavenly or cosmic symbolism (see for instance the writings of Erwin Goodenough).

And finally, where is the "meditator" archetype in the Hanukkah ritual and liturgy? Surely, the blessings for lighting the candles serve as moments of meditative awareness in this busy time of our celebration, and bring to us mindful awareness of the light, and through that, as the blessing says, make us stop to recognize the miracles of the days of yore, and the wonders in our own present lives.

Hanukkah 2011 - 5772 - begins Tuesday night, December 20.

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