Ritualwell

Tradition & Innovation

Eight Angels on Eight Nights

candles in menorah

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story*

The first one asked questions

What kind of light?
What is Hanukkah?     [BT Shabbat 21b]
A miracle but which one?    [Rashi]

Backward we are telling the story
the prophet Elijah standing
on a street corner

Unlit cigarette waving in his hand
from a dark thatch of beard
he asked for a match –

Fire, he said
as well as light
some specially created light

Or fire –
We call Hanukkah
the festival of lights

Josephus did too –            [Antiquities 12:7.6–7]
the kind of light
it burns.

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story**

The second night
the Chernobler Rebbe came
dressed as an angel in Japanese embroidered silk.

Are you a man or a lady? I asked him –
there are so many more possibilities
said the Chernobler chuckling.

The Chernobler Rebbe opened –
oil is wisdom
poured over the head of the Priest King Messiah
overflowing like precious oil on the head
running down the beard of Aaron
.          [Ps.133:2]
The pure finely-beaten, most excellent of the olive oil
the olive that releases its finest product when pressed.

Smell this, said the Chernobler,
pressing his wrist to my nose
another quality of oil
the capacity to absorb.

[I smelled yasmina
jasmine],

When I make perfume the scent is absorbed into the oil
then distilled. Just this way
wisdom is absorbed from the world
both its beauty and contaminants.

Now, said the Chernobler Rebbe
one small vial of pure oil
when fired up lights everything.
Wisdom when it is tended burns pure
burns long burns sure.

We are all in the game
attaching to the pure
resisting the contaminants
lurking everywhere
around us within us.

O God – a heart of purity create in me    [Ps. 51:12]
bind me to the purifications
separate me from contaminants –

Begin now.

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story***

On the third night
an angel came to me in the form
of a Polischer Chasid [herring breath]
he opened with
Darkness IS Light –

God separated the light from darkness
called light day
and the darkness night
And it was evening and it was morning
   day one.

In the beginning, darkness and light one,      [Gen.1:4–5]
a single seamless sourced good
then the challenge
subdue the dark
illumine the good
– the fearful dialectic.

Temple menorah lit by day to illumine the night
Hanukkah menorah
lit by night to reclaim dark
light from darkness itself
the source of light.

Light from the luminous essence of darkness –
this the Hanukkah light.

The Temple lights seven
Hanukkah eight
seven the spiritual cycle
the seven sefirot emanated from God
all natural cycles given in seven.

Eight –
surrounding the seven
the extra measure set around nature  
[Hazal]
the eighth lamp
light from darkness itself
– darkness as an aspect of light.

Now stare into a candle    [Tikkunei HaZohar 21:50a]
see the flame
see the darkness around the wick
see the dark candle

it’s all light
all over.

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story****

On the fourth night
the Kotzker rebbe himself showed up dressed
impersonating God (everything Italian) with a dog.

Good dog, intelligent dog, the Kotzker cooed.

You know what I love about this dog? asked the Kotzker.
I let it out, it sits in front of the door looking to get back in.
What kind of meshuggene dog doesn’t want to escape?

By this time in the tale the Kotzker was crying
like he was a drunk in a tavern

– crying
laughing
crying.

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story*****

On the fifth night
Rebbe Nachman appeared as an angel   [Sipurei Ma'aysiot Hadashim]
he spoke out of a thatch of gingy beard
reminded me to walk daily without my shoes
through the grass.

He told this story:
a young man left home
traveled to a faraway land
where he learned the art of making menorahs.
When he returned home he went to work.
He worked alone covering the menorah with a large cloth
– even the father had not seen it.

When he was done
he asked his father to gather together
the townspeople in the square.
He unveiled his work
– everyone was silent.
His father approached each person individually
asking what they thought about the menorah.
Each one saw a defect
– each a different defect.

The father told his son,
what one person praised another person cursed.
That's what I learned, said the son,
each defect is in the eyes of the person who sees it.
I fashioned a menorah entirely out of defects,
I made the menorah out of flaws.
Now I will begin its repair.

Rebbe Nachman always giggled when he came to the end of a story.
When you find a flaw, he said,
you find your own flaw.    [BT Kiddushin 70a]

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story******

On the sixth night
a tarnished angel appeared
selling pencils outside the ball park.

We fired up the lights, stood staring into the fire.
What’s the miracle?     [Rashi on BT Shabbat 21b]
he asked us.

Light victory power revenge clarity purity
dedication –

we hadn’t answered him.

Afterward, he asked for a ride to the Metro
and maybe a couple of bucks to get uptown.

So what’s the miracle? I asked him back.

Grateful, said the angel
– the miracle is gratitude
find that and you won’t need anything.

You’ll breathe into the souls of your feet
and live as long as you want to.

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story*******

On the seventh night the angel remembered the opposing
Greeks,
they defiled the oil except
one small vial of the pure,     [BT Shabbat 21b]
uncorrupted oil
shemen tahor

one small vial that when fired up
lit the entire eight days.

From our prayers –
The miracle of the few
Against the many,

The light revealed
Light concealed –

Wisdom
Light
Wisdom
– when it is tended it burns pure.

From the holy Temple in Jerusalem   [Ps.137:5]
Light
Lit up
– the world.      [Zekhariah 2:14–4:7]

We are always waiting, said the angel

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story********

On the eighth night
I ran into an angel dressed as Prince at the grocery store.

He spoke this prayer,

I am alone with my shoes and still I cannot move.
One step and the world might cease to exist.

Let me know in some abstract non-abstract way
in my soul, that it’s safe.

Let me be wise myself, trust wisdom,
Let’s be wise together.

Let my soul speak freely to my heart.
Let my mind yield now and again
that my soul might lead.

I am carrying my soul with me wherever I go.
Ahead: a field, a small house, a mountain,
I unpack my bag, take out a sandwich, make tea.

I reach in, I pull up my soul –
It’s a mouth now, a pen, a stick,
a candle – an inwardliness,   [Emerson on Prov. 20:27]

the light that burns within    [Ex. 20:27]
always
the first light hidden away for the
future –      [BT, Hag.12a]
it has taken the shape of prayers.

Save me, my soul.
Pick me up and lay me down,
carefully.

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story******** *

On the ninth night
an angel came to me in the form of the dope man.
He told a story about a dope fiend who came to buy –
the dope man wouldn’t let him in.

He makes me nervous, said the discerning dope man.

Why are you telling me this story
and why on the ninth night?
I asked.

You think eight nights, said the dope man angel.
Some years you will light nine.

You assumed ten energies
there are eleven.

You learned four ways of understanding –
there are five

– four levels of the soul
there’s a fifth.

What kind of dope are you selling
dope man?

The kind you live for, he said –
everything that issues from the mouth of God  [Deut. 8:3]

– the kind you can’t do without.

Poem

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