Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Soon after I first accepted the Chassidic lifestyle, I noticed that my new daily schedule of Torah, prayers and mitzvot was doing wonders for my mental, emotional and even physical well-being. I was happy and feeling fulfilled.
Then an unexpected tragedy occurred in my family: My uncle was murdered in a robbery. I was in shock, and I became so busy helping my family with the funeral arrangements and taking care of them during the shiva that I neglected my personal spiritual practices. The mourning period was beyond difficult. But even after months had passed, I continued to be in this indescribable pain and darkness. I just didn’t have it within me to pray and face G‑d.
Almost miraculously, I came across a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe stressing the importance of “maintaining one’s vessel”—keeping up one’s personal Torah regimen. That reminded me that I had let mine go, and it motivated me to get back on the wagon, as it were. I started praying and learning again, and almost immediately, the negative thoughts stopped and the uncontrollable tears melted away. The light of Torah drove away the darkness.
In the holiday of Chanukah, the menorah is the defining image reminding us of the miracle of light: that a one-day supply of pure oil was found, which somehow burned for eight days until the stock of pure oil was replenished. Because of its connection to the astonishing military victory of the Maccabees, the menorah has become a symbol of Jewish strength.
However, it represents much more than a physical victory. The menorah provides a guide to help us fight our inner, spiritual battles.
The unscathed jar of oil in the Temple symbolizes the indestructible part of our soul. That such a small amount of oil lasted so long indicates that we can keep shining, even through difficult times. The menorah itself—the wicks, the oil, the match to light the wicks—represent the components we need to reach victory.
The wick is symbolic of the body, the oil represents the wisdom of our soul, and the menorah is the vessel that unites the two. When the “wick”—our physicality—absorbs the “oil” of G‑dly wisdom, the “flames” of our fiery love for G‑d and His Torah can “burn away” our animalistic tendencies and set free our pure soul.
What is the spark that ignites the menorah’s flames? Prayer and Torah study.
Just as our body needs constant hydration and nourishment to perform physical tasks, our soul needs constant nutrition to perform its spiritual tasks. These “nutrients” are supplied by our praying, learning and doing mitzvot.
But many of us do all the right actions, yet somehow, our soul doesn’t radiate light. We have a menorah, we have filled it with oil and prepared the wicks, but it is not burning bright. What went wrong? Is the oil not reaching the wick, or is the spark that ignites the flame missing?
Actually, it’s a bit of both.
Consider a child learning to eat solid food. The baby can’t start off with a whole raw carrot. In order for the baby to absorb its nutrients, the carrot has to be cooked and mashed. Initially, the child cannot even feed himself; he must be spoon-fed in small amounts.
Similarly, our souls are strengthened and nourished with the light of Torah learning and doing mitzvot. But just as the carrot must be properly prepared so that the baby will want to eat it, so do we need to soften up that holy knowledge of Torah through meditation in prayer, that can inspire and enliven our learning so that we can begin to absorb and make use of this holiness.
Meditative prayer is the process by which the pure oil is attained. Simply reading or mouthing words is not enough. Thinking about the meaning—considering what it tells us about our Creator, contemplating how close we can come to G‑d—is crushing the olives to produce the oil of G‑dly wisdom.
A flame contains a lower, dark part and a lighter upper part. The darker part of the flame represents our struggles to grow and change for the better. It’s not easy. We feel constantly held down from rising higher.
The lighter part of the flame represents the higher level that begins to shine as we work to overcome these distractions. Our goal of creating a deeper relationship with our Creator comes ever closer.
There are infinite new heights to reach in this relationship. This holy fire continues to refine our character and strengthen our bond with G‑d.
Our spiritual battles are constant and challenging. We may feel at times that we are swallowed up in darkness, and that we should just give up. But we have our light even within the darkness. Meditative prayer, Torah and mitzvot create a flame in our soul that cannot be “snuffed out.”
That untainted jug of oil—the essence of our soul—is there to sustain us while we strive to produce the pure oil in our personal efforts, to shine forth like the Chanukah menorah, like a diamond on a black velvet night.
For more information on the power of meditative prayer, see my book, “Reaching New Heights Through Prayer and Meditation,” as well as my other books for adults and children.
You can also find this article on chabad.org https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/4572875/jewish/When-I-Stopped-Praying.htm