How many times have you driven to work, and once you arrived realized you have no recollection of the trip?
"Highway hypnosis" happens to all of us – and not just in the car. The mind, it seems, has a mind of its own. Our thoughts and musings often put us somewhere other than where we are. We may appear to be working, cooking, watering the lawn, or listening to a friend, but our minds are elsewhere. Perhaps we’ve traveled into the past – reviewing some bygone event. Or we may be looking toward the future.
The result is we literally don't see, don't experience, what is right in front of us.
SEE THE BUSH!
“Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law... He saw, and was struck because the bush was on fire but it was not being consumed. And Moses said to himself, ‘I will turn aside and see this incredible sight – why is this bush not being burned?’" (The Book of Exodus)
Our sages say: "From here we learn there is no place devoid of God's presence." Spirituality is discernible in all things and all places. To touch the infinite, awesome and transcendent, we need not trek to the top of a mountain or the shores of the ocean.
Even a bush, something we pass by every day, is a repository of God's presence.
FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION
"And Moses said to himself, 'I will turn aside and see this incredible sight’…”
Moses made a conscious decision to "turn aside" in order to see the Burning Bush. The question is, where was Moses' mind before he turned aside to see? Was he thinking about his sheep? About his father-in-law? About the life he’d left behind in Egypt?
Wherever Moses' mind was, it required a conscious and directed effort for him to focus on the spectacle in front of him.
"And God saw that he had turned aside" – it was the turning aside that caught God's attention, and led to God calling out to Moses from the midst of the bush.
In reality there is nothing mundane in life. That which appears ordinary, only seems so because we have not yet seen what is truly there. We have not made the conscious decision to turn our attention from the endless stream of thoughts that carry us away from the present, in order to perceive the extraordinary that is there in front of us.
“For all the eight nights of Chanukah, these lights are holy. We are not permitted to use them; rather only to look at them.” (Chanukah prayer)
The only thing you are allowed to do with the lights of the Chanukah menorah is to see them. On the surface, this doesn't seem very demanding. But really the idea is phenomenally deep.
Our relationship to the menorah is one of looking and seeing. We see the flames and they are far more than they appear to be. They are not merely candles. They are beacons. They call out to us to turn aside from everything else and to see what is really there. Holiness, transcendence, spirituality and Godliness can be present even in a little flame.
The Chanukah flame can't be used for anything. It is of no more use to us than a thorn bush. It can't help us do anything. But see.
THE BLESSING OF BLESSINGS
In Jewish life we recite many blessings. We say blessings on food – one for fruit, another for bread. We say a blessing before smelling a rose bush, after hearing thunder – and even after using the bathroom.
The purpose of blessings is to call our attention to moments that often get overlooked. Verbally reciting a blessing makes an indelible impact on our consciousness.
In Hebrew the word for blessing, “brachah,” is closely related to the word “bray-chah,” which means a natural spring of water. Life is to be a free-flowing spring of fresh, life-giving waters.
Much of what seems to be commonplace, pedestrian and drab actually contains sparks of life, light and holiness. For eight days we are merely asked to look at the simple lights of the menorah. And what do we see? Small flames that we've seen a thousand times before? Just another colored candle? An insignificant source of light? Or is there more?
Can we see the time when Jew struggled against Greek? Can we see the spiritual strength of our people, a small flask of oil burning for eight days, a miracle, a wonder, a light. Can we possibly see all of this and more in the lights of the menorah?
On Chanukah, all we do is look. And if we look, we will see. And if we see, we will be lifted, inspired, and will discover that there is so much more to life than we ever realized.