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Reb Zalman on Chanukah, the third Temple, and God's broadcast

We're in the month of Kislev, which contains the festival of Chanukah. I recently received in my inbox A Mystical Message about Chanukah from Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi -- sent courtesy of Tikkun. (That teaching can also be found at Tikkun, titled This Is About Hanukkah.) Here's how it begins:

Several times the Bible tells us that God wants to have a place "to make His name dwell therein." It's interesting that it says not that 'I will dwell there' but that my Name will dwell there. While everything is God, in God, the whole cosmos is not separate from God, the point that a Temple makes is, there is a concentrated, stronger focus of the quality of divinity for those who enter there. So while it is true that God is in everything there is, everything that is broadcasts its own quality, a Temple was a broadcasting tower from which a signal went out to the world...

In each human being there is a receiver for that broadcast –– because divine compassion broadcasts on human wavelengths. People who are open to God and want to be open to receive that beacon can in this way recalibrate their moral and ethical life.

Although the First and the Second Temples were destroyed, the teaching says that the Third Temple is already present on a higher and more subtle vibratory scale. The broadcast comes even now from that Temple and is received by some people and –– alas –– not by others. The beacon to us human beings also invites us to contribute to that broadcast, and in the way in which we invest energy we boost the signal strength in public worship and in private prayer, in meditation and then acts of justice and compassion. We beam these back to the source of the broadcast which we call the Name of God.

Reb Zalman goes on to offer a teaching about how the Second Temple's broadcast was denatured and damaged by its invasion and desecration, and how the miracle of the oil arose because the people were so desperate to begin receiving the blessing of divine transmission again that they lit the holy lamps even without enough oil. The yearning for relationship with God led to the miracle, or maybe to awareness of the miracle.

I've heard Reb Zalman teach before on the notion that God broadcasts on all wavelengths, and that we receive that broadcast depending on how and where we're "tuned in." But the idea that the Third Temple is not a physical structure (as were its two predecessors), but a kind of subtle vibration, a stream of blessing coming from God which is received by those who are attuned to the signal -- that's new to me. And I like the idea that through our prayer and meditation (both private and communal), and in our acts of justice and compassion, we strengthen the signal of God's broadcast.

This teaching might change the way I relate to Chanukah. It's easy for me to connect with the notion of light in a time of darkness, and with the sense that miracles can arise when we have faith in the redemption which I think the sanctified oil represents -- but because I've never related to God through the practice of Temple sacrifice, it's easy to feel a bit removed from the wonder of reconsecrating the Temple structure to divine purpose.

But if the Temple served as a kind of spiritual broadcast beacon, and that same broadcast is still flowing forth from God on the "higher and more subtle vibratory scale" which Reb Zalman describes, then Chanukah becomes a time to celebrate the story of how we once cleaned up our broadcast tower so that awareness of divine compassion could flow into creation again. And maybe it's also a time for rededicating ourselves to the work of receiving God's transmission, recalibrating our moral and ethical and spiritual lives, so that we reconsecrate the Third Temple which exists in spirit and metaphor though not in stone. Chanukah becomes a time for discerning the inner work we need to do so that we can open our own spiritual channels and "hear" God's presence more wholly.