As we celebrate Hanukkah (also Chanuka), which manifests for many the happiest and most delightful Jewish Holiday, we will introduce in the next few days some of the symbols and customs of this joyous festival. We hope that these words will illuminate this beautiful holiday with a brighter light that the Hebrew language can offer to us all, Jews and Christians alike. After all, it is the Festival of Lights to celebrate the light that illuminated the Temple in Jerusalem for eight miraculous days.
Let us take a closer look at the key word of this holiday – ‘or,’ light.
This essential element of our world was first introduced in Gen. 1-3: ‘And God said, Let there be light; and there was light’. We connect light with well being and happiness. God was the first to equate light to something good: ‘And God saw the light, that it was good.’ Gen. 1-4. The English word ‘enlightenment’ comes directly from ‘light’ in contrast to ‘darkness’ with all its negative connotations. The cheerful word ‘delight’ also includes the word “light”. Metaphorically, we equate happy feelings with light in people’s faces. Another English word that came from ‘or’ is ‘aura’, which is the mostly invisible, distinctive atmosphere, light or quality that seems to surround and be generated by people. The famous ‘halo’ is the circle of light we associated with holiness. The Hebrew word ‘or’ is the source of the words: ‘orient’ and its derivative ‘orientation.’ Orient is the east — the direction from where the light on earth comes. ‘Orientation’ is basically the right direction to go and we find our way only when there is ‘or,’ light. The word ‘me•no•rah’ (candelabra, lamp, or candelabrum ) include ‘or.’ We’ll discuss this symbol of Chanuka in the next few days.
Another interesting derivative of ‘or’ is the Hebrew root ‘ro-eh’, made with the letters ‘Reysh’ ‘Alef’ ‘Hey.’ It includes the same letters as in ‘or.’ It means ‘to see.’ Of course, you can easily see the connection between ‘seeing’ and ‘light’. This is a perfect example which demonstrates the genuine qualities of Hebrew as a natural language.
The biblical prophet, the seer, is called in Hebrew ‘ro-eh,’ which also comes from ‘or,’ ‘light’.