A strange and wondrous debate was about to begin. The room was filling quickly. The Om of the Hindu faith, the Khanda of the Sikhs, the wheel of the Buddha, Bahai’s nine pointed star, Yin&Yangs of various styles, all vying for good seats. The room was lit by colorful, kwanza candles and Crescent moons hugging stars. The Mateh, that first staff, carved from the Tree of Life itself was to be the moderator.

A hush came over the crowd of symbols as they prepared for this great and unusual debate. It was unusual because of those watching, the symbols of all the different religions. It was unusual because of the participants, the Hanukiah, symbol of the Jewish holiday of Hanukah/dedication and the Tree that had become the symbol of holy birth that was Christmas. The debate was unusual because there was not to be a winner or loser, hardly a debate at all. It was more of a coming out, a sharing of differences; a symposium would be a better word, maybe a colloquium. There was some tension in the room, after all these symbols were of divergent beliefs, beliefs that the two-leggeds sometimes used to create destruction, death and darkness rather than the love, light and life.

The ground rules were based on the old ways of wisdom called PaRDeS, the Orchard. The word was an acronym for Pshat, Remez, Drash and Sod. Pshat is the simple meaning that is never so simple. It is the transparent meaning, the context of things. Remez reveals the pointer hints, the key/clues to deeper understanding. Drash enlightens, reflecting that deeper, more personal understanding. And the Sod, well the Sod peers into the mystery of it all.

In came the two symbols as a hush hovered over the hall. The Tree came in jangling all of her beauteous ornaments carrying the aroma of evergreen. The Hanukiah glided in illuminating each movement with the radiance of her blue and white candles topped with dazzling light.

The two symbols faced each other with good humor complimenting the beauty of their forms. The Mateh sailed to the center of the room in a sinuous manner reminding everyone that this Mateh had once transformed itself into a snake to persuade a recalcitrant Pharaoh of the power of freedom.

And so the symposium began. The Tree was the first to enter the debate in the realm of Pshat. It spoke of its beauty, not with conceit but rather with a deep understanding of the two-leggeds who looked to it for comfort and joy. “The ritual of my existence is touching if a little contradictory,” it chuckled. “I am cut young from the forest of my birth and transported inside a home. And though my life is short it is filled with warmth and meaning. Under my branches lie gift-wrapped dreams. Within my branches are nestled the ornaments of memory, memories of Christmas past. Families decorate me, coming together in joy and laughter and love. By my side is a table laden with cookies and milk for sainted reverie.” The Tree seemed to grow a little straighter, a little taller as it finished its musings.

The Hanukiah complimented the Tree on its erudition and aroma. Then it sang a little song.
“On this night let us light
One little Hanukah candle
It says fight for the right,
One little Hanukah candle.”

It smiled. “Every year as the days grow short and the nights long, I am brought out of the breakfront where I rest for a whole year. With anticipation, I am cleaned and polished. Music fills the air as children watch and choose and count the candles that will fill my cups. Then on the first night of Hanukah, blessings are brought to bear, songs are sung and I am lit. Each night my lights grow brighter. Finally on the eighth night, my cups runneth over and wax flows freely down my stem. The Shamash, lights up my life as my light warms the hearts of the children and parents. Due to our close relationship,” the Hanukiah bows stiffly (how else would a Hanukiah bow) to the Tree, “gifts are piled high around me. Children play games sing songs, and open their gifts in the glow of my light.”

The Mateh now turned the colloquium to the next level within the Orchard, Remez. This time the Hanukiah began. “Hear the hints of my meaning. Blessings are said around me. The first is the blessing of commitment and connection. Families intone a blessing of connection to the light of dedication. It is quickly followed by the message of miracles. It is a blessing of memory. ‘…for what happened at this time in those days!’ Do the hints not cry out the call of commitment? Indeed what is the Mitzvah?” The Hanukiah translated for the audience. “Mitzvah is sacred connection and often refers to acts and paths of the two leggeds who find meaning and motives in motifs such as me. The Mitzvah of Hanukah is to light me up and to put me in a place where I can be seen by all to give joy to all who gaze upon me.” The Hanukiah twinkled. “Yes, Remez abound around my light.”

The Mateh turned to the Christmas Tree. “You have shared the beautiful light of your Remez,’ exclaimed the tree. “Though no verbal blessings surround me, there are blessings inherent in the acts of love and meaning around my status in the home. I am large and my aroma fills the home. There are symbols that hang on my every branch. They epitomize the hope that I represent. Angels that adorn my limbs create castles in the sky, dreams of a better place that dance in the imagination of all who gaze upon me. The songs that are sung are songs of faith and charity. The mood that I enhance is that of beauty and peace. Families join in joy and memory and hope around my trunk. Remez abound in my branches filled with meaning.”

There was poignant silence as the symbols viewed and felt the gentleness of the two totems testifying to the faith of the two-leggeds who sought meaning through them.

The Mateh now moved the discourse to the realm of Drash. The Christmas Tree began by showing the tinsel that hung gaily from its branches. “Just as the two leggeds dangle these strings from my limbs, I am the string around their fingers, memory made manifest of the reason for the season,” it chuckled. “When they look upon me they see the birthday that I represent, the birthday of hope. For those who follow the path of the Cross, I point to that prelude to the path, the humble birth of saving grace. I represent the savior summoned into this sphere of existence. My beauty is an allusion to the spiritual beauty and betterment for all. Those who would follow the path of the Cross are committed to rectifying this realm, repairing wrongs, halting hate and bringing love before they pass to a higher realm.” The emblems, symbols and signs were touched by this tender transport of hope. Each drifted into its own reverie for a moment, until the Mateh brought them back with a rap on the floor.

“And now I will ask the Hanukiah to share its light on the season.” Moved by its spirit sister, the tree, the Mateh, oil weeping gently from its cups, came forward.

“That was quite eloquent; I am moved by your words, as beautiful as your ornaments. By comparison, I am small and plain. For when my candles are not lit I am almost unnoticeable. My power lies in light. My meaning lies in light, for I am light, the lamp of dedication. There is nothing fancy and flamboyant about dedication. And yet when dedication is lit in the lives of the two leggeds miracles may come to pass. When people roll up their sleeves and stand together, dedicated to shedding light on a world darkened with hate and bigotry, my light shines brightly.

The story of a war of liberation is an old one that we each can tell,” the Hanukiah seemed to be directing its light on all the symbols as they nodded or revolved or floated in agreement. But the story of the miracle of a lasting dedication is a marvel. I am the child of the Menorah the ancient eternal light of hope. The holiday that I enlighten and that enlightens me is the holiday of dedication. Those who follow the path of the Menorah, those tribal two-leggeds called the Jews are dedicated to the light. How many times do they talk of freedom for all people, with the refrain; ‘for you were slaves…’ Not only were they slaves in Egypt, but in Babylonia and Persia and Greece and Rome each slavery different and yet oppressive in its darkness.

And I stand for the dedication to fight against slavery and injustice, against intolerance and antipathy, ignorance and apathy. And yet my story does not climax with a victory of arms. It climaxes in brooms and brushes in cleaning and cleansing. My story climaxes in the miracle of a small lasting light. So my sister tree, I too speak of hope and faith, not in a savior come, but in salvation culled. When the tribal two-leggeds of the Menorah speak of Mashiah, they do not speak of the summoned one, nor the saving one, but the anointed one. Mashiah is the one anointed with the same oil that fills my cups that lights my wicks. The Mashiah will be the one who lights the fire of rededication to the values of life and love, of faith and fellowship, of caring and compassion, of justice and freedom. These are the old ways, dimly dreamt but of meaningful memory. That is the meaning found in the Menorah and of which my candles are but small symbols.”

“Not small,” whispered the Tree sap-filled tears forming, “not small at all, sister symbol knight exemplar.” The two symbols, emblems of two faiths stood together in the silence of the room as the Mateh made ready for the final level of discourse, the Sod, the very mystery of meaning. It looked at the two holiday tokens and they seemed to smile as did all the tokens and emblems and representations and signs and symbols that filled the hall. For they all knew that the Sod mystery is not to be investigated it is to be felt and realized. The two symbols in symposium stood in poignant pause, radiating the power of silence. And as the signs and symbols of differing faiths made their way out of the hall to return to their respective resting places they all made contact, touching each other as the discourse had touched them. Not the words alone touched these badges of different faiths, but that they could join and share differences in love and good fellowship. For this day was not about tolerance and acceptance. It was more powerful than that. It was about sharing differences, growing and learning in divergent oneness. As they moved out of the hall in silence, the Mateh wondered; “is this not the Sod of symbols. Is this not the lesson to be learned by the two-leggeds? For the two-leggeds to survive and thrive they will have to learn from us. The Sod, the mystery is so simple. Differences are not to be tolerated they are to be congratulated. They are to be exalted as teachers. For each symbol has a lesson worth learning. Each difference has wisdom to divulge. And the world awaits the Sod, the great mystery of liberty for all the two-leggeds and for peace on all the earth.