Manuscript 281 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Manuscript 281

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Manuscript 281

 The introduction to the Kabbalistic teachings on Chanukah. The chronograph at the bottom reads רחם ארחמנו – indicating the year 5553 (1793)

Chanukah is a season of discovery. While not all are as miraculous as the oil which lasted eight days, there are many in which we can share some delight. One such discovery is the content of the Klau Library’s Manuscript 281, a work composed in Italy in 1793. In it the eight days of Chanukah are recognized as an especially auspicious period.

The Kabbalistic work instructs the reader on the proper formulation of a series of prayers which, when said with the proper intent and focus on the mystical names of God, is sure to grant the petitioner children who will merit becoming learned scholars. In clear block letters (with careful diacritics) and the occasional Italian insertion, the mystic scribe lays out his formulations.


Manuscript 281

 The prayer preliminary to the candle lighting, which invokes the merit of high priest Matityahu


For each blessing said over the menorah, eight different renderings of the tetragrammaton are provided for the reader to focus on while reciting the benedictions. Though they use the same letters, these varied forms switch around the diacritical vowels. By concentrating on these names, the scribe tells us, the prayers will earn the reader the same merit as Matityahu, the high priest who fathered Judah.


Manuscript 281

The myriad formulations of the tetragrammaton



The section ends with a series of meditative verses to be read upon completing the candle lighting. While we may not necessarily be seeking the same blessings, the lessons of mindful focus are not lost on us today. Whether it be in our holiday celebrations or our daily lives, the value of being more present and focused, as our scribe would have been while lighting his candles, may prepare us for further discoveries. Have a lovely Chanukah and holiday season!