Kislev & Hanukkah

The connections between the month and the holiday.

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A Primordial Hanukkah

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah, 8a) tells of a celebration of light during the time of year that would later become Hanukkah.

"When Adam--who was created in the beginning of the year, on the first day of Tishrei--noticed that during the first three months of his life, the days were getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is to me! Because I've sinned, the world around me is being darkened and is returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this must be the kind of death which has been sentenced to me from Heaven!' He took upon himself to pray, fast, and look within. After eight days, he noticed the Winter Equinox (the Tekufat Tevet, the season of the month of Tevet), and saw that indeed the days were beginning to lengthen again. "So this is the way of the world!" he exclaimed, and he celebrated for eight days."

The Darkest Night

The Winter Solstice generally occurs during the last week of Kislev. Therefore, not only does the week of Hanukkah contain the longest night of the year, but at the end of a lunar month the nights have virtually no moonlight.

A student of the Baal Shem Tov named Rabbi Yakov Yosef determined, through complex calculations, that the night of the Hanukkah victory and the re-lighting of the Menorah was precisely the longest night of the year. This deepest darkness sets the stage for the greatest possible revelation of light.

Divine Light

hanukkah candles

The light that comes from fire is dependent on the burning and destroying of something else. Divine light, however is self-derived. At the Burning Bush, Moses encounters Divine light. It shines like a fire, and yet the bush is not consumed. This light doesn't necessarily take away the darkness--it somehow shines within the darkness. This is the "Ohr HaGanuz", the 'Hidden Light', the Divine light that burns within the darkness of Creation, yet doesn't consume Creation. It is the light of Hanukkah revealed in the darkest nights of the year and the darkest times of exile. Thus, the small jug of oil lit by the kohanim didn't consume any oil.

When people are inspired they can rise to meet great challenges. These are times when the pure "oil" of a person's soul shines brightly. Sadly, however, such peak experiences of inspiration wane, and most people return to the comfort of darkness.

The "miracle" of Hanukkah was that the Jews were able to shine brightly for eight nights, extending beyond the natural cycle of a week. If Hanukkah began on a Sunday, the last night was also Sunday again, and yet they were illumined as if it were the first night. The brilliance actually filled them throughout the whole year, and therefore they established that the inspiration and illumination of Hanukkah would continue to manifest every year, for all generations.

Every Hanukkah is a special time for revealing the Hidden Light. Unlike all the Torah--based holidays, however, at the end of the Rabbinic holiday of Hanukkah there is no havdalah, or ritual of separation. May we never separate from the timeless light of Hanukkah. May it permeate every moment of our lives.

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.