Kislev & Hanukkah

The connections between the month and the holiday.

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Reprinted with permission from Iyyun, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

Hanukkah is one of the most widely known and celebrated holidays of the year. It is festive, joyous, and family-oriented. It begins on the 24th of the Hebrew month of Kislev: a significant time of year--at least in the Northern Hemisphere--when the days are the shortest, and the climate the coldest.

In the summer months, people are generally more outgoing and in brighter moods. As the sunlight begins to decrease, people tend to become more introspective. The autumnal Hebrew month of Tishrei (occurring around September and October) is saturated with holy days such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the festival of Sukkot. The next month, Cheshvan, has no holidays at all, and it is typically rainy and cold.
children celebrating hanukkah
This is when people are drawn further inward, and many desire to spend time alone. Kislev continues becoming darker and colder. People tend to retreat into their warm homes, and due to a subtle hibernation instinct in humans, we may actually sleep more than usual. Kislev culminates with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. The following night is therefore minutely shorter--the first glimmer of light begins to re-awaken. At this season there's a natural desire to join with family and friends and celebrate.

Every yom tov (Jewish holy day) has a natural, seasonal explanation, as well as a historical and spiritual story that gives rise to the celebration. When the Torah speaks of Pesah (Passover), for example, it defines the celebration as a commemoration of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. However, the Torah also says Pesah is to be celebrated in "the month of Aviv" (the first month of Spring), when harvesting begins. Thus, the content of the day--the narrative--is understood within a particular context, a specific season, with all its physical and psychological qualities. Before exploring the depths of the content of Hanukkah, let's first delve more into the context, and the intricate interconnection between Hanukkah and its month and season.

Re-awakening Light

When the Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat, begins to discuss Hanukkah, it first mentions the story: one small jug of oil, intended to burn for one night, lasted eight nights. Then it says, "On the following year they--our sages--established these days as holy days for singing praise and offering thanks." In other words, the sages didn't celebrate the miracles of Hanukkah right away. Only when the season came around again, did they perceive the nature of the previous year's events. They sensed that the energies of these miracles were 'established'--the miracles re-manifested, in a spiritual way, on the same dates of a following year.

By confirming the fact of this reappearance, our sages empowered us also to tap into the miraculous energy of Hanukkah that appears each year.

Why do we celebrate the miracles of Hanukkah and not other miracles? Why is there no holiday commemorating the manna or the miraculous well of Miriam? The answer is, we only celebrate past events when they can be re-experienced in the present.

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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.