Kislev & Hanukkah

The connections between the month and the holiday.

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It would seem that the annual re-appearance of the miraculous energy of Hanukkah is due simply to the cyclical patterns of time--there are certain patterns that rotate and return each year at the same time. However, in Jewish spirituality, we sense a linear movement of time as well.

Time is always progressing forward towards a spiritual culmination. Therefore, unlike the natural patterns of the year, the energies of Hanukkah progress toward a culmination, revealing something completely new each year. This linear movement joins the cyclical movement of nature to form an upward-spiraling, reawakening, ever-new light of Hanukkah.

The Name of the Month--Trust and Hope

Kislev is the ninth month of the year, counting from Nisan. In the Torah we find that the root of the word Kislev means 'trust' and 'hope': "Did I place my kili (my hope) in gold…?" (Job, 31:24) "…And they placed in Hashem their kislam (their trust)." (Psalms, 78:7)

Kislev therefore illustrates the issue of trust. When you make an appointment to meet someone, and they haven't yet arrived, you can't see them or know for certain that they'll arrive on time. You can only see or envision their arrival by means of trust. When our days are dark and cold, we may not see the light and warmth of life clearly. Many people struggle with "seasonal affective disorder", a form of depression attributed to the diminished sunlight of winter. After the Winter Solstice, the glimmer of light that arrives really does spark in us a trust in a brighter future.

In terms of the historical narrative of Hanukkah, the Hasmoneans had tremendous bitahon to stand up to their Roman oppressors. Despite the darkness of their time, they trusted in the miraculous. This inspired them to look at a defiled Temple and envision its re-purification. Because of this trust, their eyes were open enough to find a small measure of oil with which to kindle the Menorah.

Writing some two hundred years after the re-dedication of the Temple, Josephus calls Hanukkah "the Festival of Lights". Although his historical accuracy is debatable, and he doesn't even mention the miraculous oil, we can learn about Hanukkah's theme of trust and hope from his account: "Perhaps the reason (for the name "Festival of Lights") is that a freedom beyond our hopes appeared to us, and so this was the name given to the festival." (Antiquities VII:7)

The Letter of the Month

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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.