Hanukkah – The Festival of Lights, The Feast of Dedication – Part One
The Ninth Month of Kislev – the Month of Miracles
Hanukkah – The Festival of Lights, The Feast of Dedication – Part One
From Darkness to Light – Concealment to Revelation!
Kislev, as we have previously noted, is the ninth month on the Jewish calendar, counting from Nisan. It is best known for the Festival of Hanukkah, which begins on the 25th of Kislev. What is often overlooked is the possible connection to the 9th month in the human cycle of life that represents a birthing process with something new being born! What, we may ask, is the connection?
Are there hidden sparks beneath the surface just waiting for us to discover? We shall see as we delve deeper into the messages of this month and the festival of Hanukkah. As the days become shorter and the nights longer, we become increasingly aware of the growing darkness descending upon us in this month of Kislev. In actuality by the twenty-fifth day of every lunar month, it appears as though the moon is very close to having gone into exile. In no month is this more apparent than in Kislev for as we near its end, we find that the sun is also in the process of going into exile as the winter solstice approaches.
We learned from our previous article that Kis derives from the word to cover or to conceal in Hebrew and that Lev has several meanings…one meaning is His or to Him. If we relate this to HaShem, it means HaShem is covered, concealed, or His concealment.
Could we perhaps associate this concept of HaShem being concealed or covered with the growing physical darkness that comes in the month of Kislev to the resulting emotional and spiritual darkness that descends upon many of us during this dark time of year? Encompassed by the darkness it can become easy to become overwhelmed, slip into despair and succumb to depression. For many it may begin to feel as though HaShem our G-d and Creator is hidden and that the light may never return.
But that is only a feeling, not a reality, for we know that He is always with us, whether we feel it or not, and that the light will indeed return…for everything has an order. In the wise words of King Solomon from the Book of Ecclesiastes we read, “To everything there is a season and a purpose to everything under the sun” (Eccles. 3:1)…and this includes the darkness in the month of Kislev.
It helps to recall that in the beginning when HaShem first began creating the world that it was “void and without form (tohu v’vohu) and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Beresheit/Genesis 1:1)…and what did HaShem do? He brought forth the light!
This was a precedent set from the beginning…that light always follows the darkness, and with that light comes hope. As the Psalmist so eloquently penned, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm30:5).
As we brought forth in our last article, often we can visibly see this transformation. As the dark clouds pass over after a storm and the sun shines through the dissipating raindrops a beautiful rainbow begins to emerge filling our hearts with hope and renewing our bitachon (trust) that HaShem is always with us, even today amidst the darkness, just as He was with our forefathers and with the Maccabees in the days of old.
It is during this time that we once again have the opportunity to reach deep inside ourselves, into our hearts and souls, our innermost being and bring out that spark, that hidden light within, the Light that our Creator so lovingly placed within us that may have gone dim or even dormant…and let it shine forth even in our darkest moments.
We recall the poignant words, “He (HaShem) will light my candle,” and the equally endearing phrase…“The flame of HaShem is the soul of the human being”(Psalm 18:29 ,Proverbs 20:27 ).
This takes us back to the broad based themes of the month of Kislev…Concealment to Revelation…Darkness to Light…two basic themes that spring forth from a study of the rich background of this ancient Festival of Hanukkah…the Festival of Light and Miracles…themes that we will discover to connect not only to our personal lives and to this day and time, but also to our Torah portions this season of the year…and even forward to the promise of the coming redemption!
The Story of Hanukkah – It’s History and Traditions and a Fascinating Prophecy
You will not find the story of Hanukkah explicitly laid out in the canonized Hebrew Bible referred to as the Tanakh. It is, however, included in the Catholic Bible in the book of I Maccabees 1-4. To read the entire story for yourself, you may go to https://apocrypha.org/.
The message of Hanukkah is the perpetual power of light over darkness…good over evil. It is a holiday that celebrates religious freedom and the G-d given victory of the weak over the strong. Contrary to popular belief Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas. Often it coincides or falls in close proximity to this holiday, subsequently the tradition of gift giving crept in to appease to appease the children.
Hanukkah, referred to as the Festival of Lights, begins on the 25th of Kislev and is celebrated for 8 days. Although it is not specifically mentioned in Torah, some Jewish sources say that is perhaps alluded to in that the 25th word in the Torah is ohr which is translated as light (Gen/Beresheit 1:3).
There are also several obscure, but quite fascinating passages in the second chapter of the Book of Haggai (verses 10, 15, 18, 20) which have not been given much attention by the Jewish sages, but speak explicitly of the 24th day of the 9th month, the day before Hanukkah. Twice in these verses we find the promise of HaShem, “from this day forward I will bless you.” The dating, according to Biblical scholars of the Book of Haggai was 520 BCE which was over 350 years before the Maccabean victory!
Could it be that this little known prophecy given on Kislev 24, 520 BCE was a precursor to this gargantuan victory which would take place hundreds of years later? Or is it just a coincidence?
How likely is it that this rag tag little Jewish army led by Judas Maccabee, after the fight of their lives for 3 years, could rally, march back into Jerusalem, defeat the mighty Syrian forces, restore their desecrated temple and take back their land…and that it would fall on the selfsame day, the 24th day of the ninth month, as mentioned in the Book of Haggai over 350 years earlier?! Is anything too impossible for HaShem?!!!
“Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, says HaShem.” Could this be a reference to the “day of small things” as mentioned in Zechariah 4:10?
Was this a partial fulfillment of Haggai’s ancient prophecy of HaShem speaking of the 24th day of the 9th month and proclaiming…“from this day forward I will bless you?” Was this blessing foretelling Kislev 25 and the inauguration of the festival of Hanukkah? Was it a blessing designed to be ongoing?
I will leave you with a question…What was the date in 1917 on the Jewish calendar when General Allenby freed Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire? You may be surprised, but perhaps not. For the answers to this question and more please click on the following link. https://jamestabor.com/hanukkah-tonight-and-the-mysterious-date-of-kislev-24-on-the-hebrew-calendar/
Is There a Connection to the Sons of Rachael to the Message of Hanukkah?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says yes. In Rabbinic literature, the month of Kislev is believed to correspond to the tribe of Benjamin. Thought-provoking that Benjamin is connected to this month of Kislev where we speak of concealment and revelation and celebrate Hanukkah and the victory of the small over the mighty. Rabbi Hirsch explains…
Benjamin, he says, was absorbed into Judah (concealed)…no longer recognizable as a tribe. In his commentary on Genesis/Beresheit 48:27 regarding the blessings of Ya’akov to his children on his deathbed he writes, “It will be the smallest and the youngest among them that would repel the wolf, (the eternal Amalek).” He continues by explaining that according to Aggadic tradition, “the archenemy Amalek will not be overthrown by Judah but by the sons of Rachel, who have the least power of all. ‘The youngest of the herd will drive them off as spoil’” (Jeremiah 49:20). So it is Rachel’s children, Joseph and Benjamin, now concealed who will one day in the future be revealed to come forth and defeat Amalek (The Pentateuch with a translation by Samson Raphael Hirsch and excerpts from the Hirsch Commentary, p 206-207).
Interesting that the rabbis connect Benjamin to our month of Kislev where we speak of the themes of concealment and revelation and celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, the victory of the small over the mighty, but how does Joseph relate?
Joseph was also concealed, at least to his brothers when they came before him begging for food. His true identity was unknown to them… he was an Evrit, a Hebrew, hidden in the courts of Pharaoh until the time came for him to reveal his true identity and save his people!
The Choice – to Assimilate or not to Assimilate
Is it not at all surprising that the Joseph saga is read in synagogues all over the world as the festival of Hanukkah approaches? We see the theme of concealment to revelation in both the story of Joseph and the background story of the brave Maccabees, but within this theme is another very powerful one that is key to understanding the ancient message of Hanukkah and its relevance to us “in this time and in this season!”
Both Joseph and the Maccabees had a choice…assimilate or stand firm. Those of us today living in the 21st century have this choice as well… and these ancient accounts bring that choice fresh to our minds.
In his day, Joseph, having become a powerful figure in Egypt, 2nd in command to Pharaoh, could have easily succumbed to the alien culture surrounding him had it not been for his choice to refuse to assimilate. Instead he chose to honor the godly influence of his upbringing. Joseph did not forget where he came from. We must do likewise.
Hundreds of years later (about 167 BCE) a Jewish priest by the name of Mattathias along with his 5 sons, referred to as the Maccabees arrived on the scene. Maccabee was in actuality not the family name at all, but an acronym for “Mi Chamocha Baelim Adonai” translated as “Who is like You Adonai among the gods?” The Maccabees, true to their heritage and obedience to the One G-d earned this title for they too did not forget where they came from.
Choosing not to assimilate under the Hellenistic decrees of the powerful Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes (whose name is Greek meant “god manifest”), he makes a daring choice to rebel rather than follow the order to make a sacrifice on the altar using a pig which to Jews is prohibited. He strikes the Greek official and subsequently, he and his sons are forced to flee for their lives into the wilderness from their little village of Modi’im.
A short time later after the death of his father, Judas Maccabee the third son, with the nickname of the “Hammer” or the “Extinguisher,” became the leader of the resistance movement. He and his brothers rally a small Jewish army in order to gain back the control of the Holy Temple and exercise their religious freedom. A bloody battle lasting three years ensues and Judas Maccabee, true to his nickname, does indeed extinguish the mighty Syrian army and victoriously leads his men back into Jerusalem where they remove and destroy all the foreign statues of the alien gods!
In addition to this miraculous victory of the small and militarily weak Jewish army over the mighty Syrian-Greek Empire, there is another aspect to Hanukkah recorded in the Babylonian Talmud that gives birth to a tradition that has become one of the key elements in the celebration of the Festival of Hanukkah (Tractate Shabbat 21b).
After winning the war, the Jews returned to discover that not only had the Holy Temple become desecrated, but that there was only one small jug of oil left undefiled to light the menorah. Using the one remaining small jug of oil they lit it, and in faith re-dedicated the Temple to HaShem.
According to tradition that one-day supply of oil miraculously burned for eight days! As a result, the sages instituted the eight day festival of Hanukkah or Chanukah, pronounced with the guttural “ch” (from the root word “chinuch” meaning dedication. We too are given the opportunity, especially at this season each year, to rededicate ourselves to our Creator as did the Maccabees of old, as each of us are to be representative of a temple to our G-d.
As a sign of our dedication we commemorate this glorious Festival of Lights by kindling the menorah each night for eight nights, thus increasing the light and driving away the darkness as we publicize the miracle. We begin by lighting one candle or little vial of oil on the first night…and with each successive night, we add another until all eight candles are burning brightly!
Our Sages have said, “A little light expels a lot of darkness.” And all we need is one little spark…one little candle to begin…Baruch HaShem!
Note: Hanukkah 2021 is celebrated from nightfall to nightfall beginning on Sun, November 28th through Mon, Dec 6th when the last of the eight candles are kindled. Chag Chanukah Sameach!
More about this joyous Festival of Lights will be forthcoming in Part Two.
By Elisheva Tavor, 15 Kislev 5782