Excerpts from “Inside Chanukah”

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1.4.    Why is the month in which Chanukah falls out called “Kislev”?

On Chanukah, sparks of the ohr haganuz, the tremendously awesome primeval light that was hidden by Hashem at Creation after shining for thirty-six hours, are revealed (see 3.24 for elaboration). The name כִּסְלֵו (Kislev) can be broken into the words כִּס and ל”ו. A כִּס is a pocket, similar to the word כִּיסוּי,which means“covering,” and ל”ו has the gematria of 36. Therefore, the month during which Chanukah falls out is called כִּסְלֵו because it contains כִּיסוּי ל”ו, the hidden thirty-six (referring to the ohr haganuz, which shone at Creation for thirty-six hours).

 (Bnei Yissaschar, Maamarei Chodshei Kislev-Teves 2:52)

1.5.    Why does Chanukah fall out in the month of Kislev?

1. Chanukah falls out in Kislev because Kislev is the darkest and coldest time of the year. It is the month in which the winter solstice (when the sun is furthest from the Earth) occurs, and when daylight is at its minimum. It is thus a time that symbolically represents the blanket of darkness (of anti-Torah culture and values) that Yavan spread across the world and brought to Eretz Yisrael. In fact, the Midrash refers to Yavan as darkness (see Bereishis Rabbah 2:4). Because Yavan is darkness and Kislev is darkness, the miracle that dispelled the darkness occurred in Kislev.

Correspondingly, Chanukah transpired in Kislev because winter means darkness on many levels. In addition to the physical aspect of the short and cold days, Kislev is an island in a sea of potential spiritual darkness, as it is a time distant from the spiritually charged yamim tovim of the fall (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos) and of the spring (Purim, Pesach, and Shavuos). During the dark winter months, when the potential to lose hope and spiral downward is present, Chanukah comes to dispel the fear, the lost hope, and the spiritual agony. It comes to kindle a small beacon of inspiration for us, to help us recognize that there is always hope, that all is not lost and that there is so much potential to grow. We just need to kindle that first light, and the result will be a conflagration!

This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that while there is only one light on the first night of Chanukah, there are suddenly two on the second night. They then become three and four. And then, before you know it, the eighth night sees a menorah brilliantly aflame! The miracle occurred in the dimness of Kislev to show that even in the most piercing darkness, one little candle can re-inspire, give hope, and light up the entire world.

(A.P.S.; see also Bnei Yissaschar, Maamarei Chodshei Kislev-Teves 4:113,4:86)

2. The tribe of Yissachar was known to have many exceptionally great Torah scholars, and because of this a significant portion of members of the Sanhedrin (Supreme Rabbinical Court) in Yerushalayim were from Yissachar (see Esther Rabbah 4:1). In fact, the Bnei Yissaschar points out that it was the Sanhedrin led by the tribe of Yissachar at the time of Chanukah that established the holiday of Chanukah, as it says in Maoz Tzur: בְּנֵי בִינָה יְמֵי שְׁמוֹנָה קָבְעוּ שִׁיר וּרְנָנִים — Men of insight established eight days for song and jubilation. The בְּנֵי בִינָה,men of insight, refers to those scholars from Yissachar. Fascinatingly, the Bnei Yissaschar says that Yissachar himself, the patriarch of the tribe, was born on the 25th of Kislev! Since the Torah was saved from being forgotten on Chanukah, and since Yissachar carried the banner of Torah knowledge in the Sanhedrin, it can be nothing less than the poetic justice of hashgachah peratis (Divine providence) that Chanukah took place in Kislev, and on the 25th day, no less.

 (Bnei Yissaschar, Maamarei Chodshei Kislev-Teves 4:33, 4:57)

3. The mazal (zodiac sign) of the month of Kislev is the קֶשֶׁת(keshes), the archer’s bow (referred to in the astrological vernacular as “the Archer” or Sagittarius). The Bnei Yissaschar points out that the kingdom of Yavan was called קֶשֶׁת because it enacted decrees against the mitzvos of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and bris milah, which form the acronym קֶשֶׁת, as follows: קִדוּשׁ שַּׁבָּת תָמִים. The word קִדוּשׁ, sanctification, refers to קִדוּשׁ הַחֹדֶשׁ, sanctification of the new moon (i.e., Rosh Chodesh); שַּׁבָּתrefers to Shabbos; and תָמִים, perfect, refers to bris milah, because milah brings a person to perfection, as Hashem said to Avraham regarding performing his bris milah: הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים — Walk before Me and be perfect (Bereishis 17:1). As such, the salvation of Chanukah providentially took place in Kislev, the month of קֶשֶׁת, because this highlighted the fact that a miracle crushed the Yevanim, whose seminal decrees were against Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and bris milah.

(Bnei Yissaschar, Maamarei Chodshei Kislev-Teves 4:109)

4. As mentioned (in answer 3) above, the mazal of the month of Kislev is the קֶשֶׁת. Chanukah specifically falls out in Kislev, because the קֶשֶׁת comes to highlight that it was not through our own physical strength that we were victorious over the Yevanim. Instead, our tefillos (prayers) were the medium of our success, as קֶשֶׁת symbolizes prayer.

How so? Rashi indicates that when Yaakov stated that he was able to conquer Shechem בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי — with my sword and my bow (Bereishis 48:22), he was referring to his intense tefillos. The Gur Aryeh writes that tefillah is like a bow because just as the effectiveness of an arrowshot depends on the pressure exerted on the bow, so too does the effectiveness of a person’s tefillah depend on the level of his concentration and sincerity. The Jews were victorious in battle on Chanukah because before each battle, they sat in fasting and prayer, beseeching Hashem for His mercy to deliver the Yevanim into their hands. (See 4.37 and 4.21.)

(HaRav Avraham of Sochatchov, cited by Sefer Pardes HaChanukah, p. 126)

5. Because the miracle of Chanukah came about as a result of the emunah (faith in Hashem) and bitachon (absolute trust in Hashem) that the Chashmonaim demonstrated, it providentially occurred in Kislev, since the root of the word Kislev (כִּסלֵו) refers to emunah and bitachon. Furthermore, since Chanukah is all about bitachon, it came about through the kohanim, who are priests and not warriors, and had to invest their full trust in Hashem to win. A hint to this can be found in the fact that the word כֹהֵן (kohen) has the same gematria as the word בִּטָּחוֹן (bitachon).

(Chesed L’Avraham [Radomsk], vol. 2, Moadim, L’Chanukah)

 1.6.    Why did, and does, Chanukah fall out precisely on the 25th of Kislev?

The first day of fall is known as the autumnal or fall equinox because it is a day of equilibrium, when day and night (the time between sunrise and sunset and the time between sunset and sunrise) are equal throughout the world. It was on this day that the world was created, and while the date of the fall equinox varies from year to year on the Jewish calendar, during the year of Creation, the fall equinox fell on the 25th of the month of Elul.

Each of the four seasons of the year lasts three months. From the fall equinox onward, the days begin to grow shorter, with increasingly more darkness than light each day. The swell of darkness continues for three months until the first day of winter, known as the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, having the longest night. At that moment, the track reverses, and there begins to be increasingly more light each day until the spring and summer. Fascinatingly, three months from the fall equinox (i.e., the 25th of Elul) is exactly the 25th day of Kislev, the first night of Chanukah!

As such, while the date of the winter solstice varies from year to year on the Jewish calendar, Chanukah is the symbolic winter solstice, because the winter solstice fell out on the 25th of Kislev in the year of Creation. The first day of Chanukah is thus the darkest day of the year, and the day from which darkness begins to retreat and light begins to increase. This was divinely arranged, because Chanukah represents light overpowering darkness, both in regard to ruchniyus (spiritual well-being) and gashmiyus (physical well-being).

(Maharal, Sefer Ner Mitzvah, pt. 2; see also Bnei Yissaschar, Maamarei Chodshei Kislev-Teves 4:113)

 1.7.    What is the significance of the month of Teves beginning during Chanukah?

1. As mentioned above (in 1.5.1), Chanukah more than symbolically comes during the darkest time of the year, in order to illuminate our lives and invigorate our souls, which may become somewhat disheartened as we move farther and farther away from the spiritually uplifting yamim tovim experienced in the fall.

The month of Teves immediately follows Kislev and Chanukah. It is the month in which the days begin to get longer, as the light begins to increase. Hashem connected Teves to Chanukah, such that Teves actually begins during Chanukah, in order to extend the light sparked by Chanukah, to sustain us through the bitter and dark winter months until we can once again grasp the uplifting light of Purim and the spiritually nourishing heights of Pesach.

Hashem gave us Chanukah for spiritual reinvigoration, and then He gave us Teves to fan the flames of that inspiration. Chanukah is the refueling station and the jumping-off point, while Tevesis the first leg of the road ahead to be traveled. But even more so, Teves is an outgrowth of Chanukah, meant to motivate us into utilizing the spiritual energy and resolve gained on Chanukah toward moving forward and lighting up the world, just as the sun begins to light up the world more and more beginning with Teves. It is Teves that carries the holiness and potential of Chanukah into the rest of the year.

In fact, the Sefas Emes points out that the thirty-six Chanukah candles kindled throughout the course of Chanukah correspond to the thirty-six days from the first day of Chanukah through the end of Teves,hinting to the fact thatTeves carries the light onward and upward. Moreover, the Chiddushei HaRimindicates that the name Teves(טֵבֵת) derives from the phrase הֲטָבַת הַנֵּרוֹת, preparing the candles (or more literally, making good the candles), a phrase which appears in connection with the preparation of the lights of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash (see Shemos 30:7). That the word הֲטָבַת stems from the word טוֹב, good, further highlights how Teves relays the goodness of the Chanukah candles. In addition, the purpose of the הֲטָבַת הַנֵּרוֹת was to clean out the Menorah each morning for the next kindling, facilitating the continuation of its illumination the following night.

Moreover, just as the Chanukah candles are kindled via the procedure of מוֹסִיף וְהוֹלֵךְ, adding and continuing, by adding an additional candle each subsequent night,so too is Teves מוֹסִיף וְהוֹלֵךְ, adding and continuing the light of Chanukah. Teves begins on Chanukah and extends past Chanukah because it is the continuation of Chanukah!

(Chiddushei HaRim, Chanukah; Sefas Emes Al HaTorah, Derush L’Chanukah 5650)

2. The month of Teves is considered a hard month (full of troubles) in that three tragedies occurred in it. It therefore begins during Chanukah, so that the light of Chanukah can extend into Teves (as explained above), acting as a balm by way of showing us how to overcome the pain of those tragedies (and others), and how to rise to spiritual heights despite them.

(Sefas Emes Al HaTorah, Derush L’Chanukah 5673, 7th night)


1.8.    Why is it that Chanukah always coincides with a Rosh Chodesh and at least one Shabbos?

Not only will Chanukah always coincide with a Rosh Chodesh (Tevet) and at least one Shabbos, but because Chanukah is eight days long, there will always be the possibility that a baby boy born on the first day of Chanukah will have his bris milah on the eighth day of Chanukah!

Chanukah coincides with these three mitzvot in particular because the Yevanim specifically targeted these three mitzvot for eradication (see 4.24). By performing these three mitzvos specifically on Chanukah, we highlight the fact that, not only were the Yevanim not successful, but in addition, while they and their decrees have faded into history, am Yisrael chai! The Jewish people and the Torah are still here and thriving, baruch Hashem!

(See Bnei Yissaschar, Maamarei Chodshei Kislev-Teves 4:88, 97; A.P.S.)

1.9.    Why is Chanukah, in contrast to most other holidays, celebrated on regular weekdays, with no work restrictions?

The Greek culture and way of life stressed aesthetic beauty and the perfection of the human body above all else. Athletics were of primary importance, and self-glorification was the philosophy. Any thought of God interfered with Greeks’ sense of human supremacy, and was therefore abhorrent.

In contrast, Jews do not disregard their spirituality to focus exclusively on the physical and material pursuits of this world, nor do they isolate themselves from the world to serve Hashem in seclusion. Instead, the Torah way of life directs one to elevate the physical world to a spiritual plane, by focusing and using all of our activities in the service of Hashem. As Chazal say in Maseches Avos (2:12), כָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יִהְיוּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמָיִם — All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven (see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 231; Mesillas Yesharim 26). This way, for example, even sleeping and eating can become elevated, if done with the intention of maintaining one’s health and building one’s strength in order to be able to serve Hashem better. (See Mishnah Berurah 231:1:5.)

On Chanukah, the Chashmonaim stood against the forces of materialism propagated by Yavan and reestablished the Torah ideals of elevating the physical and mundane to the service of Hashem. For this reason, Chanukah is celebrated on regular weekdays, which have no intrinsic holiness and during which there are no restrictions on work as there are on Shabbos and yom tov. (This is in contrast to even Chol HaMoed, which has some restrictions and significant levels of holiness.) By experiencing Chanukah on the mundane weekdays, we learn the lessons of the Chashmonaim as to how we can permeate our everyday lives with holiness and spirituality. We obviously gain also from the other “holy”-type holidays, such as Rosh HaShanah or Pesach. But without the Chanukah weekdays, one might come to think that spirituality and holiness are relegated to those holy days alone, and incorrectly assume that it is only on those days that one can grow spiritually and come closer to Hashem. This is why Chanukah comes along during the week and trains us in the skills of turning even a regular Monday or Tuesday into a vehicle for growth in spirituality and closeness to the Torah and Hashem.

Excerpted with permission from Inside Chanukah by Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff, published by Feldheim