November 25, 2013
Chanukah is the only festival that falls at the end of the month. Rosh Hashana ( New Year) is on the first, Shavuot on the sixth, Yom Kippur on the tenth, Purim on the fourteenth, Pesach and Sukkot commence on the fifteenth of the month.
Chanukah, however, commences on the 25th of Kislev as the moon begins to disappear.
There is something else different about Chanukah. The main celebration of the festival is at night. The ikkar of the chag is the lighting of the candles and this is at nightfall.
Yes, Seder night is special but Pesach is seven (or eight) days. Whilst we read the megila at night the main reading is during the day. ( see Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayyim 682:1 and the commentaries there). Mishloach manot, matanot la’evyonim, and the seudah (meal) are all during the day. But the celebration of Chanukah is at night.
The Rabbanit and I were privileged to host the late Reb Shlomo Carlebach soon after we were married in our home in London. He tried to explain this phenomenon to us according to the Kabbalah.
It is written in the Sefer Yetzira ( an early and basic work of the Kabbalah) that in the month of Kislev, the Holy One, blessed be He, ” caused the letter Samech ( ס ) to reign in sleep”.
The letter of the month Kislev is Samech ס and its nature is sleep. ( whatever that means……. I’m no expert)
It is known that the 12 months of the year correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel. The holy Ari zatza”l said that the month of Kislev corresponds to the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the last of the tribes ( being the last son), just as sleep comes at the end of the day.
What has all this got to do with Chanukah? I asked.
Reb Shlomo tried to explain it to me.
We were mamash at the end. Without means and without hope. Deep darkness. ” I lay down and I slept” ( Psalms, 3:6)… Sleep is close to death!
Then, the light appears. ” I woke up, because HaShem supported me” the psalm continues.
What is the letter Samech? ס
סומך ה לכל הנופלים וזוקף לכל הכפופים ( תהלים קמה:יד)
God supports (somech) all those who have fallen, He straightens the bent ( Psalm, 145:14)
The letter Samech ס is a circle. Like a big wheel, when you get to the bottom, then you suddenly start to rise. Everything turns. In the midst of the deepest darkness suddenly the light breaks through. This is the message of Chanukah and perhaps why it is celebrated at night, towards the end of the month, deep in the winter.
Judaism was under threat from without and within. The Syrians and the Hellenistic Jews together had caused the Temple is Jerusalem to be defiled and its services to cease. The study of Torah, Shabbat and Brit Milah were proscribed. The roads were littered with corpses.
There was no government or leadership to speak of. The situation was dark and dire. The future was very bleak.
But at the darkest hour the light broke through. A handful of kohanim, the Hasmonean family arose and with God’s help, for three long years, fought a guerrilla war to beat back the Syrian army, recapture Jerusalem and re dedicate the Temple and secure the continuation of Judaism.
We still remain one of the smallest nations and religions, still surrounded by enemies on all sides, many of whom still call for our destruction and are trying to make atomic weapons to realise their threat.
The message of Chanukah is as relevant today as it was in 165 BCE!
Chanukah Sameach. Go easy on the doughnuts and latkes!