Rosh Chodesh Kislev Torah Essay
Rabbanit Gilla Rosen
As the month of Kislev approaches, we begin to think every year of Chanukah. This year especially we await Chanukah with a sense of urgency. Chanukah represents a moment in history that encompassed both tremendous mesirut nefesh and God’s salvation – both physical and spiritual.
The prayer of על הניסים describes the נסים נסתרים, the hidden miracles, of the Maccabean triumphs:
עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם. … מָסַרְתָּ גִבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים..
You, in Your abundant mercy, stood by them in their time of distress, You defended their cause, You judged their grievances, You avenged them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak…the wicked into the hands of the righteous,
The prayer ends with the subsequent return to avodat Hashem in the Temple.
The Chanukah lights, on the other hand, focus on the miracle of the oil in the Menorah lasting for eight days, a miracle that enabled the Maccabim to perform immediately the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah, the fulfillment of a spiritual dream.
There is a difference of opinion between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai as to whether to light the Chanukah candles (or oil lamps) daily in ascending or descending order: to begin with eight and end with one or to begin with one and end with eight (plus the shammos). The Talmud records that various Amoraim provided different reasons for the two positions. Two sages discuss looking at the kindling of the lights from the point of view of the days that have passed or the forthcoming days, focusing on the past or the future. Another sage maintains that Bet Shammai’s position of diminishing lights echoes the sacrifices on Succot, the number of which diminished daily. The connection seems surprising at first. But the celebration of the reconsecration of the Temple on the eight days of Chanukah draws from Succot in a number of ways. The first Temple was consecrated by King Solomon on Succot, and, in addition, the Jewish people had been unable to celebrate Succot in the Temple during the months preceding Chanukah. On the other hand, another sage claims that one should follow Bet Hillel’s stance which adheres to the principle that one must endeavor to increase, and not to diminish holiness. (מעלין בקודש ואין מורידין
The Sefat Emet explains that : אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים , both of these positions reflect the Divine will. For the fire in the lamp performs two different processes. It burns away the dross and, as a result of the combustion, it gives light. Beit Shammai focuses on the destructive aspect of fire and on work that brings about the weakening of physical power and the lessening of evil. Thus he rules that one begins with eight lights, and with much oil to burn, and ends the holiday with one. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, emphasizes the burning itself and the light created by the fire. He rules that one must keep adding lights symbolizing our growing התלהבות בעבודת ה’. (hitlahavut be’avodat Hashem), enthusiasm and passion in the service of God.
As the Sefat Emet explains both approaches are valid and interrelated as long as one’s intentions are genuine, ובלבד שיכוון לבו לשמים as long as one focuses one’s heart heavenward. The Jewish people follow the vision of Beit Hillel in this case, as in most of Halakha. We begin with one light and daily increase the number of candles focusing on the light and the inspiration of Chanuka. At this time, as many engage in battle with mesirut nefesh, we hope and pray for days when our main focus can be the increase of goodness and we appreciate all the chessed and beauty inherent in avodat Hashem.((שפת אמת פרשת בראשית לחנוכה שנה תרנ”ד ועוד
The courage to risk everything to save others shown since Simchat Torah is also reminiscent of Abraham’s battle against the odds to save his nephew Lot when Lot is captured in the rout of Sodom. While some midrashim focus on God’s miraculous help to Abraham, a midrash in Bereishit Rabba presents a different picture.
During the battle for Lot, the Torah records that Abraham divides his camp during the night. But the enigmatic phrase ויחלק עליהם לילה הוא ועבדיו (Genesis 14:15) suggests that the night itself becomes divided.
Years later, Moses tells Pharoah that God has said that כחצות הלילה , literally ‘as the night divides’ or ‘around midnight’, He will “go out in the midst of Egypt” and bring about the death of the Egyptian first born and the subsequent Exodus. (Exodus 11:4). Later the Torah records that it occurred at midnight, בחצי הלילה, (Exodus 12:29). The midrash refers to the unusual, seemingly inexact, expression in Moses’ words. Rabbi Tanhuma explains that the phrase doesn’t mean that God will come to the defense of the Jewish people sometime around midnight. Rather, He will come like (as in the case of) the midnight, the midnight of Abraham. “God said: their father emerged at midnight (to save Lot), so I will emerge (to be) with his children at midnight “, as their father did for me at midnight, so I will do for his children at midnight. (Genesis Rabba 43:3). The miracles of the Exodus owe a part of their existence to Abraham’s rescue of Lot.
אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ עֲשֵׂה לְמַעַן הֲרוּגִים עַל שֵׁם קָדְשֶׁךָ
אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ חֲמֹל עָלֵינוּ וְעַל עוֹלָלֵינוּ וְטַפֵּנוּ
אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ תְּהֵא הַשָּׁעָה הַזֹּאת שְׁעַת רַחֲמִים וְעֵת רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ
Our Father, our King , act for the sake of those who were slain for thy holy name, defending your children. Have mercy upon us and all our children and infants wherever they are. May this be an hour of mercy and a time of grace before thee.
May the merit of all who came before us and acted with mesirut nefesh and the merit of all who are giving and risking so much today come before הקדוש ברוך הוא at this time. And may we witness the salvation of הימים ההם , those original days of Chanukah – בזמן הזה , now, in our time.