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Rosh Hodesh Kislev Torah Essay

Emma Katz

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The Edythe Benjamin חיה בת שלמה beloved mother of Barbara Hanus

Rosh Hodesh Kislev Torah Essay

How Many Candles do we Light?


On Chanukah we light the menorah for eight nights, commemorating the miracle of the menorah in the Temple. When the Jews returned to the desecrated Temple after it had been defiled by the invading Greeks, they could only find one flask of oil for the menorah. That small flask, which was only enough for one day, lasted for a full eight days until new oil was produced.  Ever since then, on the 25th of Kislev, Jews have been publicly lighting chanukiot to publicize this great miracle.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, is troubled by this explanation. Understandably this was a great miracle, that oil that could barely stay alight for one day stayed lit for a full eight days.  However, the miracle was really only for seven days because there was enough oil to light the menorah for the first day. Therefore, only the seven subsequent days were miraculous, so the holiday should be for seven days not eight.  Why then do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days? Over the years there have been many answers given to this question. Some say that the very fact that fire consumes oil is in itself miraculous, and therefore, the extra day is coming to teach us that what we usually attribute to the principles of nature is also the will of G-d. Others have noted that Chanukah celebrates two miraculous events, that of the aforementioned story of the oil, and the miracle of the defeat of the powerful Greek army by the hands of the small band of Chashmonaim. Therefore, say these commentators, the extra day is celebrating our belief that with the help of G-d, we can defy all odds and predictions.

There is another answer given that can teach us a totally different lesson.  The Midrash Bamidbar 13 says that Aaron and his sons completed the construction of the Mishkan on the 25th of the month of Kislev but that God delayed the “Chanukat HaMizbeach, the consecration of the altar, until the month of Nisan. Thus God “repaid” the month of Kislev in the days of Matisyahu and made a “Chanukah then.”  The Midrash is telling us that when Matisyahu and his men rebuilt the sullied and ravaged Temple it was deemed to be a new “Chanukat HaMizbeach”, a rededication of what was. Just like the initial dedication of the Mikdash in the days of Aaron and his sons was a total of eight days, so was the dedication in the days of Matisyahu.

This is an interesting idea, and it perhaps was a satisfying reason to celebrate Chanukah in the days of the Temple, but why do we still celebrate Chanukah nowadays if we understand it in this new light – that it is a tribute to the rededication? We don’t celebrate the initial dedication of the Mikdash nor do we do anything to honor the much lauded Chanukat HaMizbeach of King Solomon. The grand opening of King Solomon’s Temple was so joyful that the Talmud Moed Katon relates that in that year the Jewish people did not observe Yom Kippur because they were involved in festive rejoicing. And yet, we do nothing today to mark that occasion. Why then do we spend eight days commemorating the rededication, the rebuilding of Matisyahu in the present day?

Rabbi Lamm answers this question and it is a powerful lesson for our lives. He writes that when things are new they are attractive. People are easily excited by novelty and therefore it’s no surprise that there was such joyous celebration and partying when the Temple was first inaugurated. The Chumash records that Moshe had to tell the people to stop bringing donations because they were so abundant. The Navi documents how hordes of people gathered from all over for the opening of Solomon’s Temple.   Yet, says Rabbi Lamm, when the novelty fades and the adrenalin wears off, that’s when the real work starts. Passion is easy when people are intrigued by a new project, however, to enthusiastically rebuild and restore is much harder and more arduous. What Chanukah symbolizes is learning to continually be full of zeal and enthusiasm, and not to get too set into a routine.

We are meant to learn from the holiday of Chanukah that just like the Chanukah miracle grew as the days went on, so too our excitement and passion should grow over time rather than wane.  We observe the rededication as opposed to the original dedication because everyone celebrates beginnings, but as Jews we are supposed to carry all of these emotions throughout our life experiences.

May this Kislev be a month in which we only grow in our excitement and renew our passion for Judaism every day.

Emma Katz

Emma Katz

Emma Katz is a graduate of the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute. She is currently the Director of NILI-The Women’s Initiative of the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago. Emma earned her BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and Masters degree in Jewish Education from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. She has taught in many formal and informal Jewish educational settings, including Shulamith High School for Girls in the Five Towns and the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago.