Friday, December 2, 2011

Two articles on Kislev

I again wrote two different articles with the same theme that appeared in two different places, be'H. The first appeared on, and the second will be appearing in the Beltway Buzz magazine of DC.
You will notice that they both start and end the same (basically).

Here is the version:

The Autumn Triad
How the High Holiday season actually culminates with Chanukah.

When we think of the month of Kislev, we naturally think of the holiday of Chanukah that begins on the 25th day of the month. Looking on a deeper level, we can discern a thread that ties together the three-month period that consists of the months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev. We will also uncover a hidden connection between Sukkot and Chanukah.

If we carefully examine the structure of the year, we discern that the year consists of two sets of six months. One set begins with Tishrei, the month when we celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and continues until the sixth month of the set, which is Adar and the holiday of Purim. The other set of six months begins with the month of Nissan, when we celebrate Passover, and continues through the summer, culminating with Elul, the preparatory month for the High Holidays.

All the structures of time are multiples of six.

It is significant to note that all the structures of time are multiples of six. The day consists of 24 hours, which is four sets of six hours. Each hour consists of 60 minutes, and each minute consists of 60 seconds, both 10 sets of six. Likewise, the year itself is two sets of six months.

These sets of six can be broken down further into two groups of three. Generally, sets of three can be described as being a manifestation of the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's expansion of this concept in Sefer Yetzirah, p. 82). This means that the first aspect of a set of three is the initial concept. The second aspect is its polar opposite. The third aspect is the perfect synthesis, or balance, between the first two.

To understand this better, we can observe this pattern in many different contexts – for example, a debate between two individuals who maintain opposite opinions about a subject. The first person presents his opinion, and the second presents his opposing opinion. Generally, there is a certain truth that each side can agree to. While a kernel of truth is found in each of the respective views, one can find a higher truth which is a synthesis of the two opposing opinions.

Spiritual Synthesis

We can likewise discern this pattern in the months of the year. The months we have just passed through – Tishrei and Cheshvan, as well as the current month of Kislev – constitute a triad that functions in precisely the way we have been discussing. In Tishrei, we experience an intense opportunity for connection to God, as we ride the successive waves of the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. As Tishrei draws to a close, the inspiration of those festive days becomes a memory as we enter into the month of Cheshvan, which is the polar opposite of Tishrei.

As discussed previously, Cheshvan is a month which is devoid of holidays, and is described as “the bitter month.” It is a time when the natural state of the world is one of distance from spiritual light. It is a time when we are to search within the darkness for the light of spirituality that seems to have been extinguished.

With the advent of Kislev, we begin to see the synthesis between the polar opposites of Tishrei and Cheshvan. The spiritual light for which we have been searching is now discernible, shining deep within the darkness. There is a balance between the inspiration of Tishrei, and the deeper personal work that is necessary in Cheshvan when there is no outside inspiration.

By contrast, the Second Temple was devoid of open miracles and prophecy.

This synthesis is aptly expressed in the holiday of Chanukah which begins on the 25th of Kislev. It is then that we celebrate and relive the experience of the Jewish people during the time of the Second Temple. That period was characterized by a lower level of spiritual light. Whereas the First Temple period was characterized by daily open miracles, as well as direct communication from God through the prophets, the Second Temple period was devoid of miracles and clear spiritual messages. The Hellenistic way of life disdained the spiritual and glorified the physical, and many Jews fell prey at that time to a hedonistic view of life. It was at that very moment of spiritual darkness that a small group of Jews were able to see past the darkness and find a spiritual light that shone deep within, to be expressed in the miracles of Chanukah.

Here we see two extremes: the open miracles of the First Temple, and the apparent spiritual darkness of the Second Temple. They are brought into synthesis with the subtle miracles of Chanukah – the many who fell in the hand of the few; a miraculous light that would shine for eight days instead of only one. These accomplishments paled in comparison to the miracles of the First Temple, but they represented the synthesis between human efforts and the aid God would provide to animate those efforts. Within the darkness, there was a vehicle we as humans could create for God to reveal Himself subtly in the world.

Clouds of Glory

With this idea we can understand a deeper connection between the holidays of Sukkot and Chanukah. Sukkot occurs in the month of Tishrei, the month of inspiration in this three-month set. It is the holiday when we sit in the sukkah, which helps us relive the experience of the Jewish people as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, completely surrounded by the spiritual clouds of God's glory. This revelatory experience was one that we could compare to a gift that the Jewish people received at that time.

We experience the polar opposite in the month of Cheshvan that follows, when our connection to spirituality is hidden. This darkness, however, creates the opportunity for us to create that vehicle for God's transcendent light to appear through our own efforts. The light of spirituality which was originally given as a gift, after the Exodus from Egypt, is finally revealed through human efforts with the advent of the story of Chanukah. Although the revelation is more subtle, it is one that represents the synthesis between God's spiritual gifts and our efforts in being able to reveal and receive those gifts.

We can now see that the three months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev is a period of time which is about developing our relationship with God, starting with the moment of inspiration, continuing through a more difficult period which depends on our investment, then culminating with the fruits of that determination being revealed as the eight nights of Chanukah light that shine forth through the darkness of winter.

The Beltway Buzz version:

When we think of the month of Kislev, we naturally think of the holiday of Chanukah that begins on the twenty fifth day of the month. If we turn back to our discussion from last month's column, we will note that there is another aspect that is intrinsic to Kislev. Looking at it on a deeper level, we will also be able to discern a thread that ties together the three month period that consists of the months of Tishrei, Chesvan and Kislev. We will also uncover a hidden connection between Succos and Chanukah.

We previously saw that just as there is a fifty day period connecting the holiday of Pesach and Shavuos, so too there was to have been a fifty day period connecting Succos to Shmini Atzeres. Hashem decided, however, to place the holiday of Shmini Atzeres in closer proximity to Succos because of the difficulty it would entail for the Jewish people to return fifty days later, as the winter season would already be upon them. Thus we see that Shmini Atzeres should have been on the sixth day of Kislev, just as Shavuos is on the sixth day of Sivan.

Once we have established the parallel between these two periods of time, we can draw a conclusion as to the similarity between them. Just as there is a buildup from Pesach, when the Jewish people experienced the Exodus, until Shavuos when the Jewish people received the Torah, there is a similar buildup from Succos until Kislev. On the surface, there does not seem to be a significant event that occurs during this time. However, if we follow the chronology of the Torah, an interesting picture starts to emerge, that is clearly and intimately connected to the Exodus and the receiving of the Torah.

The Jewish people experienced the revelation at Sinai on the sixth of Sivan of the year 2448 from creation. Forty days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, Moshe was to come down with the luchos, however, the sin of the Golden Calf occurred on that day, destroying their chances of receiving that which represented their covenant with Hashem. A few days later, Moshe returned to Sinai for another forty days, pleading for the Jewish people's forgiveness, until the first of Elul. He again went up for a third set of forty days until Yom Kippur, the tenth of Tishrei, when he came down with the second set of luchos, and complete forgiveness for the Jewish people's grievous sin.

At that point, Moshe gave the Jewish people the command to bring their donations for the Mishkan, the place that would become a central location for their service of Hashem. The Divine Presence could reside, once again, on the Jewish people, because of Hashem's forgiveness for their sin, and their efforts to create a sanctuary for their relationship. The raw materials were gathered by the fifteenth of Tishrei, the first day of Succos, and all the work to create the parts of the mishkan was started on that day and was completed almost two months later, on the twenty fifth of Kislev. Although all was ready, the actual dedication of the Mishkan was delayed until three months later, the end of Adar and the beginning of Nissan. The twenty fifth day of Kislev would have to wait for its moment in the sun until many centuries later with the miracle of Chanukah.

With this chronology in mind, we see that just as there was a time of development for the Jewish people from Nissan to Sivan, as they left Egypt and prepared to receive the Torah, there was a corresponding buildup that occurred from Tishrei to Kislev, as they invested their time in preparing the materials for the physical structure of the Mishkan. If we compare the two time periods, however, we can note that there is a very stark contrast between them. Whereas the springtime period which characterized the time of the Exodus was one of spectacular miracles, the wintertime period was one of strong involvement and concerted effort on the part of the Jewish people. Both time periods witnessed Hashem's Divine Presence resting upon His beloved people, which symbolized His relationship with them. At first, however, the relationship was given as a miraculous gift. After their fall from the relationship, it was necessary for that very connection to be earned through their own efforts.

If we take a deeper look at the holiday of Chanukah, we can now see how it corresponds to this idea and fits beautifully into the period on the calendar we are discussing. The story of Chanukah took place during the time of the second Beis Hamikdash. Whereas the time period of the first Beis Hamikdash was characterized by daily open miracles and Hashem's Presence clearly seen, the second Beis Hamikdash lacked any open miracles, and even the Aron Habris was absent from the Kodesh Hakadashim. During the first temple, the relationship between Am Yisrael and Hashem was clear and apparent. During the second, it was difficult to discern. The first temple period clearly parallels the time immediately after the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt, when miracles were the norm. The second temple period clearly parallels the time when they fell from grace and lost their relationship, and had to earn that relationship again, through their concerted efforts.

If we focus on the three months of Tishrei, Cheshvan, and Kislev, we can see that this very pattern exists here as well. Tishrei is the month that we celebrate Hashem's Divine presence returning to the Jewish people, as the Succos remind us of the Clouds of Glory that protected us and returned to us as Hashem forgave us at this time. Cheshvan arrives, and we experience a type of estrangement in the relationship, as there is a certain distance, as represented by the lack of holidays and occasions to develop our relationship with Hashem. This is the period when it is up to us to spend our time building a place for Hashem to reside, as it were, the time when we are constructing the components of His dwelling here on Earth. Thus we have the first inspirational period of Tishrei, followed by dark period, Cheshvan, which is the time of our work and effort. Finally, Kislev is the month where we find the balance between these two extremes, where the work is completed, and ultimately, the miracle of Chanukah takes place, which represents the balanced relationship between our efforts and Hashem's involvement.

We thus see that Succos represents the inspiration for Hashem's Presence to dwell upon His people, and the months that follow represent our work to create a place for His presence, culminating in Chanukah when the work is complete, and the relationship has been formed as an interdependent reality. It is remarkable that each of the days of Chanukah is exactly seventy days after each of the days of Succos. The Maharsha in Moed Katan (28) points out that the 25th day of Adar, the day the world was created, is exactly seventy days before the sixth of Sivan, when the Torah was given. This teaches us that there is an intimate connection between two points on the calendar that are exactly ten weeks (seventy days) apart.

In light of our discussion, we can now see that this seventy day period which spans the three months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev, is a period of time which is about developing our relationship with Hashem, starting with the moment of inspiration, continuing through a more difficult period where there is a need for our investment into the relationship. This finally culminates with the fruits of that determination being revealed as the relationship begins to subtly shine forth with the eight nights of Chanukah light that shine through the darkness of the winter.

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