The Edythe Benjamin חיה בת שלמה beloved mother of Barbara Hanus Rosh Hodesh Kislev Torah Essay

This month's essay is by Miriam Kazlow

As we leave the month of Cheshvan, associated with the beginnings of rain and early nightfall, we enter the month of Kislev associated with light and joy due to the Rabbinic holiday of Hannukahh. Ironically, however, Kislev is the darkest month of the year as it falls out during the winter solstice! What messages may we perhaps extrapolate in this cold and dark month as we celebrate the “festival of lights”?

Nothing in Judaism is a coincidence; every commandment and holiday has significance in its timing and detail. Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (1783-1841), famed author of the Bnei Yissaschar, one of the most oft-quoted classic hassidic texts, discusses why Hannukahh is celebrated in Kislev, a month of physical darkness. Hannukahh, he explains, is intended to radiate light into our lives during these dark, rainy, and cold nights.

Furthermore, there is an additional seasonal spiritual “darkness” during this time between the holidays of Tishrei (i.e. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot) and the holidays of the Spring (i.e. Purim, Pesach, Shavuot). Kislev marks a “break” in our spiritual opportunities of closeness to Hashem through the chagim. Hannukahh therefore comes to rekindle the spiritual “spark” that we may be lacking at this time of year.

What is the nature of this unique winter “spark”? The Bnei Yissaschar explains that the light provided through the celebration of Hannukahh represents the restoration of Torah as the focus of our lives. " כִּ֤י נֵ֣ר מִ֭צְוָה וְת֣וֹרָה א֑וֹר… ". For the commandment is a lamp, The teaching is a light… (Mishlei 6:23). In Sefer Mishlei, Shlomo HaMelekh compares commandments to lamps and Torah teachings to light for they provide guidance and clarity in how to live.

As we light candles each night of Hannukahh, we fulfill a Rabbinic mitzvah to commemorate the miracles of pure oil lasting eight days and defeating the Seleucid Greeks with a small and unsophisticated army. But we are also celebrating the victory and restoration of our “light”, our Torah, against the culture of Hellenism which attempted to undermine the centrality of our Torah values and way of life.

Particularly at this dark time of year, we incorporate both physical and spiritual light in our lives; physically through the candles and spiritually through studying more Torah. This period of the year reminds us that personally and nationally we undergo times and troughs of darkness and struggles, and simultaneously inspires and invigorates us to overcome and surmount them.

The challenge and goal throughout the month of Kislev is to focus on Torah learning and observance to enlighten this season and our lives. This is how we counteract the dark and cold elements around us at this time of year. Though the candles of the menorah provide us with physical light, it is the spiritual light of learning Torah which provides us with clarity and direction to plow through our difficulties and guide us on a path of personal and national triumph.

May we all merit throughout this month of Kislev to maximize our opportunities of talmud Torah, filling the entire month with spiritual “light” of guidance, observance and small miracles which unfold before us each day.

Miriam Kazlowis from Woodmere, New York and is currently living in Yerushalayim. She has worked in Manhattan Day School and in camp Kaylie, and this year is studying at Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute while working as a madricha at Shaalvim for women.

Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies has been at the cutting edge of Torah learning for women since it was established in 1988.