The Month of Kislev - Candles in the Dark

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.
Elisheva Maline

In ancient times, the lunar month was established by means of observation. Once two witnesses had approached the Sanhedrin with their sightings of a crescent moon, the court could declare Rosh Chodesh, a.k.a. the new month. Chanukah is similar to Rosh Chodesh in that it is also a holiday that was established by men, so to speak. Although it is not considered aholiday based in the Torahour sages of blessed memory ordained it as a festival. What miracles happened during the days of Chanukah that the sages considered applicable for all future generations?  

The background for the story of Chanukah is from "during the time period of the Second Temple. The Greeks had issued decrees against Israel: they forbade Jews to engage in Torah study and practice the mitzvot (commandments). The Greeks proceeded to lay their hands on Jewish property, and eventually, they entered the Holy Temple and defiled everything that was ritually pure. They opened all the jugs of oil meant for lighting the menorah causing them to become unfit for lighting the menorah. This, among other things, caused Israel terrible anguish. Hashem (G-d), in His great mercy, delivered the Greeks into the hands of the Jews. Several members of the Hasmonean dynasty stood up to the Greeks... and they prevailed. All this occurred on the 25th of Kislev." The Book of Our Heritage. 

Since Jewish thought calls this world a manifestation of spiritual reality, the sages made a holiday out of Chanukah to uplift the dark reality that is mid November to early December. The energy of Kislev is one of spiritual deterioration. Hence, it is often called the darkest time of year. Moreover, during this season the Jewish people suffered terrible decline in their service to G-d. During the era of the second temple the religious community was at loggerheads with the Greek empire as well as at the droves of Jews who were converting to the Hedonistic ideal.  

Yet out of that bleakness where we almost lost our religion and the temple, G-d shined a light. This was the glow of the Chanukah miracles we witnessed then. After the Hasmoneons defeated the Greek army, the victors entered the temple to discover that there was only enough ritually pure oil left for one night. It would take a week to ready the next batch, and the menorah needed to be lit every day. This fact did not dampen their spirits, however. The kohanim (priests) lit the menorah. Then, a miracle happened. That one night's worth of oil kept the candles lit for eight days and nights. This is why we celebrate Chanukah for eight nights. 

These candles are the symbolic flickering of lights that occurred in all our exiles or during our periods of spiritual failing. They also stand in as representatives for those who clung to their beliefs in the face of mitigating circumstances. One of the ways in which we celebrate Chanukah is by lighting candles as a commemoration and encouragement from times past for people in difficult times to come. 

The following story is one that took place in extreme darkness: the Nazi concentration camp Bergen Belsen. This story marks one event among many, and it highlights Jewish endurance in even the most emotionally rending situations: 

When Chanukah came to Bergen Belsen, and it was time to kindle the Hanukkah lights, there was not a jug of oil to be found. No candle was in sight, and a Chanukiah (menorah) belonged to the distant past. Instead, a wooden clog, the shoe of one of the inmates, became a Chanukiah; strings pulled from a concentration camp uniform - wicks, and the black camp shoe polish - pure oil.
The living skeletons assembled to participate in the kindling of the Hanukkah lights.
The Rabbi of Bluzhov (Rav Israel Spira) lit the first light and chanted the first two blessings in his pleasant voice, and the festive melody was filled with sorrow and pain. When he was about to recite the third blessing, he stopped, turned his head, and looked around as if he were searching for something.
But immediately, he turned his face back to the quivering small lights and in a strong, reassuring, comforting voice, chanted the third blessing: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season."
Among those present at the kindling of the lights was a Mr. Zamietchkowski, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Bund. He was a clever, sincere person with a passion for discussing matters of religion, faith and truth. Even here in camp at Bergen Belsen, his passion for discussion did not abate. He never missed an opportunity to engage in such a conversation.
As soon as the Rabbi of Bluzhov had finished the ceremony of kindling the lights, Zamietchkowski elbowed his way to the rabbi and said, "Spira, you are a clever and honest person. I can understand your need to light Chanukah candles in these wretched times. I can even understand the historical note of the second blessing, 'Who did miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.' But the fact that you recited the third blessing is beyond me. How could you thank God and say, 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season'? How could you say it when hundreds of dead Jewish bodies are literally lying within the shadows of the Chanukiah lights, when thousands of living Jewish skeletons are walking around in camp, and millions more are being massacred? For this you are thankful to God? For this you praise the Lord? This you call 'keeping us alive'?"
"Zamietchkowski, you are a hundred percent right," answered the rabbi. "When I reached the third blessing, I also hesitated and asked myself, what should I do with this blessing? I turned my head in order to ask the Rabbi of Zaner and other distinguished rabbis whose spirits were standing near me if indeed I might recite the blessing. But just as I was turning my head, I noticed that behind me, a throng was standing: a large crowd of living Jews, their faces expressing faith, devotion, and concentration as they were listening to the rite of the kindling of the Chanukah lights. I said to myself, if God, blessed be He, has such a nation that at times like these, when during the lighting of the Chanukah lights, they see in front of them the heaps of bodies of their beloved fathers, brothers, and sons, and death is looking at them from every corner, if despite all that, they stand with devotion and listen to the Chanukah blessing, 'Who did miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season,' if indeed, I was blessed to see such a people with so much faith and fervor, then I am under a special obligation to recite the third blessing."

May we never again experience such horror, may we all be blessed to see G-d in our lives during the dark and bright times.

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