Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the first day in the new month of Kislev. As I recited my prayers I noted in the mussaf section of prayers that Jews are commanded to bring an offering to the High Priest, offerings for sacrifice to God.
But I have no bulls, no lambs, no goats to offer. What sacrifice then can I offer to my God? So I turn to Him and I ask,
“Avinu she ba shamayim, Heavenly Father, I am among the lowliest of Thy servants. Purify my heart and my mind and let me be worthy of being one of Thy servants. Sanctify me as Thou will do in accordance with Thy plans for me in the closing days and years of my life.”
I have not yet received a reply from His heavenly abode but I wait with patience. Perhaps God does not deliver His responses by e-mail so I await a visit from one of His chosen messengers, an angel of peace and of love.
Kislev is a special month on the Jewish calendar. In this month we celebrate the 8 day festival of light, Chanukah, a festival in which we recall His miracles on our behalf leading to the defeat of the Hellenistic Greeks who sought to destroy our religion.
It was on this occasion that our Rock and our Redeemer gave strength to the family of the Maccabees and enabled them with military strength and faith in the power of Israel’s One God.
According to tradition, Chanukah is celebrated for 8 nights on which candles are lit in every Jewish home. We place them in the menorah and set them near a window where they can be seen from the outside. It is a sign to proclaim our victory in the month of Kislev in the year 165 B.C.E.
Why the number 8 was chosen is based upon dispute. According to the story, when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was cleansed from the impurification of the Greeks, a small vial of pure oil was found, sufficient to light the menorah in the temple for only one night.
Nes gadol haya po. A great miracle happened here. The oil sufficient for one night lasted for eight nights.
Realistically, rational minds understand that what is enough for only one night is only sufficient for that one night. It cannot be enough for more.
Many Jewish scholars (not among the orthodox believers) point to a different reason. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot which preceded the defeat of the Greeks could not be observed in the holy temple which was no longer pure. Sukkot is an eight day festival.
Therefore, when the holy temple was cleansed, the eight day holiday of Sukkot was observed. And to honor that occasion, the festival of re-dedication of the holy temple, Chanukah, was designated for 8 nights and days of observance.
Myth, legend or fact is less important. More important is the Jewish victory over idol-worshipping Greeks who sought to destroy the symbols and practices of Jewish faith and tradition.
As children enjoy the spinning of the dreidel, the svivon, they view it as a game to play on the holiday of Chanukah. But sadly, they do not understand the source of the little spinning top.
As part of the Greek intention to destroy all Jewish learning they burned the schools and threatened the rabbis and scholars with the death penalty if any were found guilty of teaching Torah and Jewish laws to children. In this cruel way they sought to eliminate Judaism completely.
To outwit the Greeks, the Jewish teachers took pupils out into the open fields where they could be seen by Greek soldiers and orally taught them Jewish religious laws. As Greek soldiers approached, the teachers and pupils took out small wooden tops and spun them, laughing happily.
When the Greeks saw them and asked what they were doing the teachers merely replied “we are on a picnic and playing games”. This answer satisfied the Greeks and as they turned away, the rabbis returned to the teaching of Jewish laws and customs.
Thus the custom of the spinning top remains a favorite of the Chanukah holiday.
To commemorate the miracle of the oil, we eat certain foods that are cooked in oil. In my family it was always potato latkes, small pancakes fried in deep oil. If the meal was dairy, the potato pancakes were served with sour cream and if the meal was meat they were served with apple-sauce.
In modern Israel, the favorites are sufganiyot, jelly donuts fried in oil. Last year’s statistics revealed that more than four million jelly donuts (sufganiyot) were bought by non-calorie counting Jews on Chanukah.
B’tayavon ! Hearty appetite!
So many different customs, all intended to recall the miracle of Chanukah in ages long ago.
For this new month of Kislev I send my kisses to all my faithful readers with my wishes for good health, long years of life and happiness, and shalom bayit, peace in your homes.
Chag samayach. Happy Chanukah to all. Love and kisses from me. (I’m wearing my mask).