Reborn from the ashes

Chanukah 5778

Hanukkah has a particularity that distinguishes it from the rest of Israel’s festivals: no other festival in the Hebrew calendar is celebrated in two different months. The first days of Chanukah are celebrated in the month of Kislev, while the last days coincide with the first days of the month of Tevet.

What can this teach us?

In the Jewish tradition, the Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month, represents the idea of ​​renewal. In fact, that’s what happens with the moon. Towards the end of the month it wanes until it disappears completely and then it is reborn and grows progressively until it regains its form.

Chanukah is a holiday that contains a similar message.

In Aramaic there is an expression that says “Mi-Bira Amikta Le-Igra Rama” (from the bottom of the pit to the top of the roof). In the days of the Hanukkah miracle a “black shadow” hung over the Jewish people. We were about to disappear as a people, forget our Torah and lose our identity by assimilating with another nation.

However, with the help of God and with the courage of the Chashmonaim, a glimmer of hope was lit and finally we managed to recover our national sovereignty and re-establish the Temple of Jerusalem desecrated by the hosts of Antioch Epiphanes.

The Talmud  in the Tractate of Shabbat Law gives the commandment of the Chanukah candles. This precept, established by our Rabbis, is regulated by a wide range of laws. The Talmud tells us how many candles should be lit, at what time the ritual should be practiced, where the candle is placed, etc.

Among these laws we are taught – in the name of Rabbi Tanhum – that the Chanukah candle cannot be placed above twenty cubits in height (approximately ten meters).

Immediately afterwards – in the name of Rabbi Tanhum himself – the Talmud brings a midrash about Yosef, whose story we read during Chanukah .

Rabbi Tanchum asks: Why are we told about the pit into which Yosef was thrown,    “And the pit was empty, it had no water” (Bereshit 37, 24). If it was empty … obviously it had no water! Rabbi Tanchum explains that clarification is necessary, since the pit did not have water, but it did have snakes and scorpions.

What is the relationship of the Chanukah candle with the pit of Yosef? Why does the Talmud bring two very different comments in the name of Rabbi Tanchum?

We could justify this detail by arguing that the Talmudic text is not linear. Many times, the Gemara develops in an associative manner, and two or more comments may well be linked by the name of a certain Rabbi, Rabbi Tanchum in this case.

However, I prefer to do a different reading. Yosef’s life developed similarly to the story of Chanukah: it started at the bottom of the well and ended at the top of the roof.

From slave to viceroy of Egypt. From a deep pit to the palace of Pharaoh. From anguish to hope.

The fact that the holiday of Chanukah is divided into two different months suggests a similar idea. And possibly this message of hope can be transferred to each of the areas of our lives, both collectively and personally: behind the most gray and frightening clouds, the sun hides in all its splendor. And even when the moon disappears for a few moments, it will always be reborn.

About the Author
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski is the Rabbi at Kehillat Netzach Israel, the Masorti (Conservative) congregation in Ashkelon.
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