The long, silent white nights of winter have an almost mystic quality. They make us occasionally consider ending the day early and opening a book, or writing a journal or maybe just listening. The silence lets us hear our hearts speak loud enough for us to hear without the static of day-to-day living.
We tend to deaden the impact of living with seasons by killing their message with the intrusion (and blessing) of electricity. We turn summer into spring with air conditioning. We heat our homes and experience winter by looking out the window and feeling the frost if we actually touch the panes. We lengthen the day by keeping the lights on. All of this, of course, is a great piece of good fortune. After all, no one really misses the sort of summer that left us exhausted, tense and drenched in sweat, or the kind of winter that imprisoned us in our badly heated homes yearning for the sun. Nonetheless, it's good to once in a while take the time to let the world speak to us.
Each month has its own message. The Arizal, a great mystic, tells us that the spiritual force of each of the 12 months parallels one of the 12 tribes (for the month of Kislev, it is the tribe Benjamin, who was known for his unwavering faith in God and his ferocious ability to battle evil) and the astral sign of the month (for this month, it is the bow). All of this lets us map out something of the nature of the month, and perhaps how to find a part of ourselves (since each Jew is a composite of all 12 tribes).
As the days get longer and blacker, we can intuitively sense that place within us that is dark, hopeless and vulnerable is closer to the surface than it is during the summer. In fact, there is scientific evidence that there is a biological basis for this feeling. What escapes us is the precious nature of coming in contact with this part of ourselves.
There are two events that took place in this month that give us insight to the turf we enter. The first is God presenting the rainbow as a covenantal sign after the destruction of the Flood. We hardly associate rainbows with the shortest days of the year, but the rainbow is indeed very much part of the picture. Noah left the safety of the ark and re-entered the world on the 28th of Cheshvan (the previous month on the Jewish calendar). He saw vast, unspeakable, total desolation. We can't begin to envision the barren, silent world that he faced. He recognized that it was up to him to chart a course that will lead him and his descendants to redefining the world. He offered sacrifices to symbolize his commitment to uplift the world and everything in it to its Divine source.
The spark of eternity within us can never totally disappear, no matter how well we disguise it by adapting animalistic behaviors.
On the first day of Kislev, God responded to this act by blessing Noah and his family. He set down new rules for them. From now on man will be permitted to eat meat. He will be accountable for shedding human blood. The world is meant to be a place where the fact that we were made in God's image is relevant. We are not just a more developed sort of animal, but an entirely unique species. The spark of eternity within us can never totally disappear, no matter how well we disguise it by adapting animalistic behaviors. We cannot "convert" to becoming an animal any more than a doorknob can become a canary. Animals may be killed and eaten; no human being is an animal. God promised never to bring a flood again, sealing his covenant to continue existence with a sign -- the rainbow.
Why a rainbow?
There were always rainbows, even before the flood. What changed is its message. What does the multicolored luminescent rainbow tell us about the territory we walk? It maps our future. After the flood, humankind will now develop differently. Until that point, there was no concept of nationhood or of divergent cultures. From now on, different peoples will become progressively more variegated. The rainbow is a living statement (a map) of what that really means (the territory). A rainbow is formed when pure white light refracts into seven shades. Red is nearest the original beam, and violet is the furthest away from the pure white light.
This has a human parallel. Some people are close to God, and live lives that reveal their intimacy with the Creator. Other people are much further away from their Source, and nothing about their lives gives any external evidence of having any sort of relationship with Him. The fact is that both people come from one source, in the same way that red and violet are both caused by the same pure light.
All the hues of our existence stem from one single source of Light, even if we are not always wise enough to see it.
In our individual lives, we also experience the entire spectrum of light, going from bright to dark. Three in the afternoon may be an ideal time -- work is great, the sky is blue, and everything seems perfect. Three in the morning is an entirely different story. You lie in bed and can't sleep. Nothing you do seems significant; nothing seems likely to change either. Sometimes black moments are spurred by external factors – rejection, failure or perceived rejection or failure -- but there are also black moments that are just part life's ebb and flow. At both times, we can recognize that God made us with an inner rhythm that moves the light within us from "red" luminosity to "violet" despair, and that our souls are still eternal and life still has meaning. Each human soul is and always will be attached to life, which is God Himself. All the hues of our existence stem from one single source of Light, even if we are not always wise enough to see it.
The police sergeant told Sammy that he had two calls. Sammy remained silent. His eyes raced from the florescent light to the chipped brown Formica desk. Anywhere but the phone. At 19, he felt old, dead, and repulsive. There was no one to call. Not his father, who hadn't seen or spoken to him since his infancy, nor his raging half sane mother.
The policewoman looked at him with a strange mixture of impatience and compassion. "Call your lawyer or someone from your family. We can't let you out until someone comes to sign for you and to put down bail money. It can be months until your trial."
He didn't answer; he didn't have to. She caught on. There was no one on the entire planet that Sammy could call. Her tired brown eyes met his for a moment. He wanted to lash out at her and all of the rest of the patronizing, safe, normal people he had ever known. The hatred was sharp, deep, and nothing at all compared to the heat of the hatred that he felt for himself. One number came back to him. The principal of his high school in Migdal HaAmek who had found him asleep on a park bench five years earlier and convinced him to go to the school dorms. The last time he had spoken to him was at stormy meeting in his office that had ended with Sammy going off to chart his own path.
He didn't know what to say. He dialed the number with trembling hands. He wanted the phone to just ring so he didn't have to face the policewoman who knew too much and at the same time not force him to hear either indifference or anger he anticipated from waking someone up at 4 am. It rang eight times. Rabbi Grossman answered. "It's Sammy."
"What happened? Where are you?"
He spilled the entire sordid story and ended with the only words he could. "They're holding me here unless someone signs and pays." In a matter of hours, Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman the legendary Rav of Migdal HaEmek, was in Tel Aviv, a 2 hour drive if the roads are clear. He knew what Sammy didn't know and believed something Sammy never believed; Sammy is priceless, dazzlingly beautiful, and eternal manifestation of his Creator.
THE LIGHT OF CHANUKAH
The second event that hallmarks Kislev is Chanukah. It was one of the darkest times in our history. We had somehow lost track of everything real and enduring. A significant percentage of our people defined themselves as Hellenists, lovers of everything Greek. The Greeks knew the map better than any nation that preceded them. They saw the hills and valleys; the mind and the body. They were gifted with uncanny accuracy and portrayed what they saw with unparalleled beauty and power.
But they didn't know the territory. Morality, Godliness, spirituality were beyond their grasp. What's worse, they found the very concept of spirituality to be threatening and dangerous to their human-centered world. They outlawed Torah because it took the mind to places unknown. They outlawed Shabbos because it invited anyone who kept it to see themselves as part of a created world with accountability to its Creator, rather a member of a human-centered world in which morality is irrelevant. They outlawed circumcision because it implied that the human body was not perfect as is, but rather an imperfect instrument left for humans to perfect.
In the midst of all of this, we experienced national rebirth and self-discovery. Then the miracle happened. The Greeks had defiled the Menorah, which is a symbol of the spirit just as they defiled everything else in the Temple. When the Temple was recaptured one of the first things that the Hasmonean (meaning coming from a family of Kohanim whose name was Hashmonai) fighters did was to try to rekindle the Menorah. Why was that so important to them? The reason is that they were not fighting for political independence. They were fighting for spiritual renewal. Lighting the Menorah was their response to darkness.
One day's worth of oil lasted eight days.
Each of us has to fight off darkness in our own way. None of us are alike; each one of us is an entire world. Let us use this time to see the rainbows that are the natural result of rain and sun meeting. Let us use this time to light the Menorah that is always there within our hearts.