Tishrei 5773 began at sundown on November 14, 2012.
I know, we’re just starting the month — not even Thanksgiving and I’m about to talk about Hanukkah. What? Well, the whole month of Tishrei is a month that allows us to make Hanukkah into something that is actually meaningful — and even important.
Hanukkah is important. That’s right. I’m saying it.Hanukkah is important. It’s not just a “me too” holiday of modern American/Western Jewry so we don’t feel bad that we don’t get Christmas. The proximity and importance of Christmas is a factor in why it is important today, but not the only reason. I wrote about why Hanukkah is important last year, and that’s not really what this is about. But to move forward with the rest of this post, we all need to just accept that Hanukkah is important.
All on the same page? Great! Moving on.
Kislev (כִּסְלֵו), the Jewish month that begins at sundown November 14, 2012, is the month that moves us into the winter (at least in the Western hemisphere). I agrarian societies, this is beginning of the scariest part of the year. Will there be enough food to get you through until spring? So it seems totally logical that the root word for Kislev, kesel (כֶּסֶל), means either “trust” or “security. “
The letter of the month is samech (ס), according to the Sefer Yetzirah. It’s in the middle of the word, kesel (כֶּסֶל), that root word for Kislev. The Samech is a surrounding, circular letter, and sources remind us that it’s a letter that symbolizes support. It symbolizes the circle of life and the wheel of the year. Even though we think of our Jewish calendar beginning in Tishrei with Rosh Hashanah, the agrarian year begins in Nisan - the month of the holiday of Passover. This means that Kislev is the close of the year, which is what we naturally feel when the winter comes.
With me, still?
So why is all of this important? Well, because all this leads to the idea that Kislev is a month for us to dedicate and/or re-dedicate ourselves to ourselves, our faith, and the Holy One. Hanukkah, this holiday that we think of as fluffy is actually hugely important. It’s the holiday of dedication. The word means dedication! It’s the day that the Temple was rededicated after it had been desecrated, but that’s ancient history.
Hanukkah falls at the end of the month, the 25th of Kislev (yes, the 25th). That means you have the whole month to prepare for the holiday, and what exactly you are dedicating yourself to! So while the rest of world seems to be busy in their shopping frenzy for Christmas, you get to focus on what’s really important and decide how, what, and why you are dedicating yourself to. It’s kind of amazing the way our calendar is structured. High Holy Days where we are inscribed in the book of life. Then we get a month of no holidays where we can begin to put our commitments into action, and finally a month to contemplate what we are dedicated to and ritually enact our dedication.
Can you tell I love this stuff?
Kislev is a month of preparation before we go through a personal dedication and get to re-experience the cosmic and mythic history of the Tribe and rededicate the Temple. And, wait for it, they are both the same thing! Our personal acts of dedication are the dedication of the Temple, in each generation.