KISLEV: MAINTAINING BALANCE IN A WORLD OF EXTREMES
While Kislev is actually a Babylonian name in origin (the Torah just refers to Kislev as the 9th month), it is also linked to the Hebrew word kesel (kaf-samech-lamed) which means “trust” or “security”. Kesel can also refer to a kidney in biblical Hebrew (Tehillim 38;8), according to some translations. In Sefer Yetzirah we learn that each month has a corresponding zodiac sign, Hebrew letter, body part, sense and tribe. The organs which correspond to Kislev are the kidneys, and there are two types of trust that reside in the kidneys. Deep stuff, I know.
These two types of trust are passive trust and active trust. Both necessary and integral in the life of a Jew.
In our day-to-day lives, we generally aim to experience passive trust.
It’s a fundamental feeling that things will “work out”, that we are always being watched by G-d, that our daily lives matter to Him and that they are orchestrated by Him behind the scenes (what we call hashgacha pratit).
At certain points of our lives, we are called on to display active trust. The kind of trust needed when facing trying circumstances. At these times, we must actively choose to trust that G-d is with us, and that the results or salvation will be orchestrated by Him.
The miracle of Chanukah represents both the active and passive sorts of trust.
We tend to look at the battle between the Chashmonaim and the Greeks as a battle between good and evil or between light and darkness. We talk about the Greek culture as hedonistic and detrimental to our spirituality and Jewish traditions.
Rav Kook explains that there was an even deeper cause for this battle. Like many of the yogi cultures of today, the Greeks were actually very into spirituality as well as physicality. In fact, Greek philosophers had some really profound spiritual insights. So profound that some of our sages were known to study Greek wisdom. Even the Rambam said “Accept the truth from whomever said it”, referring to Aristotle and other Greek philosophers.
But there was a fundamental difference between the Jewish approach to spirituality and the Greek approach. The Greeks (b’shita) did not integrate the physical with the spiritual.
They placed a strong emphasis on beauty, physicality and sports but they wholly believed that philosophy and spirituality did not overlap at all. There was purposely a complete divide between the two worlds. Greek culture forced individuals to choose between the two seemingly contradicting approaches. There was no flexibility. Black or white. In or out.
So with the battle of the Greeks, the Greeks were essentially trying to take away the Jewish ability to integrate the holy with the secular.
According to the Maharal, Ner Mitzvah, the Greeks didn’t actually object to the involvement of Jewish individuals in spirituality, only in integrating the two realms. So the Greeks only made decrees that they knew for sure would inhibit this combination. For instance, Shabbat observance: when we celebrate Shabbat, we infuse kedusha (holiness) into the food we eat, the naps we take, and all of our social interactions. Brit Milah (circumcision) is a mitzvah that was forbidden because it symbolically shows how we can elevate something that can be used both for kedusha or profanity. They forbade Mikvah, which, again, allows for taharat hamishpacha to be observed, thereby raising a physical act to a spiritual level.
This is why the Chashmonaim were the “chosen ones” to defeat the Greeks. They were armed with and represented both spiritual and physical prowess. They were fearless warriors who would fight using both assets. Matityahu, their military leader, was known to not only be strong in terms of spirituality, but he also had physical assets (Toseftah, Yomah 1:6).
The story of Yosef is another example of the successful integration of both worlds. He was a Jew immersed in a foreign culture, and remained a Naar Ivri (a Hebrew lad) throughout his time in Egypt. He was so successful, that his children, Ephraim and Menashe, were the first pair of children in his lineage in which both continued to embrace the family traditions. (Previously there were Yitzchak/Yishmael and Yaakov/Eisav, where one of each pair of brothers took a different path).
The story of Chanukah is about the preservation of Jewish identity and our ability to live in both the physical and spiritual world at the same time.
It is the story of a small and mighty group of rabbis and community leaders who were willing to stand up, with proactive faith and trust, and fight against the black and white mentality of the Hellenistic empire. Active trust is like our “backup generator” that kicks in when we are in active duty and faced with darkness.
It is also the story of this same group of rabbis and community leaders whose foundation of passive trust paved the way for the darker times in which they would need to call on their active faith to help them through. Like the Chashmonaim, we need to hone that passive trust in our daily lives for those inevitable times when we face turbulence.
The ability to integrate two divergent concepts; active and passive, spiritual and secular and to maintain balance in a world of extreme… is what Kislev is made of.