This essay is dedicated to the memory of my dear father R’ Yaakov Tovia ben Boruch z”l who left for the Olam HaEmes on the 24th of Kislev, Erev Chanukah, 5770.
On this Shabbos, Parshas Toldos, we bentch Rosh Chodesh Kislev, which falls on Yom Rishon and Yom Sheini (November 3 and 4 on the English calendar).
The month of Kislev commemorates many notable events, prominent among them the liberation of two Chassidic luminaries. R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, was released from incarceration in Russia on the 19th of Kislev in the year 1798. This date is celebrated each year by Lubavitcher chassidim.
The 21st of Kislev marks the anniversary of the day the Satmar Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, was rescued from the Bergen-Belson concentration camp in 1944. Satmar chassidim have gathered yearly ever since to celebrate this day in gratitude to Hashem for His miraculous intervention.
Some of the yahrzteits of tzaddikim observed in the month of Kislev: R’ Yecheskel Shraga Halberstam, Stropkover Rebbe (6 Kislev); R’ DovBer Schneerson ben R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi (2nd Lubavitcher “Mitteler” Rebbe); R’ Aharon ben R’ Shneur Zalman Kotler (9 Kislev); R’ Shlomo Luria Ashkenazi, the Maharshal (12 Kislev); R’ Yehuda HaNasi ben R’ Shimon ben Gamliel (15 Kislev); R’ Dov Ber ben R’ Avraham, Maggid of Mezritch (19 Kislev); Shimon ben Yaakov Avinu and R’ Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, Sdei Chemed (24 Kislev).
On the 25th day of Kislev the holy light of Chanukah shines upon us to conquer the darkness, and proper adherence to its mitzvah purifies our souls. It is written that Chanukah is an extension of Rosh Hashanah and thus a most effectual time for teshuvah.
That tiny spark that lies within every Jewish soul ignites a burning desire for spiritual fulfillment – that inner yearning to heed the tenets of the foundation of Judaism, which the Syrian-Greeks were so intent on crushing. The small bright flame, the essence of Chanukah, commemorates the minute amount of oil that burnt for eight days in the Bais HaMikdosh, a miracle that G-d performed for His people in recognition of their intense emunah and steadfast belief that He would guide them to victory despite unbelievable odds.
“Masarta giborim b’yad chalashim” – You gave the strong into the hands of the weak… The Kedushas Levi notes that the Chashmonaim were righteous individuals who recognized that without Divine intervention and assistance they would stand no chance of vanquishing the enemy, their physical prowess notwithstanding.
Since the holiday of Rosh Chodesh was specifically presented to women (as previously discussed in this series), it is fitting to pay tribute to the nashim tzidkaniyos whose stature came to light during the month of Kislev.
Our matriarch Leah is deserving of special mention since she gave birth to her first son, Reuven, on the 14th day of Kislev. Uh, okay, you say, she is not the first and only woman to give birth to a son, a bechor. True… but Leah set a precedent for her descendents when she beseeched Hashem to spare her from being paired with the rasha, Eisav. (Folks at the time took it for granted that Lavan’s two daughters would be matched with Yitzchak’s two sons, chronologically – the older with the older, the younger with the younger.)
Leah’s tearful prayers paid dividends; not only did she become Yaakov’s first wife but bore his first child. Thus we learn how the power of tears and tefillah can move the heavens.
The lust of the evil Antiochus to conquer every land and rule all peoples on earth and to make them subservient to him eventually led him to dispatch his general Eliporni to lay siege to the territories of Eretz Yisrael.
In response to the imminent catastrophe that loomed over them, the Kohen Godol called for all Jews to assemble en masse in Yerushalayim, where they cried out to Hashem to save them and to guard their beloved Bais HaMikdash from desecration.
Eliporni was a force to be reckoned with. His army consisted of 120,000 soldiers on foot, 12,000 horsemen and hordes of cattle. Before long, the Jews were surrounded and their water supply was cut off. Several days of thirst and hunger brought many to the verge of surrender, others wishing for death rather than to fall into the hands of their enemies.