Kislev is the ninth of the twelve months of the Jewish calendar.
Kislev is the month of Hanukah, called the festival of lights.
The name Kislev derives from the Hebrew word for “security” and “trust.” Both are found in the month of Kislev. Kislev is the Yin and Yang, the Netzah and Hod of doing and being. Hanukah reflects the active, in the war of liberation led by the Hashmonaim (Maacabees). This small group of guerilla warriors stood up to the mightiest nation of the time, Greece. They did not fight for independence; they did not fight to avoid the tribute demanded by the Greeks. They fought for religious freedom. Unlike the terrorists who struck in Mumbai, who fight to inflict their perverted views on others, the Hashmonaim fought only for the right to worship in our own way.
But Kislev is also a month of rest. It is the month in which the days are shortest and the nights are longest and there is a sense of sleep. In much of the USA the earth rests under a blanket of snow. Good rest reflects an intrinsic trust, trust in HaShem. Our morning blessings begin with the words “Thanks (G) for returning my soul!” We wake with a gentle acknowledgement of the trust that allows us to drift into soulful rest.
The letter which symbolizes this month is the sameh. The name Sameh means “to support.” When we sleep we feel G’s support. As the pillow supports our head, our faith in G supports our soul. Support requires trust, the essence of the month of Kislev. As it is written in Thilim, Psalms: “G supports (someh) all the fallen and raises the bent over;” “Even when he falls he will not be allowed to fall to the ground, for G will support (yismoh) his hand.” It is also related to the word for the ordination of a Rabbi (Smihah).
The shape of the sameh is a circle, which represents the all-encompassing omnipresence of G. The circle is sanctity without end. Our Tzitzit and Tallit have four fringy corners. They symbolize the edges of sanctity. Our tradition suggests that even G wears a Tallit and we cling to the Tzitzit, we cling to the edges of sanctity. The circle is sanctity without corners, without end. The all of the circle represents the all of G. And yet the Sameh is not a perfect circle. There is a tiny tail that stands to the side. Even in G’s completeness, there is room for us to cling to G’s Tzitzit. This is our trust, our security, our ability to cling to faith in the most trying of times.
The astrological sign or Mazal is the “keshet” (Sagittarius–bow). The bow has its double meaning, its own Yin and Yang, Netzah and Hod. On the one hand it is the bow of war, the bow of the fight for freedom characterized by the Maccabees. On the other hand the word Keshet (bow) refers to the rainbow, the first and most visible sign of peace and promise.
We can make a further connection with the Bow. The ‘art of the bow’ is ascribed to the tribe of Benjamin which is attached to the month of Kislev. The Hashmonaem were of the tribe of Levi, the tribe without land holdings. They were the keepers of the Temple; they were the keepers of ritual. Rituals from their time resonate through our modern services. The Temple in which they served was located in Jerusalem which is located within the borders of the tribe of Benjamin, the bowman.
The two bows (semi-circles), the bow of war and the bow of peace unite together to form the complete circle of the sameh of sanctity, the Sameh of Kislev.
The tribe ascribed to Kislev is Benjamin. As mentioned above, Benjamin is the tribe most gifted with the “art” of the bow. In the land given to Benjamin is the Temple in Jerusalem. The blessing of Moses to Benjamin in the end of Torah: “To Benjamin he said: the beloved of G-d, He shall dwell in trust over him, He hovers over him all the day, and between his shoulders He rests” (Deuteronomy 33:12). Here we see that Benjamin symbolizes both trust and rest, the sense of the month of Kislev.
The sense attributed to Kislev is sleep (sheina). Kislev is the month in which the shortest days and longest nights occur. It is not unreasonable therefore that the sense attributed would be sleep. The sense of sleep is the tranquility and restfulness that comes with the security that comes from faith. It is written in the blessings at the end of Leviticus (26:5-6): “And you shall dwell securely in your land. And I shall give peace in the land, and you shall lie down without fear….” This is the dream and hope that we carry even in the darkest of months, the darkest of times.
According to Kyudo, the ancient Japanese art of Zen Archery, the very talent to connect archer, bow, arrow, flight and target depends upon a most tranquil inner spirit. A tranquil spirit is one that releases inner tumult and turmoil before releasing the arrow. The sense of sleep entails the ability to release stress, and the best release of stress is trust and faith.
When one releases the tensions of the material world in trust, good dreams follow. Good dreams at night reflect good thoughts throughout the day, especially the optimistic attitude and consciousness, reflected in the maxim found in Hassidut and in so many like minded, hope filled, faith paths: “Think good, it will be good.”
The body part that is related to Kislev is the belly (keiva). Keiva means “belly” in a general sense. It refers to that region of the body, similar to the Japanese Hara or center, where the power of Ki is found. In Kabbalah, this reflects the Yesod. For some the Yesod refers to male genitals or the womb. I find more meaning in the idea that this is our center and centering tool. Again when we find our center, we find rest.
The word keiva derives from kav, which means “measure.” A tranquil belly is one who knows its proper measure. By centering, by finding our ‘measure’ we find an inner peace, the tranquility and security of connectedness.
In the Torah portions read during the month of Kislev, we find most of the dreams mentioned in the entire Torah. Throughout the five books of the Torah, we find ten explicit dreams and all in the Book of Genesis. The first dream is that of Avimelech, King of Gerar and it appears in the Torah portion of Vayeira, read in the month of Heshvan. The other nine dreams appear in the Torah portions of Vayeitzei, Vayeishev, and Mikeitz, all read during the month of Kislev. This might be a power point for us. Maybe during the month of Kislev we might journal our dream journeys and reflect upon them, shed some light as it were.
Each month is also assigned a gemstone. That is the stone from the Hoshen Mishpat the breastplate of the Kohanim that included one gemstone for each of the twelve tribes. Kislev’s stone is the amethyst (ahlama in Hebrew). The Radak sees the word Halam or dream as the root of Ahlama. This month is about secure rest, peaceful dreams and deep insight.
Mental and Physical Health are a part of rest and security and so are attached to the month of Kislev. Turn the Hebrew root halam and it becomes hahlama, or general “health” (meaning both mental and physical) as well as “recovery”. In thanking God after being sick and recovering, King Hizkiyahu prays (Isaiah 38:16), “restore me (from the root halam) and make me live.” Some compare the dream to sweat. In each case there is a process of recovery. The dream brings from the unconscious to the conscious. Sweat brings from inside the body to the outside. Each can be viewed as a part of the process of recovery. The physical sweat signals the beginning of recovery from an illness. The spiritual dream signals something deep inside that needs to be recovered, revealed and, perhaps healed.
The holiday found in Kislev is Hanukah, the festival of lights. May this Hanukah bring healing to our spirit, good dreams of hope to our souls and deeds that will bring rest and security to a troubled world.