There is a beautiful rainbow of hope connecting the 8th month of Cheshvan to the 9th month of Kislev, but we must go to the Torah and delve into the Hebrew meaning of the two months and the significance behind them in order that we might perceive it…like a hidden spark beneath the surface, it calls us to discover it and enrich our lives!
Looking back on the month of Cheshvan we learned that it is the 8th month on the Biblical calendar and that there is a strong connection to the number eight and a New Beginning. We also learned that built into its very name is the element of quietness, of silence. Ches Shhh van…can you hear it? “Chesh” actually means silence in Hebrew. Cheshvan is the one month of the year in which there are no special days or festivals, except of course Shabbat. In Jewish tradition it has been referred to as a time of reflection and meditation after the busyness of the glorious festivals of the previous month of Tishrei…that of Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah), Yom Kippur and Sukkot. It is a time to be quiet, to listen to the “still small voice” that came to Elijah the Prophet as recorded in I Kings 19:13 and to heed the words of the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am HaShem!” (Psalm 46:11).
In addition to the connection of the month of Cheshvan being linked to Silence, Introspection and a New Beginning, we find that in Jewish sources it is sometimes referred to as Mar Cheshvan…and is linked to a time of bitterness as indicated from the Hebrew word mar meaning bitter. Cheshvan was the month which marked both the beginning (17 Cheshvan), and the end of the Great Flood (27 Cheshvan) one year later which covered the face of the earth in the days of Noach (Gen. /Beresheit 7:10, 8:14). Yet in the bitterness, there was hope…
The flood acted as a cleansing, perhaps likened to a giant mikvah that offered a New Beginning for our world and its inhabitants which sadly had become corrupted beyond repair…with the exception of one man, Noach, who is described as “just and perfect in his generation”… a man who “walked with HaShem”(Gen./Beresheit 6:9).
The Promise and the Message of the Rainbow
Most of us are familiar with Noach, whose name means comfort, and the story of the flood followed by HaShem placing His bow, the beautiful rainbow in the sky with its spectacular spectrum of colors, as a sign of this New Beginning…and with it His promise never to flood the world again (Gen./Beresheit 9:13-17).
How many of us have actually considered why HaShem may have chosen the rainbow to represent this promise? I believe there is a clue, a hidden spark beneath the surface, in the actual physical components that make up the rainbow. The rainbow always follows the rain, and as in the days of Noach, it was seen as a sign of refreshing and hope. As the dark rain clouds begin to dissipate after a big storm or sometimes just after a light summer shower, the welcome bright sun breaks forth…and as it comes into view, its light shines through the droplets of water remaining after the rain.
The sunlight, shining through these raindrops, can be seen symbolically as a ray of light and hope after a devastating storm in our lives. As it shines through our tears, it is transformed into a lovely colorful rainbow. For what makes up a rainbow? It is but a mix of light, representing hope and joy… and raindrops or water, representing our tears and sorrow…a combination of joy and pain. Could we say that the rainbow, likened to an upside down bow…pointing not downwards towards the earth, but upwards towards the heavens… is not only representative of HaShem’s mercy and His promise never to flood the earth again, but is also representative of life itself and His Divine Presence accompanied by His promise of chesed…His loving kindness… to always be with us as it was with Noach through all the ups and downs of life…the mix of all the joys and all the sorrows?
But how, we may ask, do we get through the bitterness? HaShem admonishes us in the poignant passage of Isaiah 30:15 where we find the remarkable seldom used phrase which stands out and causes us to take notice…“ Koh amar HaShem!” “Thus says HaShem, the Holy One of Israel…in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
According to Jewish tradition, this beautiful rainbow that Hashem refers to as “His bow,” that He placed in the sky was at the beginning of Kislev (The Book of our Heritage by Eliyah Kitov, pg. 271). It is this rainbow of hope that stretches across these two months like a bridge and connects them to one another…the Silence, the Introspection, the Cleansing and the New Beginning associated with the month of Cheshvan to the Miracles and the Lights of Hanukkah in the coming month of Kislev…an opportune time when we once again are afforded the chance to re-dedicate ourselves to the service of our Creator. May we take all that we have gleaned from the quietness of this past month of Ches Shhh van and incorporate it into confidence and strength as we bring it forward into the new month of Kislev, utilizing it to fight our every battle as did the Maccabees in the days of old.
Kislev – Concealment and Revelation
If we take the name of the month itself, Kis lev, we find that in the Hebrew it is spelled Chaf Samach Lamed Vav. When we break it down into syllables we find that Chaf Samach or Kis derives from the word to cover or to conceal. Lev has several meanings; one meaning is His or to Him. If we relate this to HaShem, it means HaShem is covered, concealed, or His concealment.
Yet Lev has another meaning. In Hebrew it is spelled Lamed Vav which has the gematria or numerical value of the number 36 (lamed is 30, vav is 6). The number 36 is mystically associated with revelation. The Jewish sages teach that there are 36 righteous people born in every generation; no one knows who they are; they are concealed, hidden within the rest of humanity, yet they mystically keep each generation from annihilation These 36 righteous are referred to in Hebrew as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim or the Lamed-Vavniks. This teaching is based on a Talmudic statement that says that in every generation 36 righteous “greet the Shekhinah,” the Divine Presence (Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b)
There are many captivating Chassidic stories of these Lamed Vavniks or Thirty Sixers and how they appear in different situations to avert a disaster and then blend back into the population. So even within the name of this month, Kis Lev, we have a paradox; we have concealment, but within it, we have a revelation. And is this not the story of the creation and everything within it, including each of us?
How does Beresheit, the Book of Genesis start? “In the Beginning” or” When G-d began to create the world, the earth was tohu v’vohu (without form and void) and darkness covered the face of the deep”…and then something phenomenal happened. The text says that G-d’s Ruach (His Spirit) moved or hovered upon the face of the waters…and what did He say? “Let there be Light, and there was Light” (Gen 1:1-3).
Was there light before He spoke these words? Yes of course, for HaShem was there and as some would say, He was the Light for everything emanates from Him…the Light was just concealed… not yet made manifest.
So we have concealment, hiddenness and a revelation…from the Beginning. Perhaps we could say that this is the very first evidence of hidden sparks beneath the surface…where Light broke through the darkness upon HaShem’s command!
How Does Kislev Relate to the Cycle of the Moon and Rosh Chodesh?
In Judaism, there is a tradition to answer a question by asking another question. To illustrate this we must ask another question; is the moon really non-existent at the beginning of each month when the sky is dark? No, we simply cannot yet see it…it is concealed from our view because it has not yet become revealed! Thus we have the paradox of concealment and revelation, not only in the Hebrew meaning of the name of the month of Kislev, but also in the message of each new moon…but especially in Kislev as we shall see.
What does the term Rosh Chodesh actually mean? If we break it up we have Rosh, meaning head, and Chodesh meaning new…so we have a new or renewed head with the coming of each new month. Perhaps we could view each New Moon as an opportunity for another new beginning…a renewal of consciousness of sorts.
With the birth of each New Moon, it follows that something new is born. As we have brought out in our previous article on this subject, there is a fascinating teaching from the Jewish sages that the First day of the New Moon actually holds within it the entire month to come, yet only a tiny sliver is visible.
It is interesting to make a comparison between this tiny sliver of the New Moon which is birthed each month with that of the tiny little human fetus and the hidden or latent potential existent within it.
In a fetus it is the head that develops first, and the head with the brain actually contains the entire body within it. Ultimately the limbs and all the organs will develop, but in the beginning there is merely a latent potential in that tiny little creature, one that is concealed, but one that is to be revealed in its proper time. And how long does it take for the human fetus to be fully developed? It normally takes about 9 months, and where does the month of Kislev fall on the Biblical calendar? Ironically Kislev is the 9th month!
The message of every Rosh Chodesh is built into this concept of hidden potential… concealment to revelation, but it is in the month of Kislev where these concepts are most clearly seen.
Everything has an order. Just as Cheshvan is a time of Silence and Quietness, a time of inner reflection marking a New Beginning to come, this 9th month of Kislev is a time of Concealment, but also a time of Revelation. Kislev brings with it the beginning of the Winter months when we have to physically cover ourselves more…we wear more layers of clothing, so we could say that even on a purely physical level, it is a time that brings with it a greater concealment.
Hope in the Darkness
Kislev is also the time of year when it is the darkest…and that is when we light the candles of Hanukkah, a sign of hope and bitachon (trust) that HaShem is here with us today amidst the darkness just as He was with our forefathers in days of old.
It is in the midst of this intense darkness that we have the opportunity to reach deep inside ourselves, into our hearts and souls…our innermost being…and bring out that light hidden within and kindle those hidden sparks beneath the surface so that the light, which our Creator so lovingly placed within us, that may have gone dim or even dormant might shine forth even in our darkest moments.
This concept is brought forth if the poignant words of Psalm 18:29, “He (HaShem) will light my candle: HaShem my G-d will enlighten my darkness;” and also in Proverbs 20:27 which says “The flame of HaShem is the soul of the human being.”
Could we say then that when we are in the darkness, we are actually the closest to HaShem because it is in this darkness when we are more dependent upon Him? No matter what our innermost emotions or our physical bodies may tell us, it is in these darkest times that we must endeavor to continue living in emunah or faith and in bitachon or trust, knowing with full assurance that He is always there with us. As we learn to live in that faith and trust, we can learn to develop an attitude of devekut, that of sticking like glue to Him…and in each and every circumstance that comes our way, we can know that He is both our Assurance and our Mainstay (from the 16th Benediction of the Shemoneh Esrai, or the Amidah).
We simply need to surrender to what the darkness has to teach us and as we discover those hidden sparks beneath the surface within us and all around us, come into the fullness of the light! This is our challenge every day, but especially during this month of Kislev, a time of concealment and a time of revelation and even more so during the upcoming Festival of Hanukkah which normally falls around the time of the Winter Solstice, the very darkest time of the year! It is during this season of the year when we can encourage ourselves and those around us to live out the inspiring words of King David, “Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my way” (Psalm 119:106). In the Kabbalistic commentary on the Book of Eichah or Lamentations, we find the incredibly encouraging words that we need to let sink deeply into our hearts.
“Everything, no matter what or how seemingly bad, has the ability to turn around. (From Bochim…The Crying Voice)
So as we look forward to embracing this new month which begins with the promise of the hope of the rainbow after the rain and culminates in the kindling of the lights of Hanukkah, may we have the courage to trust as we embrace the storms and the darkness because we know that HaShem is right there beside us, within us… to always give us encouragement and hope…even and most especially in the darkness! Chodesh Tov…may we all be blessed with a good month!
In the coming article, Kislev, the Month of Miracles, we will delve more deeply into discovering more of those hidden sparks beneath the surface in this special new month and learn more about the joyous festival of Hanukkah!