Each year, we begin the celebration of Chanukah, our “Festival of Light,” late in the Hebrew month of Kislev. Despite the fact that Chanukah hops anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar (resulting in “Thanksgivukah” several years ago, and ensuring that many years see the overlapping of the 8 nights of Chanukah and the 12 days of Christmas), Chanukah always commences on כה׳ כסלו ~ the 25th of Kislev. Since our Hebrew months follow lunar cycles and are never more than 30 days, this means that Chanukah straddles two Hebrew months each year (the only Jewish holiday to do so). Rosh Chodesh Tevet always occurs during one of the final days of Chanukah.
Tevet also includes the winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere, this year on December 21st, when the sun will pass directly over theTropic of Capricorn, or 23.5° south latitude. As we learn as children, the tilt of the Earth on its axis means less exposure to direct sunlight over the course of the days between September and March. This gives us our seasons and also allows many of us to understand, deep in our bodies and consciousness why bears hibernate in the cold, dark months of winter.
Our Jewish teachings gives many explanations for kindling light on Chanukah. We sing about bringing light to the darkness. Our wisdom tradition often uses darkness as a metaphor for ignorance and evil, fear and faithlessness, despair and anguish as do many others (Christianity, Islam, Taoism, to name only a few). And, we also know that we live in a world that is too complex and nuances to utilize dualistic thinking. Thespiritual guidance of the ages and today encourages us to consider positive attributes of darkness as well.
As we conclude the celebration of Chanukah (which means dedication), transitioning from nights of bright chanukah candles illuminating our windows to the darkness of the new moon and winter solstice, consider dedicating some time to appreciating the darkness. For we know that the darkness of the womb gives life protection, sustenance, and time to grow. And it is the cold darkness of the ground that allows bulbs, tubers, and other plant matter to rest and restore the energy needed to burst forth again each Spring. It is in the darkness that we see the glorious array of stars. And it is beneath our soft, warm winter blankets, and even beneath the metaphorical blanket of sadness or depression, that we find within ourselves the permission to rest and renew ourselves so we can once again bring our unique energy to the world.
The month of Tevet is followed by Sh’vat, the month when we celebrate the new year of the trees. This month, the seeds are resting; we will celebrate the initiation of their energy rising again on Tu b’Sh’vat (the 15th of Sh’vat). Inside each one of us is potential, resting in darkness; we nurture there the creativity and imagination and instincts that arise within us and are birthed into the world.
Take a few moments in these nights just after Chanukah, to gaze at the night sky. May you find, in the darkness of the sky, the distant stars, and the sliver of waxing moon, something that connects you to that which is beyond the daily tsuris (Yiddish word meaning troubles, worries, aggravation, woes, suffering, grief or heartache, and which comes from the Hebrew word tzara (צרה)- trouble, tragedy, calamity). May you find nourishment in the cold, dark nights of early Tevet, inspiration that transports you beyond the ugliness of politics and greed and incivility. May you find there a connection to that which is beyond our knowing, beyond our finitude, beyond … and may that darkness bring you hope, peace, and cultivation of potential.