Last night the new moon of the month of Kislev appeared over Jerusalem. Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the month that contains the first six days of Chanukah. The oldest extant book in Judaism, the Sefer Yetzirah, attributed by tradition to our father Abraham, attributes certain powers, energies and fixings to each month of the year. The Sefer Yetzirah says that the special fixing of the month of Kislev is the fixing of sleep.
Kislev is the darkest month of the year. Most people would think, lets fix sleep in the summer when the night is the shortest. No say the great Kabbalists of our people. The energy of sleep, is best fixed when it is dark.
To really understand this, we have to look at the problem we are really trying to fix, when we are fixing sleep. There are really two problems with sleeping. One is not being able to sleep, and the other is sleeping when you should be awake.
We live in a culture where one of the biggest complaints seems to be, “I do not get enough sleep”. “There are just not enough hours in the day.” Sound familiar?
Personally I believe that not sleeping is easier to fix. A little discipline, maybe some camomile tea or a glass of wine, can help tremendously.
The biggest problem I believe is not in getting enough sleep, but rather being asleep when really we should be awake.
I am not talking about eyes closed and horizontal five minutes before work starts, but how often do we just do things because that is what we do? I am doing this today only because I did it yesterday and the day before. I may be walking around all day, I may be putting on my teffillin or talking with my wife, or standing at the bus stop with my daughter, but am I really awake? Am I conscious of the beauty blossoming forth in this moment surrounding me everywhere and at every moment.
The work of Chanukah, is filling our eyes with the light of Chanukah so that all year long we look at the world around us through that light, the light of miracles, but not just any miracles.
The miracles of Chanukah are about the revelation of the divine within the natural process. Unlike Passover for instance where as a people we experienced massive, nature-defying miracles, water turning into blood, day becoming night, the sea splitting, it makes the miracles in the Chanukah story, well seem pretty dull. What really happened during Chanukah? The underdogs won the battle! The oil burned for a really, really long time. What kind of miracles are those? Now if water burned for eight days, now that would be a miracle. Oil burned longer than it was supposed to, impressive, but it is not outside of the realm of what is real.
I grew up totally secular. I went to public school in New Jersey, I grew up in a culture where compete and acquire where the ultimate values espoused. I lived in a world that so often valued materialism over spirit. Yet today I am a rabbi, I live an amazing life connected deeply to Torah in the Hills of Judea. My children have no idea how many shopping days there are left till Christmas, but they do know that their great, great, great… grandfather Issac dug wells, and Jacob received the blessing that makes them so special. That my friends, is a miracle, but only if I am awake enough to see it.
Shabbat comes on so quickly this time of year.
I have out of the land of Israel for a week now. I am so looking forward to this upcoming Shabbat at home with my family in the Hills that are so much a part of who I am. Is there anything holier that watching your wife light shabbat candles in an ancient Judean village? I watch my children standing next to her in their Shabbat best, hair still wet from the bath.
Walking over the ancient stones while the setting sun cast the week’s last long shadows golden on the ground before us. The world around us changing over and welcoming the Shabbat angels. What an unbelievable blessing it is to live here in the center of the spiritual vortex of this world.
I can walk to shul and have no idea how I got there, or I can with every step, breathe the beauty and awe of Shabbat descending onto our reborn village of Tekoa. I can choose to do this, I can choose today to be awake.
May we all be blessed to awaken this Kislev. To feel the light of Chanukah coming into our world, a world that so needs more light. May the Master of the World bless us to stand truly awake in front of our Shabbat candles this week and to stare at them, and fill our eyes with the warm glow of how good it is to be a Jew. May we be blessed to all be together this Chanukah here in Yerushalayim to watch the Cohain Gadol light the menorah in courtyard of Beit Hamikdash. May it be this year, may it be today.