A Kislev Letter to the Women of Nitzotzos from our Mashpia, Rav Burg
Dear Nitzotzos Community,
A gutten Chodesh Kislev!
Kislev is the third month of the year (when we count from Tishrei) and the ninth month of the year (when we count from Nissan).
Tishrei with all of its Yomim Tovim represents Chesed and Cheshvan with its lack of Yomim Tovim represents Gevura. As the third month, Kislev represents Tiferes, harmony. Kislev brings light into the darkness of the winter with the power of Tiferes.
Tiferes is the harmony of opposites. We live in a world where “truth” has become increasingly polarized. One only need to listen to today's political rhetoric to experience the distortion of truth on both sides of the aisle.
In Yiddishkeit truth is found in subtlety and nuance. Chazal tell us that one of the reasons we pasken like Beis Hillel is due to the fact that before they would present their side of the argument they would consider the truth of Beis Shammai's position. Truth is not found in one position vs another but in the consideration of both opinions. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my Rebbe, Rav Yehuda Parnes shlit"a, was that every shita in the Gemara, every opinion in the Rishonim, needed to be clearly defined and defended. Even a Hava Amina, a fleeting thought that is ultimately rejected, requires careful thought and consideration. I remember clearly the day that my Rebbe was grappling in shiur with a difficult Rashi and was suggesting solutions that in his own estimation were not one hundred percent satisfactory. A talmid who had recently joined the shiur and was not familiar with Rebbe's Derech HaLimud suggested that perhaps Rashi was wrong. The look on my Rebbe's face in that moment is indelibly etched in my mind. Pained and anguished are the words that come to my mind but they fall short of capturing the experience. Rebbe looked at this young man and said to him “That's like telling me, I'm living a lie. My entire life has been dedicated to discovering the truth of every shita.” It was a powerful lesson for those in the shiur not just about the way we learned Gemara but about the way we ought to approach life. Even the word Emes is made up of an aleph, mem and tov, the first, middle and last letters of the aleph beis. Two opposite extremes and a harmonizing middle.
The ultimate expression of the truth of Tiferes is an infinite God being present in the finite darkness of our world. The Yevanim looked at the world and saw only the wisdom of what is. They could not see beyond the what and see the why. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks eloquently writes “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean… Science is about explanation. Religion is about meaning. Science analyses, religion integrates. Science breaks things down to their component parts. Religion binds people together in relationships of trust. Science tells us what is. Religion tells us what ought to be. Science describes. Religion beckons, summons, calls. Science sees objects. Religion speaks to us as subjects. Science practices detachment. Religion is the art of attachment, self to self, soul to soul. Science sees the underlying order of the physical world. Religion hears the music beneath the noise. Science is the conquest of ignorance. Religion is the redemption of solitude.”
In Kislev we celebrate Chanukah and the battle between Jewish truth and Greek wisdom. We refuse to see the world as it is but as it could be. Every Mitzvah has a spiritual impact on the world transforming it into a dwelling place for God. While the Greeks defined the world that was in front of them, the Jews excavated to see the truth that lies beneath the surface. The truth that there is no place that is devoid of God's glory. This is why Chanukah occurs in the darkness of Kislev. Where everyone else sees darkness, Jews shine a light.
The Shem MiShmuel writes that Kislev means yearning and hope. The shoresh of Kislev is KSL and shares a connection with the kidneys (kelayot - same shoresh) which in Kabbalah are identified with the emotion of strong desire (see Ibn Ezra, Vayikra 3:4).
In Kislev, we yearn for the connection that we experienced during the Yomim Tovim season of Tishrei. This is why the Arizal writes that Kislev is identified with Shevet Binyamin. As we mentioned, Kislev is also the 9th month when you count from Nissan and is thus identified with Shevet Binyamin who was the 9th tribe in the order of encampment (Bamidbar 2:22).
Yosef accused the Shevatim of being spies and demanded of them that they bring Binyamin down to Mitzrayim. “With this you shall be tested: By Pharaoh's life, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you and let him fetch your brother, and you will be imprisoned so that your words will be tested whether truth is with you, and if not, as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!" It is Yosef's desire for Binyamin that will test the “truth” of the Shevatim.
So many of us long for the time when we felt deeply connected to our Yiddishkeit. It's not that Judaism is not meaningful to us. It certainly plays the prime role in our life. Somehow life has a nasty habit of distracting us from what we truly want to feel. We get so caught up in the day to day tedium that we lose sight of the ultimate goal. Like the couple that spends all their time working, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children etc… they are so busy building they forget the art of being. If we don't water the relationship we can't be shocked when it doesn't grow.
Kislev satisfies our longing to once again feel attached. In order to achieve the harmony of opposites, to arrive at a complex and nuanced truth, we require the middah of bittul, nullification. As long as each side maintains that its nature cannot be incorporated into its opponent it will be impossible to see the oneness of the apparent conflict. Chesed stands opposed to Gevura and vice versa. Tiferes teaches Chesed that in order to truly be Chesed it needs to be mevatel itself to Gevura. Boundless love may lack intimacy but with Gevura it can be focused and create oneness. Tiferes teaches Gevura that in order to truly be Gevura it needs to be mevatel itself to Chesed. Boundless strength may achieve production but it also may “choke the golden goose” as the saying goes. Only when tempered with Chesed will Gevura truly create a disciplined lifestyle. Through the middah of bittul, Tiferes is able to get to the true essence of Chesed and Gevura.
The same is true for us. We have experienced the joy of Tishrei and the bitterness of Cheshvan. Who are we? Are we the person that felt moved by the majesty of Rosh Hashana, the purity of Yom Kippur and the joy of Succos or are we the person that felt the nothingness of Cheshvan? The answer is that when we nullify ourselves in Kislev we can experience harmony and truth. We will learn that the excitement of Tishrei is what led to the loneliness of Cheshvan and that our bitter feeling was actually the longing to be more deeply connected. It is the longing of Yosef for Binyamin in Mitzrayim. In the darkness we discover the light within and the truth emerges in all its beauty.
May we merit to experience a Kislev that illuminates our darkest places and brings Hashem into all dimensions of our being.