The End of the Beginning… and The Beginning of the End
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN
The Jewish calendar is divided into two periods of six months – one beginning with Nissan as the “first of the months” (Shemot 12:1). and the other beginning with Tishrei as “Rosh Hashanah” – the beginning of the year. Each period is subsequently divided into two tekufot (seasons)1. Chanukah is celebrated in the very middle of the Tishrei–Tevet tekufa, the time of the winter solstice. In many ways, it is therefore the end of the beginning of the year and the beginning of the end of the six-month period. As the end of the beginning of the year, we find numerous parallels between Chanukah and Sukkot:
From Shavuot till Sukkot, Bikkurim are brought with the famous proclamation of “Arami Oved Avi.” From Sukkot till Chanukah they are brought without the proclamation (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:6). The Sfat Emet (Chanukah 5644) infers from this that the simcha of Sukkot continues through Chanukah!
Beit Shammai’s position of lighting Chanukah candles in descending sequence from 8-1 is based on the descending order of sacrifices offered on Sukkot (Shabbat 21b).
Juxtaposed to the laws of the holiday of Sukkot in Parashat Emor, the Torah teaches us to contribute pure olive oil to light the menorah in the Mikdash – a hint to Chanukah. Rav Eliezer of Worms says the holidays are connected by the number of days and by the full Hallel (Rokeach, Hilchot Chanukah 225).
The Gemara invalidates Chanukah candles and a sukkah higher than 20 amot.2
There is a principle of “Hiddur – Mehadrin min HaMehadrin” that applies particularly to the Four Species on Sukkot and lighting candles on Chanukah (Shulchan Aruch OC 671:2).
Torches of fire accompanied the spectacular dancing at the Simchat Beit HaShoeva (Masechet Sukkah 5:3). On Chanukah, we commemorate the miracle of finding oil by lighting candles for eight nights. The Gemara juxtaposes the laws of wicks and oils used for the Simchat Beit HaShoeva to the laws of wicks and oils used to light the Chanukah candles (Shabbat 21a).
Upon inaugurating the Mikdash, Yehuda HaMaccabi commanded the Jews to celebrate eight days with their agricultural species, “like the days of Sukkot,” for they could not properly celebrate Sukkot that year (Book of Maccabees II, 10:6-7). Just as King Shlomo inaugurated the Mikdash on Sukkot (Melachim I, 8:65-6), it was purified and inaugurated on Chanukah (hence the name – “to dedicate”).
Chaggai (2:18) delivered his prophecy concerning the reestablishment of the Mikdash and the success of the olive harvest on the 24th of Kislev as a continuation of his previous prophecy on the 21st of Tishrei (Sukkot).3 The Sfat Emet explains that the “light of Sukkot” mandated by the Torah is reflected through the rabbinic holiday of Chanukah!4
With its many parallels to the Tishrei holiday of Sukkot, Chanukah not only concludes the beginning of the season, but is also the beginning of the end of the first six months of the year, as it heralds “Tekufat Tevet.” Not in an apocalyptic sense of course; on the contrary, Chanukah reinvigorates and inspires us to anticipate redemption in literally the darkest times of the year.
The Gemara (Avodah Zara 8a) records how Adam HaRishon saw the daylight hours receding and thought Hashem wanted to restore the world to complete darkness as punishment for his sin. He therefore fasted for eight days until he saw the daylight hours begin to increase, and then he “celebrated for eight days. The next year he instituted those days as holidays.” Chazal employ the exact same terminology in teaching us of the miracle of Chanukah: “A miracle occurred and they lit the Menorah from it for eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of Hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings” (Shabbat 21b). Chanukah is the beginning of a new tekufa as daylight time increases. Remarkably, we are enjoined to participate in this increase of light in tandem with Hashem’s natural solar forces.
With numerous vaccines for Coronavirus poised for worldwide distribution over the next few months, the media is full of news of “the beginning of the end of Covid-19.” Chanukah reminds us that we have reached a critical juncture – we must look back at the past few months and reflect upon lessons we have learned since Nissan, and especially from Tishrei-Sukkot, till now. Now is also the time to ponder what the upcoming months of Tevet-Shevat- Adar may bring.
Sukkot and Chanukah teach us that the light of one season has effects on the subsequent ones as well. The light of Chanukah shines not just from natural sources. We also banish the darkness through our own “candle lighting” initiatives as we prepare for better and brighter beginnings!
1 See Eruvin 56a-b, Sanhedrin 13a and Avodah Zara 8a.
2 Shabbat 22a (see Tosfot “ner”).
3 See Rav Yoel Bin-Nun, “Yom Yesod Heichal Hashem,” Megadim 12, 49-97.
4 Chanukah 5641.
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi Matan Lapidot Educators’ Program.