Kislev – Make a goal, (and we don’t mean the Guinness Book of World’s Record on eating latkes.)

Keshet – bow

The Jewish astrological symbol for the month of Kislev, is the bow – from the bow and arrow. While this symbol has a number of implications, one of them is to focus on a goal. An archer must aim well for the bow to do its job.
What are your goals? If they are physical, material, like $100,000, a new car, a buffed bod, then they have no potential to give you truly lasting joy. Just as the physical world is temporary, all the joy we get from it is also only temporary.

Don’t get distracted

When the baseball season is over, football, hockey, and basketball seasons get rolling. When the NHL and NBA are done its back to baseball. You can be a sports fan all year long. Watching sports can be fun, and when “your team” wins it can make you happy. But the happiness is only temporary. If you don’t access joy in spiritual things, the happiness of winning the Super Bowl is over when you come home from the game, or turn off the T.V. and you go back to lacking happiness. People who lack happiness and meaning will seek distractions. They will use a Jägerbomb or an Adam Sandler movie. There’s nothing wrong with all of these things. There’s nothing wrong with movies, sports, and alcohol. It’s what we use them for is the issue. If we’re using them for enjoyment to distress or put us in a better mood to enhance our life or allow us to serve God with more joy, then, in moderation, they can be a mitzvah. If, on the other hand, they are an escape from reality because we don’t know where to turn, if our job becomes the place and time when we long for the weekend to escape what we do the rest of the week, there’s something seriously wrong.

We need a goal

A goal directs our attention and helps us focus our efforts. And the goal needs to be spiritual. Our soul will never be satisfied with hamburgers or even tofuburgers, turkey or tofurky, duck or um..well, skip that one. We need to satisfy the soul. There is no alternative. There is no substitute. Everyone has a soul and that soul has a yearning, and that yearning is to become one with the Infinite. It’s time to get in touch with your inner mystic.

A lot with a little

One of the quirky mystical things involves the miraculous. Not the mind blowing sea splits type of miracle, just a highly unusual event where you strongly sense the hand of God. This is the symbol of Chanukah. Sure the oil lasted 8 days instead of one, but if you looked at it you couldn’t tell there was anything out of the ordinary going on. It was somewhat hidden. Only if you stared at the flame for 30 hours straight would you be witnessing a miracle. And the seats weren’t that comfortable back in those days for such a long spell. But the menorah did a lot with a little. We fought off the Greeks who were more numerous and better armed. We did a lot with a little. That’s the power of this time period. Look at your resources and your spiritual goals. Do you feel you lack what you need to accomplish what you want to accomplish? I’ll bet anyone alive at the time of Chanukah felt that way too. Until God showed them the secret. With the Almighty’s help you can do a lot with a little.

Chanukah

When the Jews fought the Greeks during the time of Chanukah they were fighting not for physical survival – the Greeks would have let them live as Greeks – they were fighting for spiritual survival. Ancient Greece was the embodiment of Yavan, a descendent of Noah’s son Yafes. The word Yafes in Hebrew means beauty. All of Greek thought whether its science, logic, or art, can be used to adorn spirituality, it was imbedded in the creation by God not as an end in itself, but to be subservient to spirituality. What the Greeks did was like taking the handle off a large beautiful jug and saying, “What a beautiful work of art this handle is! Let’s make a museum of handles like this.” They missed the whole point. A meteor shower should put awe of God and His creations in your heart and mind. The design of the human body should astound us with God’s intricate design.

It would seem that this is the time period to examine our lives and the world around us. Perhaps we should look for ways we can orchestrate it all in one direction, towards one goal… to be one with the Creator.

9 comments on “Kislev – Make a goal, (and we don’t mean the Guinness Book of World’s Record on eating latkes.)

  1. I think I mentioned this on a different thread, but let me drop my two shekels in again. My husband and I always gave Chanukah gelt to the children. When they were young, we bought those big hollow colored plastic dreidels that open up and filled them with nickels or dimes. Now that they are bigger we give the kids folded bills. I also make sure to get some rolls of pennies and everyone sits down and plays Dreidel, while consuming large quantities of hot greasy potato latkes practically right out of the frying pan. Skeptic’s comment about the Dreidel actually being a non-Jewish top called the teetotum is fascinating. Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom, edited by Aryeh Kaplan, refers to the Dreidel, as does the translation of R. Zevin’s Hasidic Tales on the Holidays.

    Interestingly enough, my sons’ elementary yeshiva used to (and still does) have a school ritual called the “Dreidel Drop.” A huge wooden Dreidel is suspended on wires from the ceiling from the start of Kislev. On the last day of school before the short Chanukah vacation, the menahel takes a swing with a bat and the Dreidel opens up and showers little tchotchkes and toys all over the place for the kids. Now this sounds to me exactly like a non-Jewish pinata. We’re talking about a right-wing yeshiva where the rebbes wear shtreimels on Shabbos and the talmidim have “langeh payes” (long curly sidecurls). I never questioned the school about this, sort of a “pick your battles” kind of decision as I had other arguments with them, but it does seem a rather odd thing to do for Chanukah. But who am I, a BT, to question these wise FFB’s about what they do?

  2. Skeptic, good question. On the one hand, Chanukah is a time of joy and gifts give us joy. We don’t have an obligation to give gifts like we do on a Yom Tov for wives and children, nor do we have an established minhag of gifts as we do on Purim. But it feels good to get gifts and is consistent with the idea of a holiday.

    On the other hand, when we start imitating the other holiday that comes out at this time by wrapping in similar wrapping, or putting boxes under a “Chanukah Bush” etc, we run the risk of violating an issur d’oraisa of imitating idolaters. At least this year Dec. 25th doesn’t coincide with any of the days of Chanukah. Given the problem of idolatry, it would seem better not to give presents per se, with the exception of course of dreidels and chocolate coins. But children in the US may feel jealous of their goyish neighbor kids.

    Personally I think the following is a good compromise: (I am not a posek, nor do I even play one on TV) Give unwrapped gifts that are modestly priced, or necessary and useful, and keep in mind that while there is no established minhag of gift giving, it is still a fulfillment of the mitzvah of ahavas yisrael, and is consistent with a celebration of our holiday.

  3. Thanks for the link Neil. I am still a little bothered after reading R. Apisdorf’s article. Since ultimately, he still gives gifts to his kids on Chanukah even while writing that this practice seems to accentuate a message precisely the opposite of Chanukah’s. But he doesn’t seem to defend the practice — he just sort of throws up his hands — what can you do? Is that the best we have? I guess I would prefer a defense of the practice, from a Jewish perspective, at the very least.

  4. 1. Great post. Maybe I’ll used that half hour after Menorah lighting to really contemplate my goals.

    2. Skeptic, I think R Shimon Apisdorf’s except from book, “Chanukah – Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul”, touches on gift giving. The link is:
    http://www.aish.com/h/c/b/48965221.html

    We don’t give gifts on the first night. Throughout the week we give a few thing here and there, but try to make them be basic thing that the kids need: socks, stockings, winter accessories.

  5. Can you consider a post on the issue of Chanukah gifts? To what extent is it a good idea, even if inspired by the non-Jews (and even if it’s not exactly the custom of Chanukah gelt)? Or in the opposite direction, does it undermine Chanukah by doing gift-giving? Granted we took other things from the non-Jews regarding Chanukah (the teetotum, or what we call a dreidle, taken in the middle ages, for instance) but to what extent do we need to be more or less careful about borrowing specifically non-Jewish ideas (albeit perhaps positive ones) nowadays? Any thoughts?

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