Staying Lit: The Encouraging Message of Chanukah
The end of Kislev (the ninth month) marks the conclusion of a three-month cycle that began with Tishrei (the seventh month). This 3-month period started off with a major spiritual boost, the fall festivals, that carried us to this point.
Rosh Chodesh Tevet starts another three-month cycle that ends just before Pesach. These next three months are the winter months. These are months of cold and darkness, months when the signs of life diminish from our natural surroundings.
It is at this transition period between three-month cycles that we observe Chanukah, the Festival of Dedication. What message can we learn from this? Why is Chanukah's winter occurrence significant? How do the weekly parshiot relate to this festival?
The Festival of Dedication
Chanukah means "dedication." It commemorates the Yahudim’s triumph over the Greek army and the reinstatement of the avodat YAHUAH, the service to YAHUAH, in the Set-Apart Place.
After the Yahudim won the battle against the Greeks, they cleansed and repaired the damaged and desecrated Mikdash (Set-Apart Place), and then they rededicated it to the service of YAHUAH. They built a new altar and relit the menorah. Thus, the korban tamid (continual burnt offering) and the ner tamid (continual light) were restored.
It is taught that Yisrael came under Greek oppression as a result of their sin. Their sin was inconsistency. In other words, their dedication was lacking. They had lapses in their avodah (service). Sometimes they served YAH and kept His mitzvot (commandments), sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes, they were fervent, passionate, and enthusiastic. Sometimes, spiritually, they were cold, dark, and lifeless.
Because they weren’t dedicated in their avodah, the avodah was taken away. The Greeks oppressed them and suppressed their rights to keep the mitzvot. They destroyed and desecrated the Set-Apart Place putting an end to the continual offering (korban tamid) and the continual light (ner tamid; also the showbread which was continually before YAHUAH).
Middah k'neged middah - measure for measure. The right-ruling of Elohim dictated that in the same measure they sinned, so they were punished. They were not tamid - continual, consistent - therefore, they lost the avodat tamid (continual service) in the Set-Apart Place. [tamid: tah-MEED]
At the time of Chanukah, we read in the Torah about Yoseph. Yoseph experienced some of the most humiliating and debasing events of the Torah. His life was turned completely upside-down in a very short matter of time.
He started out as the most beloved son of Ya’aqob, an extremely wealthy and respected man of Canaan. He also had the favor of YAHUAH as revealed through his dreams.
Then, the next thing he knew, his brothers betrayed him, threw him into a pit, and sold him into slavery to foreigners. Suddenly, Yoseph was all alone in a strange land - a slave to idol worshipers.
In almost no time at all, Yoseph went from the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel.
Yet, through all his troubles, Yoseph continued to believe and trust in YAHUAH. He stayed dedicated in his avodat YAHUAH despite all that happened to him.
YAHUAH blessed him in his circumstances. Though he was still a slave, Yoseph rose to become second-in-charge to Potiphar, who was also a wealthy and respected man of the land.
Yet, once again, Yoseph’s life changed dramatically. He was wrongfully accused of a heinous crime and thrown into prison. He quickly went from bad to worse - from a slave to a prisoner.
Still yet, Yoseph remained dedicated to YAHUAH. Even though his circumstances worsened, he never wavered in his belief and trust in YAH. Again, YAHUAH blessed him, and Yoseph became second-in-charge to the warden, the most powerful man of the prison.
Despite his circumstances, despite all that had happened to him, Yoseph’s avodat YAHUAH was tamid - constant and continual, never lapsing. He still believed, He still trusted, He still prayed, He still obeyed mitzvot.
Through the darkest periods of his life, Yoseph’s spiritual flame remained lit.
His light didn’t diminish nor burn out. His offerings of prayer and blessings to YAHUAH did not cease.
Being Like Yoseph
This is why Yoseph is connected to Chanukah and this season. Yoseph is the antidote for the sin that caused the Greek oppression and exile. The Yahudim fell short in their dedication to YAHUAH. They were not tamid.
Yoseph was completely dedicated to YAHUAH. Despite his circumstances, despite his situation, despite his surroundings, he was consistent in his service to YAHUAH. Yoseph was tamid.
When the Yahudim rededicated themselves to YAHUAH and remembered the importance of service to YAHUAH - important enough to fight and give their lives for - then, they overcame their enemies.
When they adopted the characteristics of Yoseph - to serve YAHUAH completely, even among foreigners, without lapsing - then, the true, set-apart service to YAHUAH was restored to them.
They regained control of the Set-Apart Place, reinstated the korban tamid and relit the ner tamid.
Middah k'neged middah - their renewed consistent (tamid) dedication to YAHUAH brought about the restored tamid service in the Mikdash.
We’re entering the winter months - cold, dark, and few visible signs of life. The next three months have no set-apart days. Yet, at this time, we’re reminded of the importance of dedication, of being tamid - consistent and continual in our service to YAHUAH.
Sometimes, our life can feel the way winter feels. Things are hard. Times are rough. We may feel tired or alone. Everything looks cold, dark, and bleak. It may seem as if there is no “life” in our life.
It is in these seasons of life that we have to remember Yoseph, and stay dedicated. Despite our surroundings. Despite our situation and circumstances. Stay tamid.
Sometimes, even if things are going well, we may experience a spiritual "dry spell." We don't feel inspired. We don't feel the joy and gladness of serving. We don't hear His voice nor feel the nearness of His Presence. We're distant and wondering where He has gone.
It is in these times too that we have to remember Yoseph, and stay dedicated. Despite how we feel. Despite the thoughts that run through our mind, and despite how things may seem, we stay dedicated. Stay tamid.
That is the fight in the cold, dark seasons of our life. It is a fight to continue - or to regain - our avodat YAHUAH, our service to YAH.
Even if all is well in our life, we still have to remember to stay dedicated. It's easy to get comfortable with where we are spiritually, and in this world, if we're not actively growing, then, we're slowly falling. The next thing you know, we forgot to pray. We got busy and didn't read. We let this or that slide.
In these months between set-apart days, between our spiritual boosts, we have to fight to stay dedicated. Stay tamid.
Lapses in our dedication make everything worse. Middah k'neged middah. Our lapse in dedication to YAHUAH will cause a lapse in His dedication to us - a lapse in His Light and His favor and His Presence in our life. So, stay tamid.
Remember: the Yahudim miraculously defeated the Greeks, regained their independence, and restored the set-apart service. Yoseph was raised to second-in-command of the whole country, a status higher than he was at the beginning.
Stay tamid. Keep your flame lit, and your light shining. Be dedicated and consistent in your service to YAH no matter what.
This is how we defeat our enemies and rise to greater heights than ever before.
May the message and the light of Chanukah stay with you throughout the coming months and seasons. May your flame ever remain lit and your light shine continually. So may it be. So be it.
#Chanukah #dedication #avodatYAHUAH #Yoseph #Bereshith #Vayeshev #Miketz #RoshChodesh #Tevet