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The Festival Of Lights

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

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Introduction. 1

Background. 5

Salvation. 5

Chanukah. 6

Christmas. 6

Diwali 6

Ganden Ngam cho. 7

Roman Saturnalia. 7

Yule. 7

Gambling. 7

The New Moon. 8

Household Celebrations. 8

Origin of the Festival of Lights. 8

Which Came First?. 13

Other Festivals of Lights. 13

Conclusion. 13

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Introduction

 

Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, begins on Kislev twenty-five, and ends, eight days later, in Tevet, the tenth month, on either the first or second day.[1] This festival is characterized by the lighting an increasing number of candles on each day. A total of thirty-six candles are lit during this eight day festival.

 

On the eight nights of Chanukah, Jews light the eight branched candlestick known as the Chanukiah. The Chanukiah is placed on the right side of the front door opposite the mezuzah.

 

Our Sages also teach that Chanukah is a second chance[2] to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth).

 

2 Maccabees 10:6-7 And they kept eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they held the feast of tabernacles, when they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. Therefore, they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place.

 

From a spiritual perspective Chanukah is eight days, even as Succoth is eight days, and we light eight candles because it has a connection with the Ohr Haganuz, hidden light, which will be revealed in its full glory in the days of Mashiach.

 

Because Chanukah is a second chance to celebrate the Festival of Succoth, we would expect to see that those who celebrate a “Festival of Lights” might celebrate it in the seventh month when the Feast of Tabernacles took place, or in the ninth or tenth month when Chanukah is celebrated. Succoth is also intimately associated with light.

 

During Succoth,[3] in the days of the Temple, the light of the world (four large candlesticks) were set up in the courtyard of the women.

 

Succah 51a MISHNAH. HE WHO HAS NOT SEEN THE REJOICING AT THE PLACE OF THE WATER-DRAWING HAS NEVER SEEN REJOICING IN HIS LIFE. AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST FESTIVAL DAY OF TABERNACLES THEY[4] DESCENDED[5] TO THE COURT OF THE WOMEN WHERE THEY HAD MADE A GREAT ENACTMENT. THERE WERE THERE GOLDEN CANDLESTICKS WITH FOUR GOLDEN BOWLS ON THE TOP OF EACH OF THEM AND FOUR LADDERS[6] TO EACH, AND FOUR YOUTHS DRAWN FROM THE PRIESTLY STOCK IN WHOSE HANDS WERE HELD JARS OF OIL CONTAINING ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY LOG WHICH THEY POURED INTO THE BOWLS.

 

FROM THE WORN-OUT DRAWERS AND GIRDLES OF THE PRIESTS THEY MADE WICKS AND WITH THEM THEY KINDLED THE LAMPS; AND[7] THERE WAS NOT A COURTYARD IN JERUSALEM THAT WAS NOT ILLUMINED BY THE LIGHT OF THE PLACE OF THE WATER-DRAWING.

 

The Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) celebrated Chanukah in the 165 B.C.E.[8] time period.[9]  However, they celebrated it at that time because that was the designated time for Chanukah events to occur. Chanukah type events always occur during this time frame, every year! Chanukah was ordained by HaShem from the beginning, as we can see in the Gemara:

 

Avodah Zarah 8a GEMARA. Said R. Hanan b. Raba: KALENDA[10] is kept on the eight days following the [winter] equinox. SATURNALIA[11] on the eight days preceding the equinox. As a mnemonic take the verse, Thou hast beset me behind and before.[12]

 

Our Rabbis taught: When primitive Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, ‘Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!’ So he began keeping an eight days’ fast. But as he observed the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, ‘This is the world's course’, and he set forth to keep an eight days’ festivity. In the following year he appointed both[13] as festivals. Now, he fixed them for the sake of Heaven, but the [heathens] appointed them for the sake of idolatry.

 

Thus we see that the festival of Chanukah was instituted by Adam very close to the beginning of time. This early celebration of the Festival of Lights was called “Adam’s festival”.

 

As we go forward in time, from the days of Adam, we find several allusions to Chanukah in the Torah.[14]

1.     In the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word in the Torah is Ohr - אור, light. We begin lighting the Chanukah lights on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month called Kislev. We continue lighting for eight days till the beginning of Tevet, the tenth month. The last day of the feast[15] is the greatest day of the feast. Therefore, it is the tenth month which is the most important.

 

2.     When the Bne Israel[16] traveled in the desert, on their way from Egypt to the land of Israel, the twenty-fifth place that they camped was Chashmonah. This alludes to the priestly family of Chashmonaim (Hasmoneans) who led the Maccabee armies in the battle against the Greeks, and rested on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev.

 

3.     The 23rd chapter of Vayikra (Leviticus) describes HaShem’s holidays in order, starting with Shabbat. Immediately afterwards, in the beginning of chapter 24, we find the commandment to light the Menorah in the Temple. This is a hint to a holiday connected to the lighting of the Menorah.[17]

 

4.     The 7th chapter of Bamidbar (Numbers) describes the offerings that the tribal leaders brought when the Tabernacle was dedicated. Chapter 8 begins: HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to Aaron and say to him: ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.’” We thus see a connection between the dedication of the Temple and the lighting of the Menorah. After the Maccabean war ended, the Jews cleaned, repaired and rededicated the Temple, and lit the Menorah once again.

 

Thus we have additional hints, in the Torah, that Chanukah was in the mind of HaShem when He created the world.

 

As we go forward in time we find an allusion to Chanukah in the Tanakh.

 

The Prophet Chaggai alluded to Chanukah in his prophecy:

 

Chaggai (Haggai) 2:18 Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of HaShem’s temple was laid, consider it. 19  Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.

 

From this prophecy we see that the first full day of the laying of the foundation for the second Temple was on Kislev twenty-five,[18] the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month. Thus the Temple and its light are associated with Chanukah, The Festival of Light.

 

This date for the laying of the foundation of the second Temple is so significant that the Syrian-Greeks will specifically choose this day to defile the Temple, in 162 B.C.E. The Temple, built for the glory of HaShem, was defiled by idolaters, transforming it into a place that would combine Jewish faith with a universal, Hellenistic vision. For this reason they placed their idol in the Temple, choosing specifically the twenty-fifth of Kislev as the day for this desecration, so as to correspond with the original day of the laying of the foundation of the Second Temple. This was a deliberate attempt to offend the religious public, which they defined as a group of zealots.

 

Three years after the desecration of the Temple by the Syrian-Greeks, Yehuda Maccabee and his brothers planned the rededication of the altar and of the Temple as a whole for the anniversary of its defilement, the day of the oil, and they celebrated the festival of Succoth in the ninth month, “with myrtle branches and citron branches and palm branches, for eight days, with joy and festivity”.[19] They thereby instituted for all generations the parallel between the dedication of the Temple in the days of King Solomon, on Succoth,[20] The laying of the foundation for the second Temple, and its rededication in Kislev in the days of the Hasmoneans, with a further parallel between the ingathering of the grain and the wine and the ingathering of the olives, as celebrations of equal weight.

 

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, lets continue looking at another allusion to Chanukah, before the days of the Hasmoneans, as detailed by our Sages, in the Mishna.

 

We see that the Oral Torah given to Moshe on Mount Sinai also has an allusion to Chanukah.

 

Bikkurim Chapter 1:6. HE WHO BUYS TWO TREES [THAT HAD GROWN] IN PROPERTY BELONGING TO HIS FELLOW BRINGS BIKKURIM BUT IS NOT TO MAKE THE RECITAL. R. MEIR SAYS: HE ALSO MAKES THE RECITAL. IF THE WELL DRIED UP, OR THE TREE WAS CUT DOWN, HE BRINGS BUT DOES NOT RECITE. R. JUDAH SAYS: HE BRINGS AND RECITES. FROM PENTECOST TILL SUKKOTH[21] ONE MAY BRING [BIKKURIM] AND MAKE THE RECITAL; FROM SUKKOTH TILL HANUKAH,[22] ONE MAY BRING, BUT DOES NOT MAKE THE RECITAL. R. JUDAH B. BATHYRA SAYS: ONE MAY BRING AND ALSO MAKE THE RECITAL.

 

Apparently, while the holiday of Chanukah is a later development, this time of the year is agriculturally significant because the agricultural aspect of first fruits (bikkurim) serves to purify the cosmic festival, instituted by Adam, which had become a pagan celebration. The natural agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel is such that the end of the olive season (and thus the end of the first fruits season) falls in the last week of Kislev. This creates a situation in which the celebration of the first fruits with olive oil coincides with the natural, universally recognized need to create light at this time of darkness. Thus the light of pure olive oil, from the produce of the land brought as first fruits to the Temple, replaces the impure, pagan “light and fire,” thereby illuminating the world with purity emanating from the holiness of the land and of the Temple.

 

A connection between Chanukah and Succoth is also found among the prophesies of Haggai. He was one of the last prophets and one of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, The Men of the Great Assembly. He lived during the reign of King Darius of Persia, who according to the Midrash was the son of Achashverosh and Esther, and he sanctioned and encouraged the construction of the second Beit HaMikdash which had begun in the days of Cyrus[23] but was subsequently discontinued for eighteen years.

 

Haggai conveyed the following

 

Haggai 2:1,6 In the seventh month [Tishre] on the twenty first of the month, the seventh day of Succoth, which is called  Hoshana Rabbah, the word of HaShem came through Haggai the prophet saying ... for thus said HaShem, ‘there will be one more; it is a small one, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land’.

 

The message of this prophecy was that in addition to the current subjugation under Persia, one more nation would subdue the Jews, the Greeks; but their domination would last only a short time.[24] HaShem was thus saying, “During the Greek rule, I will cause a major upheaval in the land”, a reference to the Hasmonean’s revolt against the Greeks and the miracle of Chanukah.

 

Keep in mind that Chanukah is not a monotheistic festival that grew out of a pagan one. Rather, the festival started out as a cosmic, universal one, established by Adam, who “instituted them [the eight-day periods] for the sake of Heaven”. Only afterwards did it become a pagan festival.[25]

 

A festival of lights is something that many cultures have in common with the Jews. Hindus have Diwali, the Buddhists have Loy Krathong (with water-borne and air-borne lanterns), the Chinese have their annual Lantern Festival, and I'm sure there are many more. Lighting displays have also been an important aspect for Christmas observers around the world.

 

Lets look at some of these observances and see how they compare to Chanukah, which has its source in Adam’s festival observance.

 

Background

 

While I was studying at the University, I met a young woman who told me that she, and other Hindus in India, celebrated the festival of lights[26] in the sixth and seventh month of the Hindu calendar, on the day of the new moon. This corresponds to the Gregorian months of October and November. This got me wondering about connections to Chanukah, which is also called The Festival of Lights.

 

I have known for some time that Christians also celebrate a festival of lights on December 25. Christmas is sometimes called in the Latin Church the Feast of Lights, so many candles are used. What is fascinating is that this festival takes place in the tenth month, yes, the tenth month, on the twenty-fifth day. While everyone knows that December is the twelfth month of the Gregorian calendar, not so many realize that December means the tenth month in Latin. Thus the name December testifies to the fact that this time period was known in earlier times as the tenth month. The Biblical calendar does, indeed, call this time period Tevet, which is the tenth month of the Biblical calendar. Clearly the ancient Roman calendar also acknowledged that this is the time for the tenth month.

 

On the twelve days of Christmas,[27] Between Christmas and the Epiphany, Christian decorate the outside and inside of their houses with lights.

 

Christmas is also observed as an eight day festival from December 25 through January 1. Note the eight days: Dec. 25, Dec. 26, Dec. 27, Dec. 28, Dec. 29, Dec. 30, Dec. 31, Jan. 1. Many abstain from work during these days. Major manufacturers[28] often give their employees these days as vacation.

 

Further, some Christians celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, which is a Christian celebration of the Brit milah (ritual circumcision) of Yeshua, eight days after his birth, the occasion on which the child was formally given his name, Yeshua, a name derived from Hebrew meaning salvation. The feast day appears on January 1 in the liturgical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It also appears in the pre-1960 General Roman Calendar, and is celebrated by some churches of the Anglican Communion and virtually all Lutheran churches.

 

Christmas is celebrated by attaching lights to their Christmas trees and to their homes.

 

Ganden Ngamcho is celebrated, by Buddhists, on the twenty-fifth day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar. On this night of the day, countless butter lamps are lit on the roofs of every monastery and lay person’s house. Its distinctive mark is the lighting of lamps and bonfires. This Tibetan Buddhist festival commemorates the birth and death of Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), a saintly scholar, teacher, and reformer of the monasteries, who enforced strict monastic rules.

 

The Tibetan calendar is lunar based and the tenth month corresponds to the Biblical calendar for Kislev (the ninth month). This means that Ganden Ngamcho falls on the first night of Chanukah!

 

When I realized that these four major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism,[29] all had a major festival called the festival of lights, I knew that there had to be a common origin that was based in the Torah.

 

Salvation

 

Each of four great religions celebrate their festivals of lights to commemorate a great salvation for the people. In our introduction we demonstrated that Adam instituted the Feast of Lights (Chanukah) specifically to commemorate his own salvation from a world that was descending into darkness.

 

Avodah Zarah 8a When primitive Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, ‘Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!’

 

Since the origins of this festival were rooted in a great salvation, we would expect this theme to be picked up in the celebrations for the other great religions.

 

I would like to look at each of the great religions and how they recreate Adam’s salvation.

 

Chanukah

 

Chanukah, celebrated by Jews all over the world, celebrates the salvation of the Jews from the tyranny and slaughter of the Syrian-Greeks, in the days of the Maccabees. The Syrian Greeks were trying to remove Torah from the world. The Syrian-Greeks were trying to remove the Light of The World!

 

Now Chanukah is a ‘second chance’ to celebrate Succoth (The Feast of Tabernacles). The Maccabees were too busy fighting the Syrian-Greeks to celebrate succoth, therefore when they completed their battle, they celebrated Succoth a bit late. Just as Succoth lasts eight days, so also does Chanukah last eight days. What makes this so facinating is that Christmas, as we shall soon see, is a faux date to celebrates the birth of the Messiah.

 

Christmas

 

Christmas is an official Christian holiday, celebrated in every Christian land, that celebrates the birth of Yeshua (Jesus) who was sent to save mankind from their sins. This is very interesting because the Tanakh[30] and the Nazarean Codicil[31] show clearly that Yeshua was born during the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), in the seventh month (Tishri), as we have shown in the study titled: BIRTH.

 

Now the Nazarean Codicil shows clearly that Christians regard Yeshua as The Light of The World.

 

Yochanan (John) 8:12 Then spake Yeshua again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

 

The connection to Succoth becomes firm when we realize that Yeshua spoke these words in Jerusalem while observing the Light of the World in the Temple, as we saw in the Mishna earlier.

 

Now we learned earlier that Chanukah was a ‘second chance’ to celebrate Succoth. Thus we understand that there is a clear connection between Christmas and Chanukah.

 

Diwali

 

Diwali is an official holiday in India, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Fiji. This festival holds an message of salvation since the festival is reckoned with Lord Rama's victory as the King of Ayodhya after his return to the kingdom from 14 years of exile along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman after killing the demon, King Ravana.

 

The name Diwali is itself a contraction of the word Dīpāvali, which translates into row of lamps. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil, victory over darkness, knowledge over ignorance.

 

While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”.

 

Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this inner light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality.

 

The festival begins on Dhan Teras, the 13th day of the dark half of Asvina,[32] and ends on Yama Dvitiya, the 2nd day of the light half of Karttika.[33]

 

Diwali, the festival of lights, is on the twenty-fifth. That is the day when crackers burst and rockets soar.

 

Ganden Ngam cho

 

The name, Ganden Ngam cho, means “festival of light”, is celebrated in memory of Tsong Khapa,[34] founder of Gelukpa sect who attained complete salvation and internal immortality. This festival of light celebrates the birth, death, and entry to nirvana[35] of Tsong Khapa.

 

During the festival, thousands of butter lamps (dishes of liquid clarified butter called ghee, with wicks floating in them) are lit on the roofs and window sills of homes and on temple altars. At this time people seek spiritual merit by visiting the temples.

 

Originally Ganden Ngamcho was celebrated to honor the Buddha, pleasing the deities, driving out demons, and having fun.

 

As we mentioned earlier, Ganden Ngam cho, always falls on the first night of Chanukah. On the Tibetan calendar it occurs on the twenty-fifth day of the tenth month, which is consistent with the allusion to twenty-five and the tenth month.

 

Ganden is the Tibetan name for the paradise of the Buddha of the future. This name therefore suggests the salutary wish that Ganden monastery would become a route to the world’s salvation.

 

Roman Saturnalia

 

In Rome the feast of lights was named Saturnalia,[36] as we saw previously from the Talmud. According to tradition the Saturnalia had been established in honor of Saturn when, all of a sudden, after a lengthy and prosperous reign, “Saturn suddenly disappeared.”

 

The observation of the Roman Saturnalia festival was originally observed for eight days, from the 25th of December until the first of the New Year.

 

Macrobius wrote[37] that in celebrating the Saturnalia the Romans used to honor the altars of Saturn with lighted candles . . . sending round wax tapers during the Saturnalia.”

 

Yule

 

Yule or Yuletide ("Yule-time") is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Christian calendar was adopted.

 

Tet Nguyen Tieu

Lampadephoria

Feast of Isis

 

Gambling

 

There is a tradition of gambling on Diwali. Hindu beliefs hold that the Goddess Parvati played dice against her husband Lord Shiva, declaring “whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the following year”.

 

There is a tradition of gambling on Chanukah. We use the dreidle (a four sided top) with its four Hebrew letters to determine the outcome. This was one of the device that Our Sages used to study the Torah at a time when it was forbidden. They would study Torah till the soldiers came, then they would hide their books and play dreidle. Thus they were able to use gambling as a method of studying Torah.

 

The New Moon

 

Chanukah is the only Jewish festival that occurs during  two separate months, from the twenty-fifth of Kislev[38] till the first or second of Tevet.[39]

 

The twelve days, and the eight days, of Christmas both span the months of December and January.

 

Diwali spans the lunar months of Asvina and Karttika, with the main celebration taking place on the new moon.

 

Household Celebrations

 

Chanukah is a festival which is normally celebrated only at home. In the Ashkenazi tradition, every member of the family lights his own Chanukiah. In the Sephardi tradition, only the head of the household lights a Chanukiah. The Chanukiah is placed, outside the house, on the left side, as you enter the home, opposite the mezuzah.

 

Christmas is a family festival celebrated around a Christmas tree in the home. Family members exchange presents and enjoy a festival meal together. The lights on the Christmas tree are lit and the lights on their homes are also lit. Many neighborhoods compete to see who can have the most spectacular display of lights on their homes and in their yards. In fact, other than the gift giving, the lights on the tree and house are the primary manifestations of this Christian festival of lights.

 

Diwali is essentially a festival for householders. The preparations, rituals, and the entire celebration focuses on the home and family, spanning out to cover the community as a natural extension.

 

Ganden Ngam cho is also primarily celebrated at home, though they also light lamps in their temples.

 

Now that we understand the various religious celebrations that are associated with the festival of lights, lets look deeper at the real reasons why folks celebrate these festivals.

 

Origin of the Festival of Lights

 

There is a deep mystical reason why nearly every major culture celebrates a festival of lights. In addition to continuing the tradition started by Adam, this festival has its roots in the Torah, in Bereshit (Genesis), the first book of the Torah.

 

In Bereshit, the twenty-fifth Hebrew word of the Torah is אור - Ohr, light.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 1:3 And God said, Let there be light (yehi Ohr - אור): and there was light.

 

In Bereshit 1:3, the Hebrew is Yehi Ohr -אור יהי, Let there be light! The gematria of yehi is twenty-five, and therefore, on another level the pasuk can be read: Twenty-five is the light. No wonder the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the wilderness, was completed on the 25th day of Kislev, 2449. No wonder aiyekah can also be read, aiyeh KOH, "Where is twenty-five?" or that there are twenty-five letters in the Shema.

 

There was a creation of some kind of light on the first day of creation that was altogether different from the light of the sun and the moon that was created on the fourth day. The question is just exactly what was this “light” before light?[40]

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 1:14-16 God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of heaven to separate between the day and the night. ‘And God made two great lights, the greater light for dominion in the day, and the lesser light for dominion at night, as well as the stars.

 

In Kabbalah, the epiphany of creation is termed Ohr aiyn sof, which means “the appearance of HaShem’s light.” The instant of creation is the birth of relationship, and this birth is expressed by the word “light”. The expression and manifestation of G-d in creation is called “light”.

 

The Shema, "Hear O Israel, HaShem our Lord, HaShem is One",[41] is the ultimate Jewish statement of what life is all about. Life is about the potential relationship with echad, with HaShem. It has been observed that the Shema contains twenty-five letters, and it just happens that the word “light” is the twenty-fifth word in the Torah. Bear in mind that “light” was also created on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, and the holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, begins on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.

 

The number twenty-five, it turns out, is a very significant number. As a rule, where you find allusions to twenty-five in the Torah, you also find HaShem and “light”.

 

The Talmudic tradition regarding the original light is that its presence in the world was short-lived. In fact, the Talmud tells us that the light was apparent within creation for just thirty-six hours, and then it was hidden. The question, of course, is why was the light hidden? And the answer is that in hiding the light, HaShem was creating a cosmic framework for the fundamental dynamic of man’s existence; it’s called hide-and-seek.

 

HaShem’s light was hidden just enough to make it not overwhelmingly apparent. As a result, man would not be irresistibly drawn to the light. It was this hiding of the light, therefore, that set the stage for Adam, the first human being.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 3:8-9 And they [Adam and Eve] heard the voice of God manifesting itself throughout the garden, at the approach of evening, and the man and his wife hid from God, amongst the trees of the garden. And God called out to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you[ayekah]?’

 

Is it possible that HaShem didn't know where Adam was? Clearly not. Rather, within these words lies a hint to another message. According to our Sages, the Hebrew word used to express “where are you?”, ayekah, is a highly unusual word, so unusual, in fact, that it is actually an allusion to the hidden “light”.

 

Consider the following and remember, the original light was manifest for just thirty-six hours before being hidden.

 

Midrash Zuta, Eichah 1:1 Rabbi Shimon the son of Pazi said, ‘The numerical value of ayekah [“where are you”] is thirty-six.’

 

And further:

 

“The word light appears thirty-six times in the Torah.”[42]

 

When HaShem called out to Adam and said, “ayekah, where are you?” what He was actually doing was pointing out to Adam the consequences of his action. The deeper meaning of ayekah is, “Where is the light?”[43] HaShem was telling Adam that he had allowed an enormous opportunity to slip through his fingers.

 

Adam”, HaShem was saying, “you had a chance, by virtue of your free will, to reveal the hidden light, and you missed your chance. Adam, when I hid the light I was creating the potential for a fully genuine relationship, a relationship that wouldn’t be imposed but would be freely embraced. Adam, in hiding the light, I actually gave you the possibility for closeness, and instead, you created distance. Adam, you could have revealed the light, but now, Adam, ayekah! Where is the light!

 

And so the light remained hidden, hidden, but not extinguished.

 

As a result of Adam's failure, the light remained hidden, and it would take another two millennia before someone would arise with the potential to reveal it. That person was Avraham, and Avraham was a man who was more than enlightened, he was light itself.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 1:2-3 The earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the surface of the depths… and God said, ‘Let there be light’.

 

Maharal, Gevurot 5:34 Avraham is the light. The generations preceding Avraham were unformed and darkness, and Avraham was the light of existence.

 

And of course, Avraham had an encounter with twenty-five, with the hidden “light”.

 

To grow to the point where he would be able to utilize all of his abilities, Avraham had to face ten tests. With each successive test, Avraham came a step closer to actualizing his potential for bringing light into the world.

 

By the end, as Avraham and his son Isaac were approaching the place of his final test, the Torah says, “And Avraham said to the young men accompanying him, ‘Stay here with the donkey while the lad [Isaac] and I go there.’” What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word used here for “there”, koh, is an unusual word. But the use of this strange word is no mistake. In fact, it’s an allusion to something else, the light. You see, this is the same word, with the same numerical value of twenty-five, that appeared in the story of Adam. So when Avraham said that he and Isaac would go koh, “there”, what he was actually saying was that he and Isaac would go koh, “to the light.”

 

HaShem now had an answer to His question. HaShem said to Adam, ayeh-koh, “Where is the light”? Two thousand years later the answer came back: The light is with Avraham.

 

Avraham’s grandson, Yaakov, was also associate with the light. When Yaakov Avinu had his vision of a ladder going up to heaven and angels ascending and descending, he had that vision at Beit El,[44] the Beit HaMikdash (The House of the Holy One), the Temple.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 28:11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put [them for] his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.

 

Then he said something very strange:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 28:17 And he was afraid, and said, How awesome [is] this place! this [is] none other but the house of G-d, and this [is] the gate of heaven.

 

The Hebrew word for “awesome”, נורא  nora, can be rearranged to spell ארון  Aron, The ark of the covenant. The Sages therefore understand that the place where Yaakov Avinu slept, was the place of connection, the place where the ark of the covenant would be placed!

 

When Yaakov Avinu picked up the stones from under his head and returned them in the morning, he found a stone that had a jar of oil in it, and he used it to pour on the top stone.[45] When it refilled itself, Yaakov knew it was set aside for HaShem. He said, “It's not right to leave this here...

 

(This happened at the beginning of an exile that would last thirty-six years, the number of candles we light over the eight days of Chanukah.)

 

Hmmmm. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Oil that replenishes itself. In fact, the above Midrash continues by telling us that this same oil lasted throughout the generations, and was even used to anoint the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Moshe's day, hundreds of years later, and it never lost a drop, but constantly replenished itself. (twelve log of oil, one for each of the twelve rocks he slept on)!

 

By the way, this cruse of oil also explains another mystery:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 32:22-24 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

 

These verses refer to Yaakov's return to Canaan in advance his confrontation with Esau. On his way back from Padan Aram and all his years with his uncle Lavan, he had to cross the Yavok (Jabbok) river. Person by person, piece by piece, Yaakov moved each from one side of the river to the other. However, nightfall caught him on the “wrong” side of the river, where he fought with the “stranger” whom the Midrash identifies as Esau’s angel. What had caused him to be there at that time? The Talmud tells us:

 

Chullin 91a And Jacob was left alone. Said R. Eleazar: He remained behind for the sake of some small jars.

 

The Midrash tells us his reward for going back for those “small jars”:

 

Midrash Tzeidah LaDerech G-d said to Yaakov, "For endangering yourself for a small container, I Myself will repay your children with a small container to the Chashmanayim [at the time of Chanukah]."

 

What made Yaakov so conscientious that, after a full day of traveling and moving, he went back for those little containers. The truth is, the containers Yaakov returned for was no ordinary containers, nor were they empty. These jars contained the oil from Beit El!

 

After Yaakov and his family had crossed the river Yavok, Yaakov returned alone to see if he had forgotten anything.  He found that he had left some small containers of oil.  Why did he bother to risk his life (he was by himself) for such seemingly insignificant pots of oil?  We are told that a tzadik[46] values the smallest of his possessions and would not let anything go to waste, as each of his belongings has been acquired honestly.  There is an opinion that these containers were the pots of oil that lasted for eight days, that comprised the miracle of Chanukah in the Temple.

 

Later we find a remez, a hint, that Yaakov celebrated Succoth and Chanukah. According to the Zohar Vayikra 100b the first point of the pasuk, “Yaakov journeyed to Succoth,” is a hint that Yaakov observed Succoth, the festival that corresponds to him.

 

Bereshit 33:17 Yaakov journeyed to Succoth and built for himself a house.

 

The second part of the pasuk, “He built for himself a house,” can be explained as a hint to Chanukah. According to the Gemara[47] the proper way to fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah candles is to place them “al petach beito mibachutz”, “by the entrance of one’s house from the outside.” During the eight days of Chanukah we light a total of thirty-six candles. The numerical value of the word “lo”, “for himself”, is thirty-six.

 

Thus, the Torah tells us not only did Yaakov journey to Succoth, a hint that he observed Succoth, but he built lo bayit, a house where he could kindle thirty-six candles at the entrance for the eight days of Chanukah.

 

From the seed of Avraham grew the family and then the people of Israel. This people soon found itself enslaved in a very, very dark place, a place called Egypt.

 

In Hebrew, the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means “tight, restricted, and closed in”.

 

On the one hand, this restrictive aspect of Egypt refers to the fact that it was impossible for prisoners and slaves to escape its borders. On a deeper level, however, Egypt was a spiritual black hole, a place from which nothing could escape, not even light itself.

 

Avraham had bequeathed the potential for “light” to his descendants, but now Egypt was threatening to smother it. Only with the appearance of Moshe, and then the giving of the Torah, would the “light’s” potential revelation be assured.

 

The transformation of Moshe from a prince in the house of Pharaoh to the savior of the Jewish people is captured by two verses in the Torah.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 2:11-12 And Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and saw their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating one of his Jewish brothers. And he turned here and there (koh v’koh) and he saw that there was no man, so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."

 

There it is again. That same strange word, koh, and that same number, twenty-five. Moshe is to be the one who will lead the Jewish people out of the place of restricted light, and how does his career begin? With a turn to koh, a turn toward the light.

 

Rashi When Moshe was born, the entire house became filled with light.

 

Moshe, like Avraham, was a man of light, and eventually he would lead the Jewish people to a light of their own.

 

Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 149a With the hidden light, God nourishes the world.

 

Mishlei (Proverbs) 6:23 For the commandment is a candle, and the Torah is light.

 

Baal Shem Tov The light created on the first day was hidden in the Torah itself.

 

Could it be that the Torah itself is the repository for the original hidden light of creation? Could it be that the light hidden by HaShem, the light that Adam failed to reveal, the light of connection between HaShem and man, is now hidden in the Torah? Consider what happened to Moshe after his encounter on Mount Sinai.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 34:29 When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, and in the hand of Moshe were the two tablets of testimony when he descended from the mountain, Moshe did not realize that the skin of his face had become radiant from speaking to Him.

 

With the experience of receiving the Torah from HaShem Himself, Moshe became, quite literally, a radiant light.

 

It seems that while the light may be hidden, it is far from lost. In fact, the same vessel that contains the hidden light is the vehicle for its revelation. This is the Torah!

 

After the Torah was given to the Bne Israel,[48] they sinned with the golden calf. Because of this sin, HaShem gave the Bne Israel the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The Oral Torah teaches us that the Mishkan was completed on Chanukah, Kislev twenty-five, but it remained folded up till Nisan 1. Thus the Mishkan, the ultimate source of light, is associated with twenty-five.

 

Yalkut Melachim 184 Rabi Chanina said: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev the work of the Mishkan was concluded but it was kept folded till the first of Nisan, as it is written: 'On the day of the first month, on the first of the month, you shall erect the Mishkan of the tent of meeting. ‘And Israel murmured against Moshe saying: Why was it not erected immediately? Did some blemish affect it? God, however, intended to merge the rejoicing over the Mishkan into the month in which Yitzchak was born (Nisan) ... Kislev therefore missed the inauguration though the work had been concluded therein. God therefore said: It is for me to make restitution. How did God repay Kislev? With the Chanukah of the Hasmoneans.

 

Now, lets jump forward nearly sixteen hundred years, to the time of the Maccabees. As we saw earlier, the Maccabees established Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, on Kislev twenty-five. The twenty-fifth was chosen because that was the day they vanquished the Syrian-Greeks from the Temple. The Maccabees. Also known as the Hasmoneans, were called Hasmoneans because they came from Chashmonah.

 

Aaron’s descendants were the ones who re-lit the menorah in the Temple, which was beginning of the miracle of Chanukah.

 

The twenty-fifth place of encampment in the journeying of the Bne Israel, after they left Egypt, was Chashmonah, the home of the Maccabees. We wrote extensively on this topic in a study titled: STAGES.

 

Which Came First?

 

We have looked at several festivals which are celebrated around the worlds, which are all called The Festival of Light. Clearly they all have a common root. Clearly they all are derived from Adam’s celebration and the Torah.

 

Chanukah, about 165 BCE, precedes many of the other festivals of light. They are all similar because this is the HaShem’s time for the hidden light, the Ohr HaGanuz.

 

In the final analysis, the twenty-fifth day and the ninth and tenth months were clearly set apart by HaShem for a celebration of lights. This why the major religions celebrate the Festival of Lights at this time. Most of them are modeled on Chanukah which was HaShem’s designated festival.

 

Other Festivals of Lights

 

In addition to the festivals that we have already studied, there are several other festivals that are also known as the festival of lights.

 

In the more northern countries, Lucy Day, which was a festival of lights, is celebrated as a holiday in connection with Yule. Candles, torches, and other forms of light were left burning to light up the night skies. Today we can use electric lights for the same purpose.

 

Santa Lucia Day is also known as Feast of Lights.

 

The Feast of Lights (Greek Orthodox). The Feast of Lights is one of the oldest observances of the Christian Church dating back to the Fourth Century after Christ. Also known as the Feast of the Epiphany, it celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the world. Traditionally, it is held on January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas.

 

25th Thuti on the Egyptian Calendar, the ancient Egyptians used to celebrate the Feast of Lights of Aset (Isis). This was the Day of Sekhmet's repulsion of Set; Also Wasirian (Osirian).

 

The Feast of Lights (Ton Photon) of the Greek Orthodox is celebrated on January 6 where the faithful attend a Divine Liturgy and the Great Blessing of the Water service to celebrate Theophany, also called “Ton Photon” (“Feast of Lights”) with reference to the spiritual illumination of the Holy Spirit. The service commemorates the baptism of Christ and the manifestation of the Christian God in three persons.

 

The Winter solstice observance is also celebrated with the lighting of the lamps, and parallels the celebrations worldwide in which a lit fire hails the returning sun.

 

Candlemas, also called Imbolc, Feast of Lights.

 

Conclusion

 

At the dawn of creation, Adam created the Festival of Lights to celebrate his salvation from eternal darkness. He realized that the winter solstice, and the return of longer days, was the way of the world. He also realized that this was the meaning of twenty-five, and that it was the way of the tenth month. He shared that insight with his descendants who populated the world. He also taught them how to observe this festival.

 

When Avraham sent his sons, by his concubines, to the east:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 25:6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Avraham had, Avraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

 

The pasuk also indicates that Avraham gave them “gifts” when he sent them away. The Zohar gives a hint as to what these gifts were:

 

Soncino Zohar, Bereshit, Section 1, Page 99b R. Abba continued: ‘I once found myself in a town inhabited by descendants of the “children of the East”, and they imparted to me some of the Wisdom of antiquity with which they were acquainted. They also possessed some books of their Wisdom, and they showed me one in which it was written that, according to the goal which a man sets himself in this world, so does he draw to himself a spirit from on high. If he strives to attain some holy and lofty object, he draws that object from on high to himself below. But if his desire is to cleave to the other side, and he makes this his whole intent, then he draws to himself from above the other influence. They said, further, that all depends on the kind of speech, action, and intention to which a man habituates himself, for he draws to himself here below from on high that side to which he habitually cleaves. I found also in the same book the rites and ceremonies pertaining to the worship of the stars, with the requisite formulas and the directions for concentrating the thought upon them, so as to draw them near the worshipper.

 

Thus we learn that Avraham sent gifts of the “wisdom of antiquity” with his sons, to the east. These people of the east drew near to the “other side’ and corrupted that wisdom. Their proclivity towards corruption is what caused Avraham to send them “away from Yitzchak”. Never the less, some of the truth remained. From this we understand that the world was acquainted with the wisdom of Adam and of his Festival of Lights.

 

Avraham was himself intimately associated with the Festival of Lights. He gave this understanding to his descendants who went to the east and build societies based on that wisdom. Thus we understand why the people of the east have a Festival of Lights.

 

Avraham also shared his understanding of the Festival of lights with his descendants: Yitzchak, and Yaakov. To these descendants he also bequeathed the truth. This understanding of the Feast of Lights was reinforced when Moshe ascended Mount Sinai and learned Torah from HaShem. This understanding was passed on to the entire nation, which taught them to their children and their children’s children.

 

When the Christians departed from the Synagogues in order to obey the Pope and to follow their own understanding, they also corrupted the Festival of Lights and the other wisdom they had learned from the Patriarchs. Never the less, a vestige of the truth remained and has been testifying to the Festival of Lights for all these centuries.

 

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 100b Be on your guard lest, God forbid, you be led astray from the worship of the Holy One, since all these books mislead mankind. For the ancient children of the East were possessed of a wisdom which they inherited from Abraham, who transmitted it to the sons of the concubines, as it is written, “But unto the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the country of the children of the East” (Gen. XXV, 6). In course of time they followed the track of that wisdom into many (wrong) directions. Not so with the seed of Isaac, with the portion of Jacob. For it is written, “And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac” (Ibid. 5), this being the holy heritage of faith to which Abraham clave, and from the sphere of which issued Jacob, of whom it is written, “And, behold, the Lord stood beside him” (Gen. XXVIII, 13), and also, “And thou, Israel, my servant, etc.” (Is. XLI, 8). Hence it behoves a man to follow the Holy One and to cleave to Him continually, as it is written, “and to him shalt thou cleave”.[49]

 

Men of truth and understanding still look to the Torah and the Jewish Sages for the truth about the Festival of Lights. Our Sages have written the truth into our Siddur[50] and have taught us from the Oral Torah, the practical performance of the mitzvot[51] of Chanukah in order that the truth not be corrupted. This truth is built into Chanukah and the mitzvot that belong to this Festival of Lights.

 

Chanukah is not a monotheistic festival that grew out of a pagan one. Rather, the festival started out as a cosmic, universal one, established by Adam, who “instituted them [the eight-day periods] for the sake of Heaven.” Only afterwards did it become a pagan festival.[52]

 

The clearest expression of the connection between the story of Adam’s festival and Chanukah are in the Gemara’s statements that “the next year he made both (eight-day periods) into days of celebration,” and “He established them for the sake of Heaven.” These parallel the statements in Massekhet Shabbat, concerning Chanukah: “The next year they established them as days of celebration, with praise and thanksgiving.” This parallel leaves no room for doubt as to the connection between the two festivals, and the clear intention of the discussion in Massekhet Avoda Zara is to explain Chanukah as a cosmic, primal “festival of Adam”; a festival of light, at the time when the light is most restricted. It was the idolaters who defiled this festival, turning it into a pagan one that is celebrated at the same time of year.

 

As such, the agricultural aspect of bikkurim serves to purify the cosmic festival which had become a pagan celebration. The natural agricultural cycle of Eretz Yisrael is such that the end of the olive season (and thus the end of the bikkurim season) falls in the last week of Kislev. This creates a situation in which the celebration of the bikkurim with olive oil coincides with the natural, universally-recognized need to create light at this time of darkness. Thus the light of pure olive oil, from the produce of the land brought as bikkurim to the Temple, replaces the impure, pagan “light and fire,” thereby illuminating the world with purity emanating from the holiness of the land and of the Temple.

 

 

* * *

 


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

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Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com

 

 



[1] The Biblical calendar allows Kislev to have either 29 or 30 days. Some years it has 29 days and some years it has 30 days.

[2] II Maccabees 1:18. Note especially v.9 And now see that ye keep the feast of tabernacles in the month Kislev. Normally the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated in the month of Tishri.

[3] The Feast of Tabernacles

[4] The priests and Levites.

[5] The fifteen  steps (mentioned later in our Mishnah) that led from the Court of the Israelites.

[6] To ascend to the top, since they were fifty cubits high.

[7] Owing to the considerable height of the lamps and the high altitude of the Temple mount on which the court was situated.

[8] B.C.E means “Before the Common Era” and is the way Jews designate the time before Christ’s birth.

[9] This lighting, of the menorah, took place in 165 B.C.E. Exactly three years before, on the same day, Antiochus Epiphanes had a pagan altar erected in the Temple, upon which sacrifices were offered (I Maccabees I, 41-64). Apart from the Talmudic reason stated here, Judas Maccabeus chose 25th of Kislev as the anniversary of the Temple's defilement, and the dedication of the new altar was celebrated with lights for eight days, similarly to the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted eight days and was celebrated by illuminations (I Macc. IV, 36;II Macc. X, 6; supra a, p. 90, n. 3). Actually the revolt was against the Syrians, of whom Antiochus Epiphanes was king, but the term ‘Greeks’ is used loosely, because the Seleucid Empire was part of the older Empire founded by Alexander the Great of Macedon, and because it was a reaction against the attempted Hellenization of Judea. The historic data are contained in the First Book of the Maccabees.

[10] Festivals of idolaters (Avodah Zarah 6a).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Psalm 139:5. As an aid to remembering that KALENDA mentioned first in the Mishnah is behind the equinox and SATURNALIA mentioned later is before it.

[13] The eight days preceding and following the equinox.

[14] Torah is the Hebrew word to describe the first five books of the Bible: Genesis (Bereshit), Exodus (Shemot), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bamidbar), and Deuteronomy (Devarim).

[15] Yochanan (John) 7:37

[16] The Children of Israel

[17] The seven branched candlestick in the Temple.

[18] Chaggai 2:15

[19] II Hasmoneans (Maccabees) 10:5-7

[20] I Melachim (Kings) 8:2

[21] Lit., ‘the festival’, par excellence.

[22] This is the Maccabean festival commemmorating the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Greco-Syrians on Kislev 25th, 165 B.C.E. (I Macc. IV, 45 ff).

[23] Ezra ch. 3

[24] Rashi

[25] see Rambam, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim, chapter 1

[26] called Diwali or Deepavali.

[27] Many Christians begin lighting their homes after Thanksgiving.

[28] I am aware that Boeing has this tradition.

[29] Sikhism and Jainism also celebrate this festival.

[30] Tanakh is an acronym for Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).

[31] The so called New Testament.

[32] The seventh month of the Hindu luni-solar calendar.

[33] The eighth month of the Hindu luni-solar calendar.

[34] He formulated a doctrine that became the basis of the Gelug (meaning "virtuous") sect of Buddhism. It became the predominant sect of Tibet, and Tsongkhapa's successors became the Dalai Lamas, the rulers of Tibet.

[35] it is the state of being free from suffering. The word literally means "blowing out", referring in the Buddhist context, to the blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.

[36] Macrobius, Saturnalia I. 7. 24: subito non comparuisset. [It was then, according to Macrobius, that Italy came to be called Saturnia in honor of the planet. Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates Romanorum I. 6; Ovid, Fasti, VI. 1. 31.] 

[37]  (Saturnalia I. 7. 31-32, transl. by P. Davies, 1969). Macrobius noted also the opinion of those who “think that the practice is derived simply from the fact that it was in the reign of Saturn that we made our way, as thou to the light, from a rude and gloomy existence to a knowledge of the liberal arts.” [Cf. above, “Tammuz and Osiris,” n. 9 on the Egyptian light festival in honor of Osiris.] 

[38] The ninth month of the Biblical calendar.

[39] The tenth month of the Biblical calendar.

[40] This section is based on the writings of Shimon Apisdorf.

[41] Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4

[42] Rokeach

[43] The word ayekah can be split into two words. Aye, which means “where” and koh, which is a difficult word to translate and seems to have different meanings in different contexts. However, the numerical value of the word koh is twenty-five, the number that represents light. When looked at this way, the word ayekah literally means, “where is the light”?

[44] The House of G-d

[45] Of the monument he built

[46] Tzaddik = A Righteous One, one who keeps the commands of Torah.

[47] Shabbat 21b

[48] Children of Israel

[49] Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:20

[50] Prayer book

[51] Mitzvot are the actions that are required by the Torah, in order to demonstrate out love for HaShem.

[52] see Rambam, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim, chapter 1.