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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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Chanukah Day 1
Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

The first murder in history occurred on the 25th of Kislev in the year 41 from creation (3720 BCE), when Adam and Eve's eldest son, Cain, killed his younger brother, Abel, as recounted in the 4th chapter of Genesis.

Link: From the Midrash

The vessels, tapestries, wall sections and other components of the Mishkan (the portable sanctuary or "Tabernacle" built under Moses' direction to house the Divine Presence during the Israelites' journeys through the desert) were completed on the 25th of Kislev in the year 2449 from creation (1312 BCE). The Mishkan was not assembled, however, until 3 months later, when, beginning on Adar 25 of that year, it was erected and taken down daily for a 7-day "training" period prior to its dedication on the 1st of Nissan. Our Sages tell us that the day of Kislev 25 was compensated 12 centuries later, when the Maccabees dedicated the Holy Temple on Kislev 25, 3622 (139 BCE -- see below).

Links: The Mishkan described in the Torah and commentaries; from the Chassidic masters on the Mishkan

On the 25th of Kislev in the year 3622 from creation, the Maccabees liberated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, after defeating the vastly more numerous and powerful armies of the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus IV, who had tried to forcefully uproot the beliefs and practices of Judaism from the people of Israel. The victorious Jews repaired, cleansed and rededicated the Temple to the service of G-d. But all the Temple's oil had been defiled by the pagan invaders; when the Jews sought to light the Temple's menorah (candelabra), they found only one small cruse of ritually pure olive oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new, pure oil could be obtained. In commemoration, the Sages instituted the 8-day festival of Chanukah, on which lights are kindled nightly to recall and publicize the miracle.

Link: The Story of Chanukah

Kislev 25 is the yahrtzeit (date of passing) of Rabbi Chaim Chizkiah Medini (1832-1904), author of the Halachic encyclopedia Sdei Chemed.

Laws and Customs

Today is the first day of the eight-day festival of Chanukah. In commemoration of the miracle of the oil (see "Today in Jewish History") we kindle the Chanukah lights -- oil lamps or candles -- each evening for eight days, increasing the number of lights each evening.

In the Jewish calendar, the day begins at nightfall; thus, the first Chanukah light is kindled on the preceding evening, which is when the Hebrew date of Kislev 25 begins. Tonight is the eve of the 2nd day of Chanukah, so we kindle two lights in the Chanukah menorah.

The lights—which ideally should be kindled soon after sunset—must burn for at least half an hour after nightfall. Learn more about the proper lighting time here.

For a more detailed guide to Chanukah lighting click here. For text and audio of the blessings recited before lighting, click here.

Additional Chanukah observances and customs are listed below:

Special prayers of thanksgiving -- Hallel (in its full version) and Al HaNissim -- are added to the daily prayers and Grace After Meals on all eight days of Chanukah. Tachnun (confession of sins) and similar prayers are omitted for the duration of trhe festival.

On Chanukah we eat foods fried in oil -- such as latkes (potato cakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts) -- in commemoration of the miracle of the oil.

It is also customary to eat dairy foods in commemoration of Judith's heroic deed.

It is customary to play dreidel -- a game played with a spinning top inscribed with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hei and Shin, which spell the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there." (It is said that when the Greeks forbade the study of Torah, Jewish children continued the study with their teachers in caves and cellars; when the agents of the king were seen approaching, the children would hide their scrolls and start to play with spinning tops...)

Links: About the dreidel

It is an age-old custom to distribute gifts of Chanukah gelt ("Chanukah money") to children on Chanukah. (It was the custom of the rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch to give Chanukah gelt to their children and other family members on the fourth or fifth night of Chanukah; more recently, however, the Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged the giving of Chanukah gelt every day of the festival -- except for Shabbat, when handling money is forbidden.)

Daily Thought

Chanukah was a victory of few over many. Each Maccabee was a hero, essential to the victory.

One could think that in those days, when the population of the world was so much smaller, a single individual would have more power to change the world. In fact, just the opposite is true. Technology and information have put enormous power in each of our hands.