"And Esther was taken to King Achashverosh, to his palace,
in the tenth month, which is the month of Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign. And the
king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won his
favor and kindness more than all the virgins; he placed the royal crown on her
head and made her queen in Vashti's stead" (Book of Esther 2:16-17).
This set the stage for the miracle of Purim
six years later, on the 13th and 14th of Adar of the year 3405 from creation (356 BCE).
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.
Today is Rosh Chodesh ("Head of the Month") for the month of Tevet. The Yaaleh V'yavo prayer is added to the Amidah and to Grace After Meals, and the additional Musaf prayer is said. Because it is also Chanukah today, the "full" Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited (and not the "partial Hallel" said on the Rosh Chodesh days of other months).
Many have the custom to mark Rosh Chodesh with a festive meal and reduced work
activity. The latter custom is prevalent amongst women, who have a special
affinity with Rosh Chodesh -- the month being the feminine aspect of the
In commemoration of the miracle of Chanukah
(see "Today in Jewish History"
for Kislev 25) we kindle the Chanukah lights -- oil lamps or candles --
each evening of the eight-day festival, increasing the number of lights each evening.
For tonight, we kindle seven lights. (In the Jewish calendar, the day begins at nightfall; this evening, then, commences the 7th day of Chanukah).
IMPORTANT: Because of the prohibition to kindle fire on Shabbat, the first Chanukah light must be lit before lighting the Shabbat candles, and should contain enough oil (or the candle be big enough) to burn until 30 minutes after nightfall.
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.
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...)
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.)
There is an urge within us, at once both imbecilic and ingenious.
Imbecilic, because it will not look beyond its mudhole and move on.
Ingenious, because to defend its muddy fortress it will
summon circumstance, DNA, unfit parents, incompetent teachers, society,
evolution, creation, low self-esteem—a myriad of excuses to avoid making one step ahead.
Every excuse but the real one: its instinctive obstinacy to remain in the mudhole it knows so well.