While the month of Kislev contains various concepts, it has one central theme: illumination. Both Chanukah and the nineteenth day of Kislev celebrate events when spiritual darkness gave way to the light of G‑dliness, preparing the way for the Messianic era.

A Jew must serve G‑d at all times. Yet there are many different aspects of service, and a specific time of the year calls for a specific type of service. In particular, each month of the year has its own unique service.

The month of Kislev is no exception. While there are various aspects of service in this month there is a central concept which is their common theme. That theme is expressed in the name of the month, for, as the Baal Shem Tov taught,1 the name of anything in the holy tongue is its life-force — and therefore reflects its essential nature.

The months are named also by number — first, second, third month, etc. Kislev thus also is called “the third month,” for the months can be counted in two ways: beginning from Nissan, or from Tishrei. Beginning from Nissan, the third month is Sivan; from Tishrei, Kislev is the third month.

Mattan Torah of the Hidden Realm

The general theme of “the third month” is that the Torah was given then to Jews.2 The Talmud, in relating the distinction of the number “three” in regard to the giving of the Torah, states: “The threefold Torah (Scripture, Prophets, Writings) was given to the threefold people (Priests, Levites, Israelites) through the third one (Moshe, the third child of his parents, born after Miriam and Aharon) on the third day (of preparations for receiving the Torah) in the third month (Sivan).”3

Sivan was the month for the giving, at Mt. Sinai, of the revealed aspect of Torah. Kislev was the month for the giving of the hidden aspect of Torah4 — on the 19th of Kislev, the festival of liberation of the Alter Rebbe.5 On that day the teaching of Chassidus (the esoteric, “the soul of Torah”) was vindicated, and was allowed to be disseminated everywhere. It is therefore the festival of the giving of the hidden aspects of Torah.

Torah study existed even before it was given to Jews at Mt. Sinai. Our Sages say that the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, all studied Torah.6 But their Torah study was only for themselves, stemming from their personally lofty stature, and it was not revealed to the rest of the world.7 At Mt. Sinai the Torah was given and revealed to all.8

So, too, in the giving of the esoteric aspect of Torah in the month of Kislev. Although at Mt. Sinai (in Sivan), the entire Torah, the exoteric and the esoteric,9 was certainly given to Jews, the principal revelation of the esoteric — the comprehension and understanding of it, when it became part of the very fibre of a Jew — did not happen until the nineteenth of Kislev. It was R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, who expounded Chassidus as a logical, orderly system, comprehensible to all10 — the system of Chabad Chassidus — and his teachings began to be propagated in earnest after the nineteenth of Kislev.11 Thus, the esoteric realm of Torah was principally revealed only in Kislev, while in Sivan the revelation was principally of the exoteric.

Chanukah is “repayment” to Kislev

Before this revelation of the hidden part of Torah, the festival of Chanukah already existed in the month of Kislev. It, too, is connected with the third month. The Midrash states: “The work of the Sanctuary was finished in Kislev, and it was left folded (i.e. unerected) until the first of Nissan, as stated,12 ‘On the first day of the first month you shall erect the Sanctuary.’ Kislev, in which the work was finished, has therefore missed out [on being the month in which the Sanctuary was dedicated]. G‑d said ‘I will repay it.’ With what did G‑d repay it? With the dedication (“chanukah”) of the Chasmoneans.”13 In other words, the month of Kislev did not miss out having the Sanctuary dedicated in it, for in Kislev the Chasmoneans rededicated the Beis HaMikdosh that had been desecrated by the Greek-Syrians — i.e., the festival of Chanukah.

The dedication of the Chasmoneans took place in the second Beis HaMikdosh. When we include the Sanctuary made by Moshe Rabbeinu (Sanctuary and Beis HaMikdosh possessing the same concept and purpose of “Make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within them”14 ), the second Beis HaMikdosh is the third — Sanctuary, first Beis HaMikdosh, second Beis HaMikdosh. And this is its connection to the third month.

In slightly different words: The service of Jews to build a physical Sanctuary for G‑d started after Yom Kippur15 and was completed on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. G‑d’s part in this work — His revelation in that Sanctuary (“I will dwell within them”) — did not happen until the month of Nissan. When then was the revelation in the month of Kislev? At the “dedication of the Chasmoneans.”

Illumination of Darkness

This new dedication took place because the Greek-Syrians had defiled the Beis HaMikdosh. The revelation of G‑dliness in Kislev (“repaying” it) thus followed the spiritual darkness imposed by the idolators. And specifically because it followed this darkness, the revelation was that much greater — the Chanukah lights are eternal, never to be abolished,16 similar to the Sanctuary built by Moshe.17

We find this same idea in regard to the revelation of the esoteric realm of Torah in Kislev. Just as the festival of Chanukah, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdosh, occurred as a result of darkness (the evil of the Greeks), so, too, the revelation of Chassidus occurred specifically in the intense darkness of exile. Because the exile was becoming so intense the light of Chassidus was needed to illuminate its darkness.18

When the exile grew yet darker, a greater revelation of Chassidus was necessary. This was the work of R. Dov Ber (the Mitteler Rebbe), son of the Alter Rebbe. He took concepts in Chassidus that were but briefly explained by the Alter Rebbe, and elaborated on them to a much larger degree.19 This, too, is connected with Kislev: The Mitteler Rebbe both was born and passed away on the ninth of Kislev, and he was freed from imprisonment on the tenth of Kislev.

The common theme of the month of Kislev, then, is that the dedication of the Beis HaMikdosh by the Chasmoneans occurred specifically after the evil and darkness of the Greeks; and the revelation of Chassidus was specifically after the increasing intensity of the exile.

The central concept of this month thus is the illumination of darkness. The Chanukah lights are kindled “at the entrance of the house on the outside,”20 to illumine the surrounding darkness. Chassidus also must reach to the outside, as told to the Baal Shem Tov: “Your wellsprings will spread forth to the outside.”21

Purpose of exile to transform darkness

In Torah, theoretical understanding is not enough, for “deed is paramount.”22 The above central concept of Kislev must provide a directive for our daily lives. A Jew may easily become despondent by his situation in exile, for although on Chanukah “You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure,”23 Jews were still not strong enough to ignore foreign domination; and it certainly was not the true and final redemption, which will not be followed by further exile. When a Jew thinks of this, thinks about the spiritual murkiness of the exile, he is liable to lose all hope.

The response to this comes from Torah. It is “the living Torah,” providing instructions for life, and “the Torah of light,”24 illuminating the way of a Jew. Torah has taught that the central concept of the month of Kislev is the illumination of darkness. A Jew need not be affected by the exile, for darkness is not purposeless; the ultimate goal is to convert the darkness into light, and when a Jew does so, the resulting light is that much greater, illuminating that much more. And when enough light has been produced, when enough G‑dliness has been revealed in the world, Moshiach will come.

Sichas Shabbos Parshas Chaye Sarah, 5742