In Hebrew, the word “chodesh” – “month” – comes from the same root as “chadash” – “new” or “renewed”. The whole idea of time flow in Hebrew is associated with the changing light of the moon.
Generally, the Jewish holidays tend to fall on the first half of the Hebrew month, when the moonlight waxes until the full disk is illuminated. In the month of Kislev it’s different. The festivals of the month – both the 19th of Kislev (Chassidic Rosh Hashanah) and Chanukkah – fall on the second half of the month, when the light of the moon begins to wane – until it’s totally obscured. Why so? Actually there’s no better way to illustrate the underlying idea of these festivals!
From the Rebbe’s explanation:
– Pesach and Sukkos fall on the fifteenth of the month, the time when the moon shines fully. Shavuos falls in the first half of the month, the time when the moon waxes.1 In contrast, Yud-Tes Kislev (19 Kislev) falls in the second half of the month, the time when the moon is waning. Similarly, we find that the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated at the time of the waning of the moon. Indeed, in the midst of that holiday, the moon becomes totally obscured.
The above concepts relate to the service of the Jewish people who “resemble the moon” and “establish their calendar according to the moon” (Talmud). They can be resolved within the context of a more general question. Seemingly, since the moon wanes in the second half of the month, rather than continue counting the days in ascending order 15,16,17, it would be proper to count the days in descending order 15,14,13. This, however, is not the case. After the shining of the full moon on the fifteenth of the month, despite the fact that the moon begins to wane, the following day is counted as the sixteenth of the month. As the moon continues to wane, the numbers grow higher. Indeed, the greatest dates of the months (the 29th or 30th) are the nights on which the moons light is obscured entirely.
The rationale for this is the principle “Always ascend higher in holy matters; never descend.” Although on a revealed level, there is less light, inwardly, a process of ascent is taking place.
The waxing and the waning of the moon depends on the position of the moon in relation to the sun. In the first half of the month, as the moon waxes, it moves further and further from the sun. Indeed, at the time of a full moon, it is in furthest position from the sun. In contrast, in the second half of the month, as the moon wanes, it draws closer to the sun.
Allegorically, this can be explained as follows: When the mekabel (recipient) is close to the mashpia (giver), because of the bittul, self-nullification he feels toward him, he cannot reflect any light. On the contrary, his energies are focused on receiving the mashpia’s influence. It is only when he removes himself from the mashpia, that he begins to shine forth light. In this context, it can be explained that the moon’s light wanes in the second half of the month in order for it to be able to receive influence so that it will be able to shine again in the coming month.
There is, however, a deeper concept: The reduction in light, in the Kabbalah terms, reflects a connection to the Essence which is hidden, it’s totally above the concept of revelation. The revelation of light by definition indicates that one is separate from the essence. And through reducing this revelation, one draws closer to the Essence.
To emphasize the unity associated with (the end-product of) the revelation of Chassidus, Yud-Tes Kislev, the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus is celebrated in the second half of the month, the portion of the month in which the moon draws close to the sun in preparation for their union.
The positive nature of this time is further emphasized by Chanukah, a holiday which emphasizes the concept of increasing light. Although the light of the moon is waning, on each night of Chanukah, we add one more additional light to the menorah showing that the reduction in light is only on an external level. In essence, we are constantly adding light…
From the Rebbe’s talk on parashat Vayishlach (5752).