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Monday, December 22, 2014

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The wonders of Tevet

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Chanukah has again come and gone and we have lit our channukiyot, sung our songs, spun our dreidels and fattened up on all kinds of fried goodies. But Chanukah is a very layered holiday, and snuggled within it is the beginning of Tevet, the current Hebrew month.

Traditionally, the beginning of Tevet is the time that we commemorate the heroine Judith, who singlehandedly crippled the enemy’s general by decapitating him.

In African Jewish cultures, Judith is celebrated at the start of the month of Tevet, a holiday referred to as Chag Habanot – the Festival of the Daughters.  During this holiday, gifts are given from mothers to daughters and grooms to their brides. Inheritances are given to daughters, and any women who are quarrelling reconcile their differences. Women gather together to dance and celebrate and go to the local synagogue to touch the Torah and pray for the health of their daughters.

This Festival of the Daughters emphasizes the role of women in Jewish history and the importance of daughters in carrying Judaism forward in their particular way.

There is another subtle moment in Tevet that the midrash describes concerning the balance within the ocean. While we focus on women, we’re also made aware of a universal balance that’s occurring in Tevet. According to the midrash, Leviathan, the gigantic sea creature, surfaces to the top of the ocean and snorts and stirs up the waters. This is to stop the large fish from completely devouring the small fish.

Once a year, even the large fish are reminded that there is always a bigger fish in the sea. They retreat and the little fish gain their moment.

While Chanukah is a festival of victory and independence, it immediately leads us into Tevet, a month of correction and balance. Lest we forget how crucial women are to our destiny, the Festival of the Daughters will correct us. And lest we forget that we are part of the balance of the universe, Leviathan will remind us.

Rachael Turkienicz is director of Rachael’s Centre in Toronto and Rachaelscentre.org.

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