December 22nd: Welcome Back Winter Solstice

By Yosef Levi. At the North Pole the sun set during September and will first rise again during March. At the South Pole, way down in Antarctica, the Sun Rose in September, and will first set for six months is March. In Anchorage, Alaska this morning, the sun rose at 10:14AM, Chatzos will be at 12:58PM, and sunset at 3:42PM. The day lasted exactly two seconds longer today then it did yesterday. Tomorrow the day will be 15 seconds longer than today. Welcome back Winter Solstice!

This is all because the earth is tilted 23 ½ degrees on its axis. (axis= imaginary line going straight through the middle of the earth between the north pole and south pole. It is on this “axis” that the earth spins around once every 24 hours.)

As the earth makes its yearly rotation around the sun, there is a point when the North Pole is pointing 23 ½ degrees towards the sun, and a point when the North Pole is pointing 23 ½ degrees away from the sun. The time when the North Pole is pointing 23 ½ degrees towards the sun is called the Summer Solstice. This usually takes place on the 21st or 22nd day of June. The time when the North Pole is pointing 23 ½ degrees away from the sun is called the Winter Solstice. This usually takes place on the 21st or 22nd day of December. (The converse applies for the South Pole.)

Today, December 22nd, the sun appears at its most southerly point of the year. Also known as the “Winter Solstice,” today is the official shortest day of the year. As of today, the winter days begin to become longer, bit by bit, and the nights shorter, up until the week of June 22nd.

If you should happen to be standing on the North Pole on June 22 of any given year, the sun is at its zenith or at the highest point of the sky that it will reach during the year. If the horizon is 0’ degrees and the center of the sky above you is 90’ degrees, the sun on June 22nd would be at 23 ½ degrees high above the horizon.

For those who have windows facing the south, you have become aware that the sun is shining in more and more lately- well enjoy your winter sun; for as of today, that sun is starting to move back towards the north, so it can be overhead for our summer. If you can see the sun through today’s clouds, you will notice that throughout the day, during our shortened daylight hours; from sunrise until sunset; the sun seems to be “far off-center” or towards the side of the sky. It is! It is way off in the south. Of course it has appeared like that more and more during the last few weeks. There is a good reason too- soon it will fall away and pop up on the other side- no, no, its like this:

For those of us who live in Lakewood, or the United States, or even Eretz Yisroel, our homes are located in the Northern Hemisphere. That means in relation to the center of earth, the Equator (another invisible line), the land we live on is to the north of the equator. Others who live in say, Brazil, South Africa, or Australia live in the Southern Hemisphere, south of the equator.

The Malbim in Parshas Noach (8:22) states in regard to the Posik: עד כל־ימי הארץ זרע וקציר וקר וחם וקיץ וחרף ויום ולילה לא ישבתו that before the Mabul the earth did not tilt on its axis at all, and simply rotated every 24 hours with the axis pointing “straight up” in relation to the sun. After the Mabul, Hashem tilted the earth 23.5 degrees on its axis, thereby creating seasons.

On the December 22nd Winter Solstice, the northern axis and in fact the entire Northern Hemisphere is pointing exactly 23 ½ degrees away from the sun. Winter has set in. That is why the sun seems so far off in the south. ‘Down’ in the Southern Hemisphere the daylight is at the longest period as they on the other side of the equator enjoy summer, as the South Pole and in fact the entire Southern Hemisphere points exactly 23 ½ at the sun.

As the earth continues its journey around the sun, very soon the sun will begin ‘moving’ its way back towards the north and the center of the sky, as we begin to bask in the warmth of longer days and soon to be summer time.

It is interesting to note that according to this Malbim, when Hashem first created the earth without being tilted, the North, and South Pole areas of earth were in a perpetual ‘twilight’ zone, with the sun never coming above the horizon..

On a note about חנוכה: It says כי נר מצוה ותורה אור. All those familiar with The Gemara regarding חנוכה in Mes. Shabbos understands the significance נרות of a מצוה have.

While the ‘era’ or ‘story’ of חנוכה happened over a lengthier period of time then just 8 days and though the actual נס מצוה של שמן במנורת בית המקדש did necessarily happen during this period of the year (according to the Rambam), our חכמים chose this time period- during the shortest daylight and longest darkness period of the year, so as to be מתקן מצות הדלקת נר חנוכה ופרסומי ניסא .

Perhaps it can be inferred that no matter how dark the Golus- or how long- still in all the אור של תורה always illuminates brilliantly.

There is a הלכה brought down in regard to טו’ באב- when the nights have started to become noticeably longer, and the days shorter, that one should add on to his Torah Learning at night- as that is a purpose of the night time- undisturbed time for Torah.

‘Symbolist’ to say the very, very, least is הדלקת נר חנוכה during this time period- that although the nights might be ebbing in their length- still yet מעלין בקודש ומוסף על לימוד התורה- כדרך שהוסף על נירות של מצוה כך מוסיף על אור של תורה. That it is not the added sun light that we must take notice of and be so considerate of, but rather, the אור של תורה.

A Frelichin Chanukah.

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  1. For those that learn Gemara here in Lakewood… Would know that the gemara says that Adam Harishon (leachar hacheit) was depressed (winter blues?) when he saw the day becoming shorter and the nights becoming longer. He thought that it was due to his sin. When he saw (Dec 22nd?) the days/nights leveling out and then regressed, he celebrated the time with the “Holiday of Lights”. The Pagans made this into a holiday, in turn the gentiles- xmas. In essence this was a preparation for many years later for the Yidden who got a Y”T of kedusha- Chanukah!

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