Final Judgment on Chanukah
I heard there is a Midrash that the Book of Judgment is open even after the High Holidays, and is not sealed until the last day of Chanukah. Can you explain the idea behind this?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
The notion does not appear in the Talmud, Midrash or Zohar, but is found in more recent Hassidic works. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) states that the judgment of the fully righteous and the fully wicked is decided on Rosh Hashanah, while the rest of mankind is given till Yom Kippur to merit a good judgment. The Zohar (Vayechi 220a, Tzav 31b), however, extends the deadline till Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of the holiday of Sukkot, stating that although the judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur, it is not “concluded” or delivered until then.
However, Hassidic masters quote from Kabbalistic sources that the God’s mercy extends even further, giving the Children of Israel till the final day of Chanukah (known as "Zot Chanukah" based on words which appear in the Torah reading of that day), to return to Him and receive a favorable judgment. They see several hints to this in different verses. One is Isaiah 27:9: “Through this (zot) will Jacob’s sin be forgiven” – i.e., on account of the holiness of Zot Chanukah.
(The notion appears to be stated slightly differently in different works – such as that the judgment is sealed on Hoshanah Rabbah but not delivered until Chanukah, or that a "temporary" one is delivered earlier but the "final version" not till Chanukah, or that a Divine Hand is extended till the end of Chanukah awaiting our repentance.)
Some explain the reasoning behind this is that once the High Holidays conclude, the “ordinary” year begins. This is a time in which we can put into practice the resolutions we made during the days of judgment. Thus, God gives us additional time to show Him our commitment and devotion – that this year really is better – and if we do so, to earn a better judgment. This initiation period of the year concludes with the end of Chanukah.
A different possible idea is as follows. Chanukah celebrates the refusal of the Jews to assimilate into Greek culture. The Greeks sought to obliterate Jewish observance and to have the Jewish people adopt Greek customs and values. The Maccabees and others refused to submit, but were willing to give their lives to preserve their beliefs.
Chanukah thus represents our willingness to identify ourselves as Jews and refuse to blend in to our host culture. Thus, perhaps even if a Jew did not merit a good judgment on Yom Kippur based on his religious observance, he can still merit Divine favor if he absorbs the message of Chanukah and proudly and publicly identifies himself as a Jew.
(Sources: Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u'Minhagei Hanukah, p. 714, Bnei Yissaschar, Ohr Yisrael XXII 168.)