Tevet 11, 5768/December 20, 2007
The Month of Tevet: Bringing Light into the World
The month of Tevet begins with the three final days of Chanukah, days of light and celebration. Yet less than a week passes and we are observing three solemn days of introspection concluding with a dawn to dark fast on the tenth of Tevet. One could fairly think that the Jewish calendar suffers from some kind of schizophrenia. How are we to be expected to keep up emotionally, let alone spiritually, with the ever changing moods of the Hebrew year?
In essence the up and down nature of Tevet reflects the most basic aspect of Jewish reality: the struggle for truth in a world that is fearful and mistrustful of truth. Avraham avinu - Abraham our forefather - was born on the first of Tevet. As a young man he sought truth and brought G-d's light into the world when he destroyed his father's idols. No sooner had he done so than the tyrant Nimrod, fearful of the truth, had Avraham thrown into the fiery furnace, from which he emerged unscathed. And this, in short, is the blueprint both for Israel's history and for the Hebrew calendar.
Tevet opens with the victory of the Macabees over the Greeks, the eternal truth of Torah over the philosophies of the Hellenists. The eighth of Tevet marks the day that king Ptolemy of Egypt compelled seventy sages of Israel each to write a translation of the Hebrew Torah into Greek. Even though they miraculously produced seventy identical translations, signifying that G-d was with them in their efforts, the day is considered a disaster: one cannot detach the light of Torah truth from the Hebrew letters any more than one can bring the hidden light of creation that shines forth from the menorah of the Holy Temple without possessing the pure olive oil necessary to kindle its seven lamps.
The ninth of Tevet marks the passing of Ezra the scribe, who not only physically led the exiled Jews of Babylon back to Jerusalem, but also led the Jews back into the embrace of Torah. Ezra's faith to both the G-d of Israel and the people of Israel is summed up succinctly by the description attached to his name: the scribe. To be a Jewish scribe is to dedicate oneself wholly to recreating without blemish the vessel for bringing the light of the G-d of Israel into this world.
The tenth of Tevet is a fast day commemorating the breeching of the walls of Jerusalem by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in the year 588 BCE. Jerusalem would eventually succumb and the Holy Temple that Solomon built would be destroyed some two years later, plunging Israel into seventy years of exile and darkness.
Even the current Tevet has witnessed this battle between light and dark. The second day of Tevet, (the seventh night of Chanuka), marked the festive celebration and rededication of the golden menora in its new (temporary) home alongside the Jewish Quarter's Yehudah Halevi staircase leading down to the Western Wall Plaza, overlooking the Temple Mount. Yet just one week later when hundreds of G-d fearing Jews assembled for the purpose of ascending the Temple Mount to mark the solemn occasion in the very place where G-d chose for His house to be established, they were told by the Israeli police that, out of respect for the Moslem holiday of Eid al-Adha, Jew and Gentile alike were not welcome on the Mount.
Truth versus lies. Light versus darkness. The struggle continues. Far from growing weary we take our place among the generations that fought to bring the light of Torah into the world, and, reaping the the fruit of their struggles and victories, vow to fight each and every adversary, who, fearing truth, seeks to banish it.
Join Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven on this week's TEMPLE TALK, as they discuss the lessons of Tevet, the reuniting of Yosef - Joseph - and his father and brothers, as took place in this past week's Torah reading of Vayigash, and the ever intensifying battle to restore G-d's honor on the Temple Mount.
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