This is the second installment of Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface by Elisheva Tavor, AKA Betty Tabor Givin
All of the months are interrelated, each connecting to the next in the cycle of the seasons, the ‘round’ of the year…set up by The Creator from the beginning for our benefit to make up what we call time…like a beautiful string of pearls…each is significant to the whole…and each carries within it a special spark that lies hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered!
The Month of Tevet –Looking Backwards and Forwards A Time of T’shuvah (Return)
We live life forward but we see the role of Providence in our lives only looking back. That is the meaning of God’s words to Moses: “You will see My back” (Ex. 33:23), meaning, “You will see Me only when you look back.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
HaShem through the prophet in Jeremiah speaks of this clarity in looking back when He says in Jer.23:19, in the latter days you shall consider it perfectly.
With these words in mind and the month of Tevet fast coming to a close, let us take a cursory look back at this month and the previous months leading up to it.
Tevet is the 10th month on the Jewish calendar. In Hebrew it begins with the letter ‘tet,’ and is the 10th letter in the aleph beit and ends with the letter ‘tav’ which is the last letter of the Hebrew aleph beit. Both of these letters have the “t” sound. Whether reading in Hebrew or English, it is interesting to note that we can either read right to left as we do in Hebrew or from left to right as we do in English and we still have the same word.
For me this indicates a looking forward, but also a looking backward as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks suggested…a looking back, a remembering and a gleaning of a deeper understanding of the events that took place both historically and in our own personal lives. Like pieces of a puzzle coming together, as we look back we are able to more clearly discern the Providence of G-d.
Tishrei—the glorious month of the Fall Festivals of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot!!! Excitement with the blowing of the shofar…shuvah and return… followed by the joy of dwelling with the Sheckinah in our sukkahs!
CheSHhvan – ssssh – a time of silence where there are no celebrations, a quiet time that comes after all the excitement and awe of the joyous festivals of the month before, a time of looking inward, a time of reflection and meditation.
Kislev – Concealment and a Revelation…a time of transforming the quiet meditative moments beginning in Cheshvan and bringing those moments forward into the month of Kislev… Kislev, the darkest month of the year, when we in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us summon our resolve to live our lives forward to light up that darkness as we celebrate the Festival of Lights, Chanukah. We kindle the first flame of our menorah and place it in our window for all to see.
Tevet—The beginning of the month of Tevet always corresponds with the last days of Chanukah. In this particular year of 5778 the 8th and last great day of Chanukah actually coincided with Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the New Moon of Tevet, which in itself holds an amazing lesson for us. By internalizing the message of the ever-increasing lights of the menorah—we are reminded of the power of light over darkness, good over evil. We are as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks so poignantly wrote, living life forward, but also looking back in order to more clearly see the work of Providence in our lives and in the lives of our ancestors.
Even though the name of this month has Babylonian rather than Hebrew origins, when written in Hebrew, ת בֵ טֵ, we find that it has the same Hebrew root טוב as the word “tov” meaning good! Roots in the Hebrew language are very significant for these roots not only form the basis of each word, but also lead to a whole plethora of interconnections between them.
Looking back in Jewish history, we find that Tevet, rather than being seen as a good month, has been seen as a very ominous month for it is associated with destruction as it marked the beginning of the 3 year siege of Nebuchadnezzar on Judea and the subsequent dispersion of the Jews of the Southern Kingdom of Judea to Babylon in the year 586 BCE . It is commemorated with a fast known simply as The Fast of the 10th Month.
Going back an additional several hundred years to the year of 733 BCE, we find that the Ten Tribes of Northern Israel had already met their demise. After having disobeyed HaShem by forsaking the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and setting up their own altars in Tel Dan they were taken away into Assyrian Captivity to be subsequently assimilated and dispersed throughout the nations.
We read in Deut. 4:26ff that even before they entered into the Land Moshe prophesied that they would make idols and worship them and do evil in the sight of HaShem and go astray.
In Deut. 31:29 he prophesies, “For I know that after my death you will surely become corrupted and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you and evil with befall you.”
This warning was repeatedly given by HaShem through His prophets but sadly their warnings met on deaf ears, leading to diaspora after diaspora and an exile that has not ended to this day.
Jeremiah 44:4-5 “Yet I sent you My servants the prophets, again and again, saying, ‘Oh do not do this abominable thing which I hate.”
Zechariah 7:11-12 “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing.”
Jeremiah 11:7-8 “For I earnestly forewarned your fathers on the day that I brought them up out of the land of Mitzrayim, to this day, forewarning them from morning till night, saying, Obey My voice. Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked everyone in the stubbornness of their evil heart…”
Continuing in verse 10, the prophet says, “they have turned their back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words; and they have gone after other gods to serve them: the House of Yisrael and the house of Yehuda have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.”
Looking back over the history of HaShem’s people, we see time and time again how they fell back into their old patterns and went astray because they failed to look back and learn from the error of their ways and those of the ones that had gone before them. With disobedience there comes a consequence, but with the consequence HaShem always affords the opportunity for self-examination and t’shuvah (repentance and return).
Going back for a moment to consider what we can learn from our study of the month of Tevet, we find that there emerges a pattern. For behind the scenes of this devastating tragedy of the beginning of the siege of Judah by the powerful armies of Nebuchadnezzar lies tov, good, but where is the good? The good lies in the lessons learned and the t’shuvah which follows and in the promises given by the mouth of HaShem through His prophets…but we must look backwards in order to find it, for herein lie the Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface!
The very name of the month of Tevet which shares its root with tov or good, indicates that even when it appears that all is lost, it is far from it, for HaShem and His Providence are always working behind the scenes to turn the evil into tov, into good, which in itself is an amazing life lesson for us both as individuals and as a corporate body of people who love our Creator.
We commemorate this destruction with a fast known simply in the Book of Zechariah as The Fast of the 10th Month. The sages designated that this fast be observed on the 10th day as according to tradition, the death of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah fell in close proximity to that day. In that same book we are told that one day the Fast of the 10th month will be one of the 4 fast days that will be turned to a day of joy and gladness! (Zechariah 8:18-19) But in the interim, let us examine the purpose of a fast day.
HaShem speaking through the prophet Joel in His poignant plea admonishes but also assures the people that all is not lost as He enlightens them as to the purpose of their fasting.
“Yet even now, says HaShem, turn to me with all your heart and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to HaShem your G-d: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, great in love, and repents of evil.”
A fast then is meant to be a time of rending our hearts of questioning and introspection, of determining who we are and who we really want to become…it is a time of looking back, of teshuvah …a time to return to the pure souls HaShem gave us.
It is a time of “seeing” things that we missed for when the events were actually occurring, staring us in the face so to speak, we were so steeped in those events that were happening that we lacked the perspective to see them for what they actually were…so we have to look back to actually see where we’ve been and where we are going.
A fast is meant to be a time to STOP and take notice and to awaken from our apathy, to question whether we should ride through history as passive travelers looking out the window as we take the easy road allowing ourselves to just go with the flow… this is the age old path of assimilation…a slippery slope…one leading to moral and spiritual decay…the choice is ours.
As they were entering the Promised Land, Joshua admonishes the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:14).
Today, more than ever, all the doors are open. We can choose the path of letting others define who we are or we can courageously define ourselves by choosing to renew our commitment to our heritage and to Torah living.
HaShem admonishes the people through His prophet Jeremiah of old to “Stand on the highways and see and ask for the ancient path, where the good way is and walk in it.” (Jeremiah 24:16)
II Chronicles 7:14 “If My people who are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land.”
HaShem’s words through His prophet Moshe in Deuteronomy 30:1-10 are encapsulated in a white space in the Torah scroll. These heartrending words issue a clarion call to all of His children through the ages and up to the present day.
Quoting from verses 1-6 …And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations which HaShem thy G-d has driven thee and thou shall return it to your hearts that HaShem is your G-d, and thou shalt obey His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that then HaShem thy G-d shall turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, amongst whom HaShem thy G-d has scattered thee…”
These words and the promises of HaShem through Moshe and the prophets to regather all of His children and bring them home have echoed through the ages and they are reaching our hearts and our ears today…there is an awakening going on in our world … people are tuning in and returning to HaShem and His Torah…and this is just the beginning!
It will indeed be a time of great joy for all of HaShem’s children will be regathered together. As the prophet Jeremiah states in Jer. 50:4, In those days and at that time, says HaShem, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together.
Tevet then is a time of looking back, a time to unite, gather ourselves together, to return and engage in t’shuvah. By HaShem’s grace, may we once again use the opportunity He provides as this month comes to a close to look both backwards and forwards, to see with eyes wide open who we really are and who we want to become. And in so doing may we remember the succinct words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks…”We live life forward but we see the role of Providence in our lives only looking back.”
As we live our lives forward, both individually and corporately, may we look back and carry the “goodness” inherent in this month to the fullest and may we utilize all the lessons learned to glean a clearer perspective and to discover all those Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface as we strive to live our lives meaningfully and draw closer to HaShem each day.