Rosh Hodesh Tevet Torah Essay - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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Rosh Hodesh Tevet Torah Essay

Ilana Goldschein

Tevet in its Totality

What is the theme of the month of Tevet? Tevet starts off in the middle of Chanukah, the holiday of light, and before we know it we’re fasting on the Tenth of Tevet – a time of darkness and beginning of destruction. What can we say about this dichotomy?

Certainly, there are highs and lows for a person in every month, sometimes even every day- the “roses and thorns” of the vicissitudes of life. The moon itself changes shape throughout the month as a visual reminder that each night in the month is filled with a different degree of light. Nonetheless, the contrast between the light of Chanukah and the darkness of Asarah B’Tevet seems rather stark. Let us look together to find a ray of light to shine through this transition.

We will begin by recalling the history of Asarah B’Tevet, and see how we can find a path to redemption on a deeply depressing day.

In Melachim Bet we read: “And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around. The city continued in a state of siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine had become acute in the city; there was no food left for the common people. Then the wall of the city was breached. All the soldiers left the city by night through the gate between the double walls, which is near the king’s garden—the Chaldeans were all around the city…” (II Kings 25:1-4)

The events are also recorded by Yechezkel in Babylonia, when he states: “In the ninth year, on the tenth day of the tenth month, the word of the Lord came to me: O mortal, record this date, this exact day; for this very day the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 24: 1-2)

The Rambam, in his Code of Mishneh Torah tells us that there are days when the entire Jewish people fast because of the calamities that occurred to them in order to arouse their hearts and initiate them in the paths of repentance. This will serve as a reminder of our wicked conduct and that of our ancestors, which brought these calamities upon them and us. By reminding ourselves, we will repent and improve our conduct, as Vayikra 26:40 states: “And they will confess their sin and the sin of their ancestors.”…(Mishneh Torah, Fasts 5:1-2)

Furthermore, the Shulchan Aruch states that we are required to fast on the 9th of Av, and on the 17th of Tammuz, and on the 3rd of Tishrei, and on the 10th of Tevet because of the bad occurrences on those days. (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 549:1).

In his essay, The Four Fast Days, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag discusses Haggai and Zechariah as the two prophets who encouraged Am Yisrael to restart the construction of the second Beit Hamikdash in the time of the Persian King Darius after construction had been stalled in the years following the Cyrus declaration. In the Book of Zechariah, a group of Jews who did not move to Israel, came to Zechariah from Babylonia to ask whether or not they still needed to fast on Tisha b’Avv since the construction of the second Beit Hamikdash was already underway. Zechariah’s response illustrates that the Babylonian Jews were missing the point, since they opted to stay behind in Babylonia and not seize the opportunity to join the group rebuilding the Beit Hamikdash and Jewish society in the Land of Israel. Zechariah teaches them that the focus of the fast should not have been about whether or not there was a Beit Hamikdash standing, but to remember why it had been destroyed in the first place, namely because of their lack of social justice and sensitivity.

We need opportunities not only to commemorate past events, but to remember and reflect upon what caused those events to occur. The main reason cited for the destruction of both Temples was baseless hatred. This is hinted at by Zechariah when he outlines the path to redemption: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.” (Zechariah 8:16-17).

As we approach the fast day of Asarah B’Tevet each year, it would be worthwhile for us to re-read the words of Zechariah to remind us of the goals he outlines for us- speak truth and justice and rebuild a society of peace as we strengthen our relationships – bein adam lechaveiro. Zechariah assures us that if we incorporate the lessons of the past as we change our present behavior, then – “The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Yehudah; but you must love honesty and integrity”. (Zechariah 8:19).

In Masechet Rosh Hashanah, Rav Ḥana bar Bizna said that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida said: “What is the meaning of these words in Zechariah? He calls the same dates, days of ‘fast’ and ‘times of joy and gladness.’ How so? They answer: When there is peace in the world, there will be times of joy and gladness…” If we don’t learn this message, then we must continue to fast. (Rosh Hashanah 18b 1-2)

If we strive for peace, justice, and chesed, then we will not feel that Tevet is just the start of the downward spiral toward the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, but rather a reminder to enhance the light of Chanukah by rebuilding and fostering relationships of respect.

Ilana Goldschein

Ilana Goldschein

is originally from Toronto. She earned her BA, BEd and Advanced Certificate in Hebrew and Jewish Studies from York University in Toronto, followed by her JD from Southwestern University in Los Angeles. Ilana practiced Family Law for 10 years after which she resumed her focus on studying and teaching Tanakh. Ilana has been teaching Tanakh at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, California and has come to Israel for the year with her husband and three children. She is currently studying in the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute and is a masters candidate in Tanakh at Bar Ilan University.