Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Overcoming Anger and Agitation during the Month of Tevet

B'erot stall at the Birthright Fair this week
The month of Tevet gives us the opportunity to deal with anger and transform its power to combat our yetzer hara (evil inclination). According to Sefer Yetzirah, the dominant sense of the month of Tevet is agitation, רוֹגֶז/rogez.[1] This implies that we may encounter challenges specifically with anger during this month. It is a nervous kind of anger as when we have a hard time maintaining the cool of our voice and actions. We may be prone to lose our temper, or we may be provoked specifically during this time. These challenges during the month of Tevet provide the opportunity for working on how to deal with and overcome our tendencies for agitation.

At first glance at Sefer Yetzirah, Tevet looks like a dark month where anger and agitation rule rampantly. Yet, the letter ע/ayin of Tevet, which means ‘eye,’ alludes to the change of perspective necessary for learning to view even that which agitates us to the extreme as a most welcome challenge for self-refinement.

The tribe of the month, Dan, means judgment. During Tevet we have the opportunity to revert negativity, judgment and idol-worship enacted by this tribe. Anger is compared to idol-worship because it has no place when we truly believe in Hashem. When we trust and accept whatever He sends our way, even the darkest negativity has a purpose to help us grow and improve our character. We can utilize the sparks of agitation which challenge us during Tevet as a springboard to uproot anger, and grow deeper roots of faith and trust in Hashem.

Read on to learn about the connection between the liver and anger both in Chinese Medicine and the Talmud, anger and control issues and how to combat the seven-headed snake energy of anger.

Overcome Anger during Tevet and Increase Righteousness in Shevat
The month of Tevet takes its name from “hatavah” – self-betterment and preparation for illumination. This process continues during the month of Shevat whose letter tzadik symbolizes righteousness. Together, the letters of these two months spell the word עֶץ/etz – tree, which we humans are compared to.[2] The work of these months enables us to become like the fruit-bearing tree described in the first Tehillim: “He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does he shall succeed.[3] Thus, overcoming negativity during Tevet is completed by the increase of righteousness during Shevat.

The Connection between the Liver and Anger
According to the Arizal the months of Tevet and Shevat correspond to the two eyes.[4] In Traditional Chinese Medicine the eyes and the liver are related. Dry, red eyes and other eye conditions as well as irritability, and inappropriate anger are symptoms of liver imbalance.[5] Likewise, our sages teach us that: “The liver gets angry; the gall bladder injects in it a drop and calms it down.”[6]

The function of the liver is to purify the blood, and provide the body with fresh blood. In Kabbalah, the liver corresponds to the primordial snake. Its rectification is personified by Dan, whose flag had a picture of a snake. Rabbi Ginsburgh teaches that the three “rulers” of body and soul are the brain, the heart, and the liver,[7] which correspond to Adam, Eve, and the snake, respectively.[8]

Anger – the Snake Energy
When a person gets angry, he is taken over by a negative energy. The essence of anger derives from the primordial snake. The first word the primordial snake said was ‘אַף /af.’ This word can mean either ‘even,’ or ‘anger.’

וְהַנָּחָשׁ הָיָה עָרוּם מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקִים וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל הָאִשָּׁה אַף כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹקִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן
“The snake was more cunning than all the animals of the field that Hashem had made, and it said to the woman ‘אַף/af – even if G-d said that you cannot eat from the trees of the garden.’”[9]

The Zohar explains, “He said to the woman, אַף /af – even [anger].” The snake began with anger and brought anger into the world.”[10] Therefore, any time we get angry, we have lost it, meaning lost control over ourselves and allowed the external energy of the snake to take possession over us. This is one of the reasons why anger is compared to idol-worship, as the person who is angry is now serving his “snake-god” which is coming between him and Hashem.

Out of Control
When a person gets angry it creates a black cloud of soot, which can become stuck on top of the head, and completely block Hashem’s light. This is why sometimes anger causes headaches. When Hashem’s light is blocked negative forces can enter. When we get angry we therefore allow the negativity of hell to take control over us. We may lose control, scream, and say things we didn’t mean to say. It is no longer our own voice that speaks but the negative forces that took control over us. This is what it means that whoever gets angry is as if he worships idols, because he is becoming like a slave to the negative forces which are like idols.

Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: He who gets angry all kinds of torments of gehenna (hell) controls him, for it is written, “Therefore remove anger from your heart, thus you will put away evil from your flesh.”[11] Now ‘evil’ can only mean gehenna, as it is written, “Hashem has made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil.”[12] [This is understood to mean gehenna.] Moreover, he is made to suffer from hemorrhoids, as it is written, “But Hashem shall give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind.”[13] Now what causes failing eyes and a sorrowful mind? Hemorrhoids.[14]

I’m not sure how to explain the connection between hemorrhoids and anger. Possibly when a person is agitated the food he eats is not digested well, and therefore it may impair elimination, which could lead to hemorrhoids. On a spiritual level, perhaps we can say that there is a connection between the upper and lower opening of the body. When a person gets angry his mouth is out of control. Perhaps as a measure for measure his lower opening too becomes out of control and causes him to develop hemorrhoids.

Anger – the Control Issue
People may get angry when they feel that they are losing control. For example, the bus doesn’t stop for you. You have waited more than 20 minutes, and you are going to be really late to spend time with your children before their bed time etc. Finally the bus comes but it doesn’t stop at your bus stop, it drives right by you, ignoring your flapping hand trying to flag it down. What do you do? You are totally at loss, you have no control. Everything is from Hashem. We need to realize in those difficult moments that everything is from Hashem nothing is in my control; it is all in Hashem’s hands. It is appropriate to ask, “What midah (character trait) can I work on now? Which mitzvah can I fulfill? How does Hashem want me to move forward through this test?” Perhaps Hashem wants me to remain 20 minutes in this place, even if I don’t know why, this is Hashem’s will. It becomes so much easier to deal with anger when we understand that control is not in our hands, therefore we have nothing to be angry about. Specifically at this time during Tevet, we have the opportunity to work on the most refined points of removing anger totally. Whenever we get angry at someone, remember it is not that person who is doing whatever he is doing, its Hashem acting through that person, and ultimately its for our good, even if we don’t understand this yet.

Neutralizing Anger through Trans-rational Dedication (Bitul)[15]
Ya’acov’s struggle with Esav gives us a model for how to overcome the snake energy of anger embodied by Esav. After Ya’acov defeated the angel of Esav, he bowed down seven times to Esav. Why did Ya’acov bow down seven times to Esav? The seven powers of impurity which the primordial snake brought into the world were all gathered in Esav.[16] The name of Ya’acov’s father, ‘Yitzchak,’ has the numerical value of 208, which equals (8 x 26 yud-kay-vav-kay – the name of Hashem. Ya’acov’s name equals 182 or (7 x 26). When Yitzchak gave his blessings to Ya’acov, he bequeathed Ya’acov with seven of his yud-kay-vav-kays – seven forces of holiness. The last remaining 26 was given to Esav, whose name equals 376, which is 26 + 350. 350 equals seven x 50, the numerical value of the Hebrew word for טמא/tamé – impure. Each time Ya’acov bowed, he bestowed Esav with one of his forces of holiness, each of which neutralized one of his impure forces. After seven bows, all the impurity in Esav had been neutralized, and all that was left in Esav was one holy, Divine 26. Ya’acov thus succeeded not only in overpowering his brother, but in returning him to ‘goodness.’ In such a state, we feel love.

But how does bowing neutralize impurity? How does it cut off the seven heads of the snake? If we are confronted by an agitated person who has brought a spirit of impurity into his thoughts and speech, we need to help the person draw on his own internal holy sparks. We need to see the 26 inside of that person even as it is surrounded by the heads of the snake. Most important we must not allow his snake to elicit our snake. We can neutralize the negative by repeatedly use our loving 26s to serve the person. In this case putting up with the outrageous behavior and showing support is an expression of true love that helps beat the angry person’s seven headed snake and in this way nullify his anger.

The numerical value of the liver – כָּבֵד/kaved – the seat of anger is also 26. When a person gets agitated it arouses and activates the liver. However, the agitation itself includes its rectification. The spiritual energy of the liver is actually no other than yud-kay-vav-kay= Hashem. Even within the greatest impurity of anger is concealed the oneness of Hashem. When we respond with love while dealing with an angry person, we can neutralize his anger and activate his concealed yud- key-vav-key. Likewise when we give the benefit of the doubt and focus on Hashem while being provoked to anger, we have the greatest ability to overcome our ego and strengthen our connection with Hashem. In this way the fire of anger can be used to better the relationship. The tool for doing so is bitul, shrinking our ego for the moment and nurturing our fellow. That is the primary lesson from this story of Ya’acov’s bowing. There is no satisfying English equivalent of bitul. The closest is “gratuitous passionate trans-rational dedication.”[17]

Transforming Anger
The snake, in Kabbalah, represents the initial state of immaturity of the soul, as characterized by the un-rectified attribute of anger. The venom of the snake is hot like the fire of anger. When converted to good, the fire (and blood of the liver) serves to warm the cold month of Tevet. The sense of holy anger is the ability of the soul to arouse our good inclination to become angry at our evil inclination. This, our sages teach in their commentary on the verse: “Be angry and don’t sin. Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.”[18] How can we use and channel our anger in a positive way? In Chassidut we are taught that one must direct his left (“evil”) eye towards himself (with the holy anger of his innate good against his innate evil), to lower and subdue his ego, while simultaneously directing his right (“good”) eye towards outer reality (by which power he helps reality perfect itself). The character trait of anger is one of the worst emotions possible. Yet, when its energy is channeled towards becoming angry only at evil, it can turn us towards all the good as the name Tevet indicates. Anger, like any of G-d’s creations, can serve a good purpose. When a person is angry at us, we are tempted to respond with our dark side; however, we have a positive alternative. By freeing ourselves from negativity, by finding the strength to do what G-d wants us to do; we use the fire of the conflict to refine both our character and our relationships.

[1] Sefer Yetzirah 5:10.
[2] Devarim 20:19.
[3] Tehillim 1:3.
[4] Arizal, Sha’ar HaKavanot, Drushei Rosh Hashana, Drush 1.
[5] <>.
[6] Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61b.
[7] In Hebrew brain is מוח/moach, heart is לב/lev and liver is כבד/kaved, the acronym of which spells out the word מלך/melech which means king.
[8] .
[9] Bereishit 3:1.
[10] Zohar, Part 1, Page 35b.
[11] Kohelet 9:10.
[12] Mishlei 16:4.
[13] Devarim 28:65.
[14] Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 22a.
[15] This section is adapted from Dr. Yisrael Susskind, Vayiishlach: How to transform anger
Rockland Jewish Reporter, November, 2007, vol.17 (2), p. 2.
[16] Shem m’Shemuel, Parashat Vayislach.
[17] I love Dr. Susskind’s definition of the Hebrew expression bitul used often in Chassidism.
[18] Tehillim 4:5.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Soul Contemplations on a Snowy Day in the Month of Tevet

So it finally came, the rain, and in its wake the blessed snow. Perhaps not exactly a blessing, but I hope at least a blessing in beautiful, lacy, white disguise. I can’t believe that just a little more than a week ago we were almost swimming in the ocean, and sun tanning at the beach. Israel’s weather changes are so drastic, it felt like it was going to be summer forever – and then – winter hit us from behind.

Somehow the snow gives me the feeling that nothing can be taken for granted. I’m thankful I still have electricity, phone, and running water. The snow gives me the opportunity to thank Hashem for my cozy warm home, and for the fact that my husband is snowed in together with me, rather than being snowed out like last year when it snowed and he had to spend the night at work. When it snows in Gush Etzion all the roads are closed, the schools have off and the children excitedly roll snowballs and slide down the driveway. No one can go to work. Happy snow vacation!

Cleaning our Slate White as Snow
Although snow is rare in Israel, in my experience we get about one week of snow every two years, still שָּׁלֶג/sheleg – snow is mentioned 21 times in the Bible. The spiritual ailment of tzara’at, a skin lesion, is compared to snow due to its white color.[1] Yet, snow also represents purity and atonement from sin.[2] Looking out of the window, seeing the pure white color of snow embracing the trees, is an incentive to repent.
אִם יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ אִם יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ
“…though your sins be like שָׁנִי/shani – scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool”
(Yesha’yahu 1:18).

Even if you are full of sin compared to a reddish scarlet stain which doesn’t come off easily in the wash, Hashem promises to atone for our sins and make our slate white as snow.[3]

Read on to learn about Keeping our Inner Fire Going, Becoming Cold to Sin but Hot to Holiness, Entering the Snowy Palace of Love, and Mastering the Secret of Three embodied in the Hebrew word for snow!

Keeping the Inner Fire Going
Yet, snow also symbolizes the coldness of indifference and apathy, the opposite of warmth, enthusiasm and excitement. It states about our archenemy Amalek that he made Israel cold on the way.[4] The Rebbe of Lubawitz used to bless Jews to be “a warm yid.” The snow outside reminds me to keep my inner fire going, the fire for mitzvot, for my husband and children, for my life and the Torah. The Woman of Valor is called אֶשֶׁת חָיִל/Eishet Chail in Hebrew. This can also translate as “A Woman of Fire” from the word “אֶש/eish” meaning fire. The Eishet Chail is not afraid of a little snow, neither is her household as it states:

לֹא תִירָא לְבֵיתָהּ מִשָּׁלֶג כִּי כָל בֵּיתָהּ לָבֻשׁ שָׁנִים:
“She does not fear of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet.”[1]

Becoming Cold to Sin but Hot to Holiness
The Eishet Chail uses the fiery color of deep red שָׁנִי/shani scarlet to protect her household against the cold of snow. Perhaps we can say that the Eishet Chail has her own and her family’s fire in control. She channels the very same fire which usually causes people to sin, into fire and passion for Hashem’s mitzvoth. The Eishet Chail teaches us to be cold to sin, yet hot for holiness. This is what protects her family from the snow of Gehinum (hell). Besides the fire of hell, there is also the hell of coldness and snow. These two kinds of hells correspond to the two kinds of yetzer hara. Most sins derive from fire – ta’ava, passion, these sins are cleansed by the fire of Gehinum, yet, there is also the opposite kind of yetzer – coldness – indifference and complacence. Not caring, or being involved in what goes on around oneself. This is the cynical coldness of Amalek about whom it states: “אשר קרך בדרך” He cooled down Israel's holy fire and yearning for holiness and Torah that burned within our heart at the time of receiving the Torah.

One of the problems at our time is when a person is able to overcome his passion for sin, he sometimes forgets to remain hot for holiness. It might be even worse to turn off the fire for holiness which requires deed, initiative and warmth, like Torah learning, tefilah, yearning for the Temple and for Mashiach.[6] For a woman it is not enough to keep her own fire for holiness going, she is praised for ensuring that this fire keeps burning within the hearts of her entire household; teaching them the correct balance between warmth and cold. Her house refers to her personal home but also to the whole house of Israel, for every woman is a mother of all Israel as well.

Entering the Snowy Palace of Love
The Torah teaches us also about the counterpart to the Eishet Chail, the Ish Chail – Man of Valor:
וּבְנָיָהוּ בֶן יְהוֹיָדָע בֶּן אִישׁ חַיִ \{חַיִל\} רַב פְּעָלִים מִקַּבְצְאֵל הוּא הִכָּה אֵת שְׁנֵי אֲרִאֵל מוֹאָב וְהוּא יָרַד וְהִכָּה אֶת הָאֲרִיה \{הָאֲרִי\} בְּתוֹךְ הַבֹּאר בְּיוֹם הַשָּׁלֶג:
“Benayahu ben Yehoyada, the son of the valiant man of Kabtze’el who had done mighty deeds …descended and smote the lion in the midst of the pit on the day of the snow” (II Shemuel 23:20).

Benayahu was on the level of such great enthusiasm, that even in the “day of snow” when coldness has dominion, he was able to overcome and smite the “lion,” which refers to the palace of love. Benayahu opened the palace of love and influenced loving flames of excitement to all of Israel.[7]  The heavy layer of snow outside reminds me of my heart-wall inside, which doesn’t allow the light from Above to illuminate my heart with love and enthusiasm. I need great chizuk (strengthening) to arouse my inherent love to be stirred up into a dazzling glow.

The Purity and Discipline of Torah on “the Day of Snow”
The Talmud explains the symbolic meaning of the “day of the snow.” “There are those that say that Benayahu broke an opening in the ice and descended into it to immerse.”[8] Rashi adds that he descended into the hole in the ice to immerse and purify himself in order to be able to study Torah that could only be learned in a state of purity. There are those that say that he learned the Sifra of the House of Rav on a winter’s day. In other words, on a single winter day (when the days are short) he completed the entire book that would later be called the Sifra.[9] The Sifra is the midrash-halachah commentary on the Vayikra. Both Vayikra and the Sifra contain an enormous amount of halachic data, most of it on the Temple sacrifices and laws of purity, which require a tremendous amount of discipline, concentration and knowledge to master. Therefore, “the day of the snow” refers to a very deep level of Torah-study that requires an extraordinary amount of self-discipline and knowledge.[10]

Mastering the Secret of Three
There is more to “the day of the snow” than a mere natural phenomenon or a symbolic expression describing extraordinary depth and breadth of Torah. The Hebrew word for “snow,” is שָּׁלֶג/sheleg. This word consists of three letters: shin, lamed and gimel. The numerical value of gimel is 3, of lamed is 30, and of shin is 300. Thus, all its letters are exponents of the number 3.[11] The number “three” in Hebrew is שלוש/shalosh, related to the word שלשלת/shalshelet, which means chain, and continuation. What is the connection between snow and the chain of continuation? Perhaps we can say that we attain continuation through getting a new white purified start in life. The Hebrew words for fire and snow share the letter shin, perhaps because the coldness of snow illicit our inner fire of passion for holiness. Indeed Maharal explains that the number three is always elevated because it represents the middle between two extremes.[12] The snow teaches us the proper balance between heat and cold. By learning to become cold to sin but hot to holiness, we can master the secret of “three,” embodied by the Hebrew word for snow. The two last letters of the word שָּׁלֶג/sheleg are lamed and gimel, which can be read as גל/gal – roll or reveal. As the children roll snow balls perhaps we can uncover the heavy layer of snow, ignite the inner flame of our lives and reveal the secret of “the day of snow”!

[1] Shemot 4:6; Bamidbar 12:10; II Melachim 5:27.
[2] Yesha’yahu 1:18; Tehillim 51:9.
[3] Metzudat David, ad loc.
[4] Devarim 15:18.
[5] Mishlei 31:21.
[6] Based on Rav Tzaddok, HaCohen of Lublin, P’ri Tzaddik, Parashat Chayei Sarah 1.
[7] Shem M’Shemuel, Parashat Tazria, Shabbat Rosh Chodesh 1871.
[8] Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 18a-b.
[9] The Sifra is an ancient text from Talmudic times, written by Tannaim (150- 200 C.E.) It is possible that the Sifra is even from the time of King David in whose time Benayahu ben Yehoyada lived.
[10] Shabtai Teicher z”l, Zohar Sabba D’Mishpatim, The Old Man in the Sea Part1, Appendix 10:5.
[11] Ibid. 10:6.
[12] Maharal, Chidushei Aggadot, Part 4, p. 130, Tractate Bechorot.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Strengthening our Walls and Personal Boundaries

Student trip to Jerusalem- at the Kotel
The Tenth day of the Tenth Month (Tevet) is a fast day, in commemoration of the siege of Jerusalem, the beginning of the destruction of the Temple, but how is this day relevant to us today? It is a day devoted to safeguarding the walls of our identity, repairing its breaches, and making sure its gates are functioning properly – to protect our personal boundaries while filtering and allowing in only what promotes our growth on all levels. Through our personal gates we can also project our energy to the environment – our love and light to everyone crossing our path.

On this date – in the year 425 BCE – the armies of the Babylonian emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. This was the first of a series of events leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. Thirty months later, on the ninth of Tammuz, the walls of Jerusalem were breached, and on the ninth of Av of that year, the Holy Temple was destroyed. The Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia for seventy years. Every year, we observe the Tenth of Tevet as a day of fasting and repentance – wherein we mourn the tragic events of the day, contemplate their deeper causes in our own souls and deeds, and work to correct them.

Read on to learn about the special numerical value of the four fast days for the Temple, and its connection to the organ of the month. You will also learn about the balance between your personal walls and boundaries and their opening gates...

The Four Fasts and the Name of Hashem
There are four fast-days that commemorate the destruction of the Temple: The 17th of Tamuz (in the fourth month), the 9th of Av (in the fifth month), the 3rd of Tishrei (in the seventh month), and the 10th of Tevet (in the Tenth month). When our Temple will be rebuilt B”H! each of these days of mourning and fasting will become holidays of celebration and joy:

כֹּה אָמַר הָשַׁם צְבָאוֹת צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְמֹעֲדִים טוֹבִים וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ
“The fast of the fourth [month], and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall [in the future] be for the House of Yehuda for joy and happiness and holidays, therefore love the truth and peace.”[1]

All of these special days have the potential to draw down Divine grace from the ultimate source of mercy, G-d’s Name Havayah. The epitome of this process is on the Tenth of Tevet. When we add up the numbers of the months in which these fast days occur we get the numerical value of Hashem (Havayah) (4+5+7+10=26) – The special name which represents kindness, mercy and miracles. On these fast days and especially on the Tenth of Tevet there is an opening to pull down spiritual emanations from Hashem’s holy name and connect with the light of the Temple. We then have the opportunity to connect with this light and build the eternal Temple in our heart. With this soul work we can even manifest the desires of our heart in our physical reality.[2]

Sweetening the Liver
It is interesting to note that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for liver – כָּבֵד/kaved, the organ of the month of Tevet, also adds up to 26 (20+2+4). Havayah. By fasting over the destruction we can access the energy of the special name of Hashem and rectify our liver – the seat of both lusts and anger.[3] By mindfully fasting on the Tenth of Tevet, and curbing our selfish desires and anger, we have the ability to “sweeten” Hashem’s anger at Israel, which caused the destruction of the Temple. Thus our fast and repentance arouses Hashem’s mercy to rebuild our lost Temple.

Liberating the Siege
Without detracting in any way from the need to mourn and rectify the negativity of the events of the Tenth of Tevet, we must also seek the positive aspect of the siege. Although coming under siege is a horrible victimizing experience, with famine, plague and bloodshed, beneath all that negativity, however, lies the liberating and empowering realization: We’re in this together! Despite our differences, despite the animosities and quarrels that drive us apart, we share a common fate, a common identity, a common goal. Being under siege brings to light a truth that was always there but which we had been prevented from seeing – the truth that we are all one. Let us hold on to this truth and possess it, without its negative trappings. Let us rid ourselves of the negativity of the Tenth of Tevet and retain only its positive core.

Walls with Gates
Being under siege is being walled in. Walls enclose, insulate, isolate. Walls cut you off from the world. But a broken wall signifies danger. If it’s holding back a river, water will come pouring in. If the wall is securing a border, enemies may infiltrate its breaches. A broken wall means vulnerability, exposure, loss of identity. What, then, is it that we need? We need walls with gates in them. We need strong walls, with gates that open and close. We need gates that are open during the day and closed at night. We need gates that open to allow people to pass in and out to exchange ideas and energy; gates that also close, to safeguard the our personal boundaries and keep out harmful and destructive forces. How good it is if your city, your community, your family, you own body and your own soul, have strong walls with properly functioning gates, so that you are secure in your own identity, protective of what is best and most precious in yourself, and open to the world to give and receive, learn and teach.

The Importance of Beginnings
The tenth always denotes holiness. The Tenth day of the Tenth month would even supersede Shabbat if it would have been possible for it to fall on Shabbat. We learn this from the words of the prophet:

בֶּן אָדָם כְּתָוב \{כְּתָב\} לְךָ אֶת שֵׁם הַיּוֹם אֶת עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה סָמַךְ מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל אֶל יְרוּשָׁלִַם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה
“Son of man, write for you the name of the day, even of this selfsame day; this selfsame day the king of Babylon had invested Jerusalem.”[4]

The phrase בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה/b’etzem hayom haze is the same expression used in describing Yom Kippur which overrides Shabbat.[5] What is the importance of the Tenth of Tevet that it would override Shabbat? The beginning always sets the tone. The reason we fast on the ninth of Av rather than the tenth when most of the Temple burned down is because we mourn mainly over the beginning of a calamity.[6] This principle teaches us the seriousness of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, since that day was the very beginning, when the king of Babylon laid a siege on Yerushalayim prior to its destruction.[7] This year we will be fasting on the day that leads to Shabbat – on the Eve on Shabbat – Friday. As we fast and mourn while preparing for Shabbat, let us keep in mind that just as our fast day is a gateway leading towards the holy Shabbat – a glimpse of the world to come, so will the mourning for the Temple, and the selfishness leading to its destruction, lead to its rebuilding, and bring about the renewed reality which will be completely infused with the holiness of Shabbat.[8]

[1] Zechariah 8:19.
[2] This paragraph is based on Rav Ginsburgh, Gal Enai,.
[3] The liver gets angry, the gall bladder injects in it a drop and calms it down (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61b).
[4] Yechezkiel 24:2.
[5] Vayikra 23:29.
[6] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 29a.

[7] B’nei Yissaschar, Article for Kislev and Tevet 14. 
[8] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tevet: Rectifying the Sense of Agitation

The month of Tevet is about taking the light of Kislev and bringing it into the very lowest most physical place of our being. The shape of the letter ע/ayin points toward this concept, for it is a letter that has a strong base below the line. The ayin is leaning backward while simultaneously directed forward. It is as if the upper right of the ע/ayin receives from the past (Kislev), whereas it extends its leg into the opposite direction of the future (Tevet).

The cold winds of Tevet makes me want to retreat inward – inside of my cozy home, and focus more on doing inner work, fixing my midot – character, and making good judgments for the direction of my life. The organ associated with the month of Tevet is the liver, which is known to control the lowest most physical part of our being including digestion and sexuality. The light of Chanukah extended into the cold month of Tevet gives us the opportunity to enlighten even those dark places. At this time of winter, when we feel like eating and sleeping more, we have the ability to transform our bodily enjoyments into holiness. The character trait of anger is one of the worst emotions possible.

Yet, when its energy is channeled towards becoming angry at evil only, it can turn us towards all the good, as the name Tevet indicates, for טבת/Tevet derives from the Hebrew word טוב/tov – good. Becoming good and doing good in the world is only possible through developing a good eye in Hebrew – עין/ayin – the letter of this month. The letter ayin which has the numerical value of seventy also represents the ability to convey the Torah into the seventy languages. Translating the Torah from the holy Hebrew language, moreover, represents infusing the dark places of the languages of the Nations with the light of Chanukah. According to how much we expel evil through rectified anger, can we transform the darkest places to the holiest light.

How do we know the difference between good and bad judgment? What do we allow to influence us? What do we allow to blur our vision? What do we use to clear our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to turn back to the right path? These are the questions we are called to answer during the month of Tevet, associated with the Tribe of Dan.

Read on to learn more about the spiritual attributes of this month, and how the weekly Torah portions fit in to the themes of the month...

The Spiritual Attributes of Tevet
המליך אות ע’ ברוגז וקשר לו כתר וצרפן זה בזה וצר בהם גדי בעולם, וטבת בשנה, ווכבד בנפש זכר ונקבה
“He made the letter ayin king over agitation, and He tied a crown to it and He combined one with another and with them He formed Capricorn in the Universe and Tevet in the year, and the liver in the soul male and female.”[1]

Illuminating the Dark Month of Tevet
Rosh Chodesh is always the nuclear or the seed of the entire month. For the whole month is dependent on its head. Whatever takes place on Rosh Chodesh is connected to and influencing the entire month. Therefore, since Rosh Chodesh Tevet takes place during Chanukah, the light of Chanukah gets dispersed into the entire month of Tevet. It is possible that the thirty-six candles that we light during holiday of Chanukah enlighten the thirty-six days from the beginning of Chanukah until the end of the month of Tevet.

The three months of Tevet, Tamuz and Av are said to be months under evil influence.[2] After Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the light of day started becoming shorter and the nights grew longer. Adam then feared he had brought darkness into the world. When he noticed the days stopped getting shorter, Adam rejoiced and feasted for eight days. Since this happened during Tevet – Esav’s month, Adam’s feast was taken over by Brother Esav – Edom’s top man, the Pope in Rome.

The word טבת/Tevet is also from the languages of preparing הטבת/hatavat the candles. Since the days of Tevet are hidden, therefore Hashem preceeded the healing to the wound,[3] by means of the candles we illuminate these days of darkness.[4] It is good to keep in mind when we gaze at the Chanukah candles during the last days of Chanukah that this light will infuse the entire month of Tevet.

When we extend the meaning of the word הטבה/hatava, it means not only ‘making good’ or ‘preparing of the wicks’ of the candles, but it also refers to self-betterment and preparation for illumination. This process continues during the month of Shevat whose letter is tzadik, which also means righteous.

The Weekly Torah Portions During Tevet
Parashat Vayigash – the first parasha we read during the month of Tevet – unites our inner flame ignited from the Chanukah experience with the exterior material including the darkest exile of Egypt. Parashat Vayigash is, moreover, about the unification between Yosef’s and his brothers. The power of Yosef, the righteous, corresponds on the side of Holiness to the power of Esav, and through the power of Yosef we can overcome the evil power of Esav.[5] Yosef “sent his brothers away, and they departed: and he said to them, do not become agitated on the way.”[6] With these words Yosef cautioned his brothers not to get angry at one another on account of selling him into slavery.[7] Thus, in this parasha inner feelings are revealed and expressed in a highly emotional charged way. This fits in with the character of the month רוגז/rogez – agitation.

In the second parasha read during Tevet, Parashat Vayechi, we learn that Yosef didn’t get angry at his brothers for having sold him even after their father had passed away.

Parashat Shemot, about the slavery in Egypt, highlights how Moshe scolded two Jewish men who were fighting. “When he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together, and he said to him that was in the wrong, ‘Why do you smite your fellow?’”[8]

Parashat Va’era is about the first seven plagues of anger, where Hashem judged Pharaoh and Egypt. “But Pharaoh shall not hearken to you, that I may lay my hand upon Mitzrayim, and bring out my armies, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.”[9]

Parashat Shemot and Va’era are the first two parshiot of the series called Shovevim tat,[10] during which the righteous fast every Monday and Thursday. This time is especially suited for correcting sins connected with sexuality and the holy covenant which Yosef kept so meticulously despite strong temptations.

The Growing up of the Constellation of Capricorn (Mountain Goat)
The constellation of this month – the גדי/Gedi – Capricorn is also connected with the word אגד/egged which means to bind. Tevet is binding the light of Chanukah into the whole year. Each of the nations also have a corresponding constellation, the Capricorn is the constellation of the Philistine nation.[11] For this reason Shimshon from the tribe of Dan gave his Philistine wife a goat as a gift. He wanted to purify the evil influence of the Philisite at the root. The power of stern judgment within the Philistines is indicated in the numerical value of their name, פלישתים/Pelishtim, 860, which is ten times the Divine Name Elokim (86), the name that denotes judgment. Corresponding to this stands the tribe of Dan, with Shimshon at its head, who wanted to put an end to their evil influence. Perhaps the problems that Israel has currently with the ‘Palestinians’ are a carryover of the previous problems with the Philistines. (It is interesting to note that the PLO was founded during the month of Tevet).

The constellation of the month of Tevet, Capricorn or mountain goat, relates to the growing-up process, from a state of immaturity to a state of maturity. At the age of ten (an allusion to the tenth month, the level of ten in general) a child jumps like a goat.[12] The playful nature of jumping up and down like a goat reflects an important stage in the growing-up process. The mountain goat has the ability to climb even in extremely difficult terrain; likewise does the month of Tevet stir us to learn how to hang on during difficult times. The numerical value of Capricorn – גדי/Gedi = 17 = טוב/tov
‘good’ One must play (and jump up and down like a goat) in order to rectify and sweeten the anger latent in one’s animal soul.

Letter עין/ayin – Developing a Goodly Eye
The letter עין/ayin associated with the month of Tevet means ‘eye.’ Therefore, the month of Tevet is the month of the rectification and nullification of the evil eye.

This rectification begins with gazing at the Chanukah candles, especially when they are complete on the eighth day. The word Tevet itself comes from tov, "good," referring to עין טובה/ayin tovah – the goodly eye (the source of the power of blessing, as it is said: “the goodly eye shall bless”). “Whoever has a good eye shall be blessed, for he gave from his bread to the poor.”[13]All destructive process begins with the “evil eye” of hatred. From hatred comes anger, the fire of destruction. Therefore, this month is the time to work on overcoming jealousy and evil eye, and work on looking at others with good eyes of love and blessings.

The Tribe of Dan – Turning the Snake of Evil to Good
The tribe of the month, דָּן/Dan, the son of Ya’acov and Rachel, through her maidservant Bilhah, symbolizes the power of severe Judgment (din). Both in the desert encampments, and in his allotment in the Land of Israel, the tribe of Dan was in the north from whence issue darkness and judgment.[14] The north is also associated with the amassing of material wealth.[15] The name Dan embodies the teshuva process that Rachel went through overcoming her jealousy of Leah, mother of many children. When Rachel named Bilhah’s first son Dan, she exclaimed “G-d has judged me, and also listened to my voice.”[16] G-d has judged me – and found me guilty, He judged me again and found me guiltless.[17] First she was found guilty by Hashem and also by herself. Then she rectified herself and was judged favorable by G-d. The tribe of Dan represents the initial state of immaturity in the soul that “grows-up” during the month of Tevet. Initially, Dan judges reality and others critically, with severe judgment (the “evil eye”). This is the nature of one who is spiritually immature. Dan is likened to a snake, who bites with the venom of anger. The “evil eye” is the eye of the snake. The rectification of Dan is his engaging in the battle of holy anger against evil anger. Our sages teach us that only one from the soul-root of Dan can spontaneously jump up and kill the evil snake –“one like him, killed him.” The numerical value of נחש/Nachash – snake = 358 = משיח/Mashiach. In the Zohar we are taught that the commander-in-chief of the army of Mashiach will come from the tribe of Dan.[18]

The Tribe of Dan – Elevating Judgment
How do we know the choices and judgments we make are the right ones and where do we cross the line between right and wrong? There is a fine line between carving golden calves, (one of which was place in the territory of Dan) and crafting vessels for the Jewish Temple including the golden cherubs. What makes the former the gravest sin and the latter the greatest mitzvah? The difference is very simple, the former is forbidden by G-d, whereas the latter is a mitzvah from G-d. The tribe of Dan was repeatedly chosen to fashion holy vessels for the Mikdash,[19] to teach us that trough the power of judgment, which he represents, we can learn to draw the fine line of judgment between the forbidden and the commanded. Rather than being tempted by the evil eye towards anger, we need to see with clear and good eyes accessible for us during the month of Tevet.

In Tevet, Dan challenges us to look at the decisions we make for ourselves that impact both ourselves and others. If we are angry is it because we are immature and don’t really understand, or are we growing to learn to battle “evil anger”? Are we mature enough to know the difference between them?

[1] Sefer Yetzirah 5:10.
[2] Zohar part 2, p. 12a.
[3] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 13b.
[4] Sfat Emet on Chanukah, Year 5650, 1890.
[5] Ovadia 1:18.
[6] Bereishit 45:24.
[7] Ibn Ezra, ad loc.
[8] Shemot 2:13.
[9] Shemot 7:4
[10] The name Shovevim Tat is constructed from the initials of the following Torah portions:
Shemot, Va’era, Bo, B’shalach, Yitro, Mispatim, Terumah, Tetzaveh.
[11] Rabbeinu Bachaya, Devarim 31:16.
[12] Midrash Rabbah, Kohelet 1:3.
[13] Mishlei 22:9.
[14] Yirmeyahu 1:14.
[15] Yalkut Shimoni, Mislei part 3:534, Zohar part 2, 26b.
[16] Bereishit 30:6.
[17] Rashi ad loc.
[18] Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg, Gal Einai .
[19] See Shemot 31:6-11 And I, behold, I have appointed with him Oholiav, the son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all that are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the ark- cover that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the Tent… and the anointing oil, and the incense of sweet spices for the holy place; according to all that I have commanded you shall they do. See also Divrei HaYamim II 2:12-13, 4:11-22 where Chirum from the tribe of Dan is appointed craftsman of King Shlomo’s Temple.