The first half of the month of Tammuz is a pleasant continuation of Sivan; the month of מתן תורה, the Revelation at Sinai. Historically it is the time when Moshe Rabbenu is still on the Mountain receiving the Tablets, לוחות הברית. It is the time when the people are awaiting the return of their revered leader Moshe. When he seems to be late in coming, comes the disaster, the sin of the Golden Calf. It occurs on the seventeenth of Tammuz, a day designated for the future disaster; the siege on Jerusalem.
Even the first day of the month rings an alarm bell: On this day Moshe Rabbenu sent the מרגלים, the spies, who returned after forty days, on the ninth of Av, yes, תשעה באב, which became a day of בכיה לדורות, weeping , mourning for generations.
When our Sages analyze the cause of our national misfortunes they blame it on שינאת חנם, baseless hatred which was manifest by מחלקת, division, lack of unity – אחדות.
In the פרשה, Torah portion that we read on שבת ראש חודש, we see the most serious example of ,מחלקת מחלקת קרח ועדתו, the revolt of Korach and his cohorts.
Moshe Rabbenu, in spite of being the greatest נביא, prophet, praised by HaShem: בכל ביתי נאמן הוא , the most trustworthy, was not immune to complaints and criticism. Korach was very hurtful. Moshe who did not look for power and honor, who had to be persuaded to accept the leadership, is accused of elevating himself, his brother and close relatives to positions of power
ויקהלו על-משה ועל-אהרן, ויאמרו אליהם רב-לכם--כי כל-העדה כלם קדשים, ובתוכם ה'; ומדוע תתנשאו, על-קהל ה'
“They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, “It is too much for you! For the entire congregation – all of them are holy and HaShem is among them why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of HaShem?”
Korach uses the name of HaShem, but actually he implies that Moshe and Aharon were self-appointed, not chosen by HaShem, so were the appointments of their close relatives from the tribe of Levy. Moshe protests, He did not intend to dominate or benefit; did not take advantage of his service to request or take a donkey for his travels.
It happens too often that good and talented people are disgraced many times by false accusations. We should be careful not to listen to false accusations that bring מחלקת and שנאת חינם.
May we all have a happy peaceful summer and see all the sad dates in our calendar turn into days of joy.
The creation of a nation is a slow process. Our תורה describes the various stages in the creation of עם ישראל, the nation of Israel; first we were the children of Avraham Avinu and of Yitzchak and the family of Yaakov.
The family of Yaakov was forged into עם בני ישראל the People of the Children of Israel during the cruel slavery in Egypt. For the survival of a nation freedom is a basic ingredient. This is provided by יציאת מצרים. The Exodus provided us with the opportunity to forge us into national unity. But this was not enough. We had to proceed to the highest stage of our unique nationhood – to Sinai. On the סדר Seder night we sing happily דיינו it would be enough
אִלוּ קֵרְבָנוּ לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי, וְלא נַתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַתּורָה. דַּיֵינוּ.
Had He only brought us near Mount Sinai, and not given us the Torah, it could be enough.
This is a strange statement. The entire reason of reaching הר סיני is to worship HaShem by receiving the Torah.
What was דיינו ?
בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי לְצֵאת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי. וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר.
(שמות י'ט: א', ב')
In the third month from the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai. They journeyed from Rephidim and encamped there in the wilderness, and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain. The verses start in the plural and include in the singular ויחן שם ישראל. Our sages comment: כאיש אחד, בלב אחד. They were as one, united.
This was an important ingredient for the creation of a nation; unity of will and purpose. This was preparing the hearts and the minds for receiving the Torah.
The liberation process was completed with מתן תורה. We received our own Divine Law. This is the Law that makes us unique:
(וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם--כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם, לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים: אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת כָּל-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם-חָכָם וְנָבוֹן, הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה. (שמות ד', ו'
You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation.
It is time for all of us to realize that our strength is not in imitating the so called Western values, but in appreciating our own heritage.
חג שבועות שמח
ארבעה ראשי שנים הם. באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים. באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה. רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרים, באחד בתשרי . באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים י ולשמטין וליובלות, לנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט יז , ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי. בית הלל אומרים, בחמשה עשר בו. (משנה ראש השנה א א)
There are four different days signaling the beginning of a new year: The first of Nissan signals the counting of the reign of kings and also the order of רגלים, Pesach as the first. The first of Elul marks the date for tithing the livestock. The first of Tishrei signals the start of Shmita and Yovel and the planting. And then comes Shevat, according to the House of Shamai, the first day, according to the House of Hillel, the fifteenth day, the Rosh HaShana for the fruit trees.
This day determines to which year of tithing the fruit belongs, also the age of the tree. When is the fruit exempt from being ערלה, covered from eating.
We know the awesome meaning of Rosh Hashanah for us, humans. It seems strange that trees have a Rosh HaShana as well.
Actually it is not strange at all. From the beginning, from בראשית we see that the life of men is connected to the trees. גן עדן has עץ החיים, the tree of life, עץ הדעת, the tree of knowledge.
The fate of mankind depended on Adam’s ability to resist the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit. He ate and he brought mortality to the world. The tree of life is beyond our reach, but it is the object of our search and desire.
In the worlds of our prophets the tree is an allegory for man.
בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר, אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּה'; וְהָיָה ה', מִבְטַחוֹ .וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל-מַיִם, וְעַל-יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו, וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי-יָבֹא חֹם, וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן; וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג, וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי. (ירמיהו י"ז ז'ה')
Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem, then HaShem will be his security. He will be like a tree planted near water, which spreads out its roots along a brook and does not see when heat comes whose foliage is ever fresh, it will not worry in a year of drought and will not stop producing fruit.
Just recently we read the הפטרה from Yechezkel (פרק ל"ז ט"ו, ט"ז) in which he takes two branches of a tree, on one he writes Yehuda and on the other Yoseph and then he takes both in his hands to symbolize the unity of all the tribes under one king.
How beautiful is the first מזמור in Tehilim describing the righteous man:
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת ה', חֶפְצוֹ; וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה, יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה.
וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ, שָׁתוּל עַל-פַּלְגֵי-מָיִם: אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ, יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ--וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא-יִבּוֹל; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ.
(תהלים א' ב-ג)
He shall be like a tree deeply rooted alongside brooks of water, that yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf never withers; and everything the he does will succeed.
The Talmud in (גטין נ"ז)(Gittin) shows us an example of the connection between the life of a child and a tree: In the city of Beitar at the time of the Roman rule, they had a custom. When a boy was born they planted a cedar, when a girl was born they planted an acacia. Branches from the trees were used to construct the wedding canopy, the חופה.
The most famous verse indicating the man-tree connection seems to be in דברים כ' יט
כי-תצור אל-עיר ימים רבים להילחם עליה לתופשה, לא-תשחית את-עצה לנדוח עליו גרזן--כי ממנו תאכל, ואותו לא תכרות: כי האדם עץ השדה, לבוא מפניך במצור.
When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them for from it you will eat and you shall not cut it down; is the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you.
The Midrash warns us not to hurt a fruit tree:
בשעה שכורתין את האילן שהוא עושה פרי קולו הולך מסוף העולם ועד סופו ואין הקול נשמע (פרק דרבי אלעזר ל"ד)
The silent cry of the fallen tree fills the world. Let us protect our friends, the trees which beautify and enrich our country.
The celebration of the miracle of Hanukah, נס חנוכה is a bridge connecting the historic victory of the Hashmonaim to the historic tragedies connected to the month of Tevet.
The סליחות , special prayers for the Tenth of Teveth mention three events; The edict of the Syrian/Greek kings to translate the Torah into the Greek language, the passing of Ezra, the Scribe, and the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the siege that ended in the חורבן, the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Now we have another painful addition to the Tenth of Teveth; it has been declared as the memorial day for the victims of the Shoah whose day of murder is not known. It is יום הקדיש הכללי, the day for reciting the Kaddish in their memory.
Even this first night of Hanukah, when we try to enjoy the light of the miraculous victory, our joy is clouded by yet again a manifestation of שנאת ישראל, hatred and vindictive vote against Israel. Do we deserve this?
Why is there no condemnation against Syria for the cruel slaughter of its citizens in the civil war raging there for five years? Who steps in quietly to help the innocent children and the wounded? – Israel. “More than 2000 Syrians have been treated in an IDF field hospital specifically set up in the Golan, with dozens more treated in regular Israeli hospitals.” (Jerusalem Post 23/12/16). There are many merciful Israelis who call on the government to open our doors to wounded and homeless Syrians. רחמנים בני רחמים.
This is not new for the Eternal Jew. When we study the book of מלכים (Kings) we learn that rulers of Syria סוריה whose capital was the beautiful city of דמשק (Damascus) waged constant wars against Israel. Even in these ancient wars the enemy acknowledged the moral superiority of the Israeli kings: When the king of Aram was hiding after losing a battle against Ahab, and was desperate, his servants comforted him:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, עֲבָדָיו, הִנֵּה-נָא שָׁמַעְנוּ, כִּי מַלְכֵי בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי-מַלְכֵי חֶסֶד הֵם; נָשִׂימָה נָּא שַׂקִּים בְּמָתְנֵינוּ וַחֲבָלִים בְּרֹאשֵׁנוּ, וְנֵצֵא אֶל-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל--אוּלַי, יְחַיֶּה אֶת-נַפְשֶׁךָ. (מלכים א', כ)
His servants said to him; "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings, please let us put sackcloth on our loins and ropes on our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will let you live."
When they met Ahab, he did more than that: he said “Is he still alive? He is my brother!” When Ben Haddad came out of hiding, Ahab received him warmly and helped him into his chariot. This magnanimity did not win praise from the prophets; Hashem promised a victory and it was wasted. Needless to say that Aram, ארם did not stop the raids into Israel. The commander of the army of Aram, Naaman נעמן who was very honored by the king, had leprosy.
It seems that he could not be cured in Demascus, so his wife listened to a captive Jewish girl servant who advised her to send the husband to Shomron to the prophet אלישע who could cure him, Naaman told his king who agreed. And the king of Aram sent a letter to the king of Israel instructing him to heal Naaman from his leprosy. The king of Israel rent his garments in panic. He saw in the impossible demand a pretext against him. The prophet Elisha אלשע went to the king and told him to send Naaman to him. The haughty Naaman came to Elisha who instructed him to bathe seven times in the Yarden. Naaman after disdainfully rejecting the advice, was persuaded by his servants to do as he was instructed and he was healed miraculously.
וַיָּשָׁב- אֶל-אִישׁ הָאֱ-לֹהִים הוּא וְכָל-מַחֲנֵהוּ וַיָּבֹא וַיַּעֲמֹד לְפָנָיו וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה-נָא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אֵין אֱ-לֹהִים בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ כִּי אִם-בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל (מלכים ב, ה)
He vowed to sacrifice only to God and only on the sacred soil of ארץ ישראל which he took back to Aram in order to build an altar. (מלכים ב, ה) As our sages say מעשה אבות סימן לבנים . Whatever happened to the forefathers is a sign for the children.
Jewish communities all over the world are in grave danger of decline and even of disappearance, not because of persecution, but because of assimilation and intermarriage. Most of the children of intermarried couples are lost to Judaism. This is of prime concern of Jewish political and communal leaders, as well as to Rabbinical and intellectual leadership.
Living in Israel is no guaranty against these dangers. At the time of the return from Babylon, Ezra and Nehemiah fought against intermarriage a very long and bitter fight. Years later, when ארץ ישראל- the Land of Israel, was under the rule of the Greeks, the danger of assimilation threatened our existence as a people, again.
As Rav Yitzhak Hutner in his monumental work "פחד יצחק" remarks: In the history of the enslavement of the people Israel by the nations, we find the first time the appearance of Hellenizers under the Greek rule.
בגלות בבל אין לנו מתבבלים ולא בגלות אשור מתאשרים, ורק בגלות יון יש לנו עסק גם עם יונים וגם עם מתיונים"
(חנכה מאמר ו')
Translation will not do justice to this passage: In the exile to Babylon we had no Jewish imitations of Babylonians, and in the Assyrian exile we had not Jewish imitations of Assyrians, only in the Greek exile do we have to deal with Greeks and with Hellenizers (the Jews who assimilated to the Greek, Hellenic culture).
It is strange to call the rule of Greece an exile גלות יון . As Rav Hutner points out, the people remained in their land and even Bet Hamikdash was standing in Jerusalem. The Greeks did not destroy the Temple. They desecrated it, they did not pour out the pure oil, they defiled it. The Greeks did not object to the existence of the population of Israel, they objected to the separation and the distinction between Israel and the nations. They wanted to eliminate and erase the boundaries between the sacred and the profane, between the pure and the impure.
The way to do this was the decree against the keeping of commandments of the Torah in general, but these which were the most distinguishing ones like the study of Torah and Brith Mila in particular.
One of the most painful and cruel edicts was the one giving the right to the Greek governors to violate the Jewish brides on their wedding night.
As Rav Hutner explains, this was not so much to satisfy the lust of the governors, but to disturb the natural perpetuation of a distinct Jewish people, the people who has preserved its unique existence through the connection between the generations.
May we all take to heart the lesson of Chanukah. The Greeks managed to desecrate the Temple and persecute the Torah observant population only with the cooperation of the assimilationist, Hellenizing Jews.
We have to do our best to make the light of the Chanukah candles ignite a renewed interest in a Torah true life amongst all Jews.
חג אורים שמח