2 Shevat 5765
Internalizing Kedushas Eretz Yisrael
By Rebbetzin Kurland
Chodesh Tov Dear Seminary Alumnae!
Over six months have elapsed since the fresh mintages among you have acclimated to your home environment. Despite time’s passage, the cacophony of suitcase wheels scraping the pavement, muffled sobs, and the cab drivers impatient honking still resonates in your memory and in your neshamos. For those of you who wrote yourselves the letter to be sent in six months, I am confident that efficient Rav Nissel has mailed them by this point in time. Yet for those of you who didn’t, the question still gnaws, still grates upon our collective conscience: Am I presently the person that I was when I left seminary? Are my finely-honed ruchnius sensitivities still intact?
I’ve noticed a pattern of oscillation in girls’ readjustment to their homes/colleges. More accurately, I notice a pendular swing of extremes between I am never going to allow myself to be happy in Chutz Laaretz, I will retain my purity and insularity at all costs; versus I cannot lead a life to depression, of disequilibrium; if I have to make compromises in this compromising environment, it is worth it to save my sanity.
These themes can be explored, however subtly, as we mark the transition from Chodesh Teves to Chodesh Shvat. Teves conjures up the image of the Churban, of Nevuchdnezzar’s siege of Yerushalayim. We are reminded in Chazal (end of Megillas Taanis) that Tevet is the month wherein King Ptlomey forced 72 Chachamim to translate the Torah into Greek (each independently.) By exposing the Torah to the Goyim, by revealing its sublime message exclusively intended for Clal Yisroel, the Torah was divested of its reverence (Sefer Hatodaah), thereby bringing 3 consecutive days of darkness to the world (culminating in 10 Teves.) Yes, we do have depressing days, rabinically mandated times when we contemplate and mourn the chasm between the glory that was and the absence that is. Yet these are but fours days (fasts) on the calendar; what about the remainder of the year?
There is a fascinating interchange between Rabbi Yehoshua and the post-Churban ascetics at the end of Perek Cheskas Habatim (Bava Basra 60b). These people were indeed the personification of my first extreme. They would eat no meat shenitbatlu hakorbanos,; it was too painfully reminiscent of the now defunct sacrificial rites. They would drink no wine; it revived images of the wine spilled upon the now defunct Mizbeach. They would eat no bread, as the menachos, the meal offering could no longer be brought. They even contemplated not drinking water, as it recreated images of Nisuch Hamayim, the unparalleled Simcha of Simchas Beis Hashoeva.
Rabi Yehoshua answers them lovingly, but quite definitively: “Banai, ..lo lhisabel kol ikkar ee efshar; ulihisabel yoser midai ee efshar, sheein gozrin gezera ..ela im ken rov Hatzibbur yachol laamod ba”. My dear children, sensitive people who are in touch with their innermost emotions cannot help but mourn. Yet we cannot mandate excessive mourning because Klal Yisroel doesn’t have the capacity to comply.
Where does this leave us? How can the mourning, the longing, the yearning find its proper balance of expression?
Rabbi Yehoshua continues: When a man makes a scrumptious meal, one item on the menu should be left out. When a woman adorns herself according to the dictates of Jewish fashion, one adornment should be omitted. When a man builds a new home, a visible section of the wall should remain unplastered. When a chassan stands under the Chuppa, at the threshold of his Binyan Adei Ad, he should place ashes upon his head.
To me the message is clear. Hashem does not desire depression, dysfunctionalism, asceticism, or inactivism. Hakadosh Boruch Hu knows that to properly fulfill our Tafkidim, we need both Simcha and Yishuv Haddat (inner tranquility). Yet at the most significant moments of our life cycle a new spouse, a new home, and even for more conventional modes of gratification, such as food or dress, we are cautioned to be temperate: Im lo aale es Yerushalayim al Rosh Simchasi. Right when we think we’ve made it, right when we think that we’re on top of the world, right when complacency , or even arrogance encroaches upon our inner integrity, we are bidden to recall that our Simcha is in fact incomplete. “Az, (Then, only in the future) yimale sechok pinu”. There is no compromising to the point of complete harmony, of material or emotional shelemus; our personal Simcha is inextricably intertwined with the national Simcha of Clal Yisroel.
If Teves reminds us of the travails of Galus, then Shvat exhorts us to reorient our focus back to Eretz Yisroel. Tu Beshvat is but one of four new years mentioned in the Mishnah, yet it differs for example, from Rosh Chodesh Elul (also listed as a new year for Maissros, tithes) in that it is imbued with a festive character (No Tachanun, no Av Harachamim on Shabbos Tu BeShvat, no hespedim) Why is Tu Beshvat afforded greater prominence?
Because it bespeaks the praise of the land of Israel (Sefer Hatodaah.) Moreover, the Bach, commenting on the Tur on the words “Venochal Mepirya Venisboa Mituva” notes that the fruit of Eretz Yisroel is the conduit, the very pipeline through which the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel flows. By eating the fruit of Eretz Yisroel, we ingest and internalize this kedusha.
Tu Beshvat notwithstanding, Shvat remains a moth of renewed invigoration and inspiration. (As evidenced by the global minhag to give Shiurim during the weeks coined Shovavim, from Parshas Shemos until parshas Mishpatim, specifically with the focus to strengthen Jewish family life.)
Sefer Devarim was actually given over from Rosh Chodesh Shvat, culminating with Moshe Rabeinu’s death on 7 Adar. The Chachomim have said that the first of Shvat is comparable to the day of the giving of the Torah. Just as the 6th of Sivan on which the Torah was given to Israel remains forever especially suitable for the renews acceptance of the Torah, similarly is the heart of the Jew newly receptive to the influence of Torah on the first of Shvat, since the repetition of the Torah (Sefer Devarim) was given to Israel on the first of Shvat (Sefer Hatodaah.)
I’d like to conclude with the beautiful insight of the Bnei Yisasschar, Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov. He cites the Sefer Hayetzira who notes that the Mazal for the month of Shvat is Aquarius, the water-bearer, or dli, the bucket. Although the axiom “Ein Mazal Leyisroel” implies that we transcend the jurisdiction of astrology, each of the signs still maintain unique applicability to Hashem’s Am Segula.
The Bnei Yisasschar notes: “Ki Dli asui lishov bo mayim veze peulato..veein mayim ela Torah..mazalo shel Yisroel hu eved meshamesh el Hatorah”. The bucket is a most relevant and appropriate sign for Clal Yisroel in that it is a utensil whose primary function is to gather water. Water, as we know, is the quintessential metaphor for Torah. Our function is to be Eved Meshamesh es Hatorah. We are meant to be the utensil which bears the water which is Torah.
“Vehaeved Ein lo Ratzon ki im Ratzon Haadon”. This indeed is the powerful message of the month of Shvat. As the pail has no ego, no self-interest, other than being a vehicle for the dispensation of water, so should we have no personal agenda other than being a vehicle for dispensation of Torah.
In America. In Israel. In happiness. In sadness. In optimal circumstances. In compromising situations. Throughout every precious moment of our lives.