“Sof Maaseh B’Machshava Techila”

Nov 24, 2014
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The Month of Tevet, From Beginning to End
Rabbi Dovid Kamenetsky

We usher in the month of Tevet on a spiritual high. The first two days of the month shine with the brightest Chanuka lights, seven and eight candles respectively. However, just over a week later, we seem to lose all our excitement with the fast of Asarah B’ Tevet.

There is more to the month of Tevet, though. Let us take a closer look at the month as a whole, taking into account three passages in Chazal. This will help us develop a better understanding of our present and future positions as the Jewish People.

The 10th of Tevet
The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (18b) tells us the source of this fast: R’ Akiva used to expound four verses, . . . When the verse states: “The fast of the Tenth” it refers to the Tenth of Tevet, for on that day the King of Babylonia began to besiege Jerusalem, as it says, “The word of Hashem came to me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, saying, ‘Son of man, write for yourself the name of this day, this very day; The King of Babylonia has begun to besiege Jerusalem (Yechezkel 24:1-2).’”

We commemorate two other fasts which are directly related to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, namely the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av. Why the need of a third fast?

The 24th of Tevet
As we come closer to the end of the month, we suddenly see a turnabout. The Gemara in Bava Batra (115b) cites a Baraita in Megilat Ta’anit which lists the 24th of Tevet as a day it is forbidden to fast. It is the day on which the Rabbis, during the Second Temple era, succeeded in overturning a law that had been imposed by the Sadducees, and reinstated the proper Torah law. What is the importance of this act, and why celebrate this day?

The 25th of Tevet
Finally, Megilat Ta’anit relates another story which occurred on the 25th of Tevet and was also marked as a day of celebration. This Baraita is cited in Yoma (69a) as follows: The twenty-fifth of Tevet is that day known as the Day of Mount Gerizim. It is the day on which the Cuthites requested of Alexander the Macedonian to destroy the Beit HaMikdash, and he agreed. Shimon HaTzadik was informed of the decree. He donned his priestly garments and set out to meet Alexander, accompanied by some of the most prominent people of Israel. They began walking with lit torches in their hands. All night long the Jewish delegation approached Alexander from one direction while the Cluthites approached from the other direction, until the light of dawn rose. Once it became light and Alexander noticed the Jewish delegation in the distance, he asked [the Cuthite informers who were with him]: “Who are these people?” They responded: “It is the Jews who have rebelled against you!” As the sun shone the two groups met up with one another. As soon as Alexander saw Shimon HaTzadik, the king alighted from his chariot and bowed down before the Jewish High Priest. Those who were with Alexander said to him: “Shall a great king as yourself bow down before this Jew?” To this he replied: “An image in the likeness of this man gains victory before me on all my battlefields.” He then turned to the Jews and said to them: “Why have you come?” They replied, “Is it possible that idolaters should mislead you to destroy the very house in which we pray for you and your Kingdom?” He said to them: “Who are these schemers who would so mislead me?!” They responded: “It is these very Cuthites who stand before you!” He said to the Jews: “Behold they are given into your hands to punish them as you see fit.”

An impressive story indeed, but why was it necessary for Chazal to relate every detail of how the Jewish delegation traveled – “with lit torches”, “all night long”, “once it became light Alexander noticed the delegation”?

The Month of Tevet
Let us re-examine the month of Tevet. This month has the shortest days and the longest nights of the year. As we began the month, the days got shorter, darkness descending upon us. Only an artificial light, our Chanuka candles, brightens our circumstance. However. This light lasts only for two days, but in reality we live in a very dark Galut.

It is no coincidence that at the darkest point of the year the first stage of our Temple’s destruction occurs. Chazal established a fast on this day for it represents our entire Galut and not merely the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.

On the other hand, Tevet is the month in which the days begin to get longer, a sign of redemption. The first sign of redemption is certainly the reinstitution of Torah Law, both written and oral. Chazal, when overturning a law which had been imposed by the Sadducees, understood that this was the first stage of redemption, and made the 24th of Tevet a day of celebration.

And, finally, the story of Shimon HaTzadik: It is quite obvious that the final stage of Redemption is the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash. The 25th of Tevet celebrated the preservation of the Beit HaMikdash in the Second Temple period, but symbolizes its final rebuilding. Rightfully it is done with lit torches – the brightest of lights. However, it is a long trek until we get there, through the dark night of Galut.

The first lights – the Chanuka candles – and the last lights – Shimon Hatzadik’s torches – are related. Both represent the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash. This is an example of – sof ma’aseh bemachshavah techilah (the final outcome has been conceived of at the outset). The final lights of redemption has its seeds in the brightest lights of Chanukah, our redemption from Galut Yavan.

In our bitter exile, our light is Torah – “Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr (for a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light).” Our only escape from exile is the study of Torah, as Chazal tell us, “Ein ben-chorin ella mi she’osek baTorah” – the only free man is the one who involves himself with Torah.

May we merit a complete redemption soon!

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