Friday, December 10, 2010

Post Chanukah/Teves/VaYigash: Just Around the Riverbend

The following has been adapted based on concepts from Rav Sitorsky andHaLekach V’HaLibuv.

Chanukah is unique in that is the only holiday in the entirety of the Jewish calendar that crosses over into two months. It stars on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, but spends a little bit of time illuminating Teves as well.

In order to fully understand this, we need to analyze some other components. This week’s Parsha of VaYigash is the way we enter into the month, and therefore in coordination with whatever Teves represents as it comes in with Chanukah, it needs to be reconciled with the themes of VaYigash too.

In many ways Teves is a painful month. On the fifth, the Navi Yechezkel tells us that news reached Bavel regarding the destruction of the Temple. On the ninth, Ezra HaSofer dies and with his death the Jewish people end their relationship with prophecy. On the tenth there is a fast day because on that day Yerushalayim (may it be rebuilt speedily) was put under siege; an event which led to it’s eventual downfall.

This theme carries over into the Parsha as well. In this week’s Parsha, all the tribes, representative of all the Jewish people are all in Egpyt together, laying the roots of the exile. When Yosef HaTzadik reveals himself, he and Binyamin cry, leaning on each other’s necks. The Gemara in Megilah tells us that Binyamin was crying over the destruction of the Mishkan, located in the portion of Yosef. Yosef was crying over the destruction of the first and second Temples which were to be located in the portion on Binyamin. Just as the neck connects head and body, upper to lower, so too the Beis HaMikdash connects heaven and earth, the Jewish People to God. The destruction of the Temple is a spiritual slit throat.

The mystical sources teach us that each one of the tribes is appointed over a specific month. Lined up with this tribe is also a letter. This month, the month of TevesShevet is Dan, and this month’s letter is Ayin.

These two factors provide us with more food for thought. The numerical value of Ayin is seventy. In VaYigash, Yaakov Avinu brings the totality of the Jewish people – all seventy souls – down to Egypt and into exile. We are told by Chazal that there are seventy root gentile nations, each one who poses its own unique challenge to one of these root souls of the Jewish people. Egypt contained all these powers at once – the root for all the exiles and oppressing nations. How do we know this? Each one of these nations has a unique language, and Chazal tell us that Paroh knew them all, thereby accessing all there negativity at once. The Chasam Sofer also tells us that the Agalos, the chariots that Yosef sent to Yaakov were really a metaphor for the seventy nations that will test us throughout history. How? The word Agalos spells Ayin-Galus, ‘The exile of seventy.’

Every word and letter finds its root in its first usage in the Torah, and Ayin does not come in with positive connotations. In the second verse of the Torah after stating that God created the heavens and earth. The Torah then lists four descriptions of how the world was desolate and abysmal. Chazal tell us that these four descriptions parallel the four major exiles of the Jewish people. The final one listed is Al Pnei T’hom - ‘Upon the surface of the deep.’ This is the Roman exile that has morphed and shifted through various forms and lasts until today. Al Pnei T’hom begins with an Ayin. And the three major forces at play in this final exile - Eisav, Amalek and Yishmael, all contain the letter Ayin in their names.

Shevet Dan, the-tribe-of-the-month is also a target of this negative energy. In the journey towards Mount Sinai, it is specifically the tribe of Dan that is attacked by Amalek.

Dan’s only son was Chushim. He was deaf and mute. Because in comparison to Kislev things dramatically quiet down this month.

The Yarden, the Jordan River, which has the letters of ‘Yered Dan’, Dan descends – is in the land-portion of Dan. The Jordan River serves as the ultimate obstacle, the body of water that must be crossed in order enter into the land of Israel, and like we see by Yehoshua, to the cross the river is a miraculous feat. The river that is rooted in Dan’s portion is the blockade that tries to keep us out of Eretz Yisrael.

To enter into Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov Avinu also had to cross the Jordan. How did he do so? The Passuk in VaYishlach tells us, “Ki V’Makli Avarti Es HaYarden HaZos. ‘With my staff I crossed this Jordan.’ The Shelah HaKadosh explains that words Ki V’Makli - ‘For with my staff’ hold the secret of how to cross the Yarden - the symbol of all of the challenges of Teves.

Ki V’Makli is spelled with the letters Kaf, Yud, Beis, Mem, Kuf, Lamed, and another Yud. Four of these letters spell Makabi (Mem, Kaf, Beis, Yud) the legion of Jewish warriors that overcame the Greeks in the war of Chanukah. The letters that make up Makabi can serve as an acrostic, as Rashei Teivos for Baruch Kavod Hashem M’Mkomo - ‘Blessed is the Honor of Hashem from His place.’ It also heads the words of the phrase Mi Kamocha B’Eilim Hashem?!, ‘Hashem! Who is like You among all the powers?’

The three remaining letters of Ki V’Makli are Kuf, Lamed and the second Yud. These three letters are the Rashei Teivos of LiShuascha Kivisi Hashem! ‘Hashem! I hope for Your salvation.’

The Shelah HaKadosh is teaching us that the way to cross the Yarden. The way to overcome the difficult hurdle that is Teves and all that comes with it is to tap back into the power of the Maccabees. Chazal tell us that Chanukah is all about thanking and praising Hashem. (Eight days of Hallel. Al HaNisim in the Bracha of Modim. The candles can’t be used, only looked at, K’dei L’Hodos U’L’Halel - to thank and praise. We eat commemorate the miracle, and we light where others can see it so that we can spread His greatness.) When I praise Hashem, I connect myself to that greatness – and through this thanks I become empowered.

And now we understand why Makabi serves as the acrostic for the two aforementioned phrases. A Makabi is a warrior or a hammer, because when we pay tribute to Hashem, it intensifies us – and with that might we can overcome the struggles that come with exile-motifs ofTeves.

This also answers why Chanukah extends into Teves. Hashem is telling us that the only way to overpower the negative energies of Teves is to extend into it the vigor of Chanukah.

And from this we understand why the three remaining letters of Ki V’Makli hinted towards LiShuascha Kivisi Hashem. Where did this phrase originate? In Yaakov Avinu’s blessing to Dan! Because through this phrase’s connection to Makabi we can channel tremendous force, even to Dan.

Yaakov told us that it was Ki V’Makli that he crossed Es HaYarden. This phrase of Es HaYarden has the same numerical value as the end of the familiar blessing that we just recited eight times V’Tzivanu L’Hadlik Ner Chanukah (many opinions drop the word Shel). Because with the power of Chanukah, by extending the power of V’Tzivanu L’Hadlik NEr Chanukah, we can cross Es HaYarden.

If Teves is the month that we begin to learn about exile, then we understand why Chanukah is chronologically the last holiday added to the calendar. Because it the power of thanking, praising and connecting to Hashem that we learn from Chanukah that will help us overcome the long and difficult month of Teves microcosmically and on the macrocosmic level, the Al Pnei T’hom that we mentioned before.

This isn’t just about Chanukah to Teves via VaYigash. This is about overcoming the exile as a whole. One of the main weapons that we have to overcome this long and dark process called Galus Edom is our investment in our relationship with Hashem. The more we praise Hashem, the more that we talk to Him, the more that we relate our excitement to others and inspire them to do the same – the more we are really empowering ourselves. When we connect upstairs, we are hooking ourselves up to literally endless spiritual resources. This is the message of Chanuka, this is how a bunch of old men beat the Greek army, and it this force that will push us through all the way to the Geulah Sheleimah!

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