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TEVET Hod: Humility and Devotion, Joshua, and the Color Saffron
O Lord, how many are Your wonderful works! In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your treasures.
~ Psalm 104:24
Tevet, a month when some experience rain, snow, and ice, but much is happening beneath what is seen on the surface:
“Bare branches wait for sun to touch them, and trees wait for sap to begin to rise. Animals and humans dream, waiting for the sun’s power to increase. The seedling waits in the earth for the nourishment of light.”
~ Jill Hammer – The Jewish Book of Days
Seeds start growing in the darkness of soil, a baby in the darkness of its mother’s womb, and the caterpillar is transformed in the darkness of their cocoon into a beautiful, new creation. From the depths of darkness comes new life. As we go through the dark days of Winter we can trust that much new life and potential is stirring in the depths of our being.
Interestingly, it was on Rosh Chodesh Tevet that, after their ordeal in the Ark, Noah finally saw a sign of their deliverance,
…in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.(Genesis 8:5)
Closed up in the ark and surrounded by floodwaters, the glimpse of those peaks was a sign of hope. Noah and his family still had to wait for spring for the ark to come to rest, but now, even while surrounded by the depths of the waters, Noah had hope.
A DAY OF FASTING
Historically, Israel faced and endured tragic calamities during the month of Tevet. The great tragedy of the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon is commemorated each year by fasting during the day on the tenth of Tevet, Asarah b’Tevet.
Many other tragedies that occurred during Tevet are recorded. For example, in 1496 the Jews of Portugal, many of whom had immigrated there after their expulsion from Spain only four years before, were presented with the edict that they must be baptized into Catholicism or leave the country within a year.
Why is Tevet a time of mourning? A consideration offered in Jewish literature:
“Behold, [in the era of the first Holy Temple, when Jerusalem was besieged, leading to its destruction] that the retribution began in this month, was surely for a reason. It seems to me that this was because [Tevet] corresponds to the tribe of Dan, who were the first people to worship an idol.”
(Bnei Issachar, Marmerei Chodesh Kislev-Tevet 14:2)
Jacob’s deathbed blessing for Dan was:
Dan will judge his people like the unique one of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward.
I wait for Thy salvation, O Lord. (Genesis 49:16-18)
The name Dan is derived from the Hebrew root word din, to judge. Before David was instituted as the first king of Israel, the judges and prophets were recognized as the leaders of the people. The traits of the tribe of Dan were most clearly reflected in one of its most famous descendants, Samson.
Israel was united under his leadership, and he avenged his people by bringing retribution upon the Philistines. Just as a snake attacks the rider by striking his horse, so did Samson bring down the Philistines without actually touching them. Jacob’s cry, “For Your salvation do I long, O Lord,” can be seen to echo the blinded Samson’s desperate plea that God restore his lost strength as he toppled the pillars of the pagan temple. God heard his cry and the temple of Dagon collapsed, killing Samson and all the Philistine governors as well as three thousand people who had come to scornfully watch the spectacle of the captured Israelite leader.
A member of the tribe of Dan was used to topple a pagan temple, in addition, another member was used to build and beautify the Tabernacle – the Dwelling of God in the wilderness. Moses said to the children of Israel, “See, Adonai has proclaimed by name Betzalel… of the tribe of Yehudah… and Oholiav… of the tribe of Dan.”(Exodus 35)
King Solomon also chose a descendent of Dan to oversee the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 2:13)The Midrash explains that the people of Dan were experts in carving and weaving and their skills were used in beautifying God’s Holy House.
How fitting, then, that the dark days of Tevet are illuminated by the lights of Hanukkah. At Creation, God created the light and saw that it was good. As we kindled the lights, we saw and we remembered that His light dispels every darkness. When we turn to Him and reach out, His deliverance always is at hand. The lights of Hanukkah give us eyes to see the growing hope of the full and Final Redemption – the arrival of King Messiah and the end of the troubles and sorrows we face in the present, broken world.
We anticipate in hope and faith the day when there will be:
“…beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that we might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
HOD – HUMILITY AND DEVOTION
The qualities we see illustrated in all the tragedies that befell the Jewish people, and the resulting fast days, are shining examples of humility and devotion. When faced with a tragic disaster, or even mild irritations!. It takes a lack of pride to be able to respond calmly and quietly rather than in anger or despair.
Mostly, it can only be achieved when we have a sound belief that Avinu, Malkeinu – God, our loving Father and King, is in control of all things, including our lives, He is all-knowing and all caring and His outstretched hand always is there in every circumstance – no matter how great or how small. We only need to acknowledge that, although we need to do what is possible on our own, there are things beyond our abilities or capabilities, and we need HIs help and guidance. All He needs and desires from us is a heart devoted to Him in love.
Joshua, son of Nun, is a perfect example of these attributes. He was devoted to Moshe and never sought his own fame or glory. He accompanied Moshe up Har Sinai every time and, yet, stayed at a respectful distance. He alone waited alone for the forty days in patience and trust when the Israelites gave up and fashioned the Golden Calf.
Joshua was the one who led the Israelites into battle against the enemy Amalek and succeeded. He didn’t claim any honor as he knew the victory was due to the prayer and the faithful, upraised hands of Moshe. Among the twelve sent to scout out the Promised Land, only he and Caleb had the unwavering faith in the promise of God and gave a good report. Eventually, before the death of Moshe, Joshua was the one appointed by God to step into the leadership role and he would successfully lead the Israelites in to settle the Land. In a mighty battle, in response to Joshua’s plea to give their army more time to win an important battle God caused the sun to stand still for an hour, and victory ensued. No small feat!
Unlike Moshe’s dramatic, final farewell to the people, Joshua’s death passes almost unnoticed. He dies quietly at home and is buried on his property. Israel is settled and thriving. In a sense, his death marks the end of the Exodus. The long journey is over. The people are working their land in freedom.
THE COLOR SAFFRON – Yellow/Orange
As the color purple of Kislev gives way to saffron, it is interesting that the saffron flower, the crocus, is a lovely light shade of purple. The vivid crimson/orange stigmas, called threads, are collected, dried and ground to produce a spice that gives a rich golden-yellow color to food.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.
I remember when, as a child growing up on a farm in South Africa, in place of the really old farmhouse, my father built a new one. My sister and I each had a small bedroom and we were given the choice of color we wanted on the walls. She chose a light blue and I chose…yellow! A very pretty light shade of yellow. Somehow the color held such warmth and brightness. It cheered me up and shone with hope and anticipation.
The poet Goethe described: “Yellow brings with her the nature of brightness and has a delightful, encouraging, exciting, and soft quality.” Exactly!
Among flowers, we associate Springtime with the bright yellow daffodils that seem to trumpet the arrival of new life and of fresh discoveries to be made.
Author John O’Donohue states that we are drawn to the shades of the color yellow “…because it is the color of the source that sustains us.” The sun – “the yellow fire that burns eternally, away out in the infinite distance of the cosmos.” And on whose light and warmth we depend for our very survival. Who cannot continue to be amazed at the splendor and beauty of the sunrise and the sunset? O’Donohue describes one such occasion:
“Once in Mexico I went out fishing before dawn with a local fisherman. When we were well out into the ocean the dawn came up with all the beauty of a Turner painting.The horizon became one huge refined yellow and orange apocalypse. It was like a divine salute to all the submerged dreaming of the ocean.”
May Tevet be a month of quiet preparing for the birthing of new dreams and opportunities for growth!