Monday, December 10, 2007

Chodesh Tevet

The central point of the month of Tevet, other then the fact it starts on channukah, is not such a happy day. The 10th of Tevet is a fast day in which Jews commemorate the siege of Jerusalem where the Babylonian armies laid a siege on Jerusalem before destroying the first temple. In our generation, the 10th of Tevet is also the day which has been chosen by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as the day to say kaddish on for the millions of victims of the Holocaust for whom we do not know the day of death.

As the month of Tevet start and the 10th of Tevet comes closer, I thought we should explore together one aspect of how Judaism deals with suffering.

Let me start by quoting a teaching I have heard by Rav Mordechai Elon Shli"ta in the name of Rabbi Natan MiBreslev:
There is a famous teaching in the midrash which explains that God first tried creating the world with din, with the attribute of Judgement, and then realized that the world could not stand and therefore put into it the attribute of Rahamim (mercy). Most commentaries on that midrash as the obvious question: How is it that God could have made a mistake? However, Rabbi Natan, in Likutei Halakhot, asks an even more basic question. He asks:
I can understand that God decided to create the world with Judgement and Mercy. What I can't understand, is how can God even have the Hava Amina (thought) that the world, the way it is today, would be able to withstand some pure judgment? What was he thinking? Why did he want it that way?
Rabbi Natan explained: God told himself, you know there are two ways people can learn lessons. On the one hand, we can explain them nicely and slowly and nicely and slowly. Then slowly slowly they will understand and grow. This is the attribute of Rahamim. However, everyone here knows, with a little bit of hardships, we can learn much more than all the rahamim in the world. Sometimes, a little slap in the fact does more to wake us up than all the nice words.
Rabbi Natan explained that God wants to create the world in a way where everyone who needed a slap in the face would get. Ultimately, this formula would be for our own good. It would shoot us forward towards our final redemption. But the world could not withstand it and God had to combine the attribute of mercy.

From this whole teaching, we can start to understand the concept of "yissurim shel ahava" - Hardships which are brought to us out of love. This is one of the basic concepts we need to assimilate when dealing with suffering from the Jewish Point of view. Sometimes, for our own good, God needs to make us go through some tough times in order for us to grow, for our own good. This is similar to a parent refusing to give too many candies to his son - its for his own good, but the kid doesn't know just yet.

Another important concept is the realization of the process leading to a goal. We need to realize that all our lives, and all of human history, is part of this huge process which is eventually going to lead only to good. The typical reaction of a religious Jew dealing with hardships is to say "Hakol LeTova" - everything is for the good. This is a really amazing statement. It is not a blind statement as some understand it. We realize not everything is good. Some things are very bad! Yet, everything is FOR the good. In the greater schemes of things, our little hardship is here really to lead towards something good.

As we approach the 10th of Tevet, we need to learn how to mourn in a way which can bring us forward. I am not sure I know exactly how this is done because I think everyone needs to find the more productive way for himself. But when thinking of the siege of Jerusalem which brought the destruction of the holy temple and when thinking of the horrible Holocaust, both unexplainable and horrible horrible things, maybe our approach needs to be one of how to build from this destruction, how to find the good which comes out of this horror, how to learn the lessons which are thought by those nightmares. Hopefully, with this approach, our fasts will be productive and our resulting actions will help rebuild our nation and holy temple so that these days of fast can be turned into days of great joy, speedily in our days. more...

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

The best way to commemorate 10 Teves, as well as 17 Tammuz and 9 Av is to remember that the reason for the destruction of the Temple was Sinas Chinam and it is because of Sinas Chinam that we remain in Golus. Every one of the above mentioned fast days that passes is a reminder that we have not yet overcome this horrible sin. Perhaps we should spend the day remember that it is up to us to bring the geulah closer and we do that by treating all our fellow Yidden with respect and decency.