Friday, December 30, 2011

Vayigash - deep tikkun

What is the root of the problem that caused Yosef to go down to Egypt? What is the deep tikkun that is accomplished through the entire story?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Running time: 16:23

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kever Yosef visit last night

Teves - month of Nesirah

Whenever one wishes to understand the character of a month, the first thing to examine is the holiday schedule of that month. Since each month represents a spiritual force coming into play, that force is most clearly expressed through the days of note that are present in that month.

If we look at the structure of the month of Teves, we note that there are two outstanding aspects. The first is that we have the tail end of the holiday of Chanukah, which straddles the end of Kislev and the beginning of Teves. The month of Teves thus begins with the climax of Chanukah - the seventh and eighth days of the holiday. The final day of Chanukah is referred to as 'Zot Chanukah,' which means, 'This is Chanukah.' This reference indicates that the final day of Chanukah is when we fully recognize the miracle of the oil of the Temple menorah which burned for eight days. It is this culmination of the spiritual influx of the holiday which starts off the month of Teves.

When we look a little further in the month, however, we discover an expression of the exact opposite spiritual energy. Whereas the completion of Chanukah represents the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, and a renewed commitment to the Jewish people's relationship with Hashem, the tenth day of Teves is the date that marks the beginning of the downfall of Jerusalem, and the seeming loss of that relationship. This was the day that the city was surrounded and the siege was laid that would ultimately result in the destruction of the second Temple.

It is remarkable that this month contains two significant dates that represent such opposite extremes in the Jewish people's relationship with Hashem.

In order to understand this on a deeper level, we must again recall that all of the structures of time are composed of multiples of six. When we understand this well, we can find parallels between different places where we see this pattern repeating itself. Just as we find that the winter and summer months are series of six, respectively, so are the days of the week a series of six, followed by a seventh, which is Shabbat. Thus, if we look at the day of the week that corresponds to the month of Teves, we can discover something deeper about the character of the month under discussion.

In the series of six which composes the winter months, Teves is the fourth month. It therefore parallels the fourth day of the week, which is Wednesday. If we wish to understand the character of any concept, we must always look for the root of that concept as it appears in the Torah. The Torah is the spiritual blueprint of reality, and thus, we can find the core of any idea in the Torah, most specifically, in the first place where that concept appears.

The first mention we find of a Wednesday in the Torah is the fourth day of creation. The verses in Genesis (1:14-18) describe the creation of the celestial bodies of the Sun and Moon which took place on that day. Significantly, the Torah at first refers to them as 'the two great luminaries.' Subsequently, however, they are referred to as 'the great luminary that rules in the day,' and the 'minor luminary that rules at night.'

The Talmud in tractate Chullin (60b) makes note of the two distinct references to the Sun and Moon. Whereas the first reference seems to equate the two, implying that they were of equal size and importance, the second reference seems to indicate that they were different, the Sun being larger and greater than the Moon.

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi explains that this seeming contradiction indicates that something was happening beneath the surface on the fourth day of creation. He illustrates it with a homiletical story, which on the surface seems quaint, but actually contains a profound lesson.

He expounds and says that the first reference to 'the two great luminaries' actually implies that the Sun and Moon were originally created of equal size and stature. Upon seeing this, the Moon complained to Hashem, as it were, and said that 'two kings can not use the same crown.' The implication of the Moon's complaint was that there could not be 'two great luminaries,' or two rulers over the heavens, but rather, only one of the two could truly be significant.

Hashem responded to the Moon and said, "Diminish yourself."

The indication was that the Moon was correct in saying that they could not both be significant, and therefore, it was told to diminish itself.

The Moon, however, complained to Hashem, and asked, "Why must I diminish myself if my claim was indeed well founded?"

To this, Hashem responded with a consolation, saying that although it will remain diminished, at least it will appear alongside the Sun in the daytime, at certain points in the month. This would indicate its primacy, as the Sun never appears while the Moon rules at night.

The Moon was not consoled, and asked, "What value is my light during the day, when the Sun shines brightly?"

Hashem again tried to comfort it by saying that it will have its own unique significance, as the Jewish people will count their calendar based on the lunar months.

Again, however, the Moon complained that it is not the sole factor in the calculation of the Jewish calendar, as the lunar calendar is aligned with the solar calendar through the addition of a thirteenth month, seven times every nineteen years. Thus, the Moon does not have absolute significance in this context, as well.

The conversation continued until finally Hashem acknowledged the Moon and said that a special sin offering would be brought on His behalf, as it were, every Rosh Chodesh. This is the first of the month, the very day that the Moon is diminished. This sin offering would atone for Hashem, as it were, for diminishing the Moon.

Like many homiletic stories of the Sages, this story seems fantastic on the surface. On greater investigation, however, it conceals a most profound concept that is embedded into the very fabric of reality at every level.

In order to understand this, we must examine the concept of the Moon and what it represents, and we can then unlock the message of this Talmudic narrative.

When we analyze the nature of the Moon, we find that it is a celestial form that has no light of its own. All of its light is purely a reflection of the Sun's luminance. It is thus no coincidence that the calendar of the Jewish people is based on the cycles of the Moon. It is also not a coincidence that the Jewish people are given the commandment to base their calendar on the Moon at the very moment that they are on the threshold of the Exodus from Egypt, being forged as a nation.

This brings to the fore the fact that just as the Moon has no light of its own and only reflects the light of the Sun, so too, the Jewish people as a nation have no light of their own, as it were, and only reflect the light of Hashem and His Torah. Just as the Moon cycles, sometimes reflecting more, sometimes reflecting less, so too, the Jewish nation also experiences cycles throughout history, sometimes reflecting more of Hashem's light, sometimes reflecting less.

With this understanding, we can see that the conversation that occurred on that first Wednesday of creation between the Moon and Hashem is also a conversation between between the Jewish people and Hashem, concerning their relationship.

The dialogue between the Moon and Hashem took place on the fourth day of the week, and correspondingly, their is a similar exchange that takes place on the fourth month of the year, the month of Teves.

The month begins with the Sun shining on the Moon, so to speak, as we reflect the light of Hashem in the world through the lighting of the Chanukah candles, which serve as a reminder of the miracles He performed for us.

Even though the Jewish people are pleased to be shining Hashem's light into the world by recounting this miracle, there is an implicit complaint, which corresponds to the complaint of the Moon. The objection is that as long as one can see an obvious miracle from Hashem, we are not truly reflecting His light, because the source of the light is too overpowering. When Hashem reveals Himself in the world, it limits our free choice, and thus, instead of our relationship with Him being something we have chosen, there is an aspect of coercion, in a certain sense.

The paradox is that in order for our relationship with Hashem to be completely actualized, there must be a complete eclipse of that relationship. Hashem must hide Himself, as it were, in order to remove the compulsion that exists when His presence is apparent. Only then can we truly choose to enter into a relationship with Him.

In the account quoted earlier from the Talmud, the Moon is instructed to stop reflecting the light of the Sun, to 'diminish itself.' The fast of the tenth of Teves represents the beginning of the destruction of the Temple, and our seeming loss of relationship with Hashem. This precisely corresponds to Hashem's intstruction to the Moon to 'diminish itself,' as both represent an apparent decline in the relationship between the giver (Hashem and the Sun) and the receiver (the Jewish people and the Moon).

Incredibly, at the very moment that the relationship seems lost, when the Jewish people seem to be abandoned by Hashem, heaven forbid, and the destruction of the Temple is imminent, that is the time when they are no longer forced to shine His light, and instead have a chance to choose to reflect His radiance.

This concept is the root of the reason for the exile of the Jewish people into the diaspora, and the possible loss of faith that is the inherent danger as they are dispersed amongst many peoples and many foreign faiths. Although this is a great challenge, ultimately, it paves the way for the possibility for the Jewish people as a nation to actually choose their relationship with Hashem, to choose to reflect His light.

With this idea, we can understand why these two dates are commemorated in Teves, centering around the very middle of the six month series of the winter months. It is in the very depths of darkness that we have the greatest opportunity to choose the light.

Ultimately, we find that the Moon will return to its full state, as we say in the monthly prayer, Kiddush Levana, the sanctifying of the Moon. There we say, "May it be Your will, my Hashem, and the Hashem of my fathers, to fill the diminishment of the Moon, returning it to its unblemished state. May the light of the Moon be like the light of the Sun, and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before."

Similarly, in the service of Kiddush Levana, we pray for the day when the Jewish people will be renewed, like the Moon, and they will glorify their Creator, completely reflecting His light. This will occur in the time of the Messiah, which we await each day. That time will be one where each and every human being will choose to reflect the light of Hashem, entering into the most sublime relationship possible with his or her Creator.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Miketz - Pawn of Hashem

Why does Yosef treat his brothers so harshly? Does he still bear resentment toward them? Why is he so intent on bringing Binyomin down to Egypt with them? Why does he seem to be playing God?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Running time: 19:20

Sunday, December 18, 2011

22 Kislev

Today is the 22nd of Kislev. It begins what we could call the 'shloshes yemei hagbala' - the three days before Chanukah begins. As we noted in previous posts, Chanukah is the end of the buildup from Succos, and each day of Chanukah is exactly seventy days after each day of Succos. The last day of Chanukah ("Zos Chanukah") corresponds to Shmini Atzeres. As we have seen before, the concept of seventy is ten sets of seven, or ten weeks. The first in the set of ten is Keser, the transcendental realm, and it is embedded in the last of the ten, which is Malchus. Thus, the light of Shmini Atzeres is reflected in the completion of Chanukah.

Besides for this, there is also another significant series of time that is being completed, which also involves the 22nd of Kislev. The 25th of Kislev, which is the first day of Chanukah, is also precisely nine months after the 25th of Adar. The 25th of Adar was the day the world was created according to the opinion that the world was created in Nissan (see Maharsha Moed Katan 28). The nine months from the 25th of Adar until the 25th of Kislev are a period of 'fetal development,' or a full stage in the processes of time. On the 25th of Kislev, there is a realization of the potential that was inherent in the 25th of Adar. In the context of Chanukah, the world was created (as represented by 25th Adar) in order to reveal Hashem in the world, even in the darkest places and moments in history. That hidden aspect was revealed on Chanukah, nine months later. Because this aspect has been programmed into the calendar, we have access to a special light that is revealed each year, the light of Hashem being revealed in the darkness.

The first of the seven days of creation was the 25th of Adar, but, as we have seen, the series of seven is always the revealed aspect of a fuller series of ten. Thus, the 'hidden brains' of creation began on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of Adar. Today's date, the 22nd of Kislev, is precisely nine months after the 22nd of Adar, and therefore it is the culmination of the gestation period of that first hidden aspect (Keser).

It is also significant to note that just as in the ten weeks, the last of the weeks (Malchus) reflects the first of the weeks (Keser), this is the same with the nine months. The tenth month of gestation (Malchus), which is after the 'baby' is born, is the fruition of the first month (Keser). It is important to realize that although a child takes nine months to be born, the child is not called a 'ben kayama' - a viable entity - until it has completed the thirty days of its first month of life (or its tenth month since conception). This is the reason why we wait until the 30th day to perform a pidyon haben. In any event, the concept is that the tenth month is the completion of the series, and thus Teves, which Chanukah rolls into, constitutes the month where we see the full reflection (and remember we are just seeeing a reflection) of the creative aspect of Nissan of the previous year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vayeshev - Making of a leader

Why does the Torah stress that Yosef brought a negative report of his brothers to his father? Why does the midrash stress that all of his travails were a result of specifically this negative report? What is the meaning of the brothers' statement to Yosef, 'Will you be king over us?' Why is Yosef held to such a high standard when he asks Pharaoh's winebearer to remember him?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Running time: 21:44

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vayishlach - Keep the fire burning

How does one hold onto spiritual inspiration? How can one face the resistance of others, and oneself, when one is seeking that inspiration? What is the lesson of Yakov in his interaction with Esav?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Running time: 18:44

Monday, December 5, 2011

Keep the fire burning

One of my earliest memories as a child is awakening suddenly in the middle of the night, being brought by my parents out of the house, waiting in the car, and watching as the fire engines pulled up to our home. The scare was short-lived as the firemen discovered the source of the smoke in our home. The chimney of our fireplace, which was in use at the time, had been somewhat blocked by birds' nests, unbeknownst to us. The result was that the smoke had nowhere to go, and began to filter into our home, creating a potentially dangerous situation. The nests were summarily cleared, and our home once again returned to being its usual warm and smoke-free environment.

Recently, in pondering this event, I realized that it holds a powerful lesson for a healthy approach to ruchniyus.

Many of us are searching for something that will inspire us in our service of Hashem, something that we and our children can latch onto. In the face of the challenges that we as a community are confronting, the imperative to discover that inspiration becomes all the more pressing. We are looking for that fire that will warm our homes, filling up our lives and the lives of our families.

There are times when we believe we may have discovered that source of spiritual energy. Whether it is an inspiring Torah idea we have heard in a shiur, or it is a moving story that has caused us to stop and think, our new discovery can sometimes propel us forward and become a potential theme in our lives. We may often wish to share this idea with our spouse, with our children, and with others, and we sincerely attempt to live with the newfound knowledge we have acquired.

Suddenly, though, we can find ourselves encountering resistance. Here we are, trying to grow, trying to maintain the fire we have discovered, trying to hold on to that inspiration we have found, and others may not be as excited as we. We may even find our own fire starting to burn out, as we watch the smoke start to fill our lives. What is it exactly that serves as the birds' nests in the nimshal, and how do we clear them out so our inspiration can continue to burn brightly, remaining uncompromised?

To learn the secret to maintaining inspiration, we need to look to our avos hakedoshim for their personal example.

Yakov Avinu had been commanded by Hashem to gather his family and all of his possessions in order to return to Eretz Yisrael and begin the destiny of the Jewish people there. The promises Hashem had made to him years before, as he ran from his home toward Charan, would now begin to be fulfilled. He could also already see the beginning of the fulfillment of the brachos his father had given him, with the family he now had and the wealth he had amassed.

Yakov's return was a time of intense inspiration, as Rashi tells us (Bereshis 31:3), Hashem had promised that He would rest His Shechina on Yakov at this time. And at that very moment of his return, he was faced with powerful resistance in the form of Esav, who came out to greet his homecoming with four hundred armed men.

It is remarkably instructive to follow Yakov Avinu's approach to his brother's opposition. Firstly, if we look carefully at his tefillah at this perilous moment, we discover the surprising fact that he does not try to bypass nor deny his feelings, but rather, he is quite open and honest with Hashem about the emotions he is experiencing. He is not ashamed to admit that he is afraid of Esav, despite Hashem's promise of protection (See Rashi, Bereshis 28:15).

It is also important to note that based on Hashem's promise, Yakov could easily have decided to fight Esav and could have expected a miraculous victory. Yet, he completely gives himself over to the hand of Hashem, not even relying on any merits of his own to save himself. Furthermore,it seems that Yakov completely surrenders to Esav, giving him a lavish gift, and bowing to him seven times. Paradoxically, Yakov's seeming surrender earns him a complete victory to the point that not only does Esav no longer wish to fight, he even offers to accompany him and protect him.

Yakov's approach is a profound lesson in addressing the resistance we often encounter when we are in the process of spiritual growth. The fire of our inspiration is burning within us, yet there is something blocking the airflow, creating threatening smoke and opposition.

The first step is to use Yakov's strategy and acknowledge the resistance, which sometimes can manifest as a fear similar to Yakov's. We must be honest with ourselves and Hashem, even as we are aware that He is only interested in our best spiritual welfare. This could be comparable to the recognition that there is a bird's nest preventing proper air circulation.

The second step is to completely surrender ourselves to Hashem, not depending on ourselves in any way - whether it is our spiritual merits or our own hishtadlus. We turn to Him and ask Him for guidance. This could be comparable to calling the fire department, as the resistance we have encountered is too challenging to manage on our own.

At this point, the resistance that we have faced is released. Counterintuitively, this occurs through our seeming submission, and we find ourselves watching as Hashem transforms the conflict into peace, much as Yakov's submission to Esav transformed the latter's anger into love. Our willingness to acknowledge the resistance and to surrender to it takes the air out of the balloon, giving us the emotional space to redouble our spiritual efforts. The bird's nest is removed, and the airflow is once again restored, as the flame of inspiration again receives the life-giving oxygen it needs to continue to burn inside of us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gut Yontiff!

Today is the sixth of Kislev, which corresponds to the sixth of Sivan - Shavuos. It is exactly fifty days since the second day of Succos. As per the midrash, it would have been a holiday today, but Hashem instead placed Shmini Atzeres at the end of Succos.

Gut Yontiff!

Two articles on Kislev

I again wrote two different articles with the same theme that appeared in two different places, be'H. The first appeared on, and the second will be appearing in the Beltway Buzz magazine of DC.
You will notice that they both start and end the same (basically).

Here is the version:

The Autumn Triad
How the High Holiday season actually culminates with Chanukah.

When we think of the month of Kislev, we naturally think of the holiday of Chanukah that begins on the 25th day of the month. Looking on a deeper level, we can discern a thread that ties together the three-month period that consists of the months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev. We will also uncover a hidden connection between Sukkot and Chanukah.

If we carefully examine the structure of the year, we discern that the year consists of two sets of six months. One set begins with Tishrei, the month when we celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and continues until the sixth month of the set, which is Adar and the holiday of Purim. The other set of six months begins with the month of Nissan, when we celebrate Passover, and continues through the summer, culminating with Elul, the preparatory month for the High Holidays.

All the structures of time are multiples of six.

It is significant to note that all the structures of time are multiples of six. The day consists of 24 hours, which is four sets of six hours. Each hour consists of 60 minutes, and each minute consists of 60 seconds, both 10 sets of six. Likewise, the year itself is two sets of six months.

These sets of six can be broken down further into two groups of three. Generally, sets of three can be described as being a manifestation of the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's expansion of this concept in Sefer Yetzirah, p. 82). This means that the first aspect of a set of three is the initial concept. The second aspect is its polar opposite. The third aspect is the perfect synthesis, or balance, between the first two.

To understand this better, we can observe this pattern in many different contexts – for example, a debate between two individuals who maintain opposite opinions about a subject. The first person presents his opinion, and the second presents his opposing opinion. Generally, there is a certain truth that each side can agree to. While a kernel of truth is found in each of the respective views, one can find a higher truth which is a synthesis of the two opposing opinions.

Spiritual Synthesis

We can likewise discern this pattern in the months of the year. The months we have just passed through – Tishrei and Cheshvan, as well as the current month of Kislev – constitute a triad that functions in precisely the way we have been discussing. In Tishrei, we experience an intense opportunity for connection to God, as we ride the successive waves of the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. As Tishrei draws to a close, the inspiration of those festive days becomes a memory as we enter into the month of Cheshvan, which is the polar opposite of Tishrei.

As discussed previously, Cheshvan is a month which is devoid of holidays, and is described as “the bitter month.” It is a time when the natural state of the world is one of distance from spiritual light. It is a time when we are to search within the darkness for the light of spirituality that seems to have been extinguished.

With the advent of Kislev, we begin to see the synthesis between the polar opposites of Tishrei and Cheshvan. The spiritual light for which we have been searching is now discernible, shining deep within the darkness. There is a balance between the inspiration of Tishrei, and the deeper personal work that is necessary in Cheshvan when there is no outside inspiration.

By contrast, the Second Temple was devoid of open miracles and prophecy.

This synthesis is aptly expressed in the holiday of Chanukah which begins on the 25th of Kislev. It is then that we celebrate and relive the experience of the Jewish people during the time of the Second Temple. That period was characterized by a lower level of spiritual light. Whereas the First Temple period was characterized by daily open miracles, as well as direct communication from God through the prophets, the Second Temple period was devoid of miracles and clear spiritual messages. The Hellenistic way of life disdained the spiritual and glorified the physical, and many Jews fell prey at that time to a hedonistic view of life. It was at that very moment of spiritual darkness that a small group of Jews were able to see past the darkness and find a spiritual light that shone deep within, to be expressed in the miracles of Chanukah.

Here we see two extremes: the open miracles of the First Temple, and the apparent spiritual darkness of the Second Temple. They are brought into synthesis with the subtle miracles of Chanukah – the many who fell in the hand of the few; a miraculous light that would shine for eight days instead of only one. These accomplishments paled in comparison to the miracles of the First Temple, but they represented the synthesis between human efforts and the aid God would provide to animate those efforts. Within the darkness, there was a vehicle we as humans could create for God to reveal Himself subtly in the world.

Clouds of Glory

With this idea we can understand a deeper connection between the holidays of Sukkot and Chanukah. Sukkot occurs in the month of Tishrei, the month of inspiration in this three-month set. It is the holiday when we sit in the sukkah, which helps us relive the experience of the Jewish people as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, completely surrounded by the spiritual clouds of God's glory. This revelatory experience was one that we could compare to a gift that the Jewish people received at that time.

We experience the polar opposite in the month of Cheshvan that follows, when our connection to spirituality is hidden. This darkness, however, creates the opportunity for us to create that vehicle for God's transcendent light to appear through our own efforts. The light of spirituality which was originally given as a gift, after the Exodus from Egypt, is finally revealed through human efforts with the advent of the story of Chanukah. Although the revelation is more subtle, it is one that represents the synthesis between God's spiritual gifts and our efforts in being able to reveal and receive those gifts.

We can now see that the three months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev is a period of time which is about developing our relationship with God, starting with the moment of inspiration, continuing through a more difficult period which depends on our investment, then culminating with the fruits of that determination being revealed as the eight nights of Chanukah light that shine forth through the darkness of winter.

The Beltway Buzz version:

When we think of the month of Kislev, we naturally think of the holiday of Chanukah that begins on the twenty fifth day of the month. If we turn back to our discussion from last month's column, we will note that there is another aspect that is intrinsic to Kislev. Looking at it on a deeper level, we will also be able to discern a thread that ties together the three month period that consists of the months of Tishrei, Chesvan and Kislev. We will also uncover a hidden connection between Succos and Chanukah.

We previously saw that just as there is a fifty day period connecting the holiday of Pesach and Shavuos, so too there was to have been a fifty day period connecting Succos to Shmini Atzeres. Hashem decided, however, to place the holiday of Shmini Atzeres in closer proximity to Succos because of the difficulty it would entail for the Jewish people to return fifty days later, as the winter season would already be upon them. Thus we see that Shmini Atzeres should have been on the sixth day of Kislev, just as Shavuos is on the sixth day of Sivan.

Once we have established the parallel between these two periods of time, we can draw a conclusion as to the similarity between them. Just as there is a buildup from Pesach, when the Jewish people experienced the Exodus, until Shavuos when the Jewish people received the Torah, there is a similar buildup from Succos until Kislev. On the surface, there does not seem to be a significant event that occurs during this time. However, if we follow the chronology of the Torah, an interesting picture starts to emerge, that is clearly and intimately connected to the Exodus and the receiving of the Torah.

The Jewish people experienced the revelation at Sinai on the sixth of Sivan of the year 2448 from creation. Forty days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, Moshe was to come down with the luchos, however, the sin of the Golden Calf occurred on that day, destroying their chances of receiving that which represented their covenant with Hashem. A few days later, Moshe returned to Sinai for another forty days, pleading for the Jewish people's forgiveness, until the first of Elul. He again went up for a third set of forty days until Yom Kippur, the tenth of Tishrei, when he came down with the second set of luchos, and complete forgiveness for the Jewish people's grievous sin.

At that point, Moshe gave the Jewish people the command to bring their donations for the Mishkan, the place that would become a central location for their service of Hashem. The Divine Presence could reside, once again, on the Jewish people, because of Hashem's forgiveness for their sin, and their efforts to create a sanctuary for their relationship. The raw materials were gathered by the fifteenth of Tishrei, the first day of Succos, and all the work to create the parts of the mishkan was started on that day and was completed almost two months later, on the twenty fifth of Kislev. Although all was ready, the actual dedication of the Mishkan was delayed until three months later, the end of Adar and the beginning of Nissan. The twenty fifth day of Kislev would have to wait for its moment in the sun until many centuries later with the miracle of Chanukah.

With this chronology in mind, we see that just as there was a time of development for the Jewish people from Nissan to Sivan, as they left Egypt and prepared to receive the Torah, there was a corresponding buildup that occurred from Tishrei to Kislev, as they invested their time in preparing the materials for the physical structure of the Mishkan. If we compare the two time periods, however, we can note that there is a very stark contrast between them. Whereas the springtime period which characterized the time of the Exodus was one of spectacular miracles, the wintertime period was one of strong involvement and concerted effort on the part of the Jewish people. Both time periods witnessed Hashem's Divine Presence resting upon His beloved people, which symbolized His relationship with them. At first, however, the relationship was given as a miraculous gift. After their fall from the relationship, it was necessary for that very connection to be earned through their own efforts.

If we take a deeper look at the holiday of Chanukah, we can now see how it corresponds to this idea and fits beautifully into the period on the calendar we are discussing. The story of Chanukah took place during the time of the second Beis Hamikdash. Whereas the time period of the first Beis Hamikdash was characterized by daily open miracles and Hashem's Presence clearly seen, the second Beis Hamikdash lacked any open miracles, and even the Aron Habris was absent from the Kodesh Hakadashim. During the first temple, the relationship between Am Yisrael and Hashem was clear and apparent. During the second, it was difficult to discern. The first temple period clearly parallels the time immediately after the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt, when miracles were the norm. The second temple period clearly parallels the time when they fell from grace and lost their relationship, and had to earn that relationship again, through their concerted efforts.

If we focus on the three months of Tishrei, Cheshvan, and Kislev, we can see that this very pattern exists here as well. Tishrei is the month that we celebrate Hashem's Divine presence returning to the Jewish people, as the Succos remind us of the Clouds of Glory that protected us and returned to us as Hashem forgave us at this time. Cheshvan arrives, and we experience a type of estrangement in the relationship, as there is a certain distance, as represented by the lack of holidays and occasions to develop our relationship with Hashem. This is the period when it is up to us to spend our time building a place for Hashem to reside, as it were, the time when we are constructing the components of His dwelling here on Earth. Thus we have the first inspirational period of Tishrei, followed by dark period, Cheshvan, which is the time of our work and effort. Finally, Kislev is the month where we find the balance between these two extremes, where the work is completed, and ultimately, the miracle of Chanukah takes place, which represents the balanced relationship between our efforts and Hashem's involvement.

We thus see that Succos represents the inspiration for Hashem's Presence to dwell upon His people, and the months that follow represent our work to create a place for His presence, culminating in Chanukah when the work is complete, and the relationship has been formed as an interdependent reality. It is remarkable that each of the days of Chanukah is exactly seventy days after each of the days of Succos. The Maharsha in Moed Katan (28) points out that the 25th day of Adar, the day the world was created, is exactly seventy days before the sixth of Sivan, when the Torah was given. This teaches us that there is an intimate connection between two points on the calendar that are exactly ten weeks (seventy days) apart.

In light of our discussion, we can now see that this seventy day period which spans the three months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev, is a period of time which is about developing our relationship with Hashem, starting with the moment of inspiration, continuing through a more difficult period where there is a need for our investment into the relationship. This finally culminates with the fruits of that determination being revealed as the relationship begins to subtly shine forth with the eight nights of Chanukah light that shine through the darkness of the winter.

Vayetzei - Thanks and surrender

What can we learn from the names Leah gave her children? What is the progression we observe? Why does she thank Hashem with Yehuda's birth? What is the connection between thanks and admission (surrender)? How does one surrender when the ego is strong?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Running time: 24:02