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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Articles on the 10th of Tevet

Tevet and the Seasons of the Year

Equinoctial periods, because of their balanced nature, are fit to bear sanctity. Therefore, these periods contain most of Israel's Festivals. However, there are other times of year less sympathetic to Israel - periods marked by poles in cold or heat.
Dedicated to the memory of
Revital Bat Lea
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We are now in the Hebrew month of Tevet, the month in which winter reaches its height. This brings to mind that which is written in the Noah Torah portion, where God promises never again to curse the earth because of man. There, He divides the year into seasons:

"So long as the earth remains, sowing time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22).

God establishes natural laws for nights, days, seasons. What should we make of these terms? This verse is explained in two ways:

In tractate Baba Metzia (106b) we are told that there are six annual phases here, represented by the words "sowing time," "harvest," "cold," "heat," "summer," and "winter." And this is how they are divided:

1) the second half of Tishrei, all of Marcheshvan, and the first half of Kislev - "sowing time"
2) the second half of Kislev, all of Tevet, and the first half of Shevat - "winter"
3) the second half of Shevat, all of Adar, and the first half of Nisan - "cold"
4) the second half of Nisan, all of Iyyar, and the first half of Sivan - "harvest"
5) the second half of Sivan, all of Tammuz, and the first half of Av - "summer"
6) the second half of Av, all of Elul, and the first half of Tishrei - "heat"

This is the division according to the wording of the verse.

However, we are familiar with a simpler division - not into six seasons, into four: sowing time, harvest, cold, and heat. The Tishrei season is called "sowing time"; the Nisan season is called "harvest"; the Tevet season is "cold"; and the Tammuz season is "heat." As for summer and winter (which are absent in this reckoning), Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer explains that the verse means to tell us that these two periods will ever correspond to the appropriate times of year, not that they constitute formal seasons as such.

At any rate, according to the one division Tevet is called "cold," and according to the other, "winter." So, we are now at the height of cold and winter, during which the nights are long. What is interesting is that in this month Israel was visited with its first major national tribulation, marked by the fast of the Tenth of Tevet (Ezekiel 24:1): "And in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Son of man, write the name of the day, of this same day; the king of Babylon laid siege against Jerusalem this very day."

The Maharal of Prague explains that it is no coincidence that Israel's trials began during the coldest part of the winter - in Tevet - and reached their finale at the height of summer - in Tammuz and Av. Just as we have celebrative days at certain times of the year, so too some days are fit to bear sanctity and others are not. (see Netzach Yisrael, ch. 88)

The equinoctial periods of Tishrei and Nisan, because of their balanced nature, are fit to bear sanctity. Therefore, these months contain most of Israel's Festivals and special days. However, there are other times of year less sympathetic to Israel - periods of poles in cold or heat.

It is interesting that in Temple times, when the Rabbinic Court would intercalate Hebrew months by adding an extra day when necessary, they would not send out messengers to sanctify the month of Tevet. This was because they did not want to grant permanence to the fast of the Tenth of Tevet. Perhaps, they hoped, days of peace will will come and nullify this fast.

Tevet, then, reflects a beginning of hardships, and we pray to see the day when we will be able to erase these hardships from Israel, a time in which even the equinoctial periods will harmonize with Israel, as the prophet Zachariah says:

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the house of Judah; therefore love truth and peace" (Zachariah 8:19).

The "fast of the tenth" refers to the fast of the Tenth of Tevet which is in the tenth month.

May it be God's will that we duly seize upon these days of fasting and soul-searching to ascend and sanctify ourselves and thus merit an era of "truth and peace."And when this happens we shall surely merit the restoration of the Holy Temple, speedily in our days, Amen.
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Some of the translated biblical verses in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

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