The Infinite Connection from the Beginning of Time to this Day
Life is all about connecting…connecting to our ancestors, our families, our friends…connecting to our Source, to HaShem, the One G-d and Creator of the Universe and to His Torah and the cycle of the times and the seasons that He set before us from the beginning.
We have come through the glorious High Holidays of Tishrei, the quiet contemplation of Cheshvan, the miracles of Kislev and the beautiful Festival of Lights of the Hanukkah season…and now we are fast approaching the close of the pivotal month of Tevet whose name, spelled both backwards and forwards, invites us to look back to the past and forwards to the future…for it is in the contemplation of looking backwards that deepens and clarifies our understanding of who we really are and where we are going as we live our lives forwards in this journey as we call life.
This introspection can prove invaluable in the days ahead as we transition from the month of Tevet to our new month of Shevat and enter into the New Year of 2022 on the Gregorian calendar.
May our eyes be opened and may we benefit from all the lessons learned this past year and may we go forward in strength and confidence as we see more clearly the hidden tov (the good) the Providence of G-d that is always at work behind the scenes as evidenced in those “Hidden Sparks beneath the Surface.”
Shevat – Its Meaning, Symbolism and Background
The name of our month Shevat, stems from the Hebrew word shevet which means a stick, a rod, a staff, a branch, a tribe (or head of a tribe) or a symbol of authority as in a scepter. When the vast majority of us think of a rod or a staff we associate it with leadership and with that of the Prophet Moshe, the one man of whom HaShem referred to as having spoken to “face to face”(Exodus 33:11).
It was on the 1st day of this month of Shevat that Moshe reiterated all the words of this “Book of Torah,” to the children of Israel. Jewish tradition teaches that Moshe was born on the first day of Shevat and that this was also the day that he announced he was going to die and the selfsame day on which he appointed Joshua as his successor with a charge and a promise. He charged the people to “Be strong and of good courage…”an excellent piece of advice for our world today)…and promised that HaShem would go before them. (Deut. 1:3; 31:1-9).
The Link Between the Generations – Passing it Down
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory stated in a lecture on the month of Shevat, that “The most powerful link between the generations” is what he refers to as the ” tale,” the story of our ancestors, those who came before us . It is a story that becomes ours, one that we hand on as a sacred heritage from generation to generation “dor v’ dor,” to those who will come after us. Our identity he says “begins in the story parents tell their children.” And what is it that parents are to tell their children? What are they to teach them and how?
If we go back in time before Moshe, back to the time of Abraham we find ourselves asking the question, “Why did HaShem choose Abraham and for what purpose? The answer is twofold. HaShem says “for I know him that he will command (or teach) his children and his household.”(Gen. 18:19). HaShem knew and trusted Abraham…he called him His “friend,” and He had no doubt that he would fulfill His G-d given role to teach his children and carry on the promise of the blessing.
So we see that the concept of shevet actually began prior to the giving of the Torah to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. It began with one man, Avraham…who symbolically passed it down to his son Isaac and Isaac passed it to his son, Jacob, and Jacob to his sons who were representative of the 12 tribes of Israel…the 12 tribes who were to carry the shevet and pass it to their children on down through the generations, dor v’dor. In Isaiah 41:8 we read, “But thou Israel art My servant, Yaakov whom I have chosen, the seed of Avraham My friend.”
So it was with the matriarchs and the patriarchs. Looking back we see clearly that their purpose was to extend this long line, this shevet…down through the lives of their children, dor v’dor, from generation to generation as so beautifully put forth in the Shema…teaching them to love HaShem their G-d “with all their hearts, all their souls, all their everything”…and to serve Him in all their daily activities…from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep at night (Deut. 6:4).
One such visual example is beautifully seen in the traditional cherished Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony in the synagogue when as the Torah is taken out of the Ark and held by the rabbi, he recounts how it was given by the Hand of HaShem to Moshe and Moshe to the elders, the Elders to the Prophets and the Prophets it to the Men of the Great Assembly…and so on down through the generations. He then passes it on to the grandparents and the parents who then pass it to the Bar Mitzvah boy as he takes on the obligation of becoming a Son of the Covenant.
Take a moment to picture in your mind once again the significance of that staff, that rod, that “shevet”…which metaphorically extends down through the generations and branches out like a family tree for all to see.
Lech Lecha – from Abraham to Sinai
With that visual in your mind, think of Avraham who not only taught his children but also his extended family, his servants and his entire household. The Torah points out something quite extraordinary in Parshat Lech Lecha in the Call of Avraham for it says – that when he left Haran he took his wife, his brother in law and all the substance they had gathered “and the soul (‘nefesh’) they had acquired in Haran”(Gen 12:4-5). Note that the singular, “nefesh,” is used here to indicate that they were all echad or one…they were united in purpose, under Avraham their leader.
Let’s picture the shevet again…this rod, stick, symbol of authority…this long line extending through the lives of the Patriarchs and down through their children to the 12 Tribes of Israel and to Moshe of the Tribe of Levi, who through the Hand of HaShem led the Children of Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness to receive the Torah. This oneness or singleness of purpose of Avraham and the 70 soul (singular) is reiterated at Sinai. When the text states that Israel encamped opposite the mountain, the singular verb for encamped, וַיִּחַן, v’yichan is used, in contrast to the previous verbs (Exodus 19:2.)
The opening verse of Parshat Nitzavim says “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d–your heads, your tribes your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel”(Deut. 29:9.) The word used here is “shevteikhem,” your tribes. Rashi points out that this indicates the heads of your tribes” (the ones in authority who carried the shevet).
The Covenant – Sharing the Light!
The text continues in recounting those who stood before HaShem at Mt. Sinai to make covenant with Him…“your little ones, your wives, your strangers (“gerim”) and all those who are in your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” Verse 14 of Deut. 29 extends this covenant even further when it says that the covenant is not only with those who were standing there that day, but also includes “those not with us here today.”
That one long line that extends from generation to generation bringing the Torah to the world is not just for the Jewish people. The Jewish people, with Judah in particular are the shevatim for they hold the scepter (Gen. 49:10), but the Torah is for all humanity and its light is to be shared!
“In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men out of the nations shall take hold of the tzit-tzit of him that is a Jew, saying, we will go with you for we have heard that G-d is with you” (Zech. 8:23).
Having been given the authority and responsibility of teaching and guarding the Torah, they are its carriers, the ones designated not only to teach their children, dor v’dor, from generation to generation, but also to be “a light to the nations; to open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 41:6).
In bringing the Light of Torah to the nations they are to uphold it and lift it up like a”nes,”a banner, for all to see…and like the Torch in the Olympic Games, they have been faithful to continue to pass it on down through the generations…and time and time again their dedication to this precious Torah given at Mount Sinai has come at great cost not only to their own lives but also to the lives of their children. Has this passing down of Torah all been perfect? No, but no one can argue that it is the Jew who has made a meticulous all-out effort to ensure that these precious documents be preserved and passed down.
The Clarion Call – The Voice From Sinai
That means that the shevet, that long line of Torah transmission has come all the way down to us in the world today, in the year 5782, through the shevatim…even though at times, it is hidden deep within the recesses of the heart. Like a hidden spark beneath the surface, something within ignites when that clarion call reaches us…right where we are. That heartrending call that pierces our very being is going out to the four corners of the earth this very moment… that call of HaShem to His scattered children…the call that is repeated over and over in the Torah and the Prophets, “Return to me and I will return to you!” (Zech. 1:3) “Gather yourselves together!” (Zeph 2:1). THAT CLARION CALL, THE VOICE FROM SINAI IS STILL REVERBERATING ‘ROUND THE WORLD…can you hear it???
The resulting promise of hearing and obeying that call is that the heart (singular) of the children will be turned to the fathers and the heart (singular) of the fathers to the children (Malachi 3:23-24). We will become One Heart …no more animosity or jealousy between one another, between families, between the tribe of Judah and Ephraim (Isaiah 11:13) or any of the other tribes. Are you ready?
HaShem, in speaking through the prophet Ezekiel further reiterates this Oneness when He declares: “Behold I will take the stick of Yosaif which is in the hand of Efrayim, and the tribes of Yisrael and his companions, and will put them and it together, with the stick of Yehuda to form one stick and they shall be one in My hand ”(Ezek 37:19). ONE HEART, ONE STICK…that is the promise, but there is more!
“And in that day the House of HaShem will be a house of prayer for all the peoples)…” (Isaiah 56:7) and the promise HaShem made to Avraham will come to fruition when through him, “all the families of the earth will be blessed! (“Gen 12:3), Baruch HaShem!
As we look forward to that day let us use this month, the month of Shevat, to think on these things. May we continue to learn and grow and bless HaShem for His wonderful Torah and for the opportunity to carry it forth by teaching it, by guarding it and by bringing it into every aspect of our lives through living it each day; and in so doing extend its holiness by grabbing hold of that shevet that has come down to us today for in it lie the hidden sparks beneath the surface!
Shevet Part Two which will include the delightful festival of Tu b’Shevat-The Festival of Trees will be forthcoming. Can man be compared to a tree…if so, what is the lesson for us?