By: Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin
All of the months are interrelated, each connecting to the next in the cycle of the seasons, the ‘round’ of the year…set up by The Creator from the beginning for our benefit to make up what we call time…like a beautiful string of pearls…each is significant to the whole…and each carries within it a special spark that lies hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered!
We have come through the glorious High Holidays of Tishrei, followed by the quiet contemplation of Cheshvan and the introspection of Tevet when we have the opportunity to discover the value of looking backwards and living our lives forward…and in so doing we open ourselves up to see the hidden tov (the good) and the Providence of G-d working behind the scenes.
Now we come to the 11th month on the Biblical calendar, the month of Shevat; and with eyes and ears wide open we are ready to continue gathering those hidden sparks that lie just beneath the surface.
The name of our month, Shevat stems from the word shevet which in Hebrew means a stick, a rod, a staff, a branch, also a tribe, a symbol of authority as in a scepter. Picture in your mind a long line, a shevet…extending out and down through the generations, branching out like a family tree.
Looking back to the time of the matriarchs and the patriarchs, we see clearly that their purpose was to extend this long line, this shevet…down into the lives of their children, dor v’dor, from generation to generation as put forth in the Shema…teaching them to love HaShem their G-d with all their hearts and to serve Him in all their daily activities…from the time they wake up until they go to sleep at night. (Deut. 6:4).
One such visual example is beautifully seen in the traditional 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…and then he passes it on to the grandparents and parents who then pass it to the Bar Mitzvah boy as he takes on the obligation of becoming a Son of the Covenant.
The concept of shevet actually began prior to the giving of the Torah to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. It began with Avraham, who is referred to as the friend of HaShem. In Isaiah 41:8, we read, “But thou Israel art My servant, Yaakov whom I have chosen, the seed of Avraham My friend.”
Why was he chosen? In Gen.18:19 HaShem says, “for I know him that he will command (or teach) his children and his household.”
So it was not only his children that he taught. He also taught 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 one, 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 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 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; they hold the scepter. (Gen. 49:10), but the Torah is for all humanity.
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, 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 for all to see…and like the Torch in the Olympic Games, they continue to pass it on down through the generations.
That means that the shevet, that long line of Torah transmission has come all the way down to us today through the shevatim, by means of those faithful ones who have gone before us…inviting us to heed the clarion call 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). Become One stick in My Hand (Ezek 37).
We know that there will come a day when 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)
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!