From the Mountaintop of Sinai to the Descent of Babylon

The 4th Month on the Jewish Calendar-Tammuz Part Two
From the Mountaintop of Sinai to the Descent of Babylon
Part of an Ongoing Series entitled Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface
Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Given

Review- Name of the Month and its Origin on the Jewish Calendar Is the name traditionally attached to this the 4th month on the Biblical calendar an abominable name…the name of a Babylonian god that HaShem detested? Yes, it most definitely is! See Ezekiel 8 as referenced in Part One of this article. Have the ramifications of Judah choosing to bring this reprehensible name back with them from Babylon and placing it on the Jewish calendar been far reaching in influencing the tragic events that have occurred down through the centuries within this month and the one to follow? Could any of these events have been averted had this choice not been made?

As we stated in Part One, we may never know but it is certainly a question to consider and confront whatever residual challenges we may face. Is this month truly a “bad” month as it has been labeled?

I don’t believe it has to be. Rebbetzin Heller as referenced in the previous article on this 4th month, says it is a month of challenge and confrontation. “Without challenge, she says, “there is no growth. Without confrontation, there is no way to see things as they are.” I agree.
The call of shuv/return continues to go out today as it has down through the centuries. The Hebrew calendar is cyclical…it goes round and round. The Jewish sages compare it to a spiral. As this month comes around each year the question arises once more… are we confronted with some of the same challenges as in the past year…in previous years? King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes1:9). Yes we often do find ourselves facing the same challenges, yet each year in the cycle we have the choice to rise above, to climb higher in the spiral…refusing to allow ourselves to fall into the same pitfalls over and over. “Choose this day whom you shall serve!”(Joshua 24:15)

Meeting the Challenge of the Month I propose that we concentrate on the present for that is all we really have…the past is over, the future is yet to come. We can certainly remember and learn from the past and we can take heart in the encouraging words from Kol Bochim, The Crying Voice (a Kabbalistic commentary on the book of Lamentations), “Everything no matter how dark or seemingly bad, has the ability to turn around!”

As we start here in the present let us keep this positive idea in mind in conjunction with the fact that each of us on this planet was created with a uniqueness all his or her own, a thumbprint so to speak, unlike any other. We were each created in the image {צלם} tzelem and the likeness d’mut {דמות}, of HaShem our G-d and Creator, YHVH, the One and Only G-d above all gods! (See Genesis 1:26-27). So we each have a little piece…a ‘spark’ of the Divine within that connects us to our Creator, our Source!

I would like to propose a challenge, one that will help to fortify us for this month and the one to follow so that we can stand strong and resolute…Nitzavim!

Nitzavim – a Personal Story Nitzavim – from Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:5 describes how the Children of Israel stood before HaShem at Mt. Sinai. The meaning of this word was vividly demonstrated to me personally by 6’4” Uri Ben Ari, a secular Jew and head of the American sector of a large Israeli cosmetic and skin care company that I worked for a number of years ago. When I told Mr. Ben Ari that Nitzavim, Deuteronomy29:5-30:20) was the Torah portion being read in synagogues the week of my conversion, he abruptly arose from his casual sitting position and stood upright, straight and tall…all 6’4” inches of him, and said, “Nitzavim! Nitzavim! Stand tall, stand firm!!! That is the message to you, Betty…to all of us… that is what we must do!”
Yes, stand firm! Know Before Whom We Stand! These words are often inscribed above the Ark containing the Torah in the synagogues. These are beautiful words, but how do we practically live them out day by day?

The First Step- Coming Home! Come home…come home to yourself, come home to who you are, to your true essence, your authentic self…not the self you perceive or desire others to see, but the self that HaShem sees, the self that He created you to be…

In the words of Devarim 4:39, we find the riveting words, “Know today and return it to your hearts that HaShem He is G-d!” If we are instructed to “return it to our hearts,” the implication is that it was once in our hearts, correct? So was it in utero as the sages suggest…and perhaps further embedded in our hearts at Sinai? (See Deuteronomy 29:9-14). We know that when HaShem created us, He placed a pure soul within us, a spirit that will one day return to Him. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

One of the long established tenets of Judaism is that we answer a question with a question, so let’s ask ourselves…how do we “come home” to the pure soul that HaShem created us to be? How do we “return “that concept to our hearts? What does it entail?

One of my longtime favorite concepts that HaShem placed in my head long before I knew anything about Torah is the term G-d Consciousness. I truly believe that this is the key to not only knowing HaShem, but to knowing ourselves…to becoming transparent before Him. But how do we get to that place where we have that Divine Consciousness, where we bring Him into every aspect of our lives and are transparent before HaShem? Bringing it down a level, how do we get to know another human being? If I wanted to get to know you for example, what would you suggest that I do? Spend time with you, listen to you, and learn what is important to you…what makes you happy, what hurts you, what you like to do, etc. Yes, this is communication, right? And communication goes both ways. So how do we carry on this communication with our Creator?
First, we have to get to Know Him and in knowing Him, acknowledge His Oneness. One way is through reading His Word and letting it penetrate our hearts, our minds, our souls…and then taking these words with us throughout the day and praying with King David, “Open my eyes HaShem that I may behold wondrous things in your Torah.” (Psalm 119:18) It has been said that when we study Torah, HaShem talks to us and when we meditate and pray, we talk to HaShem. Rav Dror says that when we pray, we need to talk to HaShem like we talk to our best friend…we open ourselves up…we become transparent…we bare our souls so to speak before Him; but He already knows us through and through…so what is the purpose really of prayer, of meditation? Prayer is poignantly described as the “innermost longing of the soul,” in the introduction to the Sephard Edition to the Artscroll Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book).

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefillah which comes from the root word pillah meaning to judge, to clarify, to differentiate, and to evaluate. The Hebrew verb for praying mitpalal and is a reflexive verb, indicating that the one praying is acting upon oneself. Therefore its purpose is to draw us out of ourselves and our perception of who we are and to help us come to grips with our true selves, and remain focused so that we can be honest and humble as we walk before Him. (Micah 6:8)

Prayer and meditation bring us to that “Secret Place,” under the Wings of the Almighty, the place described so eloquently in Psalm 91, where in the midst of darkness and distress, we can know with full assurance that He is there with us because we have given ourselves to Him and are devekut (stuck like glue), bonded to Him. He is our Protector, but He is also our Assurance and our Mainstay (from the Weekday Amidah, 12 Benediction-Prayer for the Righteous)
We each have our own “secret place,” not a physical place, but a spiritual place deep inside ourselves, a place where Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls the place “where Heaven and Earth touch, ”that special place where we can communicate with our Creator, the place where our spark is once again reignited, rekindled as we connect with Him. My secret place is not the same as yours, nor yours the same as mine. But when we are there, we are home. The world around us may be in turmoil, but we are at peace.

But how do we maintain this when the storms hit? We stay in Torah and wrap our days in prayer…as if we are wrapping ourselves in a giant prayer shawl, a tallit… His tallit, His covering… where we receive protection beneath the Shadow of His Wings! (See Psalm 91). We invite Him into our lives…beginning in the morning light and continuing through the day, and as we lie down on our beds at night. In the beautiful words of Psalm 42:9 we read, “By the light of day, HaShem will command His loving-kindness, and even in this night His song, the song of the Unseen One, is with me, a prayer unto the G-d of my life.” As the darkness encompasses us we are not afraid for we know that He is with us.

Seeing in the Dark –Transforming the Darkness into Light

In Beresheit 1:1 we read, “In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was void and without form and darkness/ chochech was on the face of the deep. And a wind from Elokim moved over the surface of the waters. And Elokim said, let there be light and there was light. And Elokim saw the light that it was good, and Elokim separated the light from the darkness. And Elokim called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” The light always follows the darkness!

In the poetic words of King David beginning in Psalm 6:7 and continuing through verse 10 we read, “I am weary with groaning all the night. I make my bed to swim. I water my couch with my tears”…”yet HaShem has heard my weeping, He receives my prayers!” King David had found the “secret place” to meet with His Creator. We must learn to SEE in the DARK…past the darkness! The question is how? How do we do that? We do that by maintaining that G-d Consciousness which helps us to keep in mind that in the midst of the darkest night there is the promise of the coming of each new morning; and with the morning, the light will reappear! In Psalm 30:6 we find the poignant words, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

HaShem said that “it is not good for man to be alone.” He placed us in families and provides us with friends and communities for a reason. By acknowledging that His light is there, we can let it light up the darkness around us. With just one little spark coming from one little candle we can light up a whole room! When my world is dark you can bring in your light and it will shine and light up my darkness; and when your world is dark, I can do the same for you…and together with the help of HaShem we can light up the entire world!

Yes, it is easy to see HaShem in the dramatic fire of Sinai, but it is a whole other level of maturity to see Him in the darkness! This is our challenge for this the 4th month and the 5th month which follows…the saddest two months in Jewish history.
So let us rise to meet that challenge. Let us hold hands, stand strong, Nitzavim and encourage one another to learn to see in the dark, to delve deep and discover those “hidden sparks beneath the surface” so that even the slightest sliver of good becomes visible to us in the midst of the darkness; and we through the help of HaShem can lean on one another and have the strength to rise and shine and transform the darkness that has characterized this month through the ages into Glorious Light! Baruch HaShem!
Stay tuned for the next section: The Three Weeks – the Saddest Period in the Jewish Year
By Elisheva Tavor/aka Betty Tabor Givin – 7 Tammuz 5780

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