Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards – Tevet and More

A Time of T’shuvah /Return

By Elisheva Tavor

We live life forward but we see the role of Providence in our lives only looking back. This, says Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, is the meaning of HaShem’s words to Moses in Exodus 33:23 when Moses asks Him to reveal Himself to him, and He says, “You will see My back,” meaning, “You will see Me only when you look back.”

HaShem through the prophet Jeremiah speaks of this clarity in looking back when He says in Jeremiah 23:19, “Inthe latter daysyou shall consider it perfectly.

As we embrace the year new year of 2019 on the Gregorian calendar, it is noteworthy to mention that we are coming close to the end of the 10thmonth on the Biblical calendar referred to as Tevet on the traditional Jewish calendar 

Eventhough the name of this month, Tevet, has Babylonian rather than Hebrew origins, there are a number of rather striking things that the name in and of itself can teach us…the first of which is that it both begins and ends with the “t” sound and can be spelled both forwardsand backwardsand still be pronounced the same.

In addition, when written in Hebrew, תבֵ טֵ, we find that it has the same Hebrew root בֵ טֵ as the word “tov” meaning good! Roots in the Hebrew language are very significant for these roots not only form the basis of each word, but also lead to a whole plethora of interconnections between them.

Hence if we take the meaning of the root word “good, “and combine it with the concept of a looking forward, but also a looking backward as Rabbi Sacks suggests, we can gain a richer perspective and glean a deeper understanding of the events that took place both historically and those in our own personal lives. Like pieces of a puzzle coming together, as we look backwe are able to more clearly discern the Providence of G-d and carry it forward. 

Looking back to the beginning of the month of Tevet we discover that it always corresponds with the last days of Chanukah, the wonderful Festival of Lights. By internalizing the message of the ever-increasing lights of the menorahwe are reminded of the power of light over darkness, good over evil. We are as Rabbi Sacks so poignantly wrote, living life forward,but also looking backin order to more clearly see the work of Providencein our lives and in the lives of our ancestors and carry it forward to the present and beyond.

Looking backin Jewish history however, we find that the tenth month of Tevet, rather than being seen as a good month,has been seen as a very ominous month for it is associated with destruction as it marked the beginning of the 3 year siege of Nebuchadnezzar on Judea and the subsequent dispersion of the Jews of the Southern Kingdom of Judea to Babylon in the year 586 BCE.  One might ask, where is the good?

Going backan additional several hundred years to the year of 733 BCE, we find that the Ten Tribes of Northern Israel had already met their demise. After having disobeyed HaShem by forsaking the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and setting up their own altars in Tel Dan they were taken away into Assyrian Captivity to be subsequently assimilated and dispersed throughout the nations. Again, comes the question, where is the good?

We read in Deuteronomy 4:26 that even before the Children of Israel entered into the Land, Moshe prophesied that they would make idols and worship them and do evil in the sight of HaShem and go astray. Why?

In Deuteronomy 31:29 he prophesies, “For I know that after my death you will surely become corrupted and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you and evil will befall you.” This warning was repeatedly given by HaShem through His prophets but sadly their warnings met on deaf ears,leading to diaspora after diaspora and an exile that has not ended to this day.

Jeremiah 44:4-5 “Yet I sent you My servants the prophets, again and again, saying, ‘Oh do not do this abominable thing which I hate.”

Zechariah 7:11-12 “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing.”

Jeremiah 11:7-8 “For I earnestly forewarned your fathers on the day that I brought them up out of the land of Mitzrayim, to this day, forewarning them from morning till night, saying, “Obey My voice. Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked everyone in the stubbornness of their evil heart…”

Continuing in verse 10, Jeremiah known as the ‘weeping prophet’ continues to cry out in the name of HaShem saying, “they have turned theirback to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words; and they have gone after other gods to serve them: the House of Yisrael and the house of Yehuda have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.”

Looking back over the history of HaShem’s people, we see time and time again how they fell back into their old patterns and went astray because they failed to look back and learn from the error of their ways and those of the ones that had gone  before them. With disobedience there comes a consequence, but with the consequence HaShem always affords the opportunity for self-examination and t’shuvah (repentance and return).

This is where the good lies. It lies in the lessons learned and the t’shuvah which follows and in the promises given by the mouth of HaShem through His prophets…but we must look backwards in order to find it. 

The very name of the month of Tevet which shares its root with tov or good,as has been pointed out, indicates that even when it appears that all is lost, it is far from being lost, for HaShem and His Providence is always working behind the scenes to turn the evil into tov, into good,which in itself is an amazing life lesson for us both as individuals and as a corporate body of people who love our Creator. But there is a caveat in that there is a choice to be made; and the choice is ours.

It takes doing some serious introspection, to “see” this good; for when the events are actually occurring, staring us in the face so to speak, we are often so caught up and steeped in them that we lack the perspective to see anything else…so we have to look backto get a clearer perspective, to really see what has happened to evaluate what has transpired and where it has taken us and to figure out where we are going.

In these times of looking back, we are called upon to stop and take notice, to awaken from our apathy or our hurt or our pain or our fears and question whether we want to ride through history as passive travelers looking out the window as we take the easy road and allow ourselves to just go with the flow…(this is the age old path of assimilation…a slippery slope…and one leading to moral and spiritual decay)…or do we want to learn from our past and live and grow? The choice is ours.

As they were entering the Promised Land, Joshua admonishes the people“Choose this day whom you will serve.”(Joshua 24:14)

Today, more than ever, all the doors are open. As we enter into this New Year, we can choose the path of letting others define who we are or we can courageously define ourselves by choosing to seek HaShem, to do t’shuvah, to be a light and a blessing to those whom we meet on this journey.

HaShem admonishes the people through His prophet Jeremiah of old to “Stand on the highways and see and ask for the ancient path, where the good way is and walk in it.” (Jeremiah 24:16) 

II Chronicles 7:14, “If My people who are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land”(earth).

HaShem’s words through His prophet Moshe in Deuteronomy 30:1-10 are encapsulated in a white space in the Torah scroll. These heartrending words issue are a clarion call to all of His children through the ages and up to the present day.

Quoting from verses 1-6 …”And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations which HaShem thy G-d has driven thee and thou shall return it to your hearts that HaShem is your G-d, and thou shalt obey His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that then HaShem thy G-d shall turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, amongst whom HaShem thy G-d has scattered thee…”

It will indeed be a time of great joy for all of HaShem’s children will be regathered together. As the prophet Jeremiah states,” In those days and at that time, says HaShem, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together.”Jeremiah 50:4.

But this massive return is not limited to the children of Israel and Judah; the turning back to G-D has universal implications which involve not only physical DNA, but a DNA of the Heartso to speak, which includes all people.

Psalm 22:28 says that “All the nations of the world will remember and will turn to HaShem.” When will this turning happen? 

Zechariah 1:3 –“Return to me, says HaShem, and I will return to you.”

Isaiah 45:22- “Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.”

Joel 3:5- “All who call upon the name of HaShem will be saved!”

Psalm 145:18– “HaShem is near to all those who call upon Him, to those who call upon Him in truth.

These words and the promises of HaShem through Moshe and the prophets to regather all of His children and bring them home have echoed through the ages and are reaching our hearts and our ears today…there is an awakening going on in our world … people from all the nations are tuning in and returning to HaShem, the One G-D and Father of us all and to His Torah…and this is just the beginning! This is the “tov,” the good!

As we come to the close of 2018 may we look backwith eyes wide open and discern who we really are; we are children of the Most High G-D and Creator of the Universe! We are each unique, each a part of the puzzle, each with a special purpose and a role to play.

May we remember the message of the month of Tevet and count all our blessings as we carry all the goodness, all the “tov” inherent in this past year as we look forwardinto the next year. May we unite, gather ourselves together, engage in t’shuvah, and return to our G-D and Father as we continue to live our lives forward! May we go from strength to strength as we share His Light and make our lives a blessing.

From the series entitled Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface(Tevet II) by Elisheva Tavor, 23 Tevet 5779

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