10th of TevetBlog Posts

The Tenth Descent to the Tenth of Tevet

The Jewish year begins ceremoniously with the shofar blast of Rosh Hashanah (New Year), and continues to reach new climaxes with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). Despite a certain drop in energy during the month of Cheshvan, when there are no festivals, the scent of the festivals continues to accompany us until we move on to the third month of the year, Kislev. Kislev is illuminated by the Chanukah candles, which shine through the end of the month and include the beginning of the month of Tevet. The Chanukah candles symbolize the end of the light that shines from the festivals with which the year began. Then, we reach the month of Tevet and the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, the first of the fasts that commemorate the destruction of the Temple.[1]

The Tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem―then we begin to realize that there are dates in the Jewish calendar that are not such happy occasions…

The Lowest Descent

We might say that the Tenth of Tevet is the lowest descent. On Rosh Hashanah everything is pristine and clear, initial and pure, as if we stand on a mountain peak, breathing in deeply the fresh mountain air. Then, our prayers are at the highest possible level, as we pray to God, “Rule over the entire world with Your glory.”[2] But, it is difficult to stay at the summit of this spiritual mountain, and after the festivals we naturally begin to descend. The great lights gradually disappear, the feelings of holiness and spiritual uplifting wear away and it seems that we lose the spiritual energy that we acquired at the beginning of the year. The completion of this process is symbolized by the number ten, which always represents an end point. This is seen quite simply from our ten fingers, or in the decimal system where the number ten is the final number. In fact, the Tenth of Tevet is tenth from two directions: it is the tenth day of the tenth month (when we count the months from Nisan). Some years, the Tenth of Tevet actually falls on the one-hundredth day of the year and one-hundred is ten squared (102). So, we have descended all ten levels and reached rock-bottom. It seems appropriate then, that the Tenth of Tevet represents the entire process of destruction, since it was on this day that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, began a siege on Jerusalem―the beginning of the end of the first Temple.

Chassidut teaches us that every phenomenon on the national plane is also reflected on the personal plane. This is why the Tenth of Tevet should be explained not only with reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in their literal context, but also to the events that occur in our psyches. Once we have constructed the Temple in our souls, the physical Temple on Mt. Moriah will also be rebuilt. The same is also true from the opposite perspective: once the Temple is rebuilt, the light of the Divine Presence will illuminate our hearts, as the verse indicates, “And they shall make for Me a Temple and I shall dwell within them”― “within them” in the plural, meaning that God will dwell within the Jewish People. [3]Every one of us has an inner Jerusalem in our heart―an inner point of perfect fear of Heaven.[4] This point of Jerusalem within our hearts is aroused on Rosh Hashanah, but gradually disappears, until the lights are finally extinguished on the Tenth of Tevet. Parallel to this on the national scale, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple are the climax of the connection between the Jewish People and the Almighty. Yet, we see that immediately following the dedication of the first Temple by King Solomon, a process of spiritual descent began that ended with the siege and the Temple’s destruction. In recent years, it has also become the practice to mention the dreadful Holocaust, which we cannot imagine any night darker than its black shadow.

When Descent becomes Positive

So, what is the purpose of this descent? Why do we fast on the Tenth of Tevet? Is it to wallow in sadness and depression, just to shed tears over reaching a low point? Not at all! A fast day is a day that arouses us to rectify the situation from below, as Maimonides[5] writes:

There are certain days when all the Jewish people fast because of the troubles that took place on them. [This is] to arouse the hearts and to open the paths to repentance and this should remind us of our evil deeds and those of our ancestors, which were no better than our own deeds, so much so that that they brought upon them and upon us these troubles. Because, by remembering these things, we will return to do good…

Since every fast is intended “To arouse the hearts and to open the paths to repentance,” let’s note the type of arousal that is especially suited to fast of the Tenth of Tevet. We have already seen that the fast of the tenth month is a phase of descent and we can learn from this that we must find the particular path to repentance that we have access to on this day. The key is to transform the descent itself into something good. How can this be achieved?

Intermingled with any emotional state of arousal is something superficial and not completely authentic. When our heart beats with enthusiasm and strong feelings throb within us, there is always a sense of self that feels these emotions and often they are not one-hundred percent authentic. These emotions usually include a touch or more of wild imagination, or an attempt to reproduce something that is not genuinely our own. They may well be accompanied by self-excitement, to a certain extent, which produces an artificial experience of spiritual ecstasy. Within such a dream-like uplifting atmosphere, one floats somewhere above the ground and above one’s own character. Many of the lights that we reach in this state do not become our own personal acquisition. In order to make them our own, we need to descend with them to the lowest possible level, to surrender our spiritual ecstasy, put aside our imagination and remain somewhat “dry.” When we succeed in doing so, we reach the most profound level of our inner selves that is the essential “me” without any embellishments. A process of descent such as this is the true healing of a person’s soul, a sort of “psychological diet,” that disposes of all the excess fats and reveals our strong, healthy bones and essence. So, after the first one-hundred days of loving-kindness in the year we must complete our psychological diet by fasting on the Tenth of Tevet. Instead of a negative fall, we need to descend to a positive level at which we succeed in bringing down all the grand lights that we experienced previously to the ground-level of our souls. On the Tenth of Tevet we must return to God in a way that does not anticipate great lights. We just need to descend to mundane reality and to the essential level of the soul and simply begin to serve God from that level.

On the national level, Jerusalem was rebuilt and the Temple dedicated, with a magnificent beauty that has no counterpart. But retrospectively, it became clear that some of the great lights were not completely integrated by the nation’s inner essence. This is why it was necessary to go through a penetrating clarification process, as all the prophets cautioned. They were sent to return the Jewish People to the Almighty and they warned that the Temple should not be related to as a security certificate that is complete in itself and does not require any other service. In this context, the message of Tenth of Tevet is to work on the positive process of bringing the great spiritual lights into the world and realizing them in reality. Indeed, the sages describe the dwelling of the Divine Presence in the Temple as a positive descent: “When God created the world He desired that He have a dwelling place in the lower worlds.” [6] Sin banishes the Divine Presence from earth to heaven, while the good deeds of the righteous reconstruct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Temple, and succeed in bringing the Divine Presence down into the very lowest realms.

The exile of the Divine Presence from the Temple is described as the ten journeys that the Divine Presence traveled as it rose from the Holy of Holies in the Temple, until reaching its abode in the heavens. [7]The redemption is a renewed descent of the Divine Presence to the lowest reality; quite literally, as it is called, “A dwelling place in the lowest worlds.”

An Easy Fast

The Prophet Zachariah announced that all fast days that commemorate the destruction of the Temple will turn into joy and happiness, “The fast of the fourth month [17th Tamuz] and the fast of the fifth month [9th Av] and the fast of the seventh month [Tzom Gedaliah, 3rd of Tishrei] and the fast of the tenth month [10th Tevet] will be for the House of Judah joy and happiness and festive times.”[8] Even while we fast and mourn, we can already sense the future joy that is hidden in these days. In fact, these days were intended to be joyful from the beginning, “The end of the deed is in the original thought.”

In practice, the Tenth of Tevet is the easiest fast, because it falls during the shortest winter days. Some years, it falls on a Friday when we are busy preparing for Shabbat and hardly feel the fast at all. This indicates the simplicity with which we can transform this fast and sweeten it, by joining Friday to the Shabbat, which is “a taste of the World to Come.” By perceiving the destruction at its initial point, we can transform the negative descent into a positive descent, bringing the Divine Presence down into this lowest world.

Kingdom in Kingdom

According to Kabbalistic wisdom, we can easily perceive the abovementioned descent as a positive concept. In Kabbalah, the creation of the world is described as a long, complex, and complicated evolutionary process of descent from the infinite, spiritual Divine light down to depths of mundane reality in the world as we know it. The basic system that runs through this process is the fabric of the ten sefirot, of which the tenth and lowest is the sefirah of kingdom. Within the sefirah of kingdom exists an interinclusion of all ten sefirot, so all the sefirot are in fact finalized by “kingdom in kingdom,” which is the tenth of the tenth, exactly like the Tenth of Tevet, the tenth day of the tenth month.

Yet, although the system of the sefirot descends to the sefirah of kingdom, the lowest of them all, nonetheless, the descent is not one of negative decline and deterioration. On the contrary, it strives to fulfill God’s desire to reach the lowest point to which it is directed. The entire evolution of the spiritual worlds was intended to reach the lowest point, to reveal God’s kingdom within our superficial mundane reality that seems foreign to spirituality. The ultimate aim is to reveal God’s kingdom in all the levels of the world and in the consciousness of all creations. Then “God will be King over the entire world. On that day God will be one and His Name will be One.”[9] The extension of His kingdom in all His creations is a positive descent. Moreover, the root “to descend” (ירד) also refers to, “government and kingdom,” (as we find in various Torah verses). [10]

God’s kingdom is not just an abstract idea or merely a matter of acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our hearts. God’s kingdom appears in a very concrete garb, in the form of the kingdom of Israel. When the Jewish People is united in the Land of Israel under a rectified rule that follows the Torah, it becomes the Kingdom of Israel that serves as a throne to God’s kingdom in the world. This idea becomes apparent from the verse that refers to King Solomon, “And Solomon sat upon God’s throne as king.”[11]

The correct blueprint for constructing the kingdom of Israel appears as a three-stage process:[12]

  1. Rectifying leadership to the extent of coronating a king of Israel. He must be a righteous king who cares for his people, a descendant of King David, whose success will prove that he is the Mashiach.
  2. Victory over all enemies: this stage of war will culminate in the victory over Amalek, the archetypal enemy of the Jewish People, which will essentially be internationally eliminating all evil from the world.
  3. The construction of the Temple, reaching a golden age when the Divine Presence resides within the Jewish People, and through them, reaches the entire world.

The three dates that commemorate the destruction parallel the three stages of this process:

  1. The Tenth of Tevet, with the beginning of the siege over Jerusalem saw the nullification of Jewish kingdom in Israel.
  2. On the seventeenth of Tamuz, a hole was breached in the fortress that surrounded Jerusalem and the war spread to every corner.
  3. The remnant of the military ability crumbled on the Ninth of Av, when the Temple itself was destroyed.

Here too, our task is to transform the fast days to joy and happiness, therefore:

  1. On the Tenth of Tevet, the day of the tenth sefirah, a day when the Jewish kingdom was annulled, it is our task to reinstate the kingdom of Israel, by uniting the People around a rectified leadership that follows the Torah. This rectifies the descent, beginning from below, from the first and most fundamental level of rectifying the state’s leadership.
  2. On the Seventeenth of Tamuz we confront the military aspect of things, when it becomes apparent that Mashiach will be triumphant, without one battle and without shooting even one bullet (as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught).
  3. On the Ninth of Av, we are occupied with the reconstruction of the Temple which is a heavenly seal that results from our own work, “With fire You did ignite it and with fire You will reconstruct it in the future.”[13]

Adapted and Translated from the article entitled “The Fast of the Tenth Month, from the book, Maayan Ganim (מעין גנים), Vol. Bereishit (בראשית)

 Photo: Southern steps to Temple Mount, Jerusalem

[1] The Fast of Gedaliah (3rd Tishrei) precedes the Tenth of Tevet in the calendar, but chronologically speaking, the Fast of Gedaliah was the fast that culminated the destruction.

[2] Rosh Hashanah prayers.

[3]  Exodus 25:8. Reishit ChochmahSha’ar Ha’ahavah ch. 6.

[4]The main letters of the words, “inner fear of Heaven” (יִראַת שָׁמַיִם שְׁלֵמָה) are an acronym for “Jerusalem” (יְרֻשַׁלַם).

[5]Hilchot Ta’anit 5:1. .

[6] Tanchuma, Naso 16.

[7] Rosh Hashanah 31a.

[8] Zachariah 8:19.

[9]  Zachariah 14:9.

[10] E.g., Genesis 1:28; Numbers 24:19.

[11] I Chronicles 29:23.

[12] Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim (Laws of Kings).

[13] From the addition to the standing prayer (amidah) on the Ninth of Av.

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