We bentch Rosh Chodesh Teves on Shabbos, Erev Chanukah, with Rosh Chodesh falling on Yom Shishi, Friday, the sixth day of Chanukah. Six of the thirty-six lights kindled on Chanukah represent the number of days of the Yom Tov we celebrate in Kislev, with the balance of thirty corresponding to the thirty days in Teves – one of the dreariest and darkest months of the year.
We fast on Assara b’Teves, the tenth of the month, marking the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem. On the eighth day of Teves the Greeks forced the Sages of Israel to translate the Torah into Greek, casting a spiritual darkness upon the Jewish people. The lights of Chanukah lit during Teves serve to illuminate all of its days and nullify the forces of evil.
The attribute of the month of Teves is rogez (anger), numerically equivalent to yirah (fear). Yiras Hashem (fear of Hashem), a lofty objective we continuously strive to achieve, transforms the negative element of Teves into positive, spiritual fulfillment. A total of fifteen lights are lit in Teves, on the last two nights of Chanukah. Intriguingly, the mispar katan (reduced numerical value) of fifteen (1 plus 5) equals six. With the insertion of that one letter – vav (six) – the month of Teves would become tovas, goodness.
The Capricorn (Teves’s zodiac sign) native is disciplined, serious and responsible, though prone to depression. The ayin, the letter by which this month was formed, symbolizes the evil influence of Eisav. The tribe associated with Teves is Dan, indicative of severe judgment (din). Conversely, the eye (ayin) that influences the heart has the capacity to subdue the evil inclination and thus mitigate the harsh judgment. The gedee (goat), the symbol of Teves, is equal in numerical value to tov (goodness). Indeed, those born under the sign of the gedee are survivors, despite their pessimistic tendencies.
Tzaddikim whose yahrzeits are observed in Teves include Avrohom Avinu (1 Teves); R’ Chaim Shlomo ben R’ Yehosef – Koson (6 Teves); Ezra HaSofer (9 Teves); R’ Moshe ben R’ Dovid Biderman – Lelover Rebbe (13 Teves); Reuven ben Yaakov Avinu (14 Teves); R’ Yaakov ben Wolf Krantz – Dubna Maggid (17 Teves); R’ Tzvi Elimelech ben R’ Pesach – Bnei Yisaschor; Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon – Rambam (20 Teves); Shimon ben Yaakov Avinu (21 Teves); R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi – Baal HaTanya (24 Teves); R’ Shmuel ben R’ Avrohom Borenstein – Shem MiShmuel (24 Teves); R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and R’ Pinchas ben R’ Chaim Hirschprung (27 Teves).
Reb Tzvi (Hersh) Elimelech Shapira of Dinov was born to Reb Pesach and his wife (the niece of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Reb Zusha). Reb Tzvi Elimelech was a revered posek hador and gaon who authored several highly acclaimed holy works. Prominent among the seforim he penned is the Bnei Yisaschor, a compilation of his penetrating observations on the Yomim Tovim.
The Bnei Yisaschor, as R’ Tzvi Elimelech became known as, was especially attuned to the Yom Tov of Chanukah. An extraordinary light of kedusha would envelop him at such time, as is reflected in his extensive writings on the holiday. Mystified as to the source of this predilection and rationalizing that he could not possibly be a progeny of the Chashmonayim, for he was not a Kohen, he decided to consult the Chozeh of Lublin who he felt could surely enlighten him. And enlighten him the Chozeh did… elucidating that R’ Tzvi Elimelech was a descendant of Shevet Yisaschor and had, moreover, sat on the Sanhedrin of the Beis Din of the Chashmonayim that originally instituted the Yom Tov of Chanukah. It was this revelation that compelled R’ Tzvi Elimelech to give his sefer on the moadim the title Bnei Yisaschor.
A fascinating story is told about one of his granddaughters. Rivkale was an esteemed tzadeikes, born to Reb Tzvi Elimelech’s son Reb Shmuel and raised in the home of her uncle Reb Dovid (her father’s brother), as her father had passed away at a young age.
When Rivkale suddenly took ill in her early nineties, her only son, who lived a distance away, was summoned to quickly come to her bedside. As he neared his mother’s home, the sound of women sobbing emanating from within made him fear the worst. As he entered her room, Rivkale lifted her head and said that her grandfather, the Bnei Yisaschor, had just appeared to her and said, “I am your zeida, your father’s father, and I’ve come to assure you that if you will taste the food that has been prepared for the holy Shabbos, you will immediately regain your strength and will light the Shabbos candles.”
Though this was Friday, no food had yet been prepared for Shabbos due to the tumult pervading the household. The Shabbos challos had, however, been baked the previous day. As a piece of challa dipped in milk made it to the lips of the sickly Rivkale, she began to show immediate signs of improvement. She not only lit the candles that erev Shabbos but also partook of the Shabbos repast and went on to live for another couple of years. Her miraculous recovery was witnessed and documented by her young great-grandson who had accompanied his grandfather, Rivkale’s son, to bid farewell to their righteous forbear.
Some tidbits of wisdom contained in the Bnei Yissachar as relate to Chanukah: The numerical value of the four Hebrew letters of the dreidel that are an abbreviation for the words “nes gadol haya sham – a great miracle happened there” is 358 – which is also the numerical value of the word “Moshiach.”
As we’ve previously touched on in this column, the twelve shevatim correspond to the twelve months of the year. Tishrei, when the first Bais HaMikdosh was dedicated, is linked with Ephraim; Kislev, the month that saw the second Bais HaMikdosh rededicated, is associated with Binyamin. Ultimately, the darkness of Cheshvan will dissipate and a new light will dawn with the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdosh during Cheshvan, the month that corresponds to Menashe. The common trait of these three months is the shevatim representing them: all are of the children of Rochel Imeinu, the Akeres Habayis (the Bais HaMikdosh)!
This essay is dedicated l’ilui nishmas my dear mother, Sara bas Bentzion, a”h, whose 9th yahrtzeit falls on the 27th day in Teves. As I will light a yahrzeit candle, I will try to remember to express my profound gratitude to Hashem for having endowed us with the gift of parents who epitomized the noble characteristics of our elite ancestors.