This essay, based upon Mishnas HaRav Shamshon R.
Hirsch zt'l, was printed in Hamodiah in Poltova in
5672 and was signed with the pen name of Ben Ari.
Autumn is over, gone is the winter, with its
slumber, dormancy and hibernation, the time when the earth
and myriads of its denizens await the rejuvenation of spring.
The shrieking of storms and the wailing of winds has abated.
Frost has defrosted and snow has melted away. An invigorating
breeze sniffs its way across vale and dale and the sun makes
its majestic reappearance to shine bright with vigor and
Slowly, the brown earth becomes covered with green tufty
carpeting studded with a changing tapestry of colored
wildflowers. Sap seeps upward from the roots into tree
trunks; branches, twigs, and new green shoots appear. Fat
buds burst into blossoms, and leaves and life are on the move
again. New sounds are heard in the air: the twittering of
birds, cheeping of ravenous fledglings, land creatures large
and small, insects; everything has come alive. The world is a
song of praise, a tribute of joy and exultation from all
creatures to their Creator.
Man cannot help being affected by the seasonal changes in
nature, whose fluctuations pluck and vibrate sympathetic
chords in his soul. He mourns every withered bud, is saddened
by each abandoned nest and rejoices with the brilliant sun
and the glowing moon. His heart sings along with the
melodious nightingale and feels the resurgence within himself
as the world glides into growth, exuberant in its being alive
and full of new vitality.
Yet, in the midst of this natural exultation, many thousands
of our brethren, Jews like ourselves, go about bowed, crushed
by their troubles, frozen in an icy sheath of worry and
despair. The renaissance all about them does not rouse their
sap or spirits, does not evoke natural joy. They are still in
the difficult throes of winter's clasp. Terrible storms toss
their spirits and heap figurative mounds of snow and ice upon
their hearts, into their homes. Evil pursues them without
respite, denying them any haven.
These were men like all others, subject to the illusions of
hope, of pleasant futures, of sanctuary and security. They
imagined rising success, reward for their toil, fruits for
their labor. But along came the relentless arm that grabbed
them by the nape and shook them into helpless submission,
that snatched away their blessings, uprooted them and flung
them far out to land upon distant soils. From land to foreign
land, sea to drowning sea, to suffering, homelessness,
And what was their hope, their aspiration? Not for the tables
of kings or the comforts of noblemen, not for luxuries and
pampering -- only for respite, a moment's peace and surcease,
a morsel of bread, clothing and shelter, rightfully gained by
their own toil and graciously granted by the ultimate
Provider of all living creatures.
But tribulation stalks them at every step, misfortune hounds
them at every turn. Traps, snares, hurdles, setbacks,
calamity, shame and abuse. They are shackled by restrictions,
limitations, oppressive measures, stifling in the very air
they breathe. Debts entangle them, sins inveigle them. Their
shame can no longer be hidden or erased. Their fate is
stamped and sealed.
They had hoped to see their offspring like the proverbial
olive shoots 'round their tables, blessed continuity, but
these turn a rebellious shoulder and go astray. Are these the
sons upon whom they pinned all their hopes, who were the end-
all of their toil and labor in this world, for whom they
sacrificed their very lifeblood, to nurture to proud
maturity? To fill them with wisdom, to pamper them, give them
the best of everything? But the sons sinned, rebelled, and
denied them. "You are not our father." And against Hashem, as
well, "You are not our Father." And they pursued the false
gods of the heathen culture which inflict far more harm to a
person and his home than the ravages of the Wars of Gog and
And as they stood thus in the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
exposed, helpless, they were soaked by the rains of outpoured
wrath and their flesh prickled with the cold. Their blood
would yet congeal like ice and they would be buffeted by
Then would come the sun with its healing, caressing rays of
light and warmth. The trees of orchard and pasture would
release their fragrance and offer up their beauty and whisper
lovingly. Bees would buzz in welcome and birds would trill in
But melancholy still gripped them in its embrace and
depression engulfed them. Worry would gnaw away and squeeze
tears through the corners of their eyes.
There is hope for the dormant tree and balm for the buried
grass. There is a season of spring for the bird and rebirth
for all insects.
And for the Jewish people, lost and dismayed, agonized,
struggling, forlorn and forsaken -- for them is there no
spring, no rebirth, no hope and no restitution? No light and
To you, my unfortunate brothers, the
Torah calls out: "Remember this day that you went out of
Egypt." "Today you are leaving in the month of spring"
Oppressed and crushed were our ancestors in Egypt. Their
necks were bowed and their will broken. Their evil
taskmasters imposed all kinds of work upon them, in the house
and the field, harsh, back- and spirit-breaking. They cast
their sons into the Nile and destroyed the family structure.
The Jews were blamed for all of the country's ills, and even
for the king's own disease they were made to pay in blood --
the blood of their children, in which he bathed for balm --
as we are told in the Midrash that he was advised by
his sorcerers. The Jews were tortured by their harsh masters,
and retired at night to wallow in blood and hover between
life and death. They were downtrodden by their merciless
masters, the arrogant Egyptians. And they sighed in pain and
cried out to Hashem, a hoarse rattle/cry of death.
Hashem passed over them. "And I saw you wallowing in your
blood. And I said to you: through your blood shall you live."
This was the blood, the sighs, the cries, the birth travail.
And after the crucial moment -- the nation was born.
And He took it unto Him and it lived to become the Jewish
people. Living, enduring, inhabiting the world through
millennia among the other nations, rising and falling,
budding and withering, facing death but not succumbing to the
fear of death. Not afraid of death because it had already
overpowered it in the inception of its nationhood, because it
had been resurrected from death, had already experienced all
the ills and plagues that befell other nations and races till
perdition -- before it was ever born.
And the One Who said to this nation: Rise up and live! is
none other than the Eternal One Who exists forever. Hashem is
the Master of all nations: at His will they spring into being
or perish, are crushed or healed, are lowered to the abyss or
raised on high. And He chose us as His people. The born one
died but He infused it with His living spirit and elevated it
to eternal life to become His own nation after the fall of
man, in order to grant him life after death. This people
would fulfill His will freely, acknowledging Him as their
The moon would serve this suffering people as an omen and
symbol. See? "This month is for you." This moon, which wanes
steadily, diminishing itself until it altogether disappears
from sight, will renew itself. It will wax round and full
again until it is garbed in its former silvery glory and
majesty. True, it will wane once more until it disappears,
but will ever reappear and renew itself to illuminate the
And toward the end of time, its blemish will be made whole
and full forevermore, never to be again extinguished. Then
the light of the moon will vie with the light of the sun and
the light of the original seven days of Creation, as it was
before it was diminished.
This month is for you, it is your model and symbol, says the
Midrash. Thus are you, My sons. If you are reduced,
almost to the point of nothingness, you will surely spring
back and rise, and grow, and increase and be exalted to the
heavens. And if it is fated for you to be again diminished,
you will yet be renewed to a new glory, full and brilliant to
illuminate the entire world with Hashem's light and to
glorify your Creator, in Whose honor you will bask.
To you, dear brothers, does Hashem cry out, at each recurrent
cycle of spring. "It is for you the first of the months of
The counting of the world begins in Tishrei, the autumn,
which gradually turns into winter. Cold, frost, ice, storms --
until the coming of the spring, beautiful spring. Summer
ensues with its natural blessings and bounty, only to return
the year to its original cycle. Void and emptiness, darkness,
withering death, dreary existence. The circle begins with
Tishrei -- and ends with it. It begins with a lacuna and ends
with it. Its commencement is in darkness -- its finale,
Not thus are your years. They begin in Nisan and end in
Nisan. Spring. Vitality. Renaissance for the entire Creation.
Nature eases itself into a cloak of verdant glory, and the
empty void is suddenly filled with trills, with an exuberance
of all living and growing things that rises to embrace the
very air, the very heavens. It climaxes in summer, when silos
are stuffed full and vineyards burst with purple goodness.
And if this bounty is followed by deficiency, and light by
darkness, if fall and winter recur with their frightening
gales, sleet and freezing, these will slip away with the
resurgence of the sap of spring when the world springs back
to life. The Jewish year derives from the light -- and
aspires to reach the light at the end of its yearly route,
knowing that it will arrive at the starting point with
Year after year, as the earth shakes off its wintry shackles
and celebrates the onset of spring, Hashem beckons to His
oppressed folk, to the sighing, suffering multitudes, the
huddled, despaired masses yearning for hope, and He enjoins
them: "Guard the month of spring, for in it did you exit from
the land of Egypt." "It is the first for you from the months
of the year." For you it is the first and the last.
And even if the winter be long and harsh, if the days of evil
seem endless and darkness envelops everything, the spring
will surely come. Sibilant winds may whistle, shriek, howl,
storms will shake the world, but you, Israel, will stand
fast. You will endure and never be removed. Yours will be the
last laugh, as nations perish and you survive to flourish and
burgeon to splendor.
Go forth, you persecuted poor, unfortunate and uncomforted,
and witness the trees of garden and forest! See the trees in
bloom, where not long ago they appeared dead, desolate,
hopeless, naked. Throughout the winter, the sun shunned them,
and they stood in misty darkness, buffeted by storms, by
winds from all directions that snatched off their crown,
snapped off their branches, cracked their trunks with spears
of ice and claimed them for their own with their white sheath
of snow and ice. These trees knew no respite during the fall
But those seasons passed and the trees sprang back to life.
What did they lose in the battle? Some leaves? But new ones
have already sprouted! Some twigs and branches? But those
were dead wood! The strong branches held fast and survived
the wind and frost. They bent and bowed in all directions,
suffered the storms, but they remained connected to their
source, just like those Jews who would not be severed from
You, the true and stalwart, who walk about with bent heads
and bowed backs, may think that the ranks of the true are
being diminished and decimated while those of the rebels are
increasing. Not so!
True, many are those who lack the strength to defy the
storms, who succumb to the difficult trials, who fear that
they are doomed. But can you sustain such a terrible thought?
That hope is lost? You may mourn the loss of the rebels, but
must never lose hope for the faithful! Weep, yes, weep for
those who have lost their way and will never return, but do
not lose hope for the small remnant which will survive!
We will survive without their numbers, but they, alas, will
perish. The coming generation will be rebuilt from those who
survive the trials and emerge strong and true. They withstood
the storms and were not tempted by the beckoning of the
wicked. They were not misled, not sidetracked, but remained
on the right path. They are a healthy, stalwart generation,
purified, forged with strength and resistance, like the tree
planted by streams of water, nourished by the water
Come the spring, they will blossom forth with strength and
splendor and will expand. The very sensations which Hashem
implanted in the Jew at the time of the first national birth,
during the exodus from Egypt, those thoughts with which He
enlivened their spirits and revived their hopes, the destiny
which He painted for them, and the gifts with which he
enriched them at their inception as a new national entity --
these are the selfsame aspirations and feelings, the manifest
destiny, in which the everlasting Jew glories, which impel
and fortify him.
These sensations are molded within his soul, and they expand
and glow and uplift him. They are his innate heritage, to
help him survive and suffer and endure all hardships until
that time that Hashem, our G-d, passes before all mankind to
review its wallowing wickedness, its sinful sinking.
And He will call out to Israel: Live! And then will the
glorious acquisitions be shared by all of mankind, and spring
will burst forth in an eternal, everlasting rebirth, for