Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar 5759 - March 17, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The Month of Spring
by HaRav Yitzchok Isaac Eliezer Hirshkowitz zt'l

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 might.

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, restlessness, despair.

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 Magog.

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 gales.

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 sheer joy.

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 no joy?

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" (Shemos 13:3-4).

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 Master.

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 darkness.

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 year."

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, darkness again.

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 renewed vigor.

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 and winter!

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 their Father.

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 vapors.

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 everyone, forevermore.

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