The 10th of Tevet: Bringing heaven to earth

In recent generations, we have designated the Tenth of Tevet as a day of remembrance of those murdered during the Holocaust – the very depths of darkness.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, | updated: 23:38

Judaism Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
צילום: Gal Einai

Our year opens with celebration and the shofar call of Rosh Hashannah, continuing to the pinnacles of Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Even when the ordinary days of the month of Cheshvan come, the fragrance of the holidays still remains in the air. The month of Kislev is illuminated by the Hannukah candles, which lend their glow to the first days of Tevet, the end of the illumination of the entire holiday season.

And now, we have arrived at the Tenth of Tevet, the “Fast of the Tenth”, the first of the fast days that we observe over the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Now we discover that there are dates on the calendar that do not seem particularly joyous.

The Epitome of Descent

We can say that the Tenth of Tevet is the epitome of descent. On Rosh Hashannah, everything is clear and pristine, primal and pure – as if we are standing at the peak of a mountain, inhaling its fresh air and speaking in the loftiest manner possible, asking God to “be King over all the world in Your glory”. But it is very difficult to remain at the peak over time. It is only natural that we begin to descend. Slowly but surely, the great lights disappear, the feelings of holiness and elevation erode and it seems that we have lost the spiritual vigor that we had acquired.

The completion of this process is represented by the number ten, which always symbolizes a finishing point – from our ten fingers to the decimal system. The Tenth of Tevet is a double ten. It is the tenth day of the tenth month (when we count from Nissan). In some years, as in this year, the tenth of Tevet falls out on the 100th day of the year – ten times ten! If so, we have descended all ten steps and reached rock bottom. The Tenth of Tevet represents the entire process of destruction, for on this day, Babylon’s siege on Jerusalem began. This was the beginning of the end of the First Temple.

Every phenomenon on the national plane is reflected on the personal plane, as well. As such, we can explain the Tenth of Tevet not only as it associates with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but also as an internal occurrence in the soul. When we build the Temple in our souls, the physical Temple will be built on the Temple Mount.

When the Temple will be built, the indwelling of God’s Divine Presence will illuminate each and every one of our hearts, as is alluded to in the verse, “And they shall make for Me a Temple and I will dwell in their midst”. “I will dwell in their midst” – plural form.  In other words, God will dwell among all the Children of Israel.

Everyone has Jerusalem in their hearts. It is a point of consummate fear of Heaven. This Jerusalem in our hearts awakens on Rosh Hashannah, but is then again progressively concealed until the lights are extinguished on the Tenth of Tevet.

Parallel to this, on the national front, the building of Jerusalem and the Temple is the pinnacle of the connection between the Nation of Israel and God. But we see that immediately after the dedication of the First Temple by King Solomon, a spiritual descent began, ending with the siege and destruction. In recent generations, we have designated the Tenth of Tevet as a day of remembrance of those murdered during the Holocaust – the very depths of darkness.

Transforming the Descent into Goodness

What is the ultimate purpose? Why do we fast on the Tenth of Tevet? In order to sink into sadness and despair? To shed tears over our descent? Not at all! The purpose of a fast day is to “awaken the hearts and open the paths of teshuvah” in the words of the Rambam. What awakening is the most fitting for this day of the Tenth of Tevet? We have seen that the fast of the tenth month is a time of descent. Now we have to find the special path of teshuvah that opens specifically on this day, and turns the descent itself into goodness. How?

Not every descent is negative. There are positive descents, as well. When we are aroused by some exciting experience, when our hearts beat with enthusiasm and strong emotions are streaming through us, there is something external and not entirely truthful that is mixed in. Is the emotion one hundred percent true and not counterfeit? Or is there more than a bit of false imagination, impure imitation or artificial self-aggrandizement? Within the dreamy, uplifting atmosphere, we float a bit above the ground and above our personalities, as well. Many of the surrounding lights do not become our authentic acquisition.

Thus, we must descend and then descend even more. We must surrender our spiritual ‘high’, put our imaginary achievements aside and remain a bit ‘dry’. This is the way to reach the more eternal and essential part of the soul – the part that is really me – with not external additives. This process of descent is true healing for a person’s soul. It is a type of soul-diet that does away with all the extra fat and brings all the strong, healthy bones to the forefront.

In the same way, at the end of the year’s first hundred days of grace, we have to end the diet with a fast day, the Tenth of Tevet. But instead of stooping to deal with negative deterioration, we busy ourselves with the
The message of the Tenth of Tevet is to busy ourselves with the positive process of bringing the great lights down to their actualization here on the ground of reality.
positive descent that draws all the great lights down to the earth in the soul – and doesn’t leave them to glimmer outside us. On the Tenth of Tevet, we must return to God in a way that knows not to wait for great illumination, but instead, to descend to simple reality and the essential ground of the soul and to simply get to work.

On the national level, Jerusalem was built and the Temple was dedicated with supreme grandeur and beauty. But retroactively it became clear that some of those great lights had no internal, essential coverage. Thus, it was necessary to embark upon a process of penetrating clarification, as echoed in the words of the many prophets who warned Israel not to mistake the Temple for an insurance policy that made hard work and rectification unnecessary.

The message of the Tenth of Tevet is to busy ourselves with the positive process of bringing the great lights down to their actualization here on the ground of reality. Our Sages describe the descent of the Shechinah, God’s Divine Presence, into the Temple as the epitome of positive descent: “When the Holy One, Blessed Be He created the world, he desired a dwelling place in the lower realms”. Our sins drive the Shechinah from our world up to heaven, while the consummately righteous souls, with their good deeds and with the building of the Tabernacle and the Temple, bring the Shechinah back down to earth.

The exile of the Shechinah from the Temple is depicted as ten legs of a journey that the Shechinah travels as it leaves – from the Holy of Holies until it reaches its place in Heaven. The redemption is renewed descent of the Shechinah down to the ground of our reality, a true “dwelling place in the lower realms”.

The Tenth of Tevet is the day to get down on the ground and start working!