The posuk chosen by the Bnei Yisosschor to symbolize the month of Teves is “Gadlu L’Hashem iti uneromemo shemo yachdov – Let us make the Name of Hashem great, together.” It would seem to be a strange choice in a month that should have had three fasts on the eighth, ninth and tenth to remember the translation of the Torah into Greek, the death of Ezra and the beginning of the siege of Yerusholayim, with no festivals except the tail end of Chanuka. It is, apparently, a rather gloomy month, so why choose a pasuk elevating the name of Hashem in His praise?
At the beginning of Parshas Shemos, we are told, (1:8), “There arose a new king in Egypt who did not know Yosef.” Considering that Yosef had been Prime Minister of Mitzrayim for eighty years and had been responsible for achieving for Pharaoh great wealth and power, clearly the posuk cannot be taken at face value. What does it mean? (See Rashi).
The posukim (1:11-17) go on to describe how Pharaoh began enslaving the Jews but amazingly, “as he afflicted, so they increased.” Pharaoh told the Jewish midwives to kill the baby boys but with enormous courage they, “did not obey the king of Mitzrayim.”
In Parshas Vayechi (49:12) Yehuda is blessed that, “his eyes will be red because of the abundance of wine and his teeth will be white because of the abundance of milk.” Kesuvos 111b darshans, “Chachlili eina’im miyoyin uleven shinayim mechalav.” The Jewish People said to Hashem, “The glow from Your eyes is better to us than wine and a smile from Your mouth is better to us than milk.”
The Abarbenel explains that when the kohanim say, “Yevorechecho Hashem veyishmerecho” during birkas kohanim, it refers to Hashem’s brocho to us of our physical needs, from which we have to be protected because an abundance can do us much harm, The next section, “Ya’er Hashem ponov eilecho vichuneko – May Hashem make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you,” refers to spiritual blessings; Hashem should give us opportunities to do mitzvos and learn Torah. So when the Jewish People were asking Hashem to show them a shining face rather than milk, they were saying that although we all need our physical requirements, Torah and Mitzvos are more important to us. As distinct from the rest of the world which puts a priority on enjoying the pleasures of this world, our priority is learning Torah, keeping Shabbos and Yom Tov, doing acts of chessed etc. If there is a clash between doing the will of Hashem and taking an easier path, doing the will of Hashem will always be our preference.
The release of R’ Sholom Rubashkin has been greeted with much joy throughout the Jewish world. But possibly more significant than the miracle of his release on the last day of Chanukah has been the emuna and bitachon he showed throughout his incarceration. He was imprisoned for the equivalent of a life sentence on the basis of perjured evidence at his trial, but we didn’t hear any words of bitterness from him. We only heard how everything was min hashomayim and that, just as Yosef was released from prison “in a blink of an eye” so he will be released by Hashem “in the blink of eye.” Many gave up hope but he was a beacon of bitochon b’Hashem for the rest of klal Yisroel. And indeed he was released “in the blink of an eye” to everyone’s joy.
In another story, a Jew in America left an asifa to avoid the danger of the new technologies with a determination to discard his i-phone with internet connection and buy a kosher phone. A short time later he was looking for employment when an offer came up with a starting annual salary of $100,000 with significant additions on the horizon. The job was more or less sealed when the head of the company told him that he would need the most modern i-phone for the job. The Jew said he only uses a kosher phone. A possible compromise of a heavily filtered i-phone was rejected by the firm and the job opportunity was lost.
A Holocaust survivor in Project Witness related how he was standing in line in Auschwitz when the Jew next to him was found ‘not standing straight enough’. A Nazi beat this Jew for his ‘crime’ but then to increase his “fun” ordered his neighbor, who was relating the incident, to continue to beat the other Jew. He refused. “I will not hit another Jew.” Despite a warning that he would suffer an even more violent beating if he continued to refuse, he remained steadfast. He was indeed beaten mercilessly and left for dead. Miraculously this hero survived his vicious beating and lived to the end of the war and beyond.
A Russian survivor of Communism’s spiritual holocaust who lives near to us and who insists that I squeeze in a twice weekly learning session with him straight after Shacharis, sometimes tells me of the time, before he even knew he was Jewish, that he and his father had a narrow escape from huge wild boar which were charging towards them in a Russian forest. He became a baal teshuva and now lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife and children.
Pharaoh “lo yoda es Yosef – did not know Yosef.” “Yoda refers to intimate knowledge. (Bereishis 4:1). He did not know that “as they afflict us, so will we increase.” He did not know that the Jewish midwives would have the courage to disobey him. He did not know about Jewish determination and resilience as exemplified by the heroes we have quoted. He did not know that we may enjoy wine and milk, but Hashem’s shining Face enabling us to learn Torah and keep mitzvos in all circumstances is far more important to us.
Teves is the month of Gadlu L’Hashem iti uneromemo Shemo yachdov – of being determined to make the name of Hashem great. True, the month contains tragedies but it also contains the seventh and eighth days of Chanukah whose Nesi’im were Efrayim and Menashe, Yosef’s two sons. And Yosef, who remained a loyal Jew despite all his trials, is our symbol of courage, loyalty and emuna so that we are inspired to follow his example. Teves, therefore, is precisely the month when all of us, in whatever our circumstances, can make the name of Hashem great, together.