The purpose of this article is to search for meaning in the occurrence of three important events in Jewish History in the month of Iyar: the War against Amalek, Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence and the Six Day War . The article was originally written in Iyar 5733, a few months before the Yom Kippur War. Avraham Reiss, Jerusalem, Nisan 5754.
The Shulchan Aruch cites a list of days upon which it is fitting to observe rites of mourning because of disasters that befell our ancestors on those days. The Shulchan Aruch finishes by saying that “in the future, G-d will transform these days into days of rejoicing”.
Closer study of the circumstances preceding the death of Samuel, reveal to us that it was not by mere chance that these two events (Samuel’s death and the return of Old Jerusalem to Israeli ownership) occurred on the same date.
The Gemara (Masechet Ta’anit) tells us that Samuel requested from G-d that King Saul (who was anointed by Samuel) would not die during Samuel’s lifetime, in the same way that Moshe and Aharon did not live to see the death of their successor, Joshua.
G-d then asked: "What shall I do? Samuel does not want King Saul to die first, and if Samuel dies now people will say he died young because of sins [Samuel was 52 when he died, the Gemara tells us], and if neither of them die now the time for the Monarchy of David to begin will have arrived, and no two Monarchies are allowed to encroach upon each other’s decreed time span by even so much as the breadth of a hair."
G-d therefore said: "I will make him look old". (Samuel will die now, but he will become aged-looking before he dies, so people will not say he died young because of sins).
We see from this that Samuel’s death was brought about with the express purpose of expediting the Monarchy of David. The 28th Day of Iyar, the day upon which the city of Jerusalem, David’s capital, was returned to the Jewish Nation, to the State of Israel, is obviously a great milestone in the final stages of our final Redemption.
The aforementioned Gemara explains that the whole purpose of removing the Monarchy from Saul and transferring it to David, was because of King Saul’s failure to destroy the descendants of Amalek.
In order to increase the depth of our understanding, we ask here two questions:
(1) Why was Saul chosen as king in the first place, when he was not of the House of David, or of the Tribe of Judah, from where a king must be chosen?
(2) If already chosen, why was only a partial failure in the war against the descendants of Amalek considered sufficient reason to remove the Monarchy from Saul, and to transfer it to David?
All this is even hinted at in Saul’s very name, says the Shlah; Saul, in Hebrew, Sha-ul, means "borrowed", and hints that although the Monarchy of Israel belongs to a descendant of the tribe of Judah, it was "borrowed" by Saul in order that he should vanquish Amalek’s seed. When Saul failed to kill all of the Amalekites as commanded, by leaving their king alive, he had failed in his mission, and there was thus no longer a reason for allowing the Monarchy to be personified by one who was not of the tribe of Judah.
However, we must still ask why the mitzvah of destroying all remnants of the seed of Amalek is regarded as so important that for this purpose the monarchy was at first awarded to one who was not of the tribe of Judah?
As a simplistic answer, we could say that the matter had already been decided by our Sages when they said in the Gemara:
"Israel were commanded to perform three mitzvot when they entered the Land of Israel:
1. To appoint a king
2. To destroy the seed of Amalek
3. To build the Temple in Jerusalem"There, the Gemara states that these three mitzvot must be performed in the above order, and the Rambam brings this as a decisive halachah.
According to this, we could simplistically state that King Saul, by not completing the mitzvah of destroying the seed of Amalek, was hindering the process of performing the third mitzvah, the building of the Temple. The second mitzvah had not been performed in its entirety, since Saul had left some Amalekites alive, and so the Temple could not yet be built.
This could be regarded as sufficient reason, at a simplistic level, for removing Saul from the monarchy.
(Incidentally, since Saul was not of the tribe of Judah, one might say that the first mitzvah, to appoint a king, had not been performed in it’s entirety either, for the mitzvah of appointing a king requires that he be of the tribe of Judah).
Given all of the above, we would still like to know why it is that the mitzvah of destroying the seed of Amalek is regarded as being so important, that it has the power to impede the building of the Temple? What is there in Amalek, what does he represent, that the existence of his seed and memory is so strong that it can prevent Israel from attaining its highest aspirations?
The Torah says of Amalek asher karcha baderech – "how he met you by the way". Rashi takes the word karcha – "met" or "happened to" you – and says:
"the word ‘karcha’ is connected in meaning with 'mikreh', 'a sudden happening'. Another explanation is: it is connected with the term 'keri', nocturnal pollution, and uncleanness … "We also find that when G-d meets Bilaam, the word 'happened' is used: "And G-d happened to meet Balaam …", which prompts Rashi to comment:
“This is an expression ordinarily used to denote events of a casual character, an expression for something shameful, an expression for an unclean happening (keri) …".The Midrash also says here (Bilaam) that "happened" is used as language of Tumah, Spiritual Uncleanliness.
We wish to unite all of Rashi’s commentaries, by saying that they are in fact facets of one, single truth. “Happening”, chance meetings, are the opposite of belief in Hashgacha – Divine Supervision or intervention, G-d’s control over events. When one says that something “happened”, he is in fact saying that “chance” rules the world, that there is no predestined action, that events could have equally been otherwise.
Spiritual uncleanliness and chance, both originate in the denial of belief in G-d’s active presence in this world, by attributing events that occur to mere chance happening. The war of Amalek, i.e. Amalek’s attack upon Am Yisrael when they left Egypt, came at a time when Am Yisrael was questioning G-d’s presence and control in the form of Hashgacha Tivit – Natural Supervision, i.e. supervision by natural means. Am Yisrael had doubts about G-d’s ability to act through nature, in a "hidden" mode of Divine supervision. All this was expressed by them in their saying hayesh HaShem bekirbeinu, im ayin – is G-d in our midst, or not?
The Netziv of Volozhen explains that the generation of the Exodus and the Wilderness was used to the occurrence of open miracles, and to Moshe’s intervention on their behalf whenever they sinned or wanted for something. They were now doubting whether after Moshe’s death they would benefit from G-d’s hidden supervision over them.
The original war against Amalek thus came to show that an enemy can be vanquished by natural-appearing means, and that even without Moshe’s open intervention and miracles (smiting the rock, the brass snake, etc) G-d would continue his supervision – Hashgacha – via natural appearing means.
Amalek represents the "chance happening", the belief that all is attributed to chance, that there is no Divine Control over this world, the very antithesis to belief in G-d.
This lack of belief, kefirah, in Divine Intervention, Hashgacha, is the direct opposite of "veshachanti betocham" – "and I will dwell in their midst", whose ultimate expression is G-d’s dwelling amongst us here on earth in the Temple, which cannot come about as long as there is any form of objection or interference.
In Masechet Avot ("The Ethics of the Fathers") we learn that 10 miracles occurred to our fathers in the Temple in Jerusalem. Upon examining these miracles, we find that the last two occurred throughout Jerusalem and were not limited to the specific area of the Temple:
"a snake or scorpion never caused damage in Jerusalem, and no man ever said ‘there is no room for me to stay in Jerusalem'".
The Gemara asks why this Mishnah begins by discussing events unique to the Temple, and ends by including miracles common to all of Jerusalem, and in fact concludes that these latter two miracles should be replaced in that specific Mishnah by two other miracles unique to the Temple itself – this, without denying the truth of the latter two miracles.
However, in Avot DeRabbi Natan we do in fact find ten miracles that occurred to our fathers in Jerusalem – all of Jerusalem, and not only within the confines of the Temple area.
On the verse (Exodus, 17,16) "Because the hand is upon the throne of Y-h, war from the Eternal with Amalek from generation to generation" Rashi says that the word "throne" is written in Hebrew as kes rather than kisei, i.e. it is written in an incomplete form, signifying that G-d’s Name and Throne are imperfect in this world as long as Amalek has not been blotted out.
Jerusalem is called elsewhere kisei HaShem, the Throne of G-d, and after completing the mitzvah of removing all remnant and remembrance of Amalek in this world, we attain the level of hidden hashgacha, Divine supervision expressed thru nature and thru natural occurrences, in Jerusalem, as demonstrated by the ten 'natural' miracles that occurred in Jerusalem at the time of the Temple.
And this is the reason why Moshe chose not to fight and vanquish Amalek in a miraculous manner as were fought other wars, but rather he chose to send Joshua to lead the battle, and to win in a natural-appearing fashion, in order to demonstrate the workings and full capabilities of G-d’s hidden supervision, hashgacha.
We would now like to examine the special meaning of the month of Iyar. Why did a number of historic events vital to stages in our Redemption as a nation (Independence, the Six Day War and events we will yet add to this list) occur in the month of Iyar? What is the significance of this month?
In the preceding paragraph we said that Joshua was sent by Moses to fight against Amalek in order to demonstrate the existence and workings of G-d’s hidden supervision, hashgacha, in this world.
An additional reason for Moses’ selection of Joshua to lead the war against Amalek, we find in the book Bnei Yissachar. There, we learn that Joshua was sent to fight against Amalek since Joshua was of the tribe of Efraim, of the sons of Joseph. Joseph is likened in the Torah to a bull, (Hebrew shor) as in the verse "the first-born of his oxen is comeliness to him, his horns are as the horns of a bull" (Deut. 33,17), and the likeness appears also in Genesis 49, 22 (bnot tza’adah alei shor).
The signs of the Zodiac found in many cultures are also recognized by Judaism, and thus we find that Taurus, the sign of the Bull, is related to the Hebrew month of Iyar, which generally corresponds with its gentile counterpart, May. And so it is, that Joseph, who was likened to a bull, has a specific month related to him, a month in which his powers are regarded as being at their highest. This is the month of Iyar.
According to all we have said, it is fitting here to point out that on May 31st 1962 around midnight, the State of Israel executed Nazi mass-murderer Adolph Eichmann.
The Hebrew date corresponding to 31st May 1962 was the 28th of Iyar.
Exactly five years later, on the 28th of Iyar, the IDF captured the Old City of Jerusalem, thus returning it to Israeli sovereignty.
In the eulogy delivered at Theodor Herzl’s funeral by the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi A. I. Kook, ztz”l, he mentioned that in our generation the Zionist movement is the force of Mashiach ben Yosef. Judaism has the tradition that the Mashiach ben Yosef will precede the final Mashiach – Mashiach ben David – and will deal with all the external, physical aspects of our Redemption and Salvation.
The book KolHaTor (written by Rabbi Hillel of Shklov, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon) describes the strength and force of Mashiach ben Yosef as a force that operates through nature (as opposed to being miraculous in fashion).
In relating Joseph to the "sign" – Taurus – of the month of Iyar, we are acting in consistence with the relating of all of the twelve tribes to the twelve "signs" of the twelve months of the year, by our Sages.
The Midrash says:
“In the same way that the heavens cannot continue existing without the twelve 'signs' (of the twelve months), so the world cannot exist without the twelve tribes”.
An additional connection between the twelve tribes and the twelve "signs" are found in the Midrash that says:
"The twelve oxen (sacrificed in the Temple) are parallel to the twelve tribes and the twelve 'signs' (mazalot)".
The work in the Temple (the oxen mentioned here) is regarded by us as the zenith of the revelation of G-d’s presence in this world, a unification of heaven and earth, an act of completion of the Creation.
If, so far, we have attributed the month of Iyar specifically to the powers and characteristics of Joseph, we do in fact find that there is a second tribe which has a special relationship towards the month of Iyar.
Two separate books, Bnei Yissachar and Pri Tzadik, both say separately that the month of Iyar is related specifically to the tribe of Yissachar. We can find a source for this in the Midrash under the description of the arrangement of the flags of the various tribes in the wilderness, which tells us in what order Bnei Yisrael arranged themselves according to their tribes when walking from encampment to encampment in the wilderness. There, we are told that the tribes arranged themselves relative to the twelve "signs" of the twelve months of the year, each tribe standing "against" or parallel to one of the twelve signs. It was the tribe of Yissachar who stood parallel to Taurus, the sign of Iyar.
If, so far, we have examined the meaning of the connection of Joseph to the month of Iyar, a complete picture can be obtained only by further examining the relevance of Yissachar to this month. We expect, in fact, to discover an inter-connection between Yissachar and Joseph.
When Jacob meets with Esau he says to him (Genesis 32, 5) "and I have oxen and asses …", concerning which the Midrash tells us:
"Oxen – this refers to Joseph, as it is written 'the first-born of his oxen is comeliness to him, his horns are as the horns of a buffalo, with them he will ram the nations' (Deut 33,17)
Asses – this refers to Yissachar, as it is written ‘Yissachar is a bony ass’ (Genesis 49,14)”If it is clear to us why Jacob mentions Joseph to Esau – for Joseph was reputed to possess great powers of war (…horns of a bull, with them he will ram the nations …), we must still examine what was the relev ance of mentioning Yissachar, above all of the other tribes?
Concerning Jacob’s blessing to Yissachar (‘a bony ass’) our Sages tell us:
"a donkey with (strong) bones, capable of bearing the burden of Torah as a strong ass that is loaded with a heavy burden".From this we know that the tribe of Yissachar was unique amongst all the tribes in his special aptitude and application in studying Torah. We can further compare "and the sons of Yissachar, knowers of understanding" (Chronicles I, 12, 33) with "it (Torah) is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations" (Deut. 4,6), and relate the special understanding with which Yissachar was blessed to special powers and capabilities in the study of the Torah.
From this we see that when Jacob faced Esau he stood armed with two powers: Joseph, the power of war, and Yissachar, the power of Torah. In fact, it could not be any other way, for our Sages have told us:
“Israel received the Torah so that no other nation would ever be able to rule over her”.Also, on the verse "our feet are standing within thy gates, Jerusalem" (Psalms 122,2) our Sages commented: “who caused our feet to remain steadfast in war? The gates of Jerusalem, where Torah was studied”. From Sefer HaAmek Davar (and other sources) it is clear that at times of war the tribe of Yissachar would sit studying Torah and praying.
In order to complete our understanding of the relevance of Yissachar to the month of Iyar, we question Jacobs blessing to Yissachar wherein it is said:
"And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant" (Genesis, 49, 15)upon which Rashi comments:
"he saw as his portion a land that was blessed and well-fitted to produce fruits".We find it necessary to ask here: why was it said specifically (and only) of Yissachar that he saw that the land was pleasant? Was Yissachar’s portion of Eretz Yisrael more pleasant than those of all the other tribes? We have no reason to assume so.
A second question, we would address to the Aramaic commentary Targum Yerushalmi, which translated the above verse as vechaza beit mikdasha de-itkarei menucha arum tav – "and he saw the Temple that is called ‘rest’, that it was good’".
A third question we address to the words of our Sages, who explained:
“‘rest’ – this is the Written Law; ‘and the land that it was pleasant’ – this is the Oral Law”.What is the connection between "rest" and "land", which are physical qualities, and Torah and the Temple, which are spiritual?
We answer all of the preceding questions as follows: Yissachar was credited with the blessing concerning his portion of Eretz Yisrael specifically because of his greatness in and understanding of the Torah. The simple, superficial apparition, such as rest or land, and the deep insight, the Torah and the Temple, are all inter-connected, all part of one picture.
Only the tribe of Yissachar, which spent all of its days and nights studying Torah, was truly capable of seeing the height of the Holiness of Eretz Yisrael, which culminated in the Temple, as the Targum Yerushalmi translated. Only through the Oral and Written Laws can one attain and achieve this true vision of Eretz Yisrael.
Without the vision of the Torah, any visualization of Eretz Yisrael is false, and there was thus no point in blessing other tribes with qualities of Eretz Yisrael that they would be less capable of comprehending.
None of the other tribes were capable of attaining Yissachar’s vision of Eretz Yisrael, and thus it was that only he, Yissachar, was given by Jacob a blessing that made specific mention of Eretz Yisrael.
Concerning the month of Iyar, we have learned two things:
One, that not only through the power of Joseph, the power of war, have we managed to achieve such great military successes in the wars that occurred throughout the millennia during the month of Iyar. For without the quality of Yissachar, the study of Torah, Israel has no possibility of any independent stand whatsoever. For this is Israel’s unique quality and characteristic – the study of Torah.
Two, that after we have succeeded twice in our lifetime in wars that occurred during the month of Iyar, in which we redeemed large sections of Eretz Yisrael, we must look at Eretz Yisrael thru the eyes of Yissachar – the eyes of the true vision of Torah – for only for this purpose was Eretz Yisrael given to us.