A. Tevet's Aspect of Din

The Sefer Yetzirah tells that the holy four-letter Name of G‑d is composed of 4 letters - YHVH – which divide into two pairs: YH and VH. The former enlivens the upper worlds in the universe, and the mental faculties in the self. The latter enlivens the lower realms and the body. (Eitz Chaim)

There are twelve primary permutations of YHVH, the holy four-letter Name of G‑d, each one enlivening one of the months.1The entire month is governed by that permutation. Y/yud and V/vuv are relatively the male/chesed-kindness/giving aspect. Both H/hei's are the female/din-judgment/receiving aspect.

Tevet is tenth from Nisan and its permutation is HYHV. The din letters of each pair are first, implying a format of judgment. Furthermore, the permutation comes out of the last letters of the words of its verse, also denoting a din tendency, as opposed to other permutations that come out of the first letters, implying a chesed tendency.2

Jacob and Esau divided domain over the time/space/soul continuum between them.

This is in line with the Zohar's teaching that Jacob and Esau divided domain over the time/space/soul continuum between them. The first three winter months of Tishrei, Cheshvan, and Kislev are Jacob's. Tevet that follows is as if under Esau's jurisdiction, whose primary aspect is din. The only auspicious day in the month is the tenth of Tevet, a day of five difficult occurrences; for generations it has been set as a fast day. (Shulchan Aruch I: sec. 401)

As opposed to other sets of permutations featuring the theme of H preceding, the specific quality of Tevet implies some semblance of proper order, as the YH and VH pairs remain in order, that is YH first. And so we see that Rosh Chodesh Tevet is actually a day of Chanukah - one of the greatest holidays! A great secret lies in this.

B. Eight in Time and Place

Tradition teaches that the head of Esau3 is in the Machpela Cave, the ‘doubled’ cave in Hebron where the patriarchs are buried, in some ways the holiest place in the world. The Zohar teaches that it is connected to the upper Gan Eden [paradise]. (Zohar Chayei Sarah) It draws from the upper Shechinah/bina - the eighth sefira and there are eight tzadikim buried there. Eight is the step beyond the seven directions of space and the seven days of time. So it represents the upper, transcending levels. (Maharal)

Chanukah also has eight days. It is to time what the Machpela Cave is to place - a cable to the sublime, celestial aspect of reality. This is seen in the expression of the main Chanukah miracle: The oil that was fit to burn for one day burned for eight days, i.e. a wonder of light. It burned for eight days because it was generated by the eighth level, from where comes light.

This is all in line with the happenings of that time. For the Greeks were not seeking to destroy the Jewish people physically, they aimed at the soul. They therefore made decrees against fulfilling the Torah and sought to draw the people into secular philosophy and outlook. The light burning miraculously represents the triumph of "Torah/light" (Prov. 6:23) over Hellenism and secularism.

C. Tohu and Tikun

Before this world was created, there was the world of Tohu [chaos]. G‑d intentionally poured too much light into the vessels of this world and they shattered; the lights ascended above. Immediately a repair process started. The vessels were fixed and the lights toned down, allowing them to endure. (Zohar III Idra Raba) The new refurbished world is called the world of Tikun [rectification]. (Eitz Chaim Shaar HaSh) Even though the world of Tikun endures, the lights of Tohu are actually much greater.

G‑d created primordial spiritual archetype root worlds because they were meant to play out in the time/space/soul continuum. The patriarchs are the major grand soul-center sources through which everything is channeled. Tikun and Tohu express in them through Jacob and Esau respectively. (Torah Ohr, Toldot) Even though Jacob is righteous and Esau was wicked, the potential of Esau is greater.4 For this reason he was born first.

Isaac wanted to give the blessings to Esau...

Isaac wanted to give the blessings to Esau, even though he most certainly also recognized the wicked nature of Esau’s behavior. But he also saw many levels deeper. The core of Esau is imbedded with levels of super holiness. Isaac wanted to give him the blessings in order to energize that holiness and help it to surface and take hold.

The problem with the world of Tohu is that it has a few screws loose - its lights are not connected to its vessels. Therefore, Esau asked complicated questions such as if there is an obligation to take tithes from salt. (Gen. 25:28, Rashi) On the other hand, he was reported as going out to kill and steal. (Gen. 25:29) The simple understanding of this is that he was a trickster. The real understanding of the issue is that he was composed of a double dynamic - very good and very bad. This is the secret of the head of Esau being in the m'orat hamachpaileh. The head - his potential - really does belong there. And so Rosh Chodesh, the head of the month, is in Chanukah, the time counterpart of Machpela Cave.

The destruction of the Temple is an expression in space of the shattering of the vessels. It is no wonder that part of the process of the destruction happened in Tevet. This gives the month its din-oriented flavor.

Yet its pairs of the Divine name are in order. This demonstrates the concept of "the lights of Tohu in the vessels of Tikun". (Lubavitcher Rebbe, 27 Nisan, 5751) The tumultuous mega-energies of Tevet are a bucking bronco that can be tamed and harnessed for great undertakings.

The special service for a person to work on during this month is to search for one's greatest potential and seek to actualize it. The choicest lights of the self must be concretized and drawn into the vessels of balanced expression. Mashiach will do this for the universe. The more anyone does this in himself, the more he hastens Mashiach's coming, whereupon the tenth of Tevet will be transformed into one of the greatest festivals. (Ta'anit)

Water and Salt

"Offer salt with all of your sacrifices." (Lev. 2:13)

"It says "bris" [covenant] by salt." (Berachot)

MLCh/'melach'/salt equals 78 - three times YHVH/26.

This is the secret of Esau asking about tithing salt. A covenant is a pact between two parties that connects them in a way that is above anything that they may do to each other. The relationship is untouchable and eternal. (Likutei Torah Baal HaTanya) Sacrifices are called korbanot which literally means to come close. A sin distances one from G‑d and the offering is designed to reconnect him. It is able to do this because in truth the relationship between G‑d and the soul is inviolable. By means of its root, salt has a natural ability to awaken this innate bond. It must therefore be offered with all of the sacrifices. This lofty root also affords it the ability to sweeten bitterness.

Salt completes all foods.

Salt comes from water; it takes shape, yet retains the boundless quality of water. It therefore especially links with the concept of brit/covenant and has the power to awaken it. This is also the reason why salt is the unique spice that gives shape to the taste of food, as well as the idea behind MLCh/melach sharing the same letters as LChM/lechem - bread. Bread is the staple of life that includes all foods. (Likutei Halachot, Orach Chaim, Betziyat HaPat) Salt completes all foods.

"And Elokim divided between the waters that are above the firmament and between the waters that are below the firmament". (Gen. 1:7) The Rabbis teach that the waters that ended up beneath cried, "We (also) want to be before the King!" G‑d heard their plea and decreed that every offering be accompanied by salt, thus it ascend Above with sea salt - the waters' representative. Above - all is one, all is good. Drawing from such a place, the difficulties of this world are sweetened.

This quality expresses especially in water, which is tasteless, colorless, and formless - hinting to boundless levels. "The world will be filled with knowledge like water covers the sea." (Is. 11:9)

"One who vows (to abstain) from sustenance is allowed to eat water and salt." (Nedarim) We see again that they are connected. Furthermore, this teaching drives home the above idea that salt itself is not food per se - yet it gives food structure.5

Everything in the world has its own unit of ten sefirot. (Eitz Chaim) The mitzvah of separating and giving a tenth to charity targets malchut - the tenth sefira, which includes them all. (Zohar) Giving to charity is like giving to G‑d.6 It is as if giving the whole thing to G‑d - and so the entire food is sanctified. This means that the sparks of holiness in the food are elevated and manifest. Eating such food energizes the soul.

We already have seen that the intrinsic state of salt is that it as if never left the pristine celestial state of being as if above. The sparks in it do not require rectification. Therefore it can be eaten without reciting a blessing (Orach Chaim Berachot) and tithes need not be separated from it.

Nonetheless, Esau asked about tithes of salt. It was indeed a great question that only he, coming from the place of his lofty root, could ask. Malchut is the feminine/receiving aspect of the lower seven sefirot. The upper three have a similar, corresponding aspect on their level; it is bina. (Zohar Ruth) Therefore, both bina and malchut are represented by H/hei - the former by the first H in the Tetragrammaton, the latter by the second. Esau wanted to give the tithe on the level of bina, the upper realm – where even salt itself can be elevated to a higher place Above. The choice lights of Tohu, Esau's root, allow place for such a lofty Tikun.

...the head of Esau did merit to find its way into the m'orat hamachpailah...

Isaac wanted to give him the blessings in order to draw the lights of Tohu into the vessels of Tikun. Through Esau, the whole world could be elevated to operate on this plateau. It was premature - the world was not yet ready for such a level. The blessings were given to Jacob/Tikun - things are to function on a toned down rate in order not to blow the circuits. Nonetheless, the head of Esau did merit to find its way into the m'orat hamachpailah: There will yet come a time when the world will ascend to this super-state.

Now for the punch line: Esau's salt/tithe/tenth query is the root of the tenth7 of Tevet. Temporarily, the negative part of Esau has some expression and caused problems on this day, which we still mourn. When the vessels are completely repaired, the negative energy will be dispelled and the custom deluxe good of Esau will express in this day becoming an extra powerful holiday.

From all this we see even more deeply how special an opportunity Tevet is to work on aspiring to super levels.