The Meaning of the Month of Iyar

The purpose of this article is to search for meaning in the occurrence of 3 important events in Jewish History in the month of Iyar: the War against Amalek, Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independance and the Six Day War    

    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”.

    This ‘prophecy’ has begun to be fulfilled,  for amongst the days recommended for mourning,  is  the 28th  day of  Iyar,  the day  upon which the Prophet Samuel died; a  day which  in our lifetime suddenly became a day of great rejoicing. On this day in 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem, with the Western  Wall  and the Temple Mount,  were  returned to  the Jewish Nation at the climax of an amazing war.

 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?


The Shlah (Shnei Luchot HaBrit) explains that Saul was originally chosen as King in order that he would fight against the nation of Amalek,  this because Saul was  of the tribe of Benjamin.  (It is interesting to note, since we are discussing the 28th of Iyar,  that Saul was the 28th generation after Benjamin!).  Benjamin  was the  only tribe which did not bow down to Esau, for the simple reason that at the time of Yaakov’s meeting with Esau Benjamin had not yet been born. This,  the fact that Benjamin had not  bowed  down to  Esau,  gave him  (Benjamin) a unique  spiritual advantage over Esau  compared with all the other tribes, empowering him with the  strength to vanquish Esau in battle; thus it was a descendant of Benjamin,  Saul,  who was chosen to defeat the Amalekites, descendants of Esau, in the time of Samuel and Saul.

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  3 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 3 mitzvot must be performed in the above order, and the Rambam brings this as a decisive halacha.

    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  3rd mitzva,  the building of the Temple. The second mitzva  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  mitzva,  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 thru 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  Mishna 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.

The common  denominator  of  all  of these  miracles is  that they  were ‘natural miracles’,   which   according   to  RambaN   (Nachmanides) are recognizable as miracles only after the passing of a period of time. For example,  the  fact  that someone  was not  bitten by  a snake  at a certain time is  not recognizable as a miracle; only after a long period of time can  one say  that “a  snake or  scorpion NEVER caused damage in Jerusalem”. This  is  the  degree  of Jerusalem,  the  degree of  hidden hashgacha, hidden Divine  Supervision,  the exact  opposite of  Amalek’s chance “happening along the way”, ‘asher karcha baderech’.

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  mitzva 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 6 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, (heb.  ’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.

‘Bnei  Yissachar’  tells  us  that the  war against  Amalek occurred during the month  of Iyar,  and we can in fact be more precise, with the help of Seder  Olam Rabah,  and determine that the war against Amalek in the wilderness occurred  during the LAST week of Iyar,  the SAME week in which, some  three  thousand  years  later,  descendants  of  the Jewish warriors who vanquished Amalek in the wilderness, fought the Six Day War and regained control over large parts of Eretz Yisrael, notably, control over Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall of the Temple.

    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 Eichman.

The Hebrew date corresponding to 31st May 1962 was the 28th of Iyar.

Exactly 5 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  Theodore 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 Kol  HaTor (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 thru nature (as opposed to being miraculous in fashion).

Since in our  own generation  we have seen that two wars of Redemption – in 1948 and in 1967 – both occurred in the month of Iyar, we can in fact suggest that both  of the  interpretations we earlier offered for Joshua rather than Moshe  fighting against  Amalek,  are in fact both facets of one, single truth: Redemption by natural-appearing forces (as opposed to open miracles),  because the  period of  Mashiach ben  Yoseph is  one of natural hashgacha,  with an  additional strengthening  of the  forces of Redemption during the month of Iyar,  the month of Joseph,  and thus the month of Mashiach ben Yoseph – the force of Zionism in our generation.

    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.

The only true  conception of  Eretz Yisrael  is that  conceived thru the eyes of the Torah.

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 thru 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 thru 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 life-time 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.


              With thanks to G-d Almighty, Creator of the Universe

    May be freely copied, if attributed to author.

    Avraham Reiss,
   Jerusalem. Nisan 5754.

Article originally written in Iyar 5733, a few months before the Yom Kippur War.


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