In the seventeenth week, still in the month of Teveth, in Perek Shirah, the bee-eater sings that, “I will whistle [as a Shepherd to his flock] to gather them, because I have redeemed them, and they shall increase as they increased [in the past]. (Zechariah 10:8) The song of the bee-eater has a clear connection with the tribe of Dan, as it explicitly speaks of the power to be fruitful and multiply.
This week also marks the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, on the 24th day of Teveth. The Alter Rebbe passed away due in great part to the struggles he faced when running away from Napoleon, during the war between Russia and France. The Alter Rebbe supported Russia’s efforts in the war, for fear that Napoleon’s egalitarian principles would cause assimilation. The Alter Rebbe felt that such spiritual persecution (similar to the threat of the Greeks in the times of Chanukah) was more dangerous than the physical oppression of the Russian government.
During the flight from Napoleon, the Alter Rebbe sat in a carriage that was third in line, and his grandson, Rabbi Nachum, would sit in the first carriage. Whenever they would approach a crossroads, the Alter Rebbe would be asked which road to take. In one of the crossroads, Rabbi Nachum mistook the Alter Rebbe’s directions. Much later, when they realized the mistake, “[T]he Alter Rebbe sighed deeply and said: ‘How good is it when a grandson follows in the path of his grandfather – and the opposite is true when a grandfather has to follow the path in which his grandson leads him.’ … The mistake at the crossroads caused all kinds of troublesome detours, and soon after Alter Rebbe passed away in Piena.”
The whistle mentioned in the Song of the bee-eater is a metaphor for the various methods that G-d uses guide us and to help a lost Jew return to Him. As further explained in Week 26, and as is well known from Psalm 23, G-d is our Shepherd and we are His flock. Furthermore, the Zohar teaches that Moses was called Rayah Mehemnah, a faithful shepherd (also a shepherd of faith), and that the leader of every generation is like the Moses of that generation, as was the Alter Rebbe. It is important that we follow their advice in order not to lose our way in the darkness of exile, as unfortunately occurred in the above story.
It is well known that seventeen is the gematria of tov, which means “good.” Yet, it also connected to exile and to the sad events of the seventeenth of Tammuz, which led to the destruction of the Temple. The Alter Rebbe’s premature and apparently preventable passing presents us with same dilemma.
How could G-d have permitted such an occurrence? In fact, the Talmud makes an explicit connection between these two kinds of events, stating that the passing of tzadikim is likened to the burning of the Temple.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe specifically addresses this apparent contradiction, both regarding exile as well as regarding the premature passing of a tzadik, in this case, his own father: