Sunday, August 28, 2016

Week 47 (From the Book): Time for Teshuvah (Return to G-d)!

The snake is saying, "G-d supports all the fallen, and straightens all the bent." (Psalms 145:14)
Rabbi Yaakov would say:This world is comparable to the antechamber before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber, so that you may enter the banquet hall.
He would also say: A single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the World to Come. And a single moment of bliss in the World to Come is greater than all of the present world.
Hod shebeMalchut (glory and gratefulness within the context of kingship)

This week marks Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul’s main characteristic is teshuvah, repentance. The Alter Rebbe explains that the King (G-d) spends most of the year inside his palace, where it is more difficult to reach him. During the month of Elul, the King goes out to the field to speak to His people and to listen to their pleas. During this time, He greets everyone with a smiling countenance. In Elul, we can have greater direct contact with G-d by increasing our Torah studies, prayer and repentance, as well as good deeds.

During this month, we have the opportunity to be extremely close to G-d. Through teshuvah and asking for forgiveness, we can properly prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah. Elul is represented by the tribe of Gad. Gad was a very powerful and courageous tribe. Its name literally means "luck," and indicates that the Jewish people are completely above luck and chance – everything depends on our teshuvah.[1]

How appropriate then it is that the animal to sing this week in Perek Shirahis the snake, who declares that G-d supports all the fallen, and straightens all bent. (Psalm 145:14) The snake, from the story of Creation and beyond, has always been associated with sin and the evil inclination. Its verse perfectly embodies the spirit of teshuvah with which we begin the month of Elul.

The number forty-seven is the gematria of the name Yoel (Joel).[2] The Book of Joel contains many parallels to the month of Elul. Like several other books of the prophets, the book speaks profoundly about the need for repentance. Joel specifically refers to the need for teshuvah before the “great day”of judgment. The book also describes the Jewish people’s closeness to G-d, and makes many mentions to the sound of the shofar. During almost the entire month of Elul, we blow the shofar every day after prayer as a preparation for the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah.

In Pirkei Avot this week, Rabbi Yaakov states that this world is like an antechamber for the World to Come; one must prepare oneself in the antechamber in order to enter the banquet hall. He also states that one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the world to come. Similarly, a single moment of pleasure in the World to Come is better than all the life of this world. (IV: 16-17) This teaching is perfectly suitable for Rosh Chodesh Elul, when the Jewish people begin the process of teshuvah. Similarly, just as the purpose of this world is only to serve as an ante-room for the World to Come, the month of Elul also serves as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This week, the combination of sefirot results in hod shebemalchut, glory and gratefulness within the context of kingship. It is time to bring our service of Hashem to fruition in a tangible and real way.

A lesson in self-improvement that we extract from the snake is that even if we fall to the lowest possible levels, we can still repent and be forgiven and uplifted by G-d.

[1]Ryzman, p. 195
[2]This week also marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, on the 26th of Av.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Give and Take

There was a time
When all I sought
Was simple pleasure

Which then evolved
To seeking more the
Spiritual kind

Now even that
Cannot compare
To one small measure

Of knowing that
I took Your Name
And made it mine.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Week 46 (From the Book): To Know Our Place in Order to Be Truly Happy

The prolific creeping creatures are saying: "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your house; your children like olive shoots around your table." (Psalms 128:3)

Rabbi Matya the son of Charash would say: Be first to greet every man. Be a tail to lions, rather than a head to foxes.

Netzach shebeMalchut (victory and endurance within the context of kingship)

In week forty-six, the last week of the month of Av, in Perek Shirah the prolific creeping creatures state, “your wife shall be like a fruitful vine and your children as olive branches around your table.” (Psalm 128: 3) This week also contains the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, on the 20th of Av.

In the week that follows that of Tu B'Av, Perek Shirah is still focused on marriage and reproduction. The continuation of this theme further emphasizes that love, marriage, and building a home together is not a one-time action or decision. That initial feeling that brought the couple together has to be worked on and improved throughout one’s entire life, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year.

The gematria of forty-six is ​​Levi. Levi and Shimon were individuals who both contained in them an overwhelming capacity for violence and radical behavior, especially when they acted together. The two were responsible for the killing of the inhabitants of the city of Shchem, and were the main actors in the kidnapping and sale of Joseph. The tribe of Levi was able to transform these extreme qualities into positive traits. They used their zealousness in acting on behalf of G-d, and became a tribe consisting solely of priests. Ultimately, Shimon will also use its enormous strength and potential only for the good.

In Pirkei Avot this week, Rabbi Matya the son of Charash teaches that we should be the first to greet another, and that it is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox. (IV: 15) It is amazing to note that this lesson is contained exactly in the last week of the month of Av, whose zodiac sign is Leo, and is just a week away from being the week of Rosh Chodesh, which literally means the "head of the month."

In the past, Shimon, and his tribe as a whole, led actions that were “fox-like.” However, the Tanach also recounts that the tribe also ultimately agreed to act as the tail of a “lion,” the tribe of Judah. After the passing of Joshua, when it came time for the tribes to conquer the remaining parts of the Land of Israel, Judah was chosen to act first. Judah then approached Shimon and asked that it follow it in battle. Judah said, “Come up with me into my lot, and we will fight against the Canaanites, and I will also go with you into your lot."[1]

The Bnei Yissachar explains that this statement has a much deeper meaning, and is connected to the redemption of Passover, which occurred in the month of Nissan (Judah) and the future redemption connected to Mashiach, born on Tisha B’Av (Shimon). On Passover, we keep an egg on the Seder plate to remind us of the destruction that took place in Av. In the final redemption, even though it will be one of unprecedented miracles, we will still remember the redemption from Egypt that took place in Nissan.

Similarly, despite enormous Soviet pressure and oppression, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was very firm in his values and refused to associate himself with the “fox-like” Communist leadership. His extreme piety and stringency when it came to the kashrut of the matzah he mass-produced for Passover is a great example of his tremendous resolve. His refusal to give in to Communist demands caused him to be exiled to Siberia, where he passed away on this week of the Jewish calendar. It is known that the lion brings its tail to its head, while the fox brings its head to its tail.[2] While today, the father of the Rebbe is still held in tremendous esteem as a great leader, rabbi, and scholar, Soviet Communism is a completely outdated and bankrupt concept.

This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebemalchut, victory and endurance within the context of kingship. We must be persistent in our attempt to connect ourselves to the King of kings and reveal Him in this material world.

The lesson in self-improvement we derive from the prolific creeping creatures is that the humility that we achieved during this month of judgment must be used productively: to grow and reproduce, just as the vine and the olive tree.

[1] Book of Judges 1:3

[2] Midrash Shmuel

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tenth Sense

The Song
Of Mashiach
Is simple,

Its sound
Is the beat
Of the heart.

Its smell
Is pure

Its sight
Is the light
Of the sun.

Its taste
Is new and

Its touch
Is a hug
Nicely done.

Week 45 (From the Book): To Raise Ourselves Up Through Love and Humility

The creeping creatures are saying: "Let Israel rejoice in He Who made him; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King." (Psalms 149:2) Alternate version: “May the glory of G-d endure forever; may G-d rejoice in His works.” (Psalms 104:31)
Rabbi Yannai would say: We have no comprehension of the tranquility of the wicked, nor of the suffering of the righteous.
Tiferet shebeMalchut (beauty and balance within the context of kingship)
The forty-fifth week is the week of Tu B'Av, and in Perek Shirah it is the turn of the creeping creatures to proclaim that Israel rejoice in its Creator and King; alternatively, they sing that the glory of G-d shall endure forever, and that He rejoice in His creations. (Psalm 149:2 and 104:31)
Tu B'Av is known to be the most romantic day on the Jewish calendar. It was at this time that the Tribes of Israel were once again allowed to intermarry among themselves. To celebrate this day, young Jewish women would dress in white, form a circle, and present themselves before the single men of the community that were in search of a bride. The Talmud teaches that each woman would speak of different qualities that they thought might make a good impression on a potential groom.[1] This is related to the tikkun of the sense of hearing connected to this month, which requires a constant focus on one’s good points.
The main thrust of the song of the creeping creatures is joy, and according to the Talmud, Tu B'Av, along with Yom Kippur, was the happiest day of the year. The song specifically mentions the joy of Zion (Jerusalem), and Tu B’Av comes on the heels of Tisha B'Av, when Jerusalem was destroyed. It is important to understand that in many ways the joy of Tu B'Av can only come about through the sadness that we experienced on Tisha B'Av.

The creeping creatures are so numerous that their rate of reproduction serves as an example for the Jewish people. The Hebrew word in the Torah used to describe the extremely high rate in which we multiplied in Egypt is yishretzu, from the Hebrew word for creeping creature, sheretz.[2]
The number forty-five is the gematria of Adam, the first person created by G-d and the first to receive a soul mate, Eve. Mem and heh also spell the Hebrew word mah, meaning "what,” and is closely associated with the humility, as in Moses’ well known statement, “Nachnu Mah,” we are what/nothing.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yannai states that we are not given the capacity to understand the serenity of the wicked or the affliction of the righteous. (IV: 15) Rabbi Yannai speaks of serenity, such as is found during Tu B'Av, as well as suffering, such as in Tisha B'Av. Just as in last week’s Pirkei Avot lesson, the thrust of this week’s message is that we will never be able to fully understand His ways. All we can do is to have complete faith that everything He does is for the good.

This week, the sefirot combination results in tiferet shebemalchut, beauty and balance within the context of kingship. On Tu B'Av, balance and beauty connected to this physical world reigns supreme, just as in a Jewish wedding. In kabbalistic texts, it is well known that Tiferet is represented by Jacob, while malchut is represented by his wife, Rachel. Tiferet also means compassion, and this week is closely linked to mercy and consolation, as reflected in the haftorah readings for the seven weeks after Tisha B’Av.

The lesson in self-improvement we derive from the creeping creatures is that despite their humble condition (and perhaps exactly because of it), they are able to be truly happy, exalt and praise G-d’s name, and be extraordinarily reproductive.

[1] Talmud, Taanit 31a
[2] Exodus 1:7

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fifteenth Set of 22 Days: Peh Sofit, Sheaves of Barley and Sheaves of Wheat (the Priestly Family of Jeshebeab)

Sunday, the 10th of Av, began the fifteenth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the end-letter Peh (Peh Sofit), as well as the Sheaves of Wheat and the Sheaves of Barley in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period runs from the day immediately following the Three Weeks of mourning, the 10th of Av, until Rosh Chodesh Elul.

As mentioned previously, the Peh stands for "mouth," and its shape is that of a mouth as well. The final Peh symbolizes a mouth that is wide open. 

This period, after the difficulties and humbling experiences endured over the last three weeks and particularly beginning with the month of Elul (in which "the King is in the field"), is one in which we must open our mouths wide in prayer and personal supplications to G-d. It is also a time in which we seek to communicate better with one another (Av as a whole is a month connected to the spiritual rectification "tikkun" of our sense of hearing, listening to one another).

Furthermore, the Peh is formed by a combination of the Kaf and a Yud. The Yud stands for Godliness, and therefore the Peh symbolizes the revelation of Godliness. The more open lines of communication described above lead inevitably to a greater revelation of Godliness in ourselves as well.

This cycle includes Tu B'Av, which is known to be the happiest and most romantic day on the Jewish calendar. It was at this time that the Tribes of Israel were once again allowed to intermarry among themselves. To celebrate this day, young Jewish women would dress in white, form a circle, and present themselves before the single men of the community that were in search of a bride. The Talmud teaches that each woman would speak of different qualities that they thought might make a good impression on a potential groom.[1] This is related to the tikkun of the sense of hearing connected to this month, and also the revelation of our positive qualities and the G-dliness within us.

As in previous weeks, there also appears to be a parallel between the relationship of the regular Peh with the final Peh and that of Moshe and Mashiach. Moshe was very much connected to the mouth. The Torah states that he had "uncircumcised lips," in that he would stammer. Mashiach will be someone known for his Torah and his speech. The word Mashiach is spelled the same as Mesiach, one who speaks, converses. He will teach the world how to properly converse with G-d. Similar to the final Nun, the long downward "leg" of the final Peh appears to represent Mashiach's ability to infuse even the lowliest of realms with the revelation of G-dliness.

A similar theme can be found regarding the elements in Perek Shirah.

The Sheaves of Wheat are saying, "A song of ascents: Out of the depths have I cried to you, O God." (Psalms 130:1)

The Sheaves of Barley are saying, "A prayer of the pauper, when he swoons, and pours out his speech before God." (Psalms 102:1)

Both songs above contain within them a sense of desolation, difficulty, and great humility. Both songs also emphasize the sense of speech - crying out to God and pouring out one's speech before Him. Both sheaves of wheat and barley contain in them a potential to become food, but they nonetheless require much growth and "processing."

The sense of humility described above also appears to parallel the humble outlook of the animals for weeks 45 and 46 (Book 1), the creeping creatures and the prolific creeping creatures. 

The Temple guard for these 22 days is connected to the priestly family of Yeshebeab. The very name of the family contains the word "B'Av," meaning "in Av" like Tisha B'Av and Tu B'Av. It also contain the term, "Yesh," which means "to have." Yeshut means a feeling of existing one one's own, separate from Hashem, which is the opposite of humility. During this time of the year we work on countering this feeling and becoming completely attached to G-d, realizing our complete dependence on Him. We do so primarily through speaking to Him, in prayer.

As mentioned earlier, in Elul, the "King is in the field." Hashem comes out of his palace, so to speak, to greet his subjects. We must ourselves go to the field, as Rebbe Nachman recommends, and engage Hashem in Hitbodedut, personal prayer and meditation.

The root of this name comes from the word "to raise up, establish." After letting us fall during this difficult time of the year, it will be also during this time that Hashem will raise us up and establish us and His Temple forever.

The word Yakim is also found in a separate verse in the Torah: "A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me, the Lord, your God will set up (Yakim) for you; you shall hearken to him." (Devarim 18:15) As previously explained, Mashiach will be a prophet very much like Moshe himself.

[1] Talmud, Taanit 31a