Thursday, April 23, 2015

It Comes as No Surprise

It Comes as No Surprise

That outside the 
Land of giants
Everything again
Feels so small.

If after 9 months
It took me
Almost a decade 
To settle,

Is it really a shock 
That I'd return
With my head again 
In those clouds?

No longer breathing
Its air, bathing 
In Its water,

No longer standing
On Its earth, warm
From Its fire.

It's all
To be expected,
Yet painful
All the same.


PS: Israel has four main holy cities:Jerusalem (fire), Hebron (earth), Tiberias (water) and Tsfat (air)

In the Holy Land

In the Holy Land

The angels I've seen
Have no chubby cheeks,
Fluffy feathers or wings.

They have just direction
To give and care deeply,
Few words, hardly any expression.

Procurando Meu Canto

Procurando Meu Canto

Achei minha voz
Conheci os amigos
Relembrei meus avós.

Procurando meu canto
Senti minha dor
Lavei minha alma
Expirei meu calor.

Procurando meu canto
Construi minhas casas
Reatei as raizes
Soltei minhas asas.

Procurando meu canto
Cantei pra Você
Encontrei, finalmente,
Minha razão de viver.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Week 31 (From the Book): To Be Proud of Our Humble Connection with G-d

PEREK SHIRAH: The horse is saying, "Behold, as the eyes of the servants to the hand of their master, as the eyes of the maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so are our eyes to G-d our Lord until He will favor us." (Psalms 123:2)

PIRKEI AVOT: Ben Azzai would say: Run to pursue a minor mitzvah, and flee from a transgression. For a mitzvah brings another mitzvah, and a transgression brings another transgression. For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward of transgression is transgression.

He would also say: Do not scorn any man, and do not discount any thing. For there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place.

SEFIRAH: Tiferet shebeHod (beauty and balance within the context of glory and gratefulness)

The thirty-first week of the year is the week of Rosh Chodesh Iyar. It also includes the day of remembrance of the fallen soldiers of Israel and victims of terror, as well as the fifth of Iyar, which marks the miraculous victory of Israel in its War of Independence. In this week, the horse in Perek Shirah sings about how like servants, our eyes are fixed on the Lord our G-d, until He has compassion over us. (Psalm 123:2) From beginning to end, during this month we are involved in the mitzvah of counting the omer. As mentioned previously, this month is also known as a month of healing, and is formed by the Hebrew letters alef, yud, and reish, which serve as an acronym for the verse “Ani Hashem Rofecha,” "I am G-d your Healer," in which each word begins with one of these three letters.

The month of Iyar is represented by the Tribe of Issachar. The Torah describes Issachar as, "a strong-boned donkey" (similar to the horse), which takes upon itself the yoke of Torah study. Issachar and Zevulun had a partnership in which Zevulun was involved in commerce and supported Issachar in its total dedication to Torah. This dedication to Torah is symbolized by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose yahrzeit is in this month, and of whom it is said, “Toratoh Emunatoh,” that his Torah study was his profession.

There is a clear connection between this week, the fifth of Iyar and the War of Independence. The horse, especially in ancient times, symbolizes military might. An example of this is found in the Song of the Sea, which describes how when Pharaoh came with his chariots to attack the Jewish people, G-d threw “horse and rider into the sea.” (This is actually the song of the ox, later this month, in week 34)[1]

Despite being a symbol of power, the horse sings of constantly looking to Hashem for mercy. During the War of Independence, the Jewish people truly fought mightily and heroically, like horses, and yet their victory was only possible due to its miraculous nature, a product of Hashem’s great mercy.

A horse loyally follows the directions of its rider. Like the horse, the Jewish people waited a long time and suffered greatly until Hashem showed us favor and made it possible for us to live in our Holy Land again.
The horse’s song also reflects the feelings of one who is ill or injured and prays to G-d for healing. This is connected to the day of remembrance, as well as to the fifth of Iyar itself. One must not forget that the miracle of Israel’s War of Independence occurred shortly after the Holocaust, when the Jewish people as a whole was like a sick person in urgent need.

The number thirty-one contains the same numerals as thirteen, which, as explained above, represent G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy. Furthermore, the number thirty-one is also connected to the conquest of the Land of Israel. At the end of the conquest of the Land in the times of Joshua, the Tanach lists all the kings that were defeated at that time, thirty-one in all.[2]

The number thirty-one is formed by the Hebrew letters lamed and alef, which in turn spell the word E-l, one of the names of G-d. The name E-l is an expression of infinite power, but also of infinite mercy.[3] The word el appears many times in the horse’s song.

In the Pirkei Avot for this week, Ben Azzai teaches that one must be fast to perform a mitzvah and to flee from a transgression; for a mitzvah draws another mitzvah, while a transgression draws another. The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah, while the reward for a transgression is a transgression. Similarly, just as one mitzvah leads to another, physical and spiritual healing also comes slowly, one step at a time, like the Counting of the Omer.

Furthermore, Ben Azzai teaches not to scorn anyone and not to reject any thing, because there is no one who does not have his moment and there is no thing that does not have its place. This teaching’s connection with Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is similar to that of the song of the horse: the Jewish people and the Land of Israel finally had their moment!

This week’s sefirot combination results in tiferet shebehod. With patience and balance, step by step, we serve G-d and climb the ladder to spiritual fulfillment, getting closer and closer to Hashem. In order to perform this task, we inspire ourselves in the horse’s example, understanding that despite our strength we are nothing more (and nothing less) than servants of G-d. We should be proud of our humble connection with G-d and know that the journey towards Him may at times be slow, but that the arrival at its destination is certain.




[1] See also the last chapters of the Book of Job.
[2] Book of Joshua, Ch. 12

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Week 30 (from the Book): To Know that the World Needs More Love and Respect

PEREK SHIRAH: The camel is saying, “G-d shall roar from upon high and cause His voice to sound forth from His holy place, His shout echoes profoundly over His dwelling place. (Jeremiah 25:30)

PIRKEI AVOT: Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): "From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation."

Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), "Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city."

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): "If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you"; "fortunate are you" in this world, "and good is to you" in the World to Come.

Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows. As is stated (I Samuel 2:30): "For to those who honor me, I accord honor; those who scorn me shall be demeaned."

SEFIRAH: Gevurah shebeHod (discipline and judgment within the context of glory and gratefulness)

In the thirtieth week, the last week of Nissan and the week of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is the turn of the camel in Perek Shirah to proclaim that, “the Lord roars from upon high; His voice is heard from His holy place; His roar echoes loudly over His dwelling place. (Jeremiah 25:30) The verse of the camel describes how Hashem strongly laments the destruction of the Temple. Due to its destruction, the Jewish people have had to survive for a very long period of time without its basic source of spiritual sustenance, just like the camel survives for long periods without water. Nissan is the month of redemption, both the redemption from Egypt as well as the future redemption. However, even on Passover itself we have an egg on the Seder plate as a sign of mourning to remember the destruction of the Temple and that the final redemption has not yet taken place. This week also marks the yahrzeit of Yehoshua Bin Nun, on the 26th day of this month.

As is explained in the same Midrash cited in week twenty-eight, the camel represents the Babylonian exile, when the First Temple was destroyed. Moreover, like the beast of burden, the camel also appears to be a reference to Yishmael.[1] As we complete the month of Nissan, we relive all the exiles and the redemptions that the Jewish people experienced throughout history, while hoping to soon experience the final redemption that will take us out of the current exile.

Thirty is an intensification of the qualities of balance represented by the number three. The number thirty also has the numerical value of the name Yehudah. As mentioned previously, Nissan is represented by the Tribe of Judah. Pirkei Avot teaches that thirty is also the age of koach, strength and potential. (See Week 28) At thirty, one is at the height of his or her physical and intellectual capacity. It was at the age of thirty that the kohanim would begin serving in the Temple. Such strength and potential are associated with Judah and his descendant, King David, who unlike Esau, acknowledged and repented from their mistakes, and were able to fully tap into their capacity for good.

In Pirkei Avot this week, Ben Zoma teaches: "Who is wise? One who learns from every person; Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination ... Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his portion.” This teaching is closely related to the tragic events that took place during the time of the Counting of the Omer. The death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples was caused by the difficulty they had in respecting, accepting, and learning from each other’s interpretations and applications of their master’s teachings.

The destruction of the Temple and the exile in which we find ourselves to this day (which includes also the events of the Holocaust) is due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred. We will be redeemed from this final exile through ahavat chinam, baseless love for each individual.

Ben Zoma’s lesson is closely related Yehoshua Bin Nun. He was Moses’ closest disciple and successor, and yet also could relate to everyone: “on the verse describing Joshua as ‘a man in whom there is spirit,’ Sifrei explains “that he was able to meet the spirit of every man.”[2]

Ben Zoma’s second question and answer, “Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination,” also appears related to the yahrzeit of Joshua. The Rebbe once said regarding his yahrzeit that, “On this day, assistance from heaven is granted to become a conqueror, like Yehoshua Bin Nun, ‘the most prominent of the conquerors.’"[3] During this week, we prepare for the conquests related to the following month (Iyar), and learn to become strong conquerors like Joshua.

In this week, the combination of sefirot results in gevurah shebehod. The Counting of the Omer, especially after the end if Passover and the month of Nissan, marks a period of service to G-d that can be potentially difficult, requiring both strength and discipline in order to conquer our evil inclination.
An additional lesson that we can extract from the words of the camel is that we must always remember our mission in the world: to create a dwelling place for G-d in this world, starting by creating a sacred space for Him within ourselves.





[1] Talmud, Brachot 56b (where the description of a dream with a camel follows description of a dream with Yishmael); Midrash Asseret Melachim, Midrash Pitron Torah
[2] Tanya, Compiler’s forward
[3] From the Rebbe’s Letters, available at: http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/letters-rebbe-2/07.htm

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tenth Set of 22 Days: Kuf and Reish, Wind and Lightning Bolts (the Priestly Family of Seorim)

Friday, the 18th of Nissan, began the tenth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the letters Kuf and Reish, as well as the Wind and Lighting Bolts in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period comes in the middle of the Passover holiday, and extends until the 9th of Iyar, halfway through the counting of the Omer.

Kuf means "monkey," which is one of the primary symbols of impurity, Klippah, which itself begins with a Kuf. The Kuf is shaped like an imperfect Heh (which represents holiness), just like a monkey is an imperfect imitation of a human being. At the times that we behave properly, the Torah states that five (gematria of Heh) of us will chase one hundred (gematria of Kuf). 


On the other hand, Kuf can also stand for holiness itself, Kedushah, which also begins with the letter Kuf. We therefore see that the Kuf has potential for both holiness and unholiness, and represents the process of transformation from unholiness to holiness, just as during these days between Passover and Shavuot the Jews went from the 49th level of unholiness to the 49th level of holiness. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh in his book, The Hebrew Letters, states that the Kuf represents the kabbalistic concept of "Redemption of Fallen Sparks." (p.280) In Kabbalah, redeeming the holy sparks is the very reason for our existence (Tikkun Olam, "fixing the world"), and the rationale behind our exile(s).

The next letter, the Reish, also represents a similar dual concept. It can stand for Rash (poor) or Rosh (head), just as the month of Nissan itself is both the head of all the months and yet a month of humility in which we eat the bread of poverty. Nissan represent Judah, the head of all the tribes, and yet someone who was humbly willing to accept his shortcomings and transform them. Similar to the Kuf, Rav Ginsburgh states that the Reish stands for Avodat HaBerurim (the service of clarification), which is also very much related to the redemption of the sparks mentioned above. Once the Avodat HaBerurim is completed, Mashiach (son of David, from Judah) will come and bring about the ingathering of the exiles and redemption.

Furthermore, the Zohar mentions that two letters Kuf and Reish together also have a poor connotation. They form part of the word Sheker, a lie. Kuf and Reish by themselves spell Kar, coldness, also associated with impurity (Raskin). Kuf and Reish are also the first two letters of the word Keri, a strong form of impurity associated with seminal emission, as well as with Amalek. Yet, when the last letter of the word Keri, the yud (which, like the Heh, stands for G-dliness) is placed in the beginning, in front of the Kuf and the Reish, it forms the word Yakar, which means "dear." Here too, we see that impurity can be transformed into a feeling of dearness and closeness to G-d.


A similar theme can be found in the Perek Shirah verses of the Wind and the Lightning Bolts:


The Wind is saying, “I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Do not withhold; bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:6)

The Lightning Bolts are saying, “He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings forth the wind from His storehouses." (Psalms 135:7)

The verses above are clearly related to the ingathering of the exiles. Both verses speak of the "ends of the earth." This is related to Passover, but also to Yom Ha'Atzma'ut. (See here, how theoretically Yom Ha'Atzma'ut could be celebrated as late as the 9th of Iyar, the 24th day of the Omer). 


Wind in Hebrew is "Ruach," which also means spirit. It is a word specifically connected to Mashiach, and the Haftorah we read for the last day of Passover. The verse of the wind specifically addresses two kinds of exile, north (Assyria) and south (Egypt), telling the forces of impurity to "give up" and "not withhold," elevating the sparks and transforming them into holiness.


The Lightning Bolts also bring to mind the miracles of Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai (marked by both thunder and lightning). The verse also speaks of the Lightning Bolts making "vapors" ascend, which seems very much parallel to the concept of elevating the fallen sparks back to their source. In fact, Rav Ginsburgh mentions "vapor" as an aspect of elevating fallen sparks, related to both the Reish itself and the form of the Reish within the Kuf itself (made of a Reish and Zayin). Interestingly, the verse of the Lightning Bolts also mentions the wind.

The Temple guard for these 22 days is connected to the priestly family of Seorim. Seorim means sheaves of barley, which is exactly the material used for the Omer offering. The Omer is referred to in the Torah as 'Minchat Seorim," an offering of barley. This is connected to the Counting of the Omer done at this time of year. 



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Week 29 (From the Book): After the Initial Inspiration, To Get to Work

PEREK SHIRAH: The beast of burden is saying, "When you eat the fruit of your labors, happy are you and good is your lot." (Psalms 128:2)

PIRKEI AVOT: Rabbi Eliezer [the son of] Chisma would say: the laws of kinin (bird offerings) and the laws of menstrual periods---these, these are the meat of Halachah (Torah law). The calculations of solar seasons and gematria are the condiments of wisdom.

SEFIRAH COMBINATION: Chesed shebeHod (kindness within the context of glory and gratefulness)

As we enter the twenty-ninth week, the week of Passover, in Perek Shirah, the large impure (non-kosher) domestic animal sings that those that eat from the work of their own hands are praiseworthy and are blessed with good. (Psalm 128:2) This animal has been translated by Rabbi Slifkin simply as the “beast of burden.”[1] On Passover, we feel the influx of Hashem’s blessings and redemption. At the same time, from the second day of Passover onwards, the Jewish people begin counting the omer and begin working towards self-improvement. Thus, by the time Shavuot arrives, we will have merited to receive the Torah, at least in part through the work of our own hands.

This week’s animal appears to be a reference to Yishmael and his descendants. This son of Abraham was known for his great capacity for praying and for trusting in G-d’s blessings and salvation.[2] In fact, Yishmael did receive great blessings, although part of the blessings showed that there were aspects of his lifestyle that still needed to be improved. The angel tells Hagar, Yishmael’s mother, that "his hand would be on everyone.”[3] Later in life, Yishmael repents, returns to G-d, and has a good relationship with Isaac.[4] In messianic times, Isaac and Yishmael will coexist in peace.

Our sages interpret the verse of the beast of burden to be a dual blessing, “praiseworthy” – in this world, and “good for you” - in the world to come. There is a custom in Chassidic circles, instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov, to make a meal on the eighth day of Passover called Moshiach Seudah, in honor of Mashiach and the world to come.

The number twenty-nine is connected to the cycle of the moon (29.5 days to be exact), on which the Jewish month is based. Muslims, who consider themselves descendants of Yishmael, follow a purely lunar calendar. Twenty-nine is also the number of days in a woman’s menstrual cycle. (See Pirkei Avot below)

The lesson in Pirkei Avot for this week is found in the teaching of Rabbi Elazar the son of Chismah. He explains that the laws relating to bird sacrifices and menstrual cycles are essential, while astronomy and numerological calculations (gematria) are the spice of wisdom. (III:18) On Passover, we do not eat chametz, leavened bread. Spiritually, this represents the notion that on Passover we set aside everything that makes us feel “inflated” and takes away from our essence, our core identity as reflected in our relationship with G-d and with each other.    

Furthermore, on Passover, G-d connects to us on a deeply personal level, primarily as our Redeemer, instead of as the Creator of the Universe. (See Appendix I) This appears to be taught in this week’s Pirkei Avot: G-d does not want us to lose ourselves in grandiose and esoteric topics, such as astronomy and gematria. He would rather see us involved also in the details of properly serving Him in how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis.

The two sets of laws mentioned in Pirkei Avot are particularly important to daily conduct. They are fundamental to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People, and between husband and wife (which is also a metaphor for our relationship with G-d, as expressed in Solomon’s Song of Songs). Bird sacrifices are related to our ability to come closer to G-d.  The word for sacrifice in Hebrew is korban, from the word karov, which means close (nowadays, because we cannot bring sacrifices, prayer and study serve as substitutes). Similarly, the laws related to the female menstrual cycle are essential in order to make wives permissible to their husbands.[5]

This week, the combination of sefirot results in chesed shebehod. This week, we work on ourselves in order to properly receive and appreciate G-d’s blessings that we receive during Passover. (This week would also represent the “eighth week” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Netzach. This is appropriate, as Pessach is the festival of redemption)

We learn from the beast of burden that in our path towards righteousness, Hashem helps us and journeys with us along the way. Nevertheless, we should not want or expect our spiritual development to be "spoon-fed." Even if ultimately everything comes from G-d, we must work hard to achieve spiritual elevation ourselves.






[1] Slifkin, p. 11
[2] Genesis 21:10, 48:22, Targum
[3] Ibid.
[4] Genesis 25:9, Rashi
[5] The Torah sets forth laws regarding times during a woman’s menses in which husband and wife do not touch, and instead interact primarily on a spiritual plane. These essential laws help preserve a higher level intimacy and attraction, since the physical side of the relationship is renewed each month.
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Rabbi Daniel Kahane and Ann Helen Wainer have recently launched a new book, which promises to change the way scholars and laymen understand the Jewish calendar as well as the structure of central Jewish texts. 

The book shows how the 52-day period spanning from Passover to Shavuot (Pentecost) is in fact a microcosm of the 52 weeks of the year. Additionally, it demonstrates how 52 rabbis and 52 animals listed in the sacred works Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) and Perek Shirah (“Chapter of Song”) parallel the year’s weeks as well. Finally, the book explores the kabbalistic meaning behind the numbers and divine attributes (sefirot) related to each day from Passover to Shavuot known as the Counting of the Omer.

The Counting of the Omer has always been one of the key tools used by the Jewish People as a basis for spiritual development. The book expands its use to the entire year and shows amazing and eerie connections between how the weeks of the year and the days of the Omer parallel each other. “The basis for the entire book is one simple idea,” Rabbi Kahane says, “Just as the culmination of the Counting of the OmerLag Ba’Omer, falls on the 33rd day of the Omer, so too the week of Lag Ba’Omer falls on the 33rd week of the year. 

“The book’s use as a weapon against sadness should also not be underestimated,” exclaims Ann Helen Wainer, “its uplifting ideas and its connectedness to the song and harmony of nature, as well as the wisdom and foresight of our ancestors, is a true gift.”
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