Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Daniel in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Miketz

This week's Torah portion describes Joseph's rise to power, after he had faced so much suffering and difficulties. His salvation comes through correctly interpreting Pharaoh's dream. Before giving his interpretation, Joseph famously states, "Bilada'y," the interpretation does not come from me, but from G-d. After years of hardship, Joseph saw very clearly that all that we have, including any successes along the way, comes from G-d, not us.

Joseph's power to interpret dreams brings to mind the prophet Daniel, who perhaps is more famously known for the fact that he was saved from the lion's den. Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel depicts how, not only was Daniel able to interpret the emperor's dream, he actually had to tell the emperor the dream itself, because the latter had forgotten it. Daniel, like Joseph, attributes all of his success to G-d.

Just like Joseph received a new name from Pharaoh, Tzafnat Pa'aneach (revealer of hidden secrets), so too does Daniel receive a new name from the Babylonian emperor: Belteshazzar. Rashi explains that "Bel" is a name of a Babylonian god, and that "Teshazzar" is an Aramaic expression denoting wisdom. Perhaps one can also interpret the name to mean that wisdom come from being in the state of "Bli" (feeling devoid of something), as in Joseph's statement, "Bilada'y." Regarding "Bilada'y," Rashi comments: "בִּלְעָדָי. The wisdom is not mine, but God will answer."

These letters, Beit and Lamed, are the very first and the very last letters of the Torah. Much has been written about how, when inverted, they form the word Lev, heart, and how the letters have the numerical value of 32, of the "32 Paths of Wisdom," often mentioned in this blog). Perhaps equally important is the understanding that wisdom comes from Beit-Lamed, from Joseph's Bilada'y and Daniel's name, Belteshazzar, which also are contained respectively in the beginning and in the end, of the Tanach. (In Kabbalistic texts, it is explained that the Hebrew word for "wisdom," Chochmah, also stands for Koach Mah, the power that comes from knowing that we are Mah, "what/nothing.") This is in fact the beginning and the end of all of history, since, as we learn in Proverbs, wisdom was created before Creation itself, and the Talmud states that Mashiach, if he comes from the dead, will be like Daniel.


Why does the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b) state that if Mashiach comes from the living, then he is like Rabbeinu HaKadosh (Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi), and if he comes from the dead then he is like Daniel, Ish Chamudoth (the desired man)? In my humble opinion, this statement has to be understood in light of another Talmudic statement (Berachot 18a-b), that the righteous are called alive even after their death, while the wicked are called dead even while they are alive. (This was touched upon slightly in last week's parasha's blog post, here)

Rabbeinu HaKadosh is the quintessential Tzadik Gamur (completely righteous). He said about himself that he did not benefit even "a little finger" from this world. In line with the above, Sefer Chassidim states that even after his passing, he would come to his home on Friday evenings to make Kiddush for his family.
Daniel, like Rabbeinu HaKadosh, is a direct descendant from quintessential Ba'alei Teshuvah, King David and Judah. Daniel is also the Ba'al Teshuvah. He was punished by Heaven for a mistake he committed when advising the evil Nebuchadnezzar. He told the emperor to give tzedakah and thereby stave off Divine retribution. The Talmud (Bava Basra 4a) states that the character of Hatach in the Purim Megillah is none other than Daniel. Hatach means "cut off," a reference to how, according to one opinion, Daniel was demoted from this position. According to the other opinion, Hatach is a reference to how royal matters were "Nechtachin" (decided) through him. There are two opinions as to Daniel's punishment: either it was that he was demoted from his position in government or that it was that he was thrown into the lion's den.


Daniel's being thrown to the lion's den is also connected to the story of Joseph, who was thrown into a pit by his brothers. This brings us back to last week's Parashah, in which Torah states that, "the pit was empty, it had no water." Rashi asks, why does the Torah need to tell us that it had no water, if it already told us it was empty: "תלמוד לומר אין בו מים, מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו: [To inform us that] there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it. [From Shab. 22a, Chag. 3a]"

Here again, like in last week's blog (here) there is an example of how the Torah is one long name of Hashem, and that the text's spacing can be read slightly differently in a way that includes Rashi's interpretation:

"And they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal." In Hebrew:

וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ הַבֹּרָה וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם: וַיֵּשְׁבוּ לֶאֱכָל לֶחֶם

It was pointed out to me recently, that וַיֵּשְׁבוּ, could be read as וַיֵּשְׁ בוּ, "and there was in it," which the same terminology used by Rashi. It was noted to me that the following letter is a Lamed, which is shaped like a snake or a scorpion. I believe that perhaps a better interpretation is that וַיֵּשְׁ בוּ לֶאֱכָל לֶחֶם, should be read as, "and there was in it something that could eat [Joseph] as a meal" or could "make him hot" (leCham), like the venom of a snake.

Interestingly, when it comes to Joseph, not only is it not considered a miracle that Joseph was saved from the snakes and scorpions, but in fact, the Torah states that this was Reuben's plan to save Joseph, by taking him away from his brothers and out of the pit later.

(It is worth noting that the Torah does not make this miracle explicit like it does regarding Daniel. Similarly, Abraham's miracle regarding the fiery furnace is also not made explicit, while the Tanach states unequivocally that Daniel's colleagues, Mishael, Chananiah, and Azariah, were saved after being thrown into a fiery furnace as well).

There are many explanations regarding Reuven's actions, and how they could be considered by the Torah to be an act of saving Joseph. The Orach Chayim states, based on the Zohar, that men have free choice while animals do not. Another explanation I heard from Rabbi Moshe Matts, is the principle of Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker, when it comes to issues of the eternity of the Jewish people (and in this case, the continuity of the Tribes of Joseph), the world does not have a say: our continuity is a given, and therefore the snakes and scorpions could not touch Joseph.

Perhaps a simpler answer is that both in the case of Daniel and Joseph there was not any doubt that they would be saved because from the time of Creation, G-d placed the fear of man upon the animal kingdom, because man has a Tzelem Elokim, the Divine image. Daniel did not lose this image, and therefore the animals feared him. (Zohar Shemot 125B) Similarly, Joseph had also not lost his Tzelem Elokim, and therefore the snakes and scorpions feared him as well.

Finally, it is also fascinating to see how that the animals related to the tests of Daniel and Joseph, lions and snakes and scorpions, respectively, are related to the two men. As mentioned before, Daniel is a descendant of King David and Judah, who were known in the Torah as "lions." Joseph says about himself, “Haloh Yedatem Ki Nachesh Yenachesh Ish Asher Kamoni.” Nachash in Hebrew means snake. Joseph was particularly capable of fighting off the Primordial Snake, the yetzer harah, such as in the case of Potiphar's seduction.

Even the dreams which each of the two great men had to interpret were very much connected to their respective personal stories. Pharaoh's dreams had cows and ears of grain. Joseph is compared to an ox by Jacob and Moshe, and one of his own dreams described in the Torah contained sheaves of wheat. Pharaoh's dreams were about seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and Joseph himself had experienced, more than once, how disaster can strike unexpectedly and one can go from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream was about how his kingdom would decay and diminish in power over the generations, and Daniel himself had just experienced how the Davidic dynasty had decayed and become corrupted until ultimately conquered by Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Hashem has special ways of preparing us for the challenges we face. Life's tests are a preparation and a rectification, a tikkun, the purpose of which we often do not understand at the time. Sometimes we have to go through so much in order to be ready for what is to come. The Davidic dynasty was "cut off" only to rise again in Messianic times. May it be soon, and may we merit to see with our own eyes all that for which we have been preparing so arduously and for so long.

Week 13 (from the Book): To Publicize Miracles with Pride and Humility

The starling is saying, "Their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed that G-d has blessed." (Isaiah 61:9)

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. From where you came--from a putrid drop; where you are going--to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting--before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Yesod shebeGevurah (foundation and firmness within the context of discipline and judgment)

We now come to the thirteenth week, which includes the beginning of Chanukah, when in Perek Shirah the starling declares that "Their seeds will be known among the nations and their offspring among the people: all who see them will recognize that they are the seed that Hashem blessed" (Isaiah 61:9). During this week, it is actually a mitzvah to publicize the miracles of Chanukah to the rest of the world, so that all may recognize the blessings bestowed on the Jewish people during the times of the Greeks. This mitzvah in Hebrew is called pirsumei nissa, to publicize the miracle.

The starling’s song’s focus on the seed of the Jewish people appears to be an important reference to the kohanim, the priestly class, whose lineage, unlike most of Judaism, is actually determined by the physical male seed. There are even DNA tests available to check for a “kohen gene,” to know with almost complete certainty if someone is or is not a direct descendant of Aaron, the first kohen. The Maccabees were kohanim, and their miraculous actions during the days of Chanukah made the seed of Aaron known among the nations. They ensured that Aaron’s offspring would be recognized as the seed Hashem blessed.

Chanukah also comes from the word chinuch, which means education. The starling also teaches us that just as each of us is a “seed,” planted, nurtured and blessed by our parents, teachers, and most importantly, by G-d, so too must we ensure that the same or better is done for our children and students. It is ultimately through education that we will defeat the forces of darkness and assimilation.

The number thirteen represents the thirteen attributes of G-d’s mercy, as well as the thirteen principles used in studying and interpreting the Torah. Thirteen is also the gematria of the Hebrew word echad, one, as well as ahavah, love. It is also a reference to the Tribe of Levi, which is the “thirteenth tribe,” when counted together with the other twelve. As kohanim, the Maccabees come from the Tribe of Levi. Their highly improbable victory over the Greeks was a revelation of Hashem’s great mercy and love, as well as of His oneness, and absolute power over creation.

In Pirkei Avot, Akavia the son of Mahalalel teaches: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: know from where you came, to where you are going, and to Whom, in the future, you are to provide an accounting. From where did you come? From a putrid drop. To where you are going? To a place of dust, maggots and worms. To Whom will you provide an accounting? To the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He." (III: 1) It is interesting to note that this lesson in Pirkei Avot also speaks of the human seed, although in a much less flattering way.

Interestingly, there is quite a strong connection between the words of Akavia and Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates our victory against Hellenistic culture and humanism, which valued mankind, and in particular, the human body above all else. Akavia claims that the human being, or at least the body, comes from a putrid drop, and that its fate is to be consumed by worms. The lowly human being is then judged by G-d Himself. Akavia demonstrates to us that our life should be focused on G-d, not on man.

The thoughts of Akavia help us understand just how merciful G-d is towards His people. Despite our lowly past and lowly future, we nevertheless have a strong and direct relationship with the King of kings, just like children have with their Father. We have a spark of G-d within us, and when He punishes us, it is for our own good. Chassidism teaches us that we have no idea just how precious the body is to G-d, like the seed described in the song of the starling.

The sefirah combination for this week results in yesod shebegevurah. This could not be more appropriate: yesod means foundation, and it is this week that we celebrate Chanukah, when the Jewish people, through its deep connection to its religious foundation, as well as courage and strength, was able to resist the forced assimilationist policies of the Greeks.

Regarding self-improvement, we see from the song of the starling that we must not only publicize the miracles that we merit to witness, but also be aware that everything comes from G-d, our Creator, who is ultimately responsible for everyone and everything.

Week 13 (Book 2): David and Avigail, and the Quality of "Sharp Discussion"

HAAZINU: He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the crag. (Deuteronomy 32:13)

HAFTARAH: From the brightness before Him flamed forth coals of fire. (II Samuel 22:13)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Sharp Discussion with Students (Pilpul HaTalmidim)

PROPHET(S): David and Avigail


The eleventh week of the year includes the first days of Chanukah. The verse in Haazinu refers to high places and miraculous occurrences, as well as to oil. These concepts can all be found in the Chanukah story. On Chanukah, G-d led the Jewish people to victory in a very high way, that was above nature. The Hebrew word used for “high places,” Bamah, also means altar. The pure oil of the miracle of Chanukah, can also be understood as the pintele yid, the innermost part of every Jew, which always remains pure, and which reveals itself in times of struggle.

This week’s Haftarah verse is also related to the events of Chanukah. It speaks of brightness and fire, which are related to the light of the Menorah, and the Chanukah miracle in general. Furthemore, again the metaphor of coals is used. Coals can be burning on the inside, but it takes an additional step to make that fire be revealed.

The quality for this week is sharp discussion with students, which in Hebrew is called pilpul. One of the qualities that the Jewish people acquired during the Greek exile was the use of tremendous sharpness and logic. As already mentioned in Week 10, the name of the Greek king at the time of Chanukah was Ptolomy (Talmai in Hebrew), which has the same numerical value (gematria) as the word “Talmud.” The Talmud was greatly developed due to the influence of the Greeks, and even includes many Greek words.

This week’s prophets are David and Avigail. King David represents monarchy, and the Maccabees formed the Hasmonean dynasty. King David represents the ability of the Jewish people to be extremely holy and yet extremely involved in the affairs of this world, joining spirituality and physicality, Torah study and prayer, with managing government affairs and fighting wars. One of the major themes of Chanukah is this combination as well. Chanukah has two major themes, the military-political victory over the Greek army, and the victory of Jewish wisdom over Greek wisdom – these two aspects are represented by King David and King Solomon (next week’s prophet) respectively.

Furthermore, Avigail was able to avoid bloodshed by approaching King David and speaking to him about her husband – the Hasmoneans also were able to avoid further bloodshed by forming an alliance with Rome.

David and Avigail both had tremendous powers of pilpul, sharp discussion. King David was known for his sharp mind and the halachah always followed his opinion (source). It was Avigail’s discussion with King David that convinced him not to fight against her husband. (I Samuel, 25:18-38)

The levitical city for this week is ‘Almon. ‘Almon means “hidden” from the word “He’elem” and “Olam.” One of the main ideas of Chanukah and of Kislev as a whole is that of revealing that which is “hidden.” Through the miracle of Chanukah we see that the whole world “Olam” is just an illusion and that G-d’s power is supreme.

On Chanukah even the most “hidden” of Jews come out from their hiding. While there are limitations of what kinds of materials can be used to light Shabat candles, there is no such limitations for Chanukah. Every Jew is “lit up” and excited by Chanukah.

Week 13 (Book 3): Shelah and Chanukah

SONG OF THE SEA: Too awesome for praises, performing wonders! You inclined Your right hand; the earth swallowed them up.
HAFTARAH: those that sit in judgment, and those that walk on the path, tell of it. 11. Instead of the noise of adversaries, between the places of drawing water,
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 13 - the Light of Moshe; Jacob and Joseph
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the Sinai desert and camped in Kivroth hataavah.
On week 13, week of Chanukah, the verses of the Song of the Sea speak of praising G-d, Who performs wonders, and Whose miracles led to Jewish salvation. Praising G-d for his miracles is one of the key themes of Chanukah.
The Haftorah’s verses also describe the need to tell of G-d’s miracles, and the fact that the Jews were no longer being persecuted “between the places of drawing water,” a reference to the study of the Torah, which the Greeks were attacking.
Daf Yud Gimmel (Folio 13) of Sotah is primarily about the burial of Jacob and Joseph, although it also starts with a brief mention of how when Moshe was born, the room filled with light. Regarding Jacob’s burial, the Talmud highlights how the fight with Eisav was won, not by logical arguments, but through the lone supra-rational act of Chushim, son of Dan. As mentioned before, Dan connected to Teveth and Chanukah. As Eisav was making a baseless claim, and asking for proof for this and that, Chushim could not bear to see his grandfather’s burial delayed, went ahead and killed him. This is very similar to how the Chanukah revolt started. Matisyahu was asked to slaughter a pig on a pagan altar. Not only did he refuse, he killed the Jew and the Syrian representative that had demanded this.[1]The Talmud’s description of Joseph’s burial is also appropriate, as Yosef HaTzadik himself represents Jewish strength in the face of Greek repression. (See Book 1, Week 11)
Shelah, Archpachshad’s son, has one of the names of Mashiach. Shelah is also the name of Judah’s son, which he did not want to marry to Tamar. Rabbi Yosef Jacobson explains the connection between Shelah and Chanukah:
The Truth Emerges
Rabbi Isaac Luryah wrote that "the judgment that began on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is completed some three months later, during the days of Chanukah." That's why it is at this period of time - three months after the intimate union between Judah and Tamar - that Judah (the metaphor for G-d) is "informed" regarding the spiritual status of Tamar (the Jewish people) and the verdict is issued that Tamar has no future.
"When Tamar was being taken out, she sent word to Judah, saying, 'I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles. Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?'"
During that fateful time, when the "prosecuting angels" have almost been successful in demonstrating to G-d that the Jewish people are a failed experiment, at that very moment, the Jew sends word to G-d, saying, "I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles!" The information you received that I abandoned you, is a blatant lie! If I have gone astray here and there, it is merely a superficial, temporary phase. Gaze into the deeper layers of my identity and you will discover that I belong to You, that my intimacy is shared only with You, G-d. "I am pregnant from Judah and not from anybody else!" the Jew declares.
"Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?" For during the festival of Chanukah - when the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is finalized -- the Jew kindles each night a wick, or a cord, soaked in oil, commemorating the event of the Jews discovering a sealed single cruse of oil after the Greeks had plundered the holy Temple in Jerusalem (9).
The Jew further points to the staff in his arm (10). In order to preserve his faith, he was forced time and time again - for 2000 years - to take the wandering staff in his arm, abandon his home, wealth and security, and seek out new territory where he could continue to live as a Jew.
"Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?" the Jew asks G-d. "It is to this man that I am pregnant!" Our loyalty and commitment remain eternally to the owner of the "seal" and "cord" of the Chanukah flames; our deepest intimacy is reserved to the owner of the "staff" of Jewish wandering.
Who Is the Traitor?
"Judah immediately recognized the articles, and he said, "She is right; it is from me that she conceived. She did it because I did not give her to my son Shelah."
When G-d observes the burning flames of the Chanukah menorah, He immediately recognizes that indeed, His people have never left Him. True, the Jew does fall prey at times to the dominating external forces of a materialistic and immoral world, yet this enslavement is skin deep. Probe the layers of his or her soul and you will discover an infinite wellspring of spirituality and love.
"If the Jew has, in fact, gone astray here and there, it is my fault," G-d says, not his. "Because I did not give Tamar to my son Shelah."Shelah is the Biblical term used to describe Moshiach (11),the leader who will usher in the final redemption. G-d says that for two millennia I have kept the Jewish nation in a dark and horrific exile where they have been subjected to horrendous pain and savage suffering. Blood, tears and death have been their tragic fate for twenty centuries, as they prayed, each day and every moment, for world redemption. But redemption has not come.
How can I expect that a Jew never commit a sin? How can I expect that a Jew never try to cast his luck with the materialistic world about him that seems so appealing, when I held back for so long the light of Moshiach?
"It is I, G-d, who is guilty of treason," G-d says. Not the Jew. Tamar is an innocent, beautiful palm-tree, which still has only one heart to its Father in heaven.[2]
In the thirteenth week, the Jews journey from Sinai desert and camp in Kivroth hataavah. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of receiving the Torat haChassidut, and now focus on the concept of burying one’s physical desires, through the concepts of Itkafiah and Itapcha, basic notions in Chassidic philosophy. (explained previously in the blog) [3]Chanukah, as opposed to other holidays, is primarily a spiritual holiday. There is no commandment to make a holiday meal. It is a holiday to sing praise to G-d spiritually.

[3];$KorachCOLON_42_Journeys_Part_3.php:“The Baal Shem Tov (citing Brit Menucha by the 14th century Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham ben Yitzchak of Grenada) interprets the “Graves of Craving” as a state of utter self-nullification through cleaving to G-d when one experiences the “death” of cravings, they become buried with no potential of reviving inappropriate desires.”

Week 13 (Book 4a): Being Straightforward

STORY OF CHANNAH: 13 Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard; therefore, Eli thought she had been drunken.
TZADIKKIM: the Sdei Chemed and the Be'er Mayim Chayim
PROVERBS: Chapter 13

Week 13 is the week of Chanukah. The verse from the story of Channah describes how she prayed. Her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard – this is the ultimate example of how prayer is first and foremost a spiritual act. It is not necessary for us to emit sound for Hashem to be able to hear our cry. The story of Chanukah is also about the victory of the spiritual over the material.

The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah makes him fit to be “correct,” in Hebrew, yashar. Yashar literally means “straight,” someone who is truthful and straightforward. Yashar is particularly related to the fulfillment of the negative commandments, “which draws forth revelations beyond the creative order.” (Hayom Yom, 14th of Kislev) The above story, Eli mistakenly suspects Channah of being drunk, when in reality she was simply praying out of a broken heart. Praying when drunk would violate a negative commandment. In fact, Channah’s actions are that of a Yashar, above reproach, drawing forth such supernatural blessings that allow her to have a child.

Chapter 13 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It continues the trend of the previous chapters, contrasting the righteous with the wicked (a key theme of Chanukah, as already explained). It also specifically speaks of spiritual light, the light of Chanukah:

9. The light of the righteous will rejoice, but the candle of the wicked will ebb away.

10. Only with wickedness does one cause quarrels, but there is wisdom with those who take counsel.

This week includes the yahrzeits of Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini (24th of Kislev) and Rabbi Chaim Tirar of Chernowitz (27th of Kislev).

Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini is most well-known for his encyclopedic halachik work of 18 volumes, entitled the Sdei Chemed (although he wrote other books as well). He was born in Jerusalem, but also liked in Turkey and Crimea. He later returned to Israel and lived in Jerusalem, he was being considered for Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel,Rishon L’Zion. He wished to devote himself to his studies so he moved to Hebron. Eventually he became Chief Rabbi of Hebron. He was considered to be a holy man by both Jews and Arabs alike.

Rabbi Chaim Tirar of Chernowitz is most well-known for his Chassidic/Kabbalistic commentary on the Torah, the Be’er Mayim Chayim. Rabbi Chernowitz also wrote other books, including Sidduroh Shel Shabat, which explains the holiness of the Sabbath. (Ascent) He was one of the most important disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. He also studied under Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov.[1]

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Chaim of Antunia (25th of Kislev), Rabbi Yochanan son of Rabbi David Mordechai Twersky of Tolna (25th of Kislev), Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Briah of Koznitz (26th of Kislev), Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kohn of Toldos Aharon (27th of Kislev), and (sometimes) Rabbi Avraham son of Rabbi Nachman Chazan (leader of Breslov, 29th of Kislev), and Rabbi Tzvi Mordechai son of Rabbi Avraham Moshe of Peshischa (29th of Kislev)



Week 13 (Book 4b): Finding G-d in Exile

3. The watchmen who patrol the city found me: "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
4. I had just passed them by, when I found him whom my soul loves; I held him and would not let him go, until I brought him into my mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me.
5. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you neither awaken nor arouse the love while it is desirous.
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 13 - Things For Which Yom Kippur Does Not Atone
Week 13 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Chanukah. The Song of Songs closes the month of Kislev with two verses from the People of Israel to G-d, and one verse in which the Jewish people address the other nations (the last verse is actually the same as the last one in Week 8).
After searching and searching for Hashem and not finding, and after asking the watchmen (which Rashi notes is a reference to Moshe and Aharon, but perhaps also a reference to the leaders, prophets, and Kohanim of each generation), finally we found Him. That is Chanukah! Hashem reveals Himself to us on Chanukah, in the miraculous victory over the Greeks and the open miracle of the oil of the Menorah lasting eight days.
The Song of Songs states that once we found Him, we did not let go until bringing Him to “mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me,” clearly a reference to the Chanukah rededication of the Temple, the home of the Shechinah, the Feminine Divine Presence.
In the third verse, the parallel with Week 8 is quite significant, because in this battle against sinking into assimilation, it is on Chanukahthat we can declare that we have been victorious. The confrontational tone towards the nations therefore here can be seen as a cry of victory.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the thirteenth mentioned is Levi. The connection of Levi to Chanukah could not be more obvious: all Kohanim and the zealous Maccabees that brought about this victory were all his descendants.
Daf Yud Gimmel (Folio 13) of Shvuot discusses whether Yom Kippur atones for all sins, whether or not a person repented, with three exceptions: “one who denies the basis of Torah, one who ridicules Torah, and one who annuls circumcision (he does not circumcise himself, or he stretches his skin in order to appear uncircumcised).”[1]Again, the parallel with Chanukah and the confrontation with the Greeks is very clear. The denial of the Divine origin of the Torah and the specific practice of annulling circumcision were two of the main conflicts Jews had with Hellenist culture. The daf also specifically discusses the atonement of Kohanim, separate from the rest of the people.
Chapter 13 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The prophet describes how he is told to wear a girdle and that the girdle later becomes rotten and of no use. Hashem then compares the Jewish people to a girdle: “just as the girdle clings to a man's loins, so have I caused the entire house of Israel and the entire house of Judah to cling to Me.” This appears to be clearly connected to the Brit Milah, the primary mitzvah we perform on our male loins, a signal of our covenant with G-d. The chapter also repeats the theme of “skirts” of the Jewish people being “uncovered,” and pulled over their face. (Verses 22; 27) This seems to be another reference to circumcision, and specifically the process of annulling circumcision.
The verses speak of the corruption and false that was taking hold, similar to that of Chanukah, specifically of darkness (associated with Greece): “Give the Lord your God honor before it becomes dark, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and you shall hope for light, but He will make it into darkness, and making it into a thick cloud.” (Verse 16)
22. And if you say in your heart, "Why have these befallen me? For the greatness of your iniquity were your skirts uncovered, your steps cut off.
23. Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? So will you be able to improve, you who have become accustomed to do evil.
24. And I will scatter them like straw that passes with the wind, to the desert.
25. This is your lot, the portion of your measures, from Me, says the Lord, for you have forgotten Me, and you have trusted in falsehood.
26. And I also have uncovered your skirts over your face, and your disgrace has been seen.
27. Your adulteries and your neighings, and the thoughts of your harlotry; on hills in the field have I seen your abominations; woe to you, Jerusalem, you shall not become purified. After when shall it ever be?
The reference to the Cushites (descendants of Ham, who was known for his sexual impropriety) is significant. Even more significant is the reference to the leopard, who throughout Jewish tradition is particularly connected with Greece.[2]As Rabbi Slifkin explains in his book, the connections are many: their beauty, their swiftness, and perhaps most importantly, the boldness.
The word for the Leopard’s spots in Hebrew can also be translated as stains, kesem, such as those associated with ritual impurity. Leopards are also known to mate with other animals, not of their species, perhaps also a reference to assimilation.[3]
The last verse speaks of the impurity of Jerusalem, and asks when will it ever become pure. In fact, Jerusalem was purified in the times of the Maccabees.

[2] Rabbi Slifkin devotes most of his chapter on Leopards of his Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdomto this connection. Available at
[3] Ibid.

Week 13 (Book 5): Reviewing the Fifth Week of Kislev - Psalms 37-39; 42:5-7; 89:14

Chapter 37
1. By David. Do not compete with the wicked; do not envy doers of injustice. 2. For like grass they will be swiftly cut down; like green vegetation they will wither. 3. Trust in the Lord and do good; then will you abide in the land and be nourished by faith. 4.Delight in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart.5. Cast your needs upon the Lord; rely on Him, and He will take care. 6. He will reveal your righteousness like the light, your justness like the high noon. 7. Depend on the Lord and hope in Him. Compete not with the prosperous, with the man who invents evil schemes. 8. Let go of anger, abandon rage; do not compete with [one who intends] only to harm. 9. For the evildoers will be cut down; but those who hope in the Lord, they will inherit the earth.10. For soon the wicked one will not be; you will gaze at his place and he will be gone. 11. But the humble shall inherit the earth, and delight in abundant peace. 12. The wicked one plots against the righteous, and gnashes his teeth at him. 13. My Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day will come. 14. The wicked have drawn a sword and bent their bow to fell the poor and destitute, to slaughter those of upright ways. 15. But their sword shall enter their own hearts, and their bows shall break. 16. Better the little of the righteous, than the abundant wealth of the wicked. 17. For the strength of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord supports the righteous. 18. The Lord appreciates the days of the innocent; their inheritance will last forever. 19. They will not be shamed in times of calamity, and in days of famine they will be satisfied. 20.For the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord are as fattened sheep: consumed, consumed in smoke. 21. The wicked man borrows and does not repay; but the righteous man is gracious and gives. 22. For those blessed by Him will inherit the earth, and those cursed by Him will be cut off. 23. The steps of man are directed by G-d; He desires his way. 24. When he totters he shall not be thrown down, for the Lord supports his hand. 25. I have been a youth, I have also aged; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his offspring begging bread. 26.All day he is kind and lends; his offspring are a blessing. 27. Turn away from evil and do good, and you will dwell [in peace] forever.28. For the Lord loves justice, he will not abandon his pious ones-they are protected forever; but the offspring of the wicked are cut off. 29. The righteous shall inherit the earth and dwell upon it forever. 30. The mouth of the righteous one utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. 31. The Torah of his G-d is in his heart; his steps shall not falter. 32. The wicked one watches for the righteous man, and seeks to kill him. 33. But the Lord will not abandon him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.34. Hope in the Lord and keep His way; then He will raise you high to inherit the earth. When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it. 35. I saw a powerful wicked man, well-rooted like a vibrant, native tree. 36. Yet he vanished, behold he was gone; I searched for him, but he could not be found. 37. Watch the innocent, and observe the upright, for the future of such a man is peace. 38. But sinners shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked is cut off. 39. The deliverance of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in time of distress. 40. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they have put their trust in Him.
Chapter 38
1. A psalm by David, to remind. 2. O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chastise me in Your wrath. 3. For Your arrows have landed in me, Your hand descended upon me. 4. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your rage, no peace in my bones because of my sin. 5. For my iniquities have flooded over my head; like a heavy load, they are too heavy for me. 6. My wounds are rotted; they reek because of my foolishness. 7. I am bent and extremely bowed; all day I go about in gloom. 8. My sides are inflamed; there is no soundness in my flesh. 9. I am weakened and extremely depressed; I howl from the moaning of my heart. 10. My Lord, all that I desire is before You; my sighing is not hidden from You. 11. My heart is engulfed, my strength has left me; the light of my eyes they, too, are not with me. 12. My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction; my intimates stand afar. 13. The seekers of my life have laid traps; those who seek my harm speak destructiveness; they utter deceits all day long. 14. But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear; like a mute that does not open his mouth. 15. I was like a man that does not perceive, and in whose mouth there are no rebuttals. 16.Because for You, O Lord, I wait; You will answer, my Lord, my G-d. 17. For I said, "Lest they rejoice over me; when my foot falters they will gloat over me.” 18. For I am accustomed to limping, and my pain is constantly before me. 19. For I admit my iniquity; I worry because of my sin. 20. But my enemies abound with life; those who hate me without cause flourish. 21. Those who repay evil for good resent me for my pursuit of good. 22. Do not forsake me, O Lord; do not be distant from me, my G-d. 23. Hurry to my aid, O my Lord, my Salvation.
Chapter 39
1. For the Conductor, for yedutun, a psalm by David. 2. I said that I would guard my ways from sinning with my tongue; I would guard my mouth with a muzzle, [even] while the wicked one is before me. 3. I became mute with stillness, I was silent [even] from the good, though my pain was crippling. 4. My heart grew hot within me, a fire blazed in my utterance, as I spoke with my tongue. 5. O Lord, let me know my end and what is the measure of my days, that I may know when I will cease. 6. Behold, like handbreadths You set my days; my lifetime is as naught before You. But all is futility, all mankind's existence, Selah. 7. Only in darkness does man walk, seeking only futility; he amasses riches and knows not who will reap them. 8. And now, what is my hope, my Lord? My longing is to You. 9. Rescue me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of the degenerate. 10. I am mute, I do not open my mouth, for You have caused [my suffering]. 11. Remove Your affliction from me; I am devastated by the attack of Your hand. 12. In reproach for sin You chastened man; like a moth, You wore away that which is precious to him. All mankind is nothing but futility, forever. 13. Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry; do not be silent to my tears, for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my forefathers. 14. Turn from me, that I may recover my strength, before I depart and I am no more.

Chapter 42
5. These do I recall, and pour out my soul from within me: how I traveled [to Jerusalem] in covered wagons; I would walk leisurely with them up to the House of G-d, amid the sound of rejoicing and thanksgiving, the celebrating multitude. 6. Why are you downcast, my soul, and why do you wail within me? Hope to G-d, for I will yet thank Him for the deliverances of His countenance. 7. My G-d! My soul is downcast upon me, because I remember You from the land of Jordan and Hermon's peaks, from Mount Mitzar.
14. Yours is the arm which has the might; strengthen Your hand, raise high Your right hand.

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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.”