Sunday, September 21, 2014

Week 51 (Book 4b): Speaking to the King

SONG OF SONGS: 13. You, who sit in the gardens the friends hearken to your voice; let me hear [it].

Week 51 in the Jewish calendar is the last week of Elul. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week speaks of the Jewish people sitting in the gardens, while G-d asks to hear their voice. This again is connected to the idea of the King being in the field. He is waiting for us to speak to Him.

Rashi explains that the gardens mentioned are those of strangers during exile and the friends are the angels that hear the voice of the Jewish people in the synagogues. This appears to be particularly connected with Rosh Hashanah. The voice that Hashem hears may also be the voice of the Shofar, our desperate cry to reconnect to G-d.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the fifty-first added here is Joseph, who is mentioned separately, along with his mother Rachel and his brother Benjamin. Joseph is the Tzadik Yesod Olam, the foundation of the world, from whom comes both the physical and spiritual sustenance for the rest of the world. This quality is closely associated with Rosh Hashanah, the day in which the sustenance for the entire rest of the year is decided. Tishrei is also associated with the Tribe of Efraim.

This week is also connected with Yetzer, son of Naftali. This name is a reference to the teshuvah (repentance) we perform for the sins committed because of our Yetzer Harah, our evil inclination. Yetzer also comes from the the world Yotzer, creator. It is on Rosh Hashanah that we crown Hashem as King, the Creator of the Universe.

Dappim 9 through 16 of Makkot includes all of Chapter 2 (folios 9 through 13), which is all about cities of refuge. Dapim 13 through 16 are part of Chapter 3, regarding different laws related to lashes and whether or not they are given under various circumstances. Elul is connected to both concepts – we seek refuge as well as repentance and early atonement, so that we are ready for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement.

Chapter 51 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter continues to speak of the judgment and the downfall of the greatest empire at the time, Babylon. Just as Babylon was a “destroyer,” so it will be destroyed. It seems related to the idea of vengeance associated with the cities of refuge, yet Babylon will have no place to hide. It will be severely punished for its murders.

20. You are for Me a shatterer, yea weapons of war, and with you I would shatter nations, and with you I would destroy kingdoms.

21. And with you I would shatter a horse and his rider, and with you I would shatter a chariot and its rider. 

22. And with you I would shatter man and woman, and with you I would shatter elder and youth, and with you I would shatter young man and virgin. 

23. And with you I would shatter a shepherd and his flock, and with you I would shatter a farmer and his team, and with you I would shatter governors and officers. 

24. And I will recompense Babylon and all the inhabitants of [the land of] the Chaldeans for all their evil that they committed in Zion before your eyes, says the Lord. 

25. Behold I am against you, O destroying mountain, says the Lord, who destroys all the earth, and I will stretch out My hand upon you and roll you down from the rocks and make you a burnt mountain.


49. As Babylon [caused] the slain of Israel to fall, so in Babylon shall fall the slain of all the land. 

50. Fugitives from the sword, go, do not stand still! Remember the Lord from the distant past, and let Jerusalem enter your mind.

51. "We are ashamed for we have heard reproach, embarrassment has covered our faces, for strangers have come upon the sanctuaries of the house of the Lord."  

 “The hand of our god is exalted for we have destroyed His house.”   

52. Therefore, behold days are coming, says the Lord, and I will visit retribution upon her graven images and throughout her land the mortally wounded shall groan.  




Friday, September 19, 2014

Week 51 (Book 4a): Wholeness and Long Life

STORY OF CHANNAH: 23. And he said to them: "Why do you do the likes of these things, for I hear evil reports about you, from all these people.   

SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 7

TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (The Chafetz Chaim, 24th of Elul) and Rabbi Shalom Rokeach (The Sar Shalom, First Belzer Rebbe, 27th of Elul)

Week 51 is the last week of Elul, ending just days prior to Rosh Hashanah. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how Eli spoke to his sons about the evil reports against them. It is a call to repentance, very much like the call Hashem makes to us prior to the coming new year.

The verse also speaks of what is often considered the worst of all sins: Lashon HaRah, often translated as slander. Lashon HaRah is said to “kill” three people, the one who speaks it, the one who listens, and the one of whom the Lashon HaRah is spoken. King David writes in Chapter 34 of the Book of Psalms:

13. Who is the man who desires life, who loves days to see goodness?
14. Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully.
15. Shun evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.

This is ultimately the advice that Eli is giving his sons in order for them to attain life, just as we seek to be inscribed in the Book of Life in the coming year.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is exactly this characteristic of long life, Seivah, translated as old age, or ripe old age. Seivah also represents the idea of wholeness, completion. In Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avot, it states that someone who reaches the age of 70 reaches Seivah. Our sages comment that 70 is considered a full life span, as stated in Psalm 90:10. (Marcus, p. 188) King David himself passed away at 70, and is described to have reached Seivah Tovah, good old age. (Chronicles I, Chapter 29, mentioned in Rav Ovadia Bartnura’s Commentary to the Mishah). This quality of completion is quite appropriate for this week, as we are about to complete the cycle of the Jewish year.  

The Lubavitcher Rebbe quotes the Arizal in explaining that achieving Seivah does not mean that our mission has likewise been accomplished. We must continue to rise higher and higher:

The AriZal follows a different text for that Mishnah: “At 60, one attains seivah(old age).” He does not, however, interpret “old age,” as a negative quality, and offers a non-literal interpretation of the verse: “Rise before a person who has reached old age,” stating that “reaching old age” summons up the inner resources that enable a person to rise and accomplish his purpose in life.[1]

It is worth noting that the word Seivah, even though it is connected to completion, also contains the letters of the word Shav, which means to return, to do teshuvah, to repent. Even those that are fully righteous must always be looking for ways to grow and accomplish more.

Chapter 7 of the Song of Songs begins by calling the Jewish people by the name Shulamit. The root of this name is Shalom, peace, but also wholeness and completion, just like the name Shlomoh, Solomon. It is a reference to a completeness reached in our service of G-d. The chapter continues by describing the perfection of each of the limbs and parts of the Jewish people’s “body.” The chapter embodies the close, intimate relationship with G-d we experience during this month, as well as the completion of the year, mentioned above. Interestingly, the verse regarding Shulamit, despite the name’s meaning, also speaks of returning, of doing teshuvah:

1. "Return, return, O Shulammite; return, return, and let us gaze upon you." "What will you see for the Shulammite, as in the dance of the two camps?

Also as mentioned above, despite feeling a sense of completion and wholeness, we must continue to strive for even greater accomplishments and an even greater sense of closeness.

This week contains the yahrzeits of two of our greatest Torah sages, who very much embodied the ideas of long life and completeness: Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (the Chafetz Chaim, 24th of Elul) and Rabbi Shalom Rokeach (the Sar Shalom, First Belzer Rebbe, 27th of Elul).


Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan is commonly known as the "Chafetz Chaim," the name of his famous work on guarding one's tongue. Born in Zhetel, Poland on February 6, 1838, he was taught untill age 10 by his parents and then moved to Vilna to further his Jewish studies. Refusing the pulpit rabbinate, the Chafetz Chaim settled in Radin (Poland) and subsisted on a small grocery store which his wife managed and he did the "bookkeeping"-watching every penny to make sure that no one was cheated. He spent his days learning Torah and disseminating his knowledge to the common people.
As his reputation grew, students from all over Europe flocked to him and by 1869 his house became known as the Radin Yeshiva. In addition to his Yeshiva, the Chafetz Chaim was very active in Jewish causes. He traveled extensively (even in his 90s!) to encourage the observance of Mitzvos amongst Jews. One of the founders of Agudas Yisrael, the religious Jewish organizaion of Europe and later the world, the Chafetz Chaim was very involved in Jewish affairs and helped many yeshivos survive the financial problems of the interwar period. Exemplifying the verses in Psalms 34:13-14, "Who is the man who desires life...? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit," the Chafetz Chaim passed away in 1933 at the ripe age of 95.
The Chafetz Chaim's greatest legacy is the 21 sefarim (holy books) which he published. His first work, Sefer Chafetz Chaim (1873), is the first attempt to to organize and clarify the laws regrding evil talk and gossip. He later wrote other works, including Shmirat HaLashon, which emphasized the importance of guarding one's tongue by quoting our Sages. The Mishnah Brurah (1894-1907), his commentary on the Daily Laws of a Jew (his first series in the Shulchan Aruch), is found in many Jewish homes and is accepted universally to decide Halacha.
Firmly believing that he was living right before the time of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, the Chafetz Chaim wrote a work that stressed the learning of laws concerning sacrifices, the Holy Temple, and related topics. He also published seforim to strengthen certain aspects of Jewish life including kashrus, family purity, and Torah study.

Rabbi Shalom could trace his ancestry to the great gaon, Rabbi Eliezer of Amsterdam, author of Ma'aseh Rokeach. Orphaned at a young age, he was brought up by his uncle, Rabbi Yissachar Ber, the Rabbi of Skol, under whose tutelage he studied Talmud and Halachah with great intensity. The fire of his Chasidut was nurtured by his mentors, the Chozeh of Lublin,  Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, the Maggid of Koznitz, and Rabbi Uri of Strelisk.
After his marriage he devoted 1000 days and nights to the uninterrupted study of both the revealed and kabalistic Torah, emerging as a recognized scholar of eminent stature. Young students and accomplished scholars flocked to him in even larger numbers, to see and to learn; foremost among these was the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody. In Belz, Rabbi Shalom blazed a new trail: the fusion of excellence in Torah scholarship with the burning mystical zeal of Chasidism. Since the beginnings of the movement the mitnagdim had accused chasidim of devoting too much time to joyous celebrations in fellowship with their rebbes, at the expense of Torah study, which is the bedrock of Judaism. By stressing the overriding importance of in-depth Torah study, the Belzer Rebbe removed the stigma of superficiality that had plagued Chasidism.
He did not commit any of his discourses to writing. They were recorded from the memories of his followers, who collected and published them; Rabbi Shalom of Belza Al HaTorah (Hebrew).
Rabbi Shalom of Belz, also called Sar Shalom, erected a magnificent yeshivah and study hall in Belz that became the spiritual center for tens of thousands of Belzer chasidim in Galicia. He was succeeded by his illustrious son, Rabbi Yehoshua. In the 1940's, the Nazi persecutions all but wiped out the splendor that was Belz. After the Holocaust, the disconsolate scattered remnants of Belzer Chasidut - under the leadership of the surviving scion of the Belz dynasty, the young Rabbi Yisachar Dov - miraculously restored the former grandeur of Belz. Today the glorious new Belzer yeshivah building graces the Jerusalem skyline, and Belzer centers of learning can be found in every major city in America, Israel and Europe, teeming with thousands of eager young students and mature scholars. Indeed, with the help of the Almighty, Belz has risen from despair and is now carrying on the traditions of Torah and Chassidut of the first Belzer Rebbe, the Sar Shalom.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Uri of Sterlisk (the Saraph, 23rd of Elul), Rabbi Menachem Mendel Danziger (Alexanderer Rebbe, 23rd of Elul), Rabbi Yechiel Michil of Zlotchov (the Maggid of Zlotchov, 25th of Elul), and Rabbi Shmuel Abba Zikelinsky of Zichlin (26th of Elul).


Thursday, September 18, 2014

First Set of 22 Days: Alef & Bet, the Heavens and the Earth (the Priestly Families of Jehoiarib and Hezir)

This Motzaei Shabat (Saturday night), the 26th of Elul, begins the first set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Alef and Beit, as well as the Heavens and the Earth in Perek Shirah. This cycle includes the days of Creation, as well as Rosh Hashanah itself, running until the middle of Sukkot.

The Talmud teaches that Alef Beit together stand for Aluf Binah (learn understanding). The current week of the year, Week 51, is the week of Binah).

Alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, stands for the Alufoh Shel Olam, the Master of the World, Hashem. Its shape is formed by two yuds and a vav. The yud above represents G-d and the yud below represents the yid, the Jew. The vav that connects the two is Emunah, faith.

Beit, the second letter, stands for Bayit, home. Midrash Tanchuma teaches that G-d created the world because He desired a dwelling place in the lower realms. Beit is also the first letter of the Torah, which begins with the a description of Creation: "Bereshit Barah Elokim Et HaShamayim Ve'Et Ha'Aretz," "In the beginning, G-d created Heaven and Earth. The Beit represents the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, and the Torah itself serves as a link to bind the Jewish people to G-d.

Heaven and Earth refer back to the opening verse of the Torah, mentioned above. The verses themselves also hint to similar themes as above:

The Heavens are saying: "The heavens speak of G-d's glory, and the skies tell of His handiwork."

As mentioned in the very last set of the year, which overlaps with this one and also includes Rosh Hashanah, "Everything that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory." (Pirkei Avot, 6:11) In the last set, the Grasses sing a verse that it almost identical to that of the Heavens: "May the glory of G-d endure forever, may G-d rejoice in His works." (Psalms 104:31)

The Earth is saying, "The earth and everything in it are G-d's; the inhabited area and all that dwell within it." (Psalms 24:1) And it is saying: "From the wings of the land we have heard song, glory to the righteous." (Isaiah 24:16)

The verse of the Earth speaks of the world as a dwelling place, and G-d's ownership over it, including its dwellers. The second verse appears to link G-d's glory to that of the Tzadik, the one that follows in G-d's ways and that of the Torah. As also mentioned in the last set of the year (which includes Rosh Hashanah), G-d Himself is righteous, and on Rosh Hashanah we pray to be judged as Tzadikim, and inscribed in the Book of Life.

The priestly families related to these 22 days are Jehoiarib and Hezir. The guard of the family of Jehoiarib headed all of the priestly guards, just as Rosh Hashanah heads the year. The name means, G-d will fight, contend. Hezir appears to come from the word "Chazarah," which mean to return. In these days we crown G-d as our King and Creator of all things. Yet this crowning is defined primarily by our returning to Him (Teshuvah) and repairing our relationship.

Week 51 (Book 3): Using Understanding (Binah) to Strengthen our Faith in the Merciful King

BESHALACH: 13. Joshua weakened Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.  14. The Lord said to Moses, Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it into Joshua's ears, that I will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens 
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 14. And the Lord turned toward him and said, "Go, with this your strength, and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" 15. And he said to Him, "Please O Lord, with what shall I save Israel? Behold, my thousand is the poorest in Menasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's household."
GENERATIONS FROM ADAM TO THE LAST KING OF JUDAH:  Jehoiakim, also known as Eliakim

Week 51 also falls within the month of Elul. The Torah section for this week describes how Joshua weakened Amalek, and how Moshe is told to inscribe in the Torah and recite into Joshua’s ears that Hashem will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek. Hashem’s statement and Moshe’s words to Joshua are meant to encourage all those in doubt that Hashem will certainly destroy Amalek and punish them for their impudence. As mentioned previously, Amalek has the same numerical value as safek, doubt. This is the time of the year in which we strengthen our faith in G-d and prepare to crown Him as our King. 
The Tanach section for this week again shows Gideon’s doubts and feeling of weakness. Like the section from the Torah, Hashem gives Gideon strength and encouragement, while appealing to Gideon's logic and understanding. There is also an interesting parallel between Gideon who is from Menasheh and Joshuah who is from Efraim, both descendants of Joseph.
Dapim Kaf Gimmel through Mem Dalet (Folios 23 - 44) of Nazir (which mostly cover chapters 4 – 6), describe cases in which others join in someone’s vow, nullifying a wife’s vow, and other laws relating to women and their vows or power to annul the vow of others. The tractate then discusses vows made by mistake (such as vows made without known about the destruction of the Temple), as well as other mistakes Nazirites might make, trespassing the conditions of their vows. This parallels the second phase of Joseph’s life, when he mistakenly grew his hair and made himself attractive to Potiphar’s wife; it also parallels the further personal crisis Joseph endured, after being falsely accused and imprisoned. Nullifying vows is one of the most important preparations for Rosh Hashanah.
Prior to Jehoiakim, his brother Jehoahaz reigned briefly for three months. He displeased Pharaoh Necho, and was replaced with Jehoiakim, who was renamed Eliakim. Eliakim was lax in his piety, and did not help the people return to Hashem. Judah was engulfed by greater and greater corruption and depravity. (See Book 1, how week 51’s Wiesel is related to these qualities. Chuldah is also the prophetess that foretold of the destruction of Judah to King Josiah). Eliakim angrily refused to listen to the prophets, and instead sought to kill both Jeremiah and Baruch. He ultimately was forced to submit to Babylonia (who had defeated Egypt) and pay heavy taxes. After three years, he rebelled. The rebellion was quashed and he died in captivity. Jehoiakim failure to listen to the prophets was his greatest folly.
Both Jehoiakim and Eliakim mean “G-d will establish.” The only difference in the two names is the name of G-d used. The name “El,” in contrast to the name “Hashem,” is a reference to the thirteen attributes of mercy and is particularly connected to the month of Elul. (Alter Rebbe, Likkutei Torah, Re’eh) Throughout the month of Elul, these attributes are constantly repeated during Selichot (prayers of forgiveness and repentance said all month by Sefardi communities, and in the week prior to Rosh Hashanah in Ashkenazi ones). Elul itself begins with the letters of the name “El.”
The fifty-first week is related to conquering the Kenizites. The root of their name is Zaken spelled backwards. As mentioned previously, Zaken, translated as elder or sage, stands for “Zeh She Kanah Chochmah,” he who has acquired wisdom. The Kenizim stand for that which is the complementary “mirror” of Chochmah, namely Binah, understanding.
There are at least two very famous righteous leaders whose name are related to these people: Caleb the Kenizite and his brother Othniel ben Kenaz. Both are also known for their territorial conquests. Caleb, along with Joshua, was the only spy who came back from the Land of Israel with a positive report. Othniel ben Kenaz conquered Kiriat Sefer, and thereby merited to marry Caleb’s daughter, Achsah. (Joshua 15:17) Both also embody the attribute of Binah, a form of intellectual conquest.[1]
Caleb used his understanding to deal with the other spies with great cunning, thereby avoiding an even greater disaster. Caleb’s name contains the word “Lev,” heart, which is closely connected to the attribute of Binah.
Othniel ben Kenaz was the first Judge of the Jewish people. He was also the one to restore the Jewish laws that had been forgotten by Joshua during the mourning period of Moshe. Othniel ben Kenaz used deductive reasoning, the main attribute of Binah, to be able to decipher those laws.

[1] It seems interesting that the words Achsah, Kenaz, and Sefer are phonetically quite similar to the names for Ashkenazim and Sefardim.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Week 51 (Book 2): Chuldah and Relating a Statement in the Name of the One Who Said It

HAAZINU: “Because you betrayed Me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Merivath Kadesh, [in] the desert of Zin, [and] because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of the children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:51)

HAFTORAH: He gives great salvation to His king, and He performs kindness to His anointed; to David and to his seed, forevermore. (II Samuel 22:51)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Who Relates a Statement in the Name of the One Who Said It

PROPHET: Chuldah[1]

LEVITICAL CITY: Cheshbon                                

On week 51, week of selichot, in Haazinu, we read about the reason why Moshe is sent by G-d to die on Mount Nebo: “Because you betrayed Me… you did not sanctify Me in the midst of the children of Israel.” Moshe’s death was a form of atonement for his past misdeed, however minute. Moshe’s punishment serves as a reminder to us about just how careful we need to be in being loyal to G-d and in sanctifying His name. This week is the time to ask Hashem for forgiveness for our failures in these areas.

The Haftarah verse for this week is much more positive in nature. It speaks of the great salvation and kindness that He performs to His anointed one and their descendants forevermore. If we properly repent and approach G-d correctly, He will show us kindness. The month of Elul is about the King being in the field, and about “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li,”  a reciprocal relationship of G-d’s love. When we show kindness to G-d and serve him correctly as our king, G-d in turn shows us kindness and shows salvation to the king he appointed for us.

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “who relates a statement in the name of the one who said it.” During the week of selichot, we are careful not to take credit for our actions and the opportunity to do teshuvah. We pray in the merit of our patriarchs, repeatedly mentioning the 13 attributes of mercy words spoken by G-d Himself, and transmitted to us by Moses.

This week’s prophet is Chuldah. Incredibly, as explained in Book 1, Chuldah, rat in Hebrew, is also the animal of week 51! Chuldah’s story contains many aspects of this quality, both regarding the men that approach Chuldah in the name of Josiah the King, as well as Chuldah herself. Both in Kings, Chapter 22, and Chronicles, Chapter 34. The story repeats quite a few times that men (incidentally two of which are named Shaphan (“rabbit) and Achbor (“mouse”)) asked Chuldah in the name of king. Chuldah responds by speaking in the name of G-d.

Perhaps “beshem omroh,” which literally means saying something in the name of the one who says it, means more than just citing the source of the statement, but also means being true to the meaning of the original message. Chuldah exemplifies this quality probably more than any other prophet in the sense that King Josiah specifically sought out Chuldah instead of Jeremiah because he thought that perhaps as a woman she would be have more mercy than a man, and would be able to bring forth a more merciful outcome. Chuldah, however, speaks as strongly as Jeremiah would have, inkeeping with the quality of relating a statement “beshem omroh.” The sages even discuss why Chuldah would prophesize publically at all being that Jeremiah was the main prophet at the time – they explain that Jeremiah and Chuldah were actually relatives.

The levitical city of this week is Cheshbon, that literally means accounting. It is during this time of year that we do a Chesbon HaNefesh, a spiritual accounting and self-evaluation before Rosh Hashanah.

[1] This week would is also related to Rivkah and to Rebbetzin Rivkah, wife of the Rebbe Maharash, mother of the the Rebbe Rashab and grandmother of the Frierdeker Rebbe. Rebbetzin Rivkah also appears to represent the abovementioned quality: “Surviving her husband by 33 years, for many years she was the esteemed matriarch of Lubavitch, and chasidim frequented her home to listen to her accounts of the early years of Lubavitch. She is the source of many of the stories recorded in the talks, letters and memoirs of her grandson, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe).”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Additional Half Set : the Vowels and the Grass (Zadok, the Kohen Gadol)

Friday, the 24th of Elul, begins an additional set, containing 12 days, which parallels the Hebrew vowels, as well as "the Grasses" in Perek Shirah. These twelve days include the first days of creation, as well as those of Rosh Hashanah of the coming year, up to the 6th day of Tishrei.
As previously explained, the Grasses were not an original part of Perek Shirah. They were added by Rabbi Yaakov Emden. The verse was "found in an incorrect location" in some versions of Perek Shirah, and therefore transferred to an appropriate location the end of the Chapter 3, based on Talmud in Chullin 60a. (Slifkin, p. 199)
Similarly, it would not appear necessary to discuss the Hebrew vowels. Nevertheless, the twelve vowels bring the total count of the calendar to 364 days, which equals 52 weeks, the number of weeks in a solar year. There are 52 animals in Chapters 4 - 6 of Perek Shirah, one for each week of the year. (See Book I of the Kabbalah of Time)
The Hebrew vowels parallel the Kabbalistic sefirot. They give additional sound to the letters, allowing for a much greater diversity of sounds and words.
Similarly, the song of the Grasses is about diversity: The Grasses are saying, "May the glory of G-d endure forever; may G-d rejoice in His works." (Slifkin, p. 198)
As mentioned previously, this verse is derived from a passage in the Tractate of Chullin (60a). This passage is closely linked with Creation, which took place during these days:
"May the glory of G-d endure forever; may G-d rejoice in His works," - this verse was uttered by the angel of the world. At the time when the Holy One said "according to its kind" to the trees, the grasses reasoned a fortiori: "If the Holy One wants intermingling, then why did He say 'according to its kind' for the trees? And furthermore, if with trees, which do not usually grow intermingled, the Holy One said, 'according to its kind,' then how much more so does this apply to us!" Immediately each emerged according to its kind. The angel of the world opened with, "May the glory of G-d endure forever; may G-d rejoice in His works."
The song is sung at the time of creation, sung by the "angel of the world" itself. The song is about G-d's glory, His Kavod. Pirkei Avot concludes by stating that the entire world was created solely for His glory:
Everything that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory. As is stated (Isaiah 43:7): "All that is called by My name and for My glory, I created it, formed it, also I made it." And it says (Exodus 15:1): "G-d shall reign forever and ever." (Chapter 6:11)
After mentioning the 24 families of Kohanim that composed the year-round shifts, this count also would appear to be complete. Yet it is worth also adding the name of the person at the head of every shift: Zadok the Kohen Gadol.
In this world, Hashem’s glory is expressed perhaps most clearly in the Kohen Gadol himself:
The [Kohen Gadol’s] garments were to be “for honor and glory” (Shemot 28:2). The Kohen Gadol wearing these garments would be a symbol to the people of the glory of God. Wearing these, he would command the people’s respect, a respect for the office, and a respect for Temple, and a respect for God.[1]
Hashem’s glory was particularly revealed through truly righteous Kohanim Gedolim, as was Zadok, who served in the times of King David. The name Zadok, from the word Tzedek (justice) also reflects God's perfect justice and (hopefully) our being judged as Tzadikim (righteous) and inscribed in the Book of Life.


Week 51 (From the Book): To Understand That We Are All One Soul

The weasel is saying, "Let every soul praise G-d, Halleluyah!" (Psalms 150:6)

Rabbi Yossi the son of Yehudah of Kfar HaBavli would say: One who learns Torah from youngsters, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks [unfermented] wine from the press. One who learns Torah from the old, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine.

Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine.

Binah (understanding)

In the fifty-first week, still in the month of Elul, it is the weasel (Chuldah) who proclaims that all live beings should praise the Lord, Haleluyah! (Psalm 150:6). This is a reference to the power of repentance in the month of Elul and also to the messianic age when all beings, even the lowest, will openly praise Hashem. Week 51 also includes the 25th of Elul, the day in which the world was created (on Rosh Hashanah, man was created, See Week 52), and is therefore connected with the concept that all living things should praise G-d, the Creator and Master of the Universe.

Chuldah is also the name of one of the seven prophetesses mentioned in the Tanach. She was the last to prophesy before the beginning of the Babylonian exile. Her words related to the fall of the Davidic dynasty in the kingdom Judah. The dynasty was extremely corrupt, and the prophecy of Chuldah is very powerful and incriminating.

The weasel represents corruption and decay, both in nature and in civilization. Chuldah comes from the word Chaled, which means decadent. Interestingly, the Talmud states that the weasel is the only land animal that has no correspondent in the sea.[1] In the first time that the world became corrupt, G-d brought upon the Flood. The weasel, who cannot live in water and does not have any sea animal that corresponds to it, reminds us of this unfortunate time in the history of humanity and the world as a whole.

The weasel beautifully describes the redemption from this decaying state, as well as how to achieve it. Whereas before, due to its decadence, the whole world was destroyed as a single entity, the weasel urges us all to praise G-d together as a single entity. In the song of the weasel, the word used for living being is neshamah, which literally means breath, as well as soul. In this verse, the word is used in the singular, even though it is referring to all beings. The explanation for this is that the weasel understands that we are all ultimately a single soul, a part of G-d.

As mentioned above, neshamah also means breath. Breath itself represents life, as well as the most basic connection we have with Hashem. Through our breath we are connected to Hashem and the world constantly, in a way that is beyond our comprehension. In Elul, we recognize this constant connection with G-d. As also mentioned previously, we know that in Elul, "the King is in the field," ready to hear our requests. Elul is also a good time to go to the field or any other secluded place to breathe, meditate, and talk to Hashem.

In this week, the lesson from Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Yossi the son of Yehudah of Kfar HaBavli, who teaches that to learn Torah from the young is like eating unripe grapes and drinking [unfermented] wine out of the press, but to learn from older masters is like eating ripe grapes and drinking old wine. Rabbi Meir adds to this statement, saying that one should not just look at the vessel, but what is inside. There are new containers full of old wine and old vessels that do not even contain new wine. (IV: 20) Rabbi Yossi compares the Torah to wine, which affects us in ways that are beyond our intellect. Also, with age, a person acquires knowledge and experiences that go beyond his or her previous intellectual capacity.

The wine comparison made by Rabbi Yossi is also related to the sefirah of binah, the second intellectual sefirah. After the "light bulb moment" at the time an idea is conceived, that idea then needs to be developed and properly understood intellectually, just like the fermentation of wine. Rabbi Yossi teaches us that it is not ideal to learn from those who have not had time to properly process their Torah ideas, even though Rabbi Meir explains that this is not necessarily related to the teacher’s physical age.

As in the previous week, here too there is a way to understand Rabbi Yossi’s lesson in a purely positive way. The word for young, ketanim, literally means small, but can also be understood as humble, such as in the Shmuel HaKatan (the Small), who teaches the Pirkei Avot lesson for week forty-nine. The Hebrew word used for grapes, anavim, is phonetically practically the same as the word humble in Hebrew, anav. The Hebrew word used for unripe is kehot, which is also the name of Moses and Aaron’s grandfather, Kehot. Finally, the term used for "out of the winepress” is migitoh, which, with a bit of poetic license, can be read as a m’yegiatoh, which means “from one’s own efforts.” Wine is a metaphor of the most mysterious secrets of the Torah. A humble person teaches these secrets in a way in which the student deduces the most hidden secrets of the Torah through his own efforts. This is much more valuable than simply receiving all of one’s knowledge "on a silver platter."

One could then read the above verse as follows: “One who learns Torah from humble ones is like studying under Kehot, i.e., Moses and Aaron, and learning the deep secrets of the Torah through one’s own efforts. This is closely connected to Elul and Rosh Hashanah, when we humbly strive to correct our behavior and connect with G-d.
As mentioned above, this week is connected to Shavuot and to the sefirah of binah. A "gift" of self-improvement we receive from the weasel is that any person, no matter their level, can connect directly to Hashem in a simple and natural way, without the need for intermediaries, just like the very act of breathing. We must also remember to realize that we are all one.

[1] Bechorot 8A


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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.”