Thursday, August 21, 2014

Week 47 (Book 4a): The Purpose of Wealth

STORY OF CHANNAH: 19. And a small robe his mother would make for him, and she would bring it up to him from appointed time to appointed time, when she ascended with her husband, to slaughter the sacrifice of the (festive) days.
SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 3
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (the Satmar Rebbe, 26th of Av) and Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal (the Skulener Rebbe, 29th of Av)

Week 47 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the month of Teshuvah (repentance). The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how she would make a small robe for her son Shmuel, and bring it up to him every year during the holidays. Shmuel’s beautiful robe, which he would receive every year (See Rashi), symbolizes the idea of serving Hashem from a position of wealth. It also represents Shmuel’s continued growth, despite the potentially negative influence of Eli’s sons.
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is wealth (Osher). As noted above, the righteous use their wealth and materials to serve G-d.
Chapter 3 of the Song of Songs contains a similar theme. The last couple of verses speak of serving G-d out of wealth, a quality that very much defined King Solomon’s reign:
9. King Solomon made himself a palanquin of the trees of Lebanon.
10. Its pillars he made of silver, its couch of gold, its curtain of purple, its interior inlaid with love, from the daughters of Jerusalem.
11. Go out, O daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his nuptials and on the day of the joy of his heart.
The crown given to Solomon by his mother also is reminiscent of the above story, in which Chanah makes a robe for Shmuel. Rashi explains that both the crown and the palanquin are a reference to the Tent of Meeting (the Ohel Moed). Regarding the materials mentioned, Rashi comments as follows:
its couch of gold: His couch and His dwelling were on the Ark cover, which is gold.
its curtain of purple: Heb. מֶרְכָּבוֹ. This is the dividing curtain, which hangs and “rides” (רוֹכֵב) on poles from pillar to pillar.
its interior inlaid: arranged with a floor of love-the Ark with an Ark cover, cherubim, and Tablets.
This week contains the yahrzeits of two very prominent Chassidic rebbes, which established their courts in America after the war: Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (the Satmar Rebbe, 26th of Av) and Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal (the Skulener Rebbe, 29th of Av).
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum [1888-26 Av 1979], miraculously escaped from Bergen-Belsen in 1944, after which he went to the Holy Land. In 1947 he moved to the USA, where he established himself as the Satmar Rebbe, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, doing extensive work in establishing Torah education networks. Famed as the leader of Hungarian Jewry and the largest Chassidic group in the world, and as the spiritual leader of the opposition to a secular-based Jewish government in Israel, he was also one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation.
Rebbe Eliezer Zusia Portugal [1 Cheshvan, 1898 - 29 Av 1982], the Skulener Rebbe, immigrated to the USA in 1960, after imprisonment in Rumania and international efforts to secure his release. He is the author of Noam Eliezer and Kedushas Eliezer, and was a prominent follower of the Shtefaneshter Rebbe, but is best known for his superhuman efforts to rescue Jewish orphans and refugees in Eastern Europe before, during and after WWII and his continuing support of them, and his Chessed L'Avraham network of schools for children that continue until today. Those who merited to be in his presence were astonished by the length of his prayers and the beauty and intensity of the tunes that he composed, many of which have become internationally famous today.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of two prominent figures in the Ger dynasty: Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (son of the Chidushei HaRim and father of the Sfas Emes, 27th of Av) and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Alter (son of the Sfas Emes, 29th of Av)


Week 47 (Book 3): Hezekiah and Teshuvah

BESHALACH: 5. And the Lord said to Moses, Pass before the people and take with you [some] of the elders of Israel, and take into your hand your staff, with which you struck the Nile, and go.  6. Behold, I shall stand there before you on the rock in Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, and the people will drink Moses did so before the eyes of the elders of Israel.  
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 6. And Israel was very impoverished because of Midian, and the children of Israel cried to the Lord. 7. Now it was when the children of Israel cried to the Lord concerning Midian,
TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 47 – Wayward students
Week 47 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the month of teshuvah (repentance). The Torah section for this week of Moshe passing before the people, striking a rock and drawing out water from it. The drawing water from a rock is the idea of teshuvah. Even if our sins make us dry as a rock, with the proper “striking,” water (Torah) still comes out.
The verses in the Tanach contain the same message. Because Israel was very impoverished due to Midian, they cried out to Hashem in teshuvah.
Daf Mem Zayin (Folio 47) of Sotah continues to speak of Elisha’s actions, including those towards Gechazi, as well as the actions of Yehoshua ben Prachai towards his wayward student. Both men were said to have been overly strict, and in so doing made it difficult for them to do teshuvah. Teshuvah is certainly the main theme of the daf. In addition, the daf also discusses the beheading of the calf in cases that there are witnesses against the murderer, and whether the calf atones for the murderer. The daf ends by describing the decline in righteousness and the decline in Torah, both subjects again related to teshuvah.
King Hezekiah is the ultimate example of teshuvah. The Jewish people reached tremendous heights due to his own personal teshuvah. He famously stated that he had a tradition from his ancestor King David, that even if one has a knife to one’s throat, one does not despair and should continue to do teshuvah and pray for mercy. (Berachot 10a) Hezekiah’s teshuvah saved him from a heavenly death sentence for not wanting to have children (for he knew his progeny would be wicked) and also saved the entire kingdom from the hands of Sancheriv, the evil Assyrian general who had conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel. Before the Kingdom of Israel fell, Hezekiah’s counterpart was Hoshea ben Elah, who, despite his many misdeeds, showed an element of teshuvah in allowing the people of the north to pray in the Temple in Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s name means G-d is my strength.
The forty-seventh week is connected to conquering the Perizites. Their name appears to come from the word Prazi, which means an unwalled city. This is related to the concept of teshuvah, which is about going beyond our borders, beyond our natural limitations, and being open to change. Our sages teach us that “nothing can stand in the way of teshuvah.”
The Perizites are connected to the negative side of Hod. Hod represents service and acknowledgement, and the negative side of it is connected to the idea of too passive and too self-effacing. It is also connected to frivolity and idolatry, being too tolerant of those people and ideas that cause damage to ourselves and others. King David experienced such a situation with his son Absalom. David’s self-effacing efforts to appease Absalom and bring him back to his court were misinterpreted, and ultimately Absalom ultimately mounted a rebellion against his own father.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Week 47 (Book 2): Mashiach ben Yosef and Learning in Order to Teach


HAAZINU: For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it." (Deuteronomy 32:47)

HAFTORAH: The Lord lives, and blessed be my Rock; And exalted be the G-d, [who is] my rock of salvation. (II Samuel 22:47)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Learns in Order to Teach (Lomed Al Menat Lelamed)

PROPHET: Unknown / Oded (Mashiach ben Yosef)

LEVITICAL CITY:  Future City of Refuge (which will be in the Tribe of Gad on the other side of the Jordan River)

The forty-seventh week of the year is that of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the month of teshuvah (penitence and return to G-d), and is represented by the Tribe of Gad. Gad was a strong tribe, and stands for the idea that the fate of a Jew is not predetermined, but rather is dependent on his or her return to G-d. The verse of Haazinu reflects this idea, as it states, “For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land…”
The Haftorah’s verse also has the focus on life. It starts by stating, “The Lord lives,” and states how it is by clinging to G-d, the Rock, that one is saved. The theme of life during the month of Elul is very important, as it is a preparation for the Day of Judgment on Rosh Hashanah. For chassidim, Elul is known also for Chai Elul, the “Life of Elul,” the birthdays of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe said that during Elul, we feel that the King is in the field. In other words, we feel even more just how alive He is.
The quality of this week is learns in order to teach (lomed al menat lelamed). Only by being prepared to teach what we learned does that teaching really become alive. The Kabbalah teaches that this is the difference between the Dead Sea (which receives water but does not give), and the Sea of Galilee, which is full of life because it receives but also gives to the Jordan river. In Chassidism, Torah is always compared to water exactly for this reason, because it goes from a high place to a low place.
Furthermore, it is usually only when you are ready to teach that you come to realize whether you’ve learned anything at all! Even before students ask questions and sharpen your knowledge, the process of taking in information when you hope one day to teach it is much more proactive.
This quality is appropriate for Rosh Chodesh Elul because Teshuvah is first and foremost and example of self-evaluation and proactive learning (the latter to be discussed more next week). As mentioned previously, in Elul is when “The King is in the field,” when Hashem leaves His castle, so to speak, and is out in the field visiting His subjects. It is also time for us to go to the field and talk to Him. In order to know what to say, and put into words the things about which we need to confess, we need the quality of “learning in order to teach,” even if in this case the only ones that need teaching is ourselves.
In his list of the 48 prophets, Rashi states that he does not know the 47th or the 48th. This is also where states that if one does not consider Daniel to be a prophet one should then include Shemayah. This appears to be inconsistent because how can Rashi “in the same breath” state that he is missing two prophets from his list, yet mention in an extra prophet in the case prophet number 38 should not be considered one. There appears to be more to this than meets the eye, and this book humbly suggests that prophets 47 and 48 are none other than Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. These were prophets that were “unknown” to Rashi in the sense that they had not yet come to the world.
Rabbeinu Chananel states that the missing two prophets are Oded and Chanani, both of which are mentioned along with the names of their children who are specifically mentioned as prophets. The Vilna Gaon supports this view. What is interesting about these two names is that they are very much connected with Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. Chananiah is one of the names given for Mashiach (Ben David) in the Talmud. Oded comes from the word “Od”, which means to increase, similar to the name Yosef, whose name’s root also relats to adding. When Rachel named Yosef, she said, “Yoseph Hashem ben acher,” “May Hashem add for me another son.” The Yalkut Shimoni explains that ben acher also means “ben acharono shel olam,” one that will come at the end of time, the “meshu'ach milchamah,” “the anointed one [like Mashiach] of war,” a descendant of Yosef. There is also a well known verse in the Torah which states, “Od Yosef Chai” (Yosef is still alive). Yosef also asks his brothers “HaOd Avi Chai?”-  Is my father still alive?

Mashiach Ben Yosef is also particularly connected to the Perek Shirah animal of this week mentioned in Book 1, the snake. The word for snake, nachash in Hebrew, has the same numerical value as the word MashiachMashiach will come to the world to remove the impurities introduced by the snake.
In addition, the snake appears to be specifically linked to Mashiach ben Yosef. Yosef had been thrown into an “empty pit without water,” which Rashi explains to mean that it had not water, but had snakes and scorpions. Yosef was also able to withstand the seduction of Potiphar, sexual sin being the prime example of the hot venom of the snake (compared to the cold venom of the scorpion, discussed next week). He maintained his foundation, and is therefore called Yosef HaTzadik.

Later, when Yosef was still pretending not to recognize his brothers, he tells them, “Haloh Yedatem Ki Nachesh Yenachesh Ish Asher Kamoni,” which is usually translated as "Did you not know that a man like me performs divination?" This sentence could also be understood as, "Did you not know that a man like me, Mashiach, will be able to fight the power of the snake?” We also see that in the Torah, it is Yosef that has the power to fight Esau, who in Kabbalah represents the embodiment of the supernal snake.
Mashiach Ben Yosef also will be able to withstand the temptations and the hot venom of those that stand in the way of G-d’s revelation in this lowly world. The quality of Mashiach is also that of a teacher and the concept of lilmod al menat lelamed (learning in order to teach). His teachings will be so lofty that he will even teach the Patriarchs, yet he will also reach out to the simplest of Jews. (Hayom Yom for the 1st of Menachem AvMashiach Ben Yosef will reveal the truth of G-d and rid the world of the lies of the snake.

The greatest example of someone who’s life represented the ideals of Mashiach Ben Yosef is the Frierdiker Rebbe, the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak. The Rebbe wrote extensively on how the life of the Frierdiker Rebbe paralled the life of Yosef. Furthermore, the Frierdiker Rebbe faced down the evil powers of Esau, exemplified by Communism (and to some extent Nazism), and prevailed. The values he championed are still alive today, and Chabad Chassidism is alive and well, while both Communism and Nazism are essentially dead. In Book 1, animals for week 47 and 48, the snake and scorpion, parallel Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. Esau is represented by the snake, a “hot” yetzer harah, which Mashiach ben Yosef, who has the spark of Yosef, is able to fight.The Rebbe Rayatz also emphasized the idea of learning in order to teach, and teaching every Jew. If you know the Alef-Beis, teach it to your fellow Jew.
The levitical city for this week is also unknown. It is one of the additional cities to be added on the other side of the Jordan River, once Mashiach comes and the borders of Israel are expanded. The Tribe of Gad, which represents the month of Elul, also has its territory on the other side of the Jordan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Week 46 (Book 5): Reviewing the Last Week of Av - Psalms 136-138; 105:39-41; 89:47

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

This psalm contains twenty-six verses, corresponding to the twenty-six generations between the creation of the world and the giving of the Torah.
1. Praise the Lord for He is good, for His kindness is forever. 2. Praise the G-d of the supernal beings, for His kindness is forever. 3. Praise the Master of the heavenly hosts, for His kindness is forever. 4. Who alone performs great wonders, for His kindness is forever. 5. Who makes the heavens with understanding, for His kindness is forever. 6. Who spreads forth the earth above the waters, for His kindness is forever. 7. Who makes the great lights, for His kindness is forever. 8. The sun to rule by day, for His kindness is forever. 9. The moon and stars to rule by night, for His kindness is forever. 10. Who struck Egypt through its firstborn, for His kindness is forever. 11. And brought Israel out of their midst, for His kindness is forever. 12. With a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, for His kindness is forever. 13. Who split the Sea of Reeds into sections, for His kindness is forever. 14. And brought Israel across it, for His kindness is forever. 15. And cast Pharaoh and his army into the Sea of Reeds, for His kindness is forever. 16. Who led His people through the desert, for His kindness is forever; 17. Who struck down great kings, for His kindness is forever. 18. And slew mighty kings, for His kindness is forever. 19. Sichon, king of the Amorites, for His kindness is forever. 20. And Og, king of Bashan, for His kindness is forever. 21. And gave their land as a heritage, for His kindness is forever. 22. A heritage to Israel His servant, for His kindness is forever. 23. Who remembered us in our humiliation, for His kindness is forever. 24. And redeemed us from our oppressors, for His kindness is forever. 25. Who gives food to all flesh, for His kindness is forever. 26. Praise the G-d of heaven, for His kindness is forever.
Chapter 137
Referring to the time of the destruction of the Temple, this psalm tells of when Nebuchadnezzar would ask the Levites to sing in captivity as they had in the Temple, to which they would reply, "How can we sing the song of G-d upon alien soil?" They were then comforted by Divine inspiration.
1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept as we remembered Zion. 2. There, upon the willows, we hung our harps. 3. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and those who scorned us-rejoicing, [saying,] "Sing to us of the songs of Zion.” 4. How can we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil? 5. If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [its dexterity]. 6. Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I will not remember you, if I will not bring to mind Jerusalem during my greatest joy! 7. Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of [the destruction of] Jerusalem, when they said, "Raze it, raze it to its very foundation!” 8. O Babylon, who is destined to be laid waste, happy is he who will repay you in retribution for what you have inflicted on us. 9. Happy is he who will seize and crush your infants against the rock!
Chapter 138
David offers awesome praises to G-d for His kindness to him, and for fulfilling His promise to grant him kingship.
1. By David. I will thank You with all my heart, in the presence of princes I shall praise You. 2. I will bow toward Your Holy Sanctuary, and praise Your Name for Your kindness and for Your truth; for You have exalted Your word above all Your Names. 3. On the day that I called out You answered me, You emboldened me, [You put] strength in my soul. 4. Lord, all the kings of the land will give thanks to You when they hear the words of Your mouth. 5. And they will sing of the Lord's ways, for the glory of the Lord is great. 6. For though the Lord is exalted, He sees the lowly; the High One castigates from afar. 7. If I walk in the midst of distress, keep me alive; against the wrath of my enemies stretch out Your hand, and let Your right hand deliver me. 8. Lord, complete [Your kindness] on my behalf. Lord, Your kindness is forever, do not forsake the work of Your hands.


Chapter 105

39. He spread out a cloud for shelter, and fire to illuminate the night.
40. They asked, and He brought quails, and the bread of heaven sated them.
41. He opened a rock and water flowed; in the deserts ran rivers.


47. How long, O Lord? Will You hide forever? Will Your anger burn like fire?


Week 46 (Book 4b): Enduring Through Vulnerable Times

SONG OF SONGS: 8. We have a little sister who has no breasts; what shall we do for our sister on the day she is spoken for?
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 46 - Oaths regarding Upaid Wages, Stolen Property, Injuries, etc.
Week 46 in the Jewish calendar is the last week of Av. It is also the week of the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson. In the verse of Shir HaShirim for this week, Hashem refers to the Jewish people as a  “little sister who has no breasts.” Rashi explains that its time for redemption has not yet arrived - a vulnerable situation, which makes us susceptible to attacks by others. This is similar to the Jewish experience in Av, and to the difficulties the Rebbe’s father endured. Eventually, our situation will improve and we will be redeemed.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the forty-sixth mentioned is Briah. The name Briah means “cut down, cropped.” (Jastrow) This week is also connected to Dan, whose name comes from the word Din, judgement. We are getting close to the end of the period of stern judgement, in which we have been cut down and humbled.
Daf Mem Vav (Folio 46) of Shvuot continues the discussion of oaths taken by a worker. Again, there’s discussion relating to someone enters someone else’s house without permission, as well as someone who was injured. The general theme seems to be still related to the tragic events that took place in Av. The Daf ends with a new discussion about people who are disqualified from taking oaths, such as those that have sworn falsely in the past. This appear to introduce the theme of Teshuvah and our need to change, which is the central theme of the month of Elul.
Chapter 46 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter speaks of the downfall of Egypt – how it will be cut down. Egypt also will be paid back for its sins, and the Jewish people, long susceptible to attacks by others, will no longer need to live in fear. Overall, there is a switch to focusing on the other nations and their faults. Rebbe Nachman teaches that each gentile nation is associated with a specific impurity (See Likutei Moharan Torah Kuf Alef, Lesson 101) As we approach Elul and begin working on correcting our ways, we focus on one source of impurity at a time:
22. Its voice shall go like [that of] the snake, for they will march with an army and will come against her with axes as if they were hewers of wood. 
23. They will cut down her forest, says the Lord, for they are innumerable, for they are more numerous than locusts and they are uncountable.  
24. The daughter of Egypt has been put to shame; she has been delivered into the hand[s] of the people of the north.  
25. The Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel has said: Lo I will visit upon Amon of No and upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt, and upon their gods and upon their kings, both upon Pharaoh and upon those who put their trust in him. 
26. And I will deliver them into the hand[s] of those who seek their lives and into the hand[s] of Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, and into the hand[s] of his servants-and after that it will be inhabited again as in the days of old, says the Lord.  
27. You fear not, O Jacob My servant, and be not dismayed, O Israel! for behold, I will redeem you from afar and your children from the land of their captivity, and Jacob shall return and be quiet and at ease, and there shall be none who disturb his rest.  
28. You fear not, My servant Jacob, says the Lord, for I am with you, for I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end, but I will chastise you justly, and I will not completely destroy you.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Week 46 (Book 4a): Serving G-d with Strength

STORY OF CHANNAH: 18. And Samuel was serving before the Lord, being a lad girded with a linen robe.  

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT:  strength,    

SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 2

TZADIKKIM:  Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneerson (father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 20th of Av) and Rabbi Aharon of Belz (Fourth Rebbe of Belz, 21st of Av)

Week 46 is the last week of the month of Av. The verse speaks of Shmuel’s service of Hashem as a child, girded with a linen ephod. “Girding” is a term that is particularly indicative of strength, and the linen ephod is a sign  of his holiness and spiritual growth.[1]

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that benefits the righteous and the world is exactly that: strength. Again, not just any kind of strength, but strength associated with staying firm in the service of G-d, in order to serve Him in the best way possible.

The very beginning of Chapter 2 of the Songs of Songs also speaks of strength, but specifically relating to the ability to stay strong in the face of attacks, continuing to serve Hashem with beauty and holiness:

1. "I am a rose of Sharon, a rose of the valleys."

Rashi - a rose of the valleys: This is prettier than the rose of the mountains because it is always moist, since the sun has no strength there.   

2. "As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters." 

Rashi - As a rose among the thorns: which pierce it, but it remains constant in its beauty and its redness, so is my beloved among the daughters. They entice her to pursue them to stray like them after strange gods, but she remains firm in her faith.
This week contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneerson (father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 20th of Av) and Rabbi Aharon of Belz (Fourth Rebbe of Belz, 21st of Av).

From Ascent:

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson [1878-20 Av 1944], father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was considered by the Rebbe Reshab to be one of his three greatest chassidim. An outstanding scholar and a leading Kabbalist of his generation, he was the Chief Rabbi of the major Ukrainian city Yekaterinoslav (today called Dniepropetrovsk) until his arrest and exile. His extensive writings while in exile crammed into the margins of his books, were rescued, smuggled out, brought to his son, and are currently being published in a multi-volume set called “Toldot Levi Yitzchak.”         

Rabbi Aharon of Belz [1900 - 21 Av 1957], the fourth rebbe in the Belz dynasty, was considered one of the purest holy men of his generation. In 1944 he miraculously escaped from the Nazis and moved to Israel, where after a brief time in Jerusalem he set up his court in Tel Aviv. The current Belzer Rebbe, who has established a huge center in Jerusalem, is his nephew.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yaakov Culi (author of the Meam Loez,19th of Av) and Rabbi Meir Hagadol of Premishlan (22nd of Av).



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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.”