Sunday, March 4, 2018

Week 25 (From the Book): To Have Self-Sacrifice in order to Fulfill Our Mission in Life

The frog is saying, "Blessed is the Name of the honor of His Kingdom for all eternity." (Talmud, Pesachim 56a)

Rabbi Elazar of Modi'in would say: One who profanes the kodashim ("holy things" consecrated for the service of G-d in the Holy Temple), degrades the Festivals, humiliates his friend in public, abrogates the covenant of our father Abraham (i.e., circumcision), or who interprets the Torah contrary to its true intent---although he may possess Torah knowledge and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.

Netzach shebeNetzach (victory and endurance within the context of victory and endurance)

And we come to the twenty-fifth week, still in the month of Adar, when the frog in Perek Shirah blesses His name and His reign for all eternity, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed (Talmud, Pesachim 56A). The frog also appears in the introduction to Perek Shirah, in a story of great personal self-sacrifice. The frog's song is said every day, at least twice a day, since it is an essential part of the prayer of the Shemah. The Shemah expresses our ​​complete acceptance of the kingship of G-d, and of His commandments, with great self-sacrifice.

It also worth noting that this week marks the yahrzeit of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. Rebbe Elimelech completely exemplified self-sacrifice. One of his main meditative techniques was to imagine throwing himself into a great pillar of fire in order to sanctify G-d’s name. The technique would ensure that any other task he would perform during the day would be on this same level of self-sacrifice.

The story of the frog in Perek Shirah’s introduction is a great example of how to be an emissary with true self-sacrifice. G-d’s second plague upon Egypt was that of frogs. The frogs would jump inside the ovens of the Egyptians, giving up their lives without hesitation. Their self-sacrifice was later a source of inspiration for Chananya, Misha’el and Azariah, who sanctified G-d’s name by refusing to bow down to an idol, knowing full well they would be thrown into a burning furnace. Miraculously, they emerged from the furnace unscathed.[1]

The second plague was in response to the fact that the Egyptian taskmasters worked the Jewish people so hard in the open sun that they had no time to eat or drink and felt completely dehydrated. Frogs are water creatures and their bodies absorb moisture in order to survive. The Midrash teaches that during the plague, a large number of frogs would search out and absorb all the moisture in Egypt, making the Egyptians feel dehydrated as well. It is well known that water is a metaphor for Torah.  It is the job of the sheliach is to find Torah and the holy sparks of the Diaspora in order to absorb them and elevate them, searching even in the driest of places. The reality is that we are all emissaries.[2]

Perek Shirah explains that the frog, as an amphibian, does what no other animal can. It voluntarily serves as food for a land animal which feed itself only from water animals. Again, using water as a metaphor for Torah, the frog is willing to sacrifice its own life in order to bring Torah to those animals on dry land. The frog tells King David that because of this self-sacrifice, Hashem will make it whole, will complement it. Here again we see the idea that each Jew complements the other, like the half-shekel giving during this month.

Interestingly, in Perek Shirah itself, the frog again plays the role of bringing together land and sea. The frog comes after the fish and before the sheep and goat, literally making the link between the water animals of the month of Adar and the land animals of the month of Nissan and beyond.

The week of the frog always falls after the week of Purim and close to the special Torah reading of Parah (the animal of the second week of Nissan), which is primarily about how to purify a person from the greatest source of impurity (contact with the dead). Interestingly, the kohen that performs the purification also sacrifices himself by becoming impure in the process, although only temporarily. A similar self-sacrifice is performed by Queen Esther, who makes herself impure by marrying King Achashverosh in order to save the entire Jewish people. It is also no coincidence that Purim and Parah have such similar roots.

This dual role, superficially negative, yet extremely positive, is found in the verse Baruch Shem Kevod itself. The Talmud in Pessachim suggests that this verse is somehow embarrassing to be said out loud, and that is why we say it quietly. Some authorities state that this verse represents a lower form of declaring G-d’s unity. However, many other famous commentaries teach us that this saying was actually much higher, and said by the angels themselves. We say it quietly only because it is too lofty for this world. The only day that we say it openly is on Yom Kippur, when we are all on the level of angels.[3] As mentioned previously, angels are emissaries of G-d.

There are many other sources that connect the frog to the idea of being a sheliach with total self-sacrifice. There’s also a famous Midrash that teaches that in fact the plague of frogs started out as only a single giant frog. When the Egyptians would try to strike this single frog it would multiply into many more mini-frogs, who in turn would also split into more, like emissaries of the giant frog.

Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk is known as a “Rebbe of Rebbes,” because the most prominent Polish Rebbes were all his disciples, or disciples of his disciples. They were all like emissaries, continuing his legacy. Among these giants are the Chozeh of Lublin (who would thank G-d an hour a day for bringing down the soul of his Rebbe), the Ohev Yisrael (the Apter Rov), the Rimanover, the Maggid of Kozhnitz, and many others. Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Issachar, was his nephew.

This concept of shlichut is found again in the words that the frog says to King David in the introduction of Perek Shirah: “Every song I say contains three thousand parables.” A parable represents the concept of taking an idea and bringing down, so that it is more accessible to others. The frog has three thousand other “emissaries” linked to its song. It is worth noting that at the time of his passing, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had roughly three thousand emissaries, and that today there are roughly three thousand Chabad centers worldwide.

The three thousand parables are also comparable to the three thousand men that "fell" by the hand of the Levites, who served as Moses’ emissaries after the incident of the golden calf:

26. So Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said: "Whoever is for the Lord, [let him come] to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.  
27. He said to them: "So said the Lord, the G-d of Israel: 'Let every man place his sword upon his thigh and pass back and forth from one gate to the other in the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his friend, every man his kinsman.'
28. The sons of Levi did according to Moses' word; on that day some three thousand men fell from among the people.
Perhaps the phrased “roughly three thousand men” is a reference to the men of Levi, who followed the word of Moses, falling upon those that needed to be punished.

In fulfilling Moses’ word, the Levites acted with extreme self-sacrifice and did not consider brother and friend. This was an extremely positive behavior at the time, but perhaps still required a sort of tikkun, correction. In contrast, the Chabad shluchim consider everyone to be their brother and friend, and treat them as such. Chabad shluchim also “fall” from their pure and holy lifestyle in order to reach out to those that need guidance.

Similarly, three thousand halachot were forgotten at the time of the mourning for Moses. Perhaps the three thousand shluchim, who methodically study the Rebbe’s words, are a tikkun for this as well.
The term “roughly three thousand men” also appears in the story of Samson, which he also showed extreme self-sacrifice, to the point of giving up his life.

27. Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And upon the roof (there were) about three thousand men and women, the spectators of Samson's sport.
30. And Samson said, "Let my soul die with the Philistines," and he bent with (his) might, and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. And the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his lifetime.[4]
Like the kohen that performs the purification through the red heifer, and Queen Esther in the Purim story, Samson was willing to sacrifice himself, both spiritually and physically, in order to bring redemption to the Jewish people. The verses above also appear to make a slight reference to Purim. Verse 27 states that there were about three thousand men and women “upon the roof.” In the original Hebrew, this part is written, “Al haGag.” In Aramaic, it would be “Agag.” Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites. At the end of the Purim story, not only are Haman and his sons killed, but also 75,000 (25 x 3,000) Amalekites.[5]

The number twenty-five is connected to the Jewish festival of Chanukah, since this festival, as well as the dedication of the Temple that is celebrated on this day took place on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. The word “Chanukah” itself means “Chanu” (they rested) - “Kah” (twenty-five), a reference to the twenty-fifth of Kislev. The twenty-fifth letter in the Torah is “or,” a reference to the light of Chanukah.

The Chashmonaim played a dual role of both the kohanim and the kings. Rebbe Elimelech (whose name means “G-d is my King”) also had a strong complementary relationship with his saintly brother, the Tzadik Reb Zusya of Anipoli.

This week in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Elazar of Modi’in teaches that he who profanes holy objects/animals, degrades the festivals, publicly humiliates his neighbor, repeals the covenant of our father Abraham (circumcision) and interprets the Torah in a way that is opposed to its true meaning - even if they have Torah and good deeds, they have no part in the World to Come.

During this week, just after Purim, we begin preparing for Passover. The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, explains that one should prepare for Passover thirty days before the festival. During these days it is customary to give money to the poor (Maot Chitim) so that they too can properly celebrate Passover. And see the tremendous connection with Pirkei Avot, namely:

1)      “Profaning the holy" appears to be a reference to the times of the Temple, when everyone had to bring the Passover sacrifice. The animal and subsequently the meat of the sacrifice were sacred and had to be treated properly.

2)      "Degrading the festivals" is a more direct reference to the importance to the festival of Passover, both in its physical preparations (destroying the physical chametz, yeast and other leavened breads) and spiritual preparations (eliminating the inner spiritual chametz, our egotism and inflated self-importance).

3)   "Publicly humiliating his neighbor" relates to the charity given in advance of the holiday, so no one should feel ashamed of having to beg for money in order to celebrate Passover.

4)   "Revoking the covenant of Abraham our father" is related to circumcision. Passover is linked to Abraham, because it was on Passover that angels came to visit him and Sarah, and Abraham gave them matzot to eat. Also, just before the first Passover in Egypt, all the men of the people underwent circumcision. Again, 40 years later, before entering Israel, Joshua made all men undergo circumcision. During the 40 years in the desert no men were circumcised. In the days of the Temple, those who were not circumcised they could not eat the Passover sacrifice.

5)   "Interpreting the Torah in a way that is opposed to its true meaning" relates to the various legal rulings that are made during Passover cleaning. Cleaning the house for Passover and preparing for the Seder involves a lot of work. It is therefore easy to find excuses not to have to clean so much: "After all, by Torah law is it not enough simply to verbally nullify the chametz?" Hence the importance of this teaching: we have to do everything possible to strictly adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Law, each one at his or her own spiritual level.

The list of wrongdoings mentioned by Rabbi Elazar also relates to problems that occurred during the time period of Chanukah. The Greeks defiled the sacred objects of the Temple; they were against celebrating sacred dates, such as Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. The Hellenistic Jews had no shame and fought naked in gymnasiums, many even reversed their circumcision. Hellenistic Jews, Saducees, and other cults also sought to corrupt the true interpretations of the Torah, and the Greeks tried to misrepresent the sacred nature of the Torah, and forced it to be translated into Greek.

This week, the sefirot combination results in netzach shebenetzach, victory within victory. This week represents the midpoint and link between the victory and redemption of Adar (Purim), with the victory and redemption of Nissan (Passover). Twenty-five is also exactly midway through the Counting of the Omer, linking the two different modes of divine service related to the first and second halves of the year. (See Appendix I)

The lesson we learn from the frog is that we must serve G-d with great self-sacrifice, remembering how temporary our stay is on this Earth, and how we are infinitely small and limited when compared to G-d.

[1] “Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya,” Nissan Mindel, Kehot Publication Society. Available at:
[2] “There is not the vaguest shadow of doubt that, wherever our feet tread, it is all in order to cleanse and purify the world with words of Torah and tefilla (prayer). We, all of Israel, are emissaries of G-d, each of us as Divine Providence has decreed for us. None of us is free from this sacred task placed on our shoulders.” Hayom Yom, 5th of Adar I.
[4] Judges 16: 27-30
[5] Esther 9:16

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Week 24 (From the Book): To Live Above Our Worldly Concerns

The fish are saying: "The voice of G-d is upon the waters, the G-d of glory thunders; G-d is upon many waters." (Psalms 29:3)

Rabbi Dosa the son of Hurkinas would say: Morning sleep, noontime wine, children's talk and sitting at the meeting places of the ignorant, drive a person from the world.

Tiferet shebeNetzach (beauty and balance within the context of victory and endurance)

In the twenty-fourth week, the fish in Perek Shirah sing that the voice of Hashem hovers above the waters - the G-d of glory thunders - Hashem is above many waters. (Psalm 29:3) This is the week of Purim, when we remember that Hashem is with us during all our trials and tribulations, even if sometimes in a hidden way.

In Purim, we celebrate the great salvation experienced in the times of the Persian exile, when the evil Haman, with the initial support of the King, Achashverosh, sought to exterminate the entire Jewish people. Through the efforts of Mordechai and Esther, the decree against the Jewish people is miraculously annulled, and instead Haman, his sons, and the enemies of the Jews are the ones killed.

The Zohar states that Yom Kippur (also called Yom haKippurim) is a day that is “KePurim,” like Purim, meaning that Purim is even higher than Yom Kippur. If on Yom Kippur we are on the level of angels, then on Purim we must be at a level that is even higher than angels, on the level of tzadikim. As mentioned in the previous week, fish symbolize tzadikim.

Furthermore, on Purim, in an attempt to become closer to G-d, we drink “many waters.” We try to reach a level of ad deloyadah, of not knowing the difference between "blessed be Mordechai" and "cursed be Haman." We have an experience that in many ways is similar to that of the four rabbis that entered the Pardes. When describing this experience, Rabbi Akiva stated, "When you reach the stones of pure marble, do not say: 'Water, water.'" On Purim, we realize that there are no divisions or separations on-high, all is One, and there is no difference between the effects of what we perceive as good and what we perceive as evil. When a person reaches these levels, the desire to cleave to Hashem is so strong that it is like great waves pulling us out of this world. The voice of Hashem thunders, like at Mount Sinai, and we want to nullify ourselves completely (ratzo). In order to survive this experience, we must do like Rabbi Akiva, who “entered in peace and returned in peace.” We must understand that ultimately Hashem’s desire is that we return and make a dwelling place for him within this world (shov).[1]

The song of the fish states that the voice of Hashem, and Hashem Himself, are above the waters. However, the fish are not above the waters, but actually inside them. In order to perceive G-d fully, the fish also need emissaries. The role of shlichut (being an emissary) is very prominent in the Purim story. Not only is Esther an emissary of Mordechai and vice-versa, but also the communications between Mordechai and Esther were often done through shluchim. It is therefore no coincidence that on Purim we give each other mishloach manot (from the word sheliach), preferably through a third person.

The term "many waters" is also in the Song of Songs, when King Solomon writes that many waters cannot extinguish the love [for G-d].[2] The "many waters" are a reference to the difficulties and turbulences involved in making a living, which however great, cannot extinguish the love of a Jew for G-d.[3]

The Hebrew word for fish is dag. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that fish represent the tikkun (rectification) of worry (da'agah), especially in relation to earning a livelihood. The Torah relates that at the time of Nehemiah, certain Jews desecrated the Sabbath by selling fish in the market of Jerusalem. These men did not trust in G-d in earning a living. The fish (dag) then became a source of excessive concern (da'ag).

Fish are constantly aware of their dependence on water, given that water is more tangible than air. Similarly, they are constantly aware of the Source of their existence, Hashem.

The number twenty-four is related to the twenty-four presents of the kohanim, of the tribe of Levi. In addition, the priesthood was later divided into twenty-four watches. The letters caf and dalet spell kad, which means jar, or pitcher. There is the famous kad found during Chanukah, which contained pure oil with the seal of the high priest, the Kohen Gadol. This oil lasted eight days instead of one. Even the great impurity and turbulences that took place during the Hellenistic period did not extinguish the love of the Jewish people for Hashem. The Jews emerged from the struggle with the Greeks even purer than before and with redoubled faith.

In addition to Chanukah, the connection between Purim and the role of kohanim is also quite strong. Esther has to fast and enter the King’s chamber in order to ask for the life of her people, very much the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. The Mishnah states that the Kohen Gadol was called a sheliach Hashem, an emissary of G-d, although he also served like an emissary of the Jewish people. Esther also played this role, of being at the same time an emissary of the Jewish people, but also G-d’s emissary in order to save His people. The kohen is also referred to as malach Hashem, a messenger, literally an “angel” of G-d.

Purim gives emphasis to two different types of relationship and duality. Mordechai, of the tribe of Benjamin, of King Shaul, and Haman, a descendant of Amalek, are polar opposites. Esther and Mordechai complement each other for the good, while Haman and King Achashverosh complemented each other for evil.

In the Pirkei Avot saying for this week, Rabbi Dosa the son of Harkinas teaches that late sleep in the morning, wine at midday, the chatter of children, and sitting in the meeting places of the ignorant, all take a person out of this world. Interestingly, these acts are all encouraged on Purim! On Purim, there are two ways to reach a level of ad deloyada: sleeping or drinking during the day. Moreover, the Purim story highlights the importance of the words spoken by children studying Torah, the very source for the redemption. Additionally, on Purim we emphasize our unity and do not distinguish between rich and poor, be it material wealth or Torah knowledge. We distribute mishloach manot, give gifts to the poor, and all sit together to partake in the Purim feast. All these actions take us out of this world of illusion (olam, world, comes from the word he'elem, hidden) and bring us to higher levels of reality and connection to G-d.

This week, the combination of sefirot is tiferet shebenetzach, beauty and balance within redemption, persistence and determination. These qualities are very much linked to Esther and Mordechai and to Purim in general. The lesson we draw from the fish is that material concerns must not take away from our trust and faith in Hashem. Nothing should be a hindrance to our direct relationship with Him.

[1] Attaining Sagacity, Eliyahu Touger, available at
[2] Chapter 8:7
[3] Ma’amar “Mayim Rabbim” of the Alter Rebbe 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tractates and 32 Paths (11-day cycles)


Kerisus and the first days of Elul

Cheshbon HaNefesh

Talmud starts with the enumerating of major major sins
Why give a number? To explain to you that each one has to be atoned for separately, even if it was all one big "forgetting." In Elul, there is a tendency to think, "You know, let me just do a "general" Teshuvah, that should be good enough." The Talmud comes to teach us, "No, each separate action requires its own atonement, even if it was all one great forgetting."

Meilah-Tamid and Elul

Two kinds of Teshuvah

1) for using holy instruments for non-sacred purposes (Meilah)

2) to implement consistency and constant dedication (Tamid)

Niddah and Rosh Hashanah

7-day and 11-day cycles

Brachot and Rosh Hashanah

Kriat Shemah (accepting the yoke of G-d's kingship)

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

Teshuvah is a two-way process. We are knocking on G-d's door as poor people bereft of mitzvot. If both us and Hashem participate in the Teshuva process (Hashiveinu Hashem Elecha veNashuva), then both are pturim.

Eruvim and Sukkot

- Gemara discussion compares it to Sukkah.
- Aravah; mixing, shaking together the arbah minim

Pesachim and Cheshvan

Or L'Arbah Asar Bodkim et HaChametz L'Or HaNer.

This is the beginning of Avodat HaBerurim. We move from G-d as Creator to G-d as redeemer. We redeem the chametz through engaging in mitzvot (Ner Mitzvah Torah Or)

We go from "Or" (light, the first act of Creation) to "the 14th" (gematria of Yad). And mitzvot elevate the chametz back to the Or, the source of Creation.

My revered father, [the Rebbe Rashab,] once told a chassid at yechidus: “From the time the Holy One, blessed be He, told Avraham, ‘Go forth from your land,’5 and thereafter ‘Avram journeyed on, continuing to travel southward,’6 the mystical mission of beirurim began. [This term signifies the task of sifting materiality, and elevating the Divine sparks that are embedded within all permissible entities and activities, by using them with spiritual purpose.] 

Shekalim and Cheshvan

Temple, elevating the physical (two halves - male and female - see Heh and Vav

Yoma and Cheshvan/Rosh Chodesh Kislev

Yahrzeit of Matisyahu Kohen Gadol

Sukkah and Kislev/Chanukah

8 days paralleling Sukkot; siyum is the story of Miriam bat Bilgah, at the time of Chanukah, who had assimilated and married a Greek guard, who kicked the altar.

Beitzah and  Kislev/Chanukah

Egg that was born on Yom Tov is something that was concealed that is now revealed

Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah/Teveth

- Rosh Chodesh was mitzvah Greeks wanted to abolish. The calendar is the source of Jewish wisdom in the eyes of the nation.
- Machloket regarding Nissan and Tishrei reflects Machloket Yehudah and Yosef

Ta'anit and Teveth/Fast of Teveth

Ta'anit is all about fasting (connection is pretty obvious). (In the division of the Mishna, it also falls here)

Megillah and Teveth

Law of Blessing before the Torah / Torah Sh'Bichtav

Moed Katan and Yud Shvat (day of Siyum)

Mourning for the Friediker Rebbe

Chagigah and Tu B'Shvat

Trees singing (Chagigah 14b)

Yevamot (and Seder Nashim) and 22nd Shvat

Yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (she was childless, although all Chabad Chassidim were her children

Ketubot and Adar/Purim

Ketubot starts by speaking about a young virgin that is to get married, like the beginning of Megilat Esther.

5th of Adar, 5778

Alef-Bet/Acrostics (22 days):

3rd day of the 8th cycle. Gimmel within the cycle of Samech and AyinGimmel-Samech / Samech-Gimmel.

Proverbs 31:

12. She requites him with good and not with evil all the days of her life. יבגְּמָלַ֣תְהוּ ט֣וֹב וְלֹא־רָ֑ע כֹּ֜֗ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּֽיהָ:

Sefirot/Perek Shirah (Weeks):

10th day of the cycle of Netzach (Victory/Endurance), which is the 3rd day of the 23rd week of the year (Leviathan), Tiferet shebeGevurah shebeNetzach, Balance/Beauty within Might/Discipline within Victory/Endurance.

Attributes of Mercy/2 Halachot (13 days):

1st day (מִי אֵ-ל כָּמוֹךָ) within the 13th cycle (מִימֵי קֶדֶם).

Mishna Berura: 313 & 314

Hayom Yom (from

Adar I
There is not the vaguest shadow of doubt that, wherever our feet tread, it is all in order to cleanse and purify the world with words of Torah and tefilla (prayer). We, all of Israel, are emissaries of G‑d, each of us as Divine Providence has decreed for us. None of us is free from this sacred task placed on our shoulders.

Adar II
Studying Talmud and related works, studying Chassidus, and actual avoda, are all imperative. Not only can there be no thought of one superseding or being superseded by the other, on the contrary, their relationship is symbiotic, mutually enriching: An ignorant person cannot be a chassid,1 so the study of Talmud and halacha is an absolute necessity. Who is a chassid? He who conducts himself with piety toward his Creator,2 so there must be the study of Chassidus, and the ultimate purpose of all study is, after all, actual avoda.

Avot 2:5.
The simple meaning: One who serves G‑d beyond the requirements of the law, b'hidur, performing Torah and mitzvot with more depth, more vitality; for this, study of Chassidus is essential. (See also Kislev 14, for a more profound, mystical meaning of "Who is a chassid etc...").

Monday, February 19, 2018

Eighth Set of 22 Days: Samech & Ayin, and the Stars

The 3rd of Adar begins the eighth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the letters Samech and Ayin, as well as the Stars in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period falls completely within Adar and includes Purim.

Samech stands for "Somech Noflim," "[Hashem] supports the fallen." Its shape is a circle, and stands for the different highs and lows of life. This is very much the theme of Purim. Not only did Hashem support us when we had fallen, but also the story itself comes "full circle," with Mordechai and the Jews (who were down) brought up, and Haman (who was up) brought down. 

Ayin means "eye," as well as "well," "fountain," "spring." The eye is known as the "window to the soul," shedding light on a person's inner dimension. Similarly, a wellspring represents the revelation of the hidden, inner spiritual aspects of the earth, its deeper waters. (See Sixth Set of 22-days) This is also one of the themes of the month of Adar, revealing (Megilah) that which is hidden (Esther).  

Both above themes, a) relying only on G-d for support, whether in a high or a low, and b) revealing the hidden spirituality with everything, can be found in the song of the Stars: 

The Stars are saying, "You, only You, are God; You made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts; the earth, and everything that is in it; the seas, and everything that is in them; and You preserve them all; and the host of heaven prostrate themselves to You." (Nehemiah 9:6)

Stars themselves also offer us a glimpse into the vastness of the universe. They grant us a better sense of our smallness and of G-d's greatness. The name Esther comes from the word for star. She is referred to in Psalm 22 as Ayelet HaShachar, the "Morning Star." The morning star is the very last one to shine before daybreak. Similarly, Esther is the last prophet(ess) before the coming of Mashiach and the final redemption.

Week 23 (From the Book): To Be Happy Even Without Knowing Why Things Are the Way They Are

The Leviathan is saying, "Give thanks to G-d for He is good, His kindness endures forever." (Psalms 136:1)

Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say: One whose fear of sin takes precedence to his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom takes precedence to his fear of sin, his wisdom does not endure.

He would also say: One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure.

He would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G-d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to G-d.

Gevurah shebeNetzach (discipline and judgment within the context of victory and endurance)

We now arrive at the twenty-third week, when the Leviathan in Perek Shirah gives thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy is eternal. This week marks the seventh day of Adar, the birthday as well as the yahrzeit of Moses, Moshe Rabbeinu. Moses is from the tribe of Levi. It is also no coincidence that the first three Hebrew letters of the name “Leviathan” spell the word “Levi,” one of the tribes of this month. 

The Leviathan is clearly a reference to Moses himself. In general, fish represent tzadikim, and just as the Leviathan is the biggest of all fish, Moses is the greatest of all tzadikim.[1] (See Week Four, regarding the eagle, the biggest of all birds) A hidden reference to Moses being like a fish can also be found in the name of his main disciple, Yehoshua Bin Nun. Nun means fish in Aramaic. The Torah teaches us that a student is considered like a son.[2] The gematria of the letter Nun is fifty, and when Moses passed away he reached the fiftieth level of holiness. This is implied in the name of the place of his burial, Mount Nevoh, which can also be read as "Nun Boh" ("the Nun is in it").

The last letter of the Hebrew word for Leviathan (Leviatan) is Nun. If one exchanges the Lamed (which equals 30) and the Yud (which equals 10) for a Mem (40), the word Leviatan is transformed into Mavet (death) Nun. As mentioned above, Moshe Rabbeinu reached the fiftieth level of holiness upon his death, even though we say that Moshe Rabbeinu never truly died.  

The song of the Leviathan is well known, and repeated many times in Psalm 118. In Hebrew, it reads, “Hodu l’Hashem Ki Tov Ki l’Olam Chasdoh.” Ki Tov, which means “for [He] is good,” is exactly the Torah’s description for what Yocheved saw in her newborn son, Moses. She saw Ki Tov, that he was good. That is why one of Moses’ names is also Tuviah, from the word Tov. Rashi explains that at the time of Moses’ birth, his mother saw that the house became filled with light.[3] Our sages explain that this is also a reference to the light that will only be revealed in the end of creation.

The number twenty-three has the gematria of ziv, which means light, radiance. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that ziv, as opposed to or, refers to a light that shines far away from its source. The Leviathan is an animal that is mysterious and unknown. Its existence will only be fully revealed in the messianic era. Our current understanding of the Leviathan is negligible, equivalent to the brightness of a light coming from far away, like the ziv. We know through Psalm 104:26 and Midrashim, that G-d created the leviathan to "play" with it, but we certainly do not know exactly what that means. We also know that the Leviathan will be the food served to us in the final redemption, the end of creation.

Ziv is also a biblical name given to the month of Iyar. The Torah states that it was “in the month Ziv” that Solomon began to build the Temple.[4] The construction of the Second Temple also began in the month of Iyar. Furthermore, we know that it is during Iyar that we count the omer, and that the word Sefirat Ha’Omer comes from the word sapir, saphire. During Iyar we work on ourselves to become radiant like saphire. We make ourselves into proper vessels so that G-d can dwell within us.

As we enter the month of Adar and experience Moses’ birthday and passing, we also begin to work on our inner Temple. The Torah reading for this week is usually related to the construction of the Tabernacle, and we continue to collect the half-shekel, which historically was given towards the Temple’s upkeep.

In order to achieve balance in the world, Hashem had to allow the female to die. Despite this tragedy, the Leviathan still sings about G-d's kindness. The Leviathan knows perfectly well that all that Hashem does is for the good.

The Leviathan praises Hashem for His eternal kindness, and Moses also showed great kindness to the Jewish people, leading them out of Egypt in order to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, as the largest of all fish and the one that has the closest relationship with G-d, the Leviathan is not content with praising Hashem by itself. It commands that others to do their part to praise G-d as well.

The last ma’amar reviewed and edited by the Rebbe, Ve’Atah Tetzaveh, was delivered during Adar, and it is about the relationship between Moses and the rest of the Jewish people. Tetzaveh means “to command,” but also to tie, unite – the same root as the word mitzvah. Tetzaveh is the one weekly portion of the Torah since the introduction of Moses, in which his name is not mentioned. This is said to be a hidden reference to Moses’ passing, on the 7th of Adar, since Tetzaveh is usually read around this time. The connection between Tetzaveh and Moses’ death is so strong that when there are two Adars, Moses’ yahrzeit is commemorated on the first Adar, because it will be then that Tetzaveh will be read. Usually, when there are two Adars, the “main” date is usually the one in the second Adar. It is worth noting that the Rebbe’s stroke was on Adar I, on the 27th day of that month. Two years later, on this exact day, 27th of Adar I, 5754, the Rebbe suffered another stroke, which ultimately led to his passing a few months later.

Less than two months prior to the Rebbe’s stroke, he gave an enigmatic talk in which he described how his late father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, was not able to speak clearly in the last years of his life. At that time, even though it was now more than forty years after the Previous Rebbe’s passing, the Rebbe exclaimed that we all had to do our part, and take upon ourselves as a personal challenge to increase Torah study and Chassidic gatherings in order to compensate for the Previous Rebbe’s difficulty in communication, and to do so with happiness.[5] How unbelievable was it then that two months later the Rebbe would find himself in the same condition.

The Pirkei Avot teaching for this week comes from Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa, who says that anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but all those whose wisdom precedes their fear of sin, their wisdom will not endure. This teaching is perfectly related to Moses, who showed fear of Hashem since his first interaction with Him at the burning bush.
Moreover, Rabbi Chanina also teaches that whoever is pleasing to mankind is pleasing to G-d, and whoever is not pleasing to mankind is not pleasing to G-d. This lesson also applies to Moses, whose acts were pleasing to the Jewish people and to Hashem.

Rabbi Chanina, similar to Moses himself, exemplifies a tzadik who is the foundation of the world. The Talmud teaches that every day a heavenly voice exclaims that, “the entire world is sustained in merit of Chanina my son, yet for Chanina my son, one measure of carobs is enough from Friday to Friday.”[6]

In this twenty-third week, the combination of sefirot results in gevurah shebenetzach: discipline and strength within determination and victory. As explained earlier, Moses represents the sefirah of netzach, and his death is connected with the attribute of gevurah. From the above teaching, we see that Rabbi Chanina himself also is very much connected to the gevurah shebenetzach.
The lesson in self-improvement we can extract from the Leviathan is that everything that G-d does is for good, and therefore we should fully trust in Him.

[1] Shnei Luchot HaBrit
[2] Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld
[3] Exodus 2:2
[4] Kings I, 6:1
[5] From the Rebbe’s Sichos, 3rd of Shvat after Mincha prayers, available at:
[6] Brachot 17b

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Week 22 (From the Book): To Complement Each Other in Happiness

The Sea Monsters[1] say: "Praise G-d from the land, the sea monsters and all the depths." (Psalms 148:7)

Rabbi Dusta'i the son of Rabbi Yannai would say in the name of Rabbi Meir: Anyone who forgets even a single word of this learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life. As is stated, "Just be careful, and verily guard your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen" (Deuteronomy 4:9). One might think that this applies also to one who [has forgotten because] his studies proved too difficult for him; but the verse goes on to tell us "and lest they be removed from your heart, throughout the days of your life." Hence, one does not forfeit his life unless he deliberately removes them from his heart.

Chesed shebeNetzach (kindness within the context of victory and endurance)

In the twenty-second week, in Perek Shirah, the Sea Monsters sing that the Lord is to be praised on earth as well as in the depths. (Psalm 148:7) This is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. The month of Adar corresponds to the zodiac sign of Pisces. Therefore, it is very much appropriate that the water creatures in Perek Shirah be the ones to sing during the four weeks of this month.

Adar is the month of Purim, and when it begins, we “increase in joy.” The depths mentioned in the song of the sea monsters refer to the deep and hidden miracles that Hashem performed for us during this month, especially on Purim.

The month of Adar is represented by the tribe of Naftali. Naftali, and Adar as a whole, is also connected to the quality of being an emissary, a sheliach. Jacob’s blessing of Naftali describes him as an ayalah shlucha (a gazelle that is sent-off). Naftali was sent as a messenger on various occasions. In Moses’s blessing at the end of the Torah, Naftali is described as seva ratzon, satisfied will. The attribute of ratzon, will, is part of the sefirah of keter, the highest of the sefirot, which literally means crown. Interestingly, Naftali is the only tribe described as a feminine animal, and its link to keter appears to be connected to the fact that the hero of this month is a woman who was sent on a mission to obtain the crown, Queen Esther.

Like Queen Esther, the tribe of Naftali is also a symbol of self-sacrifice and humility. Even though the tribe was known for its speed and alacrity,[2] its prince accepted to be the last ones to bring an offering during the inauguration of the Tabernacle.[3] Being a sheliach requires enormous nullification and submission to the one that sends him or her, as well as tremendous will power, ratzon, to see to it that the mission gets accomplished.

The sheliach qualities and self-nullification of Naftali also appears to be related to the phrase, “Ve‘anochi Tola’at ve lo Ish,” which means, “I am a worm and not a man.” Velo Ish, not a man, has the same numerical value as Sheliach. This phrase is taken from Psalm 22 (the same number as this week), which has in its open verse, the term “ayelet hashachar, the gazelle of the morning. As mentioned above, the gazelle is connected to Naftali. Our sages teach us that “ayelet hashachar” is also a reference to the planet Venus, the last “star” to appear in the sky before morning, and a reference to Queen Ester, the last prophet to appear before redemption.

Similarly, Adar is the last month of the Jewish calendar counting from Nissan. As mentioned above, the prince of Naftali was the last tribe to bring an offering at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, wrapping up the work done by the previous tribe, Asher, and that of the other tribes. That is the work of the sheliach and ours as well, to wrap up the work done by those before us, and bring Mashiach.    

Adar is the only month in the Jewish calendar that is often counted twice. Seven times every nineteen years, the Jewish calendar contains two Adar months: Adar I and Adar II. Adar II is represented by the tribe of Levi. As would be expected, there are strong parallels between Levi and Naftali. Like Naftali, which was known for its speed and alacrity, the Levites, especially the kohanim, were known for their alacrity and care in the performance of mitzvot. Furthermore, the Levites (and again, the kohanim in particular) served as emissaries for the entire Jewish people when performing their service in the Temple. As further explained in the weeks ahead, the Levites service was characterized by tremendous self-sacrifice. There is also another interesting link between the tribe of Levi and the sea animals we read about during this month. The animals in the sea did not perish during the Flood. Similarly, the tribe of Levi was never enslaved by the Egyptians.

As demonstrated by the above paragraph, Adar contains a very strong theme of duality. The zodiac sign of Pisces is also related to duality: its symbol is two fish facing opposite directions. Unlike other redemptions, the Purim story has not one, but two main heroes: Esther and Mordechai. It is also in the month of Adar that we fulfill the mitzvah of giving the half-shekel. The half-shekel was a contribution made to the Temple in order that sacrifices could be brought on behalf of the entire public. The mitzvah is still done during the month of Adar, although for now it plays more of a symbolic role. Each person’s giving a half-shekel, as opposed to a whole one, symbolizes the idea that no Jew is complete by him or herself. Each of us complements the other.

The number twenty-two represents the total number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Hashem used these letters to create the Torah and the world by combining them to each other. In this sense, each of the letters complements the other. Similarly, the Torah begins with the letter beit, representing the idea of duality and relationship, the relationship between Hashem and His creation.

Duality and relationship are also found in the song of the sea monsters. At first glance it appears strange that the sea monsters should be singing about praising Hashem on land as well as in the depths of the sea. However, the sea monsters understand that their song is not enough by itself. It must be complemented by the songs in the land as well.

The duality of the month of Adar is also one the contrast between “the hidden” and “the revealed.” The miracle of Purim was performed through “hidden” means, and despite the hand of G-d being more than apparent in the events that led to the Jewish redemption of this month, the actual name of G-d does not appear in the Purim story found in the Megillah. The name of the scroll we read, Megillat Esther, is further evidence of this duality. Megillah comes from the verb nigleh (revealed) and nistar (hidden). In the song of the sea monsters, the sea depths represent that which is hidden, while the land represents that which is revealed.

The song of the sea monsters is also reminiscent of the blessing Jacob gave to his two grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe (here again, the number two appears): "You will multiply like fish in the face of the land [not the water].” Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that the gematria of Naftali, which represents Adar, is equal to the gematria of Ephraim and Menashe.

This week, the lesson in Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Dusta’i the son of Yannai, who states that forgetting one’s study is comparable to committing a mortal sin. One of the main mitzvot of the month of Adar is remembering the evil done by Amalek and the Divine commandment to destroy it. If we do not remember to destroy evil, we put our own lives in danger.

The combination of sefirot for this week is chesed shebenetzach, kindness within victory. In the month of Adar, we increase in joy. This week marks the beginning of two months of victory and redemption - netzach - associated with Purim and Passover. We celebrate the kindness G-d showed us by being more joyful than usual. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Tiferet)

The lesson in self-improvement we learn from the sea monsters is that it is not sufficient to praise G-d just by ourselves. We must also think of those who are distant, just as the sea monsters think of those on land.

[1] Rabbi Lazer Brody translates this animal as “giant sea creatures.”
[2] Rashi explains that the gazelle runs quickly, and that this is the meaning behind Jacob’s blessing to Naftali. (Genesis 49:21, Rashi; See also the Rebbe's sicha, chassidic discourse, for the 12th Day of Nissan, 5747, available at: Rashi also explains there that the men of Naftali dispatched towards the enemy with alacrity, zrizut. Zrizut is also the main characteristic of the Kohanim, of the tribe of Levi, which is also represented by the month of Adar, as further explained below.
[3] Ryzman, p. 109