Wednesday, October 18, 2017



If it were
Up to me
I'd take on
Every stringency

I'd spend my days
In thought and prayer
From text to text
And lose myself in mystery

Then realize it never was
Or ever will be up to me.
It's always been about some
One else who begs us all

To go down to Him.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Week 5 (from the Book): To Use All Tools Available in order to Elevate the World

The Crane is saying, "Give thanks to G-d with the lyre; make music for Him with the ten-stringed harp." (Psalms 33:2)

Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi would say: Beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world, for the toil of them both causes sin to be forgotten. Ultimately, all Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and to cause sin.

Those who work for the community should do so for the sake of Heaven; for then the merit of their ancestors shall aid them, and their righteousness shall endure forever. And you, [says G-d,] I shall credit you with great reward as if you have achieved it.
Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.

He would also say: Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He should nullify the will of others before your will.

Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood [or: Do not say something that ought not to be heard even in the strictest confidence, for ultimately it will be heard]. And do not say "When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,'' for perhaps you will never free yourself.
He would also say: A boor cannot be sin-fearing, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a bashful one cannot learn, a short-tempered person cannot teach, nor does anyone who does much business grow wise. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

He also saw a skull floating upon the water. Said he to it: Because you drowned others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you, will themselves be drowned.

He would also say: One who increases flesh, increases worms; one who increases possessions, increases worry; one who increases wives, increases witchcraft; one who increases maidservants, increases promiscuity; one who increases man-servants, increases thievery; one who increases Torah, increases life; one who increases study, increases wisdom; one who increases counsel, increases understanding; one who increases charity, increases peace. One who acquires a good name, acquired it for himself; one who acquires the words of Torah, has acquired life in the World to Come.

Hod shebeChesed (glory and gratefulness within the context of kindness)

On the fifth week of the Jewish calendar, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. The month of Cheshvan is represented by the tribe of Menashe. Menashe, the firstborn son of Joseph, assisted his father in managing the entire Egyptian empire at the time. In Cheshvan, we bring all the holiness that we acquired in Tishrei, and use it in our day-to-day spiritual and physical endeavors to elevate the world. After the introspection and delving into the treasures of the Torah that took place in Tishrei, we must put our new resolutions into practice in this physical world. In this service, we use all powers, tools, and technologies available to us.  In Perek Shirah, the crane sings to G-d with joy, asking that we use musical instruments such as the lyre and the ten-stringed harp to thank Hashem.[1] With instruments, our music to Him will be even more beautiful.

The number five represents the five books of Moses, the Torah. At Mount Sinai, Moses brought the Torah down from heaven into this physical world, transforming it forever. Five is also one more than the number four, which as mentioned in the previous week, reflects the basic structure of the world(s).

In Pirkei Avot, the words of Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi are also related to the above description of the month of Cheshvan. Rabban Gamliel states that the study of Torah should be combined with making a living. Rabban Gamliel explains that it is specifically through the combination of Torah and work that one is able to stay away from sin. The subsequent sayings of Rabban Gamliel are also related to the concept of being active in the world. He describes how one should go about work on behalf of the community, as well as how to interact with the government. The additional sayings of Rabban Gamliel, as well as the words of Hillel, included in this section, also discuss how to interact with others and how to balance the need to engage with the material world, and yet not lose focus on what is truly important.

Hillel specifically talks about a situation of someone who was drowned in the water, which is very appropriate for the beginning of the month of Cheshvan, the month of the Flood. As will be further explained in week twenty-four, the Flood and its mighty waters are often used as a reference to material concerns, which threaten to drown us.

This week’s sefirah is hod shebechesed, which, as mentioned above, is closely connected with Aaron, and the service of the Kohanim (priests). As also mentioned, Cheshvan will be the month in which the future Third Temple will be inaugurated, and that is where the Kohanim will elevate the material world through their sacrifices.

A lesson in self-improvement that we can learn from the crane is the power of music. After all, music and the sound of instruments is one of the most powerful and ancient forms of fighting sadness. David would play the harp in order to gladden King Saul, who was tormented by depression. The Levites would also sing beautiful songs as the Kohanim performed their tasks.

[1] See Genesis 4:21, on how musical instruments, specifically the lyre is described in the Torah as one of the first technologies developed by human beings.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Introduction to the Aleph-Beit, based on the Zohar

Introduction to the Aleph-Beit, based on the Zohar[1]

Aleph: “the first and the head of all letters, and My uniqueness will be expressed only through you. And you will be the first of all numbers, and all unity of disparate entities will be through you.” [Aleph has the numerical value of 1 and also stands for the Aluphoh Shel Olam, the Master of the World, Hashem.] 

Beit: “initial letter of the word Bracha, blessing, and with it the Holy One is blessed both above and below… the first letter of creation.” [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. The Talmud teaches that Alef Beit together stand for Aluf Binah (learn understanding).]

Gimmel: Gmilut Chassadim, acts of loving kindness.

Dalet: Dal (poor) [Gimmel and Dalet must not become separated from one another.]

Heh: Concealed within the name of Hashem, the Tetragrammaton. They represent feminine qualities. The first Heh in Hashem’s name represents Binah, understanding, and the second Malchut, kingship.  [The letter Heh also is tied to the concept of pregnancy, as it is the first letter in the Hebrew word for it, Herayon.]

Vav: Also concealed in Hashem’s name, representing the six male emotional attributes (Chesed, kindness, through Yesod, foundation). [The Vav, which literally means a "hook," grammatically is a letter that connects and transforms. A Vav preceding a word usually means "and." If that word is a verb, the Vav can transform it from past tense to future tense, or vice-versa.]

Zayin: The Sabbath, the seventh day, and the verse, “Zachor, Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” Zayin also means “weapon.”

Chet: Cheit, sin. [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, in the opening pages of Likutei Moharan, explains that Chet is Chiut (vitality)]

Tet: “Tov veYashar Hashem,” God is good and fair. This good must remain hidden until the World to Come. Teviah, sinking. Also forms the word Chet, sin, when together with the letter Chet. [Tet also means snake in Aramaic, which represents desire, as well as physicality in general.]

Yud: Beginning of Hashem’s Holy Name. Yud symbolizes the male intellectual attribute of Chochmah, wisdom. [Yud represents spirituality. It is simply a dot on the page. The Heavens are said to have been created with the letter Yud. ]

Caf: Kissei HaKavod, the Throne of Glory, and represents Hashem’s Kavod, glory, in general. Also the first letter of Kliyah, destruction. Numerical equivalent of two Yud’s, “representing the Jew’s service of G-d, by which he elicits a corresponding response.” [Caf is also the first letter of the word Keter, crown, which in Kabbalah is connected to those aspects of the soul that are above intellect: Emunah (faith), Ta'anug (pleasure), and Ratzon (desire). Caf also means the palm of the hand, or a spoon, both of which are slightly bent in order to serve as a receptacle, a Kli (which is also with the letter Caf).]

Lamed: Second letter of the word Melech, King. [Lamed also means Limmud, study. The Lamed is particularly connected with the Oral Torah, the part of the Torah which was never intended to be written down, but instead was transmitted orally from teacher to student.

Mem: Melech, King. [Mem also stands for Mayim, water, and has the numerical value of 40; the minimum size of a kosher Mikveh. Em (Alef Mem), means "mother."]

Nun: Norah Tehilot, Na’avah Tehillah, awesome to praise, inspiring song; Nefillah, fall. [Nun also means "fish" in Aramaic, and, along with the Heh, also represents the Divine attribute of Malchut, kingship]

Samech: Somech Noflim, supporting those that are falling [Its shape is a circle, and stands for the different highs and lows of life.]

Ayin: Anavah, humility. Avon, transgression. [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.]

Peh: Pedut, redemption; Pesha, deliberate transgression. [Peh literally means "mouth."] 

Tzadi: Tzaddik, saint (comprised of a Yud and a bent Nun, representing male and female, and also represents a servant of Hashem engaged in prayer)

Kuf: [Kuf is the first letter of Kadosh, holy. Kof literally means monkey, representing unholiness, Klippah, which imitates the holy.]

Reish: [Rosh, head; but also Rash, (poor), Rasha, evil person; Kuf and Resh together spell Kar, cold]

Shin: First letter of the Holy Name, Sh-D-Y, and associated with the three Patriarchs. Together with Reish and Kuf forms Sheker. Kesher means “knot.” [Esh, Alef Shin, means "fire."]

Tav: Concluding letter of Emet, truth. Used to mark the foreheads of mean of faith who had fulfilled the Torah from Aleph to Tav, beginning to end. The tav was also used to mark the head of wicked and punished by death. Final letter of Mavet, death.

Caf Sofit: Third letter of the word, Melech, king [The Caf Sophit is "a long straight letter, indicat[es] that one who succeeds in bending his primitive impulses and controlling them... (Munk)]

Mem Sofit: [While the regular "open" Mem is connected to the revealed aspects of Creation and of the Torah, the Mem Sofit is "sealed," representing that which is hidden and concealed. It is also a reference the final redeemer Mashiach, while the regular Mem is a reference to the first redeemer, Moshe.]

Nun Sofit: [While the regular Nun is bent, the final Nun is an unbounded straight line, reaching even below the "resting place" of the regular letters. (Ginsburgh) The final Nun represents Mashiach's ability to infuse even the lowliest of realms with G-dliness. The final Nun also has the shape of an extended vav, which stands for uprightness.]

Peh Sofit: [The final Peh symbolizes a mouth that is wide open. Similar to the final Nun, the long downward "leg" of the final Peh appears to represent Mashiach's ability to infuse even the lowliest of realms with the revelation of G-dliness.]

Tzadi Sofit: the Tzadik Sofit represents the Ba'al Teshuvah.  It represents someone who went far below in order to then climb back up. Moshe, "bent" in humility, is the quintessential Tzadik. The Tzadi Sofit, the "end Tzadik," is a reference to Mashiach. Mashiach will elevate even the lowest of realms. When Mashiach comes, even Tzadikim will do Teshuvah.

[1]  Zohar I, 2b ff. Selections translated and annotated by Moshe Miller, Fiftieth Gate Publications and Seminars, pp. 75 – 84. Information that is in brackets [ ], is based on other sources. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Second Set of 22 Days: Gimmel & Dalet, Eden & Gehennom (Purgatory)

The 19th of Tishrei begins the second set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Gimmel and Dalet, as well as the Garden of Eden and Gehennom (Purgatory).

Gimmel and Dalet have an interesting relationship. Together, they stand for the idea of "Gommel Dalim," helping the poor. "Dal" means poor in Hebrew. It is a well known idea tht Gimmel is shaped in such a way that represents its running toward the "Dal," the letter Dalet.

The Garden of Eden and Gehennom have a similar kind of relationship on a spiritual plane. Gehennom is often translated as "hell," but hell and eternal damnation are not really a Jewish ideas. Judaism believes that a soul usually must undergo some form of cleansing before entering Heaven, and this cleansing takes place in Gehennom.

To some extent, the Garden of Eden represents spiritual richness, while Gehennom represents spiritual lacking. This is reflected in the verses that these elements sing:

  • The Garden of Eden is saying, "Arouse yourself, O north [wind], and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow out; let my Beloved come to His garden and eat of its precious fruit." (Song of Songs 4:16)
  • Gehinnom is saying: "For He has satisfied the longing soul, and has filled the hungry soul with good." (Psalms 107:9)
These two elements also appear to clearly represent what is about to take place in the next 22 days. We'll still be in the midst of the holiday season, fully cleansed and joyous after Yom Kippur and fully engaged in the mitzvot of Sukkah and Lulav, which are very much linked to the Garden of Eden. The "mitzvah fruit" of these days, the Etrog, is said to have the smell of the Garden of Eden. We also shake the Lulav north and south (as well as in the other directions, East, West, up and down), as in the song above.

Following the holiday and Tishrei, we enter Cheshvan, which is called "Mar Cheshvan," "Bitter" Cheshvan, because it lacks any holidays (for now). We therefore use all our spiritual resources acquired in Tishrei to "enrich" the month of Cheshvan, infusing this month and the physical world as a whole with spirituality. 

Week 4 (From the Book): To Take Responsibility for All, Yet Protecting Oneself from Bad Influences

The Eagle[1] is saying, "And You, G-d, Lord of Hosts, Lord of Israel, awake to punish all the nations; do not be gracious to any wicked traitors, sela!" (Psalms 59:6)

Rabbi [Yehudah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind. 

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost.
Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.

Netzach shebeChesed (victory and endurance within the context of kindness)

On the fourth week of the year, which encompasses the end of Sukkot (including Hoshanah Rabbah), as well as Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the eagle sings. During this week, as soon as each community completes the annual reading of the entire Torah, we immediately start our studies anew, just like the eagle renews its feathers from year to year.[2] It is also worth noting that during these days, both for hoshanot and hakafot, we spend a large portion of our service circling the bimah,[3] just like the eagle.

Rebbe Nachman’s yahrzeit, the 18th of Tishrei, often falls on this week of the year, the week of Simchat Torah. Two of Rebbe Nachman’s main teachings are relate to the concept of always being happy and of always starting anew.[4] That is exactly what Simchat Torah is all about.  As Rebbe Nachman said himself, his “main day” is Rosh Hashanah, and as further explained below, Simchat Torah is the culmination of the judgment that took place from Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Rabbah.

The eagle is the greatest of birds, flying higher than the rest. It therefore has an extremely broad and potent view and perspective on all Creation. Unlike other birds, which carry their young between their talons, the eagle carries them on their wings because no other animal can reach that high. So is our relationship with God: "You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I took them on eagles' wings and brought them to Me."[5]

The eagle requests that G-d remember the nations (Psalms 59:6). The word “remember” can have both a positive (remember for good) as well as a negative connotation (remember in order to punish). The continuation of the eagle’s song appears to be more connected to the latter, as it states, “do not be gracious to any wicked traitors, selah.” Throughout Sukkot, the Jewish people have been bringing sacrifices on behalf of all nations. However, on Shemini Atzeret, we stop bringing sacrifices for others, and place them aside for the time being, so that the Jewish people can be alone with G-d.

The number four represents stability and strength more than the number three, just as a table with four legs is firmer than a tripod. The number four also refers to the matriarchs of the Jewish People: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. The Torah itself is quite explicit about how the matriarchs were more firm than the patriarchs when it came to protecting their family and their lineage from bad influences and from veering off to wrong paths. Sarah made sure that Yishmael was sent away in order not to be a bad influence for Isaac. When Abraham became apprehensive about this, G-d told him to listen to Sarah. Similarly, Rivkah made sure that Jacob would receive the proper blessings from Isaac, instead of Esau. She also insisted that Jacob not intermarry with the local tribes.

The stability of the number four is reflected in various aspects of the world itself. There are four basic elements in the world: fire, water, air, and earth. There are also four spiritual worlds, or dimensions, mentioned in the Kabbalah: Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah. There are also four rivers that flow from the Garden of Eden, and four levels of Torah knowledge, also known as Pardes. Pardes literally means “orchard,” and stands for: Peshat (simple/meaning), Remez (implied/hinted), Derush (interpreted), and Sod (secret). All of the above concepts are deeply related.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi discusses how to stay on the right path, and be laudable in their own eyes and in the eyes of his fellow man. The word used by Rabbi Yehudah to describe this state of equilibrium is tiferet, the sefirah connected to Sukkot.

As part of his teaching, he states that different mitzvot should not be compared. Some think that dancing with the Torah on the day of Simchat Torah is somehow less important than the prayers recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or even that this mitzvah is somehow smaller compared with the daily study of the Torah. In fact, in the eyes of G-d, dancing with the Torah is very important.

Continuing the transition from Week Three to Week Four, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi tells us to reflect upon three things, which are actually four: "(1) Know what is above you: (2) an Eye that sees, (3) an Ear that hears, and (4) all your deeds are recorded in a Book." This lesson describes the four Jewish holidays of the first four weeks: On Rosh Hashanah, we acknowledge that G-d is above us (the Hebrew word is lada'at, “to know,” and Rosh Hashanah is connected with da'at, as explained in Week 52); on Yom Kippur, G-d sees our teshuvah (our repentance), as stated in the Haftorah of Jonah read on Yom Kippur;[6] the festival of Sukkot is connected to the ear; and Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah all reflect the idea that our actions are written in a book, the Book of Life, because it is precisely on Hoshanah Rabbah that the judgment is concluded.

On this week, the sefirah combination is netzach shebechesed. In it, we complete the reading of the entire Torah, which ends with Vezot haBrachah, when Moses blesses each one of the twelve tribes of Israel. As explained in the beginning of the book, Moses is associated with the sefirah of netzach. Netzach means victory and endurance, which we feel as we reach the completion of the Torah’s reading. Moses’ blessings are linked to chesed.

As mentioned above, the number four, associated with netzach, is connected to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. As a leader, Moses displays maternal characteristics, drawing a striking parallel with our matriarchs. In a particularly difficult time of his journey, Moses desperately please with G-d: "Was it I who gave birth to this entire people, that You ask me to carry them in my bosom as one who carries a nursing [baby], to the land You promised their ancestors?"[7]

It is also worth noting that the Rambam, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, whose known for the phrase, that “from Moshe to Moshe there was no one like Moshe,” was known as the “Great Eagle.” Rebbe Nachman also always said about himself that his sefirah was netzach. Rebbe Nachman also stated, “I have been victorious (nitzachti) and I will be victorious (v’anatzeach); I have finished and I will finish.”

The lesson of self-improvement that can be derived from the song of the eagle is that we should show care and concern for all others, not just ourselves. In fact, caring about others besides oneself is a great way to fight sadness. The eagle shows concern for the community and for all nations, not just for itself.

[1] Rabbi Slifkin translates Nesher as vulture. Other translations have it as an eagle.
[2] Psalm 103:5; Rashi
[3] The bimah is the platform in the middle of the synagogue, which parallels the altar (mizbeach) in the Temple.
[4] Rebbe Nachman stated, “Mitzvah Gedolah Lihyot B’Simchah Tamid! (It is a great mitzvah to be happy always!)" (Likutei Moharan II, 24). He also would say, “Start serving God as if you had never started in your whole life. This is one of the most basic principles of serving God. We must literally begin all over again every day.” (Likutei Moharan I, 261).
[5] Exodus 19:4
[6] The Book of Jonah states, "And G-d saw their actions  ... and G-d reconsidered the evil which He had spoken to perform against them, and He did not perform it." (3:10, emphasis added)
[7] Numbers 11:12

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Week 3 (From the Book): To Be Happy, Balanced, and Secure in G-d

The dove is saying: "Like a swift or crane, so do I chatter; I moan like a dove, my eyes fail with looking upward; O G-d, I am oppressed, be my security." (Isaiah 38:14) The dove says before The Holy One, Blessed be He, "Master of the World! May my sustenance be as bitter as an olive in Your hands, rather than it being sweet as honey through flesh and blood." (Talmud, Eruvin 18b).
Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel would say: By three things is the world sustained: law, truth and peace. As is stated (Zachariah 8:16), "Truth, and a judgment of peace, you should administer at your [city] gates.''
Tiferet shebeChesed (beauty and balance within the context of kindness)
In the third week of the Jewish year, when we celebrate Sukkot, the dove is the next animal to sing in Perek Shirah. It calls to G-d to be its source of protection, and states that it prefers that its sustenance be as bitter as an olive branch but come directly from Him, than it be as sweet as honey from the hands of humans. This week also usually marks the yahrzeit of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel, the Rebbe Maharash, on the 13th of Tishrei.
Throughout these days we eat apple and honey and dip our challah in honey, yet we live under the branches of the Sukkah. The dove asks for protection by using the word “Arveni,” which means“be my Guarantor” – but also can be understood as “be sweet to me.” Arveni is also reminiscent of the phrase“Kol Israel Arevim Zeh LaZeh,” which means every Jew is responsible for, mixed together with, and/or sweet to one another, one of the main themes of Sukkot.
On Sukkot, the Jewish people remember how G-d protected them in the desert, and celebrate how that protection continues until today. We live as in an everlasting sukkah, which is fragile and vulnerable to changes in weather conditions. While we must do our part to protect ourselves, we also realize that ultimately we all depend entirely on G-d for our sustenance and safety.
The dove is also characterized by faithfulness and loyalty. The Torah compares the Jewish people to a dove, and Tefillin to its wings: just as the wings protect the dove, so too the mitzvot, the commandments, protect the Jewish people.[2]Just as we are loyal to G-d, He too shows loyalty to us and protects us.
The dove is also considered a bearer of good news and symbolizes peace and tranquility: when Noah wanted to make sure that the flood waters had already receded, he sent the dove, which came back with an olive branch in its mouth, indicating that the Flood had subsided.[3]
In this third week, the dove mentions two birds aside from itself: the crane and the swallow - three animals in total.
The number three is related to the three patriarchs, and also represents balance and stability. While the number two brings tension, three creates harmony. It is well known that on the second day of creation, G-d did not say "it was good." On the third day, however, G-d said "it was good" twice.
The Torah itself is a third and balancing force in the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d. The Talmud states that the Torah, which has three parts (Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim) was given to the three-part Jewish people (Kohanim, Levi'im and Israelim), by the third son (Moses, the younger brother of Aaron and Miriam), on the third day of separation, in the third month (Sivan, counting from the month of Nissan).[4]
One of the first statements in Pirkei Avot is that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Avodah (Divine service), and Gemilut Chassadim (acts of kindness). These three pillars are also represented by the patriarchs themselves: Abraham represents acts of kindness, Isaac represents Divine service, and Jacob represents the Torah.
As explained in the beginning of this book, Jacob, the third patriarch, represents tiferet, the balance between Abraham’s chesed and Isaac’s gevurah. Jacob is also strongly associated with Sukkot itself. This is a verse in the Torah that explicitly refers to this: after parting from Esau, Jacob goes to [a place called] Sukkot![5]
Jacob is also connected to the concept of truth. In our morning prayers, we recite “Titen Emet L’Ya’akov, Chesed l’Avraham,” give truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham. In Jewish law, three also represents the concept of chazakah, a legal basis for assuming that statement is true. Furthermore, if a certain occurrence happens three times, there is a chazakah (a legal assumption) that it will happen again.
The number three also plays an important role in the Pirkei Avot lesson for the third week. Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel teaches that the world endures because of three things: justice, truth and peace. (I:18) Without these three things there would be no balance and security in the world. This teaching is closely related to the above mentioned teaching in Pirkei Avot, about the three pillars in which the world stands.
The three things mentioned by Rabbi Shimon are directly related to the three holidays in the weeks mentioned so far: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot: Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom HaDin (Day of Judgment). Din means justice, the exact word used in this teaching. Yom Kippur is the day in which individual Jews are sealed in the Book of Life (our sages explain that “G-d’s seal is truth”). Sukkot is strongly tied to the concept of peace, as can be seen in the bless HaPoress Sukkat Shalom Aleinu (the One who extends a Sukkah of peace over us), which is part of Ma'ariv, the night time prayer.[6]
During this week, the combination of sefirot is tiferet shebechesed. As mentioned above, Jacob represents the sefirahof tiferet. The Rebbe Maharash also represents this sefirah. He was born on the 17th day of the omer,tiferet shebetiferet, and his father would sometimes even refer to him by this combination.[7]The Rebbe Maharash’s yahrzeit falls on or close to the 17th day of the year, which, if one were to attribute a sefirah to each day of the year, would be equivalent to tiferet shebetiferet shebechesed. (See Calendar at the end of the book)
During these days, the Jewish community receives blessings of spiritual and physical assistance, under the fragile construction of their sukkot. Furthermore, during these days we are commandedto be happy, as stated in the verse “veSamachta beChagechah Vehaitem Ach Sameach, you shall rejoice in your festival and you shall be very happy.”[8]
In general, Sukkot are spiritually as well as visually quite beautiful. The actual building, decorating, and preparing meals in the sukkah, are all activities that can be very inspiring. The beauty of the sukkah in the context of the blessings we receive are a great example of tiferet shebechesed.
In this week, we learn from the dove not to be worried or anxious, but instead to have full faith in G-d, Who is All Powerful, and Who provides for all our needs. That said, it is also important to create a vessel to receive G-d’s blessings. It is very important to be grateful for what we have. Furthermore, besides from taking care of the body, it is crucial to be in an environment that is organized, balanced and pleasant, just like a sukkah.

[1] Arveni comes the word Aravah, the “poorest” of the four species used for the mitzvah of shaking the lulav, in that it represents the Jew that has no Torah or mitzvot. Nevertheless this Jew is equally important and essential to this mitzvah.
[2] Talmud, Shabbat 49
[3] Genesis 8:11
[4] Talmud, Shabbat 88a
[5] Genesis 33:17
[6] From the Rebbe’s Sichos
[7] Hayom Yom, 2nd of Iyar, p. 50
[8] Deuteronomy 16: 14. One may ask, “How can a certain emotion be commanded?”The Tanya, the Alter Rebbe’s seminal work, explains that ultimately it must be the mind that controls the heart. By meditating on G-d’s greatness and kindness, we are able to inspire the love for Him in our hearts as well. The same can be said for happiness.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Week 2 (From the Book): To Relate Well to Others and to Our Own Body

The hen is saying, "He gives bread to all flesh, for His kindness endures forever." (Psalms 136:25)
[Rabban Gamliel’s] son, Shimon, would say: All my life I have been raised among the wise, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. The essential thing is not study, but deed. And one who speaks excessively brings on sin.
Gevurah shebeChesed (discipline and judgment within the context of kindness)
In the second week of the Jewish year, the week of Yom Kippur[1](the “Day of Atonement”), it is the turn of the hen in Perek Shirah to sing of G-d’s eternal kindness, for providing food for every living being. It is during this time of the year that G-d determines specifically how much sustenance each being will receive, but also who will live and who will not. Many people may not know this, but eating well on the eve of Yom Kippur is considered to be as meritorious as the fast itself.
There is also an important parallel here: It is exactly in this second week, on the eve of Yom Kippur, when we are busy asking each other for forgiveness, that the Jewish people make Kapparot, an ancient custom where each individual symbolically atones for one’s sins before G-d through the means of a hen! After the ritual is performed, each chicken is slaughtered and given to families in need. Nowadays, many have the custom to use charity money in order to fulfill this ritual. Before Yom Kippur, we also have the custom to ask each other for forgiveness.
The number one is somewhat lonely, but once another one is added they make a pair, just like the rooster and the hen. The number two also represents the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Luchot HaBrit). While one tablet contains laws regarding our relationship with G-d, the other tablet contains laws regarding relationships between human beings. It was precisely on Yom Kippur that the tablets were given for the second time for the Jewish People. The number two represents the concept of relationship, as well as the idea of giving and receiving.
The Pirkei Avot of this week contains the recommendation of Shimon ben Rabban Gamliel: "All my life I grew up among the Sages, and found nothing better for the person [literally, the body] than silence; it is not to study, but rather action which is of the essence… one who talks too much brings forth sin" (I:17). In order to properly receive and absorb the words of others, one must first be silent.
Furthermore, the "silencing" of the body, appears to be a clear reference to the fasting that takes place on Yom Kippur, as well as other actions such as not wearing leather shoes, anointing ourselves (using perfumes or lotions), having sexual relations – preventing all these things on Yom Kippur is a way to distance ourselves from physicality and be very close to G-d, like angels, even if only for a single day. Yom Kippur is also a day of reflection and introspection, for which silence is an important virtue.
We saw that the Pirkei Avot of week number one focuses on acquiring a single main teacher. In this week, we speak about learning from“sages,” in the plural. While the number one relates to unity, two represents the concept of multiplicity.
These two concepts are not contradictory – they complement each other. One can still have a single main teacher, while still learning from every person. In fact, as we will see in week 30 of Pirkei Avot, that Ben Zoma states that to do so is a sign of true wisdom.[2]
On Yom Kippur, we also focus on fact that the main thing that G-d values is our actions. One of the high points of this holy day is the reading of the Book of Jonah, which in turn has as its climax the following verse: "And G-d saw their actions ... and G-d reconsidered the evil which He had spoken to perform against them, and He did not perform it." [3]
In the second week, the sefirah combination is gevurah shebechesed, discipline and judgment within the context of kindness. During the fast of Yom Kippur, the Jewish people act with discipline, willpower, and self-control. We do so while begging our Creator for mercy and protection, knowing that G-d is just and kind.
This week, a lesson in self-improvement we draw from Perek Shirah is that even the hen recognizes that God nourishes all living beings. After getting out of bed, as we learned from the rooster, the next step in combating sadness is to take proper care of ourselves, eating properly and exercising.

[1] Erev Yom Kippur always falls on the second week of the year, but in certain years, the day of Yom Kippur itself falls on the first day of Week Three. This is the only exception for all dates described in this book.
[2] Chapter IV:1
[3] Chapter 3:10. Jonah in Hebrew means “dove,” the animal in Perek Shirah for Week Three.