Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Desert in Words: Yosef, Mashiach Ben Yosef, Bittersweetness and the Torah Portion of Vezot HaBracha

B"H

When reading Moshe's blessing for the tribe of Yosef, there is one word that immediately stands out: Meged. It is repeated five times in a blessing that is itself only five verses long. Meged means "sweet," or "sweet fruits." It appears in Tanach also in Shir HaShirim, and Rashi states that it's used a metaphor for the sweet reward of keeping Hashem's commandments.

Looking at Moshe's blessing alone it is hard to understand the need for such repetition. However, in the context of Yaakov's blessing to Yosef (as well as to Yosef's sons Efraim and Menashe) it becomes easier to understand why Meged is indeed repeated so often.
As with the other tribes as well, there are incredible parallels between Moshe's blessing and Yaakov's. In addition, Moshe's blessing is also related to Yaakov's blessing for Ephraim and Menashe. We could spend pages and pages drawing parallels between these blessings, and how they in fact complement one another. Below, the verses for both Yaakov and Moshe's blessings (five verses each) are laid out, and then each verse is paired up to show just how similar the blesssings are.

Returning to the importance of the repetition of the word Meged in Moshe's blessing, there is also one aspect of Yaakov's blessing that truly stands out. Every verse in Yaakov's blessing is extremely positive, but there is one verse that recounts Joseph's suffering:

23. They heaped bitterness upon him and became quarrelsome; yea, archers despised him.

Rashi notes, in relevant part: "His brothers heaped bitterness upon him (Joseph), [and] Potiphar and his wife heaped bitterness upon him by having him imprisoned."

Despite the other amazing blessings that Joseph received, one cannot but remain with a certain "bitter taste" about Joseph's life and legacy. Embittered by his own brother, and then by the masters of the household he had served so loyally and exceptionally.

Moshe comes to take away this bitterness by blessing Joseph with sweetness - five times, one for each verse of Yaakov's blessing (and his own).

Also, there appears to be a reference to the cause of Joseph's "bitter" encounters: his two dreams. The first one was agricultural, in which he saw his brother's sheaves bowing to his. The second, astrological, where not only his brothers' stars bowed to him, but even the sun and the moon as well. After the dreams, Jacob sends his son to Hebron, which is described as a deep valley, even though it was in fact a mountain. (Bereshit 37:14, See Rashi)

Moshe now endows these moments with sweetness. He speaks of the sweetness of the heavens as well as the "deep," the sweetness of the sun and the moon's yield, of the crops of mountains, hills, and of the land as a whole.

Moshe, who is from the tribe of Levi, originally one of the main instigators against Joseph, now comes to fix the past and sweeten it.

At the same time, Moshe's blessings may actually also be a reference to the future, concerning the progeny of Joseph and the times of Mashiach. In Zechariah, we find the following passage:

10. And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. And they shall look to me because of those who have been thrust through [with swords], and they shall mourn over it as one mourns over an only son and shall be in bitterness, therefore, as one is embittered over a firstborn son.

11. On that day there shall be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the Valley of Megiddon.

Rashi - as one mourns over an only son: As a man mourns over his only son. And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.

Moshe's blessings and emphasis on the word Megged may in fact be a prayer on behalf of Mashiach Ben Yosef, one that may mitigate the circumstance surrounding his death and even spare him of his fate altogether:


R. Isaac Luria (Ari-zal) notes that the descendant of Joseph, by being the precursor of the ultimate Mashiach, is in effect kissey David, the "seat" or "throne" of David, i.e., of Mashiach. Thus when praying in the daily Amidah, "speedily establish the throne of Your servant David," one should consider that this refers to Mashiach ben Yossef and beseech G‑d that he should not die in the Messianic struggle.16 As all prayers, this one, too, will have its effect.[1]

May we all do our part, and may we all merit to truly live in the times of Mashiach, immediately, in our days.

 ----//-----
 
 
Here are Yaakov's blessings regarding Ephraim and Menashe:

15. And he blessed Joseph and said, "God, before Whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked, God Who sustained me as long as I am alive, until this day,

טו. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמַר הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק הָאֱלֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי מֵעוֹדִי עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:

16. may the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land."

טז. הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל רָע יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַנְּעָרִים וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ:


Yaakov's blessing to Joseph is as follows:

22. A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode along to see him.

כב. בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן בָּנוֹת צָעֲדָה עֲלֵי שׁוּר:

23. They heaped bitterness upon him and became quarrelsome; yea, archers despised him.

כג. וַיְמָרֲרֻהוּ וָרֹבּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים:

24. But his bow was strongly established, and his arms were gilded from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob; from there he sustained the rock of Israel,

כד. וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן קַשְׁתּוֹ וַיָּפֹזּוּ זְרֹעֵי יָדָיו מִידֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל:

25. from the God of your father, and He will help you, and with the Almighty, and He will bless you [with] the blessings of the heavens above, the blessings of the deep, lying below, the blessings of father and mother.

כה. מֵאֵל אָבִיךָ וְיַעְזְרֶךָּ וְאֵת שַׁדַּי וִיבָרֲכֶךָּ בִּרְכֹת שָׁמַיִם מֵעָל בִּרְכֹת תְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת בִּרְכֹת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם:

26. The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents, the ends of the everlasting hills. May they come to Joseph's head and to the crown (of the head) of the one who was separated from his brothers.

כו. בִּרְכֹת אָבִיךָ גָּבְרוּ עַל בִּרְכֹת הוֹרַי עַד תַּאֲוַת גִּבְעֹת עוֹלָם תִּהְיֶיןָ לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:

Now, Moshe's blessing (Devarim33):

13. And of Joseph he said: "His land shall be blessed by the Lord, with the sweetness of the heavens with dew, and with the deep that lies below,

יג. וּלְיוֹסֵף אָמַר מְבֹרֶכֶת יְהֹוָה אַרְצוֹ מִמֶּגֶד שָׁמַיִם מִטָּל וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת:

14. and with the sweetness of the produce of the sun, and with the sweetness of the moon's yield,

יד. וּמִמֶּגֶד תְּבוּאֹת שָׁמֶשׁ וּמִמֶּגֶד גֶּרֶשׁ יְרָחִים:

15. and with the crops of early mountains, and with the sweetness of perennial hills,
 
טו. וּמֵרֹאשׁ הַרְרֵי קֶדֶם וּמִמֶּגֶד גִּבְעוֹת עוֹלָם:

16. and with the sweetness of the land and its fullness, and through the contentment of the One Who dwells in the thornbush. May it come upon Joseph's head and upon the crown of the one separated from his brothers.
 
טז. וּמִמֶּגֶד אֶרֶץ וּמְלֹאָהּ וּרְצוֹן שֹׁכְנִי סְנֶה תָּבוֹאתָה לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:

17. To his firstborn ox is [given] glory. His horns are the horns of a re'em. With them, he will gore peoples together [throughout all] the ends of the earth these are the myriads of Ephraim, and these are the thousands of Manasseh."
 
יז. בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ וְקַרְנֵי רְאֵם קַרְנָיו בָּהֶם עַמִּים יְנַגַּח יַחְדָּו אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ וְהֵם רִבְבוֹת אֶפְרַיִם וְהֵם אַלְפֵי מְנַשֶּׁה:



Looking at the similarities between the verses of the two blessings, one could pair up each verse as follows: 

22. A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode
along to see [Shur] him.   כב. בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן בָּנוֹת צָעֲדָה עֲלֵי שׁוּר:

17. To his firstborn ox [Shor] is [given] glory. His horns are the horns of a re'em. With them,
he will gore peoples together [throughout all] the ends of the earth these are the myriads
of Ephraim, and these are the thousands of Manasseh."   יז. בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ וְקַרְנֵי רְאֵם קַרְנָיו בָּהֶם עַמִּים
יְנַגַּח יַחְדָּו אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ וְהֵם רִבְבוֹת אֶפְרַיִם וְהֵם אַלְפֵי מְנַשֶּׁה:

[The references to Ephraim and Mannasseh parallels also the blessings previously made to them by Yaakov: "may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land."]


23. They heaped bitterness upon him and became quarrelsome; yea, archers despised him. 
כג. וַיְמָרֲרֻהוּ וָרֹבּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים:

14. and with the sweetness of the produce of the sun, and with the sweetness of the moon's
yield,   יד. וּמִמֶּגֶד תְּבוּאֹת שָׁמֶשׁ וּמִמֶּגֶד גֶּרֶשׁ יְרָחִים:


24. But his bow was strongly established, and his arms were gilded from the hands of the
Mighty One of Jacob; from there he sustained the rock of Israel,   כד. וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן
קַשְׁתּוֹ וַיָּפֹזּוּ זְרֹעֵי יָדָיו מִידֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל:

16. and with the sweetness of the land and its fullness, and through the contentment of
the One Who dwells in the thornbush. טז. וּמִמֶּגֶד אֶרֶץ וּמְלֹאָהּ וּרְצוֹן שֹׁכְנִי סְנֶה


25. from the God of your father, and He will help you, and with the Almighty, and He will
bless you [with] the blessings of the heavens above, the blessings of the deep, lying
below, the blessings of father and mother.   כה. מֵאֵל אָבִיךָ וְיַעְזְרֶךָּ וְאֵת שַׁדַּי וִיבָרֲכֶךָּ בִּרְכֹת שָׁמַיִם מֵעָל בִּרְכֹת
תְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת בִּרְכֹת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם:

13. And of Joseph he said: "His land shall be blessed by the Lord, with the sweetness of
the heavens with dew, and with the deep that lies below,   יג. וּלְיוֹסֵף אָמַר מְבֹרֶכֶת יְהֹוָה אַרְצוֹ
מִמֶּגֶד שָׁמַיִם מִטָּל וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת:


26. The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents, the ends of the
everlasting hills. כו. בִּרְכֹת אָבִיךָ גָּבְרוּ עַל בִּרְכֹת הוֹרַי עַד תַּאֲוַת גִּבְעֹת עוֹלָם

15. and with the crops of early mountains, and with the sweetness of perennial hills
טו. וּמֵרֹאשׁ הַרְרֵי קֶדֶם וּמִמֶּגֶד גִּבְעוֹת עוֹלָם:


26 (b) May they come to Joseph's head and to the crown (of the head) of the one who was
separated from his brothers.    תִּהְיֶיןָ לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:

16(B) May it come upon Joseph's head and upon the crown of the one separated from his
brothers.   תָּבוֹאתָה לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:




[1] J. Immanuel Schochet, “Mashiach in Jewish Law,” Appendix II, citing (Pri Eitz Chayim, Sha'ar Ha'amidah:ch. 19; and Siddur Ha-Ari; on this blessing. The Ari's teaching is cited in Or Hachayim on Leviticus 14:9, see there (and also on Numbers 24:17, where he relates this prayer to the next blessing of the Amidah); and see also Even Shelemah, ch. 11, note 6. Cf. Zohar II:120a (and Or Hachamah there), and ibid. III:153b) Available at: http://www.chabad.org/library/moshiach/article_cdo/aid/101747/jewish/Appendix-II.htm#footnote16a101747




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Desert in Words: "Eclipse" in Leadership and the Torah Portion of Haazinu

In the Torah portion of Haazinu, we come across a very interesting verse:
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Devarim 31:44)
There appears to be an obvious contradiction/question within the verse itself: Who actually spoke the words of the song? Was it Moshe or was it Moshe and Yehoshuah together?
In order to answer this question, it is important to look into the previous Torah portion, Vayelech, which serves as an introduction to the song Haazinu itself. G-d's commandment regarding the song was not just to Moshe, but to Moshe and Yehoshuah together (Devarim 31:16-30):
14. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, your days are approaching [for you] to die. Call Joshua and stand in the Tent of Meeting, and I will inspire him. So Moses and Joshua went, and stood in the Tent of Meeting. (…)
19. And now, write for yourselves (plural) this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.
Rashi - this song: [This refers to the passage beginning with] הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם [until] וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ (Deut. 32:1-43).
Yet, we see that it was not Yehoshua who wrote down the song, but Moshe:
22. And Moses wrote this song on that day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

23. And He [Rashi states that this refers to G-d] commanded Joshua the son of Nun, and said: "Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you."

24. And it was, when Moses finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll, until their very completion,
Moshe, in the conclusion to the Torah portion of Vayelech, further states:
28. Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, and I will speak these words into their ears, and I will call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses against them.
29. For I know that after my death, you will surely become corrupted, and deviate from the way which I had commanded you. Consequently, the evil will befall you at the end of days, because you did evil in the eyes of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.
30. Then, Moses spoke into the ears of the entire assembly of Israel the words of the following song, until their completion.
We are left with at least a couple more questions. If Moshe is still the leader and the one that ultimately performs Hashem’s commandment, why is Yehoshuah included at all in the commandment, as why does verse 31:44 imply that he was also the one that spoke the song to the Jewish people? And if Yehoshuah is also the one commanded to act, why doesn’t he do so?
Now let us examine Rashi’s comments to our initial verse:
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Devarim 31:44)
He and Hoshea the son of Nun: It was the Sabbath upon which there were two leaders, authority was taken from one and given to the other. — [Sotah 13b]
Rashi continues:
Moses appointed a meturgeman [literally, an interpreter, here a spokesman] for Joshua, [to relay to the public what Joshua said,] so that Joshua could expound [on the Torah] in Moses’ lifetime, so that Israel would not say [to Joshua], “During your teacher’s lifetime you did not dare to raise your head!” - [Sifrei 31:1]
Rashi further notes, still under the same verse:
And why does Scripture here call him Hoshea [for his name had long since been changed to Joshua (see Numb. 13:16)]. To imply [lit., to say] that Joshua did not become haughty, for although he was given high status, he humbled himself as he was at the beginning [when he was still called Hoshea]. — [Sifrei 32:44]
Even though (as we mentioned in the last post) there can only be one leader, Rashi states that for this "Sabbath" there were actually two. The word Sabbath is particularly appropriate here, because just as the Sabbath is the culmination of the previous week and the foundation of the next, so too here, it was the culmination of Moshe's leadership and the foundation of Yehoshua's.
Rashi does nevertheless state that Moshe was the one that spoke the words of the song. It appears that, out of awe and reverence for his teacher, Yehoshua could not bring himself to act in any way that could make him comparable to Moshe. Yehoshua’s reluctance is so strong, to the point that Hashem Himself, exclaims (as cited above) ""Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you." (Devarim 31:23) Moshe therefore appointed someone to amplify Yehoshua's words so that he could expound on the words of song and that all could hear him, further empowering Yehoshua as the new leader.
It would seem odd that Rashi comments that Moshe made Yehoshua speak in public in order to counter those that would say, "During your teacher’s lifetime you did not dare to raise your head!" After all, that is exactly what a person is supposed to do when one is before his teacher! Not only that, we actually learn this particular lesson from Joshua himself, who previously answered a single question in front of Moses, ultimately causing him to remain childless. Here however, the situation is quite different because Yehoshua is no longer only the disciple of Moshe, but actually already the leader himself. For this brief moment, Moshe and Yehoshua’s leadership eclipsed (literally, given that Moshe is compared to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon).
Finally, Rashi notes that despite this empowerment, Yehoshua humbled himself, just as he was at the beginning of his tutelage. It is not just that Yehoshua had become the leader and humbled himself, but that he was made to play a leadership role while Moshe, the greatest prophet of all time, was still alive and well. Despite the potential for Yehoshua, even if for a split second, to see himself as higher than Moshe, he nevertheless saw himself simply as Hoshea, which was his name before Moshe’s blessing, which changed his name to Yehoshua. Yehoshua knew that he owed everything to Moshe: not only his name, but also the very essence of who he had now become as the leader of the Jewish people.
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Desert in Words: Being Strong and Courageous and Connected to the Head. (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

B"H
We're playing a bit of catch-up here, due to the high holidays and the entire month of Tishrei. Let's begin by addressing a theme that appears in Nitzavim as well as Vayelech.
The Torah portion of Nitzavim begins with the following verse:
You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, (Devarim 29:9):
In Hebrew, the exact wording is רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, [lit., “your leaders, your tribes,”], which leads Rashi to comment as follows: “The leaders of your tribes.” Some suggest that Rashi's comments are necessary given that the leaders themselves are obviously part of their respective tribe. While that may be true, perhaps there is also a deeper point Rashi is trying to make, which is that when it comes to the "head," it makes little sense to speak of more than one. There is only one head. That head is the tribe, as Rashi notes in a different place, "HaNassi Hu HaKol," the head of the tribe is everything.
We see this in Rashi's discussion of apparently repetitive verses found in Vayelech, which are also repeated in the Book of Joshua. In Vayelech, Moshe urges the Jewish people as follows:
Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed of them, for the Lord, your God He is the One Who goes with you. He will neither fail you, nor forsake you." (Devarim 31:6)
He then immediately urges Joshua in a similar manner:

7. And Moses called Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous! For you shall come with this people to the land which the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them. And you shall apportion it to them as an inheritance. (Devarim 31:6)
Towards the end of the Torah portion, he again urges Joshua:
And He commanded Joshua the son of Nun, and said: "Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you." (Devarim 31:23)
Rashi compares the two times that Moshe addresses Joshua, and draws a contrast between the two:
for you shall come with this people: Heb. כִּי אַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה [as the Targum renders:]“For you shall come with this people,” [hence, the אֶת here means “with.” Accordingly, Moses’ statement of leadership role to Joshua can be understood as follows]: Moses said to Joshua, “The elders of the generation will be with you, [for] everything should be done according to their opinion and counsel.”
Rashi continues:
In contrast, however, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Joshua,“For you shall bring (תָּבִיא) the children of Israel to the land which I have sworn to them” (verse 23). [God’s statement of leadership role to Joshua here means:] “You shall bring them [even if it is] against their will! Everything depends [only] upon you; [if necessary,] you must take a rod and beat them over their heads! There can be [only] one leader for a generation, not two leaders for a generation.”- [Sanh. . 8a]
While Joshua is told to take advice from the elders as a whole and to follow their opinions and counsel, he must also understand that he is the one in charge and the one that is ultimately going to be held accountable.
[As an aside, it is interesting that Rashi goes as far as stating that if necessary, Joshua is to take a rod and beat [the Jewish people] over their heads, because Moshe himself was punished for apparently much less than that, taking a staff and hitting a rock, instead of speaking to it. It comes to teach us that Moshe was not necessarily wrong in principle by hitting the rock, it's just that this was not what G-d had commanded.]
In the Book of Joshua, the repetition of the verse "be strong and courageous" is said to represent two different aspects of life altogether:
Be strong and have courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land that I have sworn to their ancestors to give to them. (Joshua, 1:6)
RASHI - Be strong and have courage: in worldly pursuits, as the Scripture states: “For you will cause this nation to inherit the land.”
Just be strong and very courageous to observe and do in accordance with all of the Torah that Moses My servant has commanded you. Do not stray therefrom right or left, in order that you succeed wherever you go. (Joshua, 1:7)
RASHI - Just be strong and very courageous: in Torah, as the Scripture states: “To observe and to do in accordance with all of the Torah.”
We also see that Joshua strength and courage as the head of the Jewish people is ultimately for the purpose of being connected to his head, Moses.
There is a very important application of the above in our daily lives, especially as the Torah portion of Nitzavim (as usually Vayelech as well) always comes before Rosh Hashanah. There is something to be learned from all the sages, all the Tzadikim, and there is certainly a way to do everything according to their will. Yet, at the same time, there must be one ultimate head of the generation, just as we observe only one head of the year. We also cannot choose to have one leader and apply a set of standards for "religious" considerations and another for worldly matters. Ultimately, they both stem from the same place, and we must have a single leader (and set of principles) to guide us in both areas of life.
Again, that is not to say that we are not supposed to learn from all the sages (and from every individual, as stated in Pirkei Avot). Similarly, this is also not to say that there is not a hierarchy in leadership, just as each tribe had a leader, who in turn was ultimately subservient to their leader, the head of the entire generation. Ultimately even the head of generation is but simple and completely nullified and subservient slave in the hands of the One and Only. The King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Week 6 (From the Book): To Impact the World, Laying a Foundation for Future Generations


PEREK SHIRAH: The songbird is saying, "The songbird has also found her home, and the sparrow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young - Your altars, G-d of Hosts – my King and my Lord." (Psalms 84:4)
 
PIRKEI AVOT: Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai received the tradition from Hillel and Shammai. He would say: If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself---it is for this that you have been formed.
 
Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai had five disciples: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus, Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Kohen, Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel, and Rabbi Elazar the son of Arach. He would recount their praises: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus is a cemented cistern that loses not a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya---fortunate is she who gave birth to him; Rabbi Yossi the Kohen---a chassid (pious one); Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel fears sin; Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an ever-increasing wellspring.
 
[Rabban Yochanan] used to say: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, and Eliezer the son of Hurkenus were in the other, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, Eliezer the son of Hurkenus included, and Elazar the son of Arach were in the other, he would outweigh them all.
 
[Rabban Yochanan] said to them: Go and see which is the best trait for a person to acquire. Said Rabbi Eliezer: A good eye. Said Rabbi Yehoshua: A good friend. Said Rabbi Yossi: A good neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To see what is born [out of one’s actions]. Said Rabbi Elazar: A good heart. Said He to them: I prefer the words of Elazar the son of Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.
 
He said to them: Go and see which is the worst trait, the one that a person should most distance himself from. Said Rabbi Eliezer: An evil eye. Said Rabbi Yehoshua: An evil friend. Said Rabbi Yossi: An evil neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To borrow and not to repay; for one who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty, as is stated, ``The wicked man borrows and does not repay; but the righteous one is benevolent and gives'' (Psalms 37:21). Said Rabbi Elazar: An evil heart. Said He to them: I prefer the word of Elazar the son of Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.
 
SEFIROT: Yesod shebeChesed (foundation and firmness within the context of kindness)

On the sixth week of the Jewish year, during the month of Cheshvan, the songbird in Perek Shirah praises G-d for providing it a home, and for providing a nest for the sparrow to lay its young. The songbird’s verse also speaks of the altars of G-d. As mentioned above, it is during this month that the Third Temple, G-d’s home and the location of His altars, will be dedicated, perhaps even in this sixth week. (See Table I)

The number six represents the six orders of the Mishnah, of which the Oral Torah is comprised. Like much of the Written Torah, most of the Mishnah is about transmitting G-dly concepts in a manner that deeply involves the physical realm, monetary damages, and criminal punishments. What happens when an ox destroys neighboring property? What happens when two people claim to have rights over the same piece of property? The Oral Torah goes a step further than the Written Torah, giving specific examples and rulings, and analyzing such cases with great minutiae.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai, who received the oral tradition from Hillel and Shammai used to say that those who have learned much Torah should not want special recognition, since they were created exactly for this purpose. (II:8) As further noted below, this week is connected to the sefirah ofYesod and Joseph. In fact, the special recognition that Joseph received, and which he himself felt he merited, created great problems for him in his relationship with this brothers.

Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai perfectly represents the Oral Torah, as well as the number six. His teaching is clearly related to the learning the Oral Torah. Furthermore, he is portrayed in Pirkei Avot with five additional students, making six in total. The praises he gives to his students are closely related to their ability to receive the oral tradition from him. Finally, Rabban Yochanan’s entire life story is about complete dedication to the Oral Torah. He managed to escape the Roman siege of Jerusalem right before its destruction, and set foot on a journey to establish a center for Jewish scholars in Yavneh. There, he and other sages transmitted the Oral Torah and ensured the survival of Judaism as a whole.

Rabban Yochanan son of Zakkai’s journey is also connected to the month of Cheshvan, when we leave our introspective and purely spiritual pursuits and delve into the material world in order to elevate it and to ensure our survival. Similarly, he asks his students to "go out” and see which is the proper path to way to take and which should be avoided. This request is also connected with concept of going out of our state of introspection during the month of Tishrei in order to engage in the material world and ensure our livelihood.

This week’s sefirah combination is yesod shebechesed. This combination, as well as the song of the songbird, reminds us of Joseph, who provided sustenance for his entire family and for the rest of the world. He was the viceroy of Egypt, in charge of all of the provisions of the empire. It was his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream that allowed for Egypt to stockpile its food supplies, preempting a seven-year period of extreme famine that greatly impacted the entire region. Joseph was the foundation of the good that all others received, both physically and spiritually.

We can draw a precious lesson in self-improvement from the songbird. As explained in the fourth week, we have an obligation to care for others besides ourselves. The songbird teaches us that we must work to create a solid foundation for our children and for all future generations, including one’s students. This can serve as a great motivation for a person who is overwhelmed by his or her own challenges.

 

Week 6 (Book 2): Being Pressed to Perform, Yehoshua and Awe

 
HAAZINU: Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?! Is He not your Father, your Master? He has made you and established you. (Deuteronomy 32:6)
 
HAFTARAH: Bands of [those that shall inherit] the nether world have surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me (II Samuel 22:6)
 
QUALITY TO AQUIRE THE TORAH: Awe (Eimah)
 
PROPHET: Yehoshua
 
LEVITICAL CITY: Gath-Rimmon
 
On Week Six, the second week of Cheshvan, Haazinu’s verse continues the same theme of the previous week: the people’s ungratefulness and disgraceful behavior, after everything that G-d had done for them. This again appears to be a reference to the Flood, when people showed enormous ungratefulness, and seemed to forget that G-d was the Creator.
 
The Haftarah’s verse also continues the same theme of the previous week, speaking of being being surrounded by the netherworld, and being confronted by the snares of death, like in the times of the Flood.
 
The quality for this week is awe. After the flood, Noah felt a tremendous awe and fear of G-d, as he saw the entire world be destroyed. Awe is also a feeling inspired by the Temple itself. It is also important to be able to differentiate between awe (Eimah) and fear (Yirah), next week’s quality:
 
The second quality above, fear ("yirah"), is the more generic term for fear. It is typically used for the fear one has of an immediate threat. The first quality, awe ("aimah"), is typically translated as awe or dread. It implies a low-grade or long-term fear -- of something not as visible or impending. Yirah implies the fear or fright one feels in the presence of danger -- or when going into that job interview. Aimah is the dull but gnawing sense of dread or foreboding one has for a distant yet lurking danger, such as one has when marching into war or, tragically, the citizens of the State of Israel often experience today.
 
When studying Torah one likewise experiences this same combination of fear and awe. The Machzor Vitri (a commentary on the Siddur (prayerbook) authored by Rabbeinu Simcha of 11th Century France) explains that one feels a more direct fear for his Torah teacher in whose presence he sits, and a more general sense of awe realizing he is ultimately in G-d's presence --and that it is G-d's Torah he must not misunderstand. We may also explain that the sense of awe stems from the realization we are attempting to fathom G-d's infinite wisdom, while the fear is for the more immediate -- that we may not understand what we study or that we allow the Torah's lessons to be neglected and forgotten.[1]
 
Yirah is a feeling described when Yaakov rested at the place that would later come to be the site of the Temple. After waking from his sleep, the Torah states that Yaakov “was frightened, and he said, ‘How awesome (Norah) is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.’” (Genesis 28:17) Moshe also experienced similar fear when G-d spoke with him at the site of the burning bush, on Mount Horeb (Sinai):
 
5. And He said, "Do not draw near here. Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy soil."
 
6. And He said, "I am the G-d of your father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob." And Moses hid his face because he was afraid [yareh] to look toward G-d. (Exodus 3:5-6)
 
Right before beginning the conquest of the Land of Israel, Yehoshua, the prophet linked to this week, also has an experience similar to that of his master and teacher, Moshe:
 
And it was when Joshua was in Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and saw, and, behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went to him, and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
 
And he said,“No, but I am the captain of the host of the Lord; I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and prostrated himself, and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”
 
And the captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua, “Remove your shoe from your feet; for the place upon which you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
 
Yehoshua’s reaction is considerably different than Moshe’s. Yehoshua had this feeling of impending danger, as he was literally about to march into war. Yet, when encountered with the Divine, the Torah does not state that Yehoshua was afraid, like Yaakov and Moshe had been, even though the angel had a sword in his hand. Perhaps this is because Yehoshua’s encounter is not nearly as intense or as surprising as Moshe’s. In Moshe’s encounter, it is G-d Himself that appears to Him at the site of the burning bush, while to Joshua it was the archangel Michael. Moshe’s encounter was prior to the giving of the Torah, and G-d’s first open revelation to a prophet since Yaakov’s times. Yehoshua, being Moshe’s main disciple as well as his successor, was accustomed to Divine revelation.
 
Perhaps, (on Yehoshuah’s level of course, which is something we cannot even begin to fathom), he still required some additional yirah. The Talmud (Megillah3a; Eruvin 63a) teaches that one of the reasons why the angel in Joshua’s story appeared to him was because Joshua was neglecting Torah study at night, when he was not in active battle. [2] Perhaps that is also why the angel Michael appeared with a sword. The Talmud (Eruvin 63a)[3] also states that previously, Yehoshua was punished severely for asking a halachik question in front of his teacher, Moshe. Elazar is similarly punished for answering in front of Moshe. Perhaps that is why the following prophet is Pinchas and not Elazar. Pinchas did show tremendous fear, and also specifically asked Moshe before killing Zimri.
 
This week’s levitical city is Gath-Rimmon. Gath-Rimmon means winepress of pomegranites; in Cheshvan we are pressed to do as much as we can to fill ourselves with good deeds (like the pomegranite that is filled with seeds). It is a time of immense personal effort in changing the world for the better.

An important lesson we learn from this week's quality to acquire the Torah is to realize that sometimes it is not enough simply “to go with the flow.” We have to press ourselves – realize that there is so much more we can be accomplishing. This is done in part by focusing a bit more on our of awe of G-d.
 

 

Week 6 (Book 3): Descending in order to Ascend and Sweetening "Bitter Waters"

 
SONG OF THE SEA: Your right hand, O Lord, is most powerful; Your right hand, O Lord, crushes the foe.
 
HAFTARAH: also the clouds dripped water. The mountains melted at the presence of the Lord,
 
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 6 - forbidden relationships, "bitter waters."
 
GENERATION FROM ADAM TO THE LAST KING OF JUDAH: Yered
 
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Marah and arrived in Elim, and in Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.
 
The sixth week of the year is the second of the month of Cheshvan. The verses of the Song of the Sea speaks of Hashem’s right hand, which exacts punishment and represents the attribute of gevurah. The theme of the week remains related to the Flood, as also demonstrated in theHaftorah’s verses that state that“clouds dripped water,” and “mountains melted.”
 
Daf Vav (Folio 6) of Sotah discusses forbidden marriages (another one of the main causes of the Flood, as angels were marrying humans, etc.), and also the subject of how the bitter waters of Sotah would punish (or absolve) a woman accused of adultery whose witnesses were not available for testimony. Punishment through “bitter waters” for sexual sins is also a main theme of this month.
 
Yered (יֶרֶד) seems to be the “kosher” version of Irad (עִירָד), whose name is the same, but without the Ayin. “Ayin” literally means the eye, and part of what got Cain in the situation that he was the jealous way in which he looked at Abel’s sacrifices that had been accepted by Hashem. Sexual sins (as well as many others) begin with the eye.
 
Ayin also means "nothingness." Ecclesiastes states that the difference between humans and beasts is Ayin, "nothing." The deeper explanation of this verse is that the difference between people and animals is the ability to regard oneself as nothing, as simply part of the Infinite Light. Perhaps the difference in names here can also be attributed to the fact that Yered truly made his Ayin into true nothingness, to the point that it does not even show up anymore in his name.
 
Interestingly, while the names of Cain’s generations are Enoch, Mehujael, and then Irad, Seth’s generations are the other way around: Mahalalel, Yared, and then Enoch. “Yered” and “Irad” come from the verb “Laredet,” which literally means to go down. While Cain’s generation literally went “downhill,” to greater and greater depravity, the descent in Seth’s generations was a positive one. The difference seems to be as follows: Cain’s three generations stand for “education (of lack thereof)” (Enoch, Chanoch in Hebrew, comes from the word chinuch, education) followed by a “profane existence, (Mehujael, from the word chol, profane)” and then further “descent” (Irad). Seth’s three generations stand for “praise” (Mahalel, from the word Hallel, praise), followed by “lowering oneself” (Yared) in order to “educate” (Enoch) the next generation. The results speak for themselves.
 
Afterwards, Cain’s descendants are Methushael, Lemech, and then Yuval, Yaval, Tuval-Cain, and Na’amah. Seth’s descendants are Metushelach, Lemech, and then Noah. Cain’s generations found more and more found more ways to be depraved, to the point where Lemech has two wives, one only for pleasure (as was the culture at the time, see Rashi). They also found more and more effective ways of killing people, with weapon’s technology, to the point where Cain himself is killed by it.
 
On the other hand, Yered taught his son well - Enoch walked with G-d, and was so holy, that Hashem removed him from this earth so as to not be badly influenced by its corruption. Enoch’s son was Metushelach, who merited to be the person to live the longest, and passed away without having to experience the flood. Metushelach’s son was Lamech, who had great hopes that his son, Noah, would bring comfort to the world. Even though Noah was not able to save the world, he did save humanity from being completely destroyed, and was a wholesome and righteous individual, who faithfully followed Hashem’s commands. Yered symbolizes our service for this month, which is to go down from the heights of Tishrei, and elevate this world, to make it a home for Hashem.
 
In the sixth week, the Jews journey from Marah and camp in Elim. In Elim there are twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. The personal journey for this week involves internalizing the concept of “sweetening the bitter waters,” and preparing ourselves for the revelations of the springs of water (12 Tribes) and the 70 palm trees (nations). The strength of the twelve tribes is used to “water” the palm trees, to purify, give life, and elevate the seventy nations.
 
Again, here’s Rabbi Shimon Jacobson’s interpretation of this journey:
 
Elimah (or Elim) is the stage of growth and recognition of the deeper strength that emerges from bitter loss and pain. From Marah– after experiencing bitterness – we become empowered with the resources of Elimah: Elimah consists of the same letters as the name Elokim (which is written with a heh), only that the order of the letters (eli mah) means the hidden dimension of love – twelve water springs and seventy palms (the secret and the hidden, sod in Hebrew, is gematria 70) – that emerges from within the dark and the bitter (The Maggid of Mezritch – Ohr Torah Massei. Explained in Ohr HaTorah Massei pp. 1378. 1393. See Degel Machne Efraim).
 
Because of the exile, there is a great mix-up both in regards of who is from what nation of the world, as well as which Jew is from which tribe. “Mix-up” in Hebrew is “Bilbul,” the root for the word “Bavel,” Babylonia. Part of our work in exile is to undo this whole mix-up, not only in nations, but also in values, morality, etc., and hence the Talmud we study is known at the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud). Through logic and traditional rules of interpretation, we’re able to make sense out of confusion, and place everything in its proper place. The Hebrew word for the Flood, “Mabul” is also related to the word Bilbul, in that the Flood also mixed everything together.

An important lesson we learn from Yered (which means to descend) in our approach to prayer and Divine service is understanding the role of humility. The Chazan (the prayer leader) is called "Yored Lifnei HaTeivah," one who descends in front of the Ark (It is worth noting that early mystics were called Yordei Merkabah, those that descend [to reach] the [Divine] Chariot). The place where the Chazan stands would literally be lower than the rest of the synagogue, and Jewish law forbids praying from a physically elevated place (with certain exceptions). The rationale for all this is because prayer has to come from a place of humility, "MiMa'amakim Karaticha Hashem," one must call out Hashem from the depths, literally. As mentioned last week, it is essential to "Know Before Whom You Stand."
 

Week 6 (Book 4a): Dealing with Difficult People

STORY OF CHANNAH: 6 And her rival vexed her sore, to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.
 
QUALITY OF THOSE THAT STUDY TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE: Loves people
 
TZADIK: 7 Cheshvan- Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro of Lublin
 
PROVERBS: Chapter 6
 
Week 6 is the second week of Cheshvan. The verse from the story of Channah continues to reflect the story of our matriarch Rachel, whose yahrzeit is on the 11th of Cheshvan. As mentioned in the previous week, G-d had not graced her with children. Yet she watched how her own sister, who Jacob did not intend to marry, had one child after the other.
 
The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is again associated with love: “loves people.” In Hebrew, it is written “Ohev et HaBri’ot,” which literally means loves “the creatures.” This is a quality very much associated with Aharon HaKohen, Moshe’s brother and the first High Priest. As Hillel states in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, “Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aharon--a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.” (emphasis added). Our sages explain that people are referred her as creatures (or creations), because Aharon loved those people that had no obvious positive qualities other than the fact that they were created by G-d. In Cheshvan, when we are “out and about” in the world, we are likely to encounter people that also do not appear to have any positive qualities, yet we must love them and learn from them.
 
In the above verse from the story of Channah, we see the difficult situation she was in. Channah had to live with a rival, Peninah, that vexed her about the fact that she had children while Channah did not. Such a situation required great “love for people,” and the ability to judge others favorably. In fact, we are told that Peninah’s motives were in fact positive ones – she wanted to enhance Channah’s prayers.
 
Chapter 6 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of loving G-d’s creatures. It speaks of how to behave when encountering strangers, and what to look out for when faced with unscrupulous and violent men and evil and adulterous women. The chapter also teaches us to learn lessons from other creations, animals: the ant, the bird and the deer.
 
1. My son, if you have stood surety for your fellow, have given your hand for a stranger, 2. you have been trapped by the sayings of your mouth; you have been caught by the sayings of your mouth.
(...)
5. Save yourself like a deer from the hand and like a bird from the hand of the snare. 6. Go to the ant, you sluggard; see her ways and become wise,
(...)
12. An unscrupulous man, a man of violence, walks with a crooked mouth;
13. he winks with his eyes, shuffles with his feet, points with his fingers.
(...)
24. to guard you from an evil woman, from the smoothness of the alien tongue.
25. Do not covet her beauty in your heart, and do not let her captivate you with her eyelids.
 
This week, we discuss another important rabbinical figure related to the Rizhin dynasty. The 7th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro of Lublin, known for institutionalizing the Daf Yomi cycle. Rav Shapiro was a devoutchassid of Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, the Chortoker Rebbe, discussed in Week 4. Rav Shapiro was the chief rabbi of Galina and Piotrkov, and author of the book Or HaMeir. He is also well known as the founder of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, in 1930.
 
Rabbi Shapiro faced tremendous challenges and difficulties in convincing the Jewish leadership and the rest of the community at the time to institute the Daf Yomi cycle, in part because of his young age. Today it is the hallmark of the vibrancy of Talmudic scholarship worldwide.
 
Also mentioned in Week 4 was the Holy Yid of Peshischa. The 7th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of not one, but two of his descendants, both of them rebbes in their own right: Rabbi Nosson Dovid Rabinowitz of Shidlowitz, grandson of the Holy Yid, and Rav Yerachmiel Tzvi Rabinowitz of Biala-Shedlitz.
 
It is also important to mention the continuation of the line of Rav Menachem Mendel of Kosov, founder of the Vizhnitz dynasty, also mentioned last week. The 9th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yidele Horowitz, the Dzikover Rebbe, who was raised by his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Yisrael Hager, Rebbe of Vizhnitz:
 
Although known as a formidable scholar and a man of exceptional character, he shunned the limelight and abhorred any reverence or treatment as a Rebbe. He lived a very frugal life. Absolutely all the monies forwarded to him by admirers and Chassidim were immediately distributed to orphans and widows.[1]
Other yahrzeits this week include that of Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid (6th of Cheshvan), Rabbi Shlomo Dovid Yehoshua Weinberg of Slonim son of Rabbi Avrohom, the Bais Avrohom (6thof Cheshvan), and Rabbi Asher bar Yechiel, the Rosh.

 
 
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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.”
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