Wednesday, July 31, 2013
The quality of this week is learns in order to teach (lomed al menat lelamed). Only by being prepared to teach what we learned does that teaching really become alive. The Kabbalah teaches that this is the difference between the Dead Sea (which receives water but does not give), and the Sea of Galilee, which is full of life because it receives but also gives to the Jordan river. In Chassidism, Torah is always compared to water exactly for this reason, because it goes from a high place to a low place.
Furthermore, it is usually only when you are ready to teach that you come to realize whether you’ve learned anything at all! Even before students ask questions and sharpen your knowledge, the process of taking in information when you hope one day to teach it is much more proactive.
This quality is appropriate for Rosh Chodesh Elul because Teshuvah is first and foremost and example of self-evaluation and proactive learning (the latter to be discussed more next week). As mentioned previously, in Elul is when “The King is in the field,” when Hashem leaves His castle, so to speak, and is out in the field visiting His subjects. It is also time for us to go to the field and talk to Him. In order to know what to say, and put into words the things about which we need to confess, we need the quality of “learning in order to teach,” even if in this case the only ones that need teaching is ourselves.
In his list of the 48 prophets, Rashi states that he does not know the 47th or the 48th. This is also where states that if one does not consider Daniel to be a prophet one should then include Shemayah. This appears to be inconsistent because how can Rashi “in the same breath” state that he is missing two prophets from his list, yet mention in an extra prophet in the case prophet number 38 should not be considered one. There appears to be more to this than meets the eye, and this book humbly suggests that prophets 47 and 48 are none other than Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. These were prophets that were “unknown” to Rashi in the sense that they had not yet come to the world.
Rabbeinu Chananel states that the missing two prophets are Oded and Chanani, both of which are mentioned along with the names of their children who are specifically mentioned as prophets. The Vilna Gaon supports this view. What is interesting about these two names is that they are very much connected with Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. Chananiah is one of the names given for Mashiach (Ben David) in the Talmud. Oded comes from the word “Od”, which means to increase, similar to the name Yosef, whose name’s root also relats to adding. When Rachel named Yosef, she said, “Yoseph Hashem ben acher,” “May Hashem add for me another son.” The Yalkut Shimoni explains that ben acher also means “ben acharono shel olam,” one that will come at the end of time, the “meshu'ach milchamah,” “the anointed one [like Mashiach] of war,” a descendant of Yosef. There is also a well known verse in the Torah which states, “Od Yosef Chai” (Yosef is still alive). Yosef also asks his brothers “HaOd Avi Chai?”- Is my father still alive?
Mashiach Ben Yosef is also particularly connected to the Perek Shirah animal of this week mentioned in Book 1, the snake. The word for snake, nachash in Hebrew, has the same numerical value as the word Mashiach. Mashiach will come to the world to remove the impurities introduced by the snake.
In addition, the snake appears to be specifically linked to Mashiach ben Yosef. Yosef had been thrown into an “empty pit without water,” which Rashi explains to mean that it had not water, but had snakes and scorpions. Yosef was also able to withstand the seduction of Potiphar, sexual sin being the prime example of the hot venom of the snake (compared to the cold venom of the scorpion, discussed next week). He maintained his foundation, and is therefore called Yosef HaTzadik.
Later, when Yosef was still pretending not to recognize his brothers, he tells them, “Haloh Yedatem Ki Nachesh Yenachesh Ish Asher Kamoni,” which is usually translated as "Did you not know that a man like me performs divination?" This sentence could also be understood as, "Did you not know that a man like me, Mashiach, will be able to fight the power of the snake?” We also see that in the Torah, it is Yosef that has the power to fight Esau, who in Kabbalah represents the embodiment of the supernal snake.
Mashiach Ben Yosef also will be able to withstand the temptations and the hot venom of those that stand in the way of G-d’s revelation in this lowly world. The quality of Mashiach is also that of a teacher and the concept of lilmod al menat lelamed (learning in order to teach). His teachings will be so lofty that he will even teach the Patriarchs, yet he will also reach out to the simplest of Jews. (Hayom Yom for the 1st of Menachem Av) Mashiach Ben Yosef will reveal the truth of G-d and rid the world of the lies of the snake.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Believe it or not, tonight we already enter the week of Rosh Chodesh Elul (next Monday night). On this Shabat we bless the coming month and the remaining days are already linked to it as well.
Week 47: Time for Teshuvah - Return to G-d
This week marks Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul’s main characteristic is teshuvah, repentance. The Alter Rebbe explains that the King (G-d) spends most of the year inside his palace, where it is more difficult to reach him. During the month of Elul, the King goes out to the field to speak to His people and to listen to their pleas. During this time, He greets everyone with a smiling countenance. In Elul, we can have greater direct contact with G-d by increasing our Torah studies, prayer and repentance, as well as good deeds.
During this month, we have the opportunity to be extremely close to G-d. Through teshuvah and asking for forgiveness, we can properly prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah. Elul is represented by the tribe of Gad. Gad was a very powerful and courageous tribe. Its name literally means "luck," and indicates that the Jewish people are completely above luck and chance – everything depends on our teshuvah.
How appropriate then it is that the animal to sing this week in Perek Shirah is the snake, who declares that G-d supports all the fallen, and straightens all bent. (Psalm 145:14) The snake, from the story of Creation and beyond, has always been associated with sin and the evil inclination. Its verse perfectly embodies the spirit of teshuvah with which we begin the month of Elul.
The number forty-seven is the gematria of the name Yoel (Joel). The Book of Joel contains many parallels to the month of Elul. Like several other books of the prophets, the book speaks profoundly about the need for repentance. Joel specifically refers to the need for teshuvah before the “great day” of judgment. The book also describes the Jewish people’s closeness to G-d, and makes many mentions to the sound of the shofar. During almost the entire month of Elul, we blow the shofar every day after prayer as a preparation for the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah.
In Pirkei Avot this week, Rabbi Yaakov states that this world is like an antechamber for the World to Come; one must prepare oneself in the antechamber in order to enter the banquet hall. He also states that one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the world to come. Similarly, a single moment of pleasure in the World to Come is better than all the life of this world. (IV: 16-17) This teaching is perfectly suitable for Rosh Chodesh Elul, when the Jewish people begin the process of teshuvah. Similarly, just as the purpose of this world is only to serve as an ante-room for the World to Come, the month of Elul also serves as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This week, the combination of sefirot results in hod shebemalchut, glory and gratefulness within the context of kingship. It is time to bring our service of Hashem to fruition in a tangible and real way.
A lesson in self-improvement that we extract from the snake is that even if we fall to the lowest possible levels, we can still repent and be forgiven and uplifted by G-d.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
The quality for this week is “listens and adds” (shomeah umosif). We come back once again to the main rectification (tikkun) of the month of Av: the ability to listen properly and positively.
This week’s prophet is Mordechai. Mordechai and the redemption of Purim also represent the idea of “listening and adding.” Mordechai listened to a conversation of those that wished to assassinate King Achashverosh and reported the conversation to Queen Esther. Thanks to him, the conspiracy was toppled. Mordechai’s words were added to the chronicles of the king and, later, when the future of the Jewish people hung in the balance, Achashverosh checked the chronicles and saw that was the one Mordechai had saved him, but that he had not been rewarded for his actions. This was the crucial turning point in the Megillah’s account. Esther’s role in recounting Mordechai’s words (as well as specifically attributing those words to Mordechai) is later mentioned as a quality that brings about the redemption.
Mordechai is the last known prophet of the 48 ones listed in the Talmud. Esther is the last female prophet. G-d willing, she will be discussed in week 52.
In week forty-six, the last week of the month of Av, in Perek Shirah the prolific creeping creatures state, “your wife shall be like a fruitful vine and your children as olive branches around your table.” (Psalm 128: 3) This week also contains the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, on the 20th of Av.
In the week that follows that of Tu B'Av, Perek Shirah is still focused on marriage and reproduction. The continuation of this theme further emphasizes that love, marriage, and building a home together is not a one-time action or decision. That initial feeling that brought the couple together has to be worked on and improved throughout one’s entire life, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year.
The gematria of forty-six is Levi. Levi and Shimon were individuals who both contained in them an overwhelming capacity for violence and radical behavior, especially when they acted together. The two were responsible for the killing of the inhabitants of the city of Shchem, and were the main actors in the kidnapping and sale of Joseph. The tribe of Levi was able to transform these extreme qualities into positive traits. They used their zealousness in acting on behalf of G-d, and became a tribe consisting solely of priests. Ultimately, Shimon will also use its enormous strength and potential only for the good.
In Pirkei Avot this week, Rabbi Matya the son of Charash teaches that we should be the first to greet another, and that it is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox. (IV: 15) It is amazing to note that this lesson is contained exactly in the last week of the month of Av, whose zodiac sign is Leo, and is just a week away from being the week of Rosh Chodesh, which literally means the "head of the month."
In the past, Shimon, and his tribe as a whole, led actions that were “fox-like.” However, the Tanach also recounts that the tribe also ultimately agreed to act as the tail of a “lion,” the tribe of Judah. After the passing of Joshua, when it came time for the tribes to conquer the remaining parts of the Land of Israel, Judah was chosen to act first. Judah then approached Shimon and asked that it follow it in battle. Judah said, “Come up with me into my lot, and we will fight against the Canaanites, and I will also go with you into your lot."
The Bnei Yissachar explains that this statement has a much deeper meaning, and is connected to the redemption of Passover, which occurred in the month of Nissan (Judah) and the future redemption connected to Mashiach, born on Tisha B’Av (Shimon). On Passover, we keep an egg on the Seder plate to remind us of the destruction that took place in Av. In the final redemption, even though it will be one of unprecedented miracles, we will still remember the redemption from Egypt that took place in Nissan.
Similarly, despite enormous Soviet pressure and oppression, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was very firm in his values and refused to associate himself with the “fox-like” Communist leadership. His extreme piety and stringency when it came to the kashrut of the matzah he mass-produced for Passover is a great example of his tremendous resolve. His refusal to give in to Communist demands caused him to be exiled to Siberia, where he passed away on this week of the Jewish calendar. It is known that the lion brings its tail to its head, while the fox brings its head to its tail. While today, the father of the Rebbe is still held in tremendous esteem as a great leader, rabbi, and scholar, Soviet Communism is a completely outdated and bankrupt concept.
This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebemalchut, victory and endurance within the context of kingship. We must be persistent in our attempt to connect ourselves to the King of kings and reveal Him in this material world.
The lesson in self-improvement we derive from the prolific creeping creatures is that the humility that we achieved during this month of judgment must be used productively: to grow and reproduce, just as the vine and the olive tree.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Week 45 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Tu B’Av, the happiest (along with Yom Kippur) and most romantic day in the Jewish calendar. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week speaks of unquenchable love, that rivers cannot flood. Even despite all the suffering endured in Tisha B'Av, we return; all the destruction in the world cannot quench our desire for Hashem. As Rashi notes, we are willing to give away everything for our love for G-d.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Week 45 is the week of Tu B'Av. The quality to acquire the Torah for this week is “asks and responds” (shoel umeshiv). This quality also reflects the importance of listening properly, the key rectification (tikkun) of the month of Av, as explained previously. It also brings to mind the conversations that would take place between the single women and men in Tu B’Av mentioned in the Talmud. Tu B’Av, along with Yom Kippur, is the happiest day of the Jewish calendar, and there is a famous Jewish proverb that states, “there is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt” (ein simchah k’hatarat hasefeikot).
Nevertheless, after Tisha B’Av, we are left with many questions – how could G-d do such things to His own people? We answer each others questions to the best of our ability, like the words of Rabbi Nehorai in Pirkei Avot for the previous week: “…your colleagues will help you [learn properly]... rely not on your own understanding.” Ultimately, even the words of our colleagues may not prove sufficient, we have no choice but to return to the words of Rabbi Yannai, the Pirkei Avot lesson for this week: “We have no comprehension of the tranquility of the wicked, nor of the suffering of the righteous.” The answer is emunah, faith. We must know that everything that happens to a person is for his or her own good. This notion, Rebbe Nachman states, is an aspect of the World to Come.
One of the best responses to witnessing death and destruction is redoubling our efforts in rebuilding and creating life. One might even say that ultimately the best response to the Holocaust has been the tremendous physical and spiritual growth and prosperity that is now taking place, particularly in the Land of Israel.
This week’s prophet is Malachi. His prophecy comes right after the destruction of the Temple. Malachi speaks of how G-d loves Jacob and hates Esau. Esau cheered the destruction of the First Temple and would be the nation responsible for destroying the Second. Malachi prophecizes that Esau may say that it will rebuild, but G-d will demolish. Not so regarding Jacob. The Book of Malachi is also full of “back and forth,” asking and responding, the quality to acquire the Torah for this week. Here are a few examples:
6. A son honors a father, and a slave his master. Now if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My fear? says the Lord of Hosts to you, the priests, who despise My name. But you said, "How have we despised Your Name?"
7. You offer on My altar defiled food, yet you say, "How have we defiled You?" By your saying, "G-d's table is contemptible."
8. When you offer a blind [animal] for a sacrifice, is there nothing wrong? And when you offer a lame or a sick one, is there nothing wrong? Were you to offer it to your governor, would he accept you or would he favor you? says the Lord of Hosts.
9. And now, will you pray before the Lord that He be gracious to us? This has come from your hand. Will He favor any of you? says the Lord of Hosts.
14. And you will say, "Why?"-Because the Lord testified between you and the wife of your youth, that you dealt treacherously with her, and she is your companion and the wife of your covenant.
15. Now did He not make one who had the rest of the spirits? Now what does the one seek of the seed of G-d? Now you shall beware of your spirit, that it shall not deal treacherously with the wife of your youth.
16. If you hate [her], send [her] away, says the Lord G-d of Israel. For injustice shall cover his garment, said the Lord of Hosts, but you shall beware of your spirit, and do not deal treacherously.
17. You have wearied the Lord with your words, and you say, "How have we wearied [Him]?"-By your saying, "Every evildoer is good in the Lord's sight, and He desires them," or, "Where is the G-d of judgment?"
7. From the days of your fathers you have departed from My laws and have not kept [them]. "Return to Me, and I will return to you," said the Lord of Hosts, but you said, "With what have we to return?"
8. Will a man rob G-d? Yet you rob Me, and you say, "With what have we robbed You?"-With tithes and with the terumah-levy.
13. "Still harder did your words strike Me," says the Lord, but you say, "What have we spoken against You?"
14. You have said, "It is futile to serve G-d, and what profit do we get for keeping His charge and for going about in anxious worry because of the Lord of Hosts?"
15. And now we praise the bold transgressors. Yea, those who work wickedness are built up. Yea, they tempt G-d, and they have, nevertheless, escaped.
Malachi’s prophecy also has Messianic aspects characteristics of the month of Av:
23. Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord,
24. that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers-lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.
It is also worth noting that our sages state that Malachi is actually Ezra the Scribe. It was Ezra that led the Jewish return to the Land of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the canonization of the Tanach, the Five Books of Moses (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ktuvim). Now that’s what I call a good response. J
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The forty-fifth week is the week of Tu B'Av, and in Perek Shirah it is the turn of the creeping creatures to proclaim that Israel rejoice in its Creator and King; alternatively, they sing that the glory of G-d shall endure forever, and that He rejoice in His creations. (Psalm 149:2 and 104:31)
Tu B'Av is known to be the most romantic day on the Jewish calendar. It was at this time that the Tribes of Israel were once again allowed to intermarry among themselves. To celebrate this day, young Jewish women would dress in white, form a circle, and present themselves before the single men of the community that were in search of a bride. The Talmud teaches that each woman would speak of different qualities that they thought might make a good impression on a potential groom. This is related to the tikkun of the sense of hearing connected to this month, which requires a constant focus on one’s good points.
The main thrust of the song of the creeping creatures is joy, and according to the Talmud, Tu B'Av, along with Yom Kippur, was the happiest day of the year. The song specifically mentions the joy of Zion (Jerusalem), and Tu B’Av comes on the heels of Tisha B'Av, when Jerusalem was destroyed. It is important to understand that in many ways the joy of Tu B'Av can only come about through the sadness that we experienced on Tisha B'Av.
The creeping creatures are so numerous that their rate of reproduction serves as an example for the Jewish people. The Hebrew word in the Torah used to describe the extremely high rate in which we multiplied in Egypt is yishretzu, from the Hebrew word for creeping creature, sheretz.
The number forty-five is the gematria of Adam, the first person created by G-d and the first to receive a soul mate, Eve. Mem and heh also spell the Hebrew word mah, meaning "what,” and is closely associated with the humility, as in Moses’ well known statement, “Nachnu Mah,” we are what/nothing.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yannai states that we are not given the capacity to understand the serenity of the wicked or the affliction of the righteous. (IV: 15) Rabbi Yannai speaks of serenity, such as is found during Tu B'Av, as well as suffering, such as in Tisha B'Av. Just as in last week’s Pirkei Avot lesson, the thrust of this week’s message is that we will never be able to fully understand His ways. All we can do is to have complete faith that everything He does is for the good.
This week, the sefirot combination results in tiferet shebemalchut, beauty and balance within the context of kingship. On Tu B'Av, balance and beauty connected to this physical world reigns supreme, just as in a Jewish wedding. In kabbalistic texts, it is well known that Tiferet is represented by Jacob, while malchut is represented by his wife, Rachel. Tiferet also means compassion, and this week is closely linked to mercy and consolation, as reflected in the haftorah readings for the seven weeks after Tisha B’Av.
The lesson in self-improvement we derive from the creeping creatures is that despite their humble condition (and perhaps exactly because of it), they are able to be truly happy, exalt and praise G-d’s name, and be extraordinarily reproductive.
Week 44 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as the enormous destruction that took place at those times. The death and destruction is remembered every year, with fasting and other signs of intense mourning. It is also a day in which we remember all the tragedies that occurred in Jewish history, including the Holocaust.
The verse of Shir HaShirim is hauntingly related to such destruction. It speaks of death and the grave, and even of a “seal on your arm,” (like the numbers etched on the arms of the Holocaust victims), and a great fire (like the one that burned the Temples). Yet love is stronger than death! In the end, we survived, and the great flame of our people burns strongly still today.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Week Forty-Four is the week of Tisha B’Av. The quality necessary to acquire the Torah for this week is, “deliberates in one's study” (mityashev liboh betalmudoh). Great part of the destruction of the Temple was due to to the hot-headed behavior of the zealots at that time. The Torah scholars had always sought calm and compromise.
A more literal translation of the quality is, “settles one's heart with one's study.” The Midrash states that Mashiach is a Metzorah, someone who suffers from a form of spiritual skin disease. Mashiach remedies himself in a very deliberate, settled fashion, unwrapping and wrapping one wound at a time. The Alter Rebbe explains that the cure for the metzorah is Torah. That is why the verse in the weekly portion of Metzorah states that “Zot Torat HaMetzorah, (this is the Torah of the Metzorah),” when it would appear to have been more logical for the verse to state, "Zot Tehorat HaMetzorah" this is the purification of the Metzorah. The Metzorah is someone whose heart is unsettled. It is the Torah that settles his heart.
The above statement can also be read to be referring to the heart of his friend – a continuation of the qualities of the previous weeks. Mashiach will be someone known for his Torah and his speech. The word Mashiach is spelled the same as Mesiach, one who speaks, converses. Through his Torah, Mashiach will bring peace to the whole world.
This week’s prophet is Zechariah. We read about a previous prophet Zechariah in the kinot (dirges) for Tisha B’Av, and about how he was killed during the time of the destruction of the First Temple and his blood avenged: "Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian general who conquered Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, saw blood seething on the floor of the Temple. The Children of Israel did not want to tell him whose blood it was. In the end they admitted that it was the blood of the prophet Zechariah, whom they killed for having rebuked them. Nebuzaradan then had all the members of the Great and Minor Sanhedrin killed, along with hordes of men, women, and children, more than 94,000 in all. However the blood did not stop seething, and Nebuzaradan said: 'Zechariah, Zechariah, I have killed thousands of your people. Do you want me to kill them all?' Only then did the blood stop seething, and at that instant Nebuzaradan repented." (Gittin 57b; taken from http://www.hevratpinto.org/pahad_eng/vayikra/b_tzav_03.html )
Zechariah’s prophecy also makes some of the most direct references to Mashiach, and how he will speak of peace. In the tale of Rabbi Akiva, in which he laughs while the other rabbis mourn the destruction of the Temple, it is through the prophecy of Zechariah that Rabbi Akiva brings consolation: “Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.”
Thursday, July 11, 2013
For the week of Tisha B'Av, the prophet appropriately is Zechariah, who speaks of fasting and of Jerusalem, and gives us a vision of the Messiah, when fasting will turn to joy. This is also the message of the Sefirah combination. It is with this vision of the Messianic times to come that our hearts become settled and consoled.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The Mouse represents the quintessential feeling of the week of Tisha B'Av. Chased by the Cat, the Mouse is feels the weight of persecution, which leads it to Teshuvah (repentance). Rabbi Nehorai also speaks of feeling the weight of exile, and use it to go to a place of Torah.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The quality of this week is “places him [in the path of] peace” (ma’amidoh al hashalom). As previously explained, Aharon HaKohen, whose yahrzeit is today, is very much associated with peace. Hillel states that we should all be students of Aharon, who “loves peace and pursue peace…” As explained in the previous week, the verb “ma’amidoh” is connected to students. This seems also hinted in the lighting of the menorah, in the beginning of the Torah portion of Beha’alotchah, in which Aharon had to “raise” the lights of the Menorah until they could stand on their own. (See Rashi)
This week’s prophet is Haggai. His prophecy is very much connected to the theme of the destruction of the Temple, as well as its rebuilding. His words are also connected to the High Priest (like Aharon) and peace:
1. In the seventh [month], on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came through Haggai the prophet, saying:
2. Say now to Zerubbabel the son of Shaltiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak the High Priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying:
3. Who among you is left, who saw this house in its former glory? And as you see it now, is it not as nothing in your eyes?
4. And now, be strong, Zerubbabel, says the Lord; and be strong, Joshua the son of Jehozadak the High Priest; and be strong, all the people of the land, says the Lord. And (for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts) do
5. the thing that I set up with you when you left Egypt. And My spirit stands in your midst; fear not.
6. For so said the Lord of Hosts: [There will rise] another one, and I will shake up the heaven and the earth and the sea and the dry land [for] a little while.
7. And I will shake up all the nations, and they shall come [with] the precious things of all the nations. And I will fill this House with glory, said the Lord of Hosts.
8. The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the Lord of Hosts.
9. The glory of this last House shall be greater than the first one, said the Lord of Hosts. And in this place I will grant peace, says the Lord of Hosts.
(Chapter 2:1-9)(emphasis added)
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Week forty-three is the week of Rosh Chodesh Av, when in Perek Shirah it is the turn of the cat to praise Hashem. At first, the cat sings that although the enemy may rise as high as the eagle and make its nest among the stars, G-d will bring it down. (Obadiah 1:4) After catching the mouse, the cat declares that it pursued its enemies and seized them, and did not return until they were destroyed. (Psalm 18:38) During this week we begin counting the Nine Days leading up to Tisha b’Av, a period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple that is even more intense (and requires greater hardships) than the rest of the Three Weeks.
The cat is like a miniature lion. On this month, we all have the potential to be like lions. Mashiach will be born in the month of Av, and will reign on earth like a lion. Rosh Chodesh Av is the yahrzeit of Aaron, one of the few yahrzeit dates mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Aaron was known for his incessant pursuit of peace.
The month of Av corresponds to the zodiac sign of Leo. The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, quoted in Week 38, shows the clear relationship of the month of Av with the lion. This month is represented by the tribe of Shimon, who was known for its attribute of severe judgment. This month is also related to the tikkun, repair, of the sense of hearing. The name Shimon comes from the Hebrew word Shmiah, hearing, and this month is also connected to the tikkun of the sin that took place when the Children of Israel listened to the report of the spies.
It was in Av that the spies returned from the Land of Israel and described it to the people. Instead of focusing on Kalev and Joshua’s positive account, the people focused on the negative account of the other ten spies and wept bitterly. Our sages teach us that because the Jewish People cried for no reason, Hashem would now give them a reason to cry for generations to come. The night the Jewish people cried was Tisha B’Av, the day in which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed.
The relationship between the cat and the mouse in Perek Shirah can be interpreted (at least) in two different ways. First, throughout history, the Jews played the role of the mouse, serving as prey for our enemies inside the nations in which we were exiled. For approximately the past two thousand years, we have been in the exile of Esau/Edom (Rome). However, in messianic times, these roles will be reversed. We will be the ones to pursue our enemies, specifically, the nation of Amalek, a descendant of Esau, who represents the height of immorality and G-dlessness.
The song of the cat comes from the prophet Obadiah, a convert from the nation of Edom, and whose entire prophecy is directed against it. Edom represents Rome and its descendants, and it was Rome which caused the destruction of the Second Temple. The prophet predicts that one day Edom will be punished for its actions.
The number forty-three is formed by the Hebrew letters gimmel and mem. These letters appear to reference the war of Gog uMagog, the two root letters of these words. According to Jewish tradition, Gog uMagog will be the final war before the coming of Mashiach. This war is believed to involve the descendants of Esau and Yishmael.
Mem and gimmel also form the Hebrew word gam, which means “also.” This word appears prominently in the Psalm most connected to Aaron, whose yahrzeit is this week: “Hineh Mah Tov uMah Naim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad... “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers also to dwell together! / As the good oil on the head runs down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron...” Rav Ovadia Yosef asks why the word gam (also) is included in this verse, as it seems to be completely superfluous. He explains that when brothers sit together usually family problems come to the surface. Nevertheless, this also is for the good; we should also sit together despite such problems, and do our best to solve them.
There is also a similar connection here with the song of the cat, Aaron’s yahrzeit, and the tikkun of the month of Av. Like the cat, Aaron also pursued enemies, but only did so in order to achieve peace between them and to bring them closer to the Torah. As Hillel states in Pirkei Avot, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them closer to Torah.” This is how we transform the negative forces of this month into positive ones. As previously mentioned, the Temple was destroyed due to Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, and will be rebuilt through Ahavat Chinam, baseless love.
This week in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai warns us to be cautious in our study because an inadvertent error (due to insufficient study) is considered a voluntary transgression. It is well known that the cause of the destruction of the First Temple was due to the lack of importance given to Torah study.
Moreover, Rabbi Yehudah is a perfect example of the possibility of peace between Jacob and Esau, the Jewish people and the Romans. Once Rabbi Yehudah encountered a Roman stranger, who had just experienced a shipwreck and was its only survivor. Despite not knowing who this stranger was, Rabbi Yehudah immediately gave the man of his own clothes. It was later discovered that this man was a powerful Roman legislator, and that due to Rabbi Yehudah’s kindness he annulled all the harsh decrees that were about to be imposed on the Jewish people at that time.
This week also includes an additional statement by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who teaches that there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of the kingship, but that the crown of a good name surpasses them all. (IV: 13) The crowns mentioned by Rabbi Shimon are also all closely related to the major figures of this week and this month: Aharon HaKohen (priesthood) and Mashiach (kingship), as well Rabbi Shimon himself (Torah).
It is fascinating that additional words of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai are included along with Rabbi Yehudah’s statements. Unlike Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Shimon initially did not get along well with the Romans. When Rabbi Yehudah once praised the Romans for building bridges, etc., Rabbi Shimon stated that he should not praise the Romans, because all that they do is for their own benefit. When the Roman emperor heard of this, Rabbi Yehudah was honored with a high position, while Rabbi Shimon was forced to flee and famously spent the next 12 years inside a cave with his son, Rabbi Elazar.
There is a tradition that Rabbi Shimon is a descendant of the Tribe of Shimon, the tribe of this month. Rabbi Shimon’s own life reflects a transition and tikkun of Shimon’s strict justice. While in the cave, along with his son, he was concerned with pure spirituality. After leaving the cave, he could not understand how people were spending so much time with material concerns, to the extent that everything that he and his son saw would be consumed by fire. He was therefore sent back to the cave, and stayed there for another year. When he came out of the cave the second time, he understood the value of being involved with the material world, which is related to his problems with the Roman way of doing things.
Rabbi Shimon’s sayings in Pirkei Avot also appear to reflect this transition. Rabbi Shimon’s previous sayings strictly focused on the importance of Torah over material things, while these additional sayings include the importance of other qualities other than Torah. It is quite appropriate that his sayings here are juxtaposed with Rabbi Yehuda’s.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s additional words also seem to be literally complementing his saying in Week 16. There he mentions “three,” but does not specify to what exactly three is referring. It is assumed that it means "three people." This time, he states, “there are three crowns.” (It is interesting that both his sayings start with the word shloshah, three, and that the number he is most associated with is thirty-three, as Lag Ba’Omer is the 33rd day of the omer). This could also be read as "the three [mentioned previously] are the crowns (shloshah, ketarim hem). His previous saying can then be understood as follows: if a person has all three crowns “on his table,” meaning he has the qualities of Torah, priesthood, and kingship, such a person should be praised by others and seen as a true example of a “Torah lifestyle” (i.e. given the crown of a “Good Name”).
There is a well known story in which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai gave an interpretation of “Hineh Mah Tov uMah Naim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad...” and ended a drought. Again, Rashbi now understood the need for material concerns as well.
When each rabbi of Pirkei Avot represents a day of the omer count, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's words span approximately the entire month of Iyar, the month of Rabbi Shimon's yahrzeit (as well as Rabbi Yehudah's). His first saying falls on 16th day of the omer, the 1st of Iyar, and his additional words are on the 43rd day of the omer, 28th of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim. In terms of weeks, they span from the week after the Tenth of Teveth, to the week before Tisha B’Av.
This week, the combination of sefirot results in chesed shebemalchut, kindness within the context of kingship. Like Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai, we strive to do good deeds that have a direct impact on this material world. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” the “Shavuot” and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Yesod)
Similarly, the lesson we can draw from the cat is that just as it chases after the mouse, we should be like Aaron and "pursue" those around us in a positive and friendly manner, to bring them closer to the path of unity, love, peace, and truth, all of which are quintessential “Torah values.”
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