Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Week 45 from the Book
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.
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