Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Week 48 (contd.): Mashiach Ben David and "Learning in order to Do."

The quality of this week also emphasizes the theme of the previous week, to be proactive in one’s learning and in one’s behavior: one “learns in order to practice” (lomed al menat la’asot). Our Teshuvah, return to G-d, during the month of Elul, must ultimately lead to a change in actual physical deed.

As explained in the previous week, the prophet for this week is said to be “unknown” by Rashi. Rabbeinu Chananel and the Vilna Gaon claim that it is “Chanani,” although we have no information about Chanani other than that he was the father of another prophet. As also explained last week, it is highly improbable that Rashi knew only 46 of the 48 prophets, especially given that he even suggests listing another prophet, Shemayah, in the case that Daniel should not be counted. Therefore, there is a distinct possibility that these two “unknown” prophets are referred to this way by Rashi because they had not yet come in Rashi’s time: Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David.

One of the names given for Mashiach Ben David is Chanina. Another sage with this name, Chanina Ben Dosa, is mentioned in the Talmud as the quintessential example of a Tzadik Yesod Olam (the righteous one that is the foundation for the entire world): “The whole world is nourished because of Chanina, and for Chanina, one amount of carob is enough from Sabbath eve to the next.” (Brachot 17b) Chanina comes from the word “chen,” which is related to both mercy and grace. Rebbe Nachman teaches that Mashiach’s main weapon is prayer, and we learn how to pray from Chanah, whose name also comes from the word chen.

Yet, despite Mashiach’s focus on prayer and teaching Torah (mentioned last week), we know that ultimately the Messianic times will come when there are physical changes to the reality in which we live. That is one of the essencial aspects of the concept of malchut (kingship) and of King David himself, who was involved physically transforming the world for the better. As the Rebbe would always state, “HaMa’aseh Hu Ha’Ikar,” the main thing is the deed. The above is closely related to the quality for this week, to learn in order to do, to practice (lomed al menat la’asot).

In Week 48 of Book I, the Perek Shirah animal is the scorpion, a reference to the evil inclination and impurity related to coldness and indifference (a scorpion’s venum is cold). The scorpion is also likely a reference to Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people, who strikes “at the tail” of the camp (those least connected to the Torah), with “its tail,” as the verse states:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt. Who met you on the way and attacked  [“tailed"]  the weak ones, who were straggling after you, and you were faint and weary and did not fear G-d. (Deut. 25:17,18)

Rabbi Avraham Kahn further explains:

The Hebrew word for "meeting" used in this connection can also be translated as "cooling". The nations were afraid of the Jewish people but the cynicism of Amalek "cooled them down". Rashi compares the cynic to somebody jumping into a hot bath. Although he got burned, he nevertheless cooled it down for others, proving that it was possible to survive somewhat to jump into the hot water. Amalek jumped into the hot bath for no reason other than to "cool down" the Jewish people.[1]

While Mashiach Ben Yosef’s task appears to be more related to fighting against the “hot” impurity of the snake, Mashiach Ben David appears more connected to fighting the coldness and indifference of the scorpion, although the two are clearly related. Here is Rabbi Ginsburgh explanation of the scorpion:

Our sages teach us that the scorpion (עַקְרָב) is the deadliest member of the general category of poisonous creatures whose archetypal figure is the primordial snake of Eden. The Hebrew word for "scorpion," derives from the word meaning "heel" (עַקֵב) as is said: "And you [the snake] shall bite him [man] at the heel" (Genesis 3:15). Thus the scorpion symbolizes the consummate "bite" of the snake at the heel of man.

While the poison of the snake is considered "hot," the poison of the scorpion is considered "cold." The Mashiach is the one and only soul who can overcome, kill, and ultimately revive the primordial snake (in order to convert it to good). (The soul of Mashiach and his continuous state of consciousness manifest the ultimate rectification of "heat," "burning" solely in his love for God and Israel, as well as that of "cold"-absolutely "cold" to the false vanities of this world.) This is the secret of the well known gematria that "Mashiach" (מָשִׁיחַ) equals "snake" (נָחָשׁ).[2]
Every quality can be used for good or for bad. Love and fear, passion and indifference all have their proper place. It is worth also looking at how the teachings for this week and the past one relate to previous sections of Pirkei Avot:

Rabbi Eliezer would say: The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger. Repent one day before your death. Warm yourself by the fire of the sages, but be beware lest you be burned by its embers; for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals. (II:10)

Rabbi Eliezer tells us to repent one day before our death – given that no one knows when they are going to die, repentance should take place every day (especially during Elul). Interestingly, Rabbi Eliezer then turns to the idea of connecting to the sages, yet how one should be careful about his/her dealings with them. As the Talmud states, “If one merits it, the Torah is an elixir of life; if one does not merit it, the Torah becomes a potion of death." (Yoma 72b) This is said particularly regarding someone who studies Torah [and treats Torah scholars] without proper fear of G-d – someone who is cold and indifferent, like the scorpion, like Amalek above.

This in fact ties in to the other Pirkei Avot statement related to the qualities necessary to acquire the Torah of the past two weeks:

Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi would say: One who learns Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to learn and teach. One who learns in order to do, is given the opportunity to learn, teach, observe and do. (IV:5)

Finally, it is also interesting that both weeks 47 and 48 are weeks of Rosh Chodesh (“head of the month”), almost always the only time this happens during the year. This parallels the two “heads” of the Jewish people, Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. This issue is thoroughly addressed in the appendix of Book I, part of which provided below:

This duality in the Jewish calendar is reflected in the Jewish people itself and in their two prototypical leaders: Judah and Joseph. As mentioned above, Judah represents Nissan. Tishrei is represented by Ephraim, the son of Joseph (his other son, Menashe represents the following month, Cheshvan).

The tension, balance, and contrast between Judah and Joseph is very apparent in the way the Torah places the very parallel stories of Joseph and Judah side by side,[3] as well as in the depiction of their direct confrontation, in the Torah portion of Vayigash.[4] Even the names of these two tribes are similar, because Joseph sometimes is called “Yehosef,” carrying the first three letters of G-d’s name, Hashem, just like Judah.
This balance and tension has continued throughout our history, most notably with King David and King Shaul, the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel (also called Ephraim in the Torah), and even eventually with the coming of two Mashiachs, ben David and ben Yosef, also known as Mashiach ben Ephraim.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfsohn explains that this division is reflected even in the current differences between Chassidic and Lithuanian/non-Chassidic. Similar differences seem to exist between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and baalei teshuvah (those who return to G-d, acknowledging their mistakes) and tzadikim gemurim (righteous one, who never sinned in the first place). Joseph is the prototype of the tzadik gamur, while Judah of the baal teshuvah.

The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy Chariot, Hashem’s holy throne, has a lion on the right (the symbol of Judah) and an ox on the left (the symbol of Joseph). The same prophet Ezekiel, in the haftorah reading for Vayigash, is told by G-d to collect one stick for Judah and one for Ephraim, and to join them together, symbolizing that in future Yosef and Yehudah will become completely united.[5]

The Jewish calendar also contains another duality and synthesis: its days are counted in accordance with the cycles of the sun and the moon. While the West’s calendar (based on the Roman one) is purely solar, and the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, the Jewish calendar has aspects of both. Each month in the Jewish calendar follows the moon, yet, as mentioned in Week 22, the Jewish year often contains two Adar months. This way, Passover always occurs in the spring, and all other months correspond to particular seasons accordingly. Here also, Joseph appears primarily associated with the year as a whole (countering Esau), while Judah appears to be primarily connected to the lunar months (countering Yishmael).

[3] Genesis, Ch. 37 - 39
[4] Genesis, 44:18
[5] Ezekiel 37:15; See Rabbi Matis Weinberg, Patterns in Time, on Chanukah 

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