Calendar

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Week 1 (From the Book): To Raise our Heads, Choose a Master, and Recognize G-d’s Oneness

Week 1: To Raise our Heads, Choose a Master, and Recognize G-d’s Oneness

Each week will begin by quoting the week’s animal in Perek Shirah, rabbi in Pirkei Avot, and sefirah combination. The program begins on the week of Rosh Hashanah, coinciding with all or part of selichot, the days of repentance leading up to the holiday. The exact day of the week in which counting starts is the same as the day the Counting of the Omer starts, the second day of the Passover holiday.

The rooster is saying, "When the Holy One, blessed be He, comes to the righteous in the Garden of Eden, all the trees in the Garden of  Eden scatter their spices, and they rejoice and praise, and then He, too, is aroused and praises." (Zohar, Vayakhel 195b)
In its first call it says, "Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in! Who is this King of glory? G-d strong and mighty, G-d mighty in battle!" (Psalms 24:7-8)
In its second call it says, "Lift up your heads, O gates! Lift them up, O everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in! Who is this King of glory? G-d of hosts, He is the King of glory, Selah!" (Psalms 24:9-10)
In its third call it says, "Stand, O righteous ones, and busy yourselves with Torah, so that your reward will be double in the World-to-Come."
In its fourth call it says, "I have hoped for Your salvation, O G-d." (Genesis 49:18)
In its fifth call, it is saying, "How long will you sleep, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?" (Proverbs 6:9)
In its sixth call, it is saying, "Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes and you shall be satisfied with bread." (Proverbs 20:13)
In its seventh call, it is saying: "It is time to act for G-d; for they have made void Your Torah." (Psalms 119:126)

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.
They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.
Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness.
Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you.
Yossi the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah, and Yossi the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem, received the tradition from them. Yossi the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah would say: Let your home be a meeting place for the wise; dust yourself in the soil of their feet, and drink thirstily of their words.
Yossi the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem would say: Let your home be wide open, and let the poor be members of your household. And do not engage in excessive conversation with a woman. This is said even regarding one's own wife--how much more so regarding the wife of another. Hence, the sages said: One who excessively converses with a woman causes evil to himself, neglects the study of Torah, and, in the end, inherits purgatory.
Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every man to the side of merit.
Nitai the Arbelite would say: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not cleave to a wicked person, and do not abandon belief in retribution.
Judah the son of Tabbai and Shimon the son of Shotach received from them. Judah the son of Tabbai would say: When sitting in judgment, do not act as a counselor-at-law. When the litigants stand before you, consider them both guilty; and when they leave your courtroom, having accepted the judgment, regard them as equally righteous.
Shimon the son of Shotach would say: Increasingly cross-examine the witnesses. Be careful with your words, lest they learn from them how to lie.
Shmaayah and Avtalyon received from them. Shmaayah would say: Love work, loath mastery over others, and avoid intimacy with the government.
Avtalyon would say: Scholars, be careful with your words. For you may be exiled to a place inhabited by evil elements [who will distort your words to suit their negative purposes]. The disciples who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.
Hillel and Shammai received from them. Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron--a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.
He would also say: One who advances his name, destroys his name. One who does not increase, diminishes. One who does not learn is deserving of death. And one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish.
He would also say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance.
Rabban Gamliel would say: Make for yourself a master; stay away from doubt; and do not accustom yourself to tithe by estimation.
Chesed shebeChesed (kindness within the context of kindness)

The month of Tishrei is represented by the tribe of Ephraim, and is almost entirely devoted to spiritual pursuits. It is replete with Jewish holidays, full of joy from beginning to end. Ephraim, the son of Joseph, studied Torah under his grandfather Jacob and led a life that was almost completely devoted to spiritual concerns.

The first week of the Jewish calendar is the week of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “the head of the year.” The first animal in Perek Shirah is the rooster, who awakens us by singing an introductory verse followed by seven songs, one for each day of the week. Similarly, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish people experience a spiritual awakening through the blowing of the shofar. Each of the songs of the rooster parallel the meaning behind the shofar blows that take place on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is blown 100 times, and the rooster’s verses contain 100 words.

The first week also contains the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, which are called selichot. On these days, like the rooster, we arise early in the morning in order to ask forgiveness for our sins and begin the year with a clean slate.The rooster, the majestic animal that heads the list of animals in Perek Shirah, represents the concept of G-d's kingship. It is exactly on Rosh Hashanah that the Jewish people acknowledge G-d as King.

The number one represents G-d’s unity as the Master and Creator of the universe. This is the fundamental belief of the Jewish faith.

In Pirkei Avot, the first set of sayings found in Chapter I repeat the idea of receiving guidance from a single teacher/spiritual guide (rav). In order to grow as a person, it is important to have a life coach; someone that knows us well and can therefore guide, answer questions, and be objective about what aspects of our life need improvement.

These verses of Pirkei Avot include an introduction followed by seven pairs of rabbis, which is parallel to the introduction followed by the seven songs of the rooster. Upon careful review, one will find that each of these lessons is intimately connected to Rosh Hashanah, in which we acquire G-d as our ultimate Master.

The first week is associated with the sefirah combination of chesed shebechesed. Chesed means loving kindness, and on Rosh Hashanah we feel that G-d pours his kindness upon His children.[1] The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that the blowing of the shofar is like the cry of a prince who spent years away from home and forgot his mother tongue. Seeing his father, the King, from a distance, the son screams to Him in order to be recognized.

It was exactly on Rosh Hashanah that G-d showed enormous kindness to Sarah, the first of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people. During this festival, Sarah, an elderly woman who had been unable to become pregnant her entire life, received the news that she would give birth to a son, Isaac. It was also on Rosh Hashanah that Chanah was told of the extraordinary news that she would give birth to a son, the prophet Samuel. Chanah was also barren and advanced in years. It is worth noting that the rooster is mentioned in our prayer book as an animal that recognizes the kindness of its Creator. Every day, in our morning prayers, we thank G-d for giving the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night.

We can also learn a very important lesson in self-improvement from the rooster. It tells us to stop sleeping, to get up, and to move forward. Getting out of bed is an important first step in fighting sadness. The act of arising in the morning is a daily miracle, as well as an essential action in facing the joys and the challenges of every new day. By tapping into the song of the rooster and the call of the shofar, our physical and spiritual alarm clocks, we acknowledge G-d’s oneness, and take an important first step towards a harmonious, spiritually aware, and productive new year.




[1] It is worth noting that Rosh Hashanah is also known as “Yom HaDin,” the “Day of Judgment,” which is more associated with gevurah than with chesed. That is because Rosh Hashanah is associated with the judgment of our actions during the previous year (See Week 52), although it is also the day in which all the blessings of the coming year are determined. Perhaps that is another reason why Rosh Hashanah is called “kesseh,” the hidden holiday, for G-d’s tremendous chesed on this day is somewhat hidden. 
DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF PEREK SHIRAH HERE!