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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Week 2 (Book 4a): Chen, Merit, Life and Death Choices, and the Magen Avraham

Week 2 is the week of Yom Kippur.  The verse from the story of Channah speaks of “two wives.” Both the number two as well as the concept of marriage and relationship is related to this week. (See Book 1, where the animal for this week is the hen, followed by the rooster for week 1). The name Peninah means “pearl,” which signifies inner beauty and purity. Channah comes from the word “chen,” which means grace as well as mercy. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains, chen is a quintessential ingredient in prayer. The Talmud also teaches us that we learn how we are supposed to pray by Channah’s example. These concepts are all closely tied to Yom Kippur, when through prayer and fasting we reveal our inner sanctity and beauty, find grace in the eyes of Hashem and are cleansed from our past transgressions.

The Pirkei Avot section for this week explains that the existence of whole world is worthwhile for the Tzadik, the one that studies Torah for its own sake. Interestingly, the above verse in the Channah’s story tells of how Peninah had many children, and yet Channah did not have any. Peninah’s existence and that of all her children (and the whole world) was worthwhile because of Channah, even though Channah herself did not have any children. This is similar to the statement in the Talmud regarding Rabbi Chanina (whose name also comes from the word chen): “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) (See Book 2, Week 48) Tishrei very much connected to the creation of the world, and to its continued existence once our sins are forgiven on Yom Kippur.

Chapter 2 of the Book of Proverbs contains a theme of Yom Kippur and the choice between righteousness/good (which leads to life) and sin/evil (which leads to death):

18. for her house sinks to death, and her paths [lead] to the dead;   
19. none who go to her return, neither do they achieve the ways of life                 
20. in order that you go in the way of the good, and you keep the ways of the righteous.  
21. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain therein.      
22. But the wicked shall be cut off from the land, and the treacherous shall be uprooted therefrom.

This week, on the 8th of Tishrei, it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Noach, the son of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch. Rabbi Noach is an important link in the chain of various Chassidic dynasties, including Slonim, Kobrin, Koidenov, and Karlin. He taught that “a Jew who begins to question his emunah should have faith that he has faith! When he fails to feel the strength of that faith within, he should assure himself that the faith is there, but remains hidden and obscured.”[1] This is related to what was mentioned above above Yom Kippur.

A day later, on the 9th of Tishrei is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Avraham Aveli Gombiner, the Magen Avraham, one of the greatest halachik (Jewish law) authorities of all times. He was born in 1637 and was very weak and sickly as a child.[2] His writings also have a special connection to the spirit of Yom Kippur:

In paragraph 156 of Magen Avraham he writes, “It is a mitzvah for all men to love each Jew as himself, as it is written, ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18], and whoever hates a Jew in his heart transgresses a prohibition, for it is said, ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart’ [v.17]. When someone sins against his fellow, he should not keep a grudge in silence, but he should say, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ and he should not speak to him harshly, to the point of shaming him, but reprimand him in private, calmly, and with soft language.”[3]
Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Elazar Nisan of Drobitich (1854), son of the Yismach Moshe and father of the Yetev Lev of the Satmar-Sighet dynasties (9th of Tishrei); Rabbi Akiva (10th of Tishrei); and (sometimes) Rabbi Yitzchak Tzarfati (father of Rashi); Rabbi Avraham the Malach (“the Angel,” son of the Magid of Mezeritch, 12th of Tishrei), Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (the Rebbe Maharash, 4th Rebbe of Lubavitch, 13th of Tishrei), andd Rabbi Akiva Eiger (also 13th of Tishrei)

Furthermore, there is a tradition that on the 7th of Tishrei is the yahrzeit of Zevulun, the son of Yaakov, our patriarch.





[1] NETIVOT SHALOM (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein); The Burning Bush: Defining the Jewish Core
[3] Ibid.
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