Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Week 8 (from the Book): Not to Lose Focus on our Spirituality and Relationship with G-d

The Swift




The swift is saying, "My help is from G-d, Maker of Heaven and Earth." (Psalms 121:2)

Rabbi Yehoshua would say: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and the hatred of one's fellows, drive a person from the world.

Chesed shebeGevurah (kindness within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the eighth week of the year, as we approach the end of the month of Cheshvan, the swift sings of its recognition that all help comes from G-d, Creator of Heaven and Earth (Psalm 102:2).

The swift’s verse is closely connected with Cheshvan. As we go deeper into this month, we feel increasingly immersed (and sometimes even sinking) in the various material concerns and tasks we need to accomplish. Therefore, we need Hashem’s help in order to keep us afloat, and not to lose focus on our spiritual objectives.

The number eight represents the concept of that which is above nature. Eight is one more than seven, which represents nature, such as in the seven days of the week. Eight is primarily associated with the concept of Mashiach, in that when Mashiach comes our whole existence will be one that is above nature as we know it today. While King David’s harp had seven strings, the harp of Mashiach will have eight.[1] The number eight is also a reference to the unique relationship of the Jew with G-d (a relationship that is above nature). A concrete example of this relationship is the fact that circumcision is performed exactly on the eighth day of life of a newborn.

Eight is also related to the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of the Temple, whose service to G-d was above this world. The Kohen Gadol’s garments, as well as the service he performed, were particularly aimed at rectifying the sins of the Jewish people.

This week, the teaching of Pirkei Avot is in the words of Rabbi Yehoshua, who teaches about sin: "The evil eye, the evil inclination and hatred towards [G-d’s] creations take a person out of this world" (II:11). Sin takes us out of this world. However, this phrase can be understood in a positive way: repentance after sin takes a person to much higher levels, beyond the limitations of this physical and material world.

There is a strong connection between the teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua in Pirkei Avot and the month of Cheshvan. The evil inclination and hatred prevailed upon the land at that time. The Torah teaches that theft was particularly prevalent at that time – theft - act on the desire of the evil eye and desire for that which is not yours. People of the time were so materialistic that they downplayed the importance of ethics and spirituality.

For Rabbi Yehoshua, in order to follow the right path, it is very important to have a “good friend,” and avoid a “bad friend” at all costs. The Flood was caused because people did not behave as good friends; much to the contrary.

The combination of the sefirot for this week results in Chesed shebeGevurah. The Flood began slowly, giving people ample opportunity to repent, even after the rain began.[2] The truth is that the flood was not all bad – it served to cleanse the world, and to allow for a fresh start. The flood, which lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, parallels the 40 cubits necessary for a kosher mikvah, the purifying ritual bath that cleanses a person of impurity. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” or “Shavuot” of the cycle of Chesed and the seven days in which Shavuot sacrifices were brought, known as “Shivah Yemei Miluim”)

In this week, we see that the swift is fully aware of G-d’s kindness, His justice, and His omnipotence. We must strive to follow suit, and direct ourselves always to Him. We learn from the swift that we need G-d in everything and for everything. Thus, if we are feeling alone and helpless, we should follow the example of this bird and pray to G-d for help.





[1] “The Month of Cheshvan According to the Book of Formation,” available at:
 http://www.inner.org/times/cheshvan/cheshvan.htm
[2] Genesis 7:12, Rashi


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