Sunday, November 16, 2014

Week 9 (Book 3): Lamech and Avoiding Greek Traps


SONG OF THE SEA: the depths congealed in the heart of the sea. [Because] the enemy said, I will pursue,

HAFTARAH: The open cities ceased, in Israel they ceased, until I Deborah arose;
I arose as a mother in Israel.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 9 - Bitter Waters /Samson

GENERATIONS FROM ADAM TO THE LAST KING OF JUDAH: Lamech

JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the desert of Zin and camped in Dophkah.

Week nine sometimes falls completely within the month of Cheshvan, while at other times it already includes Rosh Chodesh Kislev. (See Book 2, regarding the concept of how this week represents half of the Tribe of Menashe) The verses of the Song of the Sea for this week appear to be split into two different themes. The first half is still related to the Flood, while the second already enters a new theme, related to the “pursuit” of the enemy. The struggle to fight off the spiritual persecution of the Greek enemy is one of the main themes of Chanukah.

The verses of the Haftorah are also split. The first part speaks of how “open cities ceased” (a reference to how civilization ceased during the Flood). The second part speaks of how Devorah arose, “a mother in Israel.” Devorah’s battle against Sisera parallels the Maccabee’s battle in the times of Chanukah. More than that, a fundamental role of the Jewish mother is to preserve the sacred identity of her child. As mentioned in both Book 1 and Book 2, Hannukah also comes from the word chinuch, which means education. The verse also seems to continue the theme of mothers and important women related to the month of Cheshvan. Rachel, Anath, Yael, and now Devorah.

Daf Tet (Folio 9) of Sotah also appears to be split in two major topics. The first is the continuation of the description of how a Sotah would be punished and tested with bitter waters. The second half contains a discussion of Shimshon, Samson. Although Samson and the Tribe of Dan are represented by the next month, Teveth, nevertheless, the theme of Chanukah and Kislev is also apparent also in the description of Samson, since he was supposed to be pure, and that his downfall came from impure actions, including intermarriage. It is worth noting that Teveth also contains several days of Chanukah.

Lamech, the father of Noah, appears to be a “kosher” version of Lamech the descendant of Cain, who ends up killing Cain, along with his own son. While Cain’s descendant kills his ancestor and his progeny, Seth’s descendant, from the moment his son is born, expresses the hope that the entire world will be comforted through him. Through his son, his entire line of ancestors is saved from destruction, and with it, the entire human race.  

Similarly, Lamech descendant of Cain represents a key element of moral depravity, and of an unchecked worship of aesthics and pleasure typical of Greek culture at the time of Chanukah. Lamech had two wives. Rashi explains that one wife was used for reproduction purposes, while the other was kept barren so that she could stay pretty and youthful. In contrast, the son of Lamech descendant of Seth saw the whole world be destroyed due to moral depravity.

Interestingly, both the Lamech from Cain and the Lamech from Seth have their statements recorded in the Torah. Lamech from Cain says: “Now Lemech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, hearken to my voice; wives of Lemech, incline your ears to my words, for I have slain a man by wounding (him) and a child by bruising (him). If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then for Lemech it shall be seventy seven fold." (Genesis, Chapter 4, v. 23, 24) The verse related to Lamech descendant of Seth states as follows: “And he named him Noah, saying, "This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands from the ground, which the Lord has cursed."  (Genesis, Chapter 5, v. 29)

Lamech descendant of Cain also represents the unchecked use of science and technology, also typical of Greek culture at the time of the Maccabees. Rashi’s commentary on the above verse explains that “Before Noah came, they did not have plowshares, and he prepared [these tools] for them.” While Cain’s line develops technology to improve weapons and ways of killing people (including Cain himself), Seth line uses technology to improve the lives of those around him.

Science and aesthetics can be very positive things, but, as Noah himself states in Chapter 9 of Genesis, these ideals have to be contained within the greater ideals of morality and truth:

26. And he said, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them. 27. May God expand Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them."

Japheth (ancestor of Yavan, Greece, and whose name comes from the Hebrew word Yoffi, beauty) may increase, but in the house of Shem (ancestor of Abraham, whose name itself means “name,” an indication of his connection to truth).

In the ninth week, the Jews journey from the desert of Zin and camp in Dophkah. The personal journey is to internalize the coming of the new moon, Rosh Chodesh, and feel the “knocking” (from the verb dofek) in our hearts, the call to return to Zion, to the Holy Temple. The verse “Kol Dodi Dofek” (Song of Songs 5:2) represents the idea that “Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first [during the first Temple] if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs.…”[1] This is the challenge of assimilation, getting too comfortable in exile.

An important lesson we learn from Lamech in our approach to prayer and Divine service is the need to connect to Hashem in ways that are above the reason. There is a well-known teaching by our sages that in Hebrew word king, Melech, the letter Mem represents the Moach (the mind), and the Lamed, the Lev, the heart. When the Mem and the Lamed are inverted, instead of Melech you get Lemech, which means "fool." As is also emphasized in Chabad Chassidic philosophy, the mind must control the heart. However, when it comes to prayer and to our connection to G-d, there is such a concept, also emphasized in Chabad Chassidic philosophy, of Shtus d’Kedusha, “Holy Folly.” Ultimately, prayer is the service of the heart, not the mind, and our connection to G-d is above nature and above all logic.




[1] A Note on the Title of [Rav Joseph’s Soloveitchik’s work] Kol Dodi Dofek, David Z. Gordon; available at http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=100833


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