Saturday, November 22, 2014

Week 10 (Book 2): Samuel and Purity



HAAZINU: He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye. (Deuteronomy 32:10)
HAFTARAH: And He bent the heavens and He came down; and thick darkness was under His feet. (II Samuel 22:10)
QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: Purity
PROPHET: Samuel
LEVITICAL CITY: Gibeon

In Week Ten, now fully in the month of Kislev, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how G-d protected and gave understanding to the Jewish people when they were in dire circumstances. The verse is speaking about spiritual desolation, very much like the state in which the Jewish people found themselves during the times of the miracle of Chanukah. In their confrontation with Greek culture and civilization, G-d not only protected them for assimilation, but gave them the tools of logic and understanding, present in Greek philosophy, so that the Jews could apply them to the Torah. Much of the logical debate and discussion found in the Babylonian Talmud is a product of this encounter. The Talmud contains many Greek words, and in fact the name of the Greek king at the Ptolomy (Talmai in Hebrew) has the same numerical value (gematria) as the word “Talmud.”

The Haftarah’s verse also appears to be connected to Chanukah. The verse speaks of G-d coming down and bending the laws of nature, as well of “thick darkness.” During Chanukah, the Jewish people saw open miracles that defied the laws of nature. Furthermore, it is well known that the Greek exile is compared to darkness, while Chanukah is the festival of light. The comparison between Greece and darkness is noted in the Midrash cited in the previous week.

The quality for this week is purity (Taharah). Last week’s quality, joy, and purity are probably the two quintessential qualities associated with Chanukah. After the Greeks defiled the Temple, the holy Kohanim purified and rededicated it. The miracle of Chanukah is related to the pure oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, which lasted for eight days.

Similarly, this week’s prophet, Samuel, is also the quintessential representation of purity. A Nazir from before birth, Samuel was raised in the Holy Tabernacle by the Kohen Gadol himself. G-d spoke to Samuel from a very young age, and his greatness is compared to that of Moshe and Aharon combined.

This week’s levitical city is Gibeon. This city as well, represents how G-d’s protection of the Jewish people is above nature, and how it is through these “above-nature” qualities that we are able to defeat our enemies. The following is a passage from the book of Joshua:

Then Joshua spoke to the L-rd on the day when the L-rd delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel [in the city of Gibeon], and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still upon Gibeon, and Moon in the valley of Ayalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. (10:12-13)

This miracle also represents the victory of light over darkness. Joshua and the Children of Israel were on the verge of a major victory, and as nightfall was approaching it would have been impossible to continue pursuing the Amorites. That is why it was so important that that the sun stand still, giving the Jewish people sufficient light and time to defeat the enemy. This was an amazing miracle, witnessed by the entire world. It was a sanctification of G-d’s name and an opportunity to spread the knowledge of His miracles, similar to what takes place during Chanukah.

An important lesson that we learn from this week’s quality is that in order to receive the Torah, the mind must be pure and receptive to it. If we are distracted by a million other pieces of useless and/or even debasing images and information, then we cannot absorb the Torah properly. If one's animal tendencies are running wild, it will be very difficult not only to concentrate, but to be able to appreciate the Torah's holiness. Without purifying oneself to the best of one's ability, the actual lines between purity and impurity, between the sacred and the profane, become so blurry that nothing appears to be special in one's eyes. If everything is holy and worthwhile, then nothing is. A "Yes" is only worth something, if sometimes a person also knows when to say "No."


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