Saturday, November 22, 2014
Week 10 (Book 4a): Prayer out of Fear of G-d
On Week 10, we are now definitively tied to the month of Kislev. The verse from the story of Hannah is about praying and weeping out of a sense of bitterness. It brings to mind the song of the Bat in Week 10, Book 1, which speaks of Hashem bringing comfort to the Jewish people. The verse states that Channah prayed “Al” (upon) Hashem, above the level of Divine revelation known as Hashem. In Kislev also, we connect to G-d in a way that is very high indeed.
The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is that Torah enclothes him with “fear,” a continuation of last week’s adjective, “the Torah enclothes him with humility.” Fear of G-d and humility are key attributes when it comes to learning Torah for its own sake. As we saw in Book 2 (Week 7 and 8), in the list of 48 the qualities needed for acquiring the Torah, fear (yirah) and humility (anavah) are also mentioned together. The struggles and revelations of Kislev and of Chanukah are related to both this humility and this fear.
Hannah’s bitter weeping and praying is also connected to Yirah. Hannah was made to feel so humble and insignificant, that it brought her to an even greater fear G-d, which enabled her to pray with such utter devotion and self-effacement. Her self-effacement was such that no words even came out of her mouth. She was completely nullified before the Master.
Chapter 10 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It speaks directly and somewhat harshly about the wicked, in contrast with the righteous, evoking fear of G-d with every word. The chapter also focuses particularly on the power of speech (and when it is wise to withhold it):
1. Proverbs of Solomon: A wise son makes his father happy, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.
2. Treasures of wickedness will not avail, but charity will save from death.
3. The Lord will not starve the soul of the righteous, but the destruction [wrought by] the wicked will cast [them] down. (...)
6. Blessings [shall come] upon the head of a righteous man, but violence shall cover the mouth of the wicked.
7. The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot. (...)
18. He who covers up hatred has false lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool. 19. In a multitude of words, transgression will not be avoided, and he who holds back his lips is wise.
20. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is worth little.(...)
27. Fear of the Lord will add days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened. (...)
32. The lips of a righteous man know how to please, but the mouth of the wicked [knows] how to distort.
The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is also one of the themes of Chanukah, in which the “righteous few” overcame the “wicked many.” (See Additions to the Amidah prayers during Chanukah) Interestingly, the Chassidic holidays this month, Yud Kislev and Yud-Tes Kislev, celebrate the redemption of both the first and the second Rebbes of Chabad of imprisonment due to slander.
This week includes the yahrzeits of two pioneering Jewish non-chassidic leaders in Europe and in America: Rabbi Aharon Kotler (3rd of Kislev) and Rabbi Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandl (6th of Kislev). They offered two different models of how to adapt to the new country, which at first did not seem at all hospitable to religious Jewish Life.
Rabbi Aharon Kotler was born in Russia. Orphaned at a very young age, he studied in the renowned yeshiva of Slabodka in Lithuania. He studied under great Torah scholars, including the Alter of Slabodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein and others. (Wikipedia) In America, he was the founder of the Yeshiva of Lakewood, today one of the greatest centers of Torah study in America and in the world. He was also the leader of various religious organization including Agudath Israel, and esteemed as one of the greatest Torah scholars of the generation.
Rabbi Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandl was born in Hungary. During World War II, he did his utmost to contact various political authorities and try to save the Jews of Slovakia, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He also lost his entire family in the Holocaust, and was saved by managing to saw off the lock of a carriage and jumping off a moving train. In America, Rabbi Weissmandl founded the Nitra Yeshiva, along with a self-sustaining agricultural community that followed all applicable Torah agricultural laws.
Other yahrzeits this week include those of Rabbi Yaakov David Kalish (4th of Kislev), son of Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka, and founder of the Amshinov dynasty, and (sometimes) Rabbi Aharon of Chernobyl (8th of Kislev), Rabbi David son of Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein of Sochatchov (8th of Kislev), Rabbi Pinchas David son of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelker Horowitz, the first Bostoner Rebbe (8th of Kislev) and Rabbi DovBer Schneerson, the Mitteler Rebbe of Lubavitch (9th of Kislev).
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