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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Week 11 (from the Book): Fighting Evil and Heresy, Yet Knowing How to Forgive





The stork is saying, "Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her, for her time has arrived, for her sins have been pardoned, for she has taken double from G-d's hand for all her sins." (Isaiah 40:2)



Rabbi Elazar would say: Be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. And know before whom you toil, and who is your employer who will repay you the reward of your labors.



Netzach shebeGevurah (victory and endurance within the context of discipline and judgment)


In the eleventh week, in Perek Shirah, the stork sings to the heart of Jerusalem, repeating G-d’s words that the time of punishment has ended, and that the city will be rescued from iniquity: the city has received a double punishment for its sins. (Isaiah 40:.2) This week marks the Chassidic holiday of Yud Kislev, when the second Rebbe of Lubavitch, the Mitteler Rebbe, was released from imprisonment. He had been briefly arrested on purely fabricated charges of seeking a rebellion against the government, which were strikingly similar to the accusations made against his father (discussed in Week 12). The life of the Mitteler Rebbe was a great example of purity, righteousness, and wonders - the prevailing characteristics of this month.


The verse of the stork is the continuation of the verses of the bat, and is also closely connected with Chanukah and the month of Kislev. The stork sings to the heart of Jerusalem. However, we must first ask ourselves, what is the heart of Jerusalem? As noted in week thirty-two, Jerusalem itself is called a heart. The heart of Jerusalem is most likely none other than the Temple itself, the Beit haMikdash. It was on Chanukah that the Temple in Jerusalem was liberated, cleansed of impurity, and rededicated to the service of G-d. The word Chanukah itself means "dedication."


The number eleven is also associated with kelipah, impurity, which consists of eleven attributes, known also as sefirot or crowns. In the Temple, that incense (ketoret), which consisted of eleven ingredients, was used in order to cleanse the people of Israel of their sins. Additionally, the incense functioned as a powerful remedy in the face of death, the greatest source of all impurity. The Torah states that Aaron “placed the ketoret [in the pan] and atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was halted.”[1]


Like the numbers five and eight, eleven is also connected to the idea of being above the natural order, this time represented by the number ten. The power to purify and cleanse from spiritual impurity, and even to prevent certain death, is certainly such an above-nature quality.


One of the basic teachings behind the ketoret is that among the required spices used was the chelbena, which had a very foul odor. However, when it was mixed with the other ten elements, the ketoret’s aroma was sublime. The same can be said about us: even though individually we may not all be perfect, as a group, we atone for one another, and have a “good smell.”


In Joseph’s dream, eleven stars (eleven sheaves of wheat in the other dream) bowed down to him, each representing one of his brothers. When Joseph told the brothers about the dream, they were outraged. The idea of his brothers bowing to him appeared to be heretical and presumptuous. However, this was not heretical on Joseph’s part – he simply saw things more deeply. Joseph’s dreams represented the concept of self-nullification before the tzadik (in this case, Yosef HaTzadik) both in spiritual matters (stars) as well as material ones (wheat). Through this nullification, the tzadik is able to properly bind and blend and bring out the best in all eleven elements, very much like the ketoret.


The Pirkei Avot lesson for this week is taught by Rabbi Elazar, who states that one must be diligent in Torah study and know how to answer an epicurean (or heretic, apikores in Hebrew). This lesson is directly related to Kislev and the festival of Chanukah, because it is in these days that we celebrate our success in combating aspects of Greek philosophy that run counter to Jewish values. Epicureanism in particular, with its focus on worldly pleasures, is most likely the kind of Greek philosophy that is most antithetical to the Torah, and one that had particular appeal during the time when Chanukah took place.


Rabbi Elazar also advises: “Know before Whom you toil, and Who is the Master of your work that will pay your wages.” The emphasis again is on our direct connection with G-d, and His involvement in our struggles, a concept the Greeks simply could not fathom or accept.


For Rabbi Elazar, in order follow the righteous path, it is very important to have a “good heart,” and avoid a “bad heart” at all costs (this is reminiscent of the song of the stork, which is also about the heart). Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai states that within the words of Rabbi Elazar are contained the words of all other disciples.


Rabbi Matis Weinberg points out that the difference between the Hebrew word Tzion (Zion, Jerusalem) and Yavan (Greece) is just a single letter, the tzadik.[2]The difference between Judaism and Greek philosophy is the tzadik: the need to act justly before G-d, with a good heart, as well as the ability to be bound to G-d and to the righteous individuals of every generation. (It is no coincidence that the Midrash states that the Greeks demanded that a heretical statement be written specifically “on the horn of an ox,” a reference to Yosef HaTzadik).


This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebegevurah. Therefore, we should be inspire ourselves in the Mitteler Rebbe, a great tzadik, and be disciplined and determined in our pursuit of Torah and mitzvot. The first chapter in the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, teaches that the main place of gevurah is in the heart, where we can defeat (lenatzeach) our internal enemy, the yetzer harah, the evil inclination.


As to a lesson in self-improvement, we should follow the example of the stork. We must learn how to humbly ask for forgiveness, and also to truly forgive. After all, we are only alive due G-d’s daily forgiveness.






[1] Numbers 17:13

[2] Matis Weinberg, Patterns in Time Volume 8: Chanukah, Feldheim Publishers, New York, 1992, page 78.





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