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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Week 13 (Book 2): David and Avigail, and the Quality of "Sharp Discussion"


HAAZINU: He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the crag. (Deuteronomy 32:13)

HAFTARAH: From the brightness before Him flamed forth coals of fire. (II Samuel 22:13)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Sharp Discussion with Students (Pilpul HaTalmidim)

PROPHET(S): David and Avigail

LEVITICAL CITY: ‘Almon

The eleventh week of the year includes the first days of Chanukah. The verse in Haazinu refers to high places and miraculous occurrences, as well as to oil. These concepts can all be found in the Chanukah story. On Chanukah, G-d led the Jewish people to victory in a very high way, that was above nature. The Hebrew word used for “high places,” Bamah, also means altar. The pure oil of the miracle of Chanukah, can also be understood as the pintele yid, the innermost part of every Jew, which always remains pure, and which reveals itself in times of struggle.

This week’s Haftarah verse is also related to the events of Chanukah. It speaks of brightness and fire, which are related to the light of the Menorah, and the Chanukah miracle in general. Furthemore, again the metaphor of coals is used. Coals can be burning on the inside, but it takes an additional step to make that fire be revealed.

The quality for this week is sharp discussion with students, which in Hebrew is called pilpul. One of the qualities that the Jewish people acquired during the Greek exile was the use of tremendous sharpness and logic. As already mentioned in Week 10, the name of the Greek king at the time of Chanukah was Ptolomy (Talmai in Hebrew), which has the same numerical value (gematria) as the word “Talmud.” The Talmud was greatly developed due to the influence of the Greeks, and even includes many Greek words.

This week’s prophets are David and Avigail. King David represents monarchy, and the Maccabees formed the Hasmonean dynasty. King David represents the ability of the Jewish people to be extremely holy and yet extremely involved in the affairs of this world, joining spirituality and physicality, Torah study and prayer, with managing government affairs and fighting wars. One of the major themes of Chanukah is this combination as well. Chanukah has two major themes, the military-political victory over the Greek army, and the victory of Jewish wisdom over Greek wisdom – these two aspects are represented by King David and King Solomon (next week’s prophet) respectively.

Furthermore, Avigail was able to avoid bloodshed by approaching King David and speaking to him about her husband – the Hasmoneans also were able to avoid further bloodshed by forming an alliance with Rome.

David and Avigail both had tremendous powers of pilpul, sharp discussion. King David was known for his sharp mind and the halachah always followed his opinion (source). It was Avigail’s discussion with King David that convinced him not to fight against her husband. (I Samuel, 25:18-38)

The levitical city for this week is ‘Almon. ‘Almon means “hidden” from the word “He’elem” and “Olam.” One of the main ideas of Chanukah and of Kislev as a whole is that of revealing that which is “hidden.” Through the miracle of Chanukah we see that the whole world “Olam” is just an illusion and that G-d’s power is supreme.


On Chanukah even the most “hidden” of Jews come out from their hiding. While there are limitations of what kinds of materials can be used to light Shabat candles, there is no such limitations for Chanukah. Every Jew is “lit up” and excited by Chanukah.
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