Thursday, January 12, 2017

Week 15 (From the Book): Giving Proper Value to Torah and to the Presence of the Shechinah

PEREK SHIRAH: The wild goose flying in the wilderness, when it sees Israel busy with Torah, is saying, "A voice cries out: Prepare in the wilderness the way for G-d, make straight in the desert a path for our G-d" (Isaiah 40:3). And upon finding its food in the wilderness, it says: "Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings; Blessed is the man who trusts in G-d, and G-d shall be his assurance." (Jeremiah 17: 5, 7)

PIRKEI AVOT: Rabbi Chanina son of Tradyon would say: Two who sit and no words of Torah pass between them, this is a session of scorners, as is stated, "And in a session of scorners he did not sit" (Psalms 1:1). But two who sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them, as is stated, "Then the G-d-fearing conversed with one another, and G-d listened and heard; and it was inscribed before Him in a book of remembrance for those who fear G-d and give thought to His name" (Malachi 3:16). From this, I know only concerning two individuals; how do I know that even a single individual who sits and occupies himself with the Torah, G-d designates reward for him? From the verse, "He sits alone in meditative stillness; indeed, he receives [reward] for it" (Lamentations 3:28).

SEFIRAH COMBINATION: Chesed shebeTiferet (kindness within the context of beauty and balance)

In the fifteenth week, the wild goose sings two songs: When it sees Israel occupied with the study of Torah, it calls for us to prepare a way for the Lord, to make a straight path for our G-d. Then, after finding food, is blesses the Lord, and curses those that place their trust in man. (Isaiah 40:3; Jeremiah 17:5-7) This week marks the fast of the Tenth of Teveth, when Jerusalem was besieged at the time of the First Temple. It was the first step towards its destruction and the exile of the Shechinah. The 10th of Teveth is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Nathan of Breslov, the main disciple of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Few Jews survived the destruction of the First Temple. Even so, they multiplied and returned to being a numerous people, just like the Tribe of Dan, the symbol of the month of Teveth. Similarly, when Rabbi Nathan took the reins of the Breslov movement, it was still very small, and he had to face incredible obstacles and adversities. Nonetheless, not only did the movement survive, but it grew exponentially, and today Rebbe Nachman’s fire is more alive than ever.

The Midrash states that Jerusalem was besieged and the First Temple later destroyed because the Jewish people did not “recite the blessing over Torah study.” In other words, this tragedy took place due to the lack of spiritual importance given to the Torah and other holy texts at that time. There is a strong connection here with Didan Netzach, the day of the “victory of the books.”

Through the words of the wild goose, we mourn the destruction of the First Temple, when the Jewish people not only was not properly occupied with the study of Torah, but also put inappropriate trust in their alliance with the Kingdom of Egypt at the time. The prophets warned against trusting in Egypt. In a prophecy made on the twelfth of Teveth, still prior to the siege, the prophet Ezekiel calls Egypt a “reed-like support for the House of Israel – whenever they held you in their hand you would snap, piercing their every shoulder…”[1]  When Egypt fell to the Babylonians, the Kingdom of Israel soon followed.

The number fifteen contains the first two letters of Hashem’s name, yud and heh. These two letters also form another name for G-d, Yah. This is a feminine name and a reference to the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. The moon, which represents the feminine sefirah of malchut, is always full on the fifteenth of the Jewish month.

The Talmud states that in the Temple, there were fifteen steps from the Israelite men’s courtyard to the women’s courtyard, corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascents (Shir haMaalot) found in King David’s Psalms.[2] The Talmud further explains that it was through the power of composing these fifteen songs that King David saved the entire world from being engulfed by the waters running under the Temple Mount. Here again we see a reference to the Temple and to the power of the written Torah.
In the Pirkei Avot lesson for this week, Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradion teaches: "If two [people] are sitting together and do not exchange words of Torah, this is a company of scorners... However, if two sit together and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests between them.” (III:2) Rabbi Chaninah further explains that even when a person sits alone and is occupied with the Torah, G-d provides him with a reward. The connection with the above concepts is quite clear.
During this week, the sefirot combination results in chesed shebetiferet. When the siege of Jerusalem began, the situation was not yet so precarious. There was still a chance for the people to repent and avoid the tragedy altogether. This can be regarded as kindness within mercy (rachamim), which is another meaning for the term tiferet. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Gevurah)
Regarding self-improvement, we learn that even the wild goose understands the great importance of Torah study, and that its survival and sustenance depends solely on G-d, not on human beings. If we do our part, surely G-d will do His.





[1] Ezekiel 29:6-7
[2] Talmud, Sukkah 51a
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