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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Week 16 (Book 2): Michaiah and the Oral Torah


HAAZINU: They provoked His zeal with alien worship; they made Him angry with abominable deeds. (Deuteronomy 32:16)

Positive Light: They were zealous for Him against alien worship; they were angry for Him against abominable deeds.

HAFTARAH: And the depths of the sea appeared; the foundations of the world were laid bare, by the rebuke of the Lord and the blast of the breath of His nostrils. (II Samuel 22:16)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Mishnah (Oral Torah)

PROPHET: Michaiah son of Imlah

LEVITICAL CITY: Ajalon

On Week Sixteen, still in the month of Teveth, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how the Jewish people made G-d angry due to their idol worship. Idol worship and other abominations were also the cause of the destruction of the First Temple, which is related to Teveth. Idol worship is also specifically related to the Tribe of Dan (represented by Teveth), in that this trie was the first one to introduce idol worship in the Land of Israel after its conquest. This tragic event is depicted in the account of Pessel Micha, the statue of Micha, toward the end of the Book of Judges.

This week’s verse in Haazinu can also be understood more positively. Perhaps the zealousness and anger here can be understood not as a reference to Hashem, but as a reference to the Jewish people, in that they were zealous and angry for G-d. In fact, the tremendous zeal against idolatry was one of the defining characteristics of the Macabbees. Kohanim as a whole are known for their zeal as well as sometimes for their “hot-headedness.”

The Haftarah’s verse again appears to parallel a more positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu. Rashi comments that the verse is actually a reference to the redemption from Egypt – the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. 

Perhaps the depths of the sea is a reference to the Talmud; similarly, the “foundations of the world” may also be a reference to the Temple. The Temple itself (and the Even Shtiah, the foundation stone, contained within it), represents the foundation of the world, the point in which Creation began.

The quality for this week is Mishnah, the Oral Torah. This week is still very much connected to the tragedy of the 10th of Teveth, which occurred due to the relative lack of importance and holiness attributed to Torah study.

This week’s prophet is Michaiah son of Imlah. One of the key aspects of the oral Torah is the need to be true to its method of being passed on from generation to generation, and the need to be true to ourselves in the method of its interpretation. Sometimes, there are “rabbis” who claim to be speaking in the name of the oral tradition, but are in fact corrupting it. In Machaia’s story, in Kings I, Chapter 22, 400 false prophets claimed to have a positive interpretation of the events, while only one prophet, the true one, saw things as they really were. The story shows that even false prophets can be moved by a “spirit,” but that spirit nonetheless may be false. Michaia prophesized in the times of Ahab, who was a wicked king that nevertheless studied Torah. Again, this represents a corruption of the values connected to Torah study, which are at the root of the events of the 10th of Teveth.

The levitical city for this week is Ayalon. This is the place in which Joshua ordered the moon to stop, and where he was greatly victorious against five Amorite kings. The Talmud states that the sun and a the moon are a metaphor for Moshe and Joshua, and the process of disseminating the oral tradition. Just as Joshua received the oral tradition from Moshe, so too does the moon receive its light from the sun. The moon contains no light of its own – it is completely nullified to the light of the sun.

Teveth is the only month that has a holiday in the new moon, Chanukah. The new moon and its subsequent waxing and waning are symbolic of the concept of being small but then growing tremendously, a characteristic of the month of Teveth and the Tribe of Dan. Just as the moon almost disappears completely but then makes its way back  to full size, so too the Jewish people.

Ayalon’s history after its conquest by Joshua is depicted in various places in Tanach, and like the story of the Jewish people as a whole, it had its “ups and downs.” The Amorites pushed out the Tribe of Dan from this area, although it was later the scene of victory of King Saul and Jonathan over the Philistines, and was later inhabited by the tribes of Benjamin and Efraim. When the Kingdom split between Israel and Judah, Ayalon was near the border between these two entities, and the city was fortified by Rehoboam, the King of Judah.

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