Monday, January 16, 2017

Week 17 (From the Book): To Pay Attention to G-d’s Guidance and to Trust in Our Redemption

PEREK SHIRAH: The bee-eater[1]is saying,"I will whistle to them and gather them, for I have redeemed them, and they shall increase as they have before increased." (Zechariah 10:8)
PIRKEI AVOT: Rabbi Chanina the son of Chachina'i would say: One who stays awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, has forfeited his life.
SEFIROT: Tiferet shebeTiferet (beauty and balance within the context of beauty and balance)
In the seventeenth week, still in the month of Teveth, in Perek Shirah, the bee-eater sings that, “I will whistle [as a Shepherd to his flock] to gather them, because I have redeemed them, and they shall increase as they increased [in the past]. (Zechariah 10:8) The song of the bee-eater has a clear connection with the tribe of Dan, as it explicitly speaks of the power to be fruitful and multiply.
This week also marks the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, on the 24th day of Teveth. The Alter Rebbe passed away due in great part to the struggles he faced when running away from Napoleon, during the war between Russia and France. The Alter Rebbe supported Russia’s efforts in the war, for fear that Napoleon’s egalitarian principles would cause assimilation. The Alter Rebbe felt that such spiritual persecution (similar to the threat of the Greeks in the times of Chanukah) was more dangerous than the physical oppression of the Russian government.
During the flight from Napoleon, the Alter Rebbe sat in a carriage that was third in line, and his grandson, Rabbi Nachum, would sit in the first carriage. Whenever they would approach a crossroads, the Alter Rebbe would be asked which road to take. In one of the crossroads, Rabbi Nachum mistook the Alter Rebbe’s directions. Much later, when they realized the mistake, “[T]he Alter Rebbe sighed deeply and said: ‘How good is it when a grandson follows in the path of his grandfather – and the opposite is true when a grandfather has to follow the path in which his grandson leads him.’ … The mistake at the crossroads caused all kinds of troublesome detours, and soon after Alter Rebbe passed away in Piena.”[2]
The whistle mentioned in the Song of the bee-eater is a metaphor for the various methods that G-d uses guide us and to help a lost Jew return to Him. As further explained in Week 26, and as is well known from Psalm 23, G-d is our Shepherd and we are His flock. Furthermore, the Zohar teaches that Moses was called Rayah Mehemnah, a faithful shepherd (also a shepherd of faith), and that the leader of every generation is like the Moses of that generation, as was the Alter Rebbe. It is important that we follow their advice in order not to lose our way in the darkness of exile, as unfortunately occurred in the above story.
It is well known that seventeen is the gematria of tov, which means “good.” Yet, it also connected to exile and to the sad events of the seventeenth of Tammuz, which led to the destruction of the Temple. The Alter Rebbe’s premature and apparently preventable passing presents us with same dilemma. How could G-d have permitted such an occurrence? In fact, the Talmud makes an explicit connection between these two kinds of events, stating that the passing of tzadikim is likened to the burning of the Temple.[3]
The Lubavitcher Rebbe specifically addresses this apparent contradiction, both regarding exile as well as regarding the premature passing of a tzadik, in this case, his own father:
This is a descent for the purpose of ascent. Indeed, the ascent to be achieved through the Messianic redemption will be great enough to make the time we spend in exile worthwhile.
There is no other means for us to reach this high rung. Were we able to make this ascent without going through the pains of exile, G-d surely would not have exposed us to them.
The above concept also helps clarify a difficult problem in regard to the death of Tzadikim. (…) The passing of the Tzadik allows us to reach a high level that could not be approached through any other means. Therefore, this ascent compensates for the tremendous loss caused by death.
If the above is true regarding the passing of any Tzadik, it surely applies regarding the passing of a Tzadik who sacrificed his life for the entire people. Indeed, his self-sacrifice caused him to die before his time. Surely, the only reason for such a passing is the ascent achieved through it.
Seventeen is in fact associated with good, although the full extent of that good is hidden for now. Nowadays, seventeen might be associated primarily with the tragedy of destruction and exile, but in the future, when we fully return to Hashem, He will gather us and redeem us through Mashiach, and we will then understand that everything that happened was genuinely good all along. (Seventeen is also the gematriaof cheit, which means sin, which is the only thing that is truly preventing us from entering the messianic era – as we say in our prayers, “mipnei chateinu galinu m’artzeinu” – because of our sins we have been exile from our land. Therefore, if we truly repent from our sins, we will be immediately redeemed.[4]
The Pirkei Avot of this week can be found in the words of Rabbi Chaninah son of Chachina’i, who states: "Whoever stays up at night or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, forfeits his life.” (III: 4) Rabbi Chaninah is referring to the night of exile. In exile, we cannot be isolated and concerned only with vain works in our hearts. We have to be assembled and attentive to the whistle of G-d, and occupy ourselves with the study of Torah, so that we do not lose our way and endanger our lives. This lesson is reminiscent of the story of the passing of the Alter Rebbe. There is also a strong connection between this teaching and the month of Teveth, given that it was negligence regarding proper Torah study that caused the destruction of the Temple.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains the words of Rabbi Chaninah in a completely different light. He explains that travelling alone is in fact a reference to someone who forges his own path in prayer and meditation (hitbodedut) and that the Hebrew word for idleness, batalah, is in fact a reference to bitul, nullification of the self. “Forfeits his life” in Hebrew is mitchayev et nafshoh, which Rebbe Nachman interprets as makes his soul worthy that the whole world be obligated (chayav) to exist. This is the condition of the tzadikof the generation, as was the Alter Rebbe.
The combination of the sefirot of the seventeenth week results in tiferet shebetiferet. To survive these cold days and long nights, we have to temper the darkness of exile with the light and inspiration of Chanukah, as well as the Alter Rebbe’s yahrzeit, connecting ourselves with the beauty and balance of the Torah. We must also trust in G-d’s infinite mercy - mercy in Hebrew, Rachamim is another meaning for tiferet– knowing that He will soon bring us out of this exile. The root of the bee-eater’s name in Hebrew, Rachamah, is Rachamim.
Similarly, the lesson in self-improvement we can derive from the words of the bee-eater is to hold strong to the conviction that G-d is always with us, guiding us through adversity, and that He will ultimately raise us up. We must not only believe that His call will come, but must also be attentive to it, so that when it does come we do not miss it.

[1] The Bee-Eater is a type of bird.
[2] Likutei Diburim, Volume I, Chapter 2a, Section 5, pages 34-35
[3] Rosh Hashana 18b
[4] From the Rebbe’s Sichot.