Friday, January 31, 2014

Week 22 (Book 4b): The Test of Being Without a Head

3. "I have taken off my tunic; how can I put it on? I have bathed my feet; how can I soil them?"
4. My beloved stretched forth his hand from the hole, and my insides stirred because of him.
5. I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with flowing myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.


TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 22 - Oaths and Drinking


Week 22 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. The verses of Shir HaShirim of this week speak of removing one’s head garment and bathing one’s feet. Removing one’s head garment appears to be a reference to the notion of letting go of the intellect, related to this month, focusing on the feet. Similarly, the Rebbe’s Ma’amar Ve’Atah Tetzaveh speaks of Mordechai, the Moshe of the generation, being the head, and the Jewish people being the “feet.” (See also Book 3, on Yaakov and Yikveta de Meshicha, being on the "heels" of the Messianic age).

The second verse in the Song of Songs is extremely reminiscent of perhaps what are the two most crucial verses in all of Megillat Esther (5:2):

And it came to pass when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she won favor in his eyes, and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter. 
The third verse, makes reference to myrrh, Mor in Hebrew. The Talmud states that Mordechai is hinted in the Torah in Exodus 30:23, in the verse about “pure myrrh,” Mor Dror, which in Aramaic is Mara Dachia.[1] (Chullin 139b)

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the twenty-second mentioned is Hezron. (Hezron, the descendant of Reuven, has already been discussed in Week 4). Interestingly, in Book 3, this Hezron, son of Perez, can be found in week 25, also in the month of Adar. There, it is written that Hezron comes from the word chatzer, which means courtyard, or enclosure. In order to be able to carry in a courtyard, two neighbors need to set up an eruv chatzeirot.[2] Interestingly, the word Eruv comes from the same root as Arev, which means sweet. When Jews come together, and their duality serves a positive function, there is sweetness. This is also one of the themes of the month of Adar.

Daf Kaf Beit (Folio 22) of Shvuot continues to discuss different laws related to oaths, related to eating. However, the main emphasis of this daf relates to the laws of speaking, and also whether drinking should be included in the category of eating. Clearly drinking is one of the main themes of Adar. Specifically, drinking to point of not being able to know the difference between “blessed in Mordechai and cursed is Haman.” This daf begins the discussion of speaking by mentioning how someone who curses (“blesses”) Hashem by mistake must bring a sacrifice.

Chapter 22 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. It speaks of a situation of the Jewish people being left leaderless, confused, as well as of eating and drinking.

15. Shall you reign, for you compete with the cedar? Your father-did he not eat and drink and perform justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.  (...)

22. All your shepherds shall be broken by the wind, and your lovers shall go into captivity, for then you shall be ashamed and confounded because of all your evil. (…)

29. O land, land, land, hearken to the word of the Lord. 
30. So said the Lord: Inscribe this man childless, a man who will not prosper in his days, for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling anymore in Judah.


Week 22 (Book 4a): Dominion versus Kingship, Royalty

STORY OF CHANNAH: 22. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband: "Until the child is weaned, then I shall bring him, and he shall appear before the Lord, and abide there forever.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: dominion           

PROVERBS: Chapter 22

Week 22 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. The verse from the story of Channah continues last week’s description of Elkanah’s annual pilgrimage, in which Channah chooses to stay behind to nurse Shmuel. Interestingly, the text emphasizes how Channah told her husband the reason why she chose not to go. This additional emphasis, demonstrates Channah’s concern for her husband, as well as a certain level of subservience, even though, Channah ultimately has her way in the matter. Adar is the month of Purim, which is the story of how another woman, Queen Esther, is able to convince her husband, Achashverosh, to save the Jewish people and destroy its enemy, Haman, who was effectively ruler of the kingdom at the time.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah grants dominion, Memshalah. Memshalah is different from kingship, Malchut, in that it does not necessarily reflect royalty. One can rule without being king, like Joseph did as viceroy, and like LeHavdil, Haman did, as mentioned above. Memshalah appears to reflect more of a masculine power, connected to shear power and force, while Malchut is has a more elevated sublime feminine quality, as reflected in the Sefirah of Malchut, which is connected to speech. This is all very much connected to the above verse in Channah’s story and to Adar.

Chapter 22 of the Book of Proverbs is very much about power. Its focus is primarily on economic power, physical wealth.

1. A name is chosen above great wealth; good favor over silver and gold.
2. A rich man and a poor man were visited upon; the Lord is the Maker of them all.          
4. In the wake of humility comes fear of the Lord, riches, honor, and life.  
7. A rich man will rule over the poor, and a borrower is a slave to a lender.

The word used for “rule” in verse 7 is Yimshol, from the same root as Memshalah.

This year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Week 22 (Book 3): Adar and Ratzon (Will, Desire)

and the Lord brought the waters of the sea back upon them; and the children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea,

to hear the bleatings of the flocks?
At the divisions of Reuben, (there are) great searchings of heart.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 22 - Actions and Inactions that Destroy the World


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Haradah and camped in Makheloth.

Week 22 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. Adar is connected to the Tribe of Naftali, which was known as a Ayalah Shluchah, a swift (emissary) gazelle. When there are two Adars, the second represents the Tribe of Levi. This tribe served (and will someday soon serve again) as an emissary for the entire Jewish people in performing the Temple service. Adar is the month of Purim, and the Talmud states that “MisheNichnas Adar Marbim b’Simcha.” When Adar enters, we increase in joy. Adar also corresponds to the zodiac sign of Pisces.

The verses of the Song of the Sea for this week refer back to the theme of water. Interestingly, it notes that “the children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” This is reminiscent of Jacob’s blessing to Efraim and Menashe, stating that they would increase “like fish over the land.” For fish to increase over the land is a similar paradox to walking on dry land in the midst of the sea. (Land and sea also parallel the song of the giant sea creatures this week in Book 1)

The Haftorah’s verses for this week continue to refer to Reuben’s doubts and lack of resolve. Resolve is connected to ratzon, will, a quality deeply related with the month of Adar. Naftali is called an “s’vah ratzon,” which means “filled with will.” Levi also was known for its strong determination and self-sacrifice. Reuben’s actions do not reflect such a spirit. It is worth noting that each of the tribes had a perfectly excusable reason for not participating in the fight. They did not share a border with the places in which the fight took place.[1] However, Devorah makes clear that more is expected from her Jewish brethren. This is also in line with Naftali and Levi’s roles as emissaries.

This week’s description of the actions of Reuven begins with a mystifying reference to hearing the bleatings of flocks. The Tanach has a later reference to hearing the bleating of flocks, which is very much tied to the month of Adar. The reference does not involve Reuven, the a firstborn, but rather the first King of Israel, Shaul. Shaul was commanded to completely destroy Amalek. He did not act with enough Ratzon, leaving Amalek’s king alive, as well as the best of the flock. (It is well known that Amalek represents and has the same numerical value as Safek, doubt, which is diametrically opposed to Ratzon. When the prophet Shmuel came to Shaul to reprimand him, Shaul stated that he had fulfilled G-d’s command. Shmuel then asks, so what then was the bleating of flocks that he was hearing. Shaul’s actions, like Reuven’s, showed a certain hesitation, a division, a “searching of heart.” Just like Reuven is replaced as the firstborn, so is Shaul replaced as king.

Daf Kaf Beit (Folio 22) of Sotah continues the discussion of the kinds of actions that may seem pious but end up “destroying the world.” Here again, Reuven and Shaul’s actions come to mind. One of the main discussions is someone who rules when they are not capable, and does not rule when they are capable. Here again, Shaul’s decision, to disobey Hashem by “ruling” tha the king of Amalek and some of the flock could live, and at the same time not taking seriously enough his prominence as king and his ability to tell the people what to do (being “small in the eyes of the people”) led to great destruction, which Amalek continues to cause today.

Jacob is the third forefather of the Jewish people, and his name comes from the word Ekev, heel. It contains the idea of being a messenger (seeing another as the head), which is related to the month of Adar. Purim in general is associated to the concept of the Jewish people being the heel (Ya’akov) and not the head (Yisrael, Li Rosh), and the times of Yikveta d’Meshicha, immediately prior to the coming of Mashiach, called literally the “heels” of Mashiach.

In the twenty-second week, the Jews journey from Haradah and camp in Makheloth. Makheloth means assembly. At least in modern Hebrew, it means choir, a gathering for singing and playing music. Rabbi Jacobson suggests that Makheloth may be the place where the people gathered to see the miracle related to Aharon’s staff. This is connected to the joy we experience in the month of Adar. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of “trembling happiness,” and now prepare for taking that happiness a step further with unity, as well as musical gatherings of singing and dancing.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Leaving Egypt: "To Give or Not to Give" and the Torah Portion of Terumah

This week's Torah portion begins with the description of how donations were supposed to be collected for the Temple. How much was each person supposed to give? As much as their heart would inspire them.

For the past few weeks, we have been discussing Tiferet (Balance/Beauty) in different aspects of life. In no area does this concept appear to be more pervasive than when it comes to giving Tzedakah. On the one hand, there appear to be certain limits regarding how much one should give. 10% is the minimum, but 20% is the maximum. Otherwise, the giver himself might end up being on the receiving end of someone else's Tzedakah. In Pirkei Avot, we are also told about being careful about keeping track of our tithes, apparently not to risk giving too little or too much. Another teaching in Pirkei Avot teaches, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" (Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li?) A person must have boundaries, otherwise they risk being taken advantage by others, completely giving up their own needs and wants.

On the other hand, the same verse in Pirkei Avot continues, "If I am for myself, what am I?" ("Im Ani L'Atzmi, Mah Ani?") Yet another lesson in Pirkei Avot states that the pious are those that believe that, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours." (As opposed to the wicked who state that "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine." Even the one who states, "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours," is compared to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

There are many other sources that seem to encourage giving in an unlimited fashion. It is well known that Tzadikim of previous generations would not go to sleep until they'd given out their every last cent. This was a sign of their trust in G-d. The Alter Rebbe also writes in the Tanya that the limits placed on giving do not apply when someone when it comes to giving Tzedakah in order to remedy past misdeeds. Just like there is no limit on spending money to save a life physically, the same holds true for saving a life spiritually through Tzedakah. There are also additional obligations when the person is physically before you, asking for Tzedakah, right here and now (which unfortunately happens quite often), Jewish law states that one is not allowed to leave the person empty-handed.

Nevertheless, it would seem that to give to a person who is known to be lying, faking poverty, using the money (self-)destructively, this would not even be considered Tzedakah at all. It would be considered enabling bad behavior, much along the lines of the Torah prohibition of placing a "stumbling block before the blind."

Finally, it is a well known principle that Hashem asks in a way of Middah-Keneged-Middah, which means that He acts towards you in the same manner that you act towards others (and yourself). Wouldn't it be better, then, to give without judging, in a way of unlimited Chesed, so that Hashem will do the same for us?

The answer, once again, does not appear to be simple. Furthermore, once again, the answer will indeed be different for different people and will change drastically depending on the circumstances.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the beginning of our Torah portion perhaps hints at the proper approach to answering this question. The name of this Torah portion, Terumah, means "offering" or "donation." It is mentioned twice in the portion's opening verse: 

"Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering."

The term Terumah is mentioned in yet a different context altogether later in the Torah. Rashi picks up on this and comments as follows:

you shall take My offering: Our Rabbis said: [The word תְּרוּמָה, mentioned three times, denotes that] three offerings are mentioned here: 

a) One is the offering of a beka [half-shekel] per head, from which they made the sockets... 

b) Another is the offering of a beka per head for the [community] coffers, from which to purchase the communal sacrifices, and 

c) another is the offering for the [construction of the] Mishkan [the Tabernacle], each one’s [Israelite’s] donation [to their heart's desire]. (Talmud Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:1; Meg. 29b). 

The Rebbe explains these three different kinds of Terumah in terms of the three pillars that sustain the world, Torah (the sockets, that holds everything else together), prayer (communal service), and acts of kindness/mitzvot (performed with physical materials, such as gold, silver, and copper). The Rebbe explained that the Tabernacle was to be G-d's dwelling place in this world, and that it is the third type of Terumah, acts of kindness/mitzvot that physically achieve this (even though the other two are necessary elements) and that is why it is the third kind that is fully described in this Torah portion. (See a summary of this idea here)

Perhaps, one can also explain these three the kinds of Terumah as three aspects within Tzedakah itself. The Maharal explains that prayer is primarily about how we relate to G-d (as opposed to the cardinal sin of idol worship); Torah represents primarily how we relate to and improve ourselves (as opposed to the cardinal sin of immoral sexual behavior); deeds of kindness are about how we relate to others (as opposed to the cardinal sin of murder).  

The first two donations have a set amount per person. When it comes to giving Tzedakah to fulfill our obligation to ourselves, that requires only a set amount. When it comes to giving Tzedakah to fulfill our obligations to G-d, that also requires only a set amount. G-d, after all, wants us to enjoy the wealth He gave us as well. However, when it comes to helping others and fixing the world, which is the most essential aspect of Tzedakah, there is no limit. We give as much as we can, yet without upsetting the two above-mentioned principles: our obligation to ourselves and our obligation to G-d.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Week 21 (Book 5): Reviewing the Last Week of Shevat - Psalms 61-63; 59:18, 77:1-3; 89:22

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

Chapter 61
David composed this prayer while fleeing from Saul. The object of all his thoughts and his entreaty is that G-d grant him long life-not for the sake of pursuing the pleasures of the world, but rather to serve G-d in awe, all of his days.

1. For the Conductor, on the neginat, by David. 2. Hear my cry, O G-d, listen to my prayer. 3. From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is faint [with trouble]: Lead me upon the rock that surpasses me! 4. For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. 5. I will dwell in Your tent forever; I will take refuge in the shelter of Your wings, Selah. 6. For You, G-d, heard my vows; You granted the inheritance of those who fear Your Name. 7. Add days to the days of the king; may his years equal those of every generation. 8. May he sit always before G-d; appoint kindness and truth to preserve him. 9. Thus will I sing the praise of Your Name forever, as I fulfill my vows each day.

Chapter 62
David prays for the downfall of his enemies. He also exhorts his generation that their faith should not rest in riches, telling them that the accumulation of wealth is utter futility.

1. For the Conductor, on the yedutun,1 a psalm by David. 2. To G-d alone does my soul hope; my salvation is from Him. 3. He alone is my rock and salvation, my stronghold; I shall not falter greatly. 4. Until when will you plot disaster for man? May you all be killed-like a leaning wall, a toppled fence. 5. Out of their arrogance alone they scheme to topple me, they favor falsehood; with their mouths they bless, and in their hearts they curse, Selah. 6. To G-d alone does my soul hope, for my hope is from Him. 7. He alone is my rock and salvation, my stronghold; I shall not falter. 8. My salvation and honor is upon G-d; the rock of my strength-my refuge is in G-d. 9. Trust in Him at all times, O nation, pour out your hearts before Him; G-d is a refuge for us forever. 10. Men are but vanity; people [but] transients. Were they to be raised upon the scale, they would be lighter than vanity. 11. Put not your trust in exploitation, nor place futile hope in robbery. If [corrupt] wealth flourishes, pay it no heed. 12. G-d spoke one thing, from which I perceived two: That strength belongs to G-d; 13. and that Yours, my Lord, is kindness. For You repay each man according to his deeds.

Chapter 63
Hiding from Saul, and yearning to approach the place of the Holy Ark like one thirsting for water, David composed this prayer on his behalf and against his enemy.

1. A psalm by David, when he was in the Judean desert. 2. O G-d, You are my Almighty, I seek You! My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You; [like one] in a desolate and dry land, without water, 3. so [I thirst] to see You in the Sanctuary, to behold Your might and glory. 4. For Your kindness is better than life; my lips shall praise You. 5. Thus will I bless you all my life, in Your Name I will raise my hands [in prayer]. 6. As with fat and abundance my soul is sated, when my mouth offers praise with expressions of joy. 7. Indeed, I remember You upon my bed; during the watches of the night I meditate upon You. 8. For You were a help for me; I sing in the shadow of Your wings. 9. My soul cleaved to You; Your right hand supported me. 10. But they seek desolation for my soul; they will enter the depths of the earth. 11. They will drag them by the sword; they will be the portion of foxes. 12. And the king will rejoice in G-d, and all who swear by Him will take pride, when the mouths of liars are blocked up. 


Chapter 59

18. [You are] my strength, to You I will sing, for G-d is my stronghold, the G-d of my kindness.

Chapter 77

1. For the Conductor, on the yedutun, by Asaph, a psalm. 2. [I raise] my voice to G-d and cry out; [I raise] my voice to G-d and He will listen to me. 3. On the day of my distress, I sought the Lord; my wound oozes at night and does not abate; my soul refuses to be comforted.


22. It is he whom My hand shall be prepared [to assist]; My arm, too, shall strengthen him. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Notes from The Kabbalah of Time's North Miami Beach Public Library Talk

For those that couldn't make it today, here are the notes from the talk. The Q & A was quite fascinating, too. It's too bad we didn't get to record it all. Hopefully there will be many more talks to follow.

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us as we share with you some of the main ideas behind the book, “The Kabbalah of Time.

In order to get us in the proper mode of thinking about the book, we'd like you to suspend disbelief, open up your eyes, minds, and hearts, and imagine a world in which our primary purpose in life was clear to everyone. The reason we are here in this world is to work on ourselves, thereby becoming better people. The ultimate goal is to fix the whole world, but we do so, first and foremost, by working on ourselves.

Let's say that everyone knew that, and even further, that we knew exactly in which way we were supposed to improve ourselves. There are certain attributes, known in Hebrew as Sefirot, which are qualities that we are supposed to work on, and these qualities are a reflection of G-d. The more we work on them, the more we become like Him, and are closer to Him. Just as G-d is kind, so would we work on being kind. Just as He is mighty and strong, so do we work on our might and strength, and so on. Further, imagine that we all knew what we were supposed to work on each week of the year, and even each day of the week.
Imagine how much less confusion and anxiety this could help alleviate. How much easier it would be to find meaning and purpose.

That is the vision of the book. This vision, and the structure of the calendar that it presents, appears to have been known since the beginning of time. This structure is reflected in ancient, foundational Jewish practices and writings, such as the Counting of the Omer, Pirkei Avot, also known as Ethics of Our Fathers, and Perek Shirah, the Song of Creation. Even though many of these ancient teachings and practices are well known, the rationale behind their order and structure was not, perhaps, until now...

Good afternoon. Once again, thank you all for being here.
It is a blessing to be part of this wonderful journey with Rabbi Kahane regarding the precious treasures of the Torah. Specifically, I am so thankful that Daniel introduced me to the book Perek Shirah, a truly a mysterious and environmentally-conscious work, and which is very much the focus of our book as well. 
We’d like to now read to you a few sections from our book’s introduction, explaining this work:

Perek Shirah, which means Chapter of Song, is an ancient text published only in a handful of prayerbooks around the world. While the authorship of this work is not certain, many attribute it to King David. Perek Shirah itself hints to David’s authorship as it describes his interaction with a frog immediately following the completion of the Book of Psalms. In this conversation, the frog exclaims, “David! Do not become proud, for I recite more songs and praises than you.” 

Among sacred Jewish texts, Perek Shirah is a pioneer when it comes to the environment. It is a work of enormous lyricism and exaltation of the Creator, including songs from the sun and the moon, heaven and earth, as well as from various members of the plant and animal kingdoms. The praises found in this book are like a great orchestra in which, instead of musicians, each element and living being contributes to a beautiful and emotional masterpiece. That result is the best possible exclamation of G-d’s greatness by all of His Creation.

It is extraordinary that of all the different elements and creatures listed in Perek Shirah that glorify the Creator, there are exactly fifty-two animals in Perek Shirah, one for each week of the solar year.
When reading Perek Shirah, it is fascinating to observe how the animals so gracefully praise and acknowledge G-d’s actions. If animals glorify G-d in such a way, how much more so should we! Furthermore, through each animal and its respective song, we extract examples and lessons on how to help us heal and combat sadness.
(pass microphone to Daniel) For me, one of the most striking discoveries of the book has been its explanation of the order of Pirkei Avot. Pirkei Avot, which literally means “Chapters of the Fathers,” is part of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) compiled by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi. In these chapters, each of the main rabbis of the generation writes in concise form what he considers to be most important in order to live ethically and in accordance with the principles of the Torah. Pirkei Avot can also be understood as “Father Chapters,” since these chapters include the fundamental principles for the study and fulfillment of the rest of the Torah. In this sense, the teachings of Pirkei Avot are like "parents," and the rest of the Torah’s teachings are like their children.

It has always been our custom to study Pirkei Avot as a mechanism of self-improvement. The book, The Kabbalah of Time, shows how the teachings of the rabbis found in Pirkei Avot are organized in such a way that each rabbi listed corresponds to a week of the year.

Here is an example of how the book works. We are currently in the 21st week of the year. The Divine attribute we are supposed to work on is Malchut shebeTiferet, which is further explained in the book. This week also corresponds to the 21st animal in Perek Shirah, the fly, and the 21st rabbi in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yaakov:

On the twenty-first week of the year, coming to the end of the month of Shevat, in Perek Shirah the fly calls out to the Jewish people when they are not engaging in the study of Torah. The fly, often a symbol of decay, sings “All life is like the grass and the flower of the field… the grass withers and the flower fades... but the word of the Lord our G-d shall stand forever.”

Soon after Tu B'Shvat (The New Year of the Trees), when we emphasize the importance of trees and nature, the fly comes to remind us that nature and life itself, although beautiful, pleasurable, and meaningful, are ultimately fleeting. Even though they are a reflection of the Creator, it is ultimately only the Creator Himself, and those indelibly attached to Him, that are eternal.

The lesson in Pirkei Avot for the week after Tu B'Shvat, taught by Rabbi Yaakov, continues on this same theme: “When one is on a path studying Torah, if one interrupts his study and exclaims: ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field,’ it is considered by Scripture as if he were endangering his life.” (III:7) Rabbi Yaakov’s words parallel the song of the fly. We must maintain our focus on what is truly important and everlasting, and continue in our main path, which is to advance in our study and transmission of Torah knowledge. The study of the eternal words of the Creator should not be interrupted in order to enjoy fleeting occurrences or even to exalt His own Creation.
(pass the microphone to Ann). We’d like to conclude with the very beginning of our book, hopefully as motivation for all of you to also embark on this amazing journey:

We often go about our lives with great uncertainty, without the benefit of sage advice or guidance. Yet somehow we just keep going, attaching ourselves to values that confuse our minds and our hearts, and ignoring the real needs and wants of our soul.

We become so busy with our own personal affairs and so distracted by the avalanche of superfluous information directed at us, that we blind ourselves to the signs all around, the lessons and warnings G-d presents to us at every moment. Certain instances, however, awaken us from this darkness. In those times, which are like lightning bolts of clarity, we realize that there is something greater, something beyond this physical plane and our worldly concerns.

The reality is that our soul needs to sing! Yet what are we to do if we do not know the melody and the lyrics of the song? The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, explains that this is the feeling behind the shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is the most basic and primal expression of the soul, and it is with this cry that the Jewish people awaken spiritually at the start of every year.

This book’s objective is to bring us closer to our song. The song of the soul: of the individual, of the Jewish people, of humanity, and of nature.[1] This “four-fold song”[2] is directed towards G-d, and the Jewish calendar itself is its sheet music.

In an effort to promote more harmony in our lives, we will study Jewish values and techniques for spiritual enhancement that will make ourselves attuned to the energy of each week of the year. This book will give access to unknown tools, which allow for an open channel of dialogue with G-d. These teachings are not new. They are already found in the Torah itself. They are within everyone’s reach, close to the mouth and to the heart.[1]

Through continuous effort, an individual who is committed to change can obtain personal as well as collective transformation: in the family, the local community, the city, and beyond. As the prophet Isaiah exclaims, the Earth was not created to be chaos.[2] We desperately need to live in a better world, and leave it more peaceful for future generations.

[1] Deuteronomy 30:11; Tanya - Introduction
[2] Chapter 45:18

Friday, January 24, 2014

Week 21(Book 4b): Celebrating "Sweet Fruit" in the Winter

16. " Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out; let my beloved come to his garden and eat his sweet fruit."
1. "I have come to my garden, my sister, [my] bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice, I have eaten my sugar cane with my sugar, I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, beloved ones."                        
2. "I sleep, but my heart is awake. Hark! My beloved is knocking: Open for me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is full of dew, my locks with the drops of the night."


TALMUD SHEVUOTH: DAF 21 – Oaths and Eating


Week 21 in the Jewish calendar is the last week of Shevat. The verses of Shir HaShirim of this week again address the theme of nature, as well as pleasure. It speaks of eating sweet fruit of a garden, spices, sugar cane, wine and milk. Wine and "drinking abundantly" is also mentioned, perhaps a reference to the coming month of Adar. The last verse also contains a theme similar to that of Shevat: "I sleep, but my heart is awake..." We are still in the middle of winter, but it is past Tu B'Shvat and the sap inside the trees has begun to melt.   

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the twenty-first mentioned is Zerach. Zerach is Perez’s brother. His name means sunrise. During his birth, he was the first to stretch out his hand, although he ended up being born later, after Perez. Similarly, sunrise is the first moment in which the morning Shmoneh Esreh can be said and the day initially begins, although most people begin prayer much later. This is all related to Shevat, the first “appearance” of spring and the sun, although spring itself comes much later.

Daf Kaf Alef (Folio 21) of Shvuot continues to discuss different laws related to oaths, most of which are also related to eating.

Chapter 21 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter has many references to nature: valleys, plains, fruit, and a forest:

The chapter speaks of pain endured by Jeremiah, but its most strking part is when he speaks of the day of his birth. It seems to relate back to the theme of “natural” birth related to this month:

13. Behold I am against you, O dweller of the valley, rock of the plain, says the Lord, those who say, "Who will encamp upon us, and who will come into our dwellings?"   

14. And I will visit upon you according to the fruit of your deeds, says the Lord, and I will ignite a fire in her forest, and it will consume all her surroundings. 

Week 21 (Book 4a): Malchut (Kingship)

STORY OF CHANNAH: 21. And the man, Elkanah and his entire household, went up to slaughter to the Lord, the sacrifice of the days and his vow.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: The Torah grants him sovereignty (kingship)     

PROVERBS:  Chapter 21

TZADDIKIM: Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (22nd of Shevat) and Rav Yehoshua Rokeach (23rd of Shevat)

Week 21 is the last week of  Shevat, and includes the yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Rebbe. The verse from the story of Channah describes Elkanah’s annual pilgrimage to the Tabernacle. The term “household,” Beitoh, in the Torah, is usually a reference to someone’s wife. This verse comes to preface the fact that Channah chooses to stay behind to nurse Shmuel, and bring him to the Tabernacle, to live there, only once he is weaned.  

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah grants kingship, Malchut. Malchut, as previously explained, is a feminine sefirah (Divine attribute). (See Book 1, Week 21) Malchut receives its energy from the other sefirot. Here, too, the verse states that the Torah gives (Notenet) kingship. It is up to us to know how to receive it. In the above verse, Elkanah ascends to the Tabernacle as an act of gratitude.

Chapter 21 of the Book of Proverbs begins by speaking about kingship, and also contains reference to the central role of a wife (in this case, for the bad):

1. A king's heart is like rivulets of water in the Lord's hand; wherever He wishes, He turns it. (…)
9. It is better to sit on the corner of a roof than with a quarrelsome wife and the house of a friend. (…)
19. It is better to dwell in a desert land than [with] a quarrelsome and vexatious wife.

Besides Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s yahrzeit (22nd of Shevat), this week also contains the yahrzeits of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (also the 22nd of Shevat) and Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach (the Second Rebbe of Belz, son of the Sar Shalom, 23rd of Shevat).

Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk was known for his immense Torah knowledge, already achieved at a very young age, and for his uncompromising pursuit of truth. His often sharp and penetrating sayings cut through people’s ego and fantasies. Among his students were the first two leaders of the dynasty of of Ger, the largest Chassidic group in all of Poland.

The 22nd of Shevat is also the yahrzeit of one of the Kotzker’s closest disciples, Rabbi Yehuda Leib (Leibel) Eiger of Lublin, grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. The 21st of Shevat is the yahrzeit of another disciple of the Kotzker, R. Yechiel Meir Lifschitz of Gostynin (Der Tilim Yid).

Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach expanded the Belz dynasty begun by his father into the largest in Galicia. He was known for his vigorous battle against the Haskalah, the Jewish secularist “enlightenment” movement. Rav Yehoshua was a tremendous Torah scholar, who was also known for common sense in his leadership. He inspired his followers to study Torah with great devotion, and set up programs for newly married men to continue to study in Yeshiva.

Other yahrzeits this week include (sometimes) Rav David HaLevi Segal (author of the “Taz, the Turei Zahav, 26th of Shevat) and Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Elazar Leiner (the "Tiferes Yosef," Radziner Rebbe, 26th of Shevat)

Leaving Egypt: Trust versus Initiative and the Torah Portion of Mishpatim

As I was getting ready to write the blog post for this week's portion, I found another Dvar Torah, which pretty much hit exactly on what I wished to address. This is the third post about the need for beauty and balance (Tiferet) in life. This week, I wished to discuss the importance of trusting in G-d versus being able to fend for ourselves, based on the verse of this week regarding permission to seek a doctor. The following is from Rabbi Chanan Morrisson, based on the writings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. (

Mishpatim: Trust in God vs. Self-Reliance

The Talmud (Berachot 10b) tells a puzzling story about the righteous king Hezekiah. It is related that the king secreted away the medical books of his day. Why? King Hezekiah felt that the people relied too heavily on the prescriptions described in those texts, and did not pray to God to heal them.

Surprisingly, the Sages approved of King Hezekiah's action. Such an approach would appear to contradict another Talmudic ruling. The Torah says one who injures his neighbor must "provide for his complete healing" (Ex. 21:19). The Talmud (Baba Kama 85a) deducts from here that the Torah granted doctors permission to heal. Even with natural diseases, we do not say, 'Since God made him ill, it is up to God to heal him,' but do our best to heal him.

Which is the correct attitude? Should we rely on doctors and medical books, or place our trust only in God and prayer?

There is in fact a larger question at stake. When are we expected to do our utmost to remedy the situation ourselves, and when should we rely on God's help?

Two Forms of Bitachon
Rav Kook explained that there are two forms ofbitachon, reliance on God. There is the normative level of trust, that God will assist us in our efforts to help ourselves. And there is the simple trust in God that He will perform a miracle, when appropriate.
Regarding the community as a whole, we find apparent contradictions in the Torah's expectations. Sometimes we are expected to make every possible effort to succeed, as in the battle of HaAi (Joshua 8). On other occasions, human effort was considered a demonstration of lack of faith, as when God instructed Gideon not to send too many soldiers to fight, "Lest Israel should proudly say 'My own hand saved me'" (Judges 7:2). Why did God limit Gideon's military efforts, but not Joshua's in the capture of HaAi?

The answer is that the spiritual level of the people determines what level of bitachon is appropriate. When we are able to recognize God's hand in the natural course of events, when we are aware that God is the source of our strength and skill — "Remember the Lord your God, for it is He Who gives you strength to succeed" (Deut. 8:18) — then God is more clearly revealed when He supplies our needs within the framework of the natural world. In this situation, we are expected to utilize all of our energy and knowledge and talents, and recognize divine assistance in our efforts. This reflects the spiritual level of the people in the time of Joshua.

On the other hand, there are times when the people are incapable of seeing God's help in natural events, and they attribute any success solely to their own efforts and skills. They are likely to claim, 'My own hand saved me.' In this case, only miraculous intervention will enable the people to recognize God's hand — especially when the Jewish nation was young, miracles were needed to bring them to this awareness.

Educating the People
Consider the methods by which parents provide for their children. When a child is young, the parent feeds the child directly. If the child is very small, the parent will even put the food right in his mouth. As the child grows older, he learns to become more independent and take care of his own needs. Parental care at this stage is more indirect, by supplying him with the wherewithal — the knowledge, skills, and training — to provide for himself. The grown child does not wish to be forever dependent on his parent. He wants to succeed by merit of his own talents and efforts, based on the training and tools that his parents provided him.

So too, when the Jewish people was in its infancy, miracles served to instill a fundamental recognition and trust in God. In the time of Gideon, the people's faith had lapsed, and needed strengthening. Similarly, in the time of King Hezekiah, the king realized that the corrupt reign of Ahaz had caused the people to forget God and His Torah. He calculated that the spiritual gain through prayer outweighed the scientific loss due to hiding the medical texts.

But when faith and trust in God are strong, it is preferable that we utilize our own energies and talents, and recognize God's hand within the natural universe. The enlightened viewpoint calls out, "Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?" (Isaiah 40:26). So it was when Joshua conquered the city of HaAi. After forty years of constant miracles in the desert, the people were already thoroughly imbued with trust in God. It was appropriate that they use their own resources of cunning and courage to ambush the fighters and destroy the city.

What about the future redemption of the Jewish people? It may occur with great miracles, like the redemption from Egypt; or it may begin with natural events, as implied by several statements of the Sages that the redemption will progress gradually. It all depends on the level of our faith in God. It is certainly integral to our national pride that we take an active role in rebuilding the House of Israel.

(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 136-138. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 57)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Week 21 (Book 3): Isaac and Emunah

The Lord will reign to all eternity; When Pharaoh's horses came with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea,

(But) among the divisions of Reuben, (there were) great resolves of heart.
Why do you sit between the borders,

Talmud Sotah: Daf 21: Merit of Women


They journeyed from Mount Shepher and camped in Haradah.

Week 21 is the last week of the month of Shevat. This week marks the yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe’s wife, on the 22nd of Shevat. The verses of the Song of the Sea are first and foremost a declaration of faith, Emunah, one of the themes of this month. They also contain elements of nature: 1) Pharaoh and the horsemen (man); 2) the horses (animal); and 3) the sea (mineral/Domem).

The Haftorah’s verses point to Reuben’s doubts, and lack of resolve and Emunah. In general, this is a challenge that Reuben as an individual seemed to face. He knew he had to save Joseph, but lacked to emunah to do it outright. He later knew that he had to find a way to take Benjamin to Egypt, but again, his lack of resolve led to his failure to convince his father.

Daf Kaf Alef (Folio 21) of Sotah continues the discussion of how the merit of Torah and mitzvoth can protect from punishment. It also discusses how a woman can earn merit from Torah. This seems connected to the Rebbetzin’s yahrzeit.

Yitzchak is the second forefather of the Jewish people. Isaac's whole life, particularly his near sacrifice, was all about Emunah. His name comes from the word Tzchok, laughter. Yitzchak means “he will laugh,” which also points to faith in future events,  as well as pleasure (Ta’anug), related to the month of Shevat. 

In the twenty-first week, the Jews journey from Mount Shepher and camp in Haradah. Haradah means “trembling” and is related to the fear that the Jewish people experienced after the plague in the aftermath of Korach’s rebellion.[1] Haradah, trembling, is also connected to happiness and rejoicing, as in Psalm 2, “Vegilu b’Readah, rejoice in trembling. (See also Talmud, Brachot 30b, 31a: “Where there is gilah (rejoicing), there must be trembling.”) The personal journey is to internalize the concept of enjoyment and beauty of both natural and spiritual worlds/fruits, and now prepare for the trembling happiness of the month of Adar.


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