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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Week 18 (Book 3): Nahor and Ta'anug


SONG OF THE SEA: with the arm of Your greatness may they become as still as a stone, until Your people cross over, O Lord,

HAFTORAH: Out of Ephraim, whose root was against Amalek; after you (will be) Benjamin with your abaters;

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 18 - Divided Actions

GENERATIONS FROM ADAM TO THE LAST KING OF JUDAH: Nahor

JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Libnah and camped in Rissah.

Week 18 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Shevat. Shevat is represented by the tribe of Asher, and is connected to the quality of Ta’anug, pleasure, and Emunah, faith. It is also a month connected to nature, as this is when we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the Rosh Hashanah of the Trees. Finally, this month is also connected to the Oral Torah, as it was on this month that Moshe began teaching the lessons of the Book of Deutoronomy.

The verses of the Song of the Sea speak of the enemy becoming “as still as stone.” As we enter the month of Shevat, we are reminded of the four levels of existence within nature, the four “kingdoms”: Domem (“still,” the mineral kingdom), Tzomeach (plant), Chai (“live,” the animal kingdom), Medaber (“speaking,” human kind). Each week of Shevat contains references to either Domem, Tzomeach, Chai or Medaber. The Song of the Sea for this week specifically mentions the stone as a metaphor for stillness.

The Haftorah’s verses begin a theme of describing the actions of each of the tribes during the fight against Siserah. This description runs through all the weeks of the months of Shevat and Adar. This week’s verses speak of Ephraim and Benjamin, which Rashi explains are references to Joshua and Shaul, and how they fought against Amalek. Joshua symbolizes the Oral Torah (Shevat), while Shaul is connected to Purim and the month of Adar.

Although the fight against Amalek is primarily a theme of the month of Adar, Amalek represents the opposite of Emunah, which is a theme of Shevat. It is well known that Amalek has the same numerical value as safek, doubt, which is the opposite of faith. In general, the fight against Sisera was a great test in Emunah, one in which not all the tribes succeeded. The theme of which tribes showed Emunah and which showed doubt will be the theme for each of the weeks ahead, through Adar.

Daf Yud Chet (Folio 18) of Sotah continues the discussion of the writing of curses on the scroll that is to be dissolved in the water. The general theme appears to be that if certain things are done twice instead of once, divided in two instead of whole, for two people instead of one, etc., they are invalid. Nature is about multiplicity – yet ultimately we must understand that everything comes from Hashem.

Nahor, son of Serug, is the grandfather of Avraham. We know that Nahor lived in Ur Kasdim, place of Avraham’s birth, and we also know that Nahor had a grandson whose name was also Nahor. This points to the theme of continuity through children, like in nature. Nahor comes from the verb “Nachar,” which means to blow the nose, sneeze, or snort. As will be explained further, this appears related to how G-d blew into the nose of Adam, which is connected to nature and the creation of the world. Sneezing is also something particularly connected with physical pleasure, (Ta'anug), associated with this month. The Talmud explains that sneezing during prayer is a good sign, since just as one is relieved below, he is relieved above. (Berachot 24b)

In the eighteenth week, the Jews journey from Libnah and camp in Rissah. Rissah means to be broken. It is only through such “brokenness” and humility that one can truly accept the Torah. Rabbi Jacobson explains that Rissah also means  a stopped up well in Arabic – to be able to draw water from the well of Torah, one must feel such brokenness and smallness. (See Book 1 on why the insects sing during the month of Shevat). The personal journey is to internalize the concept of proper Torah study and now focus on the idea of being broken in order to receive the Torah that is being taught.
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