Friday, January 17, 2014

Week 20 (Book 4a): Hanging in There Through the Winter


STORY OF CHANNAH: 20. And it was, when the time came about (lit. after the seasons and the days), after Hannah had conceived, that she bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, because (she said); "I asked him of the Lord."

QUALITY: and power, as is stated (Proverbs 8:14): "Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power."           

PROVERBS: Chapter 20

TZADIKKIM: Rav Yechiel Danziger (first Rebbe of Alexander) and Rav Elimelech Menachem Mendel Landau (first Rebbe of Strikov)       

Week 20 is the week of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. The verse from the story of Channah describes the birth of Shmuel and his naming. Conception and birth appears to be one of the major themes of the month of Shevat as well. In Shevat, the fruit is there in potential, but it still takes a change of "seasons and days" for the the tree to actually bear fruit. In the meantime, one must still deal with the harshness of winter.  

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that people enjoy “power” from those that study Torah for its own sake (Lishmah). (Gevurah, also translated as “might,” “strength” or “discipline,” as well as judgment) In Channah’s story above, Eli’s blessing gives Channah the necessary strength to bear a child. Shmuel’s name and the explanation given for it demonstrate that everything came from Hashem.

Chapter 20 of the Book of Proverbs contains the above theme of Gevurah, related to might, discipline, but also judgement:

2. Fear of a king is like a lion's roar; he who provokes him forfeits his life.   (…)
8. A king sits upon a throne of judgment; all evil is spread out before him.            
9. Who will say, "I have cleansed my heart; I have become purified of my sin"? (…)
14. "It is bad, it is bad, " says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.   

Rashi interprets the last verse above to be specifically referring to difficulties and pains, as well as the rewards associated with Gevurah:

“It is bad, it is bad,” says the buyer: If one acquires Torah through poverty and the pains of hunger, he says, “Woe is to me for this evil and for this trouble,” but when he goes away full of wisdom…

then he boasts: about the pain he suffered.

This week usually contains the yahrzeits of two important Chassidic dynasties: Rav Yechiel Danziger of Alexander (14th of Shevat) and Rav Elimelech Menachem Mendel Landau of Strikov (19th of Shevat). Alexander and Strikov are extremely interrelated. Strikov is essentially a continuation of the Alexander dynasty.

Rav Yechiel Danziger of Alexander was the founder of the dynasty, which prior to the Holocaust was the second largest, following only that of Ger. He was a student of Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorka. After Rabbi Yitzhak’s son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorka, passed away, many of his disciples became Alexander Chassidim. Many of Rav Yechiel’s teachings are recorded in the primary text of this group, Yismach Yisroel, written by Rav Yechiel’s son.

After Rav Yechiel’s son, Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchok Danziger, passed away, the mantle of leadership was eventually transferred to Rav Elimelech Menachem Mendel Landau of Strikov. The latter only accepted leadership once his brother, Rabbi Tzvi Aharon passed away. During the leadership of Rav Menachem Mendel, there were 150 Strikover houses of study throughout Poland.He also founded a Yeshiva in Israel, Yeshivas Zechusa DeAvraham, and his Torah thoughts are published in two works: Maggid Devarav L’Yaakov and Bayeshishim Chochmah.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk Katz (the Pnei Yehoshua, 14th of Shevat), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (14th of Shevat), Rav Yechezkel of Kuzmir (grandfather of the first Modzitzer Rebbe, 17th of Shevat), and (sometimes) Rav Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim (the Divrei Shmuel, 19th of Shevat)


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