Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Week 20 (From the Book): To Be Solid and Giving in Our Relationships

The spider is saying, "Praise Him with sounding cymbals! Praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!" (Psalms 150:5)

Rabbi Elazar of Bartota would say: Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His. As David says: "For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we give to You" (I Chronicles 29:14).

Yesod shebeTiferet (foundation and firmness within the context of beauty and balance)

The spider is the twentieth animal in Perek Shirah. It cries out to the Jewish people to praise G-d with clanging cymbals and sounding trumpets (Psalm 150:5). This is the week of Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees.

For King David, to whom Perek Shirah is attributed, the spider had a very special significance. A Midrash teaches that once King David pondered on the purpose of why G-d had created the spider – he could not find a purpose for it. Later, when King David was fleeing from Saul, he entered a cave. A spider then spun an entire web at its entrance. When Saul’s men saw the spider’s web they figured no one could have been inside the cave for long, so they went away, not bothering to check the cave. The spider’s web not only saved his life, but also made him realize that everything that G-d creates has a glorious purpose. That is perhaps why King David reserved the spider for Tu B’Shvat itself, the New Year of the Trees, and the high point of Judaism’s celebration of nature, and why the verse of the spider comes from the very last Psalm, which also serves as a culmination of G-d’s praise.

There is also a remarkable parallel between spider webs and trees. A tree takes a long time to grow, but eventually it bears fruit. Similarly, the spider takes a long time to make its web, and its "fruits" are the insects caught in it. The spider web is an example of balance and resistance, just like a tree. Both the tree and the spider web are somewhat delicate, yet can withstand very strong winds, due to their ability absorb impact flexibility, without breaking or falling. Both are testimonies to G-d’s greatness and to the complexity of His creation.

The number twenty represents two complete units. It represents an intensification of the concepts of duality and relationship represented by the number two. In addition, twenty is the age of full maturity, when a man may be enlisted for war, and is expected to fully provide for his own sustenance. Beginning at the age of twenty, we are held accountable for our actions in the Heavenly court.

The Pirkei Avot teaching of this week comes from Rabbi Elazar of Bartota, who states: give to Him what is His, for you and all that is yours is His, as said King David: everything comes from You, and from Your hand we give to You (Pirkei Avot 3:7, Chronicles I 29:14). It is very appropriate that King David be quoted since the Perek Shirah section of this week is so intrinsically related to him.

Tzedakah, in a general sense, is the commandment to give charity, and comes from the word justice. The Tanya explains that is arguably the highest of all mitzvoth because when we give tzedakah, a part of our livelihood and sustenance, it is as if we are giving away part of our very lives. We usually have to fight very hard to obtain this money, and to give it away is the ultimate realization that everything we have is really a gift from Hashem. Even after Hashem gives, it still remains His, because ultimately He is the Supreme Owner and Ruler over everything.

Rabbi Elazar’s statement is also related to Tu B'Shvat, because the first fruits one would reap would be brought as an offering to the Temple, and all fruits require ma'aser (tithing). In fact, on Tu B’Shvat is when one would first be obligated to bring the tithe of the fruits, and that is why it is called the Rosh Hashanah of the Trees. Hashem is the One who grants us various kinds of fruits and produce. It is therefore appropriate that we give (at least) ten percent of these to Him in return, just as we are supposed to set aside at least ten percent of our income towards tzedakah.

A similar principal holds true when it comes to transmitting the Oral Torah. One has to be extremely conscious that one is transmitting that which comes from and belongs to G-d, the Ultimate Teacher. Both regarding what one receives directly from a teacher as well as new Torah insights that appear to have been independently conceived, everything comes from G-d. He grants us knowledge for safekeeping, and for us to put to the best use possible. There is also a concept of “tithing” one’s time to teach Torah.
In this week, the resulting sefirah combination is yesod shebetiferet. On Tu B'Shvat, we see that a tree represents this very concept: a foundation that has both beauty and balance.

We learn from the spider that with total confidence, and with a loud and firm voice (like the smashing of cymbals), we can be good examples and good influences on others. We can help others understand that we are never alone – we all have the inner strength that comes from having G-d always on our side.

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