Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Week 22 (From the Book): To Complement Each Other in Happiness

The Sea Monsters[1] say: "Praise G-d from the land, the sea monsters and all the depths." (Psalms 148:7)

Rabbi Dusta'i the son of Rabbi Yannai would say in the name of Rabbi Meir: Anyone who forgets even a single word of this learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life. As is stated, "Just be careful, and verily guard your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen" (Deuteronomy 4:9). One might think that this applies also to one who [has forgotten because] his studies proved too difficult for him; but the verse goes on to tell us "and lest they be removed from your heart, throughout the days of your life." Hence, one does not forfeit his life unless he deliberately removes them from his heart.

Chesed shebeNetzach (kindness within the context of victory and endurance)

In the twenty-second week, in Perek Shirah, the Sea Monsters sing that the Lord is to be praised on earth as well as in the depths. (Psalm 148:7) This is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. The month of Adar corresponds to the zodiac sign of Pisces. Therefore, it is very much appropriate that the water creatures in Perek Shirah be the ones to sing during the four weeks of this month.

Adar is the month of Purim, and when it begins, we “increase in joy.” The depths mentioned in the song of the sea monsters refer to the deep and hidden miracles that Hashem performed for us during this month, especially on Purim.

The month of Adar is represented by the tribe of Naftali. Naftali, and Adar as a whole, is also connected to the quality of being an emissary, a sheliach. Jacob’s blessing of Naftali describes him as an ayalah shlucha (a gazelle that is sent-off). Naftali was sent as a messenger on various occasions. In Moses’s blessing at the end of the Torah, Naftali is described as seva ratzon, satisfied will. The attribute of ratzon, will, is part of the sefirah of keter, the highest of the sefirot, which literally means crown. Interestingly, Naftali is the only tribe described as a feminine animal, and its link to keter appears to be connected to the fact that the hero of this month is a woman who was sent on a mission to obtain the crown, Queen Esther.

Like Queen Esther, the tribe of Naftali is also a symbol of self-sacrifice and humility. Even though the tribe was known for its speed and alacrity,[2] its prince accepted to be the last ones to bring an offering during the inauguration of the Tabernacle.[3] Being a sheliach requires enormous nullification and submission to the one that sends him or her, as well as tremendous will power, ratzon, to see to it that the mission gets accomplished.

The sheliach qualities and self-nullification of Naftali also appears to be related to the phrase, “Ve‘anochi Tola’at ve lo Ish,” which means, “I am a worm and not a man.” Velo Ish, not a man, has the same numerical value as Sheliach. This phrase is taken from Psalm 22 (the same number as this week), which has in its open verse, the term “ayelet hashachar, the gazelle of the morning. As mentioned above, the gazelle is connected to Naftali. Our sages teach us that “ayelet hashachar” is also a reference to the planet Venus, the last “star” to appear in the sky before morning, and a reference to Queen Ester, the last prophet to appear before redemption.

Similarly, Adar is the last month of the Jewish calendar counting from Nissan. As mentioned above, the prince of Naftali was the last tribe to bring an offering at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, wrapping up the work done by the previous tribe, Asher, and that of the other tribes. That is the work of the sheliach and ours as well, to wrap up the work done by those before us, and bring Mashiach.    

Adar is the only month in the Jewish calendar that is often counted twice. Seven times every nineteen years, the Jewish calendar contains two Adar months: Adar I and Adar II. Adar II is represented by the tribe of Levi. As would be expected, there are strong parallels between Levi and Naftali. Like Naftali, which was known for its speed and alacrity, the Levites, especially the kohanim, were known for their alacrity and care in the performance of mitzvot. Furthermore, the Levites (and again, the kohanim in particular) served as emissaries for the entire Jewish people when performing their service in the Temple. As further explained in the weeks ahead, the Levites service was characterized by tremendous self-sacrifice. There is also another interesting link between the tribe of Levi and the sea animals we read about during this month. The animals in the sea did not perish during the Flood. Similarly, the tribe of Levi was never enslaved by the Egyptians.

As demonstrated by the above paragraph, Adar contains a very strong theme of duality. The zodiac sign of Pisces is also related to duality: its symbol is two fish facing opposite directions. Unlike other redemptions, the Purim story has not one, but two main heroes: Esther and Mordechai. It is also in the month of Adar that we fulfill the mitzvah of giving the half-shekel. The half-shekel was a contribution made to the Temple in order that sacrifices could be brought on behalf of the entire public. The mitzvah is still done during the month of Adar, although for now it plays more of a symbolic role. Each person’s giving a half-shekel, as opposed to a whole one, symbolizes the idea that no Jew is complete by him or herself. Each of us complements the other.

The number twenty-two represents the total number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Hashem used these letters to create the Torah and the world by combining them to each other. In this sense, each of the letters complements the other. Similarly, the Torah begins with the letter beit, representing the idea of duality and relationship, the relationship between Hashem and His creation.

Duality and relationship are also found in the song of the sea monsters. At first glance it appears strange that the sea monsters should be singing about praising Hashem on land as well as in the depths of the sea. However, the sea monsters understand that their song is not enough by itself. It must be complemented by the songs in the land as well.

The duality of the month of Adar is also one the contrast between “the hidden” and “the revealed.” The miracle of Purim was performed through “hidden” means, and despite the hand of G-d being more than apparent in the events that led to the Jewish redemption of this month, the actual name of G-d does not appear in the Purim story found in the Megillah. The name of the scroll we read, Megillat Esther, is further evidence of this duality. Megillah comes from the verb nigleh (revealed) and nistar (hidden). In the song of the sea monsters, the sea depths represent that which is hidden, while the land represents that which is revealed.

The song of the sea monsters is also reminiscent of the blessing Jacob gave to his two grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe (here again, the number two appears): "You will multiply like fish in the face of the land [not the water].” Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that the gematria of Naftali, which represents Adar, is equal to the gematria of Ephraim and Menashe.

This week, the lesson in Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Dusta’i the son of Yannai, who states that forgetting one’s study is comparable to committing a mortal sin. One of the main mitzvot of the month of Adar is remembering the evil done by Amalek and the Divine commandment to destroy it. If we do not remember to destroy evil, we put our own lives in danger.

The combination of sefirot for this week is chesed shebenetzach, kindness within victory. In the month of Adar, we increase in joy. This week marks the beginning of two months of victory and redemption - netzach - associated with Purim and Passover. We celebrate the kindness G-d showed us by being more joyful than usual. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Tiferet)

The lesson in self-improvement we learn from the sea monsters is that it is not sufficient to praise G-d just by ourselves. We must also think of those who are distant, just as the sea monsters think of those on land.






[1] Rabbi Lazer Brody translates this animal as “giant sea creatures.”
[2] Rashi explains that the gazelle runs quickly, and that this is the meaning behind Jacob’s blessing to Naftali. (Genesis 49:21, Rashi; See also the Rebbe's sicha, chassidic discourse, for the 12th Day of Nissan, 5747, available at: http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/sichos-in-english/35/06.htm). Rashi also explains there that the men of Naftali dispatched towards the enemy with alacrity, zrizut. Zrizut is also the main characteristic of the Kohanim, of the tribe of Levi, which is also represented by the month of Adar, as further explained below.
[3] Ryzman, p. 109
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