Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Week 23 (From the Book): To Be Happy Even Without Knowing Why Things Are the Way They Are

The Leviathan is saying, "Give thanks to G-d for He is good, His kindness endures forever." (Psalms 136:1)

Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say: One whose fear of sin takes precedence to his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom takes precedence to his fear of sin, his wisdom does not endure.

He would also say: One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure.

He would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G-d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to G-d.

Gevurah shebeNetzach (discipline and judgment within the context of victory and endurance)

We now arrive at the twenty-third week, when the Leviathan in Perek Shirah gives thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy is eternal. This week marks the seventh day of Adar, the birthday as well as the yahrzeit of Moses, Moshe Rabbeinu. Moses is from the tribe of Levi. It is also no coincidence that the first three Hebrew letters of the name “Leviathan” spell the word “Levi,” one of the tribes of this month. 

The Leviathan is clearly a reference to Moses himself. In general, fish represent tzadikim, and just as the Leviathan is the biggest of all fish, Moses is the greatest of all tzadikim.[1] (See Week Four, regarding the eagle, the biggest of all birds) A hidden reference to Moses being like a fish can also be found in the name of his main disciple, Yehoshua Bin Nun. Nun means fish in Aramaic. The Torah teaches us that a student is considered like a son.[2] The gematria of the letter Nun is fifty, and when Moses passed away he reached the fiftieth level of holiness. This is implied in the name of the place of his burial, Mount Nevoh, which can also be read as "Nun Boh" ("the Nun is in it").

The last letter of the Hebrew word for Leviathan (Leviatan) is Nun. If one exchanges the Lamed (which equals 30) and the Yud (which equals 10) for a Mem (40), the word Leviatan is transformed into Mavet (death) Nun. As mentioned above, Moshe Rabbeinu reached the fiftieth level of holiness upon his death, even though we say that Moshe Rabbeinu never truly died.  

The song of the Leviathan is well known, and repeated many times in Psalm 118. In Hebrew, it reads, “Hodu l’Hashem Ki Tov Ki l’Olam Chasdoh.” Ki Tov, which means “for [He] is good,” is exactly the Torah’s description for what Yocheved saw in her newborn son, Moses. She saw Ki Tov, that he was good. That is why one of Moses’ names is also Tuviah, from the word Tov. Rashi explains that at the time of Moses’ birth, his mother saw that the house became filled with light.[3] Our sages explain that this is also a reference to the light that will only be revealed in the end of creation.

The number twenty-three has the gematria of ziv, which means light, radiance. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that ziv, as opposed to or, refers to a light that shines far away from its source. The Leviathan is an animal that is mysterious and unknown. Its existence will only be fully revealed in the messianic era. Our current understanding of the Leviathan is negligible, equivalent to the brightness of a light coming from far away, like the ziv. We know through Psalm 104:26 and Midrashim, that G-d created the leviathan to "play" with it, but we certainly do not know exactly what that means. We also know that the Leviathan will be the food served to us in the final redemption, the end of creation.

Ziv is also a biblical name given to the month of Iyar. The Torah states that it was “in the month Ziv” that Solomon began to build the Temple.[4] The construction of the Second Temple also began in the month of Iyar. Furthermore, we know that it is during Iyar that we count the omer, and that the word Sefirat Ha’Omer comes from the word sapir, saphire. During Iyar we work on ourselves to become radiant like saphire. We make ourselves into proper vessels so that G-d can dwell within us.

As we enter the month of Adar and experience Moses’ birthday and passing, we also begin to work on our inner Temple. The Torah reading for this week is usually related to the construction of the Tabernacle, and we continue to collect the half-shekel, which historically was given towards the Temple’s upkeep.

In order to achieve balance in the world, Hashem had to allow the female to die. Despite this tragedy, the Leviathan still sings about G-d's kindness. The Leviathan knows perfectly well that all that Hashem does is for the good.

The Leviathan praises Hashem for His eternal kindness, and Moses also showed great kindness to the Jewish people, leading them out of Egypt in order to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, as the largest of all fish and the one that has the closest relationship with G-d, the Leviathan is not content with praising Hashem by itself. It commands that others to do their part to praise G-d as well.

The last ma’amar reviewed and edited by the Rebbe, Ve’Atah Tetzaveh, was delivered during Adar, and it is about the relationship between Moses and the rest of the Jewish people. Tetzaveh means “to command,” but also to tie, unite – the same root as the word mitzvah. Tetzaveh is the one weekly portion of the Torah since the introduction of Moses, in which his name is not mentioned. This is said to be a hidden reference to Moses’ passing, on the 7th of Adar, since Tetzaveh is usually read around this time. The connection between Tetzaveh and Moses’ death is so strong that when there are two Adars, Moses’ yahrzeit is commemorated on the first Adar, because it will be then that Tetzaveh will be read. Usually, when there are two Adars, the “main” date is usually the one in the second Adar. It is worth noting that the Rebbe’s stroke was on Adar I, on the 27th day of that month. Two years later, on this exact day, 27th of Adar I, 5754, the Rebbe suffered another stroke, which ultimately led to his passing a few months later.

Less than two months prior to the Rebbe’s stroke, he gave an enigmatic talk in which he described how his late father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, was not able to speak clearly in the last years of his life. At that time, even though it was now more than forty years after the Previous Rebbe’s passing, the Rebbe exclaimed that we all had to do our part, and take upon ourselves as a personal challenge to increase Torah study and Chassidic gatherings in order to compensate for the Previous Rebbe’s difficulty in communication, and to do so with happiness.[5] How unbelievable was it then that two months later the Rebbe would find himself in the same condition.

The Pirkei Avot teaching for this week comes from Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa, who says that anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but all those whose wisdom precedes their fear of sin, their wisdom will not endure. This teaching is perfectly related to Moses, who showed fear of Hashem since his first interaction with Him at the burning bush.
Moreover, Rabbi Chanina also teaches that whoever is pleasing to mankind is pleasing to G-d, and whoever is not pleasing to mankind is not pleasing to G-d. This lesson also applies to Moses, whose acts were pleasing to the Jewish people and to Hashem.

Rabbi Chanina, similar to Moses himself, exemplifies a tzadik who is the foundation of the world. The Talmud teaches that every day a heavenly voice exclaims that, “the entire world is sustained in merit of Chanina my son, yet for Chanina my son, one measure of carobs is enough from Friday to Friday.”[6]

In this twenty-third week, the combination of sefirot results in gevurah shebenetzach: discipline and strength within determination and victory. As explained earlier, Moses represents the sefirah of netzach, and his death is connected with the attribute of gevurah. From the above teaching, we see that Rabbi Chanina himself also is very much connected to the gevurah shebenetzach.
The lesson in self-improvement we can extract from the Leviathan is that everything that G-d does is for good, and therefore we should fully trust in Him.

[1] Shnei Luchot HaBrit
[2] Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld
[3] Exodus 2:2
[4] Kings I, 6:1
[5] From the Rebbe’s Sichos, 3rd of Shvat after Mincha prayers, available at:
[6] Brachot 17b

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