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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Week 24 (Book 2): Amos and a "Good Heart"


HAAZINU: They will sprout hair from famine, attacked by demons, excised by Meriri. I will incite the teeth of livestock upon them, with the venom of creatures that slither in the dust. (Deuteronomy 32:24)

Positive light: They (Amalek) will sprout hairs of famine attacked by demons, excised by Meriri.. Sleep, meat [meals], I will send them [to give mishloach manot], with the “venom” (wine) of those that lie in the dust (drunkards). 

HAFTARAH: And I was single-hearted toward Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. (II Samuel 22:24)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: With a Good Heart (Lev Tov)

PROPHET: Amos

LEVITICAL CITY: Kartan

Week Twenty-Four is the week of Purim. Haazinu’s verse for this week speaks of the horrible punishments inflicted on the Jewish people.

A simple way to read this verse in a positive light is to once again apply it to the enemies of the Jewish people, to Amalek. Yet there also appears to be a way of interpreting at least the second part of the verse positively while still applying it to the Jewish people. The second part of the verse reads, “Shen Behemoth Eshalach Bam Im Chamat Zochalei Afar.” It can be a reference to the mitzvoth, the commandments of the holiday of Purim: sleep (sheinah); eating a meal and providing a meal for the needy (behemoth, which means animals); messenger gifts, mishloach manot (eshalach bam); and with drinking the “venom” of those that lie in the dust (drunkards, chamat zochalei afar). A reference to wine as venom is found in the verse in the prophecy of Chabakuk, Chapter 2:15. “Woe to him who gives his friend to drink, who adds Your venom and also makes him drunk in order to gaze upon their nakedness.”

The Haftarah’s verse points to the need to be tamim, pure, translated here as single-hearted. The difference between the Jewish people and Amalek ultimately boils down to this. Our sages explain that the essence of Amalek is about instilling doubt in Israel’s faith in G-d. (In Hebrew, Amalek has the same numerical value as Safek, doubt) The key to winning this battle is being tamim with G-d, acting with simplicity.[1]

Ultimately, that is also the test of the mitzvah of drinking on Purim. When one’s mind is not fully in control, and when the truth of one’s personality comes out, is one still able to behave with the utmost devotion to God, and keep away from lewd and improper behavior.

The quality for this week is a good heart (lev tov). This reflects the same characteristics mentioned above. Purim is all about the heart. The intellect is nullified with wine, and our true emotions come out. Wine is also clearly connected to the heart: “Wine gladdens the heart of the human being” (Psalms 104:5) The connection is actually most explicit in the beginning of the Megillah itself: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was good with wine (kitov lev bayayin).” (Esther, 1:10)

This week’s prophet is Amos. Amos’ prophecy very much defines what it means to have a good heart. The following is an excerpt from Amos’ prophecy: “Seek good and not evil in order that you live, and so the Lord G-d of Hosts shall be with you, as you said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; perhaps the Lord G-d of Hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Chapter 5:14-15)           

The levitical city for this week is Kartan, which apparently is short for Kiriataim, which means “two cities.” As explained in Book One, Adar in general and Purim in particular has very much a theme of duality. The heart itself contains within it a duality, a good inclination and a bad one. On Purim, both are supposed to serve G-d, despit the fact that the intellect itself does not play a central role in this service.




[1] See Rebbe Nachman’s Story, “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton,available at http://azamra.org/Essential/sophist.htm)
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