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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Week 24 (From the Book): To Live Above Our Worldly Concerns

The fish are saying: "The voice of G-d is upon the waters, the G-d of glory thunders; G-d is upon many waters." (Psalms 29:3)

Rabbi Dosa the son of Hurkinas would say: Morning sleep, noontime wine, children's talk and sitting at the meeting places of the ignorant, drive a person from the world.

Tiferet shebeNetzach (beauty and balance within the context of victory and endurance)

In the twenty-fourth week, the fish in Perek Shirah sing that the voice of Hashem hovers above the waters - the G-d of glory thunders - Hashem is above many waters. (Psalm 29:3) This is the week of Purim, when we remember that Hashem is with us during all our trials and tribulations, even if sometimes in a hidden way.

In Purim, we celebrate the great salvation experienced in the times of the Persian exile, when the evil Haman, with the initial support of the King, Achashverosh, sought to exterminate the entire Jewish people. Through the efforts of Mordechai and Esther, the decree against the Jewish people is miraculously annulled, and instead Haman, his sons, and the enemies of the Jews are the ones killed.

The Zohar states that Yom Kippur (also called Yom haKippurim) is a day that is “KePurim,” like Purim, meaning that Purim is even higher than Yom Kippur. If on Yom Kippur we are on the level of angels, then on Purim we must be at a level that is even higher than angels, on the level of tzadikim. As mentioned in the previous week, fish symbolize tzadikim.

Furthermore, on Purim, in an attempt to become closer to G-d, we drink “many waters.” We try to reach a level of ad deloyadah, of not knowing the difference between "blessed be Mordechai" and "cursed be Haman." We have an experience that in many ways is similar to that of the four rabbis that entered the Pardes. When describing this experience, Rabbi Akiva stated, "When you reach the stones of pure marble, do not say: 'Water, water.'" On Purim, we realize that there are no divisions or separations on-high, all is One, and there is no difference between the effects of what we perceive as good and what we perceive as evil. When a person reaches these levels, the desire to cleave to Hashem is so strong that it is like great waves pulling us out of this world. The voice of Hashem thunders, like at Mount Sinai, and we want to nullify ourselves completely (ratzo). In order to survive this experience, we must do like Rabbi Akiva, who “entered in peace and returned in peace.” We must understand that ultimately Hashem’s desire is that we return and make a dwelling place for him within this world (shov).[1]

The song of the fish states that the voice of Hashem, and Hashem Himself, are above the waters. However, the fish are not above the waters, but actually inside them. In order to perceive G-d fully, the fish also need emissaries. The role of shlichut (being an emissary) is very prominent in the Purim story. Not only is Esther an emissary of Mordechai and vice-versa, but also the communications between Mordechai and Esther were often done through shluchim. It is therefore no coincidence that on Purim we give each other mishloach manot (from the word sheliach), preferably through a third person.

The term "many waters" is also in the Song of Songs, when King Solomon writes that many waters cannot extinguish the love [for G-d].[2] The "many waters" are a reference to the difficulties and turbulences involved in making a living, which however great, cannot extinguish the love of a Jew for G-d.[3]

The Hebrew word for fish is dag. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that fish represent the tikkun (rectification) of worry (da'agah), especially in relation to earning a livelihood. The Torah relates that at the time of Nehemiah, certain Jews desecrated the Sabbath by selling fish in the market of Jerusalem. These men did not trust in G-d in earning a living. The fish (dag) then became a source of excessive concern (da'ag).

Fish are constantly aware of their dependence on water, given that water is more tangible than air. Similarly, they are constantly aware of the Source of their existence, Hashem.

The number twenty-four is related to the twenty-four presents of the kohanim, of the tribe of Levi. In addition, the priesthood was later divided into twenty-four watches. The letters caf and dalet spell kad, which means jar, or pitcher. There is the famous kad found during Chanukah, which contained pure oil with the seal of the high priest, the Kohen Gadol. This oil lasted eight days instead of one. Even the great impurity and turbulences that took place during the Hellenistic period did not extinguish the love of the Jewish people for Hashem. The Jews emerged from the struggle with the Greeks even purer than before and with redoubled faith.

In addition to Chanukah, the connection between Purim and the role of kohanim is also quite strong. Esther has to fast and enter the King’s chamber in order to ask for the life of her people, very much the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. The Mishnah states that the Kohen Gadol was called a sheliach Hashem, an emissary of G-d, although he also served like an emissary of the Jewish people. Esther also played this role, of being at the same time an emissary of the Jewish people, but also G-d’s emissary in order to save His people. The kohen is also referred to as malach Hashem, a messenger, literally an “angel” of G-d.

Purim gives emphasis to two different types of relationship and duality. Mordechai, of the tribe of Benjamin, of King Shaul, and Haman, a descendant of Amalek, are polar opposites. Esther and Mordechai complement each other for the good, while Haman and King Achashverosh complemented each other for evil.

In the Pirkei Avot saying for this week, Rabbi Dosa the son of Harkinas teaches that late sleep in the morning, wine at midday, the chatter of children, and sitting in the meeting places of the ignorant, all take a person out of this world. Interestingly, these acts are all encouraged on Purim! On Purim, there are two ways to reach a level of ad deloyada: sleeping or drinking during the day. Moreover, the Purim story highlights the importance of the words spoken by children studying Torah, the very source for the redemption. Additionally, on Purim we emphasize our unity and do not distinguish between rich and poor, be it material wealth or Torah knowledge. We distribute mishloach manot, give gifts to the poor, and all sit together to partake in the Purim feast. All these actions take us out of this world of illusion (olam, world, comes from the word he'elem, hidden) and bring us to higher levels of reality and connection to G-d.

This week, the combination of sefirot is tiferet shebenetzach, beauty and balance within redemption, persistence and determination. These qualities are very much linked to Esther and Mordechai and to Purim in general. The lesson we draw from the fish is that material concerns must not take away from our trust and faith in Hashem. Nothing should be a hindrance to our direct relationship with Him.






[1] Attaining Sagacity, Eliyahu Touger, available at http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/attaining-sagacity/10.htm
[2] Chapter 8:7
[3] Ma’amar “Mayim Rabbim” of the Alter Rebbe 
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