Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Week 25 (From the Book): To Have Self-Sacrifice in order to Fulfill Our Mission in Life

The frog is saying, "Blessed is the Name of the honor of His Kingdom for all eternity." (Talmud, Pesachim 56a)

Rabbi Elazar of Modi'in would say: One who profanes the kodashim ("holy things" consecrated for the service of G-d in the Holy Temple), degrades the Festivals, humiliates his friend in public, abrogates the covenant of our father Abraham (i.e., circumcision), or who interprets the Torah contrary to its true intent---although he may possess Torah knowledge and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.

Netzach shebeNetzach (victory and endurance within the context of victory and endurance)

And we come to the twenty-fifth week, still in the month of Adar, when the frog in Perek Shirah blesses His name and His reign for all eternity, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed (Talmud, Pesachim 56A). The frog also appears in the introduction to Perek Shirah, in a story of great personal self-sacrifice. The frog's song is said every day, at least twice a day, since it is an essential part of the prayer of the Shemah. The Shemah expresses our ​​complete acceptance of the kingship of G-d, and of His commandments, with great self-sacrifice.

It also worth noting that this week marks the yahrzeit of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. Rebbe Elimelech completely exemplified self-sacrifice. One of his main meditative techniques was to imagine throwing himself into a great pillar of fire in order to sanctify G-d’s name. The technique would ensure that any other task he would perform during the day would be on this same level of self-sacrifice.

The story of the frog in Perek Shirah’s introduction is a great example of how to be an emissary with true self-sacrifice. G-d’s second plague upon Egypt was that of frogs. The frogs would jump inside the ovens of the Egyptians, giving up their lives without hesitation. Their self-sacrifice was later a source of inspiration for Chananya, Misha’el and Azariah, who sanctified G-d’s name by refusing to bow down to an idol, knowing full well they would be thrown into a burning furnace. Miraculously, they emerged from the furnace unscathed.[1]

The second plague was in response to the fact that the Egyptian taskmasters worked the Jewish people so hard in the open sun that they had no time to eat or drink and felt completely dehydrated. Frogs are water creatures and their bodies absorb moisture in order to survive. The Midrash teaches that during the plague, a large number of frogs would search out and absorb all the moisture in Egypt, making the Egyptians feel dehydrated as well. It is well known that water is a metaphor for Torah.  It is the job of the sheliach is to find Torah and the holy sparks of the Diaspora in order to absorb them and elevate them, searching even in the driest of places. The reality is that we are all emissaries.[2]

Perek Shirah explains that the frog, as an amphibian, does what no other animal can. It voluntarily serves as food for a land animal which feed itself only from water animals. Again, using water as a metaphor for Torah, the frog is willing to sacrifice its own life in order to bring Torah to those animals on dry land. The frog tells King David that because of this self-sacrifice, Hashem will make it whole, will complement it. Here again we see the idea that each Jew complements the other, like the half-shekel giving during this month.

Interestingly, in Perek Shirah itself, the frog again plays the role of bringing together land and sea. The frog comes after the fish and before the sheep and goat, literally making the link between the water animals of the month of Adar and the land animals of the month of Nissan and beyond.

The week of the frog always falls after the week of Purim and close to the special Torah reading of Parah (the animal of the second week of Nissan), which is primarily about how to purify a person from the greatest source of impurity (contact with the dead). Interestingly, the kohen that performs the purification also sacrifices himself by becoming impure in the process, although only temporarily. A similar self-sacrifice is performed by Queen Esther, who makes herself impure by marrying King Achashverosh in order to save the entire Jewish people. It is also no coincidence that Purim and Parah have such similar roots.

This dual role, superficially negative, yet extremely positive, is found in the verse Baruch Shem Kevod itself. The Talmud in Pessachim suggests that this verse is somehow embarrassing to be said out loud, and that is why we say it quietly. Some authorities state that this verse represents a lower form of declaring G-d’s unity. However, many other famous commentaries teach us that this saying was actually much higher, and said by the angels themselves. We say it quietly only because it is too lofty for this world. The only day that we say it openly is on Yom Kippur, when we are all on the level of angels.[3] As mentioned previously, angels are emissaries of G-d.

There are many other sources that connect the frog to the idea of being a sheliach with total self-sacrifice. There’s also a famous Midrash that teaches that in fact the plague of frogs started out as only a single giant frog. When the Egyptians would try to strike this single frog it would multiply into many more mini-frogs, who in turn would also split into more, like emissaries of the giant frog.

Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk is known as a “Rebbe of Rebbes,” because the most prominent Polish Rebbes were all his disciples, or disciples of his disciples. They were all like emissaries, continuing his legacy. Among these giants are the Chozeh of Lublin (who would thank G-d an hour a day for bringing down the soul of his Rebbe), the Ohev Yisrael (the Apter Rov), the Rimanover, the Maggid of Kozhnitz, and many others. Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Issachar, was his nephew.

This concept of shlichut is found again in the words that the frog says to King David in the introduction of Perek Shirah: “Every song I say contains three thousand parables.” A parable represents the concept of taking an idea and bringing down, so that it is more accessible to others. The frog has three thousand other “emissaries” linked to its song. It is worth noting that at the time of his passing, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had roughly three thousand emissaries, and that today there are roughly three thousand Chabad centers worldwide.

The three thousand parables are also comparable to the three thousand men that "fell" by the hand of the Levites, who served as Moses’ emissaries after the incident of the golden calf:

26. So Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said: "Whoever is for the Lord, [let him come] to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.  
27. He said to them: "So said the Lord, the G-d of Israel: 'Let every man place his sword upon his thigh and pass back and forth from one gate to the other in the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his friend, every man his kinsman.'
28. The sons of Levi did according to Moses' word; on that day some three thousand men fell from among the people.
Perhaps the phrased “roughly three thousand men” is a reference to the men of Levi, who followed the word of Moses, falling upon those that needed to be punished.

In fulfilling Moses’ word, the Levites acted with extreme self-sacrifice and did not consider brother and friend. This was an extremely positive behavior at the time, but perhaps still required a sort of tikkun, correction. In contrast, the Chabad shluchim consider everyone to be their brother and friend, and treat them as such. Chabad shluchim also “fall” from their pure and holy lifestyle in order to reach out to those that need guidance.

Similarly, three thousand halachot were forgotten at the time of the mourning for Moses. Perhaps the three thousand shluchim, who methodically study the Rebbe’s words, are a tikkun for this as well.
The term “roughly three thousand men” also appears in the story of Samson, which he also showed extreme self-sacrifice, to the point of giving up his life.

27. Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And upon the roof (there were) about three thousand men and women, the spectators of Samson's sport.
(...)
30. And Samson said, "Let my soul die with the Philistines," and he bent with (his) might, and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. And the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his lifetime.[4]
Like the kohen that performs the purification through the red heifer, and Queen Esther in the Purim story, Samson was willing to sacrifice himself, both spiritually and physically, in order to bring redemption to the Jewish people. The verses above also appear to make a slight reference to Purim. Verse 27 states that there were about three thousand men and women “upon the roof.” In the original Hebrew, this part is written, “Al haGag.” In Aramaic, it would be “Agag.” Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites. At the end of the Purim story, not only are Haman and his sons killed, but also 75,000 (25 x 3,000) Amalekites.[5]

The number twenty-five is connected to the Jewish festival of Chanukah, since this festival, as well as the dedication of the Temple that is celebrated on this day took place on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. The word “Chanukah” itself means “Chanu” (they rested) - “Kah” (twenty-five), a reference to the twenty-fifth of Kislev. The twenty-fifth letter in the Torah is “or,” a reference to the light of Chanukah.

The Chashmonaim played a dual role of both the kohanim and the kings. Rebbe Elimelech (whose name means “G-d is my King”) also had a strong complementary relationship with his saintly brother, the Tzadik Reb Zusya of Anipoli.

This week in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Elazar of Modi’in teaches that he who profanes holy objects/animals, degrades the festivals, publicly humiliates his neighbor, repeals the covenant of our father Abraham (circumcision) and interprets the Torah in a way that is opposed to its true meaning - even if they have Torah and good deeds, they have no part in the World to Come.

During this week, just after Purim, we begin preparing for Passover. The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, explains that one should prepare for Passover thirty days before the festival. During these days it is customary to give money to the poor (Maot Chitim) so that they too can properly celebrate Passover. And see the tremendous connection with Pirkei Avot, namely:

1)      “Profaning the holy" appears to be a reference to the times of the Temple, when everyone had to bring the Passover sacrifice. The animal and subsequently the meat of the sacrifice were sacred and had to be treated properly.

2)      "Degrading the festivals" is a more direct reference to the importance to the festival of Passover, both in its physical preparations (destroying the physical chametz, yeast and other leavened breads) and spiritual preparations (eliminating the inner spiritual chametz, our egotism and inflated self-importance).

3)   "Publicly humiliating his neighbor" relates to the charity given in advance of the holiday, so no one should feel ashamed of having to beg for money in order to celebrate Passover.

4)   "Revoking the covenant of Abraham our father" is related to circumcision. Passover is linked to Abraham, because it was on Passover that angels came to visit him and Sarah, and Abraham gave them matzot to eat. Also, just before the first Passover in Egypt, all the men of the people underwent circumcision. Again, 40 years later, before entering Israel, Joshua made all men undergo circumcision. During the 40 years in the desert no men were circumcised. In the days of the Temple, those who were not circumcised they could not eat the Passover sacrifice.

5)   "Interpreting the Torah in a way that is opposed to its true meaning" relates to the various legal rulings that are made during Passover cleaning. Cleaning the house for Passover and preparing for the Seder involves a lot of work. It is therefore easy to find excuses not to have to clean so much: "After all, by Torah law is it not enough simply to verbally nullify the chametz?" Hence the importance of this teaching: we have to do everything possible to strictly adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Law, each one at his or her own spiritual level.

The list of wrongdoings mentioned by Rabbi Elazar also relates to problems that occurred during the time period of Chanukah. The Greeks defiled the sacred objects of the Temple; they were against celebrating sacred dates, such as Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. The Hellenistic Jews had no shame and fought naked in gymnasiums, many even reversed their circumcision. Hellenistic Jews, Saducees, and other cults also sought to corrupt the true interpretations of the Torah, and the Greeks tried to misrepresent the sacred nature of the Torah, and forced it to be translated into Greek.

This week, the sefirot combination results in netzach shebenetzach, victory within victory. This week represents the midpoint and link between the victory and redemption of Adar (Purim), with the victory and redemption of Nissan (Passover). Twenty-five is also exactly midway through the Counting of the Omer, linking the two different modes of divine service related to the first and second halves of the year. (See Appendix I)

The lesson we learn from the frog is that we must serve G-d with great self-sacrifice, remembering how temporary our stay is on this Earth, and how we are infinitely small and limited when compared to G-d.




[1] “Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya,” Nissan Mindel, Kehot Publication Society. Available at: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112288/jewish/Chananya-Mishael-and-Azarya.htm
[2] “There is not the vaguest shadow of doubt that, wherever our feet tread, it is all in order to cleanse and purify the world with words of Torah and tefilla (prayer). We, all of Israel, are emissaries of G-d, each of us as Divine Providence has decreed for us. None of us is free from this sacred task placed on our shoulders.” Hayom Yom, 5th of Adar I.
[4] Judges 16: 27-30
[5] Esther 9:16
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