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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Week 26 (Book 2): Amotz and Destroying our Arrogance


I said that I would make an end of them, eradicate their remembrance from mankind. (Deuteronomy 32:26)

Positive light: [Regarding Amalek, and regarding Biur Chametz (burning leavened bread for Passover)] I said that I would make an end of them, eradicate their remembrance from mankind.

With a kind one, You show Yourself kind. With an upright mighty man, You show Yourself upright. (II Samuel 22:26)

Acceptance of Suffering (Kabalat Hayissurim)

Amotz

Hebron - Kiryat Arba (City of Refuge)

Week Twenty-Six is the week of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Nissan represents Judah, the leader of the brothers, and from whom comes King David and all his royal descendants, including Mashiach. Haazinu’s verse for this week is the last one that directly speaks about destruction, this time utter and complete destruction. This verse is a confirmation that the negativity in the previous verses should be interpreted as referring to Amalek, since, after all, it is Amalek that will be completely and utterly destroyed, not the Jewish people.

Even though it is the month of Adar that is primarily linked to the destruction of Amalek, Nissan also contains a similar theme, in that Passover is marked by the burning of all leavened bread and other substances (chametz). It is well known that in spiritual terms chametz represents the ego, and that the impurity of Amalek is deeply connected to one’s inflated ego. As Rabbi Shalom Arush explains, the kelipah (impurity) of Amalek is haughtiness and lack of gratitude. Haman himself had so much but said that everything he had was meaningless because one man, Mordechai, would not bow down to him.

The Haftorah continues to shed a positive light on G-d’s behavior towards us. When we rid ourselves of our ego and personal desires, and instead act with purity (temimut), focusing piously (chassidut) on what it is that G-d wants from us, then in turn G-d responds in a similar vein. This verse also expresses the quality of “hoda’ah,” acknowledgement, which is closely associated with Judah (it is in fact the root of his name), and G-d’s relationship with him. Judah courageously recognized Tamar’s righteousness. Hashem shows kindness to the royal lineage of Judah, who act kindly and uprightly. Hoda’ah also means to give thanks. When we are grateful, G-d gives us even more reasons to be grateful. The reality is we should be grateful for everything, even what appears to be bad in our eyes, because we must always keep in mind that everything that G-d does is for the good.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the quality for this week is acceptance of suffering (kabalat hayissurim). Acceptance of suffering is the ultimate sign of gratefulness and of humility.

This week’s prophet is Amotz, the father of the prophet Isaiah. The Talmud teaches us that Amotz was the brother of Amatziah, son of King Joash. (Megillah 10b) Amotz saw the spiritual downfall of his brother, who began his reign on a positive note, initially obeying the words of the prophet and becoming militarily successful. However, after his victory and taking spoils from Edom, Amatziah begins to worship their idols. G-d becomes angry with Amatziah and sends Amotz to question his brother’s actions. Amatziah shows tremendous arrogance and dismisses the prophet’s words (Amatziah’s arrogance is also pointed out by the King of Israel, Joash, II Chronicles 21:18, who ultimately defeats him in battle). Amatziah’s downfall comes from keeping the spoils of Edom, and not cleansing them from idolatry – a very strong parallel with the burning of chametz. (II Chronicles 21:16)

Amotz’s words point to his acceptance of the suffering that was to come. When Amatziah dismissed him, his reaction was as follows, “So the prophet desisted, but he said, “I know that G-d has made a plan to destroy you, for you have done this thing, and you have not heeded my counsel.” Amotz does not insist in confronting Amatziah. He understood that the suffering that was to come was G-d’s will, and was due to Amatziah’s arrogance.

The levitical city for this week is Hebron, also known as Kiryat Arbah, also a city of refuge. As explained in Book One, Nissan is the month of redemption, and its weeks represent the redemption from the different exiles endured by the Jewish people. Kiryat Arbah, which means the “City of Four” is a reference to the four couples buried in Hebron (Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeccah, Jacob and Leah) and also the four giants that lived there. The number four is also one of the main themes of Passover itself: four glasses of wine, the four kinds of sons described in the Hagaddah, etc.)

The four giants of Kiryat Arbah appear to be clear references to the four main exiles. The first is Sheshai, a reference to Babylonia. The Jastrow dictionary states that Sheshai is a “surname for Babylonia”, and also spells the word Bavel (Hebrew for Babylonia) in the numerical transposition known as “Atbash.” The Midrash states that this giant had this name because he was made of marble (Shaish in Hebrew) – this appears related to the Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of Babylonia, who had statues made in his honor. The second giant, Achiman, is a reference to Persia. His name appears to be a contraction of the names Achashverosh and Haman, the main enemies of the Jewish people in the Purim story. The third giant, Talmai is a clear reference to Greece, whose leader in the times of Greek exile was Talmai, Ptolomy in English. The fourth giant is referenced simply as the father of the other three. This is the exile of Edom, the “father” of the exiles, the longest and harshest by far. 

Giants are also a symbol of arrogance, while our forefathers, buried in Hebron, are a symbol of humility. Abraham stated to G-d, "I am but dust and ashes." When we nullify the chametz, we pronounce, let it be considered "like the dust of the earth."


The four giants/exiles also appear to parallel the four couples. Sheshai/Babylonia (Bavel), is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, a generation which Avraham had to confront directly - particularly its leader, Nimrod. Avraham is also known for destroying the statues of his father.

Achiman/Persia is an exile and the Purim story are characterized by extreme self-sacrifice, a characteristic of Isaac and theAkeidah, as we saw last week. The Torah also makes references to how Isaac and Rebecca prayed together for a child, and how much of what happened to Isaac and future generations were actually determined by Rebecca's actions, such as the blessing of Jacob over Eisau.

Talmai/Greece was primarily about an affront to the Torah, its Divine origin, and its lifestyle. Torah is mainly a characteristic of Jacob. Jacob, Ish Tam (a wholesome, "simple/straightforward" man) stands in contrast to the godless (or pantheistic) "sophistication" of the Greeks.

The father of the giants/Rome, involves all of humanity. Pax Romana reached the entire world, and in many ways we are still under it today. Edom is Eisav, who was red, also symbolic of Mars and of his military prowess. Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, yet Adam is also an acronym of three people: Adam (himself), David, and Mashiach. David was also red. He was a "kosher" version of Eisav and of the potential that he so badly missed. Mashiach son of David, will come and redeem the entire world, fixing the curse of the snake, and bringing the world back to its fullness and potential, like that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
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