Thursday, March 22, 2018
Week 27 (From the Book): To Purify Ourselves in order to Change
As we arrive at week twenty-seven, even closer to Passover, it is the turn of the large pure (kosher) domestic animal to proclaim that we rejoice to the G-d of Jacob, the source of our strength. (Psalm 81:2) The large pure domestic animal is seen as a reference to the cow. The Jewish people are called by the names Israel and Jacob. Jacob is usually the name used when we are in a more fragile, humble state. When we are feeling weak, we must rely even more on Hashem as the source of our strength. This is also the week of the yahrzeit of the Rebbe Rashab, on the 2nd of Nissan. The Rebbe Rashab’s leadership took place during a tumultuous time in Jewish history, when the Jewish people were in a particularly fragile state (like the song of the cow), and faced the harsh anti-religious oppression of the Bolsheviks in Russia.
The cow also represents the spiritual exile and impurity of Egypt, embodied by the golden calf. Conversely, the cow also represents the purification through the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. The Red Heifer had to be completely red, pure and complete/whole (tamim). The Red Heifer's ashes were used for purification of the highest form of impurity - contact with the dead. This purification process had to be performed by every Jew that found himself in a state of impurity in order to bring the Passover offering during this month. It is for this reason that we read a special Torah portion about the Red Heifer, known as Parashat Parah, in a few weeks before this holiday. The Rebbe Rashab also is a tremendous example of purity. He established Tomchei Tmimim yeshiva system – its students were known as tmimim, the pure, wholesome ones. The Rebbe Rashab’s last ma’amar was about the ultimate destruction of Amalek and the husks of impurity (kelipah).
The number twenty-seven is formed by the Hebrew letters kaf and zayin, which form the word zach, “pure.” In preparation for Passover, we must purify ourselves physically and spiritually, returning to G-d, and eagerly awaiting his redemption.
The Pirkei Avot for week twenty-seven is found in the lessons of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva is known for his many popular sayings, one of which is directly related to the purification of the people of Israel. Rabbi Akiva states how praiseworthy are the Jewish people, whose purification comes directly from our Father in Heaven. In the Pirkei Avot for this week, Rabbi Akiva first describes how to maintain one’s purity, by not engaging in jest. He also describes how dear is man, since he was created in the image of G-d, and how beloved are the People of Israel, who are called G-d’s children and were given the Torah. Rabbi Akiva’s section in Pirkei Avot includes several other fundamental and profound teachings that serve as the intellectual foundation of the Jewish religion. Similarly, the teachings of the Rebbe Rashab serve as intellectual foundation of Chabad philosophy.
Rabbi Akiva ends his words in Pirkei Avot stating that everything is prepared for the feast. In Nissan, too, everything is prepared for the feast of Passover. There is no one better than Rabbi Akiva to be sharing his lessons during the month of Nissan, given that he is one of the greatest examples of complete humility and self-sacrifice (qualities related to this month and to Passover). This sage began to study Torah at the age of 40, sitting silently and humbly alongside small children... and the result? Rabbi Akiva became one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time. Rabbi Akiva’s name also has the same root as the name Jacob. Both names come from the word eikev, which means heel. This is in contrast to the name Israel, which contains the same letters as Li Rosh, “mine is the head.” While the head is the highest part of the body, the heel is the lowest.
This week’s sefirot combination results in yesod shebenetzach, that is, foundation within determination, victory and redemption. This is perhaps the most prominent feature of Jewish education during our long exile. Nissan is when we were liberated from Egypt, physically and spiritually, and when we will be liberated from the current exile as well.
The lesson learned from the cow is that in the journey to make our tikkun - our spiritual correction, the very reason why we came into the world - G-d is the source of our strength. The cow sings about Jacob, who worked hard all his life to overcome the obstacles laid out before him along the way. Only after much perseverance and determination did Jacob manage to overcome these difficulties and become Israel. Each of us also undergoes changes and progress, even if we do not realize it. In this process, G-d is always by our side.
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