Friday, May 30, 2014

Week 35 (Book 4b): Feeling Hashem's Desire

SONG OF SONGS: 11. "I am my beloved's, and his desire is upon me.
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 35 – the Holy Name of G-d

 Week 35 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The verse of Shir HaShirim of this week speaks of the close connection between the Jewish people and G-d, and how He desires us. This desire was certainly felt strongly at the time immediately prior to the giving of the Torah, and also when we were able to re-conquer Jerusalem.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the thirty-fifth mentioned is Ziphion, son of Gad. This week is also connected with Ephraim, son of Joseph. Ziphion appears related to the verb Letzapot, to see into the distance, like the name of a mountain in Jerusalem, Har HaTzofim, one of the scenes of the greatest battles for Jerusalem in 1948 and 1967. Ephraim comes from the word to be fruitful and multiply – Israel’s size certainly multiplied after the Six Day War. Ephraim was the ancestor of Joshua, who conquered the Land of Israel for the first time. Ephraim, along with Menashe (previous week) were partners in a similar way as Issachar (connected to the month of Iyar) and Zevulun (Sivan). Of the two brothers, Ephraim is the most associated with spiritual pursuits and the acquisition of Torah, while Menashe was more concerned with running the affairs of the kingdom.

Daf Lamed Heh (Folio 35) of Shvuot discusses cases of exemptions, when oaths are not made, the wording of an oath, the holy names of G-d, and whether an oath must include Hashem’s name. The various names of Hashem mentioned appear related to the the revelation of Hashem and the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. The Torah itself comprises of one of Hashem’s names.

Chapter 35 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. It contains the story of Rechabites, sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab, children of Yitro. The story tells of how they faithfully obeyed their father’s commands, including the one not to drink wine. Yithro’s story (that of a convert) is very much related to the giving of the Torah. In fact, it is in Parashat Yitthro that we read about the giving of the Torah. It also shows the unity of the children, all obeying their father’s wishes in unison. They themselves were converts, just like on Shavuot, when the entire Jewish people were like converts.

5. And I placed before the sons of the house of the Rechabites goblets full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, "Drink wine."

6. And they said, "We will not drink wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us saying, "You shall not drink wine, you or your children forever.

7. And you shall not build a house, neither shall you sow nor shall you plant a vineyard, nor shall you have [any], but you shall dwell in tents all your days in order that you live many days on the face of the land where you dwell.

8. And we hearkened to the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, to all that he commanded us, not to drink wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, and our daughters.  

9. And not to build houses for our dwelling, and not to have a vineyard, a field, or seed.  

10. And we have dwelt in tents, and we have hearkened and done according to all that Jonadab our father has commanded us.

Week 35 (Book 4a): True Wealth and Honor

STORY OF CHANNAH: 7. The Lord impoverishes and makes rich. He humbles; He also exalts.

PIRKEI AVOT ON THE GREATNESS OF TORAH:And it says (1:9): "For they shall be a garland of grace for your head, and necklaces about your neck."           


TZADIKKIM: Rav Meir’l of Premishlan (29th of Iyar), Rabbi Yisroel (Ben Baruch) of Vizhnitz (2nd of Sivan), and Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Spira, the Munkaczer Rebbe (2nd of Sivan)

Week 35 is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The story of Hannah speaks of Hashem as the one who gives wealth and exaltedness, as well as the one who takes these away.

The quotation of in Pirkei Avot regarding the greatness of the Torah for this week speaks of true wealth and exaltedness – which comes from the Torah - and uses a garland and necklaces as metaphors for the Torah itself.

Chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes contrasts physical wealth with true wealth, which comes from wisdom. It mentions how even a king, without wisdom, will be humbled in his own kingdom:

13. Better a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king, who no longer knows to receive admonition. 14. For out of the prison he has come to reign, for even in his kingdom, he becomes humble.

This week includes three prominent yahrzeits of Rav Meir’l of Premishlan (29th of Iyar), Rabbi Yisroel (Ben Baruch) of Vizhnitz (2nd of Sivan), and Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Spira, the Munkaczer Rebbe (2nd of Sivan)

From Zechus Avos Yogen Aleinu:

"Reb Meir'l and Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin were very good friends, even though they had very different ways of serving Hashem. The Rizhiner lived in grand luxury while Reb Meir lived with the bare minimum. One day Reb Meir'l was riding in a simple wagon drawn by a lone horse and he came across R' Yisroel of Rizhin riding in a wagon drawn by four powerful horses. Reb Meir asked him why he needed this. The Rizhiner replied that if he got stuck in the mud, these horses could get him out easily. Reb Meir responded: "since I have one weak horse, I am careful not to get stuck in the mud, in the first place".

"He was also on very good terms with Gedolim from the non-chassidic world, such as Reb Shlomo Kluger and Reb Yosef Shaul Natanson. There are many recorded Divrei Torah and interchanges between them. Some of the most beautiful stories out there involve Reb Meir of Premishlan. To me he was always one of the most beloved figures in Chasidish stories. I read a biography, written in English, years ago, about Reb Meir and Reb Uri of Srelisk; I searched online and couldn't find any information on it. It had lots of great stories and Divrei Torah."

From Ascent:

"Rabbi Meir of Primishlan [?-29 Iyar 1850], lived in abject but patient poverty, yet exerted himself tirelessly for the needy and the suffering. His divine inspiration and his ready wit have become legendary. He wrote no works, but some of his teachings were collected and published by his Chassidim after his death."

"Rabbi Yisroel (Ben Baruch) of Vizhnitz, Bukovina [1860 - 2 Sivan 1936], had many thousands of followers over the 43 years he served as Rebbe. After WWI he headed a major yeshiva in Hungary. Because of his warmth and friendliness to every Jew, he was known as "the Ahavas Yisrael."

"Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Spira, the Munkaczer Rebbe (Dec 17, 1871- 2 Sivan, 1937) wrote and published over twenty books on the Jewish Law, Torah, chasidism, and religious philosophy and customs. His most notable work which made him world famous was the scholarly work, Minchas Elazar, which contains six volumes."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Week 35 (Book 3): To Be United and Not Divided

17. And the children of Israel did so: they gathered, both the one who gathered much and the one who gathered little. 18. And they measured [it] with an omer, and whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less; each one according to his eating capacity, they gathered.  

She put forth her hand to the pin,
and her right hand to strike the weary;

Talmud Sotah: Daf 35 - Calev


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Mount Hor and camped in Zalmonah.   

Week 35 is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The Torah portion section for this week describes that “whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less.” This idea is connected to how to achieve harmony – each one doing their share. The unity is a symbol of Sivan and is also a symbol of Yom Yerushalayim. (One of the connections to the Six Day War is perhaps the fact that the so much was accomplished in so little time. In six day’s time, Israel’s territory more than tripled – this seems related to the idea of “whoever gathered little did not have less” – when it comes to miracles, time and effort is not necessarily commensurate to the outcome.

The Haftorah verses speak of Yael’s brave and cunning actions. She struck Sissera at the right time. Similarly, one of the greatest miracles of the Six Day War was the fact that we struck our enemies bravely and effectively, at the right time.

Daf Lamed Heh (Folio 35) of Sotah continues the discussion of the spies, particularly Calev. It also discusses transporting the Aron and the rocks that were used for writing the Torah and as signs for future generations. The theme of the spies and Calev is very appropriate for Yom Yerushalayim, for Calev showed the kind of spirit needed to conquer the land, as was done in 1967. Part of the discussion of the Aron also relates to bringing the Aron to Jerusalem. The setting up of the rocks in order to write the Torah on them seems parallel to the encampment at Har Sinai.

Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was king at the time the Jewish kingdom split into two. His name comes from Rehav (wide expansive) Am (nation). His counterpart is Jeroboam, who was crowned the king of the Kingdom of Israel. His name is also related to the nation (Am), and can be translated as one who “will increase” or “will fight for” the nation. Unfortunately, the division between the two kingdoms did nothing to increase the nation. How appropriate then that Rehoboam be the one to be connected to Week 35, when the nation was united (on Rosh Chodesh Sivan), and when the territories of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria were reunited under Jewish Sovereignty (Yom Yerushalayim).

Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam’s ways were sinful. In Rehoboam’s time, idol worship and adultery spread in the Kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam, in the Kingdom of Israel, caused even more idol worship to take place. He is cited in Pirkei Avot as the quintessential example of someone who sinned and caused others (including future kings) to sin as well. Jeroboam’s rebellion against Hashem was such that he even set up golden calves to be worshiped in an alternate temple to the one in Jerusalem. Our getting ready to accept the Torah must also involve banishing the “idols” and “adulterous” behaviors of our time, focusing completely on Hashem.

In the thirty-fifth week, the Jews journey from Mount Hor and camp in Zalmonah. Zalmonah comes from Zalmon, darkness. Rabbi Jacobson explains that this is connected to the verse in Psalms 68:15, “becoming whitened from the dark shadows of exile” (Targum Yonasan. Rokeach)[1] These words are reminiscent of the song of the deer in week 36 of Book 1, "And I shall sing of Your strength, I shall rejoice of Your kindness in the morning, for You were a refuge to me, and a hiding place on the day of my oppression." (Psalms 59:17) On Shavuot, we think of all the darkness we had to endure (such as during the counting of the omer) to get to this moment of light. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of love and peace related to Aharon and the receiving of the Torah, and now focus on light we are about to receive after the darkness we endured.

Words in the Desert: Brides and the Torah Portion of Nasso

This week's Torah portion continues the counting of the Jewish people (specifically the Levites), and contains the laws of the Sotah (wayward wife) and the Nazir (the holy nazirite, who abstained from wine and from cutting his hair). It also describes the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the offering of the princes of each one of the Twelve Tribes.

In the middle of the Torah portion, Rashi makes a fascinating comment on the following verse:

1. And it was that on the day that Moses finished erecting the Mishkan, he anointed it, sanctified it, and all its vessels, and the altar and all its vessels, and he anointed them and sanctified them.

א. וַיְהִי בְּיוֹם כַּלּוֹת משֶׁה לְהָקִים אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן וַיִּמְשַׁח אֹתוֹ וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ וְאֶת כָּל כֵּלָיו וְאֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְאֶת כָּל כֵּלָיו וַיִּמְשָׁחֵם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתָם:

RASHI: And it was that on the day that Moses finished: Heb. כַּלּוֹת. On the day the Mishkan was erected, the Israelites were like a bride (כַּלָּה) entering the nuptial canopy.

The comparison of Israel as G-d's bride, entering the nuptial canopy, sounds familiar. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is often compared to our wedding with G-d. Here, however, the Torah discusses a much later event, after the giving of the Torah, the sin of the golden calf, and the forgiveness we received on the following Yom Kippur.

In life, we have more than one opportunity to be like a bride entering the nuptial canopy. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches, every moment is an opportunity to start again, from the beginning, in a brand new relationship with G-d and with the world.

Perhaps that is why the Torah specifically used the word כַּלּוֹת in the plural instead of כַּלָּה in the singular. To be a Kalah does not need to be a one time thing. Each of us can be Kalot, starting anew again and again, just as we will receive the Torah again, just like the first time, on Shavuot.

Week 35 (Book 2): Uriah and Loving the "Just"

HAAZINU: Vengeance is poised with Me, and it will pay at the time their foot stumbles. For the appointed day of their reckoning is near, and what is destined for them hastens. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

HAFTORAH: 35. He trains my hand for war, so that mine arms do bend a brass bow. (II Samuel 22:35)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Loves Justice (Ohev Et HaMeisharim)


Levitical City: Jokneam

The thirty-fifth week of the year is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Sivan, the month of Shavuot, is represented by the Tribe of Zevulun. Zevulun was known for its ability to combine the study of Torah with making a living, supporting not only itself, but also the Tribe of Issachar, which was totally immersed in learning Torah.

The verse of Haazinu speaks of vengeance and reckoning again the Jewish people. Again, however, there appears to be a very positive message. The vengeance could be interpreted to be against the enemy of the Jewish people, and the payment be for the positive deeds of the Jews and their suffering. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, we feel that the day of “payment” for our efforts during the counting of the omer, Shavuot, is fast approaching. Upon receiving the Torah, the Jewish people collapsed as they felt their soul leave their bodies and then return. The revelation to take place in the final day of judgment, will be one in which we will be overawed by G-d’s kindness towards His people. A glimmer of this kindness was seen during the Six-Day War, and the conquest of Jerusalem, on Yom Yerushalayim. Similarly, the conquest of the city was one into which we “stumbled” to victory.

In the Haftorah verse for this week, King David writes of how G-d is the one that trains his hands for war. This is yet another reference to Hashem’s kindness on Yom Yerushalayim, in line with a positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu.

The quality of this week is “loves justice” (Ohev Et HaMeisharim). As like the previous week, Meisharim, is not the standard Hebrew word used for justice. Meishar means to be leveled or plowed, a leveled plain or field. It also comes from the word yashar, straight, and denotes a straight and righteous path. A tzadik is called by this name regarding the fulfillment of positive behavior, while a yashar is so called regarding his fulfillment of the negative mitzvot. (Hayom Yom, 14th of Kislev

Working towards becoming a tzadik and a yashar is part of the preparation for receiving the Torah. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the entire people was able to be “like one man, with one heart,” because of the harmony these two characteristics (and especially fulfillment of the negative mitzvot, in not harming one another). This is the final preparation for the receiving of the Torah. 

Yashar is also the root of the word Yisrael and Yeshurun. The period of the counting of the omer is a time in which there is a personal transformation from Ha’Akov l’Mishor,[1] from Yaakov to Yisrael, as also described in these weeks in Book 1.

This week’s prophet is Uriah, whose prophecy is deeply connected to the above quality of the week and to Jerusalem. It was Uriah who said in the name of G-d that, “Zion will be plowed like a field.” As explained above, “Meishar” means a leveled, plowed plain or field. As explained by Rabbi Akiva, based on the verse in Isaiah 8:2, Uriah’s prophecy is linked to positive outcomes for Jerusalem as well. Just as the prophecy of Uriah had been fulfilled, so too would the positive prophecy of Zechariah also be fulfilled" (Makkot 24b).[2] 

Chassidic thought explains that sometimes a descent is necessary for their to be a greater ascent (Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah). Because of the corruption and crookedness at the time, it was necessary to make Jerusalem plowed and straight, and upright again. From this plowed field, would sprout forth the foundation of Jerusalem today, and the Jerusalem in the Messianic times, with the reconstruction of the Temple, may it be speedily in our days.

Uriah’s personal story is also quite tragic. Because of his negative prophecies, he runs away to Egypt, only to later be brought back and killed by the king of Judah. It is interesting that his message is included, not in a separate book of his own, but in the Book of Jeremiah, and his prophecy is described primarily as being, “like all the words of Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 26:20) Jeremiah is the prophet of the next week. The murder of Uriah was also a Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah. As mentioned previously, he is also referenced in the Book of Isaiah.

The levitical city for this week is Yokneam. Its name appears to be a contraction of the words “Yikneh Am” – He will acquire a nation. These words can also be read as “a nation shall acquire.” On Shavuot, Hashem acquired us as a nation. It was also on Shavuot that we, the Jewish people, acquired the Torah. The verse is nonetheless in the future tense, since this “acquisition process” was to be felt again in the future, in the days of Purim (when the Jews accepted the Torah upon themselves on a higher level), and with the coming of Mashiach. Yokneam today is an important high-tech center, as well as an extensive archeological site.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Week 34 (Book 5): Reviewing the Fourth Week of Iyar - Psalms 100-102; 105:3-5; 89:35

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

Chapter 100

This psalm inspires the hearts of those who suffer in this world. Let them, nevertheless, serve G-d with joy, for all is for their good, as in the verse: "He whom G-d loves does He chastise." The psalm also refers to the thanksgiving sacrifice-the only sacrifice to be offered in the Messianic era.

1. A psalm of thanksgiving. Let all the earth sing in jubilation to the Lord. 2. Serve the Lord with joy; come before Him with exultation. 3. Know that the Lord is G-d; He has made us and we are His, His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4. Enter His gates with gratitude, His courtyards with praise; give thanks to Him, bless His Name. 5. For the Lord is good; His kindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness is for all generations.

Chapter 101         

This psalm speaks of David's secluding himself from others, and of his virtuous conduct even in his own home.

1. By David, a psalm. I will sing of [Your] kindness and justice; to You, O Lord, will I chant praise! 2. I will pay heed to the path of integrity-O when will it come to me? I shall walk with the innocence of my heart [even] within my house. 3. I shall not place an evil thing before my eyes; I despise the doing of wayward deeds, it does not cling to me. 4. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I shall not know evil. 5. He who slanders his fellow in secret, him will I cut down; one with haughty eyes and a lustful heart, him I cannot suffer. 6. My eyes are upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the path of integrity, he shall minister to me. 7. He that practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; the speaker of lies shall have no place before my eyes. 8. Every morning I will cut down all the wicked of the land, to excise all evildoers from the city of the Lord.

Chapter 102

An awe-inspiring prayer for the exiled, and an appropriate prayer for anyone in distress.

1. A prayer of the poor man when he is faint [with affliction], and pours out his tale of woe before the Lord. 2. O Lord, hear my prayer, let my cry reach You! 3. Hide not Your face from me on the day of my distress; turn Your ear to me; on the day that I call, answer me quickly. 4. For my days have vanished with the smoke; my bones are dried up as a hearth. 5. Smitten like grass and withered is my heart, for I have forgotten to eat my bread. 6. From the voice of my sigh, my bone cleaves to my flesh. 7. I am like the bird of the wilderness; like the owl of the wasteland have I become. 8. In haste I fled; I was like a bird, alone on a roof. 9. All day my enemies disgrace me; those who ridicule me curse using my name.1 10. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mixed my drink with tears, 11. because of Your anger and Your wrath-for You have raised me up, then cast me down. 12. My days are like the fleeting shadow; I wither away like the grass. 13. But You, Lord, will be enthroned forever, and Your remembrance is for all generations. 14. You will arise and have mercy on Zion, for it is time to be gracious to her; the appointed time has come. 15. For Your servants cherish her stones, and love her dust. 16. Then the nations will fear the Name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Your glory, 17. when [they see that] the Lord has built Zion, He has appeared in His glory. 18. He turned to the entreaty of the prayerful, and did not despise their prayer. 19. Let this be written for the last generation, so that the newborn nation will praise the Lord. 20. For He looked down from His holy heights; from heaven, the Lord gazed upon the earth, 21. to hear the cry of the bound, to untie those who are doomed to die, 22. so that the Name of the Lord be declared in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem, 23. when nations and kingdoms will gather together to serve the Lord. 24. He weakened my strength on the way; He shortened my days. 25. I would say: "My G-d, do not remove me in the midst of my days! You Whose years endure through all generations.” 26. In the beginning You laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 27. They will perish, but You will endure; all of them will wear out like a garment; You will exchange them like a robe, and they will vanish. 28. But You remain the same; Your years will not end. 29. The children of Your servants will abide; their seed shall be established before You.


Chapter 105

3. Glory in His holy Name; may the heart of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4. Search for the Lord and His might; seek His countenance always.
5. Remember the wonders that He has wrought, His miracles, and the judgments of His mouth.


35. I will not abrogate My covenant, nor change that which has issued from My lips.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Week 34 (Book 4b): Healing and Rabbi Shimon's "Wine"

10. And your palate is like the best wine, that glides down smoothly to my beloved, making the lips of the sleeping speak."


TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 34 – Oaths Taken Under Different Circumstances


Week 34 in the Jewish calendar is the last week of Iyar. As noted in Book 1, it represents the journey from Yaacov to Yisrael that started in Nissan and ends in Iyar, as we approach the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.

The verses of Shir HaShirim of this week also focus on wine, which is a metaphor for the inner secrets of the Torah. Those secrets are what gave life to the Jewish people in difficult times when they were spiritually asleep, bringing them back to life, making their “lips speak.” This is very much related to Lag Ba’Omer and the inner secrets of the Kabbalah revealed by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as discussed in the previous week. It also appears connected to the healing qualities of the month of Iyar.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the thirty-fourth mentioned is Gad, son of Zilpah. It is also connected with Menasheh, son of Joseph. Gad was known as a fierce warrior, and his name means “(good) luck.” Menashe’s name has at its root the verb “to forget,” a reference of Joseph “forgetting” the hardships of his past. Menashe also means to sustain, as Menashe was Joseph main assistant in sustaining Egypt and running the affairs of the empire. Again, there’s a connection to the healing qualities of Iyar, and the journey from hardship to strength and relative independence (See Book 1).

Daf Lamed Dalet (Folio 34) of Shvuoth continues to discuss the issue of oaths that only apply to monetary claims. It also discusses witnesses that did not see or know the facts, and deriving laws of oaths for a pikadon (gift) from the laws of court oaths. The overall theme appears again to be to be the journey from being in a poor and weak position, to one of strength and order. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is by far the most quoted rabbi on this daf, from beginning to end.  

Chapter 34 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. It speaks of going from being a slave to be free, in the seven-year cycle of Sabbatical years.

8. The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were in Jerusalem, to proclaim freedom to them;  
9. That every man should let his manservant and every man his maidservant, a Jew and a Jewess go free, that none should hold his Jewish brother as a slave.  

10. Now all the princes and all the people who had entered into the covenant hearkened that every one should let his manservant and everyone his maidservant go free, no longer holding them in slavery; then they obeyed and let them go. 

11. But afterwards they turned and brought back the manservants and the maidservants whom they had let free, and forcibly made them into manservants and maidservants.  

12. Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying:

13. So says the Lord God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers on the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves, saying: 

14. "At the end of seven years you shall let go every man his brother Jew who has been sold to you, and when he has served you for six years you shall let him go free from you"; but your forefathers did not obey Me, nor did they incline their ear[s]. 

15. And now this day you turned and did what was right in My sight by proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before Me in the House upon which My Name is called.  

16. But then you turned and profaned My Name, and you took back, each man his manservant and each man his maidservant, whom you had let free to themselves, and forced them to be manservants and maidservants to you.  

17. Therefore, so says the Lord: You have not hearkened to Me to proclaim freedom, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor; behold I proclaim freedom to you, says the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

Week 34 (Book 4a): The Tree of Life

STORY OF CHANNAH: 6. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up.

PIRKEI AVOT ON THE GREATNESS OF TORAH: And it says (3:18): "She is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her, and happy are those who support her."


TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov and Rabbi David of Zubeltov, sons of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosov (26th of Iyar)

Week 34 is the last week of the month of Iyar. The story of Hannah speaks of Hashem as the one who brings life as well as death, which is the ultimate difference between those that are healed by Him and those that are not.  

The quotation of in Pirkei Avot for regarding greatness of the Torah for this week also is about life, describing the Torah as the “Tree of Life.”

Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes begins with the same contrast of life and death:

1. Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven.   
2. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted.         
3. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build.

It is very interesting that the third verse draws a contrast between “killing” and “healing.” As mentioned above, healing is ultimately about sparing life itself.

This week also includes two prominent yahrzeits from the Chassidic line of Kosov: Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov and Rabbi David of Zubeltov, sons of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosov. The two brothers passed away on the same date, the 25th of Iyar.

From Ascent:

Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov (1768 - 25 Iyar 1854) succeeded his father, R. Menachem Mendel, as Rav and Rebbe in Kossov in 1827. He is the author of Toras Chayim. A prominent synagogue in Tsfat is named after him. His son, Menachem Mendel, became the first Rebbe in Vishnitz.

Rabbi David of Zubeltov (1797 - 25 Iyar 1846) was the son of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kosov and the son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov. He became a rebbe in his own right at the young age of 29. He was held in great respect for his wisdom, even by the other rebbes of his generation.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Mordechai Shraga of Husyatin (22nd of Iyar), Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri (22nd of Iyar), Rabbi Benyamin Mendelson (24th of Iyar), Rabbi Yitzchak-Isaac of Homil (26th of Iyar), Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Zvolin ( son of Rabbi Yecheskel of Kuzmir and father of the first Modzhitzer Rebbe, 26th of Iyar) and Rabbi Shlomo (Shlom'ke) of Zivhil (26th of Iyar)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Words in the Desert: Being Dear to G-d and the Torah Portion of Bamidbar


1. The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying.  

RASHI: The Lord spoke... in the Sinai Desert... on the first of the month :Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them (Exod. 12:37); when [many] fell because [of the sin] of the golden calf, He counted them to know the number of the survivors (Exod. 32:28); when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them. On the first of Nissan, the Mishkan was erected, and on the first of Iyar, He counted them.

One of the most essential lessions from the opening verse for the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers) is that no matter what, in our ups and in our downs, Hashem we are always dear to Him.

Book 3 Links (Intro/Table and Weeks 1-33)


Week 29 (Book 3): Salmah and Leaving Our Own "Egypts"

BESHALACH: 5. And it shall be on the sixth day that when they prepare what they will bring, it will be double of what they gather every day. 6. [Thereupon,] Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, [In the] evening, you shall know that the Lord brought you out of the land of Egypt.

The brook Kishon swept them away,
that ancient brook, the brook Kishon;

TALMUD SOTAH:  Daf 29 - Strictnesses related to eating Terumah and Sacrifices


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Benei jaakan and camped in Hor hagidgad

For Week 29, the week of Passover, the Torah portion section for this week continues to introduce the Mannah, and finishes by saying, “you shall know that the Lord brought you out of the land of Egypt.” The mannah, after all, serves as a great reinforcement of the concept of faith, emunah, a central theme of Passover. 

The Talmud (beginning of tractate Be'ah) also derives an important principle in Jewish law – the concept of preparing for a holiday: “when they prepare what they will bring,” is understood in the Talmud to mean that one have in mind from beforehand what one will be using (both physically and spiritually) during the holiday, and that a holiday cannot prepare for a normal day,  or even for the Sabbath, and the Sabbath as well cannot prepare for a normal day or a holiday.

The Haftorah’s verses for this week speak of how the “brook Kishon” swept them away. This parallels the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, celebrated this week, in which the Egyptians were swept away. Rashi states that the Kishon had been a guarantor for the Sea of Reeds, as stated in the Talmud. (Pessachim 118B).

Daf Kaf Tet (Folio 29) of Sotah discusses further how the Sotah is forbidden from eating Terumah. It also discusses other specific purity laws of Terumah and of sacrifices in general. As mentioned in the previous week, Passover was a time when the laws of ritual purity were particularly strict, given that the Passover sacrifice had to be brought and eaten in a state of purity. Furthermore, in Passover we are very strict regarding what we eat, and many have the custom of not eating anything at all except for the food in one’s own kitchen.

Salmah is the son of Nachshon and the father of Boaz. Salmah means a garment. He is also called Salmon, which means a small garment (“on” is a Hebrew suffix denoting small; Nachshon therefore means small snake). Psalm 104 states, “Oteh Ohr Ka’Salmah,”   G-d enwraps himself with light as a garment.[1] 

The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that the Torah itself is the intermediary that is able to bridge the gap between the infinite and the finite, the “light” and the “garment.”[2]  Similarly, Salmah is the intermediary between Nachshon and the generation of the exodus from Egypt, and Boaz, who marries Ruth and sets the stage for the birth of King David.  Salmah also comes from the word “Sulam” which means ladder, and the Midrash builds on the idea of Salmah being an intermediary: “Because until him they formed a ladder of princes; from him onwards they formed a ladder of kings.” [3] Passover itself is an intermediary stage, the “Holiday of Spring:” a first step towards freedom and the beginning of the summer months.

In the twenty-ninth week, the Jews journey from Benei Jaakan and camp in Hor hagidgad. Hor Hagidgad means a hole/crevice of Gidgad. Based on the Arizal’s writings, Rabbi Jacobson explains that Hor HaGidgad is related to the intellect, the head and its crevices. Chor HaGidgad also appears to be related to the Mannah, which was called “zerah gad,” a seed of “gad.” Talmud translates gad in a few different ways, one of which is that it would be “magid” it would tell/resolve doubts. Another related translation is that it came from the word “Haggadah,” the stories of the Talmud (from the same verb, “lehagid”) that draw the heart of the listener, just like the Mannah did.[4] Again, the Mannah is a key aspect of the Passover story. 

In order to accept the gift of the Mannah, we have to make a vessel for it, a crevice within our hearts, within our selves. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of experiencing the narrowness of as well as the freedom from the first and the last of our exiles, and now focus on opening up our hearts, to the gift of the mannah, to the gift of emunah.

[1] This is actually part of the preparatory prayers said before donning the Talit, the Jewish prayer shawl, as well as the Musaf prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
[4] Talmud, Yoma 75A.

Blog Archive