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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Week 34 (Book 2): Zephaniah and Loving Tzedakot




HAAZINU: 34. Is it not stored up with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? (Deuteronomy 32:34)

HAFTORAH: 34. He makes my feet like hinds; And sets me upon my high places. (II Samuel 22:34)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Loves The Ways of Righteousness (Ohev Et Hatzedakot)

PROPHET: Zephanaiah

LEVITICAL CITY: ‘Ein Gannim

Week Thirty-Four is the last week of Iyar, and Haazinu’s verse states that the sins of the Jewish people have not been forgotten, for G-d has stored and preserved them in His treasuries. This the plain understanding of the verse according to Rashi. Nevertheless, it appears that there is again room for a more positive understanding of the verse since the question remains why would the sins of the Jewish people be stored and sealed in G-d’s treasuries, which seems to imply that what is stored is something that He treasures, not something he despises, such as sins. Perhaps, as noted in the previous weeks, the description here is not of the sins of the Jewish people, but of their suffering for His sake, which is something that G-d treasures. Furthermore, the suffering will in fact give access to Hashem’s treasuries (as was the case with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), and to the Jewish people’s return to the Holy Land.


The Haftorah’s verse states that G-d makes King David’s feet (swift) like hinds, and sets him upon David’s high places. G-d set King David to stand in Jerusalem (also known as Ir David, the City of David), which is on a mountain, Mount Zion. Like the last part of the previous verse, the first part of this verse’s kri is different than the ksiv. The verse is read to mean that G-d makes King David’s feet swift like hinds (presumably for battle purposes). The ksiv however, makes reference to G-d’s feet.


The Torah states that the Earth is the place of G-d’s feet. G-d’s representatives on Earth are the Jewish people. Moshe once refers to the Jewish people as “feet.” (Bamidbar 11:21; See the Rebbe’s Ma’amar Ve’Atah Tetzaveh) The word for “hinds,” Ayalot, has the same spelling as Ayalut, strength. (See Psalm 22, where the term “Ayaluti,” my strength, is used) The first part of the verse can therefore be read to mean that G-d gives the Jewish people power to overcome the enemy and conquer the Land. This would fit in with the second part, which speaks of King David being established in Jerusalem. The verse also appears to be a reference to Moshe’s final blessing to the Jewish people, in which he states that “Ve Atah Al Bamoeimoh Tidroch” – and you shall trample upon their high places. Rashi states that this is a reference to Yehoshuah, who when conquering the land is commanded to place his own feet on the neck of the Cana’anite enemies. The neck itself is also a reference to the Temple.


Finally, there is also an incredibly similar verse in the writings of the prophet Chabakuk (from last week), at the end of his prayer, in which describes how G-d gloriously comes to save the Jewish people and their anointed leader, defeat their enemies, and bring them back to their Land: “G-d the Lord is my strength. He made my feet [as swift] as the hind's, and he guides me on my high places. To the conductor [to play] with my melodies!” (Chabakuk 3:19)


Perhaps it is because Lag Ba’omer already passed that the quality for this week is no longer one of the the characteristics of someone who studies Torah for its own sake, although the theme of love does continue, in line with the one of the general themes of the counting of the omer and the preparations for Shavuot. The quality is  “loves the ways of righteousness, justice” (ohev et hatzedakot). The fact that righteousness is written in the plural and feminine form suggests that the characteristic should also be understood as “loves the (multiple) givings of tzedakah.” The reason charity in Judaism is called tzedakah is that it is not primarily considered an act of generosity, but an act of righteousness and justice. This is a quality we see by every Jew, not just those that are observant. We saw (a continue to see) it in particular with regards to efforts to support the Jews of the Holy Land, and the Zionist endeavor as a whole.


This week’s prophet is Zephaniah. His prophecy certainly contains many references to the notion of loving righteousness:


Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who executed His judgment; Seek righteousness, seek humility! Perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the Lord's wrath. (Chapter 2:3)


The Lord is just in her midst; He commits no injustice. Every morning He brings His judgment to light. It does not fail. But the one who commits injustice knows no shame. (Chapter 3:5)


The remnant of Israel shall neither commit injustice nor speak lies; neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth, for they shall graze and lie down, with no one to cause them to shudder. (Chapter 3:13)


Zephanaiah’s words are reminscient of the characteristics spelled out in Week 34 of Book 1. They also hint to the vanity any pointlessness of the human lust for money and trust in it, which is diametrically opposed to tzedakah:


Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord's wrath. And with the fire of His passion the entire land shall be consumed; for an end, yea, a sudden end, He shall make of all the inhabitants of the land. (Chapter 1:18)


The levitical city for this week is ‘Ein Gannim, which means the fountain of gardens. Ein also means “eye”, as well as the Hebrew letter Ayin, which has the numerical value of seventy. One who gives tzedakah in generous amounts is said to have an Ayin Tovah. The Tanya also explains the connection between Tzedakah (Tzedakot) and gardens (in this case, the Upper Garden of Eden and the Lower Garden of Eden), as well as with the letter Ayin.


ביאור הענין: כי גדולה צדקה מכל המצות

The meaning of this [is as follows]: Charity is greater than all the commandments,

שמהן נעשים לבושים להנשמה

for [their performance] produces “garments” for the soul.

The performance of the commandments provides the “garments” that enable the soul to withstand the intense degree of Divine revelation to which it will be exposed in Gan Eden, instead of being nullified by it.

הנמשכים מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא

[These garments] are drawn forth from the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof,

Deriving from a source which is infinite, they enable the soul to cope with the infinite degree of revelation which it will encounter in Gan Eden.

(…)

ומהארה דהארה מאור מקיף הנ״ל, על ידי צמצום רב

And from a reflection of a reflection of the above-mentioned encompassing light, by means of a powerful contraction,

נעשה לבוש לבחינת נפש, רוח, נשמה, של האדם בגן עדן התחתון והעליון

a garment is made in the Lower and Upper Garden of Eden for the [soul-levels called] Nefesh-Ruach-Neshamah of man,

(…)

וזה הוא: זורע צדקות מצמיח ישועות

And this is the meaning of the phrase, “He who sows tzedakot (‘charities’)brings forth yeshuot ('salvations')”; i.e., the distribution of charity results in the salvation brought about by the light of the above-mentioned shin-ayin nehorin.

This alludes to the drawing down of the light and abundance of the shin-ayin nehorin, the “three-hundred-and-seventy lights” spoken of in the holy Zohar.

This light is much loftier than the Ten Sefirot of Atzilut: The letter shin, whose numerical value is 300, alludes to the three intellectual faculties of ChaBaD insofar as they exist at the spiritual level termed “hundreds”; the letter ayin,whose numerical value is 70, hints at the seven emotive attributes, each of which incorporates ten elements. This lofty illumination — the “helmet of salvation” — is drawn down upon the “head”, i.e., the beginning, of the Ten Sefirot.[1]

Similar to Dobrath, ‘Ein Gannim also has a deep connection with the Zionist endeavor. ‘Ein Gannim was the name of Israel’s first “Moshav Poalim,” (worker’s settlement), an approach to settling the land that used a slightly different model than the kibbutz. The moshav’s residents included various prominent members of the Zionist movement, including David Ben-Gurion.






[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/7948/jewish/Epistle-3.htm#footnoteRef19a7948
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