Sunday, May 21, 2017
Week 34 (from the Book): To Work in a Focused Manner and without Ego
In week thirty-four, as we approach the end of the month of Iyar, in Perek Shirah, the ox declares that Moses and the Children of Israel will sing this song to the Lord, and say: I will sing to the Lord, Who exalts Himself gloriously, horse and rider He has thrown into the sea (Exodus 15:1). It is worth noting that the month of Iyar is linked to the zodiac sign of Taurus.
The ox is the last of the farm animals to sing in Perek Shirah, and its verse is from the introduction to the Song of the Sea. The sheep and the goat, the first farm animals in Perek Shirah, also sing a verse from the Song of the Sea, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The cow, the second farm animal mentioned after the sheep and the goat, sings a verse that refers to the Jewish people as Jacob, which reflects a more fragile and humble side of our people (Yaakov comes from the word Ekev, heel). The ox, on the other hand, uses the name Israel, which represents a stronger side. The ox sings as we near the end of the Counting of the Omer. During this journey of liberation, from the beginning of Nissan until now, we make a full transformation Jacob to Israel. The Hebrew word for ox is Shor, which is related to the word Shir (song) and Yashar (upright). This is connected to the very name, Israel, which can be read as Yashar-El (upright one of G-d) and, with a simple inversion of the letters, can mean Shir-El (song of G-d) and even Li-Rosh (to me is the head). As is well known, the song of the ox is in the future tense, a reference to the World to Come.
There is a similar journey within the month of Iyar itself (Taurus in the Zodiac). The first animal this month to sing was the horse, and now at the end of the month, the ox sings about how G-d threw the horse and its rider into the sea. Both the horse and the ox represent strength. However, while the horse’s power reflects somewhat unrestrained military might, the ox is characterized by its humble acceptance of its yoke. The ox’s meat is kosher, while the horse’s meat is not. The ox’s firm acceptance of the yoke of Heaven is what is most precious in the eyes of Hashem.
The ox is also connected to the conquest of the Land of Israel, a general theme of this month of Iyar: “Moab became terrified of the people, for they were numerous, and Moab became disgusted because of the children of Israel. Moab said to the elders of Midian, ‘Now this assembly will eat up everything around us, as the ox eats up the greens of the field.’” As further discussed below, Joseph is called an ox, and Joshua was a direct descendant of Joseph.
The number thirty-four is twice the value of 17, the gematria of tov, good. It is the combination of the first 17 years that Jacob lived with Joseph in Israel, and an additional 17 that he lived with Josef in Egypt, the best years of his life. 34 is also the gematria of Vayechi, the Torah portion that describes Jacob/Israel’s passing. The number 34 therefore also represents this journey from Yaakov to Yisrael, as well as the healing that Jacob experienced after being reunited with Joseph and living the best years of his life in Egypt. Thirty-four is also the gematria of ga’al, “redeemed” in Hebrew.
The Pirkei Avot lesson this week is from Rabbi Yishmael, who teaches that one who studies the Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to study and teach; those that study in order to practice, are given the opportunity to study, teach, observe and practice. (IV:5) The words of Rabbi Yishmael are related to the passing of Rabbi Akiva’s students during the days of the omer. Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not respect one another sufficiently. Those that thought they knew more than others believed that they should be the one receiving respect instead of giving. The most important aspect of learning is to do so in order to teach and practice, not in order to feed one’s own ego. The latter leads a person to think that his or her Torah knowledge makes them superior to others, defeating the whole purpose of learning in the first place.
On this week, the combination of sefirot results in yesod shebehod. Joseph, who represents the sefirah of yesod, is called an "ox" by Jacob in his blessing to Joseph on his deathbed, which can be found in the weekly Torah portion of Vayechi.
A lesson we may learn from the ox is that we must work on ourselves in a very concentrated and humble way, remembering G-d’s omnipotence. We must always keep in mind that Hashem saved us from our enemies in the past, and does so again in every generation. Therefore, we have nothing to fear.
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