Sunday, June 5, 2016
Week 35 (From the Book): To Thank G-d in Unison
On the thirty-fifth week, in Perek Shirah, the wild animals sing “Blessed is G-d, who is good and bestows good.” (Talmud, Brachot 48b) This week includes both Yom Yerushalayim as well as Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The song of the wild animals is the blessing that is made to G-d according to Jewish law when something substantially good happens. This blessing is called HaTov veHaMetiv, and is used when the level of perceived good is even greater than that of the more familiar blessing of She'ychianu, because it is made when the good affects not only the individual but also others.
The fact that all wild animals, despite their strong and ferocious instincts, are able to sing in unison a song that shows concerns for others, is directly linked to a special quality we find in Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Sivan is marked by the giving of the Torah, which was made possible by the unity within the Jewish people at that time. The Torah relates that it was on Rosh Chodesh Sivan that all people camped at Mount Sinai "as one man with one heart."
The month of Sivan is connected to the tribe of Zevulun, which was known for its merchant skills and its ability to survive in the outside “wild jungle” that is the capitalist world. Zevulun’s commercial prowess also benefited his brother, the tribe of Issachar, which had a more insular lifestyle, dedicating itself completely to the study of Torah. Zevulun fully supported Issachar financially.
The Torah also explicitly compares the Jewish women in Egypt to wild animals, and Rashi further explains that the entire Jewish people are referred to as wild animals, since Benjamin is called a wolf, Judah a lion, Dan a lion cub, etc. Despite our strong personalities and diverse ways of thinking (two Jews, three ideas, as the traditional saying goes), we nevertheless all manage to get along. This closeness and unity, both among Jews and between us and G-d, is also symbolized by the zodiac sign of this month: Gemini (twins).
On Yom Yerushalayim, we celebrate Israel’s miraculous victory during the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem was reunited. There is also a deep connection here with the song of the wild animals, as this day marks the time when something substantially good happened to all of the Jewish people. As mentioned earlier. Nowadays, we only say the blessing of HaTov veHaMetiv when something very good happens. When something substantially bad happens (or at least perceived to be bad in our eyes) we make the blessing Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed be the True Judge). The Talmud teaches that in Messianic times we will say the blessing of HaTov veHaMetiv (Blessed is G-d, Who is good and bestows good) in all circumstances, because we will understand that even what we once perceived to be bad is ultimately for the good. The same holds true for Yom Yerushalayim. The term Yom Yerushalayim is mentioned in the Psalms as a reference to the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, an event perceived as being very bad, perhaps the worst in our history. After 1967, the term Yom Yerushalayim now refers to the day Jerusalem became liberated, a very good and happy day indeed, in the spirit of the blessing HaTov vehaMetiv. While it is still difficult to understand the meaning behind the great tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, at least we now know that the new use of the term Yom Yerushalayim could not have come into being were it not for the first.
Finally, it is worth noting that the song of the wild animals has a double tov, good (HaTov veHaMetiv). As explained in the previous week, the gematria of tov is 17, and twice that amount is 34. This week appears to further build upon this concept.
The number thirty-five is the gematria of the term yehudi, which refers to all Jews, even though the root of the word comes only from the tribe of Judah. The name yehudi appears related to the ability of all the Tribes of Israel to be able to unite behind a single tribe. The first time yehudi appears in Tanach is in Megillat Esther, as a reference to Mordechai, who himself was from the tribe of Benjamin. The entire Jewish people are referred to in the Megillah as “Am Mordechai,” a “Mordechai Nation.”
Thirty-five is formed by the Hebrew letters lamed and heh, the only two letters in the word Hallel, a song of praise sung on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, and also sung by many on Yom Yerushalayim.
The Pirkei Avot lesson for this week comes from Rabbi Tzadok, who states that we must neither separate ourselves from the community, nor act as an advocate (when sitting as a judge); one should neither make the Torah a crown to glorify oneself, nor a spade with which to dig. (IV: 5) The words of Rabbi Tzadok are directly linked the concept of Jewish unity emphasized on Rosh Chodesh Sivan.
It is worth noting that Rabbi Tzadok fasted for forty years to prevent the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai commented regarding Rabbi Tzadok that if there were one more tzadik like him Jerusalem would not have been destroyed. How appropriate therefore is it for Rabbi Tzadok’s words to fall on the week of Yom Yerushalayim!
This week we also complete one more cycle of seven weeks. The sefirot combination results in malchut shebehod. Malchut represents the concept of taking abstract ideas and applying them in the real world. This week, we bring our service of G-d and our pursuit of peace into complete fruition.
A lesson in self-improvement that can be drawn from the song of the wild animals is that everything that G-d does is for the good. Events that appear to be bad for us will ultimately prove to be for our own good.
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- Week 35 (From the Book): To Thank G-d in Unison
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