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Monday, June 30, 2014

Week 39 (Book 3): Challenges to Faith in the Times of Exile


TORAH PORTION OF BESHALACH: 25. And Moses said, Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day [which is the] Sabbath on it there will be none. 
 
HAFTORAH:  why is his chariot late in coming? Why tarry the strides of his chariots?

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 39 – Laws of the synagogue, during the blessing of the Kohanim and Torah reading.
 
GENERATIONS FROM ADAM TO THE LAST KING OF JUDAH: Jehoram
 
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the ruins and camped in Dibon gad.     

Week 39 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and Gimmel Tammuz. The Torah portion section for this week describes how the mannah did not fall on the Sabbath. This made the people nervous, as Rashi explains:

And Moses said, “Eat it today, etc.”: In the morning, when they were accustomed to go out and gather, they came to ask, “Shall we go out or not?” He [Moses] said to them, “What you have in your possession eat.” In the evening, they came before him again and asked him whether they could go out. He said to them, “Today is the Sabbath.” He saw that they were concerned that perhaps the manna had ceased, and would no longer come down. [So] he said to them, “Today you will not find it.” What is the meaning of "today"? [This implies that] today you will not find it, but tomorrow you will find it. — [from Mechilta]

Tammuz is a difficult month It was in this month that the spies looked at the Land with negative eyes. It was also in this month that, because of Moshe’s brief delay in retunring from the mountain, the grave sin of the golden calf took place, followed by the breaking of the Luchot HaBrit (the Tablets of the Law). It is a month in which our Emunah is challenged. However, in the future, Messianic times, this will be a month of celebration. The mannah, the source of physical and spiritual substance, is not readily available this time of the year. In the words of Moshe in the Mechilta, “today you will not find it, but tomorrow [in Messianic times] you will find it.”

Similar to the above, the Haftorah verses speak of a son’s chariot delaying in coming home. This also represents a challenge to one's faith. In some ways continuing the theme of the previous week, taking the verse out of the context of Sissera’s death, the chariot can have another meaning as well. Visions of the Divine Presence, such as those of Ezekiel and Isaiah, as well as all esoteric kabbalistic literature related to it, are known as Ma’aseh Merkavah, “The Workings of the Chariot.” Starting in Tammuz, we think of how late the Shechinah is in returning to its holy place.

Daf Lamed Tet (Folio 39) of Sotah relates the laws of proper behavior in a synagogue, during the reading of the Torah and the blessing of the Kohanim. The daf also mentions the verses said by the congregation during the priestly blessing, which focus on Zion; during a blessing said on the afternoon of a fast day, the verses are about pleading to Hashem to save us from our exile. The synagogue is known as a mikdash me’at, a miniature Temple. It is during this time of the year, that we focus on Zion, on the Temple’s destruction, and its ultimate rebuilding.

The reign of Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, was completely disastrous. His counterparts in Israel were Ahaziah (one year), and a king also named Jehoram (seven years), the son of Ahab, who was also wicked. In fact, Jehoram of Judah married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and and Jezebel, two of the most wicked and idolatrous people in all of Jewish history. Athaliah was wicked and idolatrous to an extreme, and led her husband on a similar path. Soon, idols and their priests were brought to Jerusalem. Athaliah then convinced Jehoram to kill his own six brothers. So steeped in crime and idolatry was this kingdom, that soon all the nations that had been tributaries of the Kingdom of Judah rebelled, ransacking every house, including the royal palace. Joram’s wives and all but one of his children are captured and killed. He himself suffered from an incurable disease and dies. As we begin this difficult month of Tammuz, the reign of king Jehoram shows how low we sometimes fall, and how important it is to repent. (His name means “G-d is exalted.”)
In the thirty-ninth week, the Jews journey from the ruins and camp in Dibon gad. Dibon appears relate to the word daveh (pining/moaning), while gad means (good) fortune, like the tribe of Gad, which is connected to the month of Elul, and teshuvah as explained in Book 1. As also explained in Book 1, the secret to success is connecting Tammuz and Av to Elul, transforming the word Dal (poor) into the word Dalet (door, gate) a reference to the gates of teshuvah. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of repenting from and fighting against the sins that led to the destruction of the Temple, and now focus on pining for the good tidings that come from such repentance.
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