Saturday, September 24, 2016

Week 51 (From the Book): To Understand That We Are All One Soul

The weasel is saying, "Let every soul praise G-d, Halleluyah!" (Psalms 150:6)

Rabbi Yossi the son of Yehudah of Kfar HaBavli would say: One who learns Torah from youngsters, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks [unfermented] wine from the press. One who learns Torah from the old, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine.

Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine.

Binah (understanding)

In the fifty-first week, still in the month of Elul, it is the weasel (Chuldah) who proclaims that all live beings should praise the Lord, Haleluyah! (Psalm 150:6). This is a reference to the power of repentance in the month of Elul and also to the messianic age when all beings, even the lowest, will openly praise Hashem. Week 51 also includes the 25th of Elul, the day in which the world was created (on Rosh Hashanah, man was created, See Week 52), and is therefore connected with the concept that all living things should praise G-d, the Creator and Master of the Universe.

Chuldah is also the name of one of the seven prophetesses mentioned in the Tanach. She was the last to prophesy before the beginning of the Babylonian exile. Her words related to the fall of the Davidic dynasty in the kingdom Judah. The dynasty was extremely corrupt, and the prophecy of Chuldah is very powerful and incriminating.

The weasel represents corruption and decay, both in nature and in civilization. Chuldah comes from the word Chaled, which means decadent. Interestingly, the Talmud states that the weasel is the only land animal that has no correspondent in the sea.[1] In the first time that the world became corrupt, G-d brought upon the Flood. The weasel, who cannot live in water and does not have any sea animal that corresponds to it, reminds us of this unfortunate time in the history of humanity and the world as a whole.

The weasel beautifully describes the redemption from this decaying state, as well as how to achieve it. Whereas before, due to its decadence, the whole world was destroyed as a single entity, the weasel urges us all to praise G-d together as a single entity. In the song of the weasel, the word used for living being is neshamah, which literally means breath, as well as soul. In this verse, the word is used in the singular, even though it is referring to all beings. The explanation for this is that the weasel understands that we are all ultimately a single soul, a part of G-d.

As mentioned above, neshamah also means breath. Breath itself represents life, as well as the most basic connection we have with Hashem. Through our breath we are connected to Hashem and the world constantly, in a way that is beyond our comprehension. In Elul, we recognize this constant connection with G-d. As also mentioned previously, we know that in Elul, "the King is in the field," ready to hear our requests. Elul is also a good time to go to the field or any other secluded place to breathe, meditate, and talk to Hashem.

In this week, the lesson from Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Yossi the son of Yehudah of Kfar HaBavli, who teaches that to learn Torah from the young is like eating unripe grapes and drinking [unfermented] wine out of the press, but to learn from older masters is like eating ripe grapes and drinking old wine. Rabbi Meir adds to this statement, saying that one should not just look at the vessel, but what is inside. There are new containers full of old wine and old vessels that do not even contain new wine. (IV: 20) Rabbi Yossi compares the Torah to wine, which affects us in ways that are beyond our intellect. Also, with age, a person acquires knowledge and experiences that go beyond his or her previous intellectual capacity.

The wine comparison made by Rabbi Yossi is also related to the sefirah of binah, the second intellectual sefirah. After the "light bulb moment" at the time an idea is conceived, that idea then needs to be developed and properly understood intellectually, just like the fermentation of wine. Rabbi Yossi teaches us that it is not ideal to learn from those who have not had time to properly process their Torah ideas, even though Rabbi Meir explains that this is not necessarily related to the teacher’s physical age.

As in the previous week, here too there is a way to understand Rabbi Yossi’s lesson in a purely positive way. The word for young, ketanim, literally means small, but can also be understood as humble, such as in the Shmuel HaKatan (the Small), who teaches the Pirkei Avot lesson for week forty-nine. The Hebrew word used for grapes, anavim, is phonetically practically the same as the word humble in Hebrew, anav. The Hebrew word used for unripe is kehot, which is also the name of Moses and Aaron’s grandfather, Kehot. Finally, the term used for "out of the winepress” is migitoh, which, with a bit of poetic license, can be read as a m’yegiatoh, which means “from one’s own efforts.” Wine is a metaphor of the most mysterious secrets of the Torah. A humble person teaches these secrets in a way in which the student deduces the most hidden secrets of the Torah through his own efforts. This is much more valuable than simply receiving all of one’s knowledge "on a silver platter."

One could then read the above verse as follows: “One who learns Torah from humble ones is like studying under Kehot, i.e., Moses and Aaron, and learning the deep secrets of the Torah through one’s own efforts. This is closely connected to Elul and Rosh Hashanah, when we humbly strive to correct our behavior and connect with G-d.
As mentioned above, this week is connected to Shavuot and to the sefirah of binah. A "gift" of self-improvement we receive from the weasel is that any person, no matter their level, can connect directly to Hashem in a simple and natural way, without the need for intermediaries, just like the very act of breathing. We must also remember to realize that we are all one.




[1] Bechorot 8A

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