Monday, December 26, 2016

Fifth Set of 22 Days: Tet & Yud, the Rivers & the Wellsprings

The 28th of Kislev begins the fifth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Tet and Yud, as well as the Rivers and the Wellsprings in Perek Shirah.

Just as we saw with the previous pairs, Tet and Yud are also complementary. Tet is connected to the Hebrew word Tov, good, which in turn is generally connected to the Torah and to light. Tet also means snake in Aramaic, which represents desire, as well as physicality in general. Connecting the two concepts, Tet is connected to the hidden good, as our sages comment that the Torah refers to the good inclination as good, and the evil inclination as "very good." (Rabbi Raskin, "Letters of Light: Tet"

Yud represents spirituality. It is simply a dot on the page. The Heavens are said to have been created with the letter Yud. The Yud also generally represents wisdom. It is also connected to the pintele yid, the spiritual essence of every Jew, which if one digs deep enough one will certainly find.

The Rivers and the Wellsprings have a similar relationship. As explained previously, water in general is a symbol of Torah. The Rivers also represent the revealed physical life - rivers are usually full of fish, as well as other fauna and flora that are a great source of sustenance for those near it.

Wellsprings represent Torah as well; Torah that comes from deep within, and comes out through much digging (like the wells of Isaac). The Baal Shem Tov had a vision in which he encountered Mashiach and asked him he would come. The answer: "When the your wellsprings have spread outwards."

The 22 days of this cycle all fall within Chanukah as well as the beginning of Teveth, including the fast of the Tenth of Teveth. Chanukah is about the victory of Torah and light over Greek wisdom and darkness. Teveth, the coldest month of the year, is known as the time when "the body benefits from the body." This is connected to physical desire and the snake, as mentioned above. The month of Teveth is represented by the tribe of Dan, which has the snake as its symbol.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the concept of "the body benefits from the body," has also a very spiritual dimension. It is about how the essence of the Jewish people connects to the essence of G-d. This is connected to the idea of digging and finding the spiritual within the mundane and the spread outward of the wellsprings of the Ba'al Shem Tov.

The tenth of Teveth has the potential for being an incredibly happy and spiritual day. This potential is connected to another fast which is also on the tenth of the month, Yom Kippur, and will be fulfilled with the coming of Mashiach.

Fourth Set of 22 Days: Zayin & Chet, the Waters & the Seas

This Wednesday, the 6th of Kislev, begins the fourth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Zayin and Chet, as well as the Waters and the Seas in Perek Shirah.

Just as we saw with Gimmel and Dalet and then with Heh and Vav, the letters Zayin and Chet are also complementary. Zayin represents Creation, the physical struggles connected to it as well as the spirituality within it, such as the ShabatZayin means weapon, and Zan means to provide (materially). There is a deep connection between making a living and going to battle. The word for Lechem (bread/sustenance) is also found in the word Milchama (war). 
(See Rabbi Michael Munk's, "Wisdom of the Hebrew Letters")

Chet, on the other hand, represents tremendous power and inner qualities that are above nature. Chet stands for Cheit (sin), but also the ability to overcome sin and live (Chaim). (Munk) Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, in the opening pages of Likutei Moharan, explains that Cheit is Chiut (vitality), which is also the inner wisdom (Chochmah) and thinking (Sechel).

The Water and the Seas have a similar kind of relationship. Water is the source of life in the physical world. We ourselves are made of mostly water. Yet water also represents the Torah, and is deeply connected to all things spiritual. The Waters sing: "The sound of His voice places the multitude of waters in the heavens and He raises the vapors from the end of the earth." (Jeremiah 51:16) Water is connected to both heaven and earth; the material as well as the spiritual.

The Seas represent tremendous awe-inspiring might, deep below the surface, yet reflecting also G-d's tremendous heights. The Seas say: "More than the voices of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, Hashem is mighty on high." (Psalms 93:4)  The Seas also represent inner wisdom, waiting to be revealed, like in the splitting of the Sea of Reeds in our redemption from Egypt. (See Rabbi Slifkin's, "Nature's Song") 

The 22 days of this cycle all fall within KislevKislev represents the month of the physical and spiritual struggle against the Greeks. It is also a month very much connected with supernatural redemption (ie. the 8 days of Chanukah) as well as deep supernatural kabbalistic wisdom (represented by the olive oil and the light of the Menorah) and secrets, such as those revealed beginning on the 19th of Kislev - the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut and the date of the personal redemption of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch.

Third Set of 22 Days: Heh & Vav, the Desert & the Fields

This Tuesday, the 7th of Cheshvan, began the third set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Heh and Vav, as well as the Desert and the Field in Perek Shirah.

Just as Gimmel and Dalet have an interesting relationship, so too do the letters Heh and Vav. Heh is female, and represents the Divine attribute (sefirah) of Malchut. The letter Heh also is tied to the concept of pregnancy, as it is the first letter in the Hebrew word for it, Herayon. The shape of the Heh is also that of a Dalet with a Yud "impregnated" inside. Of all the sefirotMalchut does not give, but only receives - that is why it is called a "poor" sefirah, because "she has nothing of her own" (De'leit Lah, like the letter Dalet). The Dalet represents an unrectified feminine aspect, while the Heh, represents a rectified one.

Furthermore, Heh, spelled out in full, appears in the verse, "Heh Lachem Zerah," take for yourselves seed. (Genesis 47:23):

The Magen David and the Kli Yakar interpret the words “Hei lachem zerah” to mean, ‘Take the letter Hei () for yourselves for zerah.’ The word zerah, ‘seed’, often means ‘children’. Therefore, the letter Hei is connected with fertility and having chidren. This is why G-d changed our matriarch Sarah’s name. When the Yud in the name Sarai was changed to a Hei, spelling Sarah–she soon became pregnant with Yitzchak. (

The Vav is male, and symbolizes the sefirah of Yesod (foundation) as well as all of Zeir Anpin, the six masculine emotional Divine attributes (sefirot) that come prior to Malchut, which is female. The shape of the Vav is a straight line, which is associated with male qualities, while female qualities are associated with round, curved shapes, like that of the Heh.

Furthermore, the Vav, which literally means a "hook," grammatically is a letter that connects and transforms. A Vav preceding a word usually means "and." If that word is a verb, the Vav can transform it from past tense to future tense, or vice-versa.

The 22 days of this cycle usually fall mostly within the month of Cheshvan, and start around the time of the yahrzeit of Rachel Immeinu, our matriarch. In Kabbalistic literature, Rachel symbolizes the sefirah of Malchut. As explained previously, Cheshvan is a "poor" month, waiting to be impregnated with the holiness we obtained during Tishrei.

The Heh therefore represents the time in the month of Cheshvan that stands for a "rectified" Malchut, when the initial spiritual void we encountered has already been somewhat filled with spirituality.

The cycle also includes the first days of Kislev, the month of Chanukah, and which is also filled with Chassidic holidays, such as the 19th of Kislev (the Rosh Hashanah of Chasidut) and others. The Vav therefore connects us to the time in which we stood our ground (Yesod) against Greek culture, and transformed darkness into light.

The Desert and the Field have a similar kind of relationship. The Desert also represents the idea of "poverty," be it spiritual or physical, a deep desire for water (Torah). The Desert however, although still symbolic of the bitterness of exile, is already great "step up" from the previous element, Gehennom (purgatory). We are already at a more rectified level of exile.

The Fields are another step closer to elevation. The fields contain even more life and spirituality. Fields are associated with Isaac, who would converse with G-d in the field. As also explained in other places, of the two sons of Isaac, it is Eisav who is called a "man of the field," while Jacob was a wholesome man who would dwell in the tent (of study). In exile, Jacob must learn to be a man of the field as well.

It is also worth noting the progression in the Torah regarding how each of our patriarchs related to the place of the Temple, Mount Moriah. Avraham saw it as a mountain, Isaac as a field, while Jacob knew it as Beit-El, G-d's home (R. Ari Jacobson, YU). A similar progression exists in Perek Shirah, in transforming the world from Gehennom, to a Desert, to a Field.

The desire for water, associated with Desert, also coincides with the time when the Flood began, on the 17th of Cheshvan. Also, the elements of the coming 22-day cycles will be related to water.

The above is reflected in the verses that the two elements sing:
  • The Wilderness (Desert) is saying, "The wilderness and the desert shall rejoice, and the arid region shall exult, and blossom like the rose." (Isaiah 35:1)
  • The Fields are saying, "God founded the land with wisdom; He established the heavens with understanding." (Proverbs 3:19)
The Desert sings of its desire for water (Torah), and the day it will be completely rectified in the Messianic era. The Fields speak of foundation (Yesod) and wisdom (Chochmah), the quality most associated with Greek culture, and one of its biggest threats in the time of Chanukah. Many aspects of Greek wisdom and reasoning, however, when properly incorporated into Jewish values, have proven immensely beneficial. (See Maimonedes, and also how Talmai ("Ptolomy," the Greek leader at the time), has the same gematria as "Talmud.")

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Week 13 (from the Book): To Publicize Miracles with Pride and Humility

The starling is saying, "Their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed that G-d has blessed." (Isaiah 61:9)

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. From where you came--from a putrid drop; where you are going--to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting--before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Yesod shebeGevurah (foundation and firmness within the context of discipline and judgment)

We now come to the thirteenth week, which includes the beginning of Chanukah, when in Perek Shirah the starling declares that "Their seeds will be known among the nations and their offspring among the people: all who see them will recognize that they are the seed that Hashem blessed" (Isaiah 61:9). During this week, it is actually a mitzvah to publicize the miracles of Chanukah to the rest of the world, so that all may recognize the blessings bestowed on the Jewish people during the times of the Greeks. This mitzvah in Hebrew is called pirsumei nissa, to publicize the miracle.

The starling’s song’s focus on the seed of the Jewish people appears to be an important reference to the kohanim, the priestly class, whose lineage, unlike most of Judaism, is actually determined by the physical male seed. There are even DNA tests available to check for a “kohen gene,” to know with almost complete certainty if someone is or is not a direct descendant of Aaron, the first kohen. The Maccabees were kohanim, and their miraculous actions during the days of Chanukah made the seed of Aaron known among the nations. They ensured that Aaron’s offspring would be recognized as the seed Hashem blessed.

Chanukah also comes from the word chinuch, which means education. The starling also teaches us that just as each of us is a “seed,” planted, nurtured and blessed by our parents, teachers, and most importantly, by G-d, so too must we ensure that the same or better is done for our children and students. It is ultimately through education that we will defeat the forces of darkness and assimilation.

The number thirteen represents the thirteen attributes of G-d’s mercy, as well as the thirteen principles used in studying and interpreting the Torah. Thirteen is also the gematria of the Hebrew word echad, one, as well as ahavah, love. It is also a reference to the Tribe of Levi, which is the “thirteenth tribe,” when counted together with the other twelve. As kohanim, the Maccabees come from the Tribe of Levi. Their highly improbable victory over the Greeks was a revelation of Hashem’s great mercy and love, as well as of His oneness, and absolute power over creation.

In Pirkei Avot, Akavia the son of Mahalalel teaches: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: know from where you came, to where you are going, and to Whom, in the future, you are to provide an accounting. From where did you come? From a putrid drop. To where you are going? To a place of dust, maggots and worms. To Whom will you provide an accounting? To the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He." (III: 1) It is interesting to note that this lesson in Pirkei Avot also speaks of the human seed, although in a much less flattering way.

Interestingly, there is quite a strong connection between the words of Akavia and Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates our victory against Hellenistic culture and humanism, which valued mankind, and in particular, the human body above all else. Akavia claims that the human being, or at least the body, comes from a putrid drop, and that its fate is to be consumed by worms. The lowly human being is then judged by G-d Himself. Akavia demonstrates to us that our life should be focused on G-d, not on man.

The thoughts of Akavia help us understand just how merciful G-d is towards His people. Despite our lowly past and lowly future, we nevertheless have a strong and direct relationship with the King of kings, just like children have with their Father. We have a spark of G-d within us, and when He punishes us, it is for our own good. Chassidism teaches us that we have no idea just how precious the body is to G-d, like the seed described in the song of the starling.

The sefirah combination for this week results in yesod shebegevurah. This could not be more appropriate: yesod means foundation, and it is this week that we celebrate Chanukah, when the Jewish people, through its deep connection to its religious foundation, as well as courage and strength, was able to resist the forced assimilationist policies of the Greeks.

Regarding self-improvement, we see from the song of the starling that we must not only publicize the miracles that we merit to witness, but also be aware that everything comes from G-d, our Creator, who is ultimately responsible for everyone and everything.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Week 12 (From the Book): Revealing Warmth to Those that Are Cold and Indifferent

The raven is saying, "Who prepares food for the raven, when his young ones cry out to G-d?" (Job 38:41)

Rabbi Tarfon would say: The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing.

He would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be greatly rewarded, and your employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward of your labors. And know, that the reward of the righteous is in the World to Come.

Hod shebeGevurah (glory and gratefulness within the context of discipline and judgment)

During the twelfth week, it is the turn of the raven to exclaim with great humility that it is G-d that provides prey when its young roam in search of food. (Job 38:41) This is the week of Yud Tes Kislev, known as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism, the day in which the Alter Rebbe was released from prison and the yahrzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch.

After being falsely accused of treason by the enemies of Chassidism, to the point of being threatened with the death penalty, the Alter Rebbe, through the help of G-d, emerged victorious. The release of the Alter Rebbe on Yud Tes Kislev directly led to a new phase in the history of Chabad philosophy. The Alter Rebbe saw it as not only a vindication of his work in earthly courts, but in the Heavenly Court as well. The Alter Rebbe became much more open and expansive in his teachings. 

The redoubled efforts to spread the Alter Rebbe’s teachings, celebrated this week, brought Chassidism’s warmth and love for Judaism into the coldest and most indifferent part of the Jew: the intellect. Geographically, the capital of "intellectual Judaism” was in Vilna, Lithuania, where the Alter Rebbe was sent as an emissary.

Chassidism has the power to uplift even the animals that are the most distant from Hashem. The raven was literally kicked out of Noah's Ark for not obeying its rule of celibacy.[1] The raven is also known for its cruelty and indifference to its offspring. However, even the raven can redeem itself. When Elijah the Prophet fled from the King Ahab and his evil wife, G-d determined that precisely the raven, which does not even provide for its own young, should bring food to Elijah.[2]

At the time Elijah ran away, he was overcome by despair and complained to G-d about the rebellious state of the Jewish people. G-d sought to teach Elijah that, like the raven, we all have the potential for warmth and good; it just needs to be revealed.

Interestingly, the very word for raven in Hebrew, orev, reveals that potential. Orev is related to the word arev, which, as explained in Week 3, means “responsible for the other,” as well as “sweet” and “mixed together” as in the saying, Kol Israel Arevim Zeh LaZeh, which means that “all of Israel is responsible for (sweet to and mixed together with) one another.” This saying also encompasses practically the entire basis of Chassidism and the Torah: to love your fellow as yourself.

The number twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite our differences, and setbacks, we all are mixed together and responsible for one another and sweet to one another. Upon his deathbed, Jacob was very concerned about the differences among the different tribes. The Talmud teaches that his twelve sons responded to his concern by calling out in unison: “Listen O Israel (a reference to Jacob), Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”[3]

The number twelve is also closely associated with Elijah the Prophet himself, “a man whose eyes have seen twelve generations." Bear in Hebrew, dov, has the gematria of twelve. The Tanach teaches us that before Eliyahu rose to Heaven, Elisha asked Elijah to bequeath to him twice Elijah’s own power.[4] Shortly thereafter, Elisha purified the waters of a city, and was insulted by a group of youths. When Elisha responded to their insult, two bears immediately appeared and killed them.[5]

Elijah is most likely the biblical figure most associated with the revelation of the hidden and mystical secrets of the Torah. Elijah’s own teacher, Achiah HaShiloni was also the teacher of the Ba’al Shem Tov. It is therefore quite appropriate that he should be connected to the week of Yud Tes Kislev, given that the Alter Rebbe, who was freed on Yud Tes Kislev, taught the kabbalistic secrets revealed by the Ba’al Shem Tov.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us that "the day is short, the work is plenty, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the owner insists [urges]." (II: 15) There is also a strong connection between the New Year of Chassidism and the teaching of Rabbi Tarfon. Chassidism came to light up a fire in order to awaken those who were depressed and spiritually asleep. It was like an alarm clock, a spiritual wake-up call: time is short, now is the time to serve G-d![6]

The number twelve is also linked to time: there are twelve months in the year, twelve halachic hours during the day, and twelve halachic hours during the night. In the Jewish calendar, a daytime halachic hour (shaah zmanit) is defined as 1/12 of the time it takes from sunrise to sunset. A nighttime shaah zmanit is 1/12 of the time between sunset and sunrise. The exact amount of time of each of these hours varies throughout the year. When the days are long, as in the summer, a daytime halachic hour is equivalent to more than sixty minutes. In the winter, when days are shorter, the daytime hour amounts to less than sixty minutes.

In this week, the sefirah combination results in hod shebegevurah. This week, we are inspired by the Alter Rebbe, who after facing the gevurah of incarceration, reveals even more the hidden secrets of the Torah through the teachings of the Chabad Chassidism. The sefirah of hod is connected with the inner dimensions of the Torah, the Kabbalah, just as Lag Ba’Omer, which is hod shebehod. Lag Ba’Omer is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who wrote down the seminal kabbalistic work, the Zohar.

A lesson for this week is that even the raven and its offspring recognize G-d’s kingship and the importance of requesting one’s sustenance directly from G-d.[7] We inspire ourselves in the song of the raven, who knows that it is never alone - G-d is always by its side.

[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Noach
[2] 1 Kings 17:2-7
[3] Talmud, Pesachim 56a
[4] 2 Kings 2:9
[5] 2 Kings 2:23-25
[6] Hayom Yom, 17th  of Av, 79a
[7] Psalm 147:9

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Week 11 (from the Book): Fighting Evil and Heresy, Yet Knowing How to Forgive

The stork is saying, "Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her, for her time has arrived, for her sins have been pardoned, for she has taken double from G-d's hand for all her sins." (Isaiah 40:2)

Rabbi Elazar would say: Be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. And know before whom you toil, and who is your employer who will repay you the reward of your labors.

Netzach shebeGevurah (victory and endurance within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the eleventh week, in Perek Shirah, the stork sings to the heart of Jerusalem, repeating G-d’s words that the time of punishment has ended, and that the city will be rescued from iniquity: the city has received a double punishment for its sins. (Isaiah 40:.2) This week marks the Chassidic holiday of Yud Kislev, when the second Rebbe of Lubavitch, the Mitteler Rebbe, was released from imprisonment. He had been briefly arrested on purely fabricated charges of seeking a rebellion against the government, which were strikingly similar to the accusations made against his father (discussed in Week 12). The life of the Mitteler Rebbe was a great example of purity, righteousness, and wonders - the prevailing characteristics of this month.

The verse of the stork is the continuation of the verses of the bat, and is also closely connected with Chanukah and the month of Kislev. The stork sings to the heart of Jerusalem. However, we must first ask ourselves, what is the heart of Jerusalem? As noted in week thirty-two, Jerusalem itself is called a heart. The heart of Jerusalem is most likely none other than the Temple itself, the Beit haMikdash. It was on Chanukah that the Temple in Jerusalem was liberated, cleansed of impurity, and rededicated to the service of G-d. The word Chanukah itself means "dedication."

The number eleven is also associated with kelipah, impurity, which consists of eleven attributes, known also as sefirot or crowns. In the Temple, that incense (ketoret), which consisted of eleven ingredients, was used in order to cleanse the people of Israel of their sins. Additionally, the incense functioned as a powerful remedy in the face of death, the greatest source of all impurity. The Torah states that Aaron “placed the ketoret [in the pan] and atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was halted.”[1]

Like the numbers five and eight, eleven is also connected to the idea of being above the natural order, this time represented by the number ten. The power to purify and cleanse from spiritual impurity, and even to prevent certain death, is certainly such an above-nature quality.

One of the basic teachings behind the ketoret is that among the required spices used was the chelbena, which had a very foul odor. However, when it was mixed with the other ten elements, the ketoret’s aroma was sublime. The same can be said about us: even though individually we may not all be perfect, as a group, we atone for one another, and have a “good smell.”

In Joseph’s dream, eleven stars (eleven sheaves of wheat in the other dream) bowed down to him, each representing one of his brothers. When Joseph told the brothers about the dream, they were outraged. The idea of his brothers bowing to him appeared to be heretical and presumptuous. However, this was not heretical on Joseph’s part – he simply saw things more deeply. Joseph’s dreams represented the concept of self-nullification before the tzadik (in this case, Yosef HaTzadik) both in spiritual matters (stars) as well as material ones (wheat). Through this nullification, the tzadik is able to properly bind and blend and bring out the best in all eleven elements, very much like the ketoret.

The Pirkei Avot lesson for this week is taught by Rabbi Elazar, who states that one must be diligent in Torah study and know how to answer an epicurean (or heretic, apikores in Hebrew). This lesson is directly related to Kislev and the festival of Chanukah, because it is in these days that we celebrate our success in combating aspects of Greek philosophy that run counter to Jewish values. Epicureanism in particular, with its focus on worldly pleasures, is most likely the kind of Greek philosophy that is most antithetical to the Torah, and one that had particular appeal during the time when Chanukah took place.

Rabbi Elazar also advises: “Know before Whom you toil, and Who is the Master of your work that will pay your wages.” The emphasis again is on our direct connection with G-d, and His involvement in our struggles, a concept the Greeks simply could not fathom or accept.

For Rabbi Elazar, in order follow the righteous path, it is very important to have a “good heart,” and avoid a “bad heart” at all costs (this is reminiscent of the song of the stork, which is also about the heart). Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai states that within the words of Rabbi Elazar are contained the words of all other disciples.

Rabbi Matis Weinberg points out that the difference between the Hebrew word Tzion (Zion, Jerusalem) and Yavan (Greece) is just a single letter, the tzadik.[2]The difference between Judaism and Greek philosophy is the tzadik: the need to act justly before G-d, with a good heart, as well as the ability to be bound to G-d and to the righteous individuals of every generation. (It is no coincidence that the Midrash states that the Greeks demanded that a heretical statement be written specifically “on the horn of an ox,” a reference to Yosef HaTzadik).

This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebegevurah. Therefore, we should be inspire ourselves in the Mitteler Rebbe, a great tzadik, and be disciplined and determined in our pursuit of Torah and mitzvot. The first chapter in the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, teaches that the main place of gevurah is in the heart, where we can defeat (lenatzeach) our internal enemy, the yetzer harah, the evil inclination.

As to a lesson in self-improvement, we should follow the example of the stork. We must learn how to humbly ask for forgiveness, and also to truly forgive. After all, we are only alive due G-d’s daily forgiveness.

[1] Numbers 17:13

[2] Matis Weinberg, Patterns in Time Volume 8: Chanukah, Feldheim Publishers, New York, 1992, page 78.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Week 9 (from the Book): Fighting Darkness with Light

The stormy petrel is saying, "Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the straight-hearted." (Psalms 97:11)

Rabbi Yossi would say: The property of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own. Perfect yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance to you. And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.

Gevurah shebeGevurah (discipline and judgment within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the ninth week of Perek Shirah, the stormy petrel announces that, “Light is sown for the tzadik (righteous) and joy for the upright of heart.” (Psalm 97:11) In some years, this week falls entirely in the month of Cheshvan, while in other years it already includes the first day of Kislev, the month of Chanukah. Even in years when Rosh Chodesh Kislev does not take place this week, there is another date in it closely linked to the Maccabees: the 23rd day of Cheshvan. In the era of the Talmud, this date was quite celebrated, as it marked the removal of the stones of the Temple’s altar that had been rendered impure by the Greeks. The stormy petrel’s verse, which mentions light, seed, and protection for the righteous, is very connected to the Maccabees and to the events that took place during Chanukah, which is called the “Festival of Lights.” Miraculously, G-d made it so that ​​the Maccabees, righteous warriors of the seed of Aaron, defeated Greece, the greatest empire of the time.

The number nine is associated with the nine months of pregnancy. It is also connected to truth. If one adds the digits in the gematria of the Hebrew word for truth, emet, the total is nine. The total of the sum of the digits (also known as gematria ketanah) in all of G-d’s names is also nine, because G-d’s “seal” is truth.[1] Nine is also three times three, a “double chazakah,” as explained in week three.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yossi states: "The money of your neighbor should be precious to you as if it were your own. Ready yourself for the study of Torah¸ as it does not come to you as an inheritance, and may all your actions be for the sake of Heaven." (II:12)

This teaching in Pirkei Avot is deeply connected with the month of Kislev and to the struggle of the Maccabees. While the Greeks admired the Torah as a philosophy, with highly practical concepts (like the idea of ​​respecting other people's money), they tried to break our link to the Torah, as well as our personal connection with G-d. The Midrash tells us that "darkness symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees, ordering Israel to, 'Write on the horn of an ox that you have no inheritance in the G-d of Israel.'”[2]

It is also worth noting that Rabbi Yossi was himself a kohen, just like the Maccabees. Also like the Maccabees, Rabbi Yossi is called a “chassid” – extremely pious, going beyond the letter of the law to do the will of G-d.

For Rabbi Yossi, in order to follow a righteous path, it is very important to have a “good neighbor,” and avoid a “bad neighbor” at all costs. Here, a good neighbor, Shachen Tov, may be a reference to the Shechinah, which dwells among the Jewish people and in the Temple. A bad neighbor, is likely a reference to the Greeks, which tried so hard to make us assimilate and to take us away from our roots.

The combination of sefirot for this week is gevurah shebegevurah. Note that for those that are part of the Lubavitch Chassidic movement, Rosh Chodesh Kislev’s connection with gevurah shebegevurah is quite clear. The first is an openly positive one: with great strength and courage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, miraculously survived a heart attack, and returned to his home on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. On the other hand, with much sorrow, it is on Rosh Chodesh Kislev that we commemorate the day that the Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries of Mumbai, India, were killed.

The stormy petrel tells us that one of the most important steps in achieving happiness is to be a good, honest and fair person. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that one should always take note and focus of such good qualities and actions in others and in oneself. Even if these good points are small, imperfect and incomplete, they are nonetheless a cause for great joy.[3]

[1] From the writings of the Rebbe’s father, Rav Levi Yitzchak Schneerson.
[2] Genesis Rabba 2:4
[3] Likutei Moharan I:282

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Week 8 (from the Book): Not to Lose Focus on our Spirituality and Relationship with G-d

The Swift

The swift is saying, "My help is from G-d, Maker of Heaven and Earth." (Psalms 121:2)

Rabbi Yehoshua would say: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and the hatred of one's fellows, drive a person from the world.

Chesed shebeGevurah (kindness within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the eighth week of the year, as we approach the end of the month of Cheshvan, the swift sings of its recognition that all help comes from G-d, Creator of Heaven and Earth (Psalm 102:2).

The swift’s verse is closely connected with Cheshvan. As we go deeper into this month, we feel increasingly immersed (and sometimes even sinking) in the various material concerns and tasks we need to accomplish. Therefore, we need Hashem’s help in order to keep us afloat, and not to lose focus on our spiritual objectives.

The number eight represents the concept of that which is above nature. Eight is one more than seven, which represents nature, such as in the seven days of the week. Eight is primarily associated with the concept of Mashiach, in that when Mashiach comes our whole existence will be one that is above nature as we know it today. While King David’s harp had seven strings, the harp of Mashiach will have eight.[1] The number eight is also a reference to the unique relationship of the Jew with G-d (a relationship that is above nature). A concrete example of this relationship is the fact that circumcision is performed exactly on the eighth day of life of a newborn.

Eight is also related to the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of the Temple, whose service to G-d was above this world. The Kohen Gadol’s garments, as well as the service he performed, were particularly aimed at rectifying the sins of the Jewish people.

This week, the teaching of Pirkei Avot is in the words of Rabbi Yehoshua, who teaches about sin: "The evil eye, the evil inclination and hatred towards [G-d’s] creations take a person out of this world" (II:11). Sin takes us out of this world. However, this phrase can be understood in a positive way: repentance after sin takes a person to much higher levels, beyond the limitations of this physical and material world.

There is a strong connection between the teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua in Pirkei Avot and the month of Cheshvan. The evil inclination and hatred prevailed upon the land at that time. The Torah teaches that theft was particularly prevalent at that time – theft - act on the desire of the evil eye and desire for that which is not yours. People of the time were so materialistic that they downplayed the importance of ethics and spirituality.

For Rabbi Yehoshua, in order to follow the right path, it is very important to have a “good friend,” and avoid a “bad friend” at all costs. The Flood was caused because people did not behave as good friends; much to the contrary.

The combination of the sefirot for this week results in Chesed shebeGevurah. The Flood began slowly, giving people ample opportunity to repent, even after the rain began.[2] The truth is that the flood was not all bad – it served to cleanse the world, and to allow for a fresh start. The flood, which lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, parallels the 40 cubits necessary for a kosher mikvah, the purifying ritual bath that cleanses a person of impurity. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” or “Shavuot” of the cycle of Chesed and the seven days in which Shavuot sacrifices were brought, known as “Shivah Yemei Miluim”)

In this week, we see that the swift is fully aware of G-d’s kindness, His justice, and His omnipotence. We must strive to follow suit, and direct ourselves always to Him. We learn from the swift that we need G-d in everything and for everything. Thus, if we are feeling alone and helpless, we should follow the example of this bird and pray to G-d for help.

[1] “The Month of Cheshvan According to the Book of Formation,” available at:
[2] Genesis 7:12, Rashi

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Week 7 (from the Book): To Recognize and Reveal the Divine Presence within Us and the World

The swallow is saying, "So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, G-d my Lord – I shall give thanks to You forever." (Psalms 30:13)

They would each say three things. Rabbi Eliezer would say: The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger. Repent one day before your death. Warm yourself by the fire of the sages, but be beware lest you be burned by its embers; for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.

Malchut shebeChesed (kingship within the context of kindness)

[Sorry for the late posting. This year, the weeks run from Wednesday to Tuesday, with Shabat as the center]

On the seventh week of the year, still in the month of Cheshvan, the swallow sings in Perek Shirah of how it cannot be silent, but rather must sing to Him of His glory and thank Him forever (Psalm 30: 13).
The Hebrew word for forever is l'olam, which contains the word olam, which means world. Olam comes from the word ehelem, which means “mask” or “hidden.” It is through our involvement with the world during this month that we reveal G-d’s presence in the world, which until that point had been hidden.
The number seven has many meanings. Our sages tell us that “Kol haShvi'im Chavivim,” every seventh is precious/beloved. Seven represents the seven days of the week, and particularly the beloved seventh day, the Sabbath. The number seven and the Sabbath are both connected with the idea of ​​returning to G-d. There are seven emotional sefirot, and the number seven is represented by sefirah of malchut. As mentioned previously, King David represents malchut, and is connected to the idea of ​​repentance and return to G-d. As also mentioned, malchut is associated with the power of speech, like the swallow which cannot be silent.
The Alter Rebbe explains that malchut, which means kingship, is closely related to the concept of kavod, honor or glory, a word also used in the song of the swallow. The connection between malchut and kavod can be gleaned from the phrase we say right after reciting the Shemah: “Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuto L’Olam Va'ed,” “Blessed be the Name of the Honor of His kingdom forever and ever.” Cheshvan is also a month that is closely related to the Temple, where the glory, kavod of Hashem rests.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the honor [kavod] of your neighbor must be so precious [chaviv] to you as if it were your own, and that one should not become easily angered. (II:10). Rabbi Eliezer also teaches that one must repent one day before death. However, as no one knows when he or she will die, everyone must repent daily. Rabbi Eliezer further cautions us regarding our behavior in front of sages in order not to be harmed by their reactions.
We know that the Flood began on the seventeenth of the month of Cheshvan, which falls either during week seven or week eight. This unfortunate phenomenon would not have taken place had the people of the time repented one day before their death and properly treated their neighbors and sages. The Torah also holds Noah accountable for the Flood, because he did not pray for the rest of the people. In this sense, the honor of his neighbors was not precious to him – he thought only of himself.
For Rabbi Eliezer, in order to follow a just path, it is very important to have a “good eye,” and to avoid an “evil eye” at all costs. We also know that one of the main causes of the Flood was stealing. Such criminal actions usually begin by looking at someone else’s possessions with an evil, jealous eye.
The sefirah combination for this week is malchut shebechesed. This week marks the yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) of our matriarch Rachel, who represents malchut. Aside from malchut, she also displayed a strong attribute of chesed, and perfectly exemplified the above mentioned teaching in Pirkei Avot: she helped her sister Leah secretly marry her beloved Jacob, just so that her sister would not be publicly embarrassed. Jacob agreed with Rachel’s father, Laban, that Jacob would work seven years to marry Rachel. After seven years passed, Laban placed Leah under the canopy instead. The Talmud teaches that Jacob foresaw the possibility that Laban would try to trick him, and so he had given Rachel certain signs so that he would be able to recognize her on their wedding night. When Rachel saw Leah under the canopy, she could not bear to see her sister be so humiliated and gave her the signs.[1]
We extract from the swallow a very important lesson in self-improvement and daily living: to always recognize and thank G-d. The swallow recognizes the greatness of G-d and constantly shows its gratitude. The swallow also teaches us that when praising G-d it is not enough to simply use instruments (as in Week Six); it is also important to sing using our own voice.

[1] Bava Batra, 123a.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Week 6 (From the Book): To Impact the World, Laying a Foundation for Future Generations

PEREK SHIRAH: The songbird is saying, "The songbird has also found her home, and the sparrow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young - Your altars, G-d of Hosts – my King and my Lord." (Psalms 84:4)

PIRKEI AVOT: Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai received the tradition from Hillel and Shammai. He would say: If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself---it is for this that you have been formed.

Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai had five disciples: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus, Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Kohen, Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel, and Rabbi Elazar the son of Arach. He would recount their praises: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus is a cemented cistern that loses not a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya---fortunate is she who gave birth to him; Rabbi Yossi the Kohen---a chassid (pious one); Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel fears sin; Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an ever-increasing wellspring.

[Rabban Yochanan] used to say: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, and Eliezer the son of Hurkenus were in the other, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, Eliezer the son of Hurkenus included, and Elazar the son of Arach were in the other, he would outweigh them all.

[Rabban Yochanan] said to them: Go and see which is the best trait for a person to acquire. Said Rabbi Eliezer: A good eye. Said Rabbi Yehoshua: A good friend. Said Rabbi Yossi: A good neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To see what is born [out of one’s actions]. Said Rabbi Elazar: A good heart. Said He to them: I prefer the words of Elazar the son of Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.

He said to them: Go and see which is the worst trait, the one that a person should most distance himself from. Said Rabbi Eliezer: An evil eye. Said Rabbi Yehoshua: An evil friend. Said Rabbi Yossi: An evil neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To borrow and not to repay; for one who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty, as is stated, ``The wicked man borrows and does not repay; but the righteous one is benevolent and gives'' (Psalms 37:21). Said Rabbi Elazar: An evil heart. Said He to them: I prefer the word of Elazar the son of Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.

SEFIROT: Yesod shebeChesed (foundation and firmness within the context of kindness)

On the sixth week of the Jewish year, during the month of Cheshvan, the songbird in Perek Shirah praises G-d for providing it a home, and for providing a nest for the sparrow to lay its young. The songbird’s verse also speaks of the altars of G-d. As mentioned above, it is during this month that the Third Temple, G-d’s home and the location of His altars, will be dedicated, perhaps even in this sixth week. (See Table I)

The number six represents the six orders of the Mishnah, of which the Oral Torah is comprised. Like much of the Written Torah, most of the Mishnah is about transmitting G-dly concepts in a manner that deeply involves the physical realm, monetary damages, and criminal punishments. What happens when an ox destroys neighboring property? What happens when two people claim to have rights over the same piece of property? The Oral Torah goes a step further than the Written Torah, giving specific examples and rulings, and analyzing such cases with great minutiae.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai, who received the oral tradition from Hillel and Shammai used to say that those who have learned much Torah should not want special recognition, since they were created exactly for this purpose. (II:8) As further noted below, this week is connected to the sefirah ofYesod and Joseph. In fact, the special recognition that Joseph received, and which he himself felt he merited, created great problems for him in his relationship with this brothers.

Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai perfectly represents the Oral Torah, as well as the number six. His teaching is clearly related to the learning the Oral Torah. Furthermore, he is portrayed in Pirkei Avot with five additional students, making six in total. The praises he gives to his students are closely related to their ability to receive the oral tradition from him. Finally, Rabban Yochanan’s entire life story is about complete dedication to the Oral Torah. He managed to escape the Roman siege of Jerusalem right before its destruction, and set foot on a journey to establish a center for Jewish scholars in Yavneh. There, he and other sages transmitted the Oral Torah and ensured the survival of Judaism as a whole.

Rabban Yochanan son of Zakkai’s journey is also connected to the month of Cheshvan, when we leave our introspective and purely spiritual pursuits and delve into the material world in order to elevate it and to ensure our survival. Similarly, he asks his students to "go out” and see which is the proper path to way to take and which should be avoided. This request is also connected with concept of going out of our state of introspection during the month of Tishrei in order to engage in the material world and ensure our livelihood.

This week’s sefirah combination is yesod shebechesed. This combination, as well as the song of the songbird, reminds us of Joseph, who provided sustenance for his entire family and for the rest of the world. He was the viceroy of Egypt, in charge of all of the provisions of the empire. It was his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream that allowed for Egypt to stockpile its food supplies, preempting a seven-year period of extreme famine that greatly impacted the entire region. Joseph was the foundation of the good that all others received, both physically and spiritually.

We can draw a precious lesson in self-improvement from the songbird. As explained in the fourth week, we have an obligation to care for others besides ourselves. The songbird teaches us that we must work to create a solid foundation for our children and for all future generations, including one’s students. This can serve as a great motivation for a person who is overwhelmed by his or her own challenges.


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