Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Sunday, November 13, 2016
[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.
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.
 Bava Batra, 123a.
Friday, November 4, 2016
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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