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:
 http://www.inner.org/times/cheshvan/cheshvan.htm
[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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