Monday, November 13, 2017

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 8, 2017

Felzenszwalbe (Andorinha da Rocha)

Felzenszwalbe (Andorinha da Rocha)

Como faço
Como traço
Tantos passos
Até Você?

Tantos caminhos
Sábios livros
E eu? Tão limitado.

Como faço?
Esse contato
É isso.

Porque o momento 
Mesmo modesto
É por Você

Mundos de
Infinita e ilimitada.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Felsen (Rocha)


O caminho
Mas começo
Espera só
De mim
Um sorriso
Que dou
Mesmo sem 
Me sentir

Sunday, November 5, 2017

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 121:2).

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.

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Schwalbe (Andorinha)


Tiro o
Que sou
Não sou

Deixo o
Que me
E voo

Monday, October 30, 2017

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

The 11th of Cheshvan begins 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 Binah, understanding, as well as Malchut, kingship. 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). 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 Maimonides, and also how Talmai ("Ptolomy," the Greek leader at the time), has the same gematria as "Talmud.")

Sunday, October 29, 2017

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)

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, October 27, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

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.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017



If it were
Up to me
I'd take on
Every stringency

I'd spend my days
In thought and prayer
From text to text
And lose myself in mystery

Then realize it never was
Or ever will be up to me.
It's always been about some
One else who begs us all

To go down to Him.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Week 5 (from the Book): To Use All Tools Available in order to Elevate the World

The Crane is saying, "Give thanks to G-d with the lyre; make music for Him with the ten-stringed harp." (Psalms 33:2)

Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi would say: Beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world, for the toil of them both causes sin to be forgotten. Ultimately, all Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and to cause sin.

Those who work for the community should do so for the sake of Heaven; for then the merit of their ancestors shall aid them, and their righteousness shall endure forever. And you, [says G-d,] I shall credit you with great reward as if you have achieved it.
Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.

He would also say: Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He should nullify the will of others before your will.

Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood [or: Do not say something that ought not to be heard even in the strictest confidence, for ultimately it will be heard]. And do not say "When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,'' for perhaps you will never free yourself.
He would also say: A boor cannot be sin-fearing, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a bashful one cannot learn, a short-tempered person cannot teach, nor does anyone who does much business grow wise. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

He also saw a skull floating upon the water. Said he to it: Because you drowned others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you, will themselves be drowned.

He would also say: One who increases flesh, increases worms; one who increases possessions, increases worry; one who increases wives, increases witchcraft; one who increases maidservants, increases promiscuity; one who increases man-servants, increases thievery; one who increases Torah, increases life; one who increases study, increases wisdom; one who increases counsel, increases understanding; one who increases charity, increases peace. One who acquires a good name, acquired it for himself; one who acquires the words of Torah, has acquired life in the World to Come.

Hod shebeChesed (glory and gratefulness within the context of kindness)

On the fifth week of the Jewish calendar, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. The month of Cheshvan is represented by the tribe of Menashe. Menashe, the firstborn son of Joseph, assisted his father in managing the entire Egyptian empire at the time. In Cheshvan, we bring all the holiness that we acquired in Tishrei, and use it in our day-to-day spiritual and physical endeavors to elevate the world. After the introspection and delving into the treasures of the Torah that took place in Tishrei, we must put our new resolutions into practice in this physical world. In this service, we use all powers, tools, and technologies available to us.  In Perek Shirah, the crane sings to G-d with joy, asking that we use musical instruments such as the lyre and the ten-stringed harp to thank Hashem.[1] With instruments, our music to Him will be even more beautiful.

The number five represents the five books of Moses, the Torah. At Mount Sinai, Moses brought the Torah down from heaven into this physical world, transforming it forever. Five is also one more than the number four, which as mentioned in the previous week, reflects the basic structure of the world(s).

In Pirkei Avot, the words of Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi are also related to the above description of the month of Cheshvan. Rabban Gamliel states that the study of Torah should be combined with making a living. Rabban Gamliel explains that it is specifically through the combination of Torah and work that one is able to stay away from sin. The subsequent sayings of Rabban Gamliel are also related to the concept of being active in the world. He describes how one should go about work on behalf of the community, as well as how to interact with the government. The additional sayings of Rabban Gamliel, as well as the words of Hillel, included in this section, also discuss how to interact with others and how to balance the need to engage with the material world, and yet not lose focus on what is truly important.

Hillel specifically talks about a situation of someone who was drowned in the water, which is very appropriate for the beginning of the month of Cheshvan, the month of the Flood. As will be further explained in week twenty-four, the Flood and its mighty waters are often used as a reference to material concerns, which threaten to drown us.

This week’s sefirah is hod shebechesed, which, as mentioned above, is closely connected with Aaron, and the service of the Kohanim (priests). As also mentioned, Cheshvan will be the month in which the future Third Temple will be inaugurated, and that is where the Kohanim will elevate the material world through their sacrifices.

A lesson in self-improvement that we can learn from the crane is the power of music. After all, music and the sound of instruments is one of the most powerful and ancient forms of fighting sadness. David would play the harp in order to gladden King Saul, who was tormented by depression. The Levites would also sing beautiful songs as the Kohanim performed their tasks.

[1] See Genesis 4:21, on how musical instruments, specifically the lyre is described in the Torah as one of the first technologies developed by human beings.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Introduction to the Aleph-Beit, based on the Zohar

Introduction to the Aleph-Beit, based on the Zohar[1]

Aleph: “the first and the head of all letters, and My uniqueness will be expressed only through you. And you will be the first of all numbers, and all unity of disparate entities will be through you.” [Aleph has the numerical value of 1 and also stands for the Aluphoh Shel Olam, the Master of the World, Hashem.] 

Beit: “initial letter of the word Bracha, blessing, and with it the Holy One is blessed both above and below… the first letter of creation.” [Beit, the second letter, stands for Bayit, home. Midrash Tanchuma teaches that G-d created the world because He desired a dwelling place in the lower realms. The Talmud teaches that Alef Beit together stand for Aluf Binah (learn understanding).]

Gimmel: Gmilut Chassadim, acts of loving kindness.

Dalet: Dal (poor) [Gimmel and Dalet must not become separated from one another.]

Heh: Concealed within the name of Hashem, the Tetragrammaton. They represent feminine qualities. The first Heh in Hashem’s name represents Binah, understanding, and the second Malchut, kingship.  [The letter Heh also is tied to the concept of pregnancy, as it is the first letter in the Hebrew word for it, Herayon.]

Vav: Also concealed in Hashem’s name, representing the six male emotional attributes (Chesed, kindness, through Yesod, foundation). [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.]

Zayin: The Sabbath, the seventh day, and the verse, “Zachor, Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” Zayin also means “weapon.”

Chet: Cheit, sin. [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, in the opening pages of Likutei Moharan, explains that Chet is Chiut (vitality)]

Tet: “Tov veYashar Hashem,” God is good and fair. This good must remain hidden until the World to Come. Teviah, sinking. Also forms the word Chet, sin, when together with the letter Chet. [Tet also means snake in Aramaic, which represents desire, as well as physicality in general.]

Yud: Beginning of Hashem’s Holy Name. Yud symbolizes the male intellectual attribute of Chochmah, wisdom. [Yud represents spirituality. It is simply a dot on the page. The Heavens are said to have been created with the letter Yud. ]

Caf: Kissei HaKavod, the Throne of Glory, and represents Hashem’s Kavod, glory, in general. Also the first letter of Kliyah, destruction. Numerical equivalent of two Yud’s, “representing the Jew’s service of G-d, by which he elicits a corresponding response.” [Caf is also the first letter of the word Keter, crown, which in Kabbalah is connected to those aspects of the soul that are above intellect: Emunah (faith), Ta'anug (pleasure), and Ratzon (desire). Caf also means the palm of the hand, or a spoon, both of which are slightly bent in order to serve as a receptacle, a Kli (which is also with the letter Caf).]

Lamed: Second letter of the word Melech, King. [Lamed also means Limmud, study. The Lamed is particularly connected with the Oral Torah, the part of the Torah which was never intended to be written down, but instead was transmitted orally from teacher to student.

Mem: Melech, King. [Mem also stands for Mayim, water, and has the numerical value of 40; the minimum size of a kosher Mikveh. Em (Alef Mem), means "mother."]

Nun: Norah Tehilot, Na’avah Tehillah, awesome to praise, inspiring song; Nefillah, fall. [Nun also means "fish" in Aramaic, and, along with the Heh, also represents the Divine attribute of Malchut, kingship]

Samech: Somech Noflim, supporting those that are falling [Its shape is a circle, and stands for the different highs and lows of life.]

Ayin: Anavah, humility. Avon, transgression. [Ayin means "eye," as well as "well," "fountain," "spring." The eye is known as the "window to the soul," shedding light on a person's inner dimension. Similarly, a wellspring represents the revelation of the hidden, inner spiritual aspects of the earth, its deeper waters.]

Peh: Pedut, redemption; Pesha, deliberate transgression. [Peh literally means "mouth."] 

Tzadi: Tzaddik, saint (comprised of a Yud and a bent Nun, representing male and female, and also represents a servant of Hashem engaged in prayer)

Kuf: [Kuf is the first letter of Kadosh, holy. Kof literally means monkey, representing unholiness, Klippah, which imitates the holy.]

Reish: [Rosh, head; but also Rash, (poor), Rasha, evil person; Kuf and Resh together spell Kar, cold]

Shin: First letter of the Holy Name, Sh-D-Y, and associated with the three Patriarchs. Together with Reish and Kuf forms Sheker. Kesher means “knot.” [Esh, Alef Shin, means "fire."]

Tav: Concluding letter of Emet, truth. Used to mark the foreheads of mean of faith who had fulfilled the Torah from Aleph to Tav, beginning to end. The tav was also used to mark the head of wicked and punished by death. Final letter of Mavet, death.

Caf Sofit: Third letter of the word, Melech, king [The Caf Sophit is "a long straight letter, indicat[es] that one who succeeds in bending his primitive impulses and controlling them... (Munk)]

Mem Sofit: [While the regular "open" Mem is connected to the revealed aspects of Creation and of the Torah, the Mem Sofit is "sealed," representing that which is hidden and concealed. It is also a reference the final redeemer Mashiach, while the regular Mem is a reference to the first redeemer, Moshe.]

Nun Sofit: [While the regular Nun is bent, the final Nun is an unbounded straight line, reaching even below the "resting place" of the regular letters. (Ginsburgh) The final Nun represents Mashiach's ability to infuse even the lowliest of realms with G-dliness. The final Nun also has the shape of an extended vav, which stands for uprightness.]

Peh Sofit: [The final Peh symbolizes a mouth that is wide open. Similar to the final Nun, the long downward "leg" of the final Peh appears to represent Mashiach's ability to infuse even the lowliest of realms with the revelation of G-dliness.]

Tzadi Sofit: the Tzadik Sofit represents the Ba'al Teshuvah.  It represents someone who went far below in order to then climb back up. Moshe, "bent" in humility, is the quintessential Tzadik. The Tzadi Sofit, the "end Tzadik," is a reference to Mashiach. Mashiach will elevate even the lowest of realms. When Mashiach comes, even Tzadikim will do Teshuvah.

[1]  Zohar I, 2b ff. Selections translated and annotated by Moshe Miller, Fiftieth Gate Publications and Seminars, pp. 75 – 84. Information that is in brackets [ ], is based on other sources. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Second Set of 22 Days: Gimmel & Dalet, Eden & Gehennom (Purgatory)

The 19th of Tishrei begins the second set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Gimmel and Dalet, as well as the Garden of Eden and Gehennom (Purgatory).

Gimmel and Dalet have an interesting relationship. Together, they stand for the idea of "Gommel Dalim," helping the poor. "Dal" means poor in Hebrew. It is a well known idea tht Gimmel is shaped in such a way that represents its running toward the "Dal," the letter Dalet.

The Garden of Eden and Gehennom have a similar kind of relationship on a spiritual plane. Gehennom is often translated as "hell," but hell and eternal damnation are not really a Jewish ideas. Judaism believes that a soul usually must undergo some form of cleansing before entering Heaven, and this cleansing takes place in Gehennom.

To some extent, the Garden of Eden represents spiritual richness, while Gehennom represents spiritual lacking. This is reflected in the verses that these elements sing:

  • The Garden of Eden is saying, "Arouse yourself, O north [wind], and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow out; let my Beloved come to His garden and eat of its precious fruit." (Song of Songs 4:16)
  • Gehinnom is saying: "For He has satisfied the longing soul, and has filled the hungry soul with good." (Psalms 107:9)
These two elements also appear to clearly represent what is about to take place in the next 22 days. We'll still be in the midst of the holiday season, fully cleansed and joyous after Yom Kippur and fully engaged in the mitzvot of Sukkah and Lulav, which are very much linked to the Garden of Eden. The "mitzvah fruit" of these days, the Etrog, is said to have the smell of the Garden of Eden. We also shake the Lulav north and south (as well as in the other directions, East, West, up and down), as in the song above.

Following the holiday and Tishrei, we enter Cheshvan, which is called "Mar Cheshvan," "Bitter" Cheshvan, because it lacks any holidays (for now). We therefore use all our spiritual resources acquired in Tishrei to "enrich" the month of Cheshvan, infusing this month and the physical world as a whole with spirituality. 

(Acrostic Psalm 25, connected to Gehinnom; 3 Psalms for week 5 includes Psalm 15, about Gan Eden)

Week 4 (From the Book): To Take Responsibility for All, Yet Protecting Oneself from Bad Influences

The Eagle[1] is saying, "And You, G-d, Lord of Hosts, Lord of Israel, awake to punish all the nations; do not be gracious to any wicked traitors, sela!" (Psalms 59:6)

Rabbi [Yehudah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind. 

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost.
Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.

Netzach shebeChesed (victory and endurance within the context of kindness)

On the fourth week of the year, which encompasses the end of Sukkot (including Hoshanah Rabbah), as well as Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the eagle sings. During this week, as soon as each community completes the annual reading of the entire Torah, we immediately start our studies anew, just like the eagle renews its feathers from year to year.[2] It is also worth noting that during these days, both for hoshanot and hakafot, we spend a large portion of our service circling the bimah,[3] just like the eagle.

Rebbe Nachman’s yahrzeit, the 18th of Tishrei, often falls on this week of the year, the week of Simchat Torah. Two of Rebbe Nachman’s main teachings are relate to the concept of always being happy and of always starting anew.[4] That is exactly what Simchat Torah is all about.  As Rebbe Nachman said himself, his “main day” is Rosh Hashanah, and as further explained below, Simchat Torah is the culmination of the judgment that took place from Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Rabbah.

The eagle is the greatest of birds, flying higher than the rest. It therefore has an extremely broad and potent view and perspective on all Creation. Unlike other birds, which carry their young between their talons, the eagle carries them on their wings because no other animal can reach that high. So is our relationship with God: "You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I took them on eagles' wings and brought them to Me."[5]

The eagle requests that G-d remember the nations (Psalms 59:6). The word “remember” can have both a positive (remember for good) as well as a negative connotation (remember in order to punish). The continuation of the eagle’s song appears to be more connected to the latter, as it states, “do not be gracious to any wicked traitors, selah.” Throughout Sukkot, the Jewish people have been bringing sacrifices on behalf of all nations. However, on Shemini Atzeret, we stop bringing sacrifices for others, and place them aside for the time being, so that the Jewish people can be alone with G-d.

The number four represents stability and strength more than the number three, just as a table with four legs is firmer than a tripod. The number four also refers to the matriarchs of the Jewish People: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. The Torah itself is quite explicit about how the matriarchs were more firm than the patriarchs when it came to protecting their family and their lineage from bad influences and from veering off to wrong paths. Sarah made sure that Yishmael was sent away in order not to be a bad influence for Isaac. When Abraham became apprehensive about this, G-d told him to listen to Sarah. Similarly, Rivkah made sure that Jacob would receive the proper blessings from Isaac, instead of Esau. She also insisted that Jacob not intermarry with the local tribes.

The stability of the number four is reflected in various aspects of the world itself. There are four basic elements in the world: fire, water, air, and earth. There are also four spiritual worlds, or dimensions, mentioned in the Kabbalah: Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah. There are also four rivers that flow from the Garden of Eden, and four levels of Torah knowledge, also known as Pardes. Pardes literally means “orchard,” and stands for: Peshat (simple/meaning), Remez (implied/hinted), Derush (interpreted), and Sod (secret). All of the above concepts are deeply related.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi discusses how to stay on the right path, and be laudable in their own eyes and in the eyes of his fellow man. The word used by Rabbi Yehudah to describe this state of equilibrium is tiferet, the sefirah connected to Sukkot.

As part of his teaching, he states that different mitzvot should not be compared. Some think that dancing with the Torah on the day of Simchat Torah is somehow less important than the prayers recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or even that this mitzvah is somehow smaller compared with the daily study of the Torah. In fact, in the eyes of G-d, dancing with the Torah is very important.

Continuing the transition from Week Three to Week Four, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi tells us to reflect upon three things, which are actually four: "(1) Know what is above you: (2) an Eye that sees, (3) an Ear that hears, and (4) all your deeds are recorded in a Book." This lesson describes the four Jewish holidays of the first four weeks: On Rosh Hashanah, we acknowledge that G-d is above us (the Hebrew word is lada'at, “to know,” and Rosh Hashanah is connected with da'at, as explained in Week 52); on Yom Kippur, G-d sees our teshuvah (our repentance), as stated in the Haftorah of Jonah read on Yom Kippur;[6] the festival of Sukkot is connected to the ear; and Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah all reflect the idea that our actions are written in a book, the Book of Life, because it is precisely on Hoshanah Rabbah that the judgment is concluded.

On this week, the sefirah combination is netzach shebechesed. In it, we complete the reading of the entire Torah, which ends with Vezot haBrachah, when Moses blesses each one of the twelve tribes of Israel. As explained in the beginning of the book, Moses is associated with the sefirah of netzach. Netzach means victory and endurance, which we feel as we reach the completion of the Torah’s reading. Moses’ blessings are linked to chesed.

As mentioned above, the number four, associated with netzach, is connected to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. As a leader, Moses displays maternal characteristics, drawing a striking parallel with our matriarchs. In a particularly difficult time of his journey, Moses desperately please with G-d: "Was it I who gave birth to this entire people, that You ask me to carry them in my bosom as one who carries a nursing [baby], to the land You promised their ancestors?"[7]

It is also worth noting that the Rambam, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, whose known for the phrase, that “from Moshe to Moshe there was no one like Moshe,” was known as the “Great Eagle.” Rebbe Nachman also always said about himself that his sefirah was netzach. Rebbe Nachman also stated, “I have been victorious (nitzachti) and I will be victorious (v’anatzeach); I have finished and I will finish.”

The lesson of self-improvement that can be derived from the song of the eagle is that we should show care and concern for all others, not just ourselves. In fact, caring about others besides oneself is a great way to fight sadness. The eagle shows concern for the community and for all nations, not just for itself.

[1] Rabbi Slifkin translates Nesher as vulture. Other translations have it as an eagle.
[2] Psalm 103:5; Rashi
[3] The bimah is the platform in the middle of the synagogue, which parallels the altar (mizbeach) in the Temple.
[4] Rebbe Nachman stated, “Mitzvah Gedolah Lihyot B’Simchah Tamid! (It is a great mitzvah to be happy always!)" (Likutei Moharan II, 24). He also would say, “Start serving God as if you had never started in your whole life. This is one of the most basic principles of serving God. We must literally begin all over again every day.” (Likutei Moharan I, 261).
[5] Exodus 19:4
[6] The Book of Jonah states, "And G-d saw their actions  ... and G-d reconsidered the evil which He had spoken to perform against them, and He did not perform it." (3:10, emphasis added)
[7] Numbers 11:12

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