Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Horse is Saying (Song(s) for Week 31)

The Horse is saying,

If they profane My statutes and
Do not observe My commandments
By reason of the prancings
The prancings of their mighty ones.

Do not increasingly speak haughtily
Let not arrogance come out of your mouth
[He is] the G-d Whose way is perfect
The word of the Lord is tried.

Your wrath is commensurate with one's fear of You
He is a shield unto all them that trust in Him
Relent, O Lord; how long? Have compassion upon Your servants.
Who can know the intensity of Your anger?

Behold, as the eyes of the servants
To the hand of their master
So are our eyes to G-d our Lord
Until He will favor us.

And Moses said to Aaron
Say to the entire community of the children of Israel
Teach us, then, to reckon our days
That we may acquire a wise heart.

And it came to pass when Aaron spoke
To the entire community of the children of Israel
That they turned toward the desert, and behold!
The glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

How fair are your feet in sandals,
O daughter of nobles!
As the eyes of the maidservant
To the hand of her mistress

The curves of your thighs are like jewels,
The handiwork of a craftsman.
Your navel is a round basin,
Where no mixed wine is lacking;

Your belly is [like] a stack of wheat,
Fenced in with roses.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
The twins of a gazelle.

'Curse you Meroz,' said the messenger of the Lord,
'Curse you bitterly inhabitants thereof,'
For the Lord is a G-d of thoughts,
And to Him are deeds counted.

For their rock is not like our Rock
Nevertheless, our enemies sit in judgment
Draw near before the Lord,
For He has heard your complaints.

Week 31 (From the Book): To Be Proud of Our Humble Connection with G-d

PEREK SHIRAH: The horse is saying, "Behold, as the eyes of the servants to the hand of their master, as the eyes of the maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so are our eyes to G-d our Lord until He will favor us." (Psalms 123:2)

PIRKEI AVOT: Ben Azzai would say: Run to pursue a minor mitzvah, and flee from a transgression. For a mitzvah brings another mitzvah, and a transgression brings another transgression. For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward of transgression is transgression.

He would also say: Do not scorn any man, and do not discount any thing. For there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place.

SEFIRAH: Tiferet shebeHod (beauty and balance within the context of glory and gratefulness)

The thirty-first week of the year is the week of Rosh Chodesh Iyar. It also includes the day of remembrance of the fallen soldiers of Israel and victims of terror, as well as the fifth of Iyar, which marks the miraculous victory of Israel in its War of Independence. In this week, the horse in Perek Shirah sings about how like servants, our eyes are fixed on the Lord our G-d, until He has compassion over us. (Psalm 123:2) From beginning to end, during this month we are involved in the mitzvah of counting the omer. As mentioned previously, this month is also known as a month of healing, and is formed by the Hebrew letters alef, yud, and reish, which serve as an acronym for the verse “Ani Hashem Rofecha,” "I am G-d your Healer," in which each word begins with one of these three letters.

The month of Iyar is represented by the Tribe of Issachar. The Torah describes Issachar as, "a strong-boned donkey" (similar to the horse), which takes upon itself the yoke of Torah study. Issachar and Zevulun had a partnership in which Zevulun was involved in commerce and supported Issachar in its total dedication to Torah. This dedication to Torah is symbolized by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose yahrzeit is in this month, and of whom it is said, “Toratoh Emunatoh,” that his Torah study was his profession.

There is a clear connection between this week, the fifth of Iyar and the War of Independence. The horse, especially in ancient times, symbolizes military might. An example of this is found in the Song of the Sea, which describes how when Pharaoh came with his chariots to attack the Jewish people, G-d threw “horse and rider into the sea.” (This is actually the song of the ox, later this month, in week 34)[1]

Despite being a symbol of power, the horse sings of constantly looking to Hashem for mercy. During the War of Independence, the Jewish people truly fought mightily and heroically, like horses, and yet their victory was only possible due to its miraculous nature, a product of Hashem’s great mercy.

A horse loyally follows the directions of its rider. Like the horse, the Jewish people waited a long time and suffered greatly until Hashem showed us favor and made it possible for us to live in our Holy Land again.
The horse’s song also reflects the feelings of one who is ill or injured and prays to G-d for healing. This is connected to the day of remembrance, as well as to the fifth of Iyar itself. One must not forget that the miracle of Israel’s War of Independence occurred shortly after the Holocaust, when the Jewish people as a whole was like a sick person in urgent need.

The number thirty-one contains the same numerals as thirteen, which, as explained above, represent G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy. Furthermore, the number thirty-one is also connected to the conquest of the Land of Israel. At the end of the conquest of the Land in the times of Joshua, the Tanach lists all the kings that were defeated at that time, thirty-one in all.[2]

The number thirty-one is formed by the Hebrew letters lamed and alef, which in turn spell the word E-l, one of the names of G-d. The name E-l is an expression of infinite power, but also of infinite mercy.[3] The word el appears many times in the horse’s song.

In the Pirkei Avot for this week, Ben Azzai teaches that one must be fast to perform a mitzvah and to flee from a transgression; for a mitzvah draws another mitzvah, while a transgression draws another. The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah, while the reward for a transgression is a transgression. Similarly, just as one mitzvah leads to another, physical and spiritual healing also comes slowly, one step at a time, like the Counting of the Omer.

Furthermore, Ben Azzai teaches not to scorn anyone and not to reject any thing, because there is no one who does not have his moment and there is no thing that does not have its place. This teaching’s connection with Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is similar to that of the song of the horse: the Jewish people and the Land of Israel finally had their moment!

This week’s sefirot combination results in tiferet shebehod. With patience and balance, step by step, we serve G-d and climb the ladder to spiritual fulfillment, getting closer and closer to Hashem. In order to perform this task, we inspire ourselves in the horse’s example, understanding that despite our strength we are nothing more (and nothing less) than servants of G-d. We should be proud of our humble connection with G-d and know that the journey towards Him may at times be slow, but that the arrival at its destination is certain.




[1] See also the last chapters of the Book of Job.
[2] Book of Joshua, Ch. 12

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Camel is saying, (Song(s) for Week 30)

The Camel is saying,

Tread down, O my soul strength.
Then were pounded the heels of the horses
I went down to the nut garden
To see the green plants of the valley

To see whether the vine had blossomed,
The pomegranates were in bloom.                    
If his children forsake My Torah
And do not walk in My ordinances

You have set our wrongdoings before You,
Our hidden sins before the light of Your countenance.
For all our days have vanished in Your wrath;
We cause our years to pass like a fleeting sound.

But [of] what [significance] are we,
That you make complain against us?
When the Lord hears your complaints,
Which you are making complain against Him,

How can one pursue a thousand,
And two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock has sold them out,
And the Lord has given them over?

There is none as holy as the Lord,
For there is none besides You
And there is no rock like our God.  
But [of] what [significance] are we?

And Moses said,
Not against us are your complaints,
But against the Lord.
When the Lord gives you

In the evening meat to eat
And bread in the morning to become sated
The days of our lives number seventy years,
And if in great vigor, eighty years

Most of them are but travail and futility
Passing quickly and flying away.
And [in the] morning, You shall see the glory of the Lord
When He hears your complaints against the Lord

G-d shall roar from upon high
And cause His voice to sound
From His holy place, His shout
Echoes profoundly over His dwelling place.

Return, return, O Shulammite
Return, return, and let us gaze upon you.
What will you see for the Shulammite,
As in the dance of the two camps?

I did not know; my soul made me
Chariots for a princely people.
For by You I run upon a troop
By my G-d I scale a wall.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Week 30 (from the Book): To Know that the World Needs More Love and Respect

PEREK SHIRAH: The camel is saying, “G-d shall roar from upon high and cause His voice to sound forth from His holy place, His shout echoes profoundly over His dwelling place. (Jeremiah 25:30)

PIRKEI AVOT: Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): "From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation."

Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), "Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city."

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): "If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you"; "fortunate are you" in this world, "and good is to you" in the World to Come.

Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows. As is stated (I Samuel 2:30): "For to those who honor me, I accord honor; those who scorn me shall be demeaned."

SEFIRAH: Gevurah shebeHod (discipline and judgment within the context of glory and gratefulness)

In the thirtieth week, the last week of Nissan and the week of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is the turn of the camel in Perek Shirah to proclaim that, “the Lord roars from upon high; His voice is heard from His holy place; His roar echoes loudly over His dwelling place. (Jeremiah 25:30) The verse of the camel describes how Hashem strongly laments the destruction of the Temple. Due to its destruction, the Jewish people have had to survive for a very long period of time without its basic source of spiritual sustenance, just like the camel survives for long periods without water. Nissan is the month of redemption, both the redemption from Egypt as well as the future redemption. However, even on Passover itself we have an egg on the Seder plate as a sign of mourning to remember the destruction of the Temple and that the final redemption has not yet taken place. This week also marks the yahrzeit of Yehoshua Bin Nun, on the 26th day of this month.

As is explained in the same Midrash cited in week twenty-eight, the camel represents the Babylonian exile, when the First Temple was destroyed. Moreover, like the beast of burden, the camel also appears to be a reference to Yishmael.[1] As we complete the month of Nissan, we relive all the exiles and the redemptions that the Jewish people experienced throughout history, while hoping to soon experience the final redemption that will take us out of the current exile.

Thirty is an intensification of the qualities of balance represented by the number three. The number thirty also has the numerical value of the name Yehudah. As mentioned previously, Nissan is represented by the Tribe of Judah. Pirkei Avot teaches that thirty is also the age of koach, strength and potential. (See Week 28) At thirty, one is at the height of his or her physical and intellectual capacity. It was at the age of thirty that the kohanim would begin serving in the Temple. Such strength and potential are associated with Judah and his descendant, King David, who unlike Esau, acknowledged and repented from their mistakes, and were able to fully tap into their capacity for good.

In Pirkei Avot this week, Ben Zoma teaches: "Who is wise? One who learns from every person; Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination ... Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his portion.” This teaching is closely related to the tragic events that took place during the time of the Counting of the Omer. The death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples was caused by the difficulty they had in respecting, accepting, and learning from each other’s interpretations and applications of their master’s teachings.

The destruction of the Temple and the exile in which we find ourselves to this day (which includes also the events of the Holocaust) is due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred. We will be redeemed from this final exile through ahavat chinam, baseless love for each individual.

Ben Zoma’s lesson is closely related Yehoshua Bin Nun. He was Moses’ closest disciple and successor, and yet also could relate to everyone: “on the verse describing Joshua as ‘a man in whom there is spirit,’ Sifrei explains “that he was able to meet the spirit of every man.”[2]

Ben Zoma’s second question and answer, “Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination,” also appears related to the yahrzeit of Joshua. The Rebbe once said regarding his yahrzeit that, “On this day, assistance from heaven is granted to become a conqueror, like Yehoshua Bin Nun, ‘the most prominent of the conquerors.’"[3] During this week, we prepare for the conquests related to the following month (Iyar), and learn to become strong conquerors like Joshua.

In this week, the combination of sefirot results in gevurah shebehod. The Counting of the Omer, especially after the end if Passover and the month of Nissan, marks a period of service to G-d that can be potentially difficult, requiring both strength and discipline in order to conquer our evil inclination.
An additional lesson that we can extract from the words of the camel is that we must always remember our mission in the world: to create a dwelling place for G-d in this world, starting by creating a sacred space for Him within ourselves.






[1] Talmud, Brachot 56b (where the description of a dream with a camel follows description of a dream with Yishmael); Midrash Asseret Melachim, Midrash Pitron Torah
[2] Tanya, Compiler’s forward
[3] From the Rebbe’s Letters, available at: http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/letters-rebbe-2/07.htm

Week 29 (From the Book): After the Initial Inspiration, To Get to Work

PEREK SHIRAH: The beast of burden is saying, "When you eat the fruit of your labors, happy are you and good is your lot." (Psalms 128:2)

PIRKEI AVOT: Rabbi Eliezer [the son of] Chisma would say: the laws of kinin (bird offerings) and the laws of menstrual periods---these, these are the meat of Halachah (Torah law). The calculations of solar seasons and gematria are the condiments of wisdom.

SEFIRAH COMBINATION: Chesed shebeHod (kindness within the context of glory and gratefulness)

As we enter the twenty-ninth week, the week of Passover, in Perek Shirah, the large impure (non-kosher) domestic animal sings that those that eat from the work of their own hands are praiseworthy and are blessed with good. (Psalm 128:2) This animal has been translated by Rabbi Slifkin simply as the “beast of burden.”[1] On Passover, we feel the influx of Hashem’s blessings and redemption. At the same time, from the second day of Passover onwards, the Jewish people begin counting the omer and begin working towards self-improvement. Thus, by the time Shavuot arrives, we will have merited to receive the Torah, at least in part through the work of our own hands.

This week’s animal appears to be a reference to Yishmael and his descendants. This son of Abraham was known for his great capacity for praying and for trusting in G-d’s blessings and salvation.[2] In fact, Yishmael did receive great blessings, although part of the blessings showed that there were aspects of his lifestyle that still needed to be improved. The angel tells Hagar, Yishmael’s mother, that "his hand would be on everyone.”[3] Later in life, Yishmael repents, returns to G-d, and has a good relationship with Isaac.[4] In messianic times, Isaac and Yishmael will coexist in peace.

Our sages interpret the verse of the beast of burden to be a dual blessing, “praiseworthy” – in this world, and “good for you” - in the world to come. There is a custom in Chassidic circles, instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov, to make a meal on the eighth day of Passover called Moshiach Seudah, in honor of Mashiach and the world to come.

The number twenty-nine is connected to the cycle of the moon (29.5 days to be exact), on which the Jewish month is based. Muslims, who consider themselves descendants of Yishmael, follow a purely lunar calendar. Twenty-nine is also the number of days in a woman’s menstrual cycle. (See Pirkei Avot below)

The lesson in Pirkei Avot for this week is found in the teaching of Rabbi Elazar the son of Chismah. He explains that the laws relating to bird sacrifices and menstrual cycles are essential, while astronomy and numerological calculations (gematria) are the spice of wisdom. (III:18) On Passover, we do not eat chametz, leavened bread. Spiritually, this represents the notion that on Passover we set aside everything that makes us feel “inflated” and takes away from our essence, our core identity as reflected in our relationship with G-d and with each other.    

Furthermore, on Passover, G-d connects to us on a deeply personal level, primarily as our Redeemer, instead of as the Creator of the Universe. (See Appendix I) This appears to be taught in this week’s Pirkei Avot: G-d does not want us to lose ourselves in grandiose and esoteric topics, such as astronomy and gematria. He would rather see us involved also in the details of properly serving Him in how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis.

The two sets of laws mentioned in Pirkei Avot are particularly important to daily conduct. They are fundamental to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People, and between husband and wife (which is also a metaphor for our relationship with G-d, as expressed in Solomon’s Song of Songs). Bird sacrifices are related to our ability to come closer to G-d.  The word for sacrifice in Hebrew is korban, from the word karov, which means close (nowadays, because we cannot bring sacrifices, prayer and study serve as substitutes). Similarly, the laws related to the female menstrual cycle are essential in order to make wives permissible to their husbands.[5]

This week, the combination of sefirot results in chesed shebehod. This week, we work on ourselves in order to properly receive and appreciate G-d’s blessings that we receive during Passover. (This week would also represent the “eighth week” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Netzach. This is appropriate, as Pessach is the festival of redemption)

We learn from the beast of burden that in our path towards righteousness, Hashem helps us and journeys with us along the way. Nevertheless, we should not want or expect our spiritual development to be "spoon-fed." Even if ultimately everything comes from G-d, we must work hard to achieve spiritual elevation ourselves.






[1] Slifkin, p. 11
[2] Genesis 21:10, 48:22, Targum
[3] Ibid.
[4] Genesis 25:9, Rashi
[5] The Torah sets forth laws regarding times during a woman’s menses in which husband and wife do not touch, and instead interact primarily on a spiritual plane. These essential laws help preserve a higher level intimacy and attraction, since the physical side of the relationship is renewed each month.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ruth 2.5 days


Ruth 85 verses
34 days of cycle 16 + 1/2 at end of the year
2.5 verses per day
2 until Chai Elul and 3 until the end (or vice versa)

Shir HaShirim 7 cycles paralelling Eicha (154 verses including Psalms 30, 72, and 127)

DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF PEREK SHIRAH HERE!