Sunday, May 28, 2017

Twelfth Set of 22 Days: Kaf Sofit, Trees of the Field and the Vine (the Priestly Family of Abiyah)

Twelfth Set of 22 Days: Kaf Sofit, Trees of the Field and the Vine (the Priestly Family of Abiyah)

12th Cycle

Kaf Sofit
Trees of the Field
20. The king of Shimron-meron, one;
Proverbs, Chapter 23
 Lamentations 3
12. So teach the number of our days, so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.
3:59 AM
Three weeks from 3rd of Sivan to 24th of Sivan

the king of Achshaph, one;

Proverbs, Chapter 24

יב. לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה:
4:11 AM

The 3rd of Sivan begins the twelfth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the letter Kaf Sofit, as well as the Trees of the Field and the Vine in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period runs from the Shlosha Yemei Hagbalah (three days of separation) and Shavuoth to close to the end of the month of Sivan.

The previous set of 22 days marked the last two letters of the Jewish alphabet, Shin and Tav. However, it is also common to include separately in the Aleph Bet the final letters: Kaf Sofit, Mem Sofit, Nun Sofit, Peh Sofit and Tzadik Sofit. These letters appear stand for the five parts of the mouth related to speech, which are connected to the "Five Gevurot" and the five primary vowels. (See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation and commentary to Sefer Yetzirah)

The twelfth cycle of 22 days appears related to the letter Kaf Sofit. As mentioned previously, the Kaf stands for Keter, which is the part of the soul that is associated with that which is above intellect. Kaf literally means the palm of the hand and/or a spoon, which is bent like a receptacle. Unlike the regular Kaf, the Kaf Sofit is not bent, but instead goes straight down.

The giving of the Torah came straight down in a way that penetrated the world, to the extent that on Mount Sinai the words of the Torah did not have an echo (ie. they did not bounce back from what they touched - instead they were absorbed).

The following is from Rabbi Michael Munk's, "The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet:"

The Kaf Sophit, "a long straight letter, indicat[es] that one who succeeds in bending his primitive impulses and controlling them... Exodus 33:22 says, "VeSakoti Kapi Aleicha," I will shelter you with my hand (Krias HaTorah)."
The shape of the shofar, which calls us to repentance on Rosh Hashanah, must - according to halachic tradition - have a bent shape to indicate that a person's evil spirit must be bent as a prerequisite for repentance. However, the shofar blown in the Temple every fifty years to announce the Yovel, Jubilee Year, is long and straight as a symbol of freedom (Rosh Hashanah 26b)...
"The Talmud (Yoma 35b) teaches that when Joseph withstood the enticements of Potiphar's wife, she threatened him with imprisonment, and exclaimed, 'Ani Kophephet Komatech," I will bend your [moral] steadfastness.' Joseph responded, 'Hashem Zokeph (with a final Kaf) Kephuphim,' Hashem straightens the bent. (Psalms 146:8)."
(Munk, the Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, p. 136)
This period also marks the end of the Counting of the Omer, in which we worked tirelessly on our animal inclinations, "straightening ourselves out," and preparing ourselves to receive the Torah on the fiftieth day, like the fiftieth year of the Yovel.

The Perek Shirah elements of this week are also related to Shavuot. Shavuot is known also as Chag HaBikurim, the Festival of the First Fruits, when the first fruits of the seven species with which the Land of Israel is blessed were harvested and brought to the Temple. It is therefore quite appropriate that in include the Trees of the Field in general as well as the Vine, which is the first (and arguably the most important) of the seven species. Shavuot is also called Chag HaKatzir, the Harvest Festival, and the third Chapter of Perek Shirah, which begins with this cycle, is all about the vegetable kingdom.

It is also fascinating that just as the period immediately prior to Shavuot begins a new section of Perek Shirah, transitioning from the mineral kingdom to vegetable kingdom (beginning with a general category, entitled “Trees of the Field” (Ilanot HaSadeh), so too in Book 1, Week 35 transitions from domesticated animals to wild ones (beginning with a general category entitled “Wild Animals of the Field” (Chayot HaSadeh). These “collective” categories immediately prior to Shavuot seem to point to the general theme of unity associated with these weeks.  Furthermore, the emphasis on the Sadeh, the field, seems to relate to the fact that the Torah was not given in a home or in a city, but in the wilderness. The fields are also a place for meditation, prayer and closeness with G-d, also very much associated with this time of the year.

The verses of these two elements read as follows (translation from Rabbi Slifkin):

The Wild Trees are saying, "Then shall the trees of the forest sing out at the presence of G-d, because He comes to judge the earth." (Chronicles I 16:33)

The Vine is saying, "So says God: As the wine is found in the cluster, and one says: Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it - so shall I do for the sake of my servants, so as not to destroy everything." (Isaiah 65:8)

The trees sing out in when they experience the presence of G-d, just as we celebrate our encounter with G-d on Mount Sinai.

Rabbi Slifkin explains that the Vine takes much labor to plant and to harvest, and to later produce its final outcome: wine. Yet, the greater amount of work brings about an even greater reward. ("Nature's Song, p. 170) Similarly, on Shavuot, we are repaid for all the hard work that took place during the Counting of the Omer.

Both verses also contain a strong element of judgment, tempered by Hashem's mercy. As much as Shavuot is a day of celebration, the unfortunate events that took place immediately following the giving of the Torah (ie. the sin of the golden calf), required Hashem's great mercy, as well as Moshe's begging on our behalf "not to destroy everything."

The Temple guard for these 22 days is connected to the priestly family of Abiyah. This priestly family was given the eighth portion, and Shavuot is connected to the "eighth week," which is closely connected to the number fifty as well.

Abiyah is also the name of the King of Judah (son of Rehoboam, and also called Abijam) connected to Week 36 of the year, the week of Shavuot. (See Book 3) As explained in Book 3, just as on Shavuot we received the Torah through unity, so too Abiyah sought to reunite the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Despite his military victory, however, he was unable to reach his goal. Abiyah, the king of Judah followed in the wicked ways of his father, and the Jewish people were steeped in idolatry (perhaps related to the events following Shavuot, mentioned above). Interestingly, like Rehoboam, Jeroboam, the king of Israel also had a son named Abiyah. The child became critically ill, died and was eulogized by all of Israel. [1] (The eulogy, even if for the son of an evil king, also shows the theme of unity connected to Shavuot)

Regarding, Abiyah the son of Jeroboam, Ahiyah the prophet stated that of all the house of Jeroboam, only in the boy Abiyah there was found "some good thing toward the Lord." (Kings I 14:1-8) This seems parallel to the verse of the Vine in Perek Shirah (which speaks of G-d finding a good cluster of grapes among others that deserved destruction) as well as the events following Shavuot mentioned above.

The verse from Psalm 90 for this period appears to refer to the counting of days experienced during the Omer, which culminates with the acquisition of "a heart of wisdom" and the giving of the Torah. The word for acquiring used here is “Navi,” which is the same as the word for prophet. At Mount Sinai, the entire nation reached the level of prophecy.



The Wild Animals say (Song(s) for Week 35)

The Wild Animals say,

One thing have I sworn by My holiness,
That I will not fail David.
He trains my hand for war,
So that mine arms do bend a brass bow.

She put forth her hand to the pin,
And her right hand to strike the weary;
For the appointed day of their reckoning is near,
And what is destined for them hastens.

The Lord impoverishes and makes rich.
He humbles; He also exalts.
Vengeance is poised with Me,
And it will pay at the time their foot stumbles.

O, that you were like my brother,
Who sucked my mother's breasts!
I would find you outside, I would kiss you,
And they would not despise me.

And the children of Israel did so
They gathered, both the one who gathered much
And the one who gathered little.
And they measured [it] with an omer.

I would lead you, I would bring you to the house of my mother,
Who instructed me; I would give you to drink some spiced wine,
Of the juice of my pomegranate. And whoever gathered much
Did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less;

Each one according to his eating capacity, they gathered.
The pots [of figs] have given forth [their] fragrance,
And on our doorways are all manner of sweet fruits,
Both new and old, which I have hidden away for you, my beloved.

Blessed is the One Who is good and bestows good.
The seed of Abraham His servant, the children of Jacob, His chosen ones.
He is the Lord our G-d; throughout all the earth are His judgments.
He remembered His covenant forever, the word He had commanded to the thousandth generation,

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Week 35 (From the Book): To Thank G-d in Unison

The wild animals say: "Blessed is the One Who is good and bestows good." (Talmud, Brachot 48b)

Rabbi Tzadok would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not act as a counselor-at-law (when serving as a judge). Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig. So would Hillel say: one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish. Hence, one who benefits himself from the words of Torah, removes his life from the world.

Malchut shebeHod (kingship within the context of glory and gratefulness)

On the thirty-fifth week, in Perek Shirah, the wild animals sing “Blessed is G-d, who is good and bestows good.” (Talmud, Brachot 48b) This week includes both Yom Yerushalayim as well as Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The song of the wild animals is the blessing that is made to G-d according to Jewish law when something substantially good happens. This blessing is called HaTov veHaMetiv, and is used when the level of perceived good is even greater than that of the more familiar blessing of She'ychianu, because it is made when the good affects not only the individual but also others.

The fact that all wild animals, despite their strong and ferocious instincts, are able to sing in unison a song that shows concerns for others, is directly linked to a special quality we find in Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Sivan is marked by the giving of the Torah, which was made possible by the unity within the Jewish people at that time. The Torah relates that it was on Rosh Chodesh Sivan that all people camped at Mount Sinai "as one man with one heart."[1]

The month of Sivan is connected to the tribe of Zevulun, which was known for its merchant skills and its ability to survive in the outside “wild jungle” that is the capitalist world. Zevulun’s commercial prowess also benefited his brother, the tribe of Issachar, which had a more insular lifestyle, dedicating itself completely to the study of Torah. Zevulun fully supported Issachar financially.

The Torah also explicitly compares the Jewish women in Egypt to wild animals, and Rashi further explains that the entire Jewish people are referred to as wild animals, since Benjamin is called a wolf, Judah a lion, Dan a lion cub, etc.[2] Despite our strong personalities and diverse ways of thinking (two Jews, three ideas, as the traditional saying goes), we nevertheless all manage to get along. This closeness and unity, both among Jews and between us and G-d, is also symbolized by the zodiac sign of this month: Gemini (twins).

On Yom Yerushalayim, we celebrate Israel’s miraculous victory during the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem was reunited. There is also a deep connection here with the song of the wild animals, as this day marks the time when something substantially good happened to all of the Jewish people. As mentioned earlier. Nowadays, we only say the blessing of HaTov veHaMetiv when something very good happens. When something substantially bad happens (or at least perceived to be bad in our eyes) we make the blessing Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed be the True Judge). The Talmud teaches that in Messianic times we will say the blessing of HaTov veHaMetiv (Blessed is G-d, Who is good and bestows good) in all circumstances, because we will understand that even what we once perceived to be bad is ultimately for the good. The same holds true for Yom Yerushalayim. The term Yom Yerushalayim is mentioned in the Psalms as a reference to the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, an event perceived as being very bad, perhaps the worst in our history. After 1967, the term Yom Yerushalayim now refers to the day Jerusalem became liberated, a very good and happy day indeed, in the spirit of the blessing HaTov vehaMetiv. While it is still difficult to understand the meaning behind the great tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, at least we now know that the new use of the term Yom Yerushalayim could not have come into being were it not for the first.

Finally, it is worth noting that the song of the wild animals has a double tov, good (HaTov veHaMetiv). As explained in the previous week, the gematria of tov is 17, and twice that amount is 34. This week appears to further build upon this concept.

The number thirty-five is the gematria of the term yehudi, which refers to all Jews, even though the root of the word comes only from the tribe of Judah. The name yehudi appears related to the ability of all the Tribes of Israel to be able to unite behind a single tribe. The first time yehudi appears in Tanach is in Megillat Esther, as a reference to Mordechai, who himself was from the tribe of Benjamin. The entire Jewish people are referred to in the Megillah as “Am Mordechai,” a “Mordechai Nation.”

Thirty-five is formed by the Hebrew letters lamed and heh, the only two letters in the word Hallel, a song of praise sung on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, and also sung by many on Yom Yerushalayim.

The Pirkei Avot lesson for this week comes from Rabbi Tzadok, who states that we must neither separate ourselves from the community, nor act as an advocate (when sitting as a judge); one should neither make the Torah a crown to glorify oneself, nor a spade with which to dig. (IV: 5) The words of Rabbi Tzadok are directly linked the concept of ​​Jewish unity emphasized on Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

It is worth noting that Rabbi Tzadok fasted for forty years to prevent the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai commented regarding Rabbi Tzadok that if there were one more tzadik like him Jerusalem would not have been destroyed. How appropriate therefore is it for Rabbi Tzadok’s words to fall on the week of Yom Yerushalayim!

This week we also complete one more cycle of seven weeks. The sefirot combination results in malchut shebehod. Malchut represents the concept of taking abstract ideas and applying them in the real world. This week, we bring our service of G-d and our pursuit of peace into complete fruition.

A lesson in self-improvement that can be drawn from the song of the wild animals is that everything that G-d does is for the good. Events that appear to be bad for us will ultimately prove to be for our own good.

[1] Rashi

[2] Exodus 1:19; Rashi

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Ox is saying, (Song(s) for Week 34)

The Ox is saying,

Remember the wonders that He has wrought
His miracles, and the judgments of His mouth
Let us arise early to the vineyards
Let us see whether the vine has blossomed

Come, my beloved, let us go out to the field
Let us lodge in the villages. Glory in His holy Name
May the heart of those who seek the Lord rejoice
Search for the Lord and His might; seek His countenance always

There I will give you my love
When the children of Israel saw [it]
They said to one another, "It is manna"
Because they did not know what it was

This is the thing that the Lord has commanded
I will not abrogate My covenant
Nor change that which has issued from My lips
Is it not stored up with Me, sealed up in My treasuries?

And Moses said to them
The tiny grapes have developed
The pomegranates have lost their flowers
It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat

Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to G-d
And they said, "I shall sing to G-d, for He has triumphed
He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea"
He makes my feet like hinds; And sets me upon my high places

I am my beloved's, and his desire is upon me
Gather of it each one according to his eating capacity
An omer for each person, according to the number of persons
Each one for those in his tent you shall take

Water he requested, (but) milk she gave him
In a lordly bowl she brought him cream
The Lord kills and makes alive
He brings down to the grave and raises up

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Week 34 (from the Book): To Work in a Focused Manner and without Ego

The ox is saying, "Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to G-d, and they said, I shall sing to G-d, for He has triumphed; He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea." (Exodus 15:1)

Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi would say: One who learns Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to learn and teach. One who learns in order to do, is given the opportunity to learn, teach, observe and do.

Yesod shebeHod (foundation and firmness within the context of glory and gratefulness)

In week thirty-four, as we approach the end of the month of Iyar, in Perek Shirah, the ox declares that Moses and the Children of Israel will sing this song to the Lord, and say: I will sing to the Lord, Who exalts Himself gloriously, horse and rider He has thrown into the sea (Exodus 15:1). It is worth noting that the month of Iyar is linked to the zodiac sign of Taurus.

The ox is the last of the farm animals to sing in Perek Shirah, and its verse is from the introduction to the Song of the Sea. The sheep and the goat, the first farm animals in Perek Shirah, also sing a verse from the Song of the Sea, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The cow, the second farm animal mentioned after the sheep and the goat, sings a verse that refers to the Jewish people as Jacob, which reflects a more fragile and humble side of our people (Yaakov comes from the word Ekev, heel). The ox, on the other hand, uses the name Israel, which represents a stronger side. The ox sings as we near the end of the Counting of the Omer. During this journey of liberation, from the beginning of Nissan until now, we make a full transformation Jacob to Israel. The Hebrew word for ox is Shor, which is related to the word Shir (song) and Yashar (upright). This is connected to the very name, Israel, which can be read as Yashar-El (upright one of G-d) and, with a simple inversion of the letters, can mean Shir-El (song of G-d) and even Li-Rosh (to me is the head). As is well known, the song of the ox is in the future tense, a reference to the World to Come.

There is a similar journey within the month of Iyar itself (Taurus in the Zodiac). The first animal this month to sing was the horse, and now at the end of the month, the ox sings about how G-d threw the horse and its rider into the sea. Both the horse and the ox represent strength. However, while the horse’s power reflects somewhat unrestrained military might,[1] the ox is characterized by its humble acceptance of its yoke. The ox’s meat is kosher, while the horse’s meat is not. The ox’s firm acceptance of the yoke of Heaven is what is most precious in the eyes of Hashem.

The ox is also connected to the conquest of the Land of Israel, a general theme of this month of Iyar: “Moab became terrified of the people, for they were numerous, and Moab became disgusted because of the children of Israel. Moab said to the elders of Midian, ‘Now this assembly will eat up everything around us, as the ox eats up the greens of the field.’”[2] As further discussed below, Joseph is called an ox, and Joshua was a direct descendant of Joseph.

The number thirty-four is twice the value of 17, the gematria of tov, good. It is the combination of the first 17 years that Jacob lived with Joseph in Israel, and an additional 17 that he lived with Josef in Egypt, the best years of his life. 34 is also the gematria of Vayechi, the Torah portion that describes Jacob/Israel’s passing. The number 34 therefore also represents this journey from Yaakov to Yisrael, as well as the healing that Jacob experienced after being reunited with Joseph and living the best years of his life in Egypt. Thirty-four is also the gematria of ga’al, “redeemed” in Hebrew.

The Pirkei Avot lesson this week is from Rabbi Yishmael, who teaches that one who studies the Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to study and teach; those that study in order to practice, are given the opportunity to study, teach, observe and practice. (IV:5) The words of Rabbi Yishmael are related to the passing of Rabbi Akiva’s students during the days of the omer. Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not respect one another sufficiently. Those that thought they knew more than others believed that they should be the one receiving respect instead of giving. The most important aspect of learning is to do so in order to teach and practice, not in order to feed one’s own ego. The latter leads a person to think that his or her Torah knowledge makes them superior to others, defeating the whole purpose of learning in the first place.

On this week, the combination of sefirot results in yesod shebehod. Joseph, who represents the sefirah of yesod, is called an "ox" by Jacob in his blessing to Joseph on his deathbed, which can be found in the weekly Torah portion of Vayechi.

A lesson we may learn from the ox is that we must work on ourselves in a very concentrated and humble way, remembering G-d’s omnipotence. We must always keep in mind that Hashem saved us from our enemies in the past, and does so again in every generation. Therefore, we have nothing to fear.

[1] Psalms 20:8, 32:9, and 147:10
[2] Bamidbar 22:3-4

Monday, May 15, 2017

Forgetting Thee

Forgetting Thee
It's clear to me
I must return
And make a "kli"
And if I don't
Remind us now
Shabbat will come
To then refresh
Whatever's left
In memory.

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy. Remember, O Lord, against the children of Edom the day of Jerusalem." (Psalm 137. Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, is the 28th of Iyar).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Week 33 (From the Book): To Recognize the Spiritual Treasures Hidden within Each One of Us

The donkey is saying, "Yours, G-d, is the greatness, and the might, and the splendor, and the victory, and the glory, for everything in the Heavens and earth [is Yours]; Yours, G-d, is the kingship, and the exaltation over all." (Chronicles I, 29:11)

Rabbi Yochanan the son of Berokah would say: Whoever desecrates the Divine Name covertly, is punished in public. Regarding the desecration of the Name, the malicious and the merely negligent are one and the same.

Hod shebeHod (glory and gratefulness within the context of glory and gratefulness)

We now arrive at week thirty-three of the Jewish calendar, the week of Pesach Sheini and Lag Ba’Omer. As explained earlier, Lag Ba’Omer is a day of great celebration, because it was then that the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped perishing. On Lag Ba’Omer, we also celebrate the yahrzeit of the great tzadik, Yesod ha'Olam (foundation of the world), Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It is customary to light a bonfire in his honor, representing the great light that he brought to the world through his teachings of Kabbalah.

This week, in Perek Shirah, the donkey proclaims: “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, and the might, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and on the earth [is Yours]; Yours is the kingdom and [You are He] Who is exalted over everything as the Leader.” (1 Chronicles 29:11) King David recited this verse when he was at the height of his glory, reiterating that everything is from Hashem: glory and kingship, the Heavens and the earth.

This is the week of hod (acknowledgement) in the Counting of the Omer, and therefore it is quite appropriate that the song of the donkey so gracefully acknowledge that everything comes from G-d. The song of the donkey contains all seven emotional sefirot: gedulah is a reference to chesed; then comes gevurah, tiferet, netzach, and hod; hakol is a reference to yesod; and mamlachah, a reference to malchut.

Pesach Sheni is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Meir, one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time. This week also includes the yahrzeit of the great Rabbi Yehuda Bar Ilai. All three men, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah, were disciples of Rabbi Akiva. The Zohar (the main text of Kabbalah, written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) tells us that during this week the Gates of Heaven are wide open.

Rabbi Chanan Morrison, based on the teachings of the Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, helps us better understand the importance of the donkey. Donkeys are considered extremely impure. They have both signs of not being kosher – they do not chew their cud and do not have uncloven hooves. The Zohar teaches that the donkey is so impure that is considered an avi avot hatumah, a great source of impurity (as mentioned previously in Week 12, Kabbalah and Chassidism have the power to elevate even the most impure animals).
Despite being extremely impure, the donkey has a mitzvah that no other non-kosher animal has: "Every firstborn donkey must be redeemed with a lamb."[1] The Talmud, in the tractate of Bechorot (5B), explains that the reason why the donkey has this special mitzvah is because it was instrumental in helping the Jews transport the treasures they had received in Egypt. However, there is also a deeper meaning here: the donkey represents the treasure to be found within each one of us.

The word for donkey in Hebrew, chamor, comes from the word chomer, matter, physicality. In the messianic age, physicality will be merged with spirituality.[2] According to the prophecy of Zachariah, Moshiach will arrive on a donkey!

According to Rav Kook, the Messiah's donkey represents the period of Ikveta d’Mashicha, the time when the “steps” (ikvot) of messianic redemption begins to be heard. Ikvot also comes from the word ekev, which means heel or sole of the foot¸ the roughest and most insensitive part of the body. The era of Ikveta d’Mashicha is one of great spiritual decline, full of chutzpah, deceit, immorality and corruption. However, the Zohar writes that despite their external faults, the generation of this time will be good on the inside. This inner good will be reflected in the special souls of the pre-messianic era. Despite the gloom weighing on their behaviors and beliefs, they will be blessed with an innate holiness, as expressed in their great love for the Jewish people and for the Land of Israel.

The Ikveta d’Mashicha is to be a difficult period, and not all Torah scholars were eager to go through the experience. However, Rav Yosef showed great spiritual strength in saying: "May the Messiah come, and may I have the merit to sit in the shadow of his donkey’s dung."[3] Rav Yosef was accustomed to look at the inner essence of things. He recognized the holiness hidden in this special generation, symbolized by the Messiah’s donkey. Perhaps the above is also the deeper meaning for the statement: "If the earlier generations were like angels, we are like humans. But if they were like humans, we are like donkeys."[4]

Rabbi Moshe Wolfsohn explains that recognizing inner holiness was also the power of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai himself. It is no coincidence that hundreds of thousands of Jews of all backgrounds and levels of religiosity flock to his grave on Lag Ba’Omer. Rabbi Shimon was not only able to understand the deep meaning of the mystical side of the Torah, but he also knew of the enormous value hidden inside every Jew. Just as each of the 600,000 letters of the Torah are special, and essential to a scroll’s validity, so too is each of the 600,000 souls of the Jewish people holy and an essential part of the Jewish people as a whole. If only one letter in a Torah is missing, even if it seems to be the most insignificant one, that Torah is considered invalid and cannot be read in the synagogue. The same goes for the Jewish people and every soul that is part of it. Without even a single soul, even the lowest of the low, we are not complete.

At this level of thinking, one can understand that no one is above anyone else. This understanding is exactly what was lacking to the 24,000 (12,000 pairs) of students of Rabbi Akiva who died during the Counting of the Omer. In a pair, one of the partners might think he is superior to the other in understanding, and come to think that he need not show respect to the other. On the contrary, his partner should show him respect. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai came into the world to fix this way of thinking.

When one looks at others while focusing on their inner essence, their soul, whose source is the same for all – G-d – there is no room for difference. On this level, we all truly equal, all siblings, children of one Father. This is the primary lesson taught by the Alter Rebbe in chapter 32 (lev, heart) of the Tanya; the Alter Rebbe explains that that this is the secret of how to love your neighbor as yourself. It was Rabbi Akiva who stated that to love your neighbor as yourself is the great general principle of the Torah.

It is also worth noting that while Rabbi Akiva’s deep love for his fellow might have always existed in potential, in the beginning of his life however, he expressed the exact opposite emotion. The Talmud quotes Rabbi Akiva, who states that before became learned, he hated the sages so much that he wanted to bite them like a donkey. His students ask why he did not want to bite them like a dog. Unlike a dog, Rabbi Akiva says, a donkey’s bite can break the bone. The Hebrew word for bone is etzem, which also means essence. Perhaps herein lies the secret to Rabbi Akiva’s teachings, which is connected to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s path mentioned above: Rabbi Akiva was able to transform tremendous hatred into the greatest love by focusing on people’s essence.[5]

The number thirty-three is the number associated with Lag Ba’Omer and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The combination of the Hebrew letters lamed and gimmel spell Lag, but also form the word gal, which means to reveal. One of the Rebbe’s best known ma’amarim on Lag Ba'Omer is entitled “Gal Einai v'Abita Niflaot miToratecha,” a verse in Psalm 119.

The lesson of this week’s Pirkei Avot is the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan the son of Berokah, who states: one who profanes the Name of Heaven in secret, will be punished in public. Either inadvertently or intentionally, it is all the same when it comes to the desecration of the Name (IV:4). This teaching appears related to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who sanctified the name of Hashem in secret and then publicly revealed his greatness. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent twelve years in a cave studying Torah with his son. After this long period, he left the cave and spread his teachings to the rest of the Jewish world. (Rabbi Shimon’s additional teaching in Week 43 found along with that of Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai, in which Rabbi Shimon praises the importance of the “crown of a good name:” Having a “good name” means being a good example and thereby publicly sanctifying the name of G-d.)

This week’s sefirot combination is hod shebehod, just as Lag Ba’Omer itself. It is a week of tremendous revelation of divine glory. In the yearly count, Lag Ba’Omer is hod shebehod shebehod.

A lesson in self-improvement that we can learn from the song of the donkey is that everything comes from G-d, both what we perceive as bad and also what we perceive as good. Thus, as explained in the previous week, we must not only direct ourselves to Him when we are in trouble, but also thank Him in moments of glory.

[1]Exodus 13:13
[2] One of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings: "When you see chamor, a donkey" (Sh'mot 23:5) - when you carefully examine your chomer ("materiality"), your body, you will see... ..."your enemy" - meaning, that your chomer hates your Divine soul that longs for G-dliness and the spiritual, and furthermore, you will see that it is......"lying under its burden" placed upon it - (the body) by G-d, namely, that it should become refined through Torah and mitzvot; but the body is lazy to fulfill them. It may then occur to you that......"you will refrain from helping it" - to enable it to fulfill its mission, and instead you will follow the path of mortification of the flesh to break down the body's crass materiality. However, not in this approach will the light of Torah reside. Rather... ..."you must aid it" - purify the body, refine it, but do not break it by mortification.

There was indeed a method of subordinating the body through afflicting it with ascetic practices, but the Baal Shem Tov rejected this path. He saw the body not as an obstacle to the spirit, something intrinsically evil and unG-dly, but as a potential vehicle for the spiritual, a means for the soul to attain heights otherwise inaccessible. The "enemy" is to be transformed into an ally, an instrument. In great measure the Mitzvot employ gross physical matter to fulfill G-d's will, e.g. leather for tefillin thongs, wool for tzitzit, etc.

[3] Sanhedrin 98b
[4] Talmud, Shabbat 112b
[5] Talmud, Pesachim 49b

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Eleventh Set of 22 Days: Shin and Tav, Dew and Rain (the Priestly Family of Miyamin)

The 10th of Iyar began the eleventh set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the letters Shin and Tav, as well as the Dew and Rains in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period includes Lag Ba'OmerYom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan (extending until the 2nd of Sivan), immediately prior to the Shlosha Yemei Hagbalah (three days of separation) and Shavuoth.

Shin literally means "tooth," the strongest bone in the human body. It is also one of the "mother" letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and is connected to Esh, fire. According to Sefer Yetzirah, it represents the head.

The Shin has different ways of being written (sometimes with 4 arms instead of 3), and also has different sounds (sometimes Sh, sometimes S, and sometimes silent). The Shin's numerical value is 300, consistent with its three-armed shape. This fiery letter sometimes has a negative trait. Along with the two letters of the previous cycle, it forms the word Sheker, a lie. 

These are fiery times in the Jewish calendar, particularly Lag Ba'Omer (also very much connected to the number 3, as it is the 33rd day of the Omer: Lamed is 30 and Gimmel is 3. Yom Yerushalayim is also connected to fire. Of the 4 holy cities, Jerusalem is fire. "It was destroyed by fire and will be rebuilt by fire."

The next and final letter in the Aleph-Bet is the Tav. Is in many ways the opposite of the Shin. It represents Tmimut (wholesomeness), perfection, stability. Along with the "mother" letters Alef (air) and Mem (water), it spells out the word Emet, truth. As the final letter, it represents completion. It also represents death, Mavet, which ends with the letter Tav.
 This cycle is also about completing the Counting of the Omer, which are called Shevah Shabatot Temimot (seven wholesome, complete weeks). Also, as explained in the previous cycle, it is during the counting of the Omer that we transform unholiness into holiness, falsehood (Sheker) into truth (Emet), and, ultimately, death into life. As we encamp at Mt. Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, we are settled, stable, and in harmony, prepared to receive the Torah. 

A similar theme can be found in the Perek Shirah verses of the Dew and the Rain:

The Dew is saying, “I shall be as the dew to Israel, he shall blossom as a rose, he shall spread forth his roots as the Lebanon." (Hoshea 14:6) Other texts add: "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)

The Rains are saying, "You, O Lord, poured a generous rain, to strengthen Your heritage when it languished." (Psalms 68:10)

Dew represents renewal. It is connected to resurrection of the dead. There is also something called the Tal of Torah. The teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revived us. We blossomed like a rose... which are the opening words of the Zohar.  

The Dew also connotes a "surprise" redemption, which is independent of our merits. Such was the conquest of Jerusalem and the Six-Day war, in which Israel "spread forth his roots as the Lebanon. The "Lebanon" is a known reference to the Temple and Jerusalem. 

The additional text also seems related to Lag Ba'omer and Yom Yerushalayim, as it speaks about being aroused from the hidden (North, Tzafon, can also mean Tzafun, hidden), like the hidden knowledge of Kabbalah revealed by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It also speaks of spreading out to the north, south, and to Hashem's garden, Jerusalem.

Rain is usually conditional on our behavior. It is in this way more connected to the attribute of judgement and truth, like the Tav. However, there are times, like on Yom Yerushalayim, when even rain can fall simply out of Hashem's generosity, as well as out of the need to protect His heritage. As we say in the opening lines of the Shmoneh Esreh Prayer... "Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak, veElohei Ya'akov... uMevi Goel liVnei Bneihem, L'ma'an Shemoh Be'Ahavah" (the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob... and Who brings redemption to their children's children, for the sake of His Name, in love). The song of the Rain is also about us feeling strengthened and firmly established, like the encampment by Mt. Sinai.

These last two elements also mark the end of the second chapter of Perek Shirah, and the completion of all the songs of the elements of the mineral kingdom. The following chapters in Perek Shirah relate to trees and to animals.

The Temple guard for these 22 days is connected to the priestly family of Miyamin. This name is spelled the same and appears to be a reference to the first word in a very powerful verse in the song of Haazinu: "Miyeminoh Esh-Dat Lamo"  (At His right hand was a fiery law unto them). This hints to many of the ideas mentioned above. This is a time in the Jewish calendar that is very much connected to fire and to Torah, as it includes Lag Ba'omer, Yom Yerushalayim, and Rosh Chodesh Sivan, leading up to Shavuoth. As mentioned above, the days above also contain an aspect of G-d's mercy, symbolized by His right hand.   

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Mule is saying, (Song(s) of Week 32)

The Mule is saying,

The bows of the mighty are broken;
And those who stumbled, are girded with strength.
All the kings of earth shall acknowledge You, G-d,
For they have heard the sayings of Your mouth.

Your neck is like an ivory tower;
Your eyes are [like] pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-Rabbim
Your face is as the tower of Lebanon, facing towards Damascus
Your head upon you is like Carmel

Give us joy corresponding to the days You afflicted us,
The years we have seen adversity.
For their vine is of the vine of Sodom,
And of the field of Gemorrah;

Because they came not to the aid of the Lord,
To the aid of the Lord against the mighty.
For who is G-d, save the Lord?
And who is a rock, save our G-d?

And the braided locks of your head are like purple;
The king is bound in the tresses.
Let Your work be revealed to Your servants,
And Your splendor be upon their children.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel.
Their grapes are grapes of rosh,
And they have bitter clusters.

Speak to them, saying, "In the afternoon you shall eat meat
And in the morning you shall be sated with bread,"
Satiate us in the morning with Your kindness,
Then we shall sing and rejoice throughout our days.

And you shall know that
I am the Lord, your G-d.
How fair and how pleasant you are,
A love of delights!

Week 32 (From the Book): To Recognize Deep in Our Heart How Small We Are, How Great G-d Is

The mule is saying, "All the kings of earth shall acknowledge You, G-d, for they have heard the sayings of Your mouth." (Psalms 138:4)

Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh would say: Be very, very humble, for the hope of mortal man is worms.

Netzach shebeHod (victory and endurance within the context of glory and gratefulness)

In week thirty-two, the second week of the month of Iyar, in Perek Shirah, the mule declares that all the kings of the earth will acknowledge the words of Hashem. (Psalm 138:4) This week is still connected to the miracles of Israel’s independence. (See Appendix 2) It was during this time that the right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel was clearly recognized by the leaders of the world and the United Nations. A verse of the Psalms states, "Do not be like the horse or like the mule, without understanding."[1] It took the nations of the world a long time to understand the right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, but at least during this brief moment in history, the world recognized this right.

There is an interesting contrast between this week’s animal, the mule, closely related to the gentile prophet Bilaam (whose mule spoke to him), and the animal of the following week, the donkey, which is connected to Abraham, as well as to Moshe and Mashiach. There is a very strong parallel between some of the main events in Abraham’s life and those in the life of Bilaam. Pirkei Avot teaches that Abraham and Bilaam are polar opposites. While Abraham was humble and the greatest source of blessing, Bilaam was arrogant and the greatest source of curse. Rashi also makes a comparison between when Abraham gets up early in the morning to saddle his donkey, in order to perform the sacrifice of Isaac, and later, when Bilaam gets up early in the morning to saddle his mule, in order to meet Balak, perform sacrifices, and attempt to curse the Jewish people. Abraham and his descendants were promised the Land of Israel, while Balak and Bilaam did everything in their power to take away the Land from the Jewish people. In the end, Bilaam was forced not only to recognize the glory of Israel, but to praise it and bless it tremendously. Both Bilaam and Balak were later defeated by the conquering Israelites.

As explained earlier, the month of Iyar is connected to the tribe of Issachar, who in the Torah is called a “strong-boned donkey.” The mule is the product of the breeding a donkey with a horse. The mule also represents an aspect of physical deficiency and the need for healing connected to this month: the mule is physically incapable of procreating.

The number thirty-two is a reference to the thirty-two paths of wisdom (chochmah) mentioned in Kabbalah. There are three opinions regarding Bilaam’s connection to Laban. Bilaam was either Laban himself, Laban’s son, or his grandson. Laban’s name, Lamed Beit Nun, represents the 32 paths of wisdom (lamed beit) and the fifty gates of understanding (nun). (See Week 23) Had Laban nullified himself before Yaakov, the tzadik of the generation, the evil in him would have been nullified, and all these levels would be revealed in him.[2]

Thirty-two is formed by the letters lamed and beit, which together form the word lev, which means heart. Sometimes we can understand something with our intellect, but it is still hard to make our heart also understand. Despite the stubbornness of our heart, ultimately we will all fully acknowledge Hashem, as the song of the mule so clearly states. Perhaps a way to speed this process along is to focus on the famous expression of our sages in the Talmud, which was often quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: “Words that come from the heart [certainly] enter the heart.”

The word lev does not only describe the physical heart, but is also used metaphorically. When we use the expression "heart of something," we are referring to the essence of it. The Torah, which is the essence of Hashem, ends with the letter lamed and begins with the letter beit, forming the word lev. Similarly, the Land of Israel is the heart of our people, and Jerusalem is “the heart of our heart.”[3]

In the episode of the spies, the only one other than Joshua that strongly stood for our ability to conquer the Land of Israel was called Kalev. The very name of Kalev shows his strong connection to our heart, the Land of Israel.

In the Pirkei Avot for this week, Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh appears to focus on the potentially negative part of our hearts, the yetzer harah. He teaches us to be extremely humble in spirit, for man’s hope is [to be fed to the] worms. (IV: 4) Rabbi Levitas reminds us that if we focus on our physical side (the word he uses for man is enosh, the lowest of all names for a human being), our only hope is to be food for worms. However, if instead we focus on our soul, the divine aspects within us, then we will know how to better to use our hearts, and will be able to truly love our neighbor as ourselves. This is also the lesson found in Chapter 32, the lev (heart) of the Tanya. (See also next week)

Rabbi Levitas’ words closely resemble the phrase for which perhaps Abraham is most famous: "I am like dust and ashes." Dust, because man comes from dust and returns to it; and ashes because Abraham and Sarah were sterile and could not have children, just like the mule. However, G-d is capable of anything ... giving children to Abraham and Sarah, making a mule speak, making the kings of the nations recognize his words, and even making Bilaam bless Israel!

This week’s sefirah combination results in netzach shebehod. It takes great persistence to get through to our hearts and achieve higher levels in the service of Hashem. The mule itself exemplifies this aspect of persistence and stubbornness. This week is also the yahrzeit of Eli the High Priest (10th of Iyar). Besides being the Kohen Gadol, he was also leader of the generation. He therefore perfectly represented the combination of these two sefirot, netzach and hod (interestingly, Samuel the Prophet, Eli’s disciple, also represents both netzach and hod, as the Book of Psalms equates him to both Moses and Aaron). Eli’s death, in which he fell backwards and broke his neck after hearing about the fate of the Mishkan, has a close association with the donkey, next week’s animal. The Torah commands that if an owner does not intend to redeem a firstborn donkey with a sacrifice, he must break the donkey’s neck. In Kabbalah, the neck is the part of the body most associated with the Holy Temple and the Mishkan. Another animal that has a commandment related to the breaking of a neck is a female calf. This is in the case of an unexplained murder. The mule is closely associated with donkey and is female like the calf.

A lesson to be drawn from the song of the mule is that even kings, those that are rich and powerful, have to understand that they are ultimately completely subjugated to Hashem. Hashem controls everything and everyone, without distinction. If anything, a king’s behavior is even more subjugated than others, as is stated in Proverbs: “A king's heart is like rivulets of water in the Lord's hand; wherever He wishes, He turns it.”[4] 

[1] Psalm 32:9
[3] Elie Wiesel, open letter to the President. Available at:
[4] Ch. 21:1

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