Monday, July 31, 2017

The Mouse Is Saying

The Mouse Is Saying

And the children of Israel did that which displeased the Lord
And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years
You are just for all that comes upon me
For You have acted truthfully, and I have been wicked

And (if) the man said to him, 'Let them make the fat smoke now
and (then) take for yourself, as your soul desires'
He spoke and locusts came, and nibbling locusts without number
The omer is one tenth of an ephah

And he would say, 'No, but now you shall give
And if not, I shall take by force'
And they consumed all grass in their land
And they consumed the produce of their soil

You have brought an end to his shining
And his throne You have cast down to earth
And it struck their vines and their fig trees
And it broke the trees of their boundary

You hid Your countenance and I became frightened
To You, O Lord, I would call, and to the Lord I would supplicate
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song
Into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun

And I said in my tranquility, "I will never falter"
O Lord, with Your will, You set up my mountain to be might
You shall keep me as head of nations
A people whom I have not known serve me

And the children of Israel ate the manna for forty years
Until they came to an inhabited land
They ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan
And the land rested forty years
I shall exalt you, G-d, for You have uplifted me
and You have not let my enemies rejoice over me
And You have allowed me to escape
From the contenders among my people

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Week 44 (Book 2): Zechariah and Settling One's Heart

HAAZINU: And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Deuteronomy 32:44)

HAFTORAH: And You have allowed me to escape from the contenders amongst my people; You shall keep me as head of nations; a people whom I have not known serve me. (II Samuel 22:44)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: He Deliberates in His Study (Mityashev Liboh Betalmudoh)

PROPHET: Zechariah

Week Forty-Four is the week of Tisha B’Av, and Haazinu’s verse states that Moshe, together with Yehoshuah, spoke all the words of the song into the "ears of the people." As mentioned previously, the month of Av is connected to the tikkun (the spriritual “fixing”) of our sense of hearing. Perhaps Yehoshua is mentioned here together with Moshe because, of all the people, it was he that was best able to absorb Moshe’s teachings.
This week is connected to the birth of Mashiach (on the 9th of Av) and the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah) teaches that,Moshe is the first redeemer and the final redeemer.” Similarly, Yehoshuah is also a prototype for Mashiach Ben Yoseph.

The Haftorah for this week is clearly connected to the coming of Mashiach: “You shall keep me as head of nations; a people whom I have not known serve me.” Mashiach will be not only the king of Israel, but will represent the Kingdom of G-d on earth.

The quality for this week is “he deliberates in his study” (mityashev liboh betalmudoh). Great part of the destruction of the Temple that occurred on the 9th of Av, was due to to the hot-headed behavior of the zealots at that time. The Torah scholars of the time, on ther other hand, sought calm and compromise.

A more literal translation is that “he settles his heart with his study.” The Midrash states that Mashiach is a metzorah, someone who suffers from a form of spiritual skin disease. The Midrash further states that Mashiach cures one wound at a time. The Alter Rebbe explains that the cure for the metzorah is Torah. That is why the verse states that “this shall be the Torah of the metzorah on the day of his purification” (Leviticus 14:2) when a more straightforward wording of the verse should have been, “this is the purification of the metzorah in the day of his purification.” The metzorah is someone whose heart is unsettled. It is the Torah that settles it.

The above statement can also be read to be referring to the heart of his friend – a continuation of the qualities of the previous weeks. Mashiach will be someone known for his Torah and his power of speech. The word Mashiach is spelled the same as Mesiach, one who speaks, converses.

This week’s prophet is Zechariah. We read about a previous Zechariah in the kinot (dirges) for Tisha B’Av, and about how he was killed during the time of the destruction of the First Temple and his blood had to be avenged:. It is connected also to the idea of "settling one's heart" (in this case, the "settling" of Zechariah's blood): 
Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: "There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested."

Nebuzaradan said, "I will appease him." He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then school-children. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: "Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?" At last the blood sank into the ground (Talmud, Gittin 57b).[1]

Zechariah’s prophecy also makes some of the most direct references to Mashiach:
Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your king shall come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding a donkey and a foal, the offspring of [one of] she-donkeys. (Zechariah 9:9)
In the tale of Rabbi Akiva in which he laughs while the other rabbis mourn, it is the prophecy of Zechariah that brings consolation: “Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.”[2]
This week’s levitical city is Holon. Holon comes from the word “chol,” which means sand, as well as profane.[3] Similar to the destruction of the Temple, when something is emptied of its holiness, it is "chol," filled with a vacuum, “dead” like the sand of the sea. And yet, in the Torah perhaps nothing represents more the idea of life, particularly of children, than the sand. We are promised to be as numerous as them one day. One day, our tears of sadness, of “sandness,” will be tears of joy, and "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the water covers the sea" … and the sand. The numerical value of the word ”chol” is forty-four. Holon is also the name of a city in modern-day Israel, the country’s second largest industrial area.

[1]; the This section of the Talmudic tractate of Gittin is customarily studied on Tisha B’Av.

[3] It is worth noting that this section was written close to the time of Hurricane Sandy, and the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Week 44 (From the Book): To Recognize Our Mistakes and Change

And the mouse says, "I shall exalt you, G-d, for You have impoverished [uplifted] me, and You have not let my enemies rejoice over me.” (Psalms 30:2) (…) And the mouse says [after being caught]: You are just for all that comes upon me, for You have acted truthfully, and I have been wicked." (Nehemiah 9:33)

Rabbi Nehora'i would say: Exile yourself to a place of Torah; do not say that it will come after you, that your colleagues will help you retain it. Rely not on your own understanding.

Gevurah shebeMalchut (discipline and judgment within the context of kingship)

The forty-fourth week of the Jewish calendar is marked by Tisha B'Av. In Perek Shirah, the mouse first thanks the Lord for elevating it, and for rejecting its enemies (Psalm 30:2). However, after it is caught by the cat, the mouse recognizes that G-d has been just and true regarding all that has happened, and that it had acted with iniquity. (Nehemiah 9:33)
The song of the mouse is closely related to Shimon and Tisha B'Av. Shimon, both the individual and the tribe, made serious mistakes. For example, Shimon was instrumental in the sale of Joseph, and the Tribe of Shimon, including its prince, openly rebelled against Moses. However, through repentance, Shimon will also be fully redeemed. Furthermore, just as the mouse is caught by the cat due its own iniquities, so too was our Temple destroyed on Tisha B'Av due to our sins. The first step towards redemption is recognizing this fault of ours (it is said that every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if that generation destroyed it).

The letters that comprise the number forty-four, mem and dalet, spell the word dam, blood, as well as mad, from the verb limdod, “to measure.” Historically, Av has been a month in which much blood has been spilled. However, once the Jewish people finally learn their lesson, measure their actions and improve, this will be a month of plenty of light and joy.
The same letters also spell the Hebrew word dom, to be silent. This word is often used in praise of how our greatest sages dealt with tragedy. Regarding Aaron, when he discovered that his two eldest sons had died, the Torah states “yehidom Aharon,” Aaron was silent and did not complain. Our Chassidic masters explain that King David’s approach to tragedy even surpassed Aaron. Even after experiencing great suffering, he states, “l’man yezamerchah velo yidom,” I will sing to you and not be silent. There is much to gain from these approaches in learning how to properly observe Tisha B’Av. 

The word dom also has a more positive side as well. When pursuing the enemies of the Jewish people, Joshua calls out to the sun, and commands it to be silent, “Dom!” By telling the sun to stop its song to G-d, Joshua causes the sun to literally stand still in its place. This gives the Jewish people enough time to finish pursuing their enemies before the beginning of the Sabbath.
In Pirkei Avot this week, the lesson comes from Rabbi Nehora’i, who advises us to exile ourselves to a place of Torah. He also cautions us not to rely on our own understanding, but rather to debate and discuss our ideas with colleagues. Tisha B'Av is generally about exile, but specifically about the exile to a place of Torah: Yavneh. It was through establishing Yavneh and bringing our sages there that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was able to ensure the continuation of Judaism long after the Roman Empire had ceased existing.

Furthermore, as noted in Pirkei Avot, the suffering and destruction endured by the Jewish people during this week is indeed very difficult to understand. Therefore, it is extremely appropriate for Rabbi Nehora’i to teach us not to rely on our limited understanding, but rather to remain connected to the rest of our people.
The sefirot combination for this week results in gevurah shebemalchut, discipline and judgment within the context of kingship. This week, we work on our strength and determination to achieve goals in this material world, even in the face of many obstacles. Similar to the week of Yom Kippur, gevurah shebechesed, we also fast, although on this day we do not feel like angels – we feel more like the mouse. On Yom Kippur, one of the happiest days of the year, we fast for spiritual reasons. On Tisha B’Av, we fast out of a sense of mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

Tisha B'Av is also closely linked to the sefirah of gevurah since so many tragedies have occurred on this day, including the decree that the Jews would spend 40 years in the wilderness, as well as the destruction of both Temples. However, it is also connected to sefirah malchut, because it is exactly in the wake of such tragedy that Mashiach is born.
A lesson in self-improvement we can learn from the mouse is that G-d can raise us up at any given time. To leave a state of sadness, it is important to increase our prayers and direct them to G-d alone. Furthermore, it is important to understand that any fall we may experience, individually or as a people, is an opportunity to begin the process of teshuvah. Nevertheless, we must also keep in mind that judging oneself is only positive if it leads to better behavior, and not sadness. There is a fine line between temporarily feeling broken hearted over our sins, a regret that is positive, and sadness, which should be avoided at all costs. Broken-heartedness should lead to even greater joy, as will be further explained in the following week.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

I live along
A narrow bridge
A tightrope of sorts
In which I try to balance

Twenty-two letters
Constantly on my mind
And seven lights
Burning from my heart

Cycles of weeks
Three followed by sevens
Followed by three
From mourning to morning

It's an uphill battle
A long but short way
With area and circumference
Both great and small

That curves around
A radius defined
By how much I am
Willing to give

And yet the entire circle
Is still not more than zero
But if it touches yours
It's Infinite. 

OBS: The period from 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av is known as the 3 Weeks (although it has 22 days). It is a period of mourning followed by seven weeks of consolation. The seven weeks of the Omer is also a period mourning, and both the three weeks and the seven weeks will be times of joy in the future. The seven weeks is connected to the seven emotional sefirot, and the three weeks appear to be connected to the twenty-two Hebrew letters. The reading for the 9th of Av, Lamentations, is in acrostic form, with each chapter having a verse for each letter (chapter 3 has three for each),

The number Pi is almost exactly the ratio of twenty-two divided by seven. Area is defined as Pi (22/7) x the Square of the Radius, and the Circumference is 2 x Pi (22/7) x Radius.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Cat Is Saying

The Cat Is Saying

I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them
And I did not return until they were destroyed.
Sing out praise, O you nations, for His people!
For He will avenge the blood of His servants

Inflict revenge upon His adversaries,
And appease His land [and] His people.
Their land swarmed with frogs
In the rooms of their monarchs.

And [they] would say to the man who slaughtered,
'Give meat to roast for the priest,
And he will not take from you cooked meat, but raw.  
Dyed garments of embroidery for the neck of the spoiler.'      

If you rise up like a vulture, and place your nest among the stars,
From there I shall bring you down, says G-d.
Sing to the Lord, His pious ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.

You even turned back the sharp edge of his sword,
And You did not raise him up in battle.
So may perish all Your enemies, O Lord;
But they that love Him [are] as the sun when it goes forth in its might.

Then I ground them as the dust of the earth,
As the mud of the streets I did tread upon them, I did stamp them down.
O Lord, You have brought my soul from the grave;
You have revived me from my descent into the Pit.

He commanded and a mixture of noxious beasts came,
Lice throughout all their boundary.
Also, before they would make the fat smoke,
And the servant of the priest would come,

And Moses said to Aaron, take one jug and put there an omerful of manna,
And deposit it before the Lord to be preserved for your generations.
He made their rains into hail, flaming fire in their land.
For His wrath lasts but a moment; life results from His favor

As the Lord had commanded Moses,
Aaron deposited it before the testimony to be preserved.
In the evening, weeping may tarry,
But in the morning there is joyful singing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Week 43 (From the Book): To Pursue the Enemy and to Pursue Peace

The cat is saying, "If you rise up like a vulture, and place your nest among the stars, from there I shall bring you down, says G-d." (Obadiah 1:4) (…) And when the cat catches [the mouse], the cat says, “I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them, and I did not return until they were destroyed. (Psalms 18:38) 

Rabbi Yehudah [Bar Ilai] would say: Be careful with your studies, for an error of learning is tantamount to a willful transgression.

Rabbi Shimon [Bar Yochai] would say: There are three crowns--the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty--but the crown of good name surmounts them all.

Chesed shebeMalchut (kindness within the context of kingship)

Week forty-three is the week of Rosh Chodesh Av, when in Perek Shirah it is the turn of the cat to praise Hashem. At first, the cat sings that although the enemy may rise as high as the eagle and make its nest among the stars, G-d will bring it down. (Obadiah 1:4) After catching the mouse, the cat declares that it pursued its enemies and seized them, and did not return until they were destroyed. (Psalm 18:38) During this week we begin counting the Nine Days leading up to Tisha b’Av, a period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple that is even more intense (and requires greater hardships) than the rest of the Three Weeks.

The cat is like a miniature lion. On this month, we all have the potential to be like lions. Mashiach will be born in the month of Av, and will reign on earth like a lion. Rosh Chodesh Av is the yahrzeit of Aaron, one of the few yahrzeit dates mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Aaron was known for his incessant pursuit of peace.

The month of Av corresponds to the zodiac sign of Leo. The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, quoted in Week 38, shows the clear relationship of the month of Av with the lion. This month is represented by the tribe of Shimon, who was known for its attribute of severe judgment. This month is also related to the tikkun, repair, of the sense of hearing. The name Shimon comes from the Hebrew word Shmiah, hearing, and this month is also connected to the tikkun of the sin that took place when the Children of Israel listened to the report of the spies.

It was in Av that the spies returned from the Land of Israel and described it to the people. Instead of focusing on Kalev and Joshua’s positive account, the people focused on the negative account of the other ten spies and wept bitterly. Our sages teach us that because the Jewish People cried for no reason, Hashem would now give them a reason to cry for generations to come. The night the Jewish people cried was Tisha B’Av, the day in which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed.[1]

The relationship between the cat and the mouse in Perek Shirah can be interpreted (at least) in two different ways. First, throughout history, the Jews played the role of the mouse, serving as prey for our enemies inside the nations in which we were exiled. For approximately the past two thousand years, we have been in the exile of Esau/Edom (Rome). However, in messianic times, these roles will be reversed. We will be the ones to pursue our enemies, specifically, the nation of Amalek, a descendant of Esau, who represents the height of immorality and G-dlessness.

The song of the cat comes from the prophet Obadiah, a convert from the nation of Edom, and whose entire prophecy is directed against it. Edom represents Rome and its descendants, and it was Rome which caused the destruction of the Second Temple. The prophet predicts that one day Edom will be punished for its actions.

The number forty-three is formed by the Hebrew letters gimmel and mem. These letters appear to reference the war of Gog uMagog, the two root letters of these words. According to Jewish tradition, Gog uMagog will be the final war before the coming of Mashiach. This war is believed to involve the descendants of Esau and Yishmael.

Mem and gimmel also form the Hebrew word gam, which means “also.” This word appears prominently in the Psalm most connected to Aaron, whose yahrzeit is this week: “Hineh Mah Tov uMah Naim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad... “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers also to dwell together!  / As the good oil on the head runs down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron...”[2] Rav Ovadia Yosef asks why the word gam (also) is included in this verse, as it seems to be completely superfluous. He explains that when brothers sit together usually family problems come to the surface. Nevertheless, this also is for the good; we should also sit together despite such problems, and do our best to solve them.

There is also a similar connection here with the song of the cat, Aaron’s yahrzeit, and the tikkun of the month of Av. Like the cat, Aaron also pursued enemies, but only did so in order to achieve peace between them and to bring them closer to the Torah. As Hillel states in Pirkei Avot, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them closer to Torah.” This is how we transform the negative forces of this month into positive ones. As previously mentioned, the Temple was destroyed due to Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, and will be rebuilt through Ahavat Chinam, baseless love.

This week in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai warns us to be cautious in our study because an inadvertent error (due to insufficient study) is considered a voluntary transgression. It is well known that the cause of the destruction of the First Temple was due to the lack of importance given to Torah study.
Moreover, Rabbi Yehudah is a perfect example of the possibility of peace between Jacob and Esau, the Jewish people and the Romans. Once Rabbi Yehudah encountered a Roman stranger, who had just experienced a shipwreck and was its only survivor. Despite not knowing who this stranger was, Rabbi Yehudah immediately gave the man of his own clothes. It was later discovered that this man was a powerful Roman legislator, and that due to Rabbi Yehudah’s kindness he annulled all the harsh decrees that were about to be imposed on the Jewish people at that time.[3]

This week also includes an additional statement by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who teaches that there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of the kingship, but that the crown of a good name surpasses them all. (IV: 13) The crowns mentioned by Rabbi Shimon are also all closely related to the major figures of this week and this month: Aharon HaKohen (priesthood) and Mashiach (kingship), as well Rabbi Shimon himself (Torah).

It is fascinating that additional words of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai are included along with Rabbi Yehudah’s statements. Unlike Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Shimon initially did not get along well with the Romans. When Rabbi Yehudah once praised the Romans for building bridges, etc., Rabbi Shimon stated that he should not praise the Romans, because all that they do is for their own benefit. When the Roman emperor heard of this, Rabbi Yehudah was honored with a high position, while Rabbi Shimon was forced to flee and famously spent the next 12 years inside a cave with his son, Rabbi Elazar.

There is a tradition that Rabbi Shimon is a descendant of the Tribe of Shimon, the tribe of this month.[4] Rabbi Shimon’s own life reflects a transition and tikkun of Shimon’s strict justice. While in the cave, along with his son, he was concerned with pure spirituality. After leaving the cave, he could not understand how people were spending so much time with material concerns, to the extent that everything that he and his son saw would be consumed by fire. He was therefore sent back to the cave, and stayed there for another year. When he came out of the cave the second time, he understood the value of being involved with the material world, which is related to his problems with the Roman way of doing things. 

Rabbi Shimon’s sayings in Pirkei Avot also appear to reflect this transition. Rabbi Shimon’s previous sayings strictly focused on the importance of Torah over material things, while these additional sayings include the importance of other qualities other than Torah. It is quite appropriate that his sayings here are juxtaposed with Rabbi Yehuda’s.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s additional words also seem to be literally complementing his saying in Week 16. There he mentions “three,” but does not specify to what exactly three is referring. It is assumed that it means "three people." This time, he states, “there are three crowns.” (It is interesting that both his sayings start with the word shloshah, three, and that the number he is most associated with is thirty-three, as Lag Ba’Omer is the 33rd day of the omer). This could also be read as "the three [mentioned previously] are the crowns (shloshah, ketarim hem). His previous saying can then be understood as follows: if a person has all three crowns “on his table,” meaning he has the qualities of Torah, priesthood, and kingship, such a person should be praised by others and seen as a true example of a “Torah lifestyle” (i.e. given the crown of a “Good Name”).

There is a well known story in which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai gave an interpretation of “Hineh Mah Tov uMah Naim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad...” and ended a drought. Again, Rashbi now understood the need for material concerns as well.

When each rabbi of Pirkei Avot represents a day of the omer count, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's words span approximately the entire month of Iyar, the month of Rabbi Shimon's yahrzeit (as well as Rabbi Yehudah's).  His first saying falls on 16th day of the omer, the 1st of Iyar, and his additional words are on the 43rd day of the omer, 28th of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim. In terms of weeks, they span from the week after the Tenth of Teveth, to the week before Tisha B’Av.

This week, the combination of sefirot results in chesed shebemalchut, kindness within the context of kingship. Like Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai, we strive to do good deeds that have a direct impact on this material world. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” the “Shavuot” and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Yesod)

Similarly, the lesson we can draw from the cat is that just as it chases after the mouse, we should be like Aaron and "pursue" those around us in a positive and friendly manner, to bring them closer to the path of unity, love, peace, and truth, all of which are quintessential “Torah values.”

[1] Talmud, Ta'anit 29a
[2] Psalm 133
[3] Marcus, p. 138
[4] Ryzman

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Hound Is Saying

The Hound Is Saying

A psalm; a song of dedication of the House of David
I will exalt You, O Lord
For You have raised me up
Let the righteous rejoice in G-d

They placed upon them the words of His signs
And His miracles in the land of Ham.
Moses said, "This is the thing that the Lord commanded
Let one omerful of it be preserved for your generations"

He sent darkness and it darkened,
And they did not disobey His word.
In order that they see the bread that I fed you
In the desert when I took you out of the land of Egypt

The house of Israel named it manna
And it was like coriander seed
[It was] white, and it tasted like a wafer with honey
Praise is befitting to the straight.

And he would thrust into the fire-pot
Or into the pot, or into the cauldron, or into the pan
They looked about, but there was no one to save them
[Even] to the Lord, but He answered them not

Everything which the fork would pick up
The priest would take therewith
So would they do to all Israel
Who came there in Shiloh.

I will intoxicate My arrows with blood
And My sword will consume flesh
From the blood of the slain and the captives
From the first breach of the enemy

He turned their water into blood
And it killed their fish
A spoil of dyed garments to Sisera
A spoil of dyed garments of embroidery

You raised the right hand of his adversaries
You caused all his enemies to rejoice
And You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me
O Lord, I have cried out to You, and You have healed me.

Week 42 (From the Book): To Be Loyal and Pursue Justice

The hound is saying, "Let the righteous rejoice in G-d; praise is befitting to the straight." (Psalms 33:1)

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Shamua would say: The dignity of your student should be as precious to you as your own; the dignity of your colleague, as your awe of your master; and your awe of your master as your awe of Heaven.

Malchut shebeYesod (kingship within the context of foundation and firmness)

In the forty-second week, now in the midst of the three weeks of mourning, the hound in Perek Shirah sings to the righteous to rejoice in the Lord, and that for the upright (yesharim) it is becoming to praise Him. (Psalm 33:1)

The hound represents uprightness, and often hunts after last week’s animal, the fox, who represents corruption and injustice. The hound is also the quintessential example of loyalty. During this period, despite our outward signs of mourning, we also come to the realization that after so many centuries in exile and despite so many tragedies, like the hound, the Jewish people still managed to maintain its loyalty and faith in G-d. Furthermore, G-d also maintained His faith in us. Such loyalty and uprightness, both on the part of the Jewish people and on the part of G-d, is certainly worthy of recognition and praise.

The Talmud explains how the verse of the hound is also deeply connected to the Temple. The term “befitting” (na’avah), should be read as naveh, habitation, a reference of how the enemies of the Jewish people had no power over the Temple constructions performed by King David and Moses.[1] Similarly, it is important for us to remember that the world has no power over the “holy habitation” inside each one of us. Upon being released from prison, the Previous Rebbe was sent into exile by the Soviet regime. At the Leningrad train station, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn parted with the following words, quoting his father: “This all the nations of the world must know: only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule... In any matter affecting the Jewish religion, the Torah, and its mitzvot and customs, we are not subject to the dictates of any power.”[2]

Forty-two is the number of journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. During these journeys,  G-d tested His people several times, yet we maintained our loyalty and proved ourselves worthy of His love. The Jewish people also tested G-d several times in the desert, yet G-d also did not give up hope in them.

Forty-two contains the letters mem and beit, which in Hebrew spells the word bam, which means “in them.” The Ba'al Shem Tov teaches that the words “vedibarta bam,” contained in the prayer of the Shemah, is a reference to the forty-two personal journeys each individual undergoes in his or her life, which parallel the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people in the desert.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Eliezer the son of Shamua teaches us that the honor of your student should be as precious to you as your own, while the honor of your colleague should be like that given to your teacher; the reverence for your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven. Here again there is a close connection with Tammuz and the ability to look deeper and see the great value and potential of each person, be it a student, a colleague, or a teacher. Interestingly, the hound itself is a perfect example of this teaching. Its devotion to its master is like that due to G-d!

Completing the cycle of yesod, this week’s sefirot combination results is malchut shebeyesod, kingship within the context of foundation and firmness. This week, we maintain a solid foundation in our Judaism and use it to influence the world around us.

A lesson in self-improvement that we can extract from the hound is that just as it sings of being upright, and pursues the fox, we also must pursue justice at all costs, as stated in the verse in Deuteronomy: “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof,” “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.”[3] We must always strive for justice.

[1] Talmud, Sotah 9a.

[2] “Daily Quote,” available at

[3] Deuteronomy 16:20

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Fox Is Saying

The Fox Is Saying

When I sharpen the blade of My sword
And My hand grasps judgment
Woe to him that builds his house without justice
And his chambers without lawfulness

Let no man leave his place on the seventh day
So the people rested on the seventh day
He turned their heart to hate His people 
To plot against His servants

The servant of the priest would come
When (one) cooked the flesh, with a three-pronged fork in his hand
Are they not finding (and) dividing the spoils
A damsel, two damsels to every man

And this was the due of the priests from the people
(Whenever) any man would slaughter a sacrifice
That uses his friend’s service without wages
And does not give him for his hire

I will bring vengeance upon My adversaries
And repay those who hate Me
Them that hate me
That I may cut them off

All wayfarers have plundered him
He was a disgrace to his neighbors
And of my enemies You have given me
The back of their necks

Praiseworthy is the man
Who has filled his quiver with them
They will not be ashamed when
They talk to the enemies in the gate

See that the Lord has given you the Sabbath
Therefore, on the sixth day
He sent Moses His servant
[And] Aaron whom He chose

He gives you bread for two days
Let each man remain in his place
Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man
So are the sons of one's youth

And He made His people very fruitful
And He made it stronger than its adversaries
Behold, the heritage of the Lord is sons
The reward is the fruit of the innards

Fourteenth Set of 22 Days: Nun Sofit, the Palm and the Tapuach (Etrog/Apple) (the Priestly Family of Yakim)

The 17th of Tammuz begins the fourteenth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the end-letter Nun (Nun Sofit), as well as the Palm Tree and the Tapuach (Etrog/Apple) in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period coincides with the Three Weeks of mourning from the the fast of the 17th of Tammuz to the fast of the 9th of Av. This cycle also contains the yahrzeit of the Ari HaKadosh on the 5th of Av and the birth of Mashiach on the 9th of Av.

As mentioned previously, the Nun stands for the Divine attribute (sefirah) of Malchut, Kingship, and is related to one of the names for Mashiach: Yinon. (Likutei Moharan) Nun also means "fish" in Aramaic, and is associated closely with Moshe. Joshua is called Yehoshua Bin Nun, the son of Nun, because a teacher (in this case, Moshe) is like a parent. The Nun also represents the idea of a faithful servant. While the regular Nun is bent, the final Nun is an unbounded straight line, reaching even below the "resting place" of the regular letters. (Rabbi 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.

Much of the suffering the Jewish people has endured during these three weeks is to lead us to a state of uprightness. These three weeks are also very much associated with the coming of Mashiach, who will be the ultimate example of such uprightness.

The above also appears to parallel the song of the animal for week 42 (Book 1), the Hound, which starts on the 18th of Tammuz. The hound's verse is "Let the righteous rejoice in G-d; praise is befitting to the upright." (Psalms 33:1)
A similar theme can be found regarding the elements in Perek Shirah.

The Palm is saying, "The righteous will flourish like the palm tree; they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon." (Psalms 92:13)

The Tapuach (Esrog/Apple) is saying, "Like the Tapuach tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among young men. I sat down under his shadow with delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." (Song of Songs 2:3)

The Palm Tree is straight and upright, compared in the verse to the Tzadik. The cedar, also mentioned in this verse, is also tall and strong. Levanon, mentioned in this verse, is also a reference to the Temple. The first and second temples were destroyed during this time of the year because of corruption. The third one will be rebuilt when the Jewish people will be straight and upright, and will last forever.

The Tapuach, whether it represents the Etrog or the Apple,  is associated with the Garden of Eden - a state of closeness with G-d, which we will reach in the Messianic era.

The Temple guard for these 22 days is connected to the priestly family of Yakim. The root of this name comes from the word "to raise up, establish." After letting us fall during this difficult time of the year, it will be also during this time that Hashem will raise us up and establish us and His Temple forever.

The word Yakim is also found in a separate verse in the Torah:  "A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me, the Lord, your God will set up (Yakim) for you; you shall hearken to him." (Devarim 18:15) As previously explained, Mashiach will be a prophet very much like Moshe himself.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Week 41 (From the Book): Not to Become Corrupt

The fox is saying, "Woe to him that builds his house without justice and his chambers without lawfulness; that uses his friend’s service without wages, and does not give him for his hire.” (Jeremiah 22:13)

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar would say: Every gathering that is for the sake of Heaven, will endure; that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure.

Yesod shebeYesod (foundation and firmness within the context of foundation and firmness)

In the forty-first week, the fox in Perek Shirah warns against those who build without righteousness and justice. (Jeremiah 22:13) This week, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, we begin the three weeks of mourning connected to the destruction of the Temple, the House of G-d. This destruction occurred due to the injustice and lawlessness of the Jews of that time.

This week also marks the Chassidic holiday of the 12th and 13th of Tammuz. This holiday, known as Yud Beit-Yud Gimmel Tammuz, celebrates the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn’s birthday as well as the date in which he was freed from prison in Communist Russia. Among Chabad Chassidim, this day is called “Chag HaGeulah,” the Festival of Redemption.[1]

The fox is considered a symbol of the Temple’s destruction, as depicted in the Talmud in the tractate of Makkot. The Talmud tells the story of how a group of rabbis were gathered soon after the destruction of the Temple and saw a fox enter the area of the Temple Mount where the holiest part of the Temple had stood. While all the other rabbis cry when they see the fox, Rabbi Akiva is able to see this event with optimism and in a positive light (characteristic related to the month of Tammuz), to such an extent that he starts to laugh. Rabbi Akiva then explains to them how the Torah makes the prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction dependent on the prophecy of its redemption. Now that the first prophecy was fulfilled, the second will be fulfilled as well. As he explains to the other rabbis the reasoning behind his laughter, Rabbi Akiva is able to truly comfort them. (See Conclusion)

At the time of Yud Beit-Yud Gimmel Tammuz, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe challenged the entire Soviet empire at the time and won.[2] Despite his open defiance, refusal to obey orders, and insistence of not giving up even an “inch” of his religiosity, the Previous Rebbe was eventually released from prison, and his death sentence was commuted. Years later, the Soviet Union itself, filled with injustice and G-dlessness, collapsed, along with the Berlin Wall. The Seventh Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, predicted the fall of the Soviet Empire many years prior, when few thought that such a collapse was even possible.

The number forty-one spells the Hebrew word em, which means mother. This appears to be quite appropriate for the beginning of the three weeks of mourning, the second half of which takes place during the month of Av, which in Hebrew means father. In this historically difficult period for the Jewish people, it is important to remember that the difficulties presented to us by G-d are ultimately for our own good, just like a father and mother sometimes need to be strict with their child. 

In Judaism, the mother is the akeret habayit, the anchor of the house - she is responsible for the home’s values ​​and general atmosphere. Similarly, the upkeep and moral atmosphere of the Temple, G-d’s home, was primarily the responsibility of the kohanim (priests). Much of the extremely holy service of the priests paralleled house chores: the work involved in the daily sacrifices, the lighting of the Menorah, and tending to the upkeep of the Temple were very similar to cooking, cleaning, and lighting candles for Shabat.

During the time of the Second Temple, the priestly class had become enormously corrupt. Even the position of the High Priest was open for sale to the highest bidder. The Temple itself could not stand due in great part to this lack of morality.

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar teaches in the Pirkei Avot for this week that an assembly that convenes for the sake of Heaven will be long lasting, but one that convenes not for the sake of Heaven will not. The teaching of Rabbi Yochanan is very similar to the above. He emphasizes the importance of not becoming corrupt or divided due to selfish motives. The firmness of the community comes from rock solid commitment to our principles and a desire to fulfill the will of G-d. The best example of this is the Sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch himself, whose efforts ensured Judaism’s survival despite intense Communist oppression. On the other hand, when we do not follow the word of Hashem, the entire community suffers and our structures do not endure, as was the case during the destruction of the Temple.

The sefirot combination for this week is yesod shebeyesod: absolute firmness in our Jewish values. A lesson in self-improvement we learn from the fox is that we must not allow ourselves to be dragged down by dishonesty and thoughts of immediate gain. By walking in the path of Torah, we will certainly be more solid and secure.

[1] When each day of the year is given a combination of sefirot, the 12th of Tammuz falls on gevurah shebeyesod shebeyesod. The Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was the sixth Rebbe, which parallels the sixth sefirah, yesod. Moreover, Yosef represents the sefirah of yesod while Yitzchak the sefirah of gevurah. It is worth noting that this book was completed on this date.
[2] Perhaps the most famous excerpt of his imprisonment was when the Communist interrogators tried to force the Rebbe to divulge certain information. When the Rebbe refused, they waved a gun at him and said:
"Do you see this little toy? This little toy has made a lot of people talk; it will make you talk as well."
The Rebbe answered very firmly, "That toy can only frighten people who have one world and many G-ds. A person who has one G-d and two worlds is not afraid of your little toy." The Chassidic Approach to Joy, available at:


Blog Archive