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Monday, December 31, 2018

Introduction to Book 2


Introduction to Book 2:  The Acquisition of the Torah

It is with great trepidation and excitement, that we set forth the second book in the series “Kabbalah of Time.” The first book introduced the reader to a way of “living with the times” that  allowed for integrating within oneself the Torah’s teachings regarding proper outlook and behavior. The goal of book one was that each one of us could be in touch with our song, the universal song of the soul.

There is a well known rabinnic aphorism that “proper behavior preceded the Torah” (Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah).[1] Rabbi Elchanan Adler, Rosh Yeshivah at RIETS, further explains the idea of Derech Eretz by citing the same Talmudic passage used in book one of this series:

R. Yochanan said: Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned to be modest from cats, to avoid theft from ants, to avoid promiscuity from doves, and derech eretz from roosters. (Eruvin 100b)
Rabbi Adler also cites the Alter of Slobodka, who further explains the meaning of the statement “Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah:

[U]pon reflection we will see that character traits and attributes are an introduction to the Torah and the primary foundation of the essence of a person, without which a person is not worthy at all of Torah … This is the intent of the Rabbis: Derech eretz preceded Torah by twenty six generations, for all of the good character traits and attributes are included in derech eretz; they were ingrained in human nature and for them there is no need for the giving of the Torah. The giving of the Torah came to build on these [traits and attributes] and to command him to continue to rise heavenward to ever higher levels transcending those which are in the realm of derech eretz. (Or HaTzafun Vol. 1 pg. 173, 175)[2]
The above, therefore, is the intent of this second book: to properly receive the Torah and rise heavenwards, building on the concepts of derech eretz we learned in the book one. While book one focused on proper outlook and behavior, book two’s focus is on the acquisition of the Torah. When we acquire the Torah, not only do we become better and more refined people, but we also free ourselves from all the things that usually enslave us, including our own evil inclinations, “For you will not find a freer person than one who is involved in the study of Torah. And all those who study Torah are uplifted (Pirkei Avot, Chapter 6:2)

The 48 Qualities to Acquire the Torah

While there are fourty-nine days in the counting of the omer, Pirkei Avot lists 48 ways in which the Torah is acquired. Many commentaries link these two numbers, and many Jew have even made it their custom to study one of the forty-eight qualities during each day of  the omer count.

In fact, the qualities to acquire Torah set forth in Pirkei Avot are a “summary” of the Torah itself. Pirkei Avot (Chapter 6:6) states that "Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is acquired with thirty qualities, priesthood is acquired with twenty-four, whereas the Torah is acquired with forty-eight ways.”[3] Just as with kingship and priesthood, these forty-eight qualities are not just means to an end, but rather represent essential aspects of the Torah itself.

In the Gaon of Vilna’s commentary on the Book of Proverbs, he states that “Eshet Chayil” (the woman of valor) is a reference to the Torah. He explains that Chayil (valor) has the numerical value of forty-eight, paralleling the forty-eight attributes necessary to acquire the Torah.

As in Book 1, we find that these qualities also parallel the weeks of the year. Pirkei Avot states that there are forty-eight qualities, but in fact there are fifty-two listed. The very first quality is implied in the introduction to this section, the desire and and the decision to acquire the Torah, as we see from the Book of Proverbs: “The beginning of wisdom [is to] acquire wisdom, and with all your possession acquire understanding.” When counting the 48 remaining qualities, one finds that there are actually 51. Therefore, together with the first quality found in the opening statement, there are 52 qualities in total.

The 48 Prophets

Just as there are forty-eight qualities to acquire the Torah, there are also forty-eight prophets found in the written Torah, the Tanach. These prophets are listed by Rashi in his commentary to the Talmudic tractate of Megillah (14a). It was through these prophets that the Torah was received and transmitted. Furthermore, all of these prophets refined themselves to such an extent that they are a “summary” of the values that the Torah represents.

The prophets also parallel the qualities needed to acquire the Torah, as well as the weeks of the year.[4] There are forty-eight male prophets, yet there are also an additional seven female prophets. This would bring the total number of prophet to fifty-five. However, of the seven female prophets, three of them were married to the male prophets above. If one counts the married male and female prophets together as single units, that leaves us with a total of fity-two prophets.

The 48 Levitical Cities

In Deuteronomy, the description of the six cities of refuge come immediately following the words, “And this is the Torah that Moses placed before the Jewish people.” (Deuteronomy 4:44) The Torah therefore seems to imply that the concept of the city of refuge somehow encompasses the entire Torah. The Talmud explains that all forty-eight cities designated to the Levites were cities of refuge, although the six cities listed had certain additional qualities.[5]

There are forty-eight Levitical Cities, in addition to Jerusalem, because the Temple itself was also considered a refuge. In addition, there are three more cities of refuge to be established in the future, once Israel’s borders are expanded. Thus, we see that these cities total fifty-two, one for each week of the year.[6]
It is well known that each of the twelve Jewish months is related to one of the Tribes of Israel. It is quite fascinating to note that each tribe was given four levitical cities within its borders, paralleling the four weeks of each Jewish month.[7] The Levites themselves are not given any property of their own other than those related to these cities.

Haazinu and the 48 Sabbath Torah Readings that Precede It

The Torah portion of Haazinu is often read on Shabat Shuvah, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is said that this Sabbath encompasses all the Sabbaths of the entire previous year, and can serve to correct any mistakes made during them. is said to contain the entire Torah. There are usually forty-eight Torah readings performed on the Sabbath: a regular Jewish year has 50½ weeks, and at least two Sabbaths have Torah readings related to the festivals that occur during those days (Sukkot and Passover). During these roughly forty-eight Sabbaths, a total of fifity-two Torah portions read before we arrive to Haazinu.[8] The Torah portion following Haazinu, Vezot HaBracha, is not read on the Sabbath, but rather during the holiday of Simchat Torah.  

Our sages have taught that the portion of Haazinu encompasses the entire Torah. Nachmanides goes further and states that Haazinu contains everything that happens and everything that will ever happen in the history of the world.[9] Furthermore, Haazinu has 52 verses, one for each of the Torah portions that preceded it, starting from the very first one, Bereshit. The connection between these verses and the Torah portions is quite strong. (See Appendix 1) These fifty-two verses also parallel the weeks of the year.

Furthermore, each verse of the Haftarah for Haazinu, the song sung by King David before his passing, in II Samuel, Chapter 22, also parallel the weeks of the year.[10] David’s song contains 51 verses, and it appears that the verse following the 51st verse, the first in Chapter 23, is connected to David’s song as well. The Haftarah also offers important insight into Haazinu. King David appears to have made his song in such a way that it would parallel Haazinu, both in form but also in substance.

The end of book one attempted to show how certain apparently negative teachings in Pirkei Avot could be interpreted in a positive light. This concept of interpreting statements positively is even more important when it comes to understanding Haazinu. There are various parts of the text that appear to be very harsh, but that can be read as incredibly positive. After all, Haazinu is a summary of the entire Torah, and the Torah is the greatest expression of G-d’s love for his people and vice-versa. The greatest blessings are often disguised in what appear to be curses. The following passage from Hayom Yom, illustrates this idea:

The Alter Rebbe himself was the regular Torah-reader. Once he was away from Lyozna on the Shabbat of parsha Tavo, and the Mitteler Rebbe, then not yet Bar Mitzva, heard the Torah-reading from another. His anguish at the curses in the tochacha (section of admonition) caused him so much heartache, that on Yom Kippur1 the Alter Rebbe doubted whether his son would be able to fast. When they asked the Mitteler Rebbe - "Don't you hear this parsha every year?" - he replied, "When Father reads, one hears no curses."[11]
It is our prayer, that when you, dear reader, engage in this second adventure, that you also “hear no curses.” Instead may the prophets and prophecies below open your mind and heart to what is certainly the greatest and longest love affair ever to exist: the love between G-d and His people. The Zohar states: "Israel, the Torah and the Holy One Blessed Be He are One.[12] May you too fall in love with this Eshet Chayil, and may it free you and uplift you to new heights.

[2] Ibid.
[4]  The Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that there had been twice as many prophets as the number of people who left Egypt (2,600,000), but only those whose messages were for future generations were recorded. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_List_of_Prophets.html
[5] http://vbm-torah.org/archive/salt-bemidbar/43-12masei.htm  The article also cites Rambam, Hilkhot Rotzei’ach 8:10.)
[6] It is interesting to note that just as the Levitical cities were 52 in total, consisting of 48 cities, in addition to Jerusalem, the capital, and three future cities, so too the United States has historically consisted of 52 entities, 48 states, the capital, and mainly 3 territories – Alaska, Hawai, and Puerto Rico.
[7] Each Jewish month is related to a constellation/zodiac sign, and the position of the levitical cities within each tribe appear to roughly parallel the shape of that constellation.
[8] In the Torah there are 54 parshiot, but Vezot HaBrachah is never read on Shabat, and Haazinu is a summary of all of the previous parshiot. From a different angle, we can see that of the 54 portions, there are a total of 6 times in which two portions are read together, leaving a total of 48 sections. The six double portions are: Vayakhel – Pekudei; Tazria – Metzora; Acharei Mot – Kedoshim; Behar – Bechukotai; Mattot – Masei; Nitzavim – Vayeilech.
Outside of Israel, sometimes Chukat - Balak are also read together, which is due to the additional day of holidays instituted by the rabbis. http://individual.utoronto.ca/kalendis/hebrew/parshah.htm
[9] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/137092/jewish/Reish-Evil.htm
[10][10] The first verse of the following Chapter is still very much related to the song, and can be counted as the 52nd verse. Weeks 1 and 52 both represent Rosh Hashanah. In fact, the first seven verses of Chapter 23 in II Samuel comprise of King David’s last song, and seem to parallel the 7 verses of the Rooster on Rosh Hashanah. There also appears to be a parallel with the opening and closing verses of Vezot HaBrachah, the words said by Moshe right before his passing.
[12] http://www.inner.org/monothei/mono3.htm

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