Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Week 49 (contd.): Miriam and Increasing the Wisdom of Her Teacher

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “increases the wisdom of his teacher,” in Hebrew, machkim et rabboh, from the word chochmah, wisdom. This saying appears very much related to the sefirah of this week, Malchut. As mentioned in Book 1, Malchut  is called the “poor” sefirah, in that it has nothing of its own – it simply reflects the emanations of the other sefirot. By reflecting the other sefirot, Malchut is, so to speak, increasing them, bringing them down to a much deeper and fuller understanding, based on reality. We see that more clearly in the actions of Miriam, the prophetess for this week (it is worth noting that the remaining prophets listed in Elul are female, and that the zodiac sign for this month is Virgo).

After witnessing the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and how the Egyptians were enveloped and drowned in it, the Jewish people, led by Moses, perform the Song of the Sea. At the end of the song, Miriam then adds to Moshe’s “wisdom” by gathering the women and having them sing and dance with timbrels, singing a song that reflects that of the Song of the Sea.

We also see an instance in Miriam’s life when she increased the wisdom of her father, convincing him to remarry her mother. This ultimately led to the birth of Moshe. (Talmud, Sotah 12a) Furthermore, the Arizal explains that the well that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert in the merit of Miriam had the power to increase their wisdom and comprehension of the Oral Tradition. The Hebrew word for "well", "be'er", has the the same letters as the word for "interpretation".[1] There is a famous story of how once the Arizal took his disciple, Rav Chaim Vital, and gave him to drink of this water so that he could properly understand the deep concepts of his kabbalistic teachings.

We also find a parallel between Miriam and the words of the Snail in Book 1. The Snail sings in Perek Shirah: “Like the Snail that melts away, the stillborn of a mole that does not see the sun.” After Miriam speaks critically (and incorrectly) of Moshe and is punished with tzara’as, a spiritual disease of the skin, Moshe asks that she be healed by stating: “Let her not be like the dead, which comes out of his mother's womb with half its flesh consumed!" We are supposed to constantly remember this act of Miriam, as it is one of the “Six Remembrances” found in the Torah.

During the month of Elul, the month of teshuvah, there is nothing more appropriate than to focus on working on our speech and avoiding lashon harah, an evil tongue. Speech, as explained in Book 1, is the quintessential characteristic of Malchut. If Miriam, Moshe’s sister who so lovingly raised and supported him, and who spoke of him with only the best of intentions, could be punished so severely for what she said, how much more so should we avoid any kind of negative speech. Miriam repents and is ultimately cured, and just as the zodiac sign of this month represents, we all have the ability to repent and get a clean slate as we approach the Days of Awe.

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