Weekly Cycle

Friday, December 28, 2018

Week 1 (Book 2): Rosh Hashanah - Creation and the Grave, Avraham & Sarah and Acquiring the Torah, Shechem and Acquiring a Head (DRAFT)

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth! (Deuteronomy 32:1)

And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, on the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul; (II Samuel 22:1)

“Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is acquired with 30 qualities, priesthood is acquired with 24, whereas the Torah is acquired with 48 ways.”

Avraham and Sarah

Shechem (also a city of refuge)

On the first week of the year, the week of Rosh Hashanah, the first verse of Haazinu speaks of the heavens and the earth. This is reminiscent of the creation of the world itself, the very first line of the Torah, which speaks of how G-d created Heaven and Earth.

The Haftarah opens with an introduction to David’s song, and the essential reason for why David is singing it – the fact that he was saved from all his enemies and specifically from the king at that time, Saul. On Rosh Hashanah we also celebrate the fact that we lived to see one more year and that (hopefully) we will be inscribed in the Book of Life  (Saul, “Shaul” in Hebrew, is spelled exactly the same as She’ol, which means grave, pit). We also celebrate how G-d is the one and only true King, Master of the Universe, King of kings.

The first quality needed to acquire the Torah is actually found in the introduction to the forty-eight qualities. It hints to well known statement from proverbs:The beginning of wisdom [is to] acquire wisdom, and with all your possession acquire understanding.” (Proverbs) Rashi explains this statement as follows: “At the beginning of your wisdom, learn from others and acquire for yourself the tradition from the mouth of the teacher, and afterwards with all your possession acquire understanding. Concentrate on it by yourself to understand the reasons, thereby deriving one thing from another.”

This first statement parallels the theme of Pirkei Avot found in Book 1, which is to acquire a rav (a master/teacher) The first step in acquiring wisdom is taking the initiative of seeking it out. We must embark on the path for acquiring wisdom just as we embark in the beginning of a new year.

The prophet(s) related to this first week are Avraham and Sarah. Avraham was the first to seek to acquire wisdom and knowledge of G-d. Avraham and Sarah mark the beginning of Judaism. Avraham and Sarah are both deeply connected to Rosh Hashanah, since the Midrash explains that the creation of the entire world was in the merit of Avraham (Eleh Toldot Shamayim V’Aretz B’hibaram – in the merit of Avraham)(find/check source). Furthermore, both Sarah’s birthday and her yahrzeit took place on Rosh Hashanah; it was also on Rosh Hashanah that G-d told Sarah that she would have a son. Finally, the Akeidah (the sacrifice of Isaac) took place on Rosh Hashanah.

In the first week of the year, the Levitical city is Shechem, which is also a city of refuge. Shechem in Hebrew literally means shoulder – the part of the body on which to attach the head (Rosh Hashanah means head of the year). Shechem was given by Yaakov to Yosef as a symbol of his distinction as the “first-born.” The word shechem is also used in the Tanach’s introduction to Shaul, and ultimately of why he was chosen to be king. The Book of Samuel states that “from the shoulders and upwards (MiShichmoh VaMa’alah) he was taller than [anyone else in] the nation.” Not only was Shaul made king, he also had the potential to be Mashiach Ben Yosef.

Shechem is the first place visited by Avraham, Yaakov, as well as Yehoshua when entering the Land of Israel. Even in modern times, the first settlement established in Judea and Samaria after the Six Day War was Elon Moreh, which is another biblical name for the city Shechem. Shechem is the gateway to the Land of Israel, very much in the way that the week of Rosh Hashanah is a gateway for the rest of the year.

An important lesson we learn from this week's quality to acquire the Torah is the need for desire, what in Hebrew we call Ratzon. Our sages teach us that "Ein Davar Omed Lifnei HaRatzon," nothing can stand in the way of desire. If our desire is pure and sincere, we are guaranteed to eventually succeed. Rebbe Nachman teaches that our Ratzon is in fact even more important than the actual outcome. 

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