Weekly Cycle

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Week 6 (Book 3): Descending in order to Ascend and Sweetening "Bitter Waters"

SONG OF THE SEA: Your right hand, O Lord, is most powerful; Your right hand, O Lord, crushes the foe.
HAFTARAH: also the clouds dripped water. The mountains melted at the presence of the Lord,
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 6 - forbidden relationships, "bitter waters."
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Marah and arrived in Elim, and in Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.
The sixth week of the year is the second of the month of Cheshvan. The verses of the Song of the Sea speaks of Hashem’s right hand, which exacts punishment and represents the attribute of gevurah. The theme of the week remains related to the Flood, as also demonstrated in theHaftorah’s verses that state that“clouds dripped water,” and “mountains melted.”
Daf Vav (Folio 6) of Sotah discusses forbidden marriages (another one of the main causes of the Flood, as angels were marrying humans, etc.), and also the subject of how the bitter waters of Sotah would punish (or absolve) a woman accused of adultery whose witnesses were not available for testimony. Punishment through “bitter waters” for sexual sins is also a main theme of this month.
Yered (יֶרֶד) seems to be the “kosher” version of Irad (עִירָד), whose name is the same, but without the Ayin. “Ayin” literally means the eye, and part of what got Cain in the situation that he was the jealous way in which he looked at Abel’s sacrifices that had been accepted by Hashem. Sexual sins (as well as many others) begin with the eye.
Ayin also means "nothingness." Ecclesiastes states that the difference between humans and beasts is Ayin, "nothing." The deeper explanation of this verse is that the difference between people and animals is the ability to regard oneself as nothing, as simply part of the Infinite Light. Perhaps the difference in names here can also be attributed to the fact that Yered truly made his Ayin into true nothingness, to the point that it does not even show up anymore in his name.
Interestingly, while the names of Cain’s generations are Enoch, Mehujael, and then Irad, Seth’s generations are the other way around: Mahalalel, Yared, and then Enoch. “Yered” and “Irad” come from the verb “Laredet,” which literally means to go down. While Cain’s generation literally went “downhill,” to greater and greater depravity, the descent in Seth’s generations was a positive one. The difference seems to be as follows: Cain’s three generations stand for “education (of lack thereof)” (Enoch, Chanoch in Hebrew, comes from the word chinuch, education) followed by a “profane existence, (Mehujael, from the word chol, profane)” and then further “descent” (Irad). Seth’s three generations stand for “praise” (Mahalel, from the word Hallel, praise), followed by “lowering oneself” (Yared) in order to “educate” (Enoch) the next generation. The results speak for themselves.
Afterwards, Cain’s descendants are Methushael, Lemech, and then Yuval, Yaval, Tuval-Cain, and Na’amah. Seth’s descendants are Metushelach, Lemech, and then Noah. Cain’s generations found more and more found more ways to be depraved, to the point where Lemech has two wives, one only for pleasure (as was the culture at the time, see Rashi). They also found more and more effective ways of killing people, with weapon’s technology, to the point where Cain himself is killed by it.
On the other hand, Yered taught his son well - Enoch walked with G-d, and was so holy, that Hashem removed him from this earth so as to not be badly influenced by its corruption. Enoch’s son was Metushelach, who merited to be the person to live the longest, and passed away without having to experience the flood. Metushelach’s son was Lamech, who had great hopes that his son, Noah, would bring comfort to the world. Even though Noah was not able to save the world, he did save humanity from being completely destroyed, and was a wholesome and righteous individual, who faithfully followed Hashem’s commands. Yered symbolizes our service for this month, which is to go down from the heights of Tishrei, and elevate this world, to make it a home for Hashem.
In the sixth week, the Jews journey from Marah and camp in Elim. In Elim there are twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. The personal journey for this week involves internalizing the concept of “sweetening the bitter waters,” and preparing ourselves for the revelations of the springs of water (12 Tribes) and the 70 palm trees (nations). The strength of the twelve tribes is used to “water” the palm trees, to purify, give life, and elevate the seventy nations.
Again, here’s Rabbi Shimon Jacobson’s interpretation of this journey:
Elimah (or Elim) is the stage of growth and recognition of the deeper strength that emerges from bitter loss and pain. From Marah– after experiencing bitterness – we become empowered with the resources of Elimah: Elimah consists of the same letters as the name Elokim (which is written with a heh), only that the order of the letters (eli mah) means the hidden dimension of love – twelve water springs and seventy palms (the secret and the hidden, sod in Hebrew, is gematria 70) – that emerges from within the dark and the bitter (The Maggid of Mezritch – Ohr Torah Massei. Explained in Ohr HaTorah Massei pp. 1378. 1393. See Degel Machne Efraim).
Because of the exile, there is a great mix-up both in regards of who is from what nation of the world, as well as which Jew is from which tribe. “Mix-up” in Hebrew is “Bilbul,” the root for the word “Bavel,” Babylonia. Part of our work in exile is to undo this whole mix-up, not only in nations, but also in values, morality, etc., and hence the Talmud we study is known at the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud). Through logic and traditional rules of interpretation, we’re able to make sense out of confusion, and place everything in its proper place. The Hebrew word for the Flood, “Mabul” is also related to the word Bilbul, in that the Flood also mixed everything together.

An important lesson we learn from Yered (which means to descend) in our approach to prayer and Divine service is understanding the role of humility. The Chazan (the prayer leader) is called "Yored Lifnei HaTeivah," one who descends in front of the Ark (It is worth noting that early mystics were called Yordei Merkabah, those that descend [to reach] the [Divine] Chariot). The place where the Chazan stands would literally be lower than the rest of the synagogue, and Jewish law forbids praying from a physically elevated place (with certain exceptions). The rationale for all this is because prayer has to come from a place of humility, "MiMa'amakim Karaticha Hashem," one must call out Hashem from the depths, literally. As mentioned last week, it is essential to "Know Before Whom You Stand."

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