Weekly Cycle

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Week 8 (Book 2): Humility is Key

TORAH PORTION OF HAAZINU: When the Most High gave nations their lot, when He separated the sons of man, He set up the boundaries of peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:8)

HAFTARAH: Then the earth shook and quaked, the [very] foundations of heaven did tremble; and they were shaken when he was angered. (II Samuel 22:8)


PROPHET(S): Elkanah and Chanah 

LEVITICAL CITY: Be’eshterah (Ashtarot)

On Week Eight, the last week of Cheshvan, Haazinu’s verse is another clear reference to the Flood. Again, the connection to the Flood and immediately subsequent events is explicitly stated in Rashi’s commentary:

When the Most High gave nations their lot: When the Holy One, Blessed is He, gave those who provoked Him to anger their portion, He flooded them and drowned them [i.e., that was their lot].

when He separated the sons of man: When [G-d] scattered the Generation of the Dispersion [which built the tower of Babel], He had the power to remove them from the world [altogether], but He did not do so. Rather, “He set up the boundaries of peoples,” [i.e.,] He let them remain in existence and did not destroy them.

The Haftarah’s verse also appears clearly connected to the Flood. King David speaks of the firm foundations of Heaven and Earth trembling due to G-d’s anger.

The quality for this week is humility. True humility involves concern for others besides yourself.[1] Noah failed this test. Moshe, on the other hand, who is described in the Torah as the humblest man on earth, exemplified this quality, and was a tikkun for his previous incarnation as Noah. When told by Hashem that He would destroy all the people and build a nation out of him, very much like what G-d had told Noah, Moshe’s response was that if G-d were to do so, “Erase me from Your book.” This phrase in Hebrew, M’cheni Nah, has the same letters as Mei Noach, the Waters of Noah, which is how the Flood is described in the Prophets. (Isaiah 54:9, Haftarah for Parashat Noach)[2]

This week’s prophets, Elkanah and Channah, are very much related to theme of the month of Cheshvan: prayer and the Temple. Both also exemplify humility. It is from Channah that we learn how to pray with utter self-nullification and humility, whispering so that no one can hear us but ourselves and Hashem. Elkanah also is an example of humility, in that despite his extraordinarily high level, he was concerned about the rest of his generation, the entire people of Israel. He would make yearly pilgrimages to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood, each time taking a different route in order to encourage more and more people to join him in this important mitzvah, which at the time was being disregarded. He did so despite the fact the priests that were serving there had become corrupt. Elkanah’s behavior, his humble attempt to unify the people and elevate them, appear to be the cure for their complacency. In fact, Channah and Elkanah’s son, Samuel, would be the one to elevate the people to a new level of holiness.

This week’s levitical city is Be’eshterah, another name for Ashtarot. This levitical city appears to be named after Ashtoreth, a pagan goddess that King Solomon is said to have worshiped. (1 Kings 11:1-10) The major commentaries state that he did not commit idol worship, but that his wives did, and that his failure to take action made it as if he himself had committed the sin. King Solomon built the First Temple and completed it during this month.

Ashtarot appears to be related to idol worship involving richness.[3] That is the struggle King Solomon faced, being very wealthy himself, and to some extent is the struggle we all face, as we dive into the month of Cheshvan and risk becoming drowned in material concerns. As we become involved in the world, we have to be careful not to corrupt ourselves with false gods, false ideologies and other rationalizations and self-deceptions. It is also important to remember the verse first stated by King Solomon in the Song of Songs, that many waters cannot extinguish the love [for G-d].[4] As explained in Book One, the "many waters" are a reference to the difficulties and turbulence involved in making a living, which however great, cannot extinguish the love of a Jew for G-d.[5]

An important lesson that we learn from this week’s quality for acquiring the Torah is that at the essence of our acquiring the Torah is humility, complete self-nullification before G-d. Hashem placed His essence in the Torah, and it is by immersing ourselves completely in it that we can obtain total unity with Him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in one of his early discourses (Ma'amarim) that there is even a higher (more humble, self-nullified) level than learning Torah for the sake of uniting our soul with Hashem, and that is to learn Torah for its own sake (Torah LiShmah), without any consideration for anything else, even that by doing so we are performing a mitzvah or becoming closer with G-d, even though both are obviously true. When we learn at such a level, there is no more we.[6]

[1] Heard from Rav Shalom Arush.
[2] Shem M’Shmuel
[4] Chapter 8:7
[5] Ma’amar “Mayim Rabbim” of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch.
[6] As Moshe later stated about himself and Aharon, "Nachnu Mah?," "What are we?" or "We are what (nothing)."

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