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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Week 8 (Book 3): Methuselah and Affirming Life

SONG OF THE SEA: And with the breath of Your nostrils the waters were heaped up; the running water stood erect like a wall;

HAFTARAH: in the days of Jael, caravans ceased, and travelers walked on crooked paths.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 8 - bitter waters, guarding against illicit thoughts, and Divine retribution


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the Red Sea and camped in the desert of Zin.

On week eight, the fourth week of Cheshvan, the verses of the Song of the Sea continue to references to the miraculous punishment that came through water, again drawing a parallel between the events at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the Flood.

The Haftorah’s verse mentions Yael, continuing the theme of the role of women mentioned in the previous week. The verse also mentions that “caravans ceased, and travelers walked on crooked paths.” This is perhaps a reference to the crooked ways that had taken hold of the human race at the time of the Flood. The word for crooked roads, “arachot akakalot” appears to have at their root the verb “lekalkel,” which means “to ruin.”

Daf Chet (Folio 8) of Sotah also discusses further the procedure of how a woman suspected of adultery would be taken to be tested with bitter waters. The Talmud shows concern that her testing not cause any illicit thoughs on other men. It also discusses the general concept Divine retribution, which comes in the form of middah kneged middah (measure-for-measure).

Methuselah (מְתוּשֶׁלַח) appears to be a “kosher version” of Methushael (מְתוּשָׁאֵל). Methuselah was very righteous and is the person that lived the longest than anyone else in history (969 years). Methuselah passed away immediately prior to the Flood, and shares his yahrzeit with Rachel Imeinu, this month of Cheshvan. Interestingly, Methuselah’s name, like that of Methushael, starts with the word “met,” which means “dead.” However, while Methuselah’s name then includes the word “shalach,” which means “sent,” while Methushael’s includes the word “sha’al,” which means “asked,” or “borrowed,” as well as she’ol, which is means grave, pit or “abode of the dead.” 

While Methushelach’s behavior sends death away from him, Methushael’s behavior seems to be bring it closer. Methushelach’s behavior is life-affirming, while Methushael’s, like that of his predecessors and descendants is the opposite. Metushelach lived in an environment that had been extremely corrupted, and yet maintained his righteousness in a way that was also above nature. That is our challenge in exile as well. This is related to the Pirkei Avot of this week, which mentions things that take a person out of this world. (See Week 8, Book 1)

In the eighth week, the Jews journey from the Sea of Reeds and camped in the desert of Zin. It was at this desert that the food provisions from Egypt ended; the Jewish people cried out to G-d and received the mannah. The Torah also mentions that they had no water, which is also a symbol for the Torah itself. (Bamidbar 20:1-2) Similarly, we are at a point during the year where all our spiritual food provisions from Tishrei are coming to an end, and we have to pray hard for Hashem’s mercy to provide us with the necessary spiritual sustenance to keep going. As we will see during the month of Kislev, the sustenance comes to us in a way that, like the mannah, is totally above nature.

The personal journey is to internalize the great revelations of the Sea of Reeds, and preparing for the new moon, the “supernatural” month of Kislev. (One of the meanings of “Zin” is “moon” and the new moon is empty like the desert, and the Torah states that they arrived there at the new moon. (Bamidbar 20:1-2))

An important lesson we learn from Metuselah in our approach to prayer and Divine service is the need  to simply to affirm life at all times. In order to pray properly, we need to offer praise and thanksgiving simply for being alive in the way that our Creator envisioned for us. As Torah states so clearly, "Choose life!" That is really the only decision we have to make - every day and at every moment.

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