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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Week 13 (Book 5): Finding G-d in Exile

3. The watchmen who patrol the city found me: "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
4. I had just passed them by, when I found him whom my soul loves; I held him and would not let him go, until I brought him into my mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me.
5. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you neither awaken nor arouse the love while it is desirous.
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 13 - Things For Which Yom Kippur Does Not Atone
Week 13 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Chanukah. The Song of Songs closes the month of Kislev with two verses from the People of Israel to G-d, and one verse in which the Jewish people address the other nations (the last verse is actually the same as the last one in Week 8).
After searching and searching for Hashem and not finding, and after asking the watchmen (which Rashi notes is a reference to Moshe and Aharon, but perhaps also a reference to the leaders, prophets, and Kohanim of each generation), finally we found Him. That is Chanukah! Hashem reveals Himself to us on Chanukah, in the miraculous victory over the Greeks and the open miracle of the oil of the Menorah lasting eight days.
The Song of Songs states that once we found Him, we did not let go until bringing Him to “mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me,” clearly a reference to the Chanukah rededication of the Temple, the home of the Shechinah, the Feminine Divine Presence.
In the third verse, the parallel with Week 8 is quite significant, because in this battle against sinking into assimilation, it is on Chanukahthat we can declare that we have been victorious. The confrontational tone towards the nations therefore here can be seen as a cry of victory.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the thirteenth mentioned is Levi. The connection of Levi to Chanukah could not be more obvious: all Kohanim and the zealous Maccabees that brought about this victory were all his descendants.
Daf Yud Gimmel (Folio 13) of Shvuot discusses whether Yom Kippur atones for all sins, whether or not a person repented, with three exceptions: “one who denies the basis of Torah, one who ridicules Torah, and one who annuls circumcision (he does not circumcise himself, or he stretches his skin in order to appear uncircumcised).”[1]Again, the parallel with Chanukah and the confrontation with the Greeks is very clear. The denial of the Divine origin of the Torah and the specific practice of annulling circumcision were two of the main conflicts Jews had with Hellenist culture. The daf also specifically discusses the atonement of Kohanim, separate from the rest of the people.
Chapter 13 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The prophet describes how he is told to wear a girdle and that the girdle later becomes rotten and of no use. Hashem then compares the Jewish people to a girdle: “just as the girdle clings to a man's loins, so have I caused the entire house of Israel and the entire house of Judah to cling to Me.” This appears to be clearly connected to the Brit Milah, the primary mitzvah we perform on our male loins, a signal of our covenant with G-d. The chapter also repeats the theme of “skirts” of the Jewish people being “uncovered,” and pulled over their face. (Verses 22; 27) This seems to be another reference to circumcision, and specifically the process of annulling circumcision.
The verses speak of the corruption and false that was taking hold, similar to that of Chanukah, specifically of darkness (associated with Greece): “Give the Lord your God honor before it becomes dark, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and you shall hope for light, but He will make it into darkness, and making it into a thick cloud.” (Verse 16)
22. And if you say in your heart, "Why have these befallen me? For the greatness of your iniquity were your skirts uncovered, your steps cut off.
23. Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? So will you be able to improve, you who have become accustomed to do evil.
24. And I will scatter them like straw that passes with the wind, to the desert.
25. This is your lot, the portion of your measures, from Me, says the Lord, for you have forgotten Me, and you have trusted in falsehood.
26. And I also have uncovered your skirts over your face, and your disgrace has been seen.
27. Your adulteries and your neighings, and the thoughts of your harlotry; on hills in the field have I seen your abominations; woe to you, Jerusalem, you shall not become purified. After when shall it ever be?
The reference to the Cushites (descendants of Ham, who was known for his sexual impropriety) is significant. Even more significant is the reference to the leopard, who throughout Jewish tradition is particularly connected with Greece.[2]As Rabbi Slifkin explains in his book, the connections are many: their beauty, their swiftness, and perhaps most importantly, the boldness.
The word for the Leopard’s spots in Hebrew can also be translated as stains, kesem, such as those associated with ritual impurity. Leopards are also known to mate with other animals, not of their species, perhaps also a reference to assimilation.[3]
The last verse speaks of the impurity of Jerusalem, and asks when will it ever become pure. In fact, Jerusalem was purified in the times of the Maccabees.

[2] Rabbi Slifkin devotes most of his chapter on Leopards of his Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdomto this connection. Available at http://zootorah.com/assets/media/LeopardChapter.pdf.
[3] Ibid.

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