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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Week 9 (Book 5): Beloved

8. The sound of my beloved! Behold, he is coming, skipping over the mountains, jumping over the hills.
9. My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices.
10. My beloved raised his voice and said to me, 'Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

TALMUD SHEVUOTH: DAF 9 - Atonement and Rosh Chodesh


Week 9 in the Jewish calendar is either the last week of Cheshvan or already includes Rosh Chodesh Kislev. The Song of Songs verses for this week are all from the Jewish people, singing of Hashem, and they all share the same second word, Dodi, my Beloved. The theme of the verses is G-d’s salvation in a way that was above nature (skipping over mountains, jumping over hills). That is the theme of the Maccabees and Kislev, G-d saves us in miraculous ways. The verses also point to the difference in the Jewish a Greek belief systems. While Jews strive for a close relationship with G-d, seeing Him as their Beloved, the Greeks at the time only believed in the cosmos, and the laws of nature, not in a Divine Judge.

The later part of the second verse, “standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices,” is also a known reference to Birkat Kohanim, the blessing of the high priest. As mentioned previously, Kislev and Chanukah are particularly associated with the Kohanim.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the ninth mentioned is Ohad. Ohad, spelled Aleph Heh Dalet, appears related to the word “Echad,” Alef Chet Dalet, which means, “One.” Again, one of the main distinctions between Jewish and Greek cultures was monotheism itself. It is also remarkable that Rashi specifically notes that the Ohad family was one of the few families that were wiped out altogether, when, along with other clans, they attempted to return to Egypt and were chased back and militarily confronted by a grew of zealous Levites (similar to the Chanukah story, which also had aspects of a Jewish civil war between those that wanted to remain true to Judaism against Helenist assimilationists). Regarding the Ohad family, Rashi states as follows:

However, the family of Ohad [mentioned in Exodus] died out… I found [the reason for this] in the Talmud Yerushalmi [Sotah 1:1]. When Aaron died, the clouds of glory withdrew, and the Canaanites came to fight against Israel. They [the Israelites] set their hearts on returning to Egypt, and they went back eight stages of their journey… However, they turned back, and the Levites pursued them to bring them back, killing seven of their families. The Levites lost four families [in the battle]… R. Tanchuma expounds that they [the seven Israelite families] fell in the plague in connection with Balaam [see 25:9] (Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 5), but [this cannot be, for] according to the number missing from the tribe of Simeon in this census compared with the first census [which took place] in the Sinai desert, it would appear that all twenty-four thousand who fell [in the plague] were from the tribe of Simeon. - [Mid. Tanchuma Vayechi 10][1]

Even according to the opinion of the Midrash Tanchuma, that the family was lost during the plague in connection with Bilaam, the parallel with Chanukah and Kislev still holds. The plague of Ba’al Peor, associated with Bilaam, was one in which the men were assimilating and behaving immodestly with Midianite women. Pinchas, a Levite, and later made a Kohen, zealously kills a prince of the Tribe of Shimon (related to Ohad’s family), stops the plague and brings the Jews back to the path of proper behavior.

Daf Tet (Folio 9) of Shvuot continues to discuss the atonement of the goat offered outside the Temple. It also speaks of the goats offered on Rosh Chodesh and festivals. Rosh Chodesh, along with Shabat and circumcision, was also a main contentions between the Jews and the Greeks, and one of the practices the Greeks tried to prohibit altogether.

Rosh Chodesh symbolizes God's never-ending role in the lives we lead as Jews.  Although we now use a fixed calendar, the Jewish ideal of how to mark the passage of time is epitomized by the manner in which we once determined the day of Rosh Chodesh: we looked heavenward for the first appearance of the New Moon, the first tiny hint that the moon's natural cycle of renewal had begun. Rosh Chodesh is a constant reminder that the rhythm of our lives -- even that part which is tied to the cycles of nature -- is in God's hands.[2]

Chapter 9 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. After continuing the description of the desolation mentioned last week (still related to Cheshvan), Jeremiah turns to a what are today very famous lines, which contain a theme very much related to Kislev and Chanukah:

22. Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches.  

23. But let him that boasts exult in this, that he understands and knows me, for I am the Lord Who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.  

24. Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will punish every circumcised one with his uncircumcision.  
25. Egypt, Judah, Edom, the children of Ammon, Moab, and all those cast off to the corners, who dwell in the desert, for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are of uncircumcised hearts.

The Greeks were well known for their wisdom, and in fact inextricably related to it. However, it was a kind of wisdom devoid of G-dliness. Also, at the time of Chanukah, the Greeks were quite strong and rich, and yet, as we state during the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, G-d delivered "the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the provokers into the hands of those who involve themselves with Your Torah."[3] The verses speak of the importance of circumcision (mentioned above), the difference between those that are circumcised and those that are not, as well as the need for the circumcision of the heart.

[3] http://torah.org/learning/lifeline/5760/chanukah.html

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