Weekly Cycle

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Week 14 (Book 5): Sticking with the Torah and the Temple

6. Who is this coming up from the desert, like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, of all the powder of the peddler?
7. Behold the litter of Solomon; sixty mighty men are around it, of the mighty men of Israel.
8. They all hold the sword, skilled in warfare; each one with his sword on his thigh because of fear at night.


TALMUD SHEVUOTH:  Daf 14 - Forgetting the Laws of Impurity

Book of Jeremiah: Chapter 14

Week 14 in the Jewish calendar is the continuation of Chanukah, and also includes Rosh Chodesh Teveth.  The verses from Song of Songs for this week are very upbeat: they are said by the Jewish people and describe its state of closeness with G-d. The first verse speaks of traveling through the desert with G-d miraculously protecting them with the Clouds of Glory. Chanukah is also about Divine protection during exile and is eight days long in order to parallel Sukkot, which commemorates our protection under the Clouds of Glory while in the desert.

Rashi notes that the verses relate to the Mishkan, the moveable Temple, and to the "the war of Torah, and similarly, the priests who surround it, who camp around the Mishkan, skilled in the order of their service." There’s a clear relation to Chanukah

There is also an interesting parallel with Rosh Chodesh Teveth, in that Rashi describes that not only is the Mishkan being guarded, but the Torah itself, both Written and Oral. It is well known that the destruction of the First Temple, which began with the siege of Jerusalem on the 10th of Teveth was due to the lack of proper (spiritual) importance given to the Torah. Here are Rashi's comments:

each one with his sword: his weapons. These are the Masorah and the mnemonics, by which they preserve the correct version [of the Oral Law] and the masorah (the traditional spelling and reading of the Scriptures), lest it be forgotten.   

because of fear at night: lest they forget it, and troubles will befall them, and so Scripture says (Ps. 2:12): “Arm yourselves with the grain [of Torah] lest He become angry and you perish on the way.”

Night appears to be a reference to the darkness of Greece. It is incredible how Rashi also explains that the weapons used are for preserving the correct written and oral traditions, not only in line with the struggle of the Maccabees against Greek perversion of the law, but also a reference to giving the proper spiritual importance of the Torah, one of the main themes of this month, the lack of which caused the destruction of the First Temple, as explained in the previous books.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the fourteenth mentioned is Gershon. Gershon is the name of one of Levi’s sons as well as one of Moshe’s. It is a name connected to being in exile, and the fight to maintain one’s identity in the face of foreign influences. In fact, Moshe’s son Gershon was brought up by both Yitro and Moshe, and Yitro’s influence had long term negative effects. As also explained previously, Chanukah connected to the word Chinuch, education, and is related to the fight against assimilation and idolatry. Gershon and his family also played an important role in the upkeep of the Mishkan.

Daf Yud Dalet (Folio 14) of Shvuot comprises of a continuation of the discussion of the atonement of Kohanim, separate from the rest of the people. It also begins a new chapter that introduces the concept of awareness of impurity and what happens when one forgets the laws of impurity. The continuation of the laws of the atonement of the Kohanim parallel the continuation of Chanukah this week. Impurity versus purity is a general theme of Chanukah. Impurity and ignorance of the Law (lack of education) are ideas also connected to Chanukah and the 10th of Teveth.

Chapter 14 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The entire chapter is about a drought, generally associated with G-d’s displeasure with the Jewish people prior to the destruction of the Temple. Furthermore, a well known concept is that “Ayn Mayim Elah Torah,” every Biblical reference to water is a reference to the Torah itself.. At the end there is also a clear connection to themes of Chanukah, the Temple and the Brit (mepher brit means annulling the covenant of circumcision, prevalent among some Hellenized Jews at the time of Chanukah)

21. Do not condemn us for Your name's sake, do not disgrace the throne of Your glory. Remember, do not break Your covenant with us.  

for Your name’s sake: that you are called merciful.  

the throne of Your glory: The Temple. And according to Midrash Aggadah, Israel who is engraved on the throne of Your glory.   

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