Weekly Cycle

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Week 15 (Book 3): Peleg and Evil Speech

SONG OF THE SEA: People heard, they trembled; a shudder seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
HAFTORAH: Then the people of the Lord went down to the cities. Praise! Praise! Deborah.
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 15 - The Metzorah
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Hazeroth and camped in Rithmah.

On Week 15 is the fast of the 10th of Teveth, which marks the day in which the Babylonian Empire laid siege to Jerusalem, which was eventually destroyed. The verses of the Song of the Sea speak of how the people heard and trembled, and how the Phlistine inhabitants were seized by a shudder. Many years later, it would be the Jewish people that would tremble and shudder with the coming of the Babylonians and the siege they placed on Jerusalem. In the future, the 10thof Teveth day will be a day of celebration.

 The Haftorah’s verses describe how the people of G-d descended to the cities. The Hebrew word for cities used here is Shearim, which also means gates. On the 10th of Teveth, Nebuchadnezar and his people, who the prophets exclaim were sent by G-d, descended upon the city of Jerusalem and surrounded its gates.

Rashi explains that the reason the song states, “Praise, Praise Devorah!” is because the spirit of G-d had left her, because she had praised herself. This is connected to the idea that the First Temple was destroyed (and the spirit of G-d left it) because the people did not make the blessing over Torah study. First and foremost, we must realize that all Torah knowledge and all prophecy comes directly from G-d, and that there is no room to praise oneself.

Daf Tes Vav (Folio 15) of Sotah is continues the explanation of what the Sotahoffering entailed. The entire Daf consists primarily of contrasting the offering of the Sotah with that of the Metzorah, one who had contacted a spiritual skin disease resembling leprosy or psoriasis. The Talmud also notes that the purification of the Metzorah is more severe than that of the Sotah. The Metzorah’s sin is related to Lashon Harah, evil speech/slander, which, as mentioned last week, is equivalent to all three major sins in the Torah (idolatry, adultery, and murder), another reason given for why the First Temple was destroyed. The Metzorah himself must be exiled from the camp, and can only return once purified of his condition. His exile is similar to the exile endured by the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple.

The Torah explains that Peleg was so named because it was in his days that the Tower of Bavel was made and the world’s population was split and spread into different lands. This “exile” is parallel to that of the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple. The division also appears parallel to the Metzorah above, who was punished with exile because he had himself caused divisiveness among others with his evil speech.

The Babylonians made a point of exiling most of the Jewish people from the land and bringing a different people to dwell in parts of the Land of Israel. The split between the Jewish community in Israel and that of the Babylonian diaspora was one that remained in place for centuries.

 In the fifteenth week, the Jews journey from Hazeroth and camped in Rithmah. Rithmah, which is also known as Kadesh Barnea, was the place of another major sin of Lashon Harah, when the spies, not learning the lesson from Miriam, slandered the Land of Israel. Their actions, and the acceptance of their words by the Jewish people, led to Tisha B’Av, the date of the destruction of both the First and Second Temple. Rashi states:

Rithmah: Heb. רִתְמָה, so named because of the slander of the spies, for it says,“What can He give you, and what can He add to you, you deceitful tongue? Sharpened arrows of a mighty man, with coals of brooms רְתָמִים” (Ps. 120:3-4). - [Mid. Aggadah]

The slander against the Land was ultimately a slander against G-d. The people did not have faith that G-d could conquer the Land for them. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of avoiding bad speech and rebellion against our leaders, and focus on the concept of not speaking Lashon Harah against G-d and the Land of Israel. The Talmud teaches that whoever does not show gratitude towards his fellow human being will end up not showing gratitude to Hashem Himself.

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