Weekly Cycle

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Week 17 (Book 3): Avraham, Serug, and the Alter Rebbe

SONG OF THE SEA: all the inhabitants of Canaan melted. May dread and fright fall upon them;

HAFTARAH: Then ruled a remnant among the mighty of the nations; the Lord dominated the strong for me.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 17 - Avraham and how the Sotah process can bring blessing.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Rimmon Perez and camped in Libnah.

Week 17, the last week of Teveth, includes the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, on the 24th of Teveth. In the verses of the Song of the Sea, the same theme continues. The inhabitants of Canaan melt, with dread and fright.

The Haftorah’s verses could not possibly be more related to the major qualities of the Tribe of Dan discussed before: strength and ability to multiply after being small in number. The verses states that with God’s help, the remnant overcame the mighty and the strong.

Daf Yud Zayin (Folio 17) of Sotah speaks of the writing of the curses on the scroll that is to be dissolved in the water. The daf also speaks of how curses can be inferred from blessings, and how even in the words “man” and “woman” there is a potential for “fire” if the Divine Presence does not dwell among the couple. This is related to Teveth: because of our sins, the blessings of the Torah were turned to curses due to our idolatry. Also, during the destruction of both the first and second Temple, the Divine Presence left and the Temples were enveloped and destroyed by fire.

The daf also speaks of Avraham, and how he was rewarded for not accepting the booty from the king of Sodom. This appears related to Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad rebbe. His uncompromising stance towards the truth, as well as his selflessness, merited tremendous blessings in these areas. Not only did his stature command the awe and respect of non-Jews, but his comprehensive description of the heavenly realms is one of the most systematic and detailed in the Jewish tradition.

The interaction between Avraham and the King of Sodom also has a strong parallel between the Alter Rebbe and Napoleon. Napoleon was offering the Jews greater material wealth and greater freedom. However, the Alter Rebbe saw that this would lead to spiritual downfall and assimilation. The physical oppression of the … was better than a spiritual one. This is parallel to what the King of Sodom said, “Take … and I’ll take the souls,” which Avraham so vehemently rejected and was greatly rewarded for.
Interestingly, just as Avraham rejected even the most minute personal object, Napoleon sought after the most minute personal object belonging to the Alter Rebbe. However, the Alter Rebbe put fire to his home before leaving, and Napoleon was not able to find a single thing.

Serug, son of Reu, is a reference to an even greater regrouping. Serug comes from the verg Lesareg, which means to interlace, interweave. More than gathering with friends and becoming part of a Shepherd’s herd again (See also Book 1, Week 17). This is also the innovation of the Chassidism of the Alter Rebbe. Chassidim are all one family – they create an unbreakable bond. The Hayom Yom for the 24th of Teveth (which I had not looked at prior writing the above), states:

My grandfather (R. Shmuel) asked the Tzemach Tzedek: What did Grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) intend with the "ways of Chassidus" and what did he intend with Chassidus?
The Tzemach Tzedek answered: The "ways of Chassidus" are that all Chassidim are to be like one family, with affection, as Torah teaches. Chassidus is vitality. Chassidus is to bring life and illumination into everything, to shed light even on the undesirable - to become aware of one's own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.[1]

According to Philo, a Roman Jewish philosopher, Serug and his family were set apart from the rest of their generation because they did not engage in idolatry. Philo seems to have based himself on apocryphal writings, so the validity of this claim is somewhat suspect. Nevertheless, it would indicate a certain tikkun, a fixing of one of the main problem areas related to the Tribe of Dan, idolatry. It also appears related to the second part of the Hayom Yom regarding what is meant by “Chassidus” – “to be aware of one’s own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.”

In the seventeenth week, the Jews journey from Rimmon Perez and camp in Libnah. Libnah comes from the word Leveinim, bricks. Bricks are usually associated with the hard labor the Jews had to endure during their Egyptian exile, in which they had to make bricks. At the end of the exile, they were not even provided any straws.  In his work, Torah Or, the Alter Rebbe, quoting the Zohar, explains that the harsh labor in Egypt has a spiritual counterpart, in the proper study of the Torah. Leveinim, bricks, is a reference to libun hilchesa, the clarification of Torah law. Chomer, mortar, parallels the kal vachomer, the principle of a fortiori, one of principal rules of how to interpret the Torah. It is possible to exchange the harsh labor of exile for the labor in the study of Torah.[2] As mentioned previously, proper Torah study was one of the causes for the destruction of the First Temple, related to this month. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of being fruitful and productive, and now focus on proper Torah study.

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