Thursday, January 16, 2014

Week 20 (Book 3): Avraham and Potential

SONG OF THE SEA: directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O Lord; the sanctuary, O Lord, [which] Your hands founded.

HAFTORAH: And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah, as was Issachar with Barak; into the valley they rushed forth with their feet.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 20 - Water, Teaching Torah, Withholding from Pleasure


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Kehelathah and camped in Mount Shepher

Week 20 is the week of Tu B’Shevat. The verses of the Song of the Sea speak of Hashem’s habitation, which His “hands” founded. As in week 18, the verse contains various anthropomorphisms. Rashi explains the line, “directed toward Your habitation,” as follows: “The Temple below is directly opposite the Temple above, which You made.” At this point in time, the neither the Temple or the Tabernacle had been built. They were there only in potential, a reflection of the Temple above. Such is the case with Tu B’Shevat itself. We celebrate in the middle of the winter, when the fruit is only there in potential.

The Haftorah’s verses mentions the princes of Issachar, as well as the tribe as a whole. Issachar was completely dedicated to the learning of Torah and its transmission. Perhaps more than any other tribe, it represents the idea of the Oral Torah, an essential characteristic of the month of Shevat.

Daf Kaf (Folio 20) of Sotah continues the discussion of drinking the water, and when the Sotah can refuse. There is also discussion about teaching Torah to women, how the water tests her, what ink can be used, and how a woman’s merit can withhold punishment. Again, there are references to interactions of different elements in nature, as well as a focus on the Oral Torah. The daf also contains a passage that looks down on situations of improperly withholding from pleasure. Pleasure is the theme of Tu B’Shvat.

Avraham is the forefather of the Jewish people, but also the father (Av) of many other peoples, which is the meaning of his name (father of multitudes). Yet, at the time his name was changed (and even before when his name is Avram), he was still childless. His children were there only in potential. Avraham was very much known for his hospitality, serving food to his guests and providing them with all kinds of delicacies. This was also a way he found to teach them about Hashem, the One True G-d. This all appears related to the major themes of this month, such as pleasure and the Oral Torah.

In the twentieth week, the Jews journey from Kehelathah and camp in Mount Shepher. Rabbi Jacobson explains that Mount Shepher means “beautiful mountain,” and cites Targum Yonasan, which renders it as “mountain with beautiful fruit.” The quality of beautiful fruit is clearly linked to Tu B’Shevat. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of the gathering of Chassidim and commitment to the leader, and now focus on the enjoyment and beauty of both natural and spiritual worlds/fruits.

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