Weekly Cycle

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Week 20 (Book 3): Avraham and Giving

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.

There is also a clearer connection between Avraham and Tu B'Shvat:

With regard to the time during which Avraham lived in the land of the Philistines, this week’s Torah portion tells us:27 “And Avraham planted an eshel, a tamarisk tree… and there he called in the name of G‑d, L-rd of the world” i.e., he publicized G‑d’s presence28 “And Avraham lived in the land of the Philistines for an extended period.” It is after these verses that the Torah tells us about the binding of Yitzchak.

The question arises: What lesson can we learn from the fact that Avraham planted a tamarisk tree? Previously, the Torah described the greatness of Avraham, relating how although he was the one and only Jew, and that he spread faith in the one G‑d. After such heights of devotion, what is added by the fact that he planted a tamarisk tree? And how does planting a tamarisk tree relate to the narrative of the binding of Yitzchak?

The tamarisk is a large tree with broad branches. Since Avraham was living in a desert, he planted such a tree to provide wayfarers with protection from the scorching sun. The Talmud29 extends the interpretation of the Hebrew word eshel , explaining that it refers not to only one tree, but to an orchard. Avraham planted an orchard so that passersby could refresh themselves with the fruit.

The Talmud also offers a second interpretation, stating that eshel refers to an inn. Besides fruit, Avraham gave wayfarers bread and meat, drink and lodging.30 Indeed, the Midrash31 states that he even provided his guests with a court of law in which they could settle any dispute that might arise among them.

Avraham did not content himself with providing bread, salt and water, so that his guests’ basic needs would be met. He did not provide only the bare minimum; he gave his guests items which brought them pleasure: fruit, wine, delicacies and lodging; and gave them also a court to resolve their difficulties. 


Bereishis 21:33-34.


Sotah 10a.


Sotah, loc. cit.; see Rashi’ s gloss.


Midrash, as quoted in Rabbeinu Bachaye in his gloss to Bereishis 21:33.


Bereishis Rabbah 54:6.


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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