Weekly Cycle

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Week 24 (Book 3): Peretz and the Power of Joy

Moses led Israel away from the Red Sea, and they went out into the desert of Shur; they walked for three days in the desert but did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah.

Asher dwelt at the shore of the seas,
and by his breaches he abides.

Talmud Sotah: Daf 24: extenuating circumstances – women that do not drink the Sotah water.


They journeyed from Tahath and camped in Tarah.

Week 24 is the week of Purim. Soon after the Song of the Sea, the Jewish people find themselves in a situation that they do not have access to water. Our sages teach us that water in the Torah is always a reference to the Torah itself. The story of Purim (and particularly the fast of Esther, in which she did not have food or drink for three days) represents a similar situation, where Hashem was hidden, and the Jewish people’s lives were embittered and threatened by the evil Haman. On Purim, the people’s reaction was reaffirm their belief in G-d and the Torah, receiving the Torah once again.

The Haftorah’s verses now turn to Asher, who also did not participate in the battle. Interestingly, the verse states that Asher dwelt in its “breaches” (mifratzav), which is the root of the name Peretz, the generational link for this week. Rashi explains that Asher was concerned about the parts of its lands that could be vulnerable to attack. Like the tribes mentioned before, Asher’s reaction to the fight was to protect itself. The whole idea of the month of Adar is to be willing to sacrifice oneself for someone else.

Daf Kaf Dalet (Folio 24) of Sotah discusses cases of women that do not drink, often based on extenuating circumstances. The story of Esther is a perfect example of an extenuating circumstance. The Midrash states that Esther was married to Mordechai prior to marrying Achashverosh. Even a plain reading of the story is problematic due to the fact that Achashverosh was not Jewish. However, it is difficult to think of greater extenuating circumstances than those that existed in the days of the Purim miracle. Not only was Esther in a certain way forced into marrying Achashverosh, but her actions actually saved the entire Jewish people!  

Perez is one of the twin sons of Yehudah and Tamar. He burst forward from the womb and emerged first, thereby inheriting the right of the firstborn, which at first appeared to be going to his brother Zerach. The entire story of Tamar has a similar theme to that of Esther (as well as that of Yael, which will be discussed later in the Song of Devorah), which is the idea that under extenuating circumstances certain acts that would require severe punishment are deemed to be righteous. Perez, as mentioned before, comes from the verb “Lifrotz,” which means to breach a fence, a boundary. This can be taken for bad, but also for good, which is reflected in two different sayings found in our tradition: "Poretz Geder Yishchenu Nachash" (one that breaks boundaries is bit by a snake) (Ecclesiastes 10:8) and “Simchah Poretzet Geder” (happiness breaks boundaries. Mashiach is also known as HaPoretz.[1] This is the happiness of Purim and the happiness of redemption, which converts darkness into light.

In the twenty-fourth week, the Jews journey from Tahath and camp in Tarah. Tarah is spelled the same as Terach, the father of Avraham. Terach comes from smell, and the Purim story is very much related to the sense of smell. Smell is very spiritual, and that was the only element not used in Achashverosh’s party. Rabbi Jacobson explains that Terach also means “wild goat” and “old fool,” which is the kind of behavior associated with Purim, when we bring these behaviors into the path of holiness. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of making a dwelling place in the lower realms by taking advantage of a situation of spiritual lowliness, and now focus on spiritually elevating our environment through holy “foolish” behavior.

[1] http://ascentofsafed.com/Teachings/Advanced/Prayer/dodi9.html; Rabbi Moshe Miller citing Samach Tesamach 5657 p. 49; Likutei Sichot vol. 20, p. 259.

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