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Friday, January 17, 2020

Twelfth Set of 22 Days: Kaf Sofit, Trees of the Field and the Vine

Twelfth Set of 22 Days: from 3rd of Sivan to 24th of Sivan

Kaf Sofit

Trees of the Field and the Vine

1. The sages expounded in the language of the Mishnah (blessed is He who chose them and their learning):
Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah's sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G‑d, lover of humanity, rejoicer of G‑d, rejoicer of humanity. The Torah enclothes him with humility and awe; makes him fit to be righteous, pious, correct and faithful; distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power, as is stated (Proverbs 8:14): "Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power." The Torah grants him sovereignty, dominion, and jurisprudence. The Torah's secrets are revealed to him, and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring and as an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults. The Torah uplifts him and makes him greater than all creations.
2. Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi: Every day, an echo resounds from Mount Horeb (Sinai) proclaiming and saying: "Woe is to the creatures who insult the Torah." For one who does not occupy himself in Torah is considered an outcast, as is stated (Proverbs 11:22), "A golden nose-ring in the snout of a swine, a beautiful woman bereft of reason." And it says (Exodus 32:16): "And the tablets are the work of G‑d, and the writing is G‑d's writing, engraved on the tablets"; read not "engraved" (charut) but "liberty" (chairut)---for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah. And whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah is elevated, as is stated (Number 21:19), "And from the gift to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to The Heights."

The 3rd of Sivan begins the twelfth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the letter Kaf Sofit, as well as the Trees of the Field and the Vine in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period runs from the Shlosha Yemei Hagbalah (three days of separation) and Shavuoth to close to the end of the month of Sivan.

The previous set of 22 days marked the last two letters of the Jewish alphabet, Shin and Tav. However, it is also common to include separately in the Aleph Bet the final letters: Kaf Sofit, Mem Sofit, Nun Sofit, Peh Sofit and Tzadik Sofit. These letters appear stand for the five parts of the mouth related to speech, which are connected to the "Five Gevurot" and the five primary vowels. (See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation and commentary to Sefer Yetzirah)

The twelfth cycle of 22 days appears related to the letter Kaf Sofit. As mentioned previously, the Kaf stands for Keter, which is the part of the soul that is associated with that which is above intellect. Kaf literally means the palm of the hand and/or a spoon, which is bent like a receptacle. Unlike the regular Kaf, the Kaf Sofit is not bent, but instead goes straight down.

The giving of the Torah came straight down in a way that penetrated the world, to the extent that on Mount Sinai the words of the Torah did not have an echo (ie. they did not bounce back from what they touched - instead they were absorbed).

The following is from Rabbi Michael Munk's, "The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet:"

The Kaf Sophit, "a long straight letter, indicat[es] that one who succeeds in bending his primitive impulses and controlling them... Exodus 33:22 says, "VeSakoti Kapi Aleicha," I will shelter you with my hand (Krias HaTorah)."
The shape of the shofar, which calls us to repentance on Rosh Hashanah, must - according to halachic tradition - have a bent shape to indicate that a person's evil spirit must be bent as a prerequisite for repentance. However, the shofar blown in the Temple every fifty years to announce the Yovel, Jubilee Year, is long and straight as a symbol of freedom (Rosh Hashanah 26b)...
"The Talmud (Yoma 35b) teaches that when Joseph withstood the enticements of Potiphar's wife, she threatened him with imprisonment, and exclaimed, 'Ani Kophephet Komatech," I will bend your [moral] steadfastness.' Joseph responded, 'Hashem Zokeph (with a final Kaf) Kephuphim,' Hashem straightens the bent. (Psalms 146:8)."
(Munk, the Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, p. 136)
This period also marks the end of the Counting of the Omer, in which we worked tirelessly on our animal inclinations, "straightening ourselves out," and preparing ourselves to receive the Torah on the fiftieth day, like the fiftieth year of the Yovel.

The Perek Shirah elements of this week are also related to Shavuot. Shavuot is known also as Chag HaBikurim, the Festival of the First Fruits, when the first fruits of the seven species with which the Land of Israel is blessed were harvested and brought to the Temple. It is therefore quite appropriate that in include the Trees of the Field in general as well as the Vine, which is the first (and arguably the most important) of the seven species. Shavuot is also called Chag HaKatzir, the Harvest Festival, and the third Chapter of Perek Shirah, which begins with this cycle, is all about the vegetable kingdom.

It is also fascinating that just as the period immediately prior to Shavuot begins a new section of Perek Shirah, transitioning from the mineral kingdom to vegetable kingdom (beginning with a general category, entitled “Trees of the Field” (Ilanot HaSadeh), so too in Book 1, Week 35 transitions from domesticated animals to wild ones (beginning with a general category entitled “Wild Animals of the Field” (Chayot HaSadeh). These “collective” categories immediately prior to Shavuot seem to point to the general theme of unity associated with these weeks.  Furthermore, the emphasis on the Sadeh, the field, seems to relate to the fact that the Torah was not given in a home or in a city, but in the wilderness. The fields are also a place for meditation, prayer and closeness with G-d, also very much associated with this time of the year.

The verses of these two elements read as follows (translation from Rabbi Slifkin):

The Wild Trees are saying, "Then shall the trees of the forest sing out at the presence of G-d, because He comes to judge the earth." (Chronicles I 16:33)

The Vine is saying, "So says God: As the wine is found in the cluster, and one says: Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it - so shall I do for the sake of my servants, so as not to destroy everything." (Isaiah 65:8)

The trees sing out in when they experience the presence of G-d, just as we celebrate our encounter with G-d on Mount Sinai.

Rabbi Slifkin explains that the Vine takes much labor to plant and to harvest, and to later produce its final outcome: wine. Yet, the greater amount of work brings about an even greater reward. ("Nature's Song, p. 170) Similarly, on Shavuot, we are repaid for all the hard work that took place during the Counting of the Omer.

Both verses also contain a strong element of judgment, tempered by Hashem's mercy. As much as Shavuot is a day of celebration, the unfortunate events that took place immediately following the giving of the Torah (ie. the sin of the golden calf), required Hashem's great mercy, as well as Moshe's begging on our behalf "not to destroy everything."

The section of Pirkei Avot for this period describes the great reward for studying Torah, very much in line with the upcoming holiday.

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[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/showrashi/false/aid/15898/jewish/Chapter-14.htm

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