Weekly Cycle

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Week 37 (From the Book): To Maintain our Humility and Not Forget the Greatness We Experienced

PEREK SHIRAH: The elephant is saying, "How great are your works, G-d; Your thoughts are tremendously deep." (Psalms 92:6)

PIRKEI AVOT: His son, Rabbi Yishmael would say: One who refrains from serving as a judge avoids hatred, thievery and false oaths. One who frivolously hands down rulings is a fool, wicked and arrogant.

He would also say: Do not judge on your own, for there is none qualified to judge alone, only the One. And do not say, "You must accept my view," for this is their [the majority's] right, not yours.

SEFIROT: Gevurah shebeYesod (discipline and judgment within the context of foundation and firmness)

As we arrive at week thirty-seven, the week after Shavuot, the elephant in Perek Shirah proclaims, "How great are your works, G-d; Your thoughts are tremendously deep." (Psalms 92:6) The Hebrew word for great used by the elephant is gadlu, from the word gadol, big, and the elephant itself is the largest of all the land animals. The verse of the elephant is also from Psalm 92, mentioned in the previous week.

On Shavuot, we were all deeply impressed with the greatness of Hashem and His Torah. After this day of great Divine revelation, we all become higher and greater spiritually. The elephant comes to emphasize to us the greatness of that experience, and that it is important not to let ourselves forget it. Elephants, after all, are renowned for their memory. Physical greatness is also associated with the week after Shavuot because that is when we read the Torah portion of Nasso, the largest one in all of the Five Books of Moses.[1]

The number thirty-seven has the gematria of the root of the word gadol (big). Thirty-seven is also the numerical difference between the name of Moses (345) and Korach (308).[2] The “deep thoughts” mentioned by the elephant may actually be a reference to the rebellion of Korach against Moses and Aaron. 

Korach wanted the leadership position to himself and convinced a susbstantial number of his fellow tribesmen and neighbors to rebel. During his confrontation with Moses and Aaron, Korach and his congregation were miraculously sucked into a deep pit, which Pirkei Avot states was thought of and created by G-d in the very first week of Creation. The Rebbe explains that Korach and his group were brought into the pit while still alive in order that they be granted the opportunity to repent and return to G-d, as did Korach’s sons. This event happened on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the begnning of this current month, and the Torah portion entitled “Korach,” which recounts this story, is often read communally by the Jewish people during the last days of Sivan.

It is appropriate that Moses is also associated with the elephant, the largest of the land animals, because as noted in Week 4 and Week 23, Moses is also related to the eagle, the largest bird, and the Leviathan, the largest sea animal. Moses was, and will always be, the greatest of all prophets.

The lesson from Pirkei Avot for this week is from Rabbi Yishmael, who teaches that one who refrains from making legal ruling removes himself from enmity, theft and unnecessary oaths: but one that frivolously issues legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant. (IV:7) Rabbi Yishmael also states that the only one who can judge on his own is G-d, and that an individual should not say, “Accept my view,” for that is the right of the majority, not the individual’s.

The teaching of Rabbi Yishmael is connected with the emphasis on unity and harmony linked to the month of Sivan, as well as to the humility necessary in order to properly fulfill the commandments of the Torah. We must do all that is in our power not to aggrandize ourselves at the Torah’s expense, always remembering that only G-d is truly great.

Rabbi Yishmael’s words are also a clear reference to the interactions between Moses and Korach. Korach was an enormously rich person, with a deep-seated enlarged view of himself. During his rebellion against Moses and Aaron, Korach’s claim was based on a concept similar to the latter part of Rabbi Yishmael’s words; that Moses and Aaron should follow the majority and not retain key positions for themselves. Moses explained that Korach’s rebellion was ultimately against G-d Himself, who had chosen him and Aaron as the leaders of the Jewish people. As noted above, G-d does, and will, judge alone.

The combination of sefirot for this week results in gevurah shebeyesod. On this week, we must work with strength and discipline to maintain our solid foundation in our study of Torah and our fulfillment of mitzvot. The elephant represents this strong foundation. After all, who can move an elephant against its will?[3]

Finally, a lesson in self-improvement that we learn from the elephant is that even the largest animal realizes the infinite greatness and depth of Hashem.

[1] Nasso has 176 paragraphs; the largest Psalm, 119, has 176 verses; the largest Talmudic tractate, Bava Batra, has 176 folios.
[2]Dr. Akiva G. Belk, “Elazar, Korach, Shuvah, Pride and Depression,” available at http://www.jewishpath.org/gematriaelazarkorachetc.html; http://www.safed-kabbalah.com/Arizal/Korach5761.htm
[3] There also appears to be a connection between the elephant, Pil in Hebrew, and Eliyahu HaNavi. Both have the same gematria, 120; See also Talmud, Brachot 56B, where the description of a dream with an elephant follows the description of a dream with Pinchas, who is Elijah.   

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