Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Week 39 (From the Book): To See the World in a Positive Light in Order to Elevate It

The Bear is saying, "Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, the village that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the peaks of the mountains. Let them give glory to G-d and tell of His praise in the islands." (Isaiah 42:11-12)

Rabbi Meir would say: Engage minimally in business, and occupy yourself with Torah. Be humble before every man. If you neglect the Torah, there will be many more causes for neglect before you; if you toil much in Torah, there is much reward to give to you.

Netzach shebeYesod (victory and endurance within the context of foundation and firmness)

This week marks Rosh Chodesh Tammuz as well as Gimmel Tammuz, the date of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s passing and also the beginning of the liberation of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Tammuz is represented by the tribe of Reuven, Jacob’s firstborn.

The name Reuven comes from the word reiyiah, sight, and the month of Tammuz is related to the tikkun, the fixing, of our sense of sight. Reuven is also connected to teshuvah in general. The Midrash states about Reuven that he was the first to repent out of love, without first being chastised by Hashem.[1]

This month is also connected to the tikkun for the sin of the spies. Moses sent spies that journeyed throughout the Land of Israel during the entire month of Tammuz and, except for Joshua and Caleb, viewed the Land of Israel in a negative light.

Tammuz also is connected to several tragedies that occurred on the 17th day of this month. Among these tragedies is the destruction of the first tablets containing the Ten Commandments, as well as the breach of the walls of Jerusalem. However, Tammuz is also connected with the final redemption. In the future, when we ultimately repent and are redeemed, the 17th of Tammuz will no longer be a day of fasting and mourning, but rather a day of celebration.

The transformation and teshuvah of Tammuz parallels that of Reuven. Jacob took away Reuven’s firstborn rights after a severe mistake he made involving one of his father’s concubines. Reuven spent his entire life doing teshuvah for his sin. The Torah recognizes his repentance, still referring to Reuven as the firstborn son of Jacob long after the unfortunate event took place.

On the thirty-ninth week, the Bear sings in Perek Shirah, asking all to raise their voice: the desert and the cities, the villages, and the wilderness of Kedar; everyone is to chant melodies and cry with joy: those that dwell among the rocks and on the top of the mountains as well as those in the islands. (Isaiah 42: 11-12)

The song of the Bear alludes to the concept of looking at the world with good eyes, in a positive light. The Bear sees that the deserts, the cities, the villages, the mountains and the islands, all have the great potential of praising G-d. This is how we should all see the world – everyone has this potential. We just need to open our eyes to see it.

One of the main accomplishments of the Rebbe, which actually began with the Previous Rebbe, was to always see in each follower and in every Jew their enormous potential for good. That is how the Rebbe was able to form so many leaders and inspire so many people. The Rebbe was able to spread the light of Judaism and of Chassidism to the far corners of the world: cities as well as spiritual deserts, mountains and isolated islands.

Eliyahu HaNavi, who will announce the coming of Mashiach, is also associated with the Bear. As explained in week 12, the Tanach states that before Elijah ascended to heaven, Elisha asked him for a double portion of Elijah’s own strength.[2] Soon afterwards, when Elisha purified the waters of a particular city, he was insulted by a few young men who would make their money transporting clean water from another location. Elisha’s miracle had rendered their services useless. The youngsters starting instigating Elisha, calling him bald, which was meant to strike a contrast between him and Elijah, who had a head full of hair. After the insult, Elisha cursed these youngsters, and two bears (an apparent reference to the double portion he had received from Elijah) came out of the wilderness and killed them.[3]

It is interesting to note that just as the bear’s song makes explicit references to Arabia (Kedar), the Talmud contains various stories of how Elijah would disguise himself as an Arab when he would appear before tzadikim, either as a way to test or help them.

Thirty-nine is the number of the types of work prohibited on Shabbat. These prohibitions parallel the thirty-nine types of work performed in building the Mishkan, a miniature Temple where the Divine Presence resided. The Mishkan represents a microcosm of the world, and just as G-d rested on the seventh day during the creation of the world, the Jewish people rested on the same day when they were building the Mishkan.

The Bear’s song refers to distant and uninhabited places that have the potential of praising Hashem, thus making a home for Hashem in this world. The Midrash Tanchumah teaches that G-d’s primary objective in creating the world was in order to make a home for Him in the lowly realms. That home is the Mishkan.

The letters that form the number thirty-nine, lamed and tet, spell out the word tel, which means mountain. The laws pertaining to Shabbat are known as "mountains on a wire," because a vast number of prohibitions are deduced from just a few explicit verses in the Torah.

The Pirkei Avot of this week is expressed in the teachings of Rabbi Meir.  The Talmud states that whoever saw Rabbi Meir studying, witnessed how he would take mountains and grind them into each other. He was also known for miracles, many of which involved Eliyahu HaNavi.

Rabbi Meir also represents the idea of teshuvah, return to G-d, and ​​seeing the potential in people and in faraway places. He was himself a descendant of Roman converts. When a certain group of people mistreated and insulted him, he followed the advice of his wife Beruria, and instead of praying for their destruction, prayed that they do teshuvah, which they ultimately did.[4]

Rabbi Meir states that we should minimize our commercial activities in order to focus ourselves in Torah study. He advises us to be humble towards everyone. Furthermore, he teaches that if we waste Torah study time, we will find many obstacles against us, but if we toil greatly in its study, we will find abundant reward. Rabbi Meir’s words are also connected to Tammuz, Reuven and the process of teshuvah, demanding that we humbly transform any lack of dedication to the Torah (which caused such obstacles and tragedies for our people), into full dedication and toil, leading ultimately to enormous reward.

This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebeyesod. We must be persistent and determined to maintain our foundation in Torah and mitzvot. We know that Joseph, who represents the sefirah of yesod, had to endure Potiphar’s wife’s constant attempts to seduce him, and yet Joseph was ultimately successful in resisting her. Rashi compares Potiphar's wife to a bear. There will always be bears trying to distract us from our central purpose. We must stand firm and strong like a bear, and not lose sight of our goal.

This week, we learn from the bear that wherever we find ourselves, we must attempt to speak of the Torah and elevate the place we are in as much as possible.

[2] 2 Kings 2:9
[3] 2 Kings 2:23-25
[4] Talmud Brachot 10a

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