Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week 41 (Book 3): Standing One's Ground

BESHALACH: 29. See that the Lord has given you the Sabbath. Therefore, on the sixth day, He gives you bread for two days. Let each man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day. 30. So the people rested on the seventh day.
HAFTORAH: 'Are they not finding (and) dividing the spoils? A damsel, two damsels to every man;

TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 41 - The perils of flattery.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Almon diblathaimah and camped in the mountains of Abarim, in front of Nebo. 

Week 41 is the week of the Yud Beit/Yud Gimmel Tammuz, as well as the 17th of Tammuz. The 17th of Tammuz is when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, which led to the destruction of the Temple three weeks later. Yud Beit/Yud Gimmel Tammuz celebrates when the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was freed after he stood his ground and was able to survive the tortures of Soviet imprisonment.

The Torah portion section for this week repeats the concept of the Sabbath, and that bread is given for two days. The emphasis of the verses, however, is on the idea of remaining still, not leaving one’s place. In many ways, the message is the converse of what happened on the 17th of Tammuz, when the Jews, who were running out of food, still had no choice but to stay in place. Similarly, when the walls were breached, they were forced to surrender and were led to exile, no longer able to stay in place, even on the Sabbath. The message of Yud Beit/Yud Gimmel Tammuz also has a parallel here: despite the oppression he suffered in prison, the Sixth Rebbe stood his ground, remaining in his spiritual place.

The Haftorah verses speak of the enemy dividing the spoils of the Jews, and taking one or two Jewish women for every man. This certainly parallels what took place when the walls of Jerusalem were breached. The term for women used, Rechem, which is related to the word “womb” and “mercy,” brings to mind the verse of the Book of Lamentations, verse 4:10: “The hands of compassionate (rachmaniyot) women boiled their own children.” (See Book 1 on how 41 is the gematria of em, mother)

Daf Mem Alef (Folio 41) of Sotah speaks of certain laws of Torah reading on Yom Kippur, and how the King reads the Torah in the Temple. Again, the Temple is one of the central themes of the daf (and of these weeks). The daf also speaks about the negative trait of flattery. Flattery is a cause of corruption and leads to destruction: “From the day that flattery became rampant, judgments became distorted, deeds became spoiled, and no one can say 'My deeds are better than yours'. The very destruction of the Temple is related to flattery: “We learn from Yirmeyahu, who supported Chananyah's false prophecy; Chananyah's grandson later seized Yirmeyahu and handed him over to the Babylonian officials.” The Rebbe Rayatz’s behavior on the 12th of Tammuz are the opposite of flattery – he spoke his mind regarding the evil of the Soviet empire, endured torture, but stood his ground nonetheless.

After Ahaziah’s death, his mother Athaliah takes over the reigns of the kingdom. Her counterpart in the northern kingdom of Israel is Yehu (2 years). Her reign is one of absolute terror, and her hatred after the death of her own son leads her to a goal of destroying the entire House of David. She is able to kill all of King David’s descendants but one, Jehoash, who miraculously survives. Athalia’s story depicts just how cruel and ruthless a mother (who is naturally merciful) can act, and is yet another indication of how distorted, godless, and corrupt Israel had become. Yet, a mother’s mercy is also portrayed in the saving of Jehoash. The godlessness, lowliness and corruption  parallels the events of the 17th of Tammuz, and yet the hope of Jehoash parallels how the Rebbe Rayatz, too, was saved from the embers of destruction, and the Chabad dynasty was able to continue. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Athalia did enormous damage to the Temple; damage which Jehoash would repair. 

In the forty-first week, the Jews journey from Almon diblathaimah and camp in the mountains of Abarim, in front of Nebo. As explained in week 38, Abarim comes from the word aveirah, transgression. However, now instead of the ruins of Abarim, we go to the mountain of Abarim. This, again, is a reference to the spiritual heights we reach once we do teshuvah. The Temple itself is also called a mountain. Nebo means nun boh, a reference to the fiftieth gate that Moshe reaches at his passing. The 50th gate, a level that is beyond nature, is also related to teshuvah, where G-d raises us up from our sins in a supernatural way. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of the concealed sweetness that is now revealed from our repentance, and now focus on the supernatural heights we can attain from it as well.

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