Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Week 42 (Book 3): Remembering to Repent in the Face of Destruction

BESHALACH: 31. The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, [it was] white, and it tasted like a wafer with honey. 32. Moses said, This is the thing that the Lord commanded: Let one omerful of it be preserved for your generations, in order that they see the bread that I fed you in the desert when I took you out of the land of Egypt.  

HAFTORAH: a spoil of dyed garments to Sisera, a spoil of dyed garments of embroidery;

TALMUD SOTAH - Daf 42: Mashuach  Milchamah (Anointed for War)


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.   They camped along the Jordan from Beth jeshimoth to Abel shittim, in the plains of Moab.  

Week 42 is the last week of Tammuz, and is the first of the three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The Torah section for this week describes the mannah, which would be received in different forms (like a seed, a dough, or a finished bread) depending on one's spiritual status. For those not completely righteous, the mannah was, in and of itself, a call for repentance.
The verse also speaks of how the mannah was to be preserved for generations. Rashi explains that it was preserved specifically for the times of Jeremiah and the destruction of the Temple. The Haftorah verses speak of the enemy dividing spoils. When the walls of Jerusalem were breached, our people defeated, and the Temple destroyed, the enemy took its spoils. The "dyed garments" mentioned are reminiscent of the clothes worn by the Kohen Gadol in the Temple.

Daf Mem Beit (Folio 42) of Sotah continues to speak of the negative trait of flattery. It then starts a new chapter on the laws of the Mashuach Milchamah, the Kohen that is anointed for war. Mashuach comes from the same root as the word Mashiach. The Daf speaks of how the Kohen tells the people that the war is not one against their brethren. If they are taken captive, the enemy will not have mercy on them. And so it was during the destruction of the Temple. These three weeks are also connected to Mashiach, as the birth of Mashiach takes place on Tisha B’Av.

After Athaliah is removed and killed, she is replaced by the next king, Jehoash, who is still a boy at the time. Jehoash is tutored and counseled by the righteous Kohen, Yehoiadah. His counterparts in the Kingdom of Israel are Yehu (26 years) and Jehoahaz (14 years). While Yehoiadah was alive, Jehoash faithfully served G-d. However, after Yehoiadah’s death, Jehoash turned to idols. Yehoiadah’s son, the prophet Zachariah, condemned Jehoash’s behavior, and Jehoash had him killed while he was in the Temple. Zechariah was stoned to death on Yom Kippur itself! The blood us this holy prophet and kohen would not be forgiven. Not only is Jehoash severely punished, as Syrians overrun and sack most of the country, but when the Temple is destroyed, the fate of Zachariah is brought up once again:

Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: "There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested."

 Nebuzaradan said, "I will appease him." He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then school-children. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: "Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?" At last the blood sank into the ground (Talmud, Gittin 57b).[1]

Jehoash therefore represents both sides of Jewish behavior towards the Temple. On the one hand, in his early years, he behaves with exemplary piousness and repairs it. Yet, in his later years, he has bad influences and acts with such disrespect and blasphemy that his acts are a significant factor in its destruction. The name Jehoash apparently means “fire of G-d” - fire can be used for the good or for the bad. In Jehoash’s life, it appears to have been used for both.

In the forty-second week, the Jews journey from the mountains of Abarim and camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.  They camp along the Jordan from Beth Yeshimoth up until Abel shittim, in the plains of Moab. The plains of Moab in Hebrew is Arvot Moav, which, as Rabbi Jacobson explains, has dual meaning. Arvot comes from the word erev, night, as well as arev, mixture/confusion, and points to the most difficult part of the 42-part journey in the desert. The 42nd week of the year is also often a very difficult week, part of the three weeks of mourning, as explained above. However, Arev also means sweet, and as mentioned before, teshuvah can transform these harsh days into sweet ones.

Rabbi Jacobson states that “Jordan-Jericho” (Yarden Yerichoh) is a reference to Mashiach. Again, we are approaching the birth of Mashiach on the ninth of Av. The crossing of the Jordan represents finally leaving the wandering of the desert and entering into the Land of Israel. This means also leaving the more spiritual existence of the times of the desert and engaging more fully in the physical world. This is also the meaning of Beth Yeshimoth, which comes from the word “wasteland,” yeshimon, and Abel Shitim, which Rabbi Jacobson translates as desolate plains, based on the Ramban.

Abel Shitim also means mourning (due to) follies, such as the mourning we undergo during this time of the year. This is the folly of impurity, as the Talmud in Sotah states that a person does not sin unless a spirit of folly enters him/her. The Rebbe Rayatz also explains that there is such a thing as a positive spirit of folly, Shtus d’Kedushah (“folly of holiness”). (See Maamar Bati LeGani). Such folly will bring about a “mourning” of the yetzer harah, which will then disappear from this world forever. This all depends on Arvoth Moav, transforming the darkness that comes from Av into light.

The personal journey for this week is to internalize the heights of spirituality we attain from teshuvah, and now focus on engaging the physical world, effectively “conquering the Land,” and elevating through the spirit of holy folly and the spark of Mashiach that each of us has within.

[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/144569/jewish/The-First-Temple.htm#footnoteRef1a144569; the This section of the Talmudic tractate of Gittin is customarily studied on Tisha B’Av.

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