Weekly Cycle

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Week 49 (Book 2): Miriam and Increasing the Wisdom of His/Her Teacher

HAAZINU: Go up this Mount Avarim [to] Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is facing Jericho, and see the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel as a possession, (Deuteronomy 32:49)

HAFTORAH: And that brings me forth from my enemies; And above those that rise against me, You have lifted me; from the violent man You deliver me. (II Samuel 22:49)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Increases the Wisdom of His Teacher (Machkim Et Rabboh)

PROPHET: Miriam[1]


In week forty-nine, as we approach the middle of the month of Elul, Moshe is asked to go up to Mount Avarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, facing Jericho, and is asked to see the Land of Canaan (Israel), which Hashem is giving to the children of Israel as a possession.

The words of this verse are related to Shmuel HaKatan’s words in the Pirkei Avot of this week, and the 49th day, the very last one of the counting of the omer, discussed in Book 1. This is the final step Moshe is to take before passing away and reaching the 50th gate of binah, knowledge, (Nebo stands for “Nun Boh” – “Fifty is in it”). Moshe goes up Mount Avarim (perhaps related to the word “aveirah” - sin) in the land of Moav, a place of great immorality, whose very name is related to the incest that occurred at its conception. Moshe, the humblest of men, is buried there as a way to fix and elevate that place. This is related to Shmuel HaKatan, whose name points to his humility, and who states that we are not to rejoice in the fall of our enemy. All these actions are very much related to month of Elul, and the teshuvah that we perform during this month to fix and elevate our actions of the entire year, and ready to “take possession” of the following year.

In the Haftorah, King David speaks for how Hashem brings him forth from his enemies and above those that rise against him, including men of violence. Here too there is a clear connection to the above statement of Shmuel HaKatan’s words. There is also perhaps a connection to the deliverance from sins and from “accusing angels” that takes place during this month.

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “increases the wisdom of his teacher,” in Hebrew, machkim et rabboh, from the word chochmah, wisdom. This saying appears very much related to the sefirah of this week, Malchut. As mentioned in Book 1, Malchut  is called the “poor” sefirah, in that it has nothing of its own – it simply reflects the emanations of the other sefirot. By reflecting the other sefirot, Malchut is, so to speak, increasing them, bringing them down to a much deeper and fuller understanding, based on reality. We see that more clearly in the actions of Miriam, the prophetess for this week (it is worth noting that the remaining prophets listed in Elul are female, and that the zodiac sign for this month is Virgo).
After witnessing the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and how the Egyptians were enveloped and drowned in it, the Jewish people, led by Moses, perform the Song of the Sea. At the end of the song, Miriam then adds to Moshe’s “wisdom” by gathering the women and having them sing and dance with timbrels, singing a song that reflects that of the Song of the Sea.

We also see an instance in Miriam’s life when she increased the wisdom of her father, convincing him to remarry her mother. This ultimately led to the birth of Moshe. (Talmud, Sotah 12a) Furthermore, the Arizal explains that the well that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert in the merit of Miriam had the power to increase their wisdom and comprehension of the Oral Tradition. The Hebrew word for "well", "be'er", has the the same letters as the word for "interpretation".[2] There is a famous story of how once the Arizal took his disciple, Rav Chaim Vital, and gave him to drink of this water so that he could properly understand the deep concepts of his kabbalistic teachings.

We also find a parallel between Miriam and the words of the Snail in Book 1. The Snail sings in Perek Shirah: “Like the Snail that melts away, the stillborn of a mole that does not see the sun.” After Miriam speaks critically (and incorrectly) of Moshe and is punished with tzara’as, a spiritual disease of the skin, Moshe asks that she be healed by stating: “Let her not be like the dead, which comes out of his mother's womb with half its flesh consumed!" We are supposed to constantly remember this act of Miriam, as it is one of the “Six Remembrances” found in the Torah.

During the month of Elul, the month of teshuvah, there is nothing more appropriate than to focus on working on our speech and avoiding lashon harah, an evil tongue. Speech, as explained in Book 1, is the quintessential characteristic of Malchut. If Miriam, Moshe’s sister who so lovingly raised and supported him, and who spoke of him with only the best of intentions, could be punished so severely for what she said, how much more so should we avoid any kind of negative speech. Miriam repents and is ultimately cured, and just as the zodiac sign of this month represents, we all have the ability to repent and get a clean slate as we approach the Days of Awe.

The levitical city for this week is also a city of refuge, Rammoth Gilad. Rammoth means “heights,” and Gilad is the territory on the other side of the Jordan, which along with Jazer, the tribes of Gad and Reuven chose to inherit. These tribes had a large amount of flock and cattle, and chose this land because of its spaciousness. Gilad is also the land of Elijah the Prophet, and specifically Rammoth Gilad is where King Achab was wounded and died, fulfilling Eliyahu’s prophecy.[3]

Finally, Gilad also appears related to Gal’Ed, the place where Yaakov had to face Lavan before coming to Israel, and where they made a treaty. This appears related to all the concepts discussed above, such as facing one’s enemy (the yetzer harah, which Lavan so much personifies), and preparing oneself to entering Israel (or the new year). The name Lavan also stands for the Lev, the 32 paths of chochmah (wisdom), and nun, the 50 gates of binah (knowledge). Also, before meeting Yaakov, Hashem appears to Lavan in a dream, who is told not to say anything to Yaakov, whether good or bad – this is related to the concept of loshon harah.

[1] The final four weeks of the year also appear to be related to the four matriarchs in inverse order, and four “Chabad matriarchs.” This week would then be related to Rachel and to Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel, granddaughter of the Alter Rebbe. 

[2] Avodat Yisrael, Chukat; Pri Tzaddik, Chukat, 15 

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