Weekly Cycle

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Week 50 (Book 2): Devorah and Properly Understanding What One Learns

HAAZINU: And die on the mountain upon which you are climbing and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. (Deuteronomy 32:50)

HAFTORAH: Therefore I will give thanks to You, O' Lord, among the nations, and to your name I will sing praises. (II Samuel 22:50)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Who Properly Undestands What He Learns

PROPHET: Devorah[1]


We now come to week fifty, the week of Chai Elul, which marks the birth of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, as well as the yahrzeit of the Maharal of Prague. In Haazinu, Moshe is told to “die on the mountain upon which you are climbing,” and be gathered to his people, just as Aaron his brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. We are told that tzadikim never die, and that even in Heaven they continue to climb from level to level. We are also told that when Moshe saw his brother pass away, he desired a death like his. Hashem granted Moshe’s wish. Even at Moshe’s death, we see the importance of brotherly love. There is also a repetition and continuation, somewhat similar to the repetition and continuation we see when comparing the life of the Baal Shem Tov with the life of the Alter Rebbe. Both of their teachings and the Tanya itself is based on the works of the Maharal of Prague. This is also appropriate for the week of Chai Elul, because when a tzadik dies, he’s actually more “alive” then before, and impacts the world much more.

In the Haftarah’s verse for this week, King David speaks of giving thanks to G-d, “among the nations” and singing praises to His name. The idea of giving thanks and praising G-d is ultimately what life is all about. Chassidism is about realizing Hashkachah Pratis (see Yud Tes Kislev) that everything comes from Hashem and that everything is for the good. Furthermore, it is appropriate that this be the message of Chai Elul, because it was also on this date that the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself to the world, “among the nations.”

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “who properly understands what (s)he learns/hears.” This is also the message of Chai Elul, in which the Alter Rebbe continued the tradition he received from his teacher the Magid, who in turn had received from the Baal Shem Tov. The Alter Rebbe pondered what he learned from his teachers and organized it in the Tanya.[2] Similarly, his knowledge of the revealed part of the Torah, was organized in his Shulchan Aruch. The Baal Shem Tov himself said of the Alter Rebbe that he would bring two lights (Shnei Or) into the world, in the realm of the hidden aspects of the Torah as well as the revealed one.

This week’s prophetess is Devorah. There is a parallel between ants and bees (soldierlike, part of something greater; also they both have a queen). Like the Ant in Book 1, Devorah also suffered from the sin of pride, which caused her to lose her prophecy momentarily. Overall, however, Devorah was extremely modest and humble, and that is what made her worthy of becoming a prophet. About her it is said, “The wisdom of a woman built her home.”[3] The word used here is Chochmah, which is the sefirah related to this week.

Devorah also represents the quality of this week, in that as a judge, it was essential that she ponder and properly understand what she heard. We also see this quality in the very song that she sang in the Book of Judges. In it, she ponders over Israel’s situation at the time, the reactions of different tribes to the war, Yael’s heroic actions, how the Jewish people asked her to sing, and the fate of Sisera and his mother. The song also contains a “back and forth” between her and the Jewish people, in which she hears what the Jewish people say to her (“Arise Devorah… arise and sing a song”) and she responds.

The levitical city for the fiftieth week is Mahanaim. Mahanaim is a very special place. It is where Jacob met angels of G-d, who received him into the Land of Israel, after Lavan had departed and returned to his place. (Genesis, Ch. 32) It was from there that Jacob sent messengers to Esav.

Mahanaim was also the place to which King David fled from his son Absalom. It was there that he and his army were given provisions by Barzillai the Gileadite, and where the tide of the his son’s rebellion turned in David’s favor. Among these provisions was honey (perhaps related to the bee, Devorah). (Shmuel II, Chapter 17)

On Chai Elul we enter the final twelve days of repentance before Rosh Hashanah. We are given the necessary “spiritual provisions” necessary for repentance. Each of the twelve days represents repentance for a different month, and Chai Elul itself corresponds to Tishrei.

[1] This week also appears related to our matriarch Leah and to Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, daughter of the Alter Rebbe.  

[2] “Ha'mech'aven et shmu'ato [ ] means ‘think over what you've heard.’ Create a mental filing cabinet.” http://www.aish.com/sp/48w/48942836.html

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