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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Week 50 (Book 4): Wisdom that Comes with Experience

STORY OF CHANNAH: 22. Now, Eli had become very old, and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and that they would lie with the women who congregated at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 6
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz (20th of Elul) and Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz (21st of Elul)

Week 50 is the fourth week of Elul. We have completed the counting of the “Annual Omer,” and this week, along with 51 and 52, correspond to Shavuot and the three intellectual sefirot, Chochmah (wisdom), Binah (understanding) and Da’at (knowledge). This is the week of Chai Elul, the birthday of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe of Chabad (Rabbeinu HaZaken in Hebrew) Our sages teach us that Zaken stands for “Zeh SheKanah Chochmah,” he who has acquired wisdom. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how Eli had become very old (Zaken Meod). His sons, on the other hand, completely lacked this characteristic, and used their unwise “youthfulness” to “sleep” with women bringing sacrifices.[1]
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is the very same word as above, Ziknah, usually translated as sageness, old age.
Chapter 6 of the Song of Songs describes a relationship between G-d and the Jewish people that is considerably different than the one described in previous chapters. It contains the famous verse that is an acronym for the month of Elul (Ani LeDodi veDodi Li):
3. I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine, who grazes among the roses."
Rashi - who grazes among the roses: who pastures his flocks in a calm and goodly pasture.
The relationship is somewhat more subdued and also somewhat “wiser.” Rashi notes throughout that the relationship described is that of the Jewish people in the times of the Second Temple. It is a love that comes with the wisdom acquired after a period of brief betrayal and a sense of abandonment. Yet, the love is slowly rebuilt until it reaches its apex once more:
10. Who is this who looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, awesome as the bannered legions?"
Rashi - like the dawn: which progressively lights up little by little; so were the Israelites in the Second Temple. In the beginning, Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah, but not a king, and they were subjugated to Persia and to Greece, and afterwards, the house of the Hasmoneans defeated them and they became kings.
This week contains the yahrzeits of two great Torah sages, who also happened to live until an advanced age:  Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz (20th of Elul) and Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz (21st of Elul).
Sternhartz (Kokhav Lev), Reb Avraham (1862-1955). Reb Avraham was Reb Noson's great-grandson and a grandson of the Tcheriner Rav. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his illustrious grandfather whose influence upon him was unmistakable. Even as a child, Reb Avraham showed great diligence in Torah study, a trait for which his grandfather was known. After the morning prayers he would seclude himself in the attic where he would study Rebbe Nachman's Likutey Moharan, not interrupting his studies until he knew the lesson of the day by heart. After completing the entire Talmud at the age of sixteen, he married. He was a scribe in Tcherin and at age nineteen was accepted as Rav in Kremenchug. At twenty-two he was appointed prayer leader for the Rosh HaShannah kibutz, a post which he also held after coming to the Holy Land, for a total of seventy years.
Reb Avraham arrived in Jerusalem's Old City in 1936, where he was received and recognized as the outstanding Breslover elder of his generation. In 1940 he established the kibutz in Meron for Rosh HaShannah. Exiled from the Old City during the War of Independence in 1948, he was resettled in Katamon together with many other Breslover Chassidim. Among his disciples were a number of the major Breslover leaders of the past few decades, including: Reb Moshe and Reb Nachman Burstein, Reb Michel Dorfman, Reb Shmuel Horowitz (d.1973), Reb Gedaliah Aharon Koenig, Reb Zvi Aryeh Lippel (1903-1979), Reb Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, Reb Shmuel Shapiro and Reb Yaakov Meir Shechter.
It was said of Reb Avraham that he was a "living" Likutey Moharan. Just by looking at him, one could see that his every action was based on some statement in Rebbe Nachman's teachings. When giving a lesson in Likutey Moharan, he would begin by reading from the text, divert to complementary material for an hour or two, and then pick up again from the exact word where he'd left off. What was amazing about this was that it was all done entirely by memory, without Reb Avraham's ever having to look into the written text! And what's more, he did this up until he passed away at age ninety-three and a half.
Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz (1660 - 21 Elul 1764) was chief rabbi of many cities, including Posen, Prague and Altuna. He died in Metz at over one hundred years old. He authored many important books on Jewish law, scripture and thought.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Yaakov Koppel Chassid (15th of Elul), Rabbi Yehudah Loew (the Maharal, 18th of Elul), Chacham Abdallah Somech (18th of Elul), and Rabbi Ze’ev Nachum Bornstein (19th of Elul)

[1] The Talmud states that they did not actually have relations with these women, but rather they delayed in bringing Zava sacrifices. This made certain women have to stay overnight in proximity to the Tabernacle, thereby impeding them from being with their husbands. See Talmud Yoma 9a, Shabbat 55b.

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