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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Week 48 (Book 5): Heber and To Be Connected


SONG OF SONGS: 10. I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers, then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace.
70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Heber and Naftali
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 48 – New Moon
BOOK OF JEREMIAH: Chapter 48

Week 48 in the Jewish calendar is the second week of Elul. The zodiac sign for this month is virgo. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week continues to speak of the Jewish people as a young virgin/bride. She promises to stand strong against any who try to seduce her, and because of this she finds peace with her Husband.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the forty-eighth mentioned is Heber. Heber means friend, connection – perhaps a reference to the strong bond we have with G-d during this month, which stands for “Ani LeDodi veDodi Li,” “I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me.” Heber is also the name of the husband of another incredibly important Biblical female figure: Yael.
This week is also connected with Naftali. Of all the children of Jacob, it is only Naftali that is associated with a female animal because the prophetess Deborah comes from this tribe (Rashi). Naftali is described by Jacob as an Ayalah Shluchah (a swift gazelle, similar to the name Yael, which means “mountain goat”). Naftali also comes from the word for “sweetness,” also associated with the Divine closeness we experience during this month.
Daf Mem Cheit (Folio 48) of Shvuot discusses contradicting testimonies about the new moon and about whether money was given. It also discusses swearing of orphans, comparing it to that of a woman that swears in order to receive the rest of her ketubah that was already partially paid. Finally, the daf discusses overturning a final ruling and swearing about uncertain claims. Again, the theme Teshuvah and renewal (“New Moon,” overturning final rulings) is quite prevalent, as well as the female theme connected to Elul.
Chapter 48 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter speaks of the downfall of Moab. As mentioned last week, each gentile nation is associated with a specific impurity. (Likutei Moharan Torah Kuf Alef, Lesson 101)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Week 49 (Book 5): The King is in the Field


SONG OF SONGS: 11. Solomon had a vineyard in Baal-Hamon; he gave the vineyard to the keepers; each one brought for the fruit thereof one thousand pieces of silver.
70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Malkiel and Jahze’el
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 49 – Being a Watchman/Keeper
BOOK OF JEREMIAH: Chapter 49

Week 49 in the Jewish calendar is the third week of Elul. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week compares the Jewish people to a vineyard, as well as populous nation placed in the hand of the nations of exile (“the keepers”).
The verse can also be interpreted in light of the teaching of the Alter Rebbe that during the month of Elul, the King is in the field, and greets each person with a smile. In Shir HaShirim, the name Solomon is a reference to Hashem Himself. He comes to the field (the vineyard) and to each keeper (each Jewish person). Each person shows an enormous desire to connect to G-d during this month, a thousand pieces of silver (silver, kesef, in Kabbalah stands for desire, kissufim).
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the forty-ninth mentioned is Malkiel. Malkiel means “my King is G-d.” In addition to the idea that during Elul, “the King is in the field,” this week is also connected with Malchut shebeMalchut. (See Week 49, Book 1)
Week 49 is also connected with Jahze’el, which means “G-d will apportion (or divide, break)” (See Week 40, Book 2) Here is also appears related to the quality of Malchut, both being apportioned the position as well as the idea of being humble/broken.
Daf Mem Tet (Folio 49) of Shvuot is practically a chapter in itself, discussing the four kinds of watchmen (Shomrim): one watches for free, one borrows, another receives a fee, and the last rents. They all have different levels of rights and obligations. It interesting to note the similarity between this section and that of Shir HaShirim, also related to watchmen/keepers. As we approach the end of the year, we also need to show that we have taken good care of that which we have been entrusted: our soul. If we have not taken such good care of it, it is time to make things right.
Chapter 49 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter speaks of the downfall of Ammon, as well as Edom, Aram, and Elam. As mentioned last week, each gentile nation is associated with a specific impurity. (Likutei Moharan, Lesson 101)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Week 50 (Book 5): The King's Field


SONG OF SONGS: 12. My vineyard, which is mine, is before me; you, O Solomon, shall have the thousand, and those who watch its fruit, two hundred.
70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Rachel and Guni
TALMUD MAKKOT: Up to Daf 8
BOOK OF JEREMIAH: Chapter 50

Week 50 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Chai Elul, the birthday of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week again compares the Jewish people to a vineyard, and states that Hashem will reclaim his field, and the nations will repay us for all they have taken.
This verse also appears to make some interesting references to the two men whose birthday is this week. The vineyard mentioned belongs to “Ba’al Hamon,” which is similar to the Ba’al Shem Tov’s name. Furthermore, “Hamon,” which means many also appears to be a reference to Avraham, who our sages explain means “Av Hamon Goyim,” the father of many nations. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s role as the founder of Chassidut is known to be in many ways parallel to that of Avraham.
The Alter Rebbe’s name was Schneur Zalman. Zalman is the Yiddish form of the name Solomon, Shlomoh. Schneur means Shnei Ohr, “two lights,” a reference to his revelations in the areas of Nistar (the hidden Torah, Chassidism and Kabbalah) and Nigleh (the revealed Torah, Jewish law) The Alter Rebbe received the field, the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and “watched its fruit,” developing them into a system known as Chassidut Chabad (which stands for Chochmah, Binah and Da’at). He successfully transmitted all of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov (the full thousand silver coins, which represent the desire for G-d) and added another two hundred, like his name, in both the hidden and revealed areas of Torah.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the fiftieth referred to here is Rachel. Of all the Matriarchs, she is the only one whose name is mentioned in extra time, specifically as the wife of Jacob, again continuing the greater emphasis on women and closeness to G-d connected to the month of Elul and the sign of Virgo. The name Rachel means a female sheep, which indicates a devotedness to the Shepherd, Hashem, also associated with this month.
This week is also connected with Guni, son of Naftali. Guni appears related to the word Gani,  “my garden,” found in Shir HaShirim, perhaps also a reference to the special closeness we have  with G-d during this month, in which “the King is in the field.”
Folios 2 through 8 of Makkot includes all of Chapter 1, which is mostly about invalidating witnesses. Similarly, the teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity) performed during Elul “invalidates” the heavenly accusations made against us due to our sins.  

Daf 7 and 8 are part of Chapter 2 of Makkot, which describes the laws of someone who needs to go to a city of refuge because of an accidental killing. The entire concept of the city of refuge is about teshuvah. Also included in this discussion is the idea of Yeridah leTzorech Aliyah, a descent for the sake of an ascent. This is a fundamental principle in teshuvah and key concept in Chassidut in general.   
Chapter 50 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter speaks of the downfall of the greatest empire at the time, Babylon. It also contains a message of consolation for the Jewish people, referring to them as sheep, and also mentioning the fields of the Land of Israel. It also contains a message of forgiveness related to the month of Elul.
5. They shall inquire of Zion; their faces are directed hitherward. "Come and join the Lord [with] an everlasting covenant that shall not be
6. My people were lost sheep, their shepherds caused them to stray, [to the] mountains [they] led them astray; from mountain to hill they went, they forgot their resting place. 
7. All who found them devoured them, and their adversaries said, "We are not to blame because they sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice and the hope of their forefathers-the Lord."
(...)
17. A scattered sheep is Israel which lions have driven away. First the king of Assyria devoured him, and this last one broke his bones, Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon. 
18. Therefore, so said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel; Behold I visit retribution upon the king of Babylon and upon his land, as I visited upon the king of Assyria.
19. And I will return Israel to his dwelling and he shall pasture in the Carmel and the Bashan, and in Mount Ephraim and Gilead shall his soul be sated. 
20. In those days and at that time, says the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but it shall not be there, and the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found, for I will forgive those I leave over.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Week 51 (Book 5): Speaking to the King


SONG OF SONGS: 13. You, who sit in the gardens the friends hearken to your voice; let me hear [it].
70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Joseph and Yetzer
TALMUD MAKKOT: Daf 9 - 16
BOOK OF JEREMIAH: Chapter 51

Week 51 in the Jewish calendar is the last week of Elul. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week speaks of the Jewish people sitting in the gardens, while G-d asks to hear their voice. This again is connected to the idea of the King being in the field. He is waiting for us to speak to Him.

Rashi explains that the gardens mentioned are those of strangers during exile and the friends are the angels that hear the voice of the Jewish people in the synagogues. This appears to be particularly connected with Rosh Hashanah. The voice that Hashem hears may also be the voice of the Shofar, our desperate cry to reconnect to G-d.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the fifty-first added here is Joseph, who is mentioned separately, along with his mother Rachel and his brother Benjamin. Joseph is the Tzadik Yesod Olam, the foundation of the world, from whom comes both the physical and spiritual sustenance for the rest of the world. This quality is closely associated with Rosh Hashanah, the day in which the sustenance for the entire rest of the year is decided. Tishrei is also associated with the Tribe of Efraim.

This week is also connected with Yetzer, son of Naftali. This name is a reference to the teshuvah (repentance) we perform for the sins committed because of our Yetzer Harah, our evil inclination. Yetzer also comes from the the world Yotzer, creator. It is on Rosh Hashanah that we crown Hashem as King, the Creator of the Universe.

Dappim 9 through 16 of Makkot includes all of Chapter 2 (folios 9 through 13), which is all about cities of refuge. Dapim 13 through 16 are part of Chapter 3, regarding different laws related to lashes and whether or not they are given under various circumstances. Elul is connected to both concepts – we seek refuge as well as repentance and early atonement, so that we are ready for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement.

Chapter 51 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter continues to speak of the judgment and the downfall of the greatest empire at the time, Babylon. Just as Babylon was a “destroyer,” so it will be destroyed. It seems related to the idea of vengeance associated with the cities of refuge, yet Babylon will have no place to hide. It will be severely punished for its murders.

20. You are for Me a shatterer, yea weapons of war, and with you I would shatter nations, and with you I would destroy kingdoms.

21. And with you I would shatter a horse and his rider, and with you I would shatter a chariot and its rider. 

22. And with you I would shatter man and woman, and with you I would shatter elder and youth, and with you I would shatter young man and virgin. 

23. And with you I would shatter a shepherd and his flock, and with you I would shatter a farmer and his team, and with you I would shatter governors and officers. 

24. And I will recompense Babylon and all the inhabitants of [the land of] the Chaldeans for all their evil that they committed in Zion before your eyes, says the Lord. 

25. Behold I am against you, O destroying mountain, says the Lord, who destroys all the earth, and I will stretch out My hand upon you and roll you down from the rocks and make you a burnt mountain.

(…)

49. As Babylon [caused] the slain of Israel to fall, so in Babylon shall fall the slain of all the land. 

50. Fugitives from the sword, go, do not stand still! Remember the Lord from the distant past, and let Jerusalem enter your mind.

51. "We are ashamed for we have heard reproach, embarrassment has covered our faces, for strangers have come upon the sanctuaries of the house of the Lord."  

 “The hand of our god is exalted for we have destroyed His house.”   

52. Therefore, behold days are coming, says the Lord, and I will visit retribution upon her graven images and throughout her land the mortally wounded shall groan.  



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Week 52 (Book 5): Transforming the World and Becoming Whole


SONG OF SONGS: 14. Flee, my beloved, and liken yourself to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds on the spice mountains."
70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Benjamin and Shilem
TALMUD MAKKOT: Daf 17 - 24
BOOK OF JEREMIAH: Chapter 52

Week 52 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Rosh Hashanah. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week speaks of the Jewish people asking G-d to be like a gazelle on the spice mountains. It is in a sense a “crowning” of G-d, just as the gazelle’s antlers are like a crown. (See Book 1, Week 36) In Rosh Hashanah (the beginning of the “High Holidays”) we also reach new heights, exemplified here by the spice mountains. We “flee” the limitations of the world and connect to G-d on a much higher plane.
Rashi explains that the Jewish people are asking Hashem to take us out of the exile and hasten the redemption, so that we may serve Him on Mount Moriah, where Avraham sacrificed Isaac. Mount Moriah and the sacrifice of Isaac are also one of the themes of Rosh Hashanah.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the fifty-second added here is Benjamin, who was also mentioned separately. Benjamin comes from the word Ben Yamin. 52 has the numerical value of Ben. (See Week 52, Book 1) Yamin means right hand, strong hand. On Rosh Hashanah we feel G-d’s strength. Also, by working on ourselves throughout the entire year, we experience a self-transformation similar to Benjamin, whose name went from being Ben Oni (child of my suffering) to Ben Yemini, son of my right hand. Exile may have its share of difficulties, but it also comes with its share of rewards.
This week is also connected with Shilem, son of Naftali. Shilem comes from the word Shalem, which means “complete.” We arrive here at the completion of our journey. Shilem also literally means “paid.” Through exile we also atoned for our sins.
Dappim 17 through 24 of Makkot includes the remainder of Chapter 3, which is about different sins for which one is lashed. At the very end, the Chapter discusses decrees that were annulled, as well as the exile in general and the ultimate redemption. As mentioned previously, the theme of atonement, as well as the wish to end the exile is very much associated with Rosh Hashanah.
Chapter 52 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. This last chapter, for the week in which we crown G-d as King, begins by focusing on the life of the last of king of the Kingdom of Judah, Zedekiah. It speaks of the great suffering he underwent. It then returns to the the dire accounting of what happened to Jerusalem and to the Temple, as well as the remaining exiles. Like the end of Makkoth, despite all the tragedy, it ends on a positive note:
31. And it was in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month,[1] that Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, in the year of his coronation, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin, king of Judah and released him from prison.  
32. And he spoke with him kindly and placed his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 
33. And he changed his prison garb, and he ate meals before him regularly all the days of his life. 
34. And his meals, regular meals were given him from the king of Babylon, each day's need in its day, all the days of his life.





[1] The twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month (counting from Tishrei) is the 25th of Elul, the first day of Creation, the week of Rosh Hashanah.
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