Weekly Cycle

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week 10 (Book 5): Connecting to Holiness

11. For behold, the winter has passed; the rain is over and gone.  
12. The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of singing has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.   
13. The fig tree has put forth its green figs, and the vines with their tiny grapes have given forth their fragrance; arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 10 - Holiness


Week 10 in the Jewish calendar is more definitively related to Kislev, sometimes including Rosh Chodesh Kislev. The Song of Songs verses for this week are still all from the perspective of the Jewish people. The theme of the verses is also G-d’s salvation, from spiritual “winter,” to spiritual “spring.” Rashi draws a greater parallel between the exile of Egypt and the Passover redemption – the redemption of Chanukah has many parallels with that initial redemption as well.

The opening verse states that the rain has passed (Cheshvan again being related to the Flood). The second verse describes how it is now the time of pure devoted singing (like that of the turtledove) associated with the singing and praise of the pure Kohanim, and the Maccabees. The third verse is associated with a certain cleansing and defeat of those that wished to assimilate, associated with “darkness” (one of the names of the exile of Greece). Rashi states:

Another explanation: “The fig tree has put forth its green figs” -These are the transgressors of Israel, who perished during the three days of darkness.   

and the vines with their tiny grapes gave forth their fragrance: Those who remained of them repented and were accepted. So it is interpreted in Pesikta (Rabbathi 15:11, 12; Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, p. 50).

Figs and grapes are two fruits for which the Land of Israel is praised. After our salvation and the defeat of the Greeks, life and in the Land of Israel started to return to normal.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the tenth mentioned is Jachin. Jachin means “to establish,” or “to prepare,” a verb which is actually part of our prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem.

This idea is expressed in our daily prayers. In the [blessing] of rebuilding of Yerushalayim, we petition God "return and dwell in Yerushalayim" and then we add "ve'chise David meheira le'tocha tachin" - “and install within it soon the throne of David”. Though there is a separate beracha which pertains to the reestablishment of the kingdom of David, we mention it alongside the return of God in the petition to rebuild Jerusalem. The Mikdash and the throne of David mutually make up the ideal Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city united by worship of God and governance of Am Yisrael.[1]

Jachin was also the name of one of the pillars of Solomon’s Temple. The other pillar’s name was Boaz.[2]

Daf Yud (Folio 10) of Shvuot continues to discuss the atonement of the goat offered during festivals, as well as Rosh Chodesh and Yom Kippur. The daf also includes a discussion of whether the holiness of certain items of the Temple can vanish. These discussions are all connected to Kislev as already discussed above.

Chapter 10 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. It continues to draw a distinction between the idolatrous ways of the nations and Israel’s portion in G-d. It also describes G-d’s vengeance for the desecration of His Temple:

16. Not like these is Jacob's portion, for He is the One Who formed everything, and Israel is the tribe of His inheritance; the Lord of Hosts is His name."


25. Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not know You and upon the families that have not called in Your name, for they have devoured Jacob and consumed him and destroyed him, and have wasted his dwelling.

These last verses of this chapter are also quite famous, verses we state during the reading  of the Passover Hagaddah.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Week 11 (Book 5): Staying True to the Covenant

14. My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the coverture of the steps, show me your appearance, let me hear your voice, for your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely.'
15. Seize for us the foxes, the little foxes, who destroy the vineyards, for our vineyards are with tiny grapes.
16. My beloved is mine, and I am his, who grazes among the roses.
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 11 - Ketoret (Incense)
Week 11 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Yud Kislev, which celebrates the release and redemption of the Mitteler Rebbe. The first verse from Song of Songs for this week is from G-d’s perspective. The second and third one are from the Jewish people’s. The verses continue the theme of this month: the spiritual and physical struggle against Greek domination, and the miraculous victory over it.
The first verse speaks of the Jews as a faithful dove, crying out to G-d in purity and despair, in the face of the enemy. Rashi interprets this to mean the crying out of the Jews by the Red Sea, which revealed the inner essence of the Jewish people. This is similar to the hidden flask of pure oil stamped with the seal of the Kohen Gadol found on Chanukah. (Interestingly, the voice of the Jewish people, which is the cry of the dove, is described as pleasant, Arev, which also spells the word for Orev, raven, the animal of Week 12 in Book 1)
The second verse speaks of little foxes who destroy vineyards. As explained in Book 1, the fox is a reference to the destruction of the Temple. Rashi makes a reference to the fact that the Egyptians would throw our male infants into the Nile. In the end, the Egyptians themselves were the ones inundated and drowned. Wine (like oil) is a reference to wisdom and Torah. The Greeks came to destroy our knowledge at a time when the people’s level of knowledge was lacking, like infants and tiny grapes.
The third verse speaks of the intimate and all-encompassing relationship between the Jewish people and G-d. Rashi states: “He demanded all His needs from me... All my needs I demanded of Him, and not of other deities.” This is something rationalist (as well as the pagan) Greeks could not understand.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the eleventh mentioned is Tzochar, spelled Tzadi, Chet, Reish. Tzochar also appears in the Torah as the name of the father of Ephron the Hittite, who sold the Ma’arat HaMachpelah to Avraham in Hebron in order for him to bury Sarah. Tzohar, with a Heh, was a light in the Ark. Perhaps Tzochar is mentioned here to represent the difficulties (similar to Abraham’s) of dealing with other nations occupying the Land of Israel, as well as the light of Chanukah. The Tzohar, like the Temple’s Menorah, not only served internal illumination purposes, but external purposes as well.
Daf Yud Aleph (Folio 11) of Shvuot discusses the holiness of the ketoret and of Hekdesh. The Ketoret is associated with the number 11 as explained in Book 1.
Chapter 11 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. In the verses, Hashem tells the prophet to speak to Jerusalem (See Week 11, Book 1, about speaking “to the heart of Jerusalem”) and mentions, again and again, the “fathers,” showing the continuity from generation to generation, similar to that of the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe. Another repeated term is“covenant,” Brit, which as mentioned before, is something the Greeks strongly opposed:
2. Hearken to the words of this covenant, and you shall speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
3. And you shall say to them, so said the Lord God of Israel; Cursed be the man who will not hearken to the words of this covenant,
4. Which I commanded your forefathers on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron furnace, saying: Hearken to My voice and do them, according to all that I will command you, and you shall be to Me for a people, and I will be to you for a God.
5. In order to establish the oath that I swore to yourforefathers to give them a land flowing with milk and honey as of this day. And I replied and said, "Amen, O Lord."
6. And the Lord said to me; Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying: Hearken to the words of this covenant and you shall do them.
7. For I warned your forefathers on the day I brought them up from the land of Egypt until this day, warning early every morning, saying: Hearken to My voice.
8. But they did not hearken, neither did they bend their ears, and they went, each man according to the view of his evil heart, and I brought upon them all the words of this covenantthat I commanded to do, and they did not do.
9. And the Lord said to me; A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
10. They have returned to the iniquities of their first forefathers, who refused to hearken to My words, and they followed other gods to worship them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah broke My covenant that I made with their forefathers.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Week 12 (Book 5): Longing for G-d

17. Until the sun spreads, and the shadows flee, go around; liken yourself, my beloved, to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds, on distant mountains."
1. On my bed at night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but I did not find him.
2. I will arise now and go about the city, in the market places and in the city squares. I will seek him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but I did not find him.

70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Saul the son of the Canaanitess

TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 12 – Hekdesh leftovers and the scapegoat of Azazel.


Week 12 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Yud Tes Kislev, which celebrates the release and redemption of the Alter Rebbe, and is known as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut. All Song of Song verses for this week are from the Jewish people’s perspective. The first verse speaks of the sun spreading. After his redemption, the Alter Rebbe spread Chassidut throughout the land: to distant mountains, in one’s bed at night (ie. in exile); in the city, the market place and the city squares. There was no place in which Chassidut could not penetrate.

Overall, the verses for this week speak of a deep longing for G-d. The Alter Rebbe was known for having a tremendous longing for Hashem, to such an extent that he had a respiratory problem related to it. (Likkutei Dibburim)

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the twelfth mentioned is Saul the son of the Canaanitess. Rashi explains that this is actually the son of Dinah, who had been raped and taken captive by a Canaanite who intended to marry her. One of the main themes of Chanukah is the fight again intermarriage and assimilation. In the story of Dinah, Shimon and Levi act zealously (similar to the Maccabees) in order to save her.[1]

Daf Yud Beit (Folio 12) of Shevuoth discusses the idea of buying Hekdesh on condition that one can make use of what is left over, and discusses what to do with animals left over from sacrifices; it then discusses the atonement of the goat sent to Azazel, which atoned for anything for which the goat offered in the inner courtyard did not atone. Similar to the above, one of the innovations of Chassidut is that everything is holy and has a purpose. Every Jew is holy; even the animal soul can be made holy (which parallels the goat sent to Azazel).

Chapter 12 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. In this chapter, Hashem depicts tragedy after tragedy and rebukes the people for not following in His ways, yet all the while referring to the people as “My inheritance,” and “My soul’s beloved.” As mentioned previously, the Greeks wanted the Jews to abandon the belief that they had a portion in Hashem, that He was their inheritance; furthermore the Greeks could not understand or grasp the loving relationship that exists between Hashem and the Jewish people.

7. I have abandoned My House, I have forsaken My inheritance; I have delivered My soul's beloved into the hand of her enemies. 

8. My inheritance was to Me like a lion in the forest; she raised her voice against Me; therefore, I hated her. 

9. Is My inheritance to Me a speckled bird of prey? Are there birds of prey around her? Go, gather all the beasts of the field; come to eat.


14. So says the Lord: Concerning all My wicked neighbors who touch the inheritance that I have given My nation, Israel, to inherit, behold I uproot them from upon their land, and the house of Judah I will uproot from their midst.

15. And it shall come to pass, that after I uproot them, I will return and have pity on them, and I will restore them, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land. 

16. And it shall be, if they learn the ways of My people to swear by My name, "As the Lord lives," as they taught My people to swear by Baal, they shall be built up in the midst of My people.

The Midrash tells us that "darkness symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees, ordering Israel to, 'Write on the horn of an ox that you have no inheritance in the G-d of Israel.'”[2]

[1] Nevertheless, it is important to note that, unlike the heroic acts of the Maccabees, the violent and somewhat deceitful actions of Shimon and Levi were not appropriate, and strongly condemned by Jacob. The Tribe of Levi ultimately learns how to use its zealotry for the good.

[2] Genesis Rabba 2:4

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Week 13 (Book 5): Finding G-d in Exile

3. The watchmen who patrol the city found me: "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
4. I had just passed them by, when I found him whom my soul loves; I held him and would not let him go, until I brought him into my mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me.
5. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you neither awaken nor arouse the love while it is desirous.
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 13 - Things For Which Yom Kippur Does Not Atone
Week 13 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Chanukah. The Song of Songs closes the month of Kislev with two verses from the People of Israel to G-d, and one verse in which the Jewish people address the other nations (the last verse is actually the same as the last one in Week 8).
After searching and searching for Hashem and not finding, and after asking the watchmen (which Rashi notes is a reference to Moshe and Aharon, but perhaps also a reference to the leaders, prophets, and Kohanim of each generation), finally we found Him. That is Chanukah! Hashem reveals Himself to us on Chanukah, in the miraculous victory over the Greeks and the open miracle of the oil of the Menorah lasting eight days.
The Song of Songs states that once we found Him, we did not let go until bringing Him to “mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me,” clearly a reference to the Chanukah rededication of the Temple, the home of the Shechinah, the Feminine Divine Presence.
In the third verse, the parallel with Week 8 is quite significant, because in this battle against sinking into assimilation, it is on Chanukahthat we can declare that we have been victorious. The confrontational tone towards the nations therefore here can be seen as a cry of victory.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the thirteenth mentioned is Levi. The connection of Levi to Chanukah could not be more obvious: all Kohanim and the zealous Maccabees that brought about this victory were all his descendants.
Daf Yud Gimmel (Folio 13) of Shvuot discusses whether Yom Kippur atones for all sins, whether or not a person repented, with three exceptions: “one who denies the basis of Torah, one who ridicules Torah, and one who annuls circumcision (he does not circumcise himself, or he stretches his skin in order to appear uncircumcised).”[1]Again, the parallel with Chanukah and the confrontation with the Greeks is very clear. The denial of the Divine origin of the Torah and the specific practice of annulling circumcision were two of the main conflicts Jews had with Hellenist culture. The daf also specifically discusses the atonement of Kohanim, separate from the rest of the people.
Chapter 13 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The prophet describes how he is told to wear a girdle and that the girdle later becomes rotten and of no use. Hashem then compares the Jewish people to a girdle: “just as the girdle clings to a man's loins, so have I caused the entire house of Israel and the entire house of Judah to cling to Me.” This appears to be clearly connected to the Brit Milah, the primary mitzvah we perform on our male loins, a signal of our covenant with G-d. The chapter also repeats the theme of “skirts” of the Jewish people being “uncovered,” and pulled over their face. (Verses 22; 27) This seems to be another reference to circumcision, and specifically the process of annulling circumcision.
The verses speak of the corruption and false that was taking hold, similar to that of Chanukah, specifically of darkness (associated with Greece): “Give the Lord your God honor before it becomes dark, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and you shall hope for light, but He will make it into darkness, and making it into a thick cloud.” (Verse 16)
22. And if you say in your heart, "Why have these befallen me? For the greatness of your iniquity were your skirts uncovered, your steps cut off.
23. Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? So will you be able to improve, you who have become accustomed to do evil.
24. And I will scatter them like straw that passes with the wind, to the desert.
25. This is your lot, the portion of your measures, from Me, says the Lord, for you have forgotten Me, and you have trusted in falsehood.
26. And I also have uncovered your skirts over your face, and your disgrace has been seen.
27. Your adulteries and your neighings, and the thoughts of your harlotry; on hills in the field have I seen your abominations; woe to you, Jerusalem, you shall not become purified. After when shall it ever be?
The reference to the Cushites (descendants of Ham, who was known for his sexual impropriety) is significant. Even more significant is the reference to the leopard, who throughout Jewish tradition is particularly connected with Greece.[2]As Rabbi Slifkin explains in his book, the connections are many: their beauty, their swiftness, and perhaps most importantly, the boldness.
The word for the Leopard’s spots in Hebrew can also be translated as stains, kesem, such as those associated with ritual impurity. Leopards are also known to mate with other animals, not of their species, perhaps also a reference to assimilation.[3]
The last verse speaks of the impurity of Jerusalem, and asks when will it ever become pure. In fact, Jerusalem was purified in the times of the Maccabees.

[2] Rabbi Slifkin devotes most of his chapter on Leopards of his Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdomto this connection. Available at http://zootorah.com/assets/media/LeopardChapter.pdf.
[3] Ibid.

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