Weekly Cycle

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week 5 (Book 5): The Temple and the World, the Field and the Flood (again)

13. A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me; between my breasts he shall lie.         
14. A cluster of henna-flowers is my beloved to me, in the vineyards of Ein-Gedi."          
15. "Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely; your eyes are like doves."    


TALMUD SHEVUOTH Daf 5: Getting involved in the world


Week 5 in the Jewish calendar is the week of Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. Cheshvan is the month of the Flood as well as of the construction of the Third Temple. It is also connected to involvement in the world. The verses for this week appear connected to boh these themes.

The first two verses are said by the Jewish people, and they speak of Hashem resting in our midst. This is the idea of the Temple, the very reason for Creation. Rashi’s comments also reference Hashem’s resting among us, as he connects it to Hashem forgiving us and dwelling in the Mishkan. Kofer (a reference to henna-flowers in the Song of Songs, although it can also mean "pitch") is also used in the description of how Noah was to build the Ark: (Genesis, 6:14)

Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with compartments, and you shall caulk it both inside and outside with pitch.

עֲשֵׂה לְךָ תֵּבַת עֲצֵי גֹפֶר קִנִּים תַּעֲשֶׂה אֶת הַתֵּבָה וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ בַּכֹּפֶר:

The third verse also speaks of forgiveness and cleansing, yet this time appears more related to the Flood. It is the dove that announces that there is dry land, that the Flood itself is over. (Kofer and Gofer of the Ark may be connected; Noah also planted vineyards)

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the fifth mentioned is Carmi. Kerem means vineyard in Hebrew, as in the above verse of the Song of Songs. Carmi can be understood as Kerem-Yud, the vineyard of Hashem, a reference to the Temple. Cheshvan is also the time to get involved in the world, and cultivate our fields and vineyards. One of the first actions performed by Noah is to plant a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20)

Daf Heh (Folio 5) of Shvuot discusses various technical issues and interpretive methodology, such as deriving laws from general statements followed by particular ones. It discusses the idea of “forgetting after knowing” when it comes to Temple sacrifices, the two primary legal examples of taking things out of a private domain into a public one, and the signs of the appearance of the spiritual impurity known as Tzara’as. Overall, although there are also several referecences to the Temple, the main theme appears to be similar to what takes place once we re-enter the world of the physical, leaving our “private domain,” and risking “forgetting after knowing” about spirituality and sacrifice, and getting involved in the technicalities and minutiae of behaving ethically in a world still suffering of impurity. 

The beginning of Chapter 5 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to that of the above ones in Shir HaShirim:

1. Stroll in the streets of Jerusalem, and see now and know, and seek in its squares, whether you will find a man, whether there is one who performs justice, who seeks faith, and I will forgive her. 

2. And if they say, "As the Lord lives," they, nevertheless, will swear falsely.

The verses speak of impurity of the public domain, even in Jerusalem, the place of the Temple. Hashem wants to forgive, and He searches for someone within whom He can dwell. Someone that performs justice and seeks faith, like Noah at the time of the Flood. The entire theme of the chapter also relates to the great destruction to come, also like that of the Flood. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Week 6 (Book 5): the Temple, Shimon and Hamas

16. "Behold, you are comely, my beloved, yea pleasant; also our couch is leafy.
17. The beams of our houses are cedars; our corridors are cypresses."
1. "I am a rose of Sharon, a rose of the valleys."
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 6 - the Metzorah

Week 6 in the Jewish calendar is the second week of Cheshvan. The Song of Songs verses for this week again appear connected to boh main themes of Cheshvan: the Temple and the Flood.

The first two verses again are said by the Jewish people, and again they speak of Hashem resting in our midst. Below are Rashi’s comments regarding the first two verses:

yea pleasant: For You overlooked my transgression and caused Your Shechinah to rest in our midst, and this is the praise of the descent of the fire (Lev. 9:24): “and all the people saw and shouted for joy.”

also our couch is leafy: Through your pleasantness, behold our couch is leafy with our sons and with our daughters, all of whom gather to You here, as it is said (ibid. 8: 4): “and the congregation gathered [to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting].” The Tabernacle is called a bed, as it is said (below 3: 7): “Behold, the litter of Solomon,” and the Temple is called a bed, as it is said concerning Joash (II Chron. 22:11, II Kings 11:2): “in the bed chamber” which was in the “House of the Lord” (ibid. 3), because they [the Sanctuaries] are the source of Israel’s fruitfulness and procreation.

The beams of our houses are cedars: This is the praise of the Tabernacle.

The second verse also mentions structures made of cypresses, like the cypress wood used in the construction of the Ark.

The third verse, which begins a new chapter in Shir HaShirim, speaks of the rose of the valleys, Chavatzelet HaSharon. Our sages note that Chavatzelet(rose) stands for Chav Tzel, the “shade of love” constructed byBetzalel, the Temple itself.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the sixth mentioned is Shimon. Of all of Jacob’s sons, he is the one most associated with violence, such as what caused the Flood (literally, Chamas). Jacob states that the weapons of Shimon and Levi are those of “Chamas.” The name Shimon comes from Shmiah, hearing.

Daf Vav(Folio 6) of Shvuot discusses primarily the afflictions of the Metzorah; there is a debate about its color. The Metzorah represents a high degree of guilt and negative social behavior, such as Lashon Harah, evil speech (and also hearing such speech).

Chapter 6 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above:

6. For so says the Lord of Hosts: Cut the trees and cast on Jerusalem a siege mound; that is the city whose sins have been visited upon her, everywhere there is oppression in its midst.
ו. כִּי כֹה אָמַר יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת כִּרְתוּ עֵצָה וְשִׁפְכוּ עַל יְרוּשָׁלִַם סֹלְלָה הִיא הָעִיר הָפְקַד כֻּלָּהּ עֹשֶׁק בְּקִרְבָּהּ:
7. As a well lets its water flow, so has she let her evil flow; violence and spoil is heard therein before Me continually; sickness and wounds.
ז. כְּהָקִיר בַּיִר מֵימֶיהָ כֵּן הֵקֵרָה רָעָתָהּ חָמָס וָשֹׁד יִשָּׁמַע בָּהּ עַל פָּנַי תָּמִיד חֳלִי וּמַכָּה:
8. Be corrected, O Jerusalem, lest My soul be alienated from you; lest I make you a desolation, a land uninhabited.
ח. הִוָּסְרִי יְרוּשָׁלִַם פֶּן תֵּקַע נַפְשִׁי מִמֵּךְ פֶּן אֲשִׂימֵךְ שְׁמָמָה אֶרֶץ לוֹא נוֹשָׁבָה:

Beyond the connection made here between Jerusalem and trees, there is also a connection between water and punishment for evil and the hearing of Hamas (violence and spoil). Repentance can save the land from desolation. In fact, the entire chapter focuses greatly on complete desolation, completely uninhabited, similar to the world after the Flood.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Week 7 (Book 5): Love and the Temple

2. "As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters."
3. "As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the sons; in his shade I delighted and sat, and his fruit was sweet to my palate.                                          
4. He brought me to the banquet hall, and his attraction to me [was symbolic of his] love.        
Week 7 in the Jewish calendar is the third week of Cheshvan, and (almost always) includes Rachel Immeinu’s yahrzeit, on the 11th of the month. The Song of Songs verses for this week include a verse by G-d to the People of Israel, followed by two verses from Israel to G-d.
The first verse is a characteristic of Rachel, who, like her mother and sister, was like a rose plucked from among the thorns of the house of Lavan and Bethuel. The Zohar begins by comparing Israel to a Thirteen-Petaled Rose based on this very verse, and explains that Israel is surrounded by thirteen petals of Rachami, mercy. Rachel was also known for her Rachamim, and the Rachamim that Jacob showed towards her. In all three verses for this week, the love expressed so strongly between G-d and Israel was also expressed in the love of Jacob and Rachel.
As previously explained, Cheshvan is very muched connected to the Third Temple, and Rashi explains that the banquet hall mentioned in the third verse is a reference to the tent of meeting.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the seventh mentioned is Jemuel. Jemuel may mean “Yamoh-el” – his sea is G-d. This appears to be appropriate for Cheshvan, the month of the Flood. Yam (Mutzak) is also the name of washbasin which Solomon built for the First Temple. Perhaps this is another interpretation of the name.
Daf Zayin (Folio 7) of Shvuot discusses primarily the transgression of eating a holy sacrifice while impure, comparing it with entering the Temple when impure. The daf also discusses the atonement of the goat offering, whose blood was sacrificed in the Holy of Holies. There seems to be a connection here to the Temple, and its power in cleansing away sin. The Talmud concludes, however, a sacrifice cannot be brought to pardon an intentional sin.
Chapter 7 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter is about the importance of the Temple and G-d’s mercy. However, the prophet warns against committing willful sins and thinking that everything will be fine because of the Temple.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying:
Stand in the gate of the house of the Lord, and proclaim there this word, and say; Hearken to the word of the Lord, all Judah who come into these gates to prostrate yourselves before the Lord. 
So said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel; Improve your ways and your deeds, I will allow you to dwell in this place.
Do not rely on false words, saying: The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are they.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Week 8 (Book 5): Lovesick

5. Sustain me with flagons of wine, spread my bed with apples, for I am lovesick.
6. His left hand was under my head, and his right hand would embrace me.
7. 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 8 – atonement for grave sins and abominations


Week 8 in the Jewish calendar is the nearing the last week of Cheshvan. The Song of Songs verses for this week include two verses from the People of Israel to G-d, and one verse in which the Jewish people address the other nations.

As explained in Book 1, as we go deeper into the month of Cheshvan, deeper into the year, we feel ourselves getting more entrenched in our daily affairs, and we become “sick,” yearning for spirituality, and fighting not to lose our connection with Hashem. This attitude, again is expressed in Rashi’s comments to the first verse:

Sustain me: now as is the manner of the sick, with flagons of grape wine or with cakes of pure white flour.   

spread my bed: Spread my bed around me with apples for a good fragrance, in the manner of the sick, for I am sick for his love, for I thirst for Him here in my exile.

The second verse reminisces of a time when G-d’s kindness towards us as we fight to make a living, was even more evident. Here’s Rashi again:

His left hand was under my head: in the desert.   

and his right hand would embrace me: He traveled a three-days’ journey; to search out a rest for them [as in Num. 10: 33], and in the place of the rest, He brought down manna and quails for them. All this I remember now in my exile, and I am sick for His love.

G-d’s left hand represents his attribute of discipline (under our head, perhaps to mean that he was keeping us in line), while his right hand symbolizes kindness, in an embrace. In Book 1, this is the week of Chesed shebeGevurah, kindness within the context of discipline and severity, marking the beginning of the cycle of seven weeks connected to Gevurah.

The third verse also points to a more confrontational attitude towards the other nations. As we feel perhaps the greater weight of the physical world, we make clear that we are not willing to give up our special relationship with Hashem.

The above verses also appear to hint to the events of the Flood. For example, when Noah leaves the Ark and “re-enters” the world, he is overwhelmed. He plants a vineyard, and falls in a similar manner as Adam. In the Talmud, one of the major opinions is that the grape (wine) was in fact the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the eighth mentioned is Jamin. Jamin in Hebrew is “Yemin” – right, or right hand, representing kindness as mentioned above. As also mentioned above, this is a time of the year where we feel that we must rely more and more on his kindness.

Daf Chet (Folio 8) of Shvuot continues to discuss the atonement of the goat offering, whose blood was sacrificed in the Holy of Holies. The sins mentioned in this daf are much more serious, and include the greatest sins of all: idolatry, certain sexual sins (such as incest) and murder, although the Talmud clarifies that it is discussing when these sins were committed unwittingly. It also mentions atonement for certain impurities, as well as the atonement of the goat offered outside the Temple. As Israel is more steeped in exile, it requires more atonements.
Chapter 8 of the Book of Jeremiah contains similar themes to the above. The chapter shows how, when steeped into exile, the sins begin to mount, even greater abominations, but we start to fail to see the severity of the sins we commit. They become second nature and even acceptable in our eyes. We even come to believe that we are doing G-d’s will. It is interesting that this chapter includes references to various birds that sing around this time of the year in Perek Shirah (See Book 1). The crane and the swallow both sing in the month of Cheshvan.

7. Even the stork in the heaven knows her seasons, and the turtledoves and the crane and the swallow await the time of their coming, but My people do not know the ordinance of the Lord.

8. How do you say, "We are wise, and the Law of the Lord is with us"? Verily, behold it is in vain, he made a false scribes' pen.  

9. Wise men were ashamed, they were broken and caught; behold they rejected the word of the Lord, now what wisdom have they?

10. Therefore, I will give their wives to others, their fields to those who possess them for from the smallest to the greatest, they all commit robbery, from prophet to priest, they all deal falsely. 

11. And they healed the breach of My people easily, saying, "Peace, peace," but there is no peace. 

12. They shall be put to shame since they have committed abomination. Neither are they ashamed nor do they know to feel disgrace. They will, therefore, fall among the slain; at the time I have visited upon them, they will stumble, says the Lord.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Week 9 (Book 5): Beloved

8. The sound of my beloved! Behold, he is coming, skipping over the mountains, jumping over the hills.
9. My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices.
10. My beloved raised his voice and said to me, 'Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

TALMUD SHEVUOTH: DAF 9 - Atonement and Rosh Chodesh


Week 9 in the Jewish calendar is either the last week of Cheshvan or already includes Rosh Chodesh Kislev. The Song of Songs verses for this week are all from the Jewish people, singing of Hashem, and they all share the same second word, Dodi, my Beloved. The theme of the verses is G-d’s salvation in a way that was above nature (skipping over mountains, jumping over hills). That is the theme of the Maccabees and Kislev, G-d saves us in miraculous ways. The verses also point to the difference in the Jewish a Greek belief systems. While Jews strive for a close relationship with G-d, seeing Him as their Beloved, the Greeks at the time only believed in the cosmos, and the laws of nature, not in a Divine Judge.

The later part of the second verse, “standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices,” is also a known reference to Birkat Kohanim, the blessing of the high priest. As mentioned previously, Kislev and Chanukah are particularly associated with the Kohanim.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the ninth mentioned is Ohad. Ohad, spelled Aleph Heh Dalet, appears related to the word “Echad,” Alef Chet Dalet, which means, “One.” Again, one of the main distinctions between Jewish and Greek cultures was monotheism itself. It is also remarkable that Rashi specifically notes that the Ohad family was one of the few families that were wiped out altogether, when, along with other clans, they attempted to return to Egypt and were chased back and militarily confronted by a grew of zealous Levites (similar to the Chanukah story, which also had aspects of a Jewish civil war between those that wanted to remain true to Judaism against Helenist assimilationists). Regarding the Ohad family, Rashi states as follows:

However, the family of Ohad [mentioned in Exodus] died out… I found [the reason for this] in the Talmud Yerushalmi [Sotah 1:1]. When Aaron died, the clouds of glory withdrew, and the Canaanites came to fight against Israel. They [the Israelites] set their hearts on returning to Egypt, and they went back eight stages of their journey… However, they turned back, and the Levites pursued them to bring them back, killing seven of their families. The Levites lost four families [in the battle]… R. Tanchuma expounds that they [the seven Israelite families] fell in the plague in connection with Balaam [see 25:9] (Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 5), but [this cannot be, for] according to the number missing from the tribe of Simeon in this census compared with the first census [which took place] in the Sinai desert, it would appear that all twenty-four thousand who fell [in the plague] were from the tribe of Simeon. - [Mid. Tanchuma Vayechi 10][1]

Even according to the opinion of the Midrash Tanchuma, that the family was lost during the plague in connection with Bilaam, the parallel with Chanukah and Kislev still holds. The plague of Ba’al Peor, associated with Bilaam, was one in which the men were assimilating and behaving immodestly with Midianite women. Pinchas, a Levite, and later made a Kohen, zealously kills a prince of the Tribe of Shimon (related to Ohad’s family), stops the plague and brings the Jews back to the path of proper behavior.

Daf Tet (Folio 9) of Shvuot continues to discuss the atonement of the goat offered outside the Temple. It also speaks of the goats offered on Rosh Chodesh and festivals. Rosh Chodesh, along with Shabat and circumcision, was also a main contentions between the Jews and the Greeks, and one of the practices the Greeks tried to prohibit altogether.

Rosh Chodesh symbolizes God's never-ending role in the lives we lead as Jews.  Although we now use a fixed calendar, the Jewish ideal of how to mark the passage of time is epitomized by the manner in which we once determined the day of Rosh Chodesh: we looked heavenward for the first appearance of the New Moon, the first tiny hint that the moon's natural cycle of renewal had begun. Rosh Chodesh is a constant reminder that the rhythm of our lives -- even that part which is tied to the cycles of nature -- is in God's hands.[2]

Chapter 9 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. After continuing the description of the desolation mentioned last week (still related to Cheshvan), Jeremiah turns to a what are today very famous lines, which contain a theme very much related to Kislev and Chanukah:

22. Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches.  

23. But let him that boasts exult in this, that he understands and knows me, for I am the Lord Who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.  

24. Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will punish every circumcised one with his uncircumcision.  
25. Egypt, Judah, Edom, the children of Ammon, Moab, and all those cast off to the corners, who dwell in the desert, for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are of uncircumcised hearts.

The Greeks were well known for their wisdom, and in fact inextricably related to it. However, it was a kind of wisdom devoid of G-dliness. Also, at the time of Chanukah, the Greeks were quite strong and rich, and yet, as we state during the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, G-d delivered "the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the provokers into the hands of those who involve themselves with Your Torah."[3] The verses speak of the importance of circumcision (mentioned above), the difference between those that are circumcised and those that are not, as well as the need for the circumcision of the heart.

[3] http://torah.org/learning/lifeline/5760/chanukah.html


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