Weekly Cycle

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Week 28 (Book 4): Being Patient and "Long" of Spirit

STORY OF CHANNAH: 28. And I also have lent him to the Lord; all the days which he will be alive, he is borrowed by the Lord." And he prostrated himself there to the Lord.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: patient (Erech Ruach)  

PROVERBS: Chapter 28

TZADDIKIM: The Shelah, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek; Rav Yosef Karo, Rav Moshe Alsheich         

Week 28 is the week of the first night of Passover as well as the yahrzeit of the Third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek. In the verse from he story of Channah for this week, she states that Shmuel was lent to Hashem all the days he will be alive; he is borrowed (literally, Shaul). It then mentions how “he” (Samuel, but some say Elkanah) prostrated himself there to the Lord. On Passover as well, we give ourselves over to G-d; we completely nullify our ego and, in the times of the Temple, literally went to the Temple to prostrate there. The Passover story itself is about leaving one domain (being slaves in Egypt) and entering another (being servants of G-d), how Hashem took  “Goy MiKerev Goy,” a nation from the innards of another nation.

The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah “makes him patient.” The Hebrew words used here are “Erech Ruach,” which can be more literally translated as “long-spirited.” This seems to be a reference to Mashiach, as we read in the Haftorah for the last day of Pessach: “And the spirit of Gd shall rest upon him.... And he will be permeated with the spirit of the fear of the Lrd....” (Menachem, as well as Tzemach Tzedek are also names of Mashiach)

The Midrash Shmuel (3:6) states that words of Channah themselves are divinely inspired with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine spirit), even though she did not realize this at the time: “For as long as he lives he is lent [sha’ul] to the Lord,” were uttered under the spirit of divine inspiration, for as long as Samuel lived, so did Saul.[1] The fact that Hashem permitted Shaul to live longer, despite his grave sins and behavior, is also an example of Hashem’s patience.

Chapter 28 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It’s first verses speak of Hashem’s patience:

2. Because of the sin of a land, its princes are many, but because of an understanding, knowledgeable man, so will [its retribution] be delayed (Hebrew: Ya’arich, from Erech).

Along with the yahrzeit of the Tzemach Tzedek, this week also includes at least three other important yahrzeits, of major figures both in the Sefardi and Ashkenazi worlds: the Shelah, the Alshich, and the Mechaber. Like the Tzemach Tzedek, these men were authorities in both the revealed and hidden aspects of the Torah. All three lived in Tzfat.

The 11th of Nissan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz, the Shnei Luchot HaBrit (the “Shlah”). He was the chief rabbi of Cracow, Frankfurt and then Prague, and later moved to Israel, where he became the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. He lived his last years in Tzfat, and is buried close to Maimonides’ grave in Tiberias. (Ascent) His major work, the Shnei Luchot HaBrit, is a foundational kabbalistic text, which served as a basis for many Chassidic works, including the Tanya.

The 13th of Nissan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Karo, as well as Rabbi Moshe Alsheich. Rabbi Yosef Karo is the author of the Shulchan Aruch, the basic text of Jewish law, which is used until this very day. He was the chief rabbi of Tzfat, and wrote other crucial works such as the “Beit Yosef” and the “Maggid Meisharim,” which relate his conversations with an angel.

Rabbi Moshe Alsheich was a student of Rabbi Yosef Karo and a member of the Beit Din of Tzfat. His interpretations and discourses on the Torah are also well known and widely used to this day. (Ascent)

Other yahrzeits this week include R' Chaim Meir ben R' Yisroel Hager of Vizhnitz, the Imrei Chaim (9th of Nissan) and Rabbi Asher Yeshaya of Ropshitz (son-in-law and successor of Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz, 14th of Nissan).

[1] http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hannah-midrash-and-aggadah

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Week 29 (Book 4): Forgiving of (Personal) Insults

STORY OF CHANNAH: 1. And Hannah prayed and said: "My heart has rejoiced through the Lord; My horn has been raised by the Lord. My mouth is opened wide against my enemies, For I have rejoiced in Your salvation.


PROVERBS: Chapter 29

TZADIKKIM: Rav Aharon HaGadol of Karlin (19th Nissan) and Rebbe Yitzchak Vorki (22nd of Nissan)    

Week 29 is the week Passover. The verse from the story of Channah for this week marks the beginning of her song. She exalts the Hashem and speaks of His salvation, and how she now rejoices over her enemies. Passover is also a time of great rejoicing, thanking Him for His salvation in the face of our enemies.

The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah makes him “forgiving of insults.” This seems like a particularly difficult adjective to compare with the words of Channah above. Channah makes a point of mentioning how she was victorious over her enemies and, as if to add insult to injury, Rashi specifically comments that Channah meant none other than her husband’s other wife, Peninah, who had insulted her constantly for not having children. We also learn that Peninah also paid a heavy price for her insults, eventually losing all her children (may no one ever know of such sorrow). How then can one reconcile these two apparently contradicting trends?

One answer is simply to say that the fact that Channah does not mention Peninah by name shows that she was not bitter, and she had in fact forgiven the insults of her competitor. This seems like a difficult answer because, after all, Channah still calls Peninah her enemy, even after Shmuel is born.

Perhaps a deeper answer lies within Pirkei Avot itself. The Hebrew word for “insult” used is Elbonoh. The word is used again in the next section of Pirkei Avot, and appears to be the only similarity linking the two sections (other than the general importance of Torah study, which is a theme of the entire chapter). The latter statement reads as follows: “Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi: Every day, an echo resounds from Mount Horeb (Sinai) proclaiming and saying: "Woe is to the creatures for their insult (Elbonah) to the Torah."
It is the obligation of a sage to protect the honor of the Torah and of those who study it, and while he may forgive the insults to him or herself, he or she cannot forgive the insults to the Torah and to Hashem. 

Rabbi Levi states in Bava Bathra 16a that Peninah’s intentions were pure, and that she simply wished to make Channah pray more fiercely. Nonetheless, to constantly insult such a righteous woman as Channah, wife of one of the leaders of the generation, went beyond personal animosity. It was an affront to the Torah itself.

We see a similar concept in our redemption from Egypt. The punishments the Egyptians received were not simply a quid pro quo for their actions against the Jews. Pharaoh’s lack of knowledge (and acknowledgement) of Hashem was an affront to the Torah (even though the Torah had not yet been given). Similarly, the Jews are told to avenge Midian, not out of a sense of vengefulness, but because the actions of the Midianites (using their own daughters to entice the Jews) was an affront to Torah itself.[1]

Chapter 28 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. Many of its verses speak of forgiving insult and calming tension:

8. Scornful men inflame a city, but the wise turn away wrath.                    
9. When a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether he is angry or he laughs, he will have no contentment.                        
10. Murderous men hate the innocent, but the upright seek his soul.           
11. A fool lets out all his wind, but afterwards a wise man will quiet it.                 

Nevertheless, the verses of this chapter also speak of the great punishments that befall those that insult the Torah:

15. A rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left free brings shame to his mother.         
16. When the wicked attain greatness, transgression increases, and the righteous will see their downfall.  
17. Chastise your son and he will give you rest, and he will grant pleasures to your soul.              
18. Without vision the people become unrestrained, but he who keeps the Torah is fortunate.

This week includes the yahrzeits of two well known early founders of the Chassidic movement: Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin (19th of Nissan) and Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorka (22nd of Nissan). Both were known for their profound love for their fellow Jews.

Rabbi Aharon of Karlin was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. Karlin was such a large and prominent Chassidic group in Lithuania that at one point Chassidim in general were referred to as “Karliners.” “He is remembered for the ecstatic and unrestrained fervor of his prayer, for his solicitude for the needy, and for the moral teachings embodied in his Azharos (‘Warnings’).” (Ascent)

“Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish [1779 died 22 Nissan 1848] was the founder of the Vorki dynasty in Poland. Previously, through travel with his teacher, R. David of Lelov, he became a disciple of R. Yaakov Yitzchak (the "Seer") of Lublin and of R. Simchah Bunem of Pshischah. Some of his teachings and stories involving him appear in Ohel Yitzchak and Hutzak Chein. His son R. Yaakov David founded the Amshinov dynasty, while his son R. Menachem Mendel continued the Vorki dynasty.” (Ascent)

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yitzchak Twerski (First Rebbe of Skver, 17th of Nissan), Rabbi Meir Abuchatzeira (the “Baba Meir,” son of the Baba Sali, 17th of Nissan), and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (the “Rav,” 18th of Nissan).


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Week 30 (Book 4): Yehoshuah and Being Uplifted by the Torah

STORY OF CHANNAH: 2. There is none as holy as the Lord, For there is none besides You; And there is no rock like our God.     

PROVERBS: Chapter 30

TZADIKIM: Divrei Chaim of Sanz (25th of Nissan) and Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kobrin (29th of Nissan)

Week 30 is the last week of Nissan. It includes the yahrzeit of Yehoshuah and Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the verse of the story of Channah for this week, she exclaims, “2. There is none as holy as the Lord, For there is none besides You; And there is no rock (Tzur) like our G-d.” Rashi cites the Talmud in Berachot, stating, “There is no artisan (Tzayar) like our G-d, Who makes a form within a form (Ber. 10a).” Through pregnancy, G-d shapes and gives life to each one of us. In a similar way, Yehoshua also was “formed” by Hashem through Moshe. Yehoshua is called the son of “Nun,” which is in fact a reference to Moshe. A person’s teacher is like the one who bore him.

Regarding Channah’s verse, the Talmud in Berachot further states as follows:

R. Judah b. Menasiah said: Read not, There is none bilteka, but, There is none lebalotheka [to consume Thee]. For the nature of flesh and blood is not like that of the Holy One, blessed be He. It is the nature of flesh and blood to be outlived by its works, but the Holy One, blessed be He, outlives His works.  

These words are very reminiscent of the Holocaust, when, unfortunately, so many of us were so brutally consumed.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah “uplifts him.” Few have felt so uplifted as Channah with the birth of her child, and this feeling is very much reflected in the verses above. This quality of being uplifted by the Torah is certainly true of Yehoshuah as well. Yehoshua was not inherently smarter than everyone else, yet he worked on himself to the point that he was eventually chosen as Moshe’s successor because of his dedication to the Torah.[1] The Torah that uplifted so many of our communities after the immense loss and trauma of the Holocaust.

The very beginning of Chapter 28 of the Book of Proverbs addresses the characteristics of being like Joshua, completely dedicated to the Torah humbly accepting its transmission:

2. For I am more boorish than any man, neither do I have man's understanding.
3. Neither have I learned wisdom, nor do I know the knowledge of the holy ones.:
4. Who ascended to heaven and descended? Who gathered wind in his fists? Who wrapped the waters in a garment? Who established all the ends of the earth? What is his name and what is the name of his son, if you know?
5. Every word of God is refined; He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.
6. Do not add to His words, lest He prove to you, and you be found a liar.

The second part of the chapter speaks of a generation gone awry, which seems very related to the events of the Holocaust:
8. Distance falsehood and the lying word from me; give me neither poverty nor wealth; provide me my allotted bread,          
9. lest I become sated and deny, and I say, "Who is the Lord?" And lest I become impoverished and steal, and take hold of the name of my God.         
10. Do not inform on a slave to his master, lest he curse you, and you be found guilty.    
11. A generation that curses its father and does not bless its mother.           
12. A generation that is pure in its eyes, but is not cleansed of its filth.        
13. A generation-how lofty are its eyes! And its eyelids are raised.               
14. A generation whose teeth are [like] swords, and its molars are [like] knives, to devour the poor of the land and the needy of men.      
15. The leech has two daughters, "Give" and "Give." There are three that are not sated, and four that do not say, "Enough!"       
16. The grave, the confined womb, and the earth, which is not sated with water, and fire, which does not say, "Enough!" 
17. The eye that mocks the father and despises the mother's wrinkles-may the ravens of the valley pick it out, and the young eagles devour it.

This week contains the yahrzeits of the founders of two important Chassidic dynasties: Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz and Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kobrin. From Ascent.org:

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz [1793 - 25 Nissan 1876] was the first Rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenberg dynasty. He is famous for his extraordinary dedication to the mitzvah of tzedaka and also as a renowned Torah scholar; his voluminous and wide-ranging writings were all published under the title Divrei Chaim. His eldest son founded the famous Sanzer synagogue in Tsfat in the middle 1800's. [The dynasties of Bobov and Klausenberg also descend from him]

Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kobrin [1784 - 29 Nisan 1858] was a close follower of the Rebbe, R. Mordechai of Lechovitch and afterwards of his son, R. Noach. In 1833 he became the first Rebbe of the Kobrin dynasty, with thousands of chassidim, many of whom subsequently moved to Eretz Yisroel. His teachings are collected in Imros Taharos.[2]

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Nachman of Tulchin (student of Rabbi Nosson of Breslov, 26th of Nissan), Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (Satmar Rebbe, 26th of Nissan), Rabbi Aharon HaKohen Rosenfeld (Pinsk-Karliner Rebbe, 28th of Nissan), and Rabbi Mordechai Shalom Yosef Friedman (Sadigerer Rebbe, 29th of Nissan).

[1] http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/peninim/archives/pinchas70.htm
[2] http://ascentofsafed.com/cgi-bin/ascent.cgi?Name=317-08

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Week 31 (Book 4): Accepting Greatness with Humility

STORY OF CHANNAH: 3. Do not increasingly speak haughtily; Let not arrogance come out of your mouth, For the Lord is a God of thoughts, And to Him are deeds counted.

QUALITY OF THOSE THAT STUDY THE TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE: and raises him above all creations  

PROVERBS: Chapter 31

TZADDIKIM: Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nicholsburg  

On Week 31, the week of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, the verse from the story of Hannah speaks of the importance of not being arrogant. These words are once again reminiscent of the horse in Book 1, who, despite his strength, looks to Hashem like a servant looks to its Master. As mentioned there, Israel’s victory in its War of Independence was due to Hashem’s great mercy and should not be a cause of haughtiness.

The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is also connected to the idea of humility and greatness. It takes that the Torah “raises him above all creations.” Even though the verse states that person that studies Torah for its own sake is raised above everything, the use of the word “creations” (Ma’assim) instead of “things” or “people,” keeps everything in the proper perspective – after all, even the highest of beings is simply a minute creation vis-à-vis the Creator. This is the very last quality mentioned, a culmination of all the others mentioned until now.       

Chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It’s first verses speak of a king, raised above everyone else, yet nevertheless is chastised by the one who gave him life and was a partner in his creation - his mother:

1. The words of Lemuel the king; a prophecy that his mother chastised him;          
2. What, my son, and what, the son of my womb, and what, the son of my vows?

This is the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs, and concludes with Eshet Chayil, and ode to the Torah itself.

This week includes many yahrzeits, including two prominent students of the Maggid of Mezritch: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (1st of Iyar) and Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke (2nd of Iyar).

From Ascent:

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk/Horodok [1730 - 1 Iyar 1788] was an elder disciple of the Magid of Mizritch and one of the earliest Chasidic rebbes. He led the first modern aliyah to Israel, in 1777, where he and three hundred Chasidim and others settled in Tsefat (Safed). After a few years they moved to Tiberias, where he is buried in the "students of the Baal Shem Tov" section of the Old Cemetery. His works include Pri HaAretzand Likutei Amarim.

Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke HaLevi Horowitz of Nikolsburg (1726 - 2 Iyar 1778) was a major disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch along with his younger brother, Rabbi Pinchas, who became the Rabbi of Frankfort. Many of the leading rebbes in Poland and Galitzia were originally his disciples. Among the books he authored are Divrei Shmuel and Nazir HaShem.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Chaim Vital (principle student of the Arizal, 30th of Nissan), Rabbi Yaakov Beirav (Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, 1st of Iyar), Rabbi Avraham of Slonim-Baranovich (the Beis Avrohom, 1st of Iyar),  Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu son of Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazer Taub (Modzhitzer Rebbe, 4th of Iyar), Rabbi Chaim Meir Yechiel Shapira of Mogelnitz (5th of Iyar), Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Perlow (Stoliner Rebbe, 6th of Iyar) and Rabbi Yosef Meir Weiss (6th of Iyar).

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