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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Week 23 (Book 4): Coming to a Good Decision

STORY OF CHANNAH: 23. And Elkanah her husband said to her: "Do what seems good to you. Stay until you have weaned him, only, may the Lord fulfill His word." And the woman stayed and nursed her son, until she weaned him.  

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: and jurisprudence.       

PROVERBS: Chapter 23

Week 23 is the week of Zayin Adar, Moshe’s birthday as well as the date of his passing. The verse from the story of Channah describes how Elkanah allows Channah to do what she believed as right for Shmuel, which was to stay with him until he was weaned. The verse has a curious line, on which Rashi comments. Elkanah says to Chanah: “may the Lord fulfill His word.” To what is Elkanah referring? Rashi explains as follows:

RASHI - only, may the Lord fulfill His word: Since you asked of Him seed of righteous men (above v. 11), and Eli announced to you through divine inspiration: (above v. 17) “The God of Israel will grant your request,” may the Lord fulfill His word. This is according to the simple interpretation. The Midrash Agadah, however, explains thus: Rabbi Nehemiah said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, the son of Rabbi Isaac: Every day, a divine voice would resound throughout the world, and say: A righteous man is destined to arise, and his name will be Samuel. Thereupon, every woman who bore a son, would name him Samuel. As soon as they saw his deeds, they would say, “This is not Samuel.” When our Samuel was born, however, and people saw his deeds, they said, “It seems that this one is the expected righteous man.” This is what Elkanah meant when he said, ‘May the Lord fulfill His word,’ that this be the righteous Samuel.  

Elkanah is praying that Shmuel indeed be righteous. According to Rabbi Nechemiah, Elkanah was praying that this be in fact the “expected righteous man,” for which everyone was hoping. There is a clear parallel here with Moshe Rabbeinu, the expected redeemer of the Jewish people.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah grants jurisprudence, Chikur Din. Chikur Din means to investigate a matter in order to arrive at the right decision. In the above story, Elkanah essentially tells Channah to make the decision, to “do what seems good to you.” This quality also seems very much related to the Sefirah combination for this week, Gevurah shebeNetzach (judgment in the context of endurance; see Week 23, Book 1)

Chapter 23 of the Book of Proverbs is very much about jurisprudence. It also continues the theme of the previous week, rulership.

1. If you sit down to dine with a ruler, you should understand well who is in front of you,
(...)
12. Bring your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge.    
(...)
19. Hear you, my son, and grow wise, and walk in the way of your heart.

As mentioned last week, this year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Week 24 (Book 4): "When Wine Comes in Secrets Come Out"




STORY OF CHANNAH: 24. And she brought him with her when she had weaned him, with three bulls, and one ephah of meal, and an earthenware jug of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord, to Shiloh, and the child was young.    

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: The Torah's secrets are revealed to him    

Proverbs: Chapter 24

Week 24 is the week of Purim. The verse from the story of Channah depicts how she brought her son to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh. In Hebrew, the first word in the description of what she brings is Parim (bulls), spelled the same as Purim. Also mentioned in the verse is a jug of wine, which is also symbolic of Purim.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that, “the Torah’s secrets are revealed to him.” The Talmud famously states, “Nichnas Yayin Yotzeh Sod,” when wine enters, secrets exit (are revealed). This is usually has a negative connotation. On Purim, however, this is indeed very positive. When one drinks, secrets of Torah are revealed to him.

Chapter 23 of the Book of Proverbs appears to be primarily about fighting evil, and very much brings to mind the dichotomy between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman.” One is supposed to drink on Purim until one does not know the difference between the two phrases.

1. Do not envy men of evil; do not desire to be with them;  
2. for their heart thinks of plunder, and their lips speak of wrongdoing.
(…)
15. Wicked man, do not lurk by the dwelling of a righteous man; do not plunder his resting place.
16. For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.       
17. When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult,
(…)
24. He who says to a wicked man, "You are righteous"-peoples will curse him; nations will be wroth with him.   

The end of the chapter is also related to a practice that is usually bad during the year, but that on Purim gains a positive connotation: sleep during the day.

32. And I, myself, saw; I applied my heart; I saw and learned a lesson.      
33. Little sleep, little slumber, little clasping of the hands to lie down.
34. Then your poverty will come strolling and your wants like an armed man.

The above statement is very much reminiscent of the one in Pirkei Avot related to Purim and Week 24: “Rabbi Dosa the son of Hurkinas would say: Morning sleep, noontime wine, children's talk and sitting at the meeting places of the ignorant, drive a person from the world.”

As mentioned last week, this year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Week 25 (Book 4): "An Ever-Increasing Wellspring"


STORY OF CHANNAH: 25 And when the bullock was slain, the child was brought to Eli.  

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring

PROVERBS: Chapter 25

Week 25 is the last week of Adar. The verse from the story of Channah speaks about the slaughter of her animal sacrifice, as she brought Shmuel to Eli the Kohen Gadol. The last week of Adar is significantly tied to bringing contributions to the Temple. Those that did not bring their yearly half-shekel contribution by now, Jewish courts had the right to take it by force.

The Talmud (Berachot 31b) teaches that this verse is an indication of Shmuel’s hidden greatness:

And when the bullock was slain, the child was brought to Eli.24 Because the bullock was slain, did they bring the child to Eli? What it means is this. Eli said to them: Call a priest and let him come and kill [the animal]. When Samuel saw them looking for a priest to kill it, he said to them, Why do you go looking for a priest to kill it? The shechitah may be performed by a layman! They brought him to Eli, who asked him, How do you know this? He replied: Is it written, ‘The priest shall kill’? It is written, The priests shall present [the blood]:25 the office of the priest begins with the receiving of the blood, which shows that shechitah may be performed by a layman.26 He said to him: You have spoken very well, but all the same you are guilty of giving a decision in the presence of your teacher…

Adar is a month connected to revealing what is secret. That is the reason the text we read on Purim is called Megillat Esther, revealing (Legalot) what is hidden (Nistar). In this case, the hidden greatness of a little boy is revealed.

Along the same lines, last week’s Pirkei Avot quality was, “the Torah’s secrets are revealed to him.” This week, the quality is, “and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring.” A wellspring contains also this idea of revealing the hidden. The wellspring brings water (a metaphor for Torah) from the depths of the earth to the surface. The Hebrew term for wellspring Ma'ayan, is often associated with the hidden aspects of Torah, such as the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Furthermore, as the story above indicate, Shmuel himself was a living example of an “ever-increasing wellspring.” 

Chapter 25 of the Book of Proverbs, particularly its first verses, contains the same theme as above:

1. These too are Solomon's proverbs, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, maintained.
2. The honor of God is to conceal a matter, whereas the honor of kings is to search out a matter.  
3. The heaven for height, the earth for depth, and the honor of kings are unsearchable.      
4. Remove dross from silver, and a vessel emerges for the refiner.

This week contains the yahrzeits of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (21st of Adar) and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg/Alter (the "Chiddushei HaRim, 23rd of Adar).

Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk was on of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. He was known as the "Rebbe of Rebbes" of the Jews of Poland/Galitzia. He was the brother of Reb Zushia of Anipoli, and many of his disciples became rebbes in their own right, including the Chozeh of Lublin, the Ohev Yisrael, Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, and the Maggid of Kozhnitz. His also the author of the Noam Elimelech, one of the foundational texts of Polish Chassidism.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter was the founder of the Ger dynasty, which, in great part because of his inspiring and caring leadership, became the largest of all Chassidic groups. His work, Chiddushei HaRim, is also a Chassidic "classic."



Other yahrzeits this week include Rav Chanoch Henach of Alexander (18th of Adar - He served as the rebbe of Ger for some time after the Chidushei HaRim passed away), Rabbi Nachum Mordechai of Chortkov (son of Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, 18th of Adar), and Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtze (19th Adar 1928).

[For Adar I: As mentioned previously, this year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.]  



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Week 26 (Book 4): The Big Picture


STORY OF CHANNAH: 26. And she said, "Please, my lord! As surely as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here with you, to pray to the Lord.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: and as an unceasing river        

PROVERBS: Chapter 26     

TZADIKKIM: Rav Yitzchak Abuchatzera (Baba Chaki, Brother of the Baba Sali, 25 of Adar) and Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowicz (the Tiferes Shlomo, Founding Rebbe of Radomsk, 29 Adar) 

Week 26 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Nissan is the “head” of all the months, and is related to the Tribe of Judah, which stands for kingship. In the verse of the story of Channah for this week, she makes a request to Eli the Kohen Gadol. It is unclear from the text what the request is. Rashi clarifies this by interpreting as follows: “Please, my lord - Take care of him that he become your disciple. And according to the Midrash of our sages, not to punish him with death.” As noted regarding the previous verse in Channah’s story, for Week 25, Shmuel had shown great insight, yet in so doing was guilty of making a ruling in front of his master, which is punishable by death. This mistake was particularly grievous given Eli’s status as the Judge, and head of the entire Jewish people. Channah asks Eli to help Shmuel to connect to him and, alternatively, forgive the boy for his mistake.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that he becomes “an unceasing river.” Shmuel’s insight into a certain area of Jewish law is related to the aspect of scholarship connected to “an ever-increasing wellspring” (an ability to discover “new” rulings by concentrating on selected areas of the text). However, Shmuel still needed to obtain a second aspect, that of an unceasing river, someone with comprehensive knowledge of the entire Torah.[1] Channah was therefore asking Eli to take Shmuel as a disciple to teach him this aspect as well.  

Chapter 26 of the Book of Proverbs is primarily about the actions of fools. It also mentions those that are lazy, quarrelsome, deceptive, and wicked. A general theme of the chapter, related to the above, is that it describes actions that could potentially be deemed righteous, in and of themselves. However, given the context (eg. giving honor to fools or being fearful of potential danger, just as an excuse not to get out of bed), they are quite ridiculous. One must have a comprehensive outlook in order to be able to act properly.

This week contains the yahrzeits of Rav Yitzchak Abuchatzera (the “Baba Chaki,” 25th of Adar) and Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowicz (the “Tiferes Shlomo,” founding Rebbe of Radomsk, 29th of Adar).

The Baba Chaki was the brother of the Baba Sali. Like his brother, he was known for his great holiness and saintly conduct. Also like his brother, he moved from Morocco to Israel, and became the chief rabbi of Ramla-Lod.

Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowicz was known as the Tiferes Shelomo due to his authorship of a Chassidic masterpiece under this name. He founded the Radomsk dynasty in 1843. When Rabbi Moshe Biderman of Lelov made aliyah in 1850, he instructed his followers to become Chassidim of the Tiferes Shelomo. The Radomsk court then grew significantly, with thousands upon thousands of followers. Along with his tremendous Torah scholarship and speaking ability, the Radomsker Rebbe was also known for his beautiful voice and his composition of new nigunim (melodies).

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Visiva son of Rabbi Yisroel Hager of Vizhnitz (25th of Adar) and Rabbi Elimelech of Grodzensk (author of Divrei Elimelech and Imrei Elimelech, father of the Piazeczna Rebbe, 1st of Nissan)


Rosh Chodesh Nissan is also the birthday of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.




[1] http://www.frumtoronto.com/Blogger.asp?Articles=expand&ShowAll=Torah&BlogCategoryID=131&page=10

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Week 27 (Book 4): He Becomes Modest


STORY OF CHANNAH: For this child did I pray, and the Lord granted me my request, which I asked of Him.           

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: He becomes modest

PROVERBS: Chapter 27

TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch (the Rebbe Rashab, 2nd of Nissan), Rabbi Yochanan Twersky (the first Rebbe of Rachmastivka, 4th of Nissan) and Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (the Ohev Yisrael, Rebbe of Apt, 5th of Nissan).

On Week 27, we are in the beginning of the month of Nissan. It includes the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, the Rebbe Rashab, fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, on the second of Nissan. In the verse of the story of Channah for this week, she exclaims, “For this child did I pray, and the Lord granted me my request, which I asked of Him.”  The Rebbe Rashab was known for the great love and care he bestowed on his only son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the Rebbe Rayatz, particularly regarding his son’s education and training. The Rebbe Rashab stated that, "It is an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the education of his children, and to do everything in his power -- and beyond his power -- to inspire his children to follow the path along which they are being guided."[1]

The Talmud teaches us that Eli the Kohen Gadol was willing punish Shmuel and pray to G-d and pray to G-d for Him to give Channah a child even better than Shmuel. Channah did not accept that – this was her child, the one for which she prayed. Furthermore, this was not her child any longer, but Hashem’s (next verse). This is very much symbolic of the month of Nissan and the redemption from Egypt. The Jews at the time were far from perfect – but these were the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which G-d promised to take out of Egypt. Even deeper than that, we were G-d’s children, and He redeemed us independent of our condition. Similarly later, after the sin of the golden calf, G-d offers Moshe to destroy the Jewish people and build a nation out of him. Moshe replies that if G-d were to do such a thing, “erase me from Your Book.”

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that he becomes “modest.” One of the ideas of modesty is not to ask Hashem for personal greatness. (Yayin Levanon, commentary on Pirkei Avot) Channah did not want a greater child than Shmuel. She was happy with her portion.

The very beginning of Chapter 27 of the Book of Proverbs addresses the characteristics of modesty and humility:

1. Do not boast for tomorrow, for you do not know what the day will bear.   
2. May a stranger praise you and not your mouth, an alien and not your lips.

Aside from the Rebbe Rashab’s yahrzeit, this week also contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Yochanan Twersky (the first Rebbe of Rachmastivka, 4th of Nissan) and Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (the Ohev Yisrael, Rebbe of Apt, 5th of Nissan).

Rabbi Yochanan Twersky was known for his great humility. His father, Rav Mordechai Twersky, the Maggid of Chernobyl, said that his son had the soul of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai. He was the last of eight brothers, each of which became a rebbe. The following story describes Reb Yochanan’s humility:

When the Maggid of Chernobyl was niftar, his sons gathered to divide his spiritual inheritance. One took his kind heart, another took his sharp mind and so on. Reb Yochanan wanted to take his father’s gornisht, meaning his nothingness — his father’s deep humility. But when his brother, Harav Moshe of Koristchov, took the gornisht, Reb Yochanan was left with gor gornshit, absolutely nothing, and he was pleased. Indeed, he was distinguished by his profound humility and self-negation.[2]
 
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel was one of the close disciples of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. He was known as the Ohev Yisrael (“Lover of Israel”) due to his great love for his fellow Jew. Interestingly, a very similar story is told about his spiritual “inheritance:”

It is told that before he died, Rebbe Elimelech bequeathed the sight of his eyes to the Chozeh of Lublin, the spirit of his heart to the Kozhnitzer Maggid, the soul of his mind to Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Riminov, and the power of speech to Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt.[3]

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yaakov Yosef son of Rabbi David Twersky, (the Skverer Rebbe, 2nd of Nissan); Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Bluzhov son of Rabbi David of Dinov (the Tzvi LaTzadik, 5th of Nissan), Rabbi Moshe son of Shlomo Rokeach (the Kiev-Zlotchover Rebbe, 5th of Nissan), and Rabbi Mordechai of Neshchiz (disciple of R. Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov, 8th of Nissan).






[1] Hayom Yom, 22nd of Tevet
[2] http://hamodia.com/features/day-history-4-nisanapril-4/
[3] http://heichalhanegina.blogspot.com/2008/02/i-remember-him-from-rebbe.html
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