Weekly Cycle

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Week 44 (Book 3): War and Conquest

BESHALACH: 35. And the children of Israel ate the manna for forty years until they came to an inhabited land. They ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.  36. The omer is one tenth of an ephah.

HAFTORAH: And the land rested forty years. 1. And the children of Israel did that which displeased the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian (for) seven years. 

Talmud Sotah: Daf 44: Those Exempt from War

Uzziah (also known as Azariah)


Week 44 is the week of Tisha B’Av, the only 24-hour fast day in the Jewish calendar other than Yom Kippur. Tisha B’Av marks the the day in which both the first and second Temples were destroyed, as well many other tragedies in Jewish history. It was on Tisha B’Av that the spies sent to the Land of Israel by Moshe came back with a negative report. After the people also reacted negatively, it was decreed that the Jewish people would spend 40 years in the desert.

The section of the Torah portion of Beshalach for this week specifically mentions how the Jewish people would eat mannah for 40 years until they came to an inhabited land, the border of the land of Canaan. As mentioned previously (Week 42), once we complete the 42 journeys in the desert enter that border in the month of Av. The manna is no longer given, and it is time to earn our sustenance through tilling the Land. This conquest of the Land also appears related to the coming of Mashiach, related to this week.

The Haftorah verses speak of the Land resting for forty years. These forty years seem to be in direct contrast with the forty years spent in the desert. In the verse following that of the Haftorah, interestingly, just like the last battle in the 40 years in the desert were against Midian, so too, Israel now faced oppression from Midian after 40 years in which there was relative calm. Like on Tisha B’Av, Israel was delivered into the hands of its enemies because it displeased G-d. (This appears related to last week’s section of gemara Sotah, which describes Pinchas as the Mashuach Milchamah in the war against Midian).

Daf Mem Dalet (Folio 44) of Sotah speaks of the laws regarding the impurity of a dead body. It also speaks of other cases of people exempt from fighting a milchemet reshut: those that are engaged to be married, and those that are afraid. The daf also begins another chapter on the Eglah Arufah, the ritual of beheading of a calf in the case of an unsolved murder outside of a Jewish city. Many of these topics, particularly the first and the last, appear related to Tisha B’Av, a date marked by death and destruction. Also, Tisha B’Av is deeply related to those that fear war, similar to the fear that engulfed the Jewish people when they heard the report of the spies.

Uzziah, also known as Azariah, was the son of Amaziah and one of the most successful kings of Judah. His counterparts in Israel were Jeroboam ben Jehoash (31 years), Zechariah (6 months), Shallum (1 months), Menachem ben Gadi (10 years), Pekahiah ben Menahem (2 years),  and Pekah ben Remaliah (8.5 years).

The beginning of his reign, while Uzziah was still young, saw a great devastation of Judah, with attackers plundering and pillaging it from every border. However, once Uzziah came of age and had a frim grasp of his throne, he was able to extensively develop the country, both militarily and economically.
Despite his piety, Uzziah made a grave mistake, which became a defining event in his kingdom. Over repeated warnings and objections, Uzziah attempted to play the role of a kohen and offer incense in the Temple. Because of this, he was immediately afflicted with tzara’at, spiritual leprosy. He remained a metzorah for the rest of his life, living in isolation close to a cemetery. There is a well known story in the Talmud that teaches Mashiach, who is born on Tisha B’Av, is a Metzorah by the gates of Rome (Edom). Uzziah means “G-d is my strength,” and Azariah means “G-d is my help.” The word for strength, Oz, is related to the word Az, bold. There is a kind of boldness of the side of holiness which is good (such as to be “bold like a leopard,” az ka’namer), but there is also  a boldness of the side of impurity (such as in the phrase, “those that are bold go to hell/purgatory,” az panim legehinnom). Uzziah showed these both kinds of boldness, both of which are also associated with Tisha B’Av. Also, the Haftorah for Shabat Hazon, read during this week, begins by stating that it was prophecized by Isaiah, Uzziah's uncle, during Uzziah's reign.
The forty-fourth week is connected to conquering the Girgashites. Their comes from the word Girgash, which means a type of red clay. This name is reminiscent of the creation of man, who was formed from the earth. Adam comes from the word Adamah (earth), and is related to the word Adom (red), like Edom (Eisav). The Girgashites are connected to the negative side of Gevurah, which expresses itself primarily in violence and murder. This is the characteristic of Eisav himself. King David, who is also described in the Torah as being red, represents the tikkun of this characteristic. King David is able to use his gevurah for the good, such as in how he defeated Goliath, and in all of his other battles for G-d and Israel.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Week 45 (Book 3): Unity and Upright Behavior in the Face of Amalek

BESHALACH: 1. The entire community of the children of Israel journeyed from the desert of Sin to their travels by the mandate of the Lord. They encamped in Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2. So the people quarreled with Moses, and they said, Give us water that we may drink Moses said to them, Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?  
VERSES IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 2. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the children of Israel made for themselves the dens which are in the mountains and the caves, and the strongholds. 3. And it was, when Israel had sown, that Midian came up, and Amalek, and those of the east; and they came up upon it.

TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 45 – The Eglah Arufah

After the Song of the Sea, and Parashat HaMan, Beshalach now enters a new into a third and final account, that of the fight against Amalek. Amalek attacked the Jewish people at Rephidim. Rephidim means weakness, particularly weakness in Torah study. The lack of water also mentioned here is also a reference to lack of Torah. This led people to quarrel with Moshe, which was in fact was a quarrel with G-d, which in turn eventually led to Amalek’s attack.

Amalek is known for its cruelty and arrogance, and lack of faith and fear of G-d. This is the time of the year in which we fight these qualities, particularly in ourselves, as we do teshuvah (return to G-d) and start preparing for the coming year.

The Tanach verses that follow the Haftorah’s Song of Devorah, now begin to relate the story of Gideon, which begins with the oppression the Jews suffered in the hands of Midian, as well as Amalek. This crisis also came about due to not serving Hashem properly.

Week 45 is the week of Tu B’Av, which together with Yom Kippur, is the happiest and most romantic day of the Jewish calendar. It is known for unity and love, at it was on this day that the tribes of Israel were allowed to intermarry. The verses from the Torah portion of Beshalach begin by stating that the “entire community of the children of Israel journeyed” together. This is an example of the unity of this time of year.

Daf Mem Heh (Folio 45) of Sotah continues to speak of the Eglah Arufah, the measurements the needed to be made, how to handle the corpse, and how to behead the calf. The Eglah Arufah took place due to failure to appropriately accompany a stranger out of a city. Due to this lack of unity, the city’s sages must now all come together, in a sign of renewed unity, and perform this ritual to obtain atonement.

Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was an example of morality and was humble in nature. His behavior was very much influenced to what happened to his father, just as the happiness and unity of Tu B’Shvat is colored by the horrific events of Tisha B’Av. Jotham's counterparts in Israel were Pekah ben Remaliah (11.5 years) and Hosheah ben Elah (4.5 years). His name appears to mean Hashem (Yud-Vav) is Tam, which means whole(some), complete, perfect. This also appears related to Tu B’Av, in which we celebrate the wholeness of the Jewish people. Incidentally, the Zohar mentions that Tu B’Av is a particularly festive holiday because it takes place when the moon (symbolic of the Jewish people) is full.

The forty-fifth week is connected to conquering the Amorites. Their name comes from the word amar, the root word for the verb “to speak.” Speech is the primary distinction of man over the rest of creation. Le’emor is usually used to indicate a softer kind of speech, as opposed to Ledaber, which tends to be harsher.

The Emorites are connected to the negative side of Tiferet/Rachamim (beauty/mercy), which expresses itself as pride, as well as being merciful with those that deserve harshness. The gemara explains that King Saul showed such improper mercy towards Amalek and its king, and because of that ended up being cruel with those that deserved mercy (Nov, the city of Kohanim). During that episode, King Saul also did not have enough pride in his position as King to make sure that the word of G-d was fulfilled to its utmost, yet showed too much pride later, when the Prophet Samuel pointed out his mistake, yet Saul was not immediately willing to take blame.

This week, we must learn to have the proper balance of kindness and severity; knowing when to be merciful and when to be strict. We must also know when to exercise a small dose of pride, as well as when to act with absolute humility. As is said in Pirkei Avot, in one pocket we must hold on to the statement, “I am dust and ashes,” while in the other we hold on to the words, “the world was created for me.”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Week 46 (Book 3): Handling Crisis with Humility and not Anger

BESHALACH: 3. The people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and they said, Why have you brought us up from Egypt to make me and my children and my livestock die of thirst? 4. Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, What shall I do for this people? Just a little longer and they will stone me!  

TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 4. And they encamped against them, and they destroyed the produce of the earth, until you come to Gaza. They would leave no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor donkey. 5. For they and their cattle came up, and their tents, and they came as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels without number, and they came into the land to destroy it.

TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 46 – Eglah Arufah and Elisha



Week 46 is the last week of the month of Av. The Torah section for this week continues the theme of complaints over the lack of water/sustenance, and the extreme and humbling crisis of confidence faced not just by the people but by Moshe himself. (Moshe is criticized for believing that the Jewish people could come to stone him).

The Tanach’s verses again speak of a similar crisis in confidence (and sustenance). Midian and Amalek would destroy the produce of the earth and “leave no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor donkey.” Both the Torah and Tanach verses are related to the suffering undergone in the month of Av, meant to bring us to humility and repentance.

Daf Mem Vav (Folio 46) of Sotah continues to speak of the Eglah Arufah, the qualifications of the calf itself, and the importance of escorting people out of a city. It focuses on Elisha, who, if he had been escorted out of a city, would not have incited bears into killing 42 youngsters. That city had a serious water problem and Elisha had just remedied its water. The miracle he performed rendered the watercarrying work of the boys useless. These youngsters then decided to insult Elisha, which caused the abovementioned harsh response. (Like Moshe, Elisha is criticized for not properly controlling his anger).

Ahaz, the son of Jotham, was a truly terrible king. Weak and extremely idolatrous, he did tremendous damage. Because of his weakness and subservience to other kings, the treasures of the Temple were looted. His rule in Judah was contemporary with Hoshea ben Elah and Pekah in Israel. Ahaz means to grasp, to hold. However, instead of holding strong to Hashem and rely on His mercy, he seemed to try to hold on to everyone and everything else.

The forty-sixth week is connected to conquering the Cana’anites.  The Cana’anites are connected to the negative side of the fourth sefirah, Netzach, which means victory. Their name comes from Cana’an, which at its root is the word Canah, from the verb to subdue. Cana’an is also the fourth son of Cham, who is cursed by Noah because of Cham’s disgraceful behavior, which made it impossible for Noah to have a fourth son himself.

Cham’s motivation for essentially castrating his father was that he did not want to share the world with any other progeny of Noah. He wanted to rule as much as he could and did not want competition. This is connected to the negative side of Netzach: angry, recalcitrant behavior, focusing always on winning and unwilling to see the other’s perspective. Even though the Cana’anites were given the opportunity to surrender, none of them did.

All seven nations inhabiting the Land are referred to as Cana’anites, so the fact that this group is specifically called after Cana’an seems to show that it somehow encompasses the qualities of all seven. Interestingly, Netzach also is said encompasses all the qualities of all the other Sefirot.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Week 47 (Book 3): Hezekiah and Teshuvah

BESHALACH: 5. And the Lord said to Moses, Pass before the people and take with you [some] of the elders of Israel, and take into your hand your staff, with which you struck the Nile, and go.  6. Behold, I shall stand there before you on the rock in Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, and the people will drink Moses did so before the eyes of the elders of Israel.  
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 6. And Israel was very impoverished because of Midian, and the children of Israel cried to the Lord. 7. Now it was when the children of Israel cried to the Lord concerning Midian,
TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 47 – Wayward students
Week 47 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the month of teshuvah (repentance). The Torah section for this week of Moshe passing before the people, striking a rock and drawing out water from it. The drawing water from a rock is the idea of teshuvah. Even if our sins make us dry as a rock, with the proper “striking,” water (Torah) still comes out.
The verses in the Tanach contain the same message. Because Israel was very impoverished due to Midian, they cried out to Hashem in teshuvah.
Daf Mem Zayin (Folio 47) of Sotah continues to speak of Elisha’s actions, including those towards Gechazi, as well as the actions of Yehoshua ben Prachai towards his wayward student. Both men were said to have been overly strict, and in so doing made it difficult for them to do teshuvah. Teshuvah is certainly the main theme of the daf. In addition, the daf also discusses the beheading of the calf in cases that there are witnesses against the murderer, and whether the calf atones for the murderer. The daf ends by describing the decline in righteousness and the decline in Torah, both subjects again related to teshuvah.
King Hezekiah is the ultimate example of teshuvah. The Jewish people reached tremendous heights due to his own personal teshuvah. He famously stated that he had a tradition from his ancestor King David, that even if one has a knife to one’s throat, one does not despair and should continue to do teshuvah and pray for mercy. (Berachot 10a) Hezekiah’s teshuvah saved him from a heavenly death sentence for not wanting to have children (for he knew his progeny would be wicked) and also saved the entire kingdom from the hands of Sancheriv, the evil Assyrian general who had conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel. Before the Kingdom of Israel fell, Hezekiah’s counterpart was Hoshea ben Elah, who, despite his many misdeeds, showed an element of teshuvah in allowing the people of the north to pray in the Temple in Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s name means G-d is my strength.
The forty-seventh week is connected to conquering the Perizites. Their name appears to come from the word Prazi, which means an unwalled city. This is related to the concept of teshuvah, which is about going beyond our borders, beyond our natural limitations, and being open to change. Our sages teach us that “nothing can stand in the way of teshuvah.”
The Perizites are connected to the negative side of Hod. Hod represents service and acknowledgement, and the negative side of it is connected to the idea of too passive and too self-effacing. It is also connected to frivolity and idolatry, being too tolerant of those people and ideas that cause damage to ourselves and others. King David experienced such a situation with his son Absalom. David’s self-effacing efforts to appease Absalom and bring him back to his court were misinterpreted, and ultimately Absalom ultimately mounted a rebellion against his own father.

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