Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Week 40 (Book 3): Returning to Ourselves

BESHALACH: 27. It came about that on the seventh day, [some] of the people went out to gather [manna], but they did not find [any]. 28. The Lord said to Moses, How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? 

HAFTORAH: The wisest of her princesses answer her, she too returns answers to herself.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 40 – The Temple, Thansksgiving and Humility


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Dibon gad and camped in Almon diblathaimah.

Week 40 is the second week of Tammuz. The Torah portion section for this week describes the stubbornness of the Jewish people: “How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?” As the Rebbe would often repeat, the reason for our suffering is, “Mipnei Chata’eynu Galinu Me’Artzeinu,” “because of our sins, we were exiled from our Land.” The moment we stop sinning and reverse course, we will be immediately redeemed.

The Haftorah verses speak of the “wisest of her princesses” that answer her, and that she too returns and answers. The “wisest of princesses” is the Neshamah, the soul. The Neshamah is called a princess because it is the daughter of the King, Hashem. Despairing over the exile, the soul awakens and brings us to return, to teshuvah. It is in Tammuz that we must realize that it is time to return to ourselves, our true selves: our Neshamah.

Daf Mem (Folio 40) of Sotah continues to relate certain laws of Birkat Kohanim, as well as the public’s prayer of thanks, and the laws of the Kohen Gadol reading the Torah on Yom Kippur. The daf also includes a story about R. Avahu and R. Aba regarding their humility. Again this week we see the connection to the Temple, as well as to ways in which to restore it: humility and thanks.

Ahaziah, the son Jehoram, reigns for a very short time, and continues the evil ways of his father, under the terrible influence of his mother. His counterpart in Israel is Jehoram, with whom he sought a close alliance on behest of his mother. Both Ahaziah and Jehoram are killed by Jehu, who is anointed by the Prophet Elisha to be king. The death of both kings shows that without repentance there is no hope for salvation. (Ahaziah is apparently named after his maternal uncle, the son of Ahab. His name means “one who holds to G-d.” Unfortunately, he himself held fast to idolatry instead).

In the fortieth week, the Jews journey from Dibon gad and camp in Almon diblathaimah. Almon diblathaimah means hidden sweetness. Almon comes from He’elem, concealment. (See Book 2, Week 40) Diblathaimah is related to sweetness, specifically deveilah, pressed cake figs (Figs are related to this time of the year, See Book 6). Therefore, Almon Diblathaimah appears to represent a dichotomy, very much like Tammuz itself: it may be a place of death and mourning. However, through teshuvah, the month’s concealed sweetness is revealed. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of the good tidings that come from repentance, and now focus on the concealed sweetness that is now revealed from it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week 41 (Book 3): Standing One's Ground

BESHALACH: 29. See that the Lord has given you the Sabbath. Therefore, on the sixth day, He gives you bread for two days. Let each man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day. 30. So the people rested on the seventh day.
HAFTORAH: 'Are they not finding (and) dividing the spoils? A damsel, two damsels to every man;

TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 41 - The perils of flattery.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Almon diblathaimah and camped in the mountains of Abarim, in front of Nebo. 

Week 41 is the week of the Yud Beit/Yud Gimmel Tammuz, as well as the 17th of Tammuz. The 17th of Tammuz is when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, which led to the destruction of the Temple three weeks later. Yud Beit/Yud Gimmel Tammuz celebrates when the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was freed after he stood his ground and was able to survive the tortures of Soviet imprisonment.

The Torah portion section for this week repeats the concept of the Sabbath, and that bread is given for two days. The emphasis of the verses, however, is on the idea of remaining still, not leaving one’s place. In many ways, the message is the converse of what happened on the 17th of Tammuz, when the Jews, who were running out of food, still had no choice but to stay in place. Similarly, when the walls were breached, they were forced to surrender and were led to exile, no longer able to stay in place, even on the Sabbath. The message of Yud Beit/Yud Gimmel Tammuz also has a parallel here: despite the oppression he suffered in prison, the Sixth Rebbe stood his ground, remaining in his spiritual place.

The Haftorah verses speak of the enemy dividing the spoils of the Jews, and taking one or two Jewish women for every man. This certainly parallels what took place when the walls of Jerusalem were breached. The term for women used, Rechem, which is related to the word “womb” and “mercy,” brings to mind the verse of the Book of Lamentations, verse 4:10: “The hands of compassionate (rachmaniyot) women boiled their own children.” (See Book 1 on how 41 is the gematria of em, mother)

Daf Mem Alef (Folio 41) of Sotah speaks of certain laws of Torah reading on Yom Kippur, and how the King reads the Torah in the Temple. Again, the Temple is one of the central themes of the daf (and of these weeks). The daf also speaks about the negative trait of flattery. Flattery is a cause of corruption and leads to destruction: “From the day that flattery became rampant, judgments became distorted, deeds became spoiled, and no one can say 'My deeds are better than yours'. The very destruction of the Temple is related to flattery: “We learn from Yirmeyahu, who supported Chananyah's false prophecy; Chananyah's grandson later seized Yirmeyahu and handed him over to the Babylonian officials.” The Rebbe Rayatz’s behavior on the 12th of Tammuz are the opposite of flattery – he spoke his mind regarding the evil of the Soviet empire, endured torture, but stood his ground nonetheless.

After Ahaziah’s death, his mother Athaliah takes over the reigns of the kingdom. Her counterpart in the northern kingdom of Israel is Yehu (2 years). Her reign is one of absolute terror, and her hatred after the death of her own son leads her to a goal of destroying the entire House of David. She is able to kill all of King David’s descendants but one, Jehoash, who miraculously survives. Athalia’s story depicts just how cruel and ruthless a mother (who is naturally merciful) can act, and is yet another indication of how distorted, godless, and corrupt Israel had become. Yet, a mother’s mercy is also portrayed in the saving of Jehoash. The godlessness, lowliness and corruption  parallels the events of the 17th of Tammuz, and yet the hope of Jehoash parallels how the Rebbe Rayatz, too, was saved from the embers of destruction, and the Chabad dynasty was able to continue. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Athalia did enormous damage to the Temple; damage which Jehoash would repair. 

In the forty-first week, the Jews journey from Almon diblathaimah and camp in the mountains of Abarim, in front of Nebo. As explained in week 38, Abarim comes from the word aveirah, transgression. However, now instead of the ruins of Abarim, we go to the mountain of Abarim. This, again, is a reference to the spiritual heights we reach once we do teshuvah. The Temple itself is also called a mountain. Nebo means nun boh, a reference to the fiftieth gate that Moshe reaches at his passing. The 50th gate, a level that is beyond nature, is also related to teshuvah, where G-d raises us up from our sins in a supernatural way. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of the concealed sweetness that is now revealed from our repentance, and now focus on the supernatural heights we can attain from it as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Week 42 (Book 3): Remembering to Repent in the Face of Destruction

BESHALACH: 31. The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, [it was] white, and it tasted like a wafer with honey. 32. Moses said, This is the thing that the Lord commanded: Let one omerful of it be preserved for your generations, in order that they see the bread that I fed you in the desert when I took you out of the land of Egypt.  

HAFTORAH: a spoil of dyed garments to Sisera, a spoil of dyed garments of embroidery;

TALMUD SOTAH - Daf 42: Mashuach  Milchamah (Anointed for War)


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.   They camped along the Jordan from Beth jeshimoth to Abel shittim, in the plains of Moab.  

Week 42 is the last week of Tammuz, and is the first of the three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The Torah section for this week describes the mannah, which would be received in different forms (like a seed, a dough, or a finished bread) depending on one's spiritual status. For those not completely righteous, the mannah was, in and of itself, a call for repentance.
The verse also speaks of how the mannah was to be preserved for generations. Rashi explains that it was preserved specifically for the times of Jeremiah and the destruction of the Temple. The Haftorah verses speak of the enemy dividing spoils. When the walls of Jerusalem were breached, our people defeated, and the Temple destroyed, the enemy took its spoils. The "dyed garments" mentioned are reminiscent of the clothes worn by the Kohen Gadol in the Temple.

Daf Mem Beit (Folio 42) of Sotah continues to speak of the negative trait of flattery. It then starts a new chapter on the laws of the Mashuach Milchamah, the Kohen that is anointed for war. Mashuach comes from the same root as the word Mashiach. The Daf speaks of how the Kohen tells the people that the war is not one against their brethren. If they are taken captive, the enemy will not have mercy on them. And so it was during the destruction of the Temple. These three weeks are also connected to Mashiach, as the birth of Mashiach takes place on Tisha B’Av.

After Athaliah is removed and killed, she is replaced by the next king, Jehoash, who is still a boy at the time. Jehoash is tutored and counseled by the righteous Kohen, Yehoiadah. His counterparts in the Kingdom of Israel are Yehu (26 years) and Jehoahaz (14 years). While Yehoiadah was alive, Jehoash faithfully served G-d. However, after Yehoiadah’s death, Jehoash turned to idols. Yehoiadah’s son, the prophet Zachariah, condemned Jehoash’s behavior, and Jehoash had him killed while he was in the Temple. Zechariah was stoned to death on Yom Kippur itself! The blood us this holy prophet and kohen would not be forgiven. Not only is Jehoash severely punished, as Syrians overrun and sack most of the country, but when the Temple is destroyed, the fate of Zachariah is brought up once again:

Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: "There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested."

 Nebuzaradan said, "I will appease him." He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then school-children. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: "Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?" At last the blood sank into the ground (Talmud, Gittin 57b).[1]

Jehoash therefore represents both sides of Jewish behavior towards the Temple. On the one hand, in his early years, he behaves with exemplary piousness and repairs it. Yet, in his later years, he has bad influences and acts with such disrespect and blasphemy that his acts are a significant factor in its destruction. The name Jehoash apparently means “fire of G-d” - fire can be used for the good or for the bad. In Jehoash’s life, it appears to have been used for both.

In the forty-second week, the Jews journey from the mountains of Abarim and camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.  They camp along the Jordan from Beth Yeshimoth up until Abel shittim, in the plains of Moab. The plains of Moab in Hebrew is Arvot Moav, which, as Rabbi Jacobson explains, has dual meaning. Arvot comes from the word erev, night, as well as arev, mixture/confusion, and points to the most difficult part of the 42-part journey in the desert. The 42nd week of the year is also often a very difficult week, part of the three weeks of mourning, as explained above. However, Arev also means sweet, and as mentioned before, teshuvah can transform these harsh days into sweet ones.

Rabbi Jacobson states that “Jordan-Jericho” (Yarden Yerichoh) is a reference to Mashiach. Again, we are approaching the birth of Mashiach on the ninth of Av. The crossing of the Jordan represents finally leaving the wandering of the desert and entering into the Land of Israel. This means also leaving the more spiritual existence of the times of the desert and engaging more fully in the physical world. This is also the meaning of Beth Yeshimoth, which comes from the word “wasteland,” yeshimon, and Abel Shitim, which Rabbi Jacobson translates as desolate plains, based on the Ramban.

Abel Shitim also means mourning (due to) follies, such as the mourning we undergo during this time of the year. This is the folly of impurity, as the Talmud in Sotah states that a person does not sin unless a spirit of folly enters him/her. The Rebbe Rayatz also explains that there is such a thing as a positive spirit of folly, Shtus d’Kedushah (“folly of holiness”). (See Maamar Bati LeGani). Such folly will bring about a “mourning” of the yetzer harah, which will then disappear from this world forever. This all depends on Arvoth Moav, transforming the darkness that comes from Av into light.

The personal journey for this week is to internalize the heights of spirituality we attain from teshuvah, and now focus on engaging the physical world, effectively “conquering the Land,” and elevating through the spirit of holy folly and the spark of Mashiach that each of us has within.

[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/144569/jewish/The-First-Temple.htm#footnoteRef1a144569; the This section of the Talmudic tractate of Gittin is customarily studied on Tisha B’Av.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Week 43 (Book 3): Facing Esau (Edom)

BESHALACH: 33. And Moses said to Aaron, Take one jug and put there an omerful of manna, and deposit it before the Lord to be preserved for your generations. 34. As the Lord had commanded Moses, Aaron deposited it before the testimony to be preserved. 

HAFTORAH: dyed garments of embroidery for the neck of the spoiler.' So may perish all Your enemies, O Lord; but they that love Him (should be) as the sun when he goes forth in his might."

TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 43 – Pinchas, Mashuach Milchamah


SEVEN CANA’ANITE NATIONS: Chittites         

Week 43 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Av, and begins the more intense part of the Three Weeks. Rosh Chodesh Av is the yahrzeit of Aharon, one of the few yahrzeit dates specifically mentioned in the Torah. The Torah section for this week is the first one to mention Aharon since the week of the yahrzeit Moshe, in Adar. Here again the focus is on the preservation of the omer, which, as previously explained, is connected to the times of Jeremiah and the destruction of the Temple.

The Haftorah verses once again speak of the enemy dividing spoils. Devorah then switches directions, praying that this shall be the fate of G-d’s enemies. This is similar to Av, which is to be transformed from being a month connected to Jewish suffering, to be one of Jewish triumph. Devorah sings that those that love Him should be as the sun when it goes forth in its might – Av is the hottest summer month – and the sun is usually associated with the gentile nations, not the Jewish people, who are associated with the moon. Devorah is hinting at the transformation of Jacob into Israel, who also represents the sun. (See Likutei Moharan)

Daf Mem Gimmel (Folio 43) of Sotah speaks of Pinchas as the Mashuach Milchamah in the war against Midian. The daf also discusses the cases of those people that are exempt from fighting a milchemet reshut, an non-mandatory war, and is devoted primarily to the case of a man that planted a vineyard and had not redeemed its fruit. The discussion of Pinchas could not be more appropriate for this week, since he is a Kohen (grandson of Aharon), and is connected to Mashiach (born on Tisha B’Av) both by being a Mashuach Milchamah in the last battle described in the Torah as well as being the same person as Eliyahu HaNavi (who will accompany Mashiach). Furthermore, the daf discusses how he is a descendant of Joseph. The Torah makes clear that it is the strength of Joseph that is able to defeat Esau. Pinchas appears to be the ultimate archetype of Mashiach ben Yosef. 

Amaziah the son of Yehoash began his kingship being very righteous, and his righteousness earned him a tremendous victory again none other than Edom (Esau). (See Book 1, Week 43, about how this week is related to Edom) His treatment of the Edomites is particularly severe. Amaziah’s counterparts in Israel were Jehoahaz (3 years), Jehoash (16 years), Jeroboam ben Jehoash (10 years). Amaziah’s victory against Edom led to haughtiness as well as idolatry, and he ends up being castigated by his own brother Amoz, the father of the prophet Isaiah. Amaziah’s haughtiness leads to a disastrous war against the King of Israel, Jehoash. Because of this loss, Jerusalem itself is looted, and even Amaziah himself is taken captive. Again, the destruction of Jerusalem is the main theme of this week. Another theme is sinat chinam (baseless hatred).

The forty-third week is connected to conquering the Chittites. The word “Chittites” comes from the word Chet, which means sin. The Chittites are connected to the negative side of Chesed, which expresses itself primarily in improper sexual relations. An example of such behavior is the story of David and Batsheva, who was married to Uriah HaChiti, Uriah the Chittite. Esau himself married two different Chittites (“Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite”) and made life bitter for Isaac and Rebeccah. (Genesis 26:34-35)

Blog Archive


Quick Start: