Weekly Cycle

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Week 35 (Book 3): To Be United and Not Divided

17. And the children of Israel did so: they gathered, both the one who gathered much and the one who gathered little. 18. And they measured [it] with an omer, and whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less; each one according to his eating capacity, they gathered.  

She put forth her hand to the pin,
and her right hand to strike the weary;

Talmud Sotah: Daf 35 - Calev


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Mount Hor and camped in Zalmonah.   

Week 35 is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The Torah portion section for this week describes that “whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less.” This idea is connected to how to achieve harmony – each one doing their share. The unity is a symbol of Sivan and is also a symbol of Yom Yerushalayim. (One of the connections to the Six Day War is perhaps the fact that the so much was accomplished in so little time. In six day’s time, Israel’s territory more than tripled – this seems related to the idea of “whoever gathered little did not have less” – when it comes to miracles, time and effort is not necessarily commensurate to the outcome.

The Haftorah verses speak of Yael’s brave and cunning actions. She struck Sissera at the right time. Similarly, one of the greatest miracles of the Six Day War was the fact that we struck our enemies bravely and effectively, at the right time.

Daf Lamed Heh (Folio 35) of Sotah continues the discussion of the spies, particularly Calev. It also discusses transporting the Aron and the rocks that were used for writing the Torah and as signs for future generations. The theme of the spies and Calev is very appropriate for Yom Yerushalayim, for Calev showed the kind of spirit needed to conquer the land, as was done in 1967. Part of the discussion of the Aron also relates to bringing the Aron to Jerusalem. The setting up of the rocks in order to write the Torah on them seems parallel to the encampment at Har Sinai.

Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was king at the time the Jewish kingdom split into two. His name comes from Rehav (wide expansive) Am (nation). His counterpart is Jeroboam, who was crowned the king of the Kingdom of Israel. His name is also related to the nation (Am), and can be translated as one who “will increase” or “will fight for” the nation. Unfortunately, the division between the two kingdoms did nothing to increase the nation. How appropriate then that Rehoboam be the one to be connected to Week 35, when the nation was united (on Rosh Chodesh Sivan), and when the territories of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria were reunited under Jewish Sovereignty (Yom Yerushalayim).

Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam’s ways were sinful. In Rehoboam’s time, idol worship and adultery spread in the Kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam, in the Kingdom of Israel, caused even more idol worship to take place. He is cited in Pirkei Avot as the quintessential example of someone who sinned and caused others (including future kings) to sin as well. Jeroboam’s rebellion against Hashem was such that he even set up golden calves to be worshiped in an alternate temple to the one in Jerusalem. Our getting ready to accept the Torah must also involve banishing the “idols” and “adulterous” behaviors of our time, focusing completely on Hashem.

In the thirty-fifth week, the Jews journey from Mount Hor and camp in Zalmonah. Zalmonah comes from Zalmon, darkness. Rabbi Jacobson explains that this is connected to the verse in Psalms 68:15, “becoming whitened from the dark shadows of exile” (Targum Yonasan. Rokeach)[1] These words are reminiscent of the song of the deer in week 36 of Book 1, "And I shall sing of Your strength, I shall rejoice of Your kindness in the morning, for You were a refuge to me, and a hiding place on the day of my oppression." (Psalms 59:17) On Shavuot, we think of all the darkness we had to endure (such as during the counting of the omer) to get to this moment of light. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of love and peace related to Aharon and the receiving of the Torah, and now focus on light we are about to receive after the darkness we endured.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Week 36 (Book 3): Not Leaving the Learning for the Morning

BESHALACH: 19. And Moses said to them, Let no one leave over [any] of it until morning. 20. But [some] men did not obey Moses and left over [some] of it until morning, and it bred worms and became putrid, and Moses became angry with them.     

she struck Sisera, pierced his head,
and wounded and penetrated his temple.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 36 – The Ephod


They journeyed from Zalmonah and camped in Punon.

Week 36 is the week of Shavuot. The section of Beshalach for this week describes how Moshe told the people not to leave any of the mannah until morning. However, some did not obey Moshe, and the mannah spoiled. This is similar to Shavuot itself, when in the initial giving of the Torah the people overslept, and Moshe reprimanded the people for it. This is the basis for the custom to spend all night studying Torah (ie. not leaving it until morning).

The Haftorah verses speak of Yael’s brave actions. If, like in week 34, we take the words out of the context of Yael’s actions, they could actually be a reference to the tremendous experience of Mount Sinai. There, the Torah pierced and penetrated our minds in a way that left an indelible mark in every Jewish soul.

Daf Lamed Vav (Folio 36) of Sotah continues the discussion of how the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, how the tribes stood at Mount Grizim and Mount Eival, and also of how the names of the tribes were inscribed on the Ephod. This is a symbol of unity, also symbolized by Shavuot and the month of Sivan in general. There is also discussion of how there were 50 letters in the Ephod (the number 50 is also connected to Shavuot).

The daf also spends a considerable time  describing Yosef, and the tests he overcame. Shavuot is also about miracles, and about all of Israel standing at a mountain and entering into a covenant. Yosef is also the consummate example of someone that followed the Torah, the very definition of a Tzadik. (See Book 1, how being at Mount Sinai is related to being on the level of tzadikim)

The descendant of Judah for this week is Abijam, the son of Rehoboam. He is also known at Abijah, which means “my father is Hashem.” Just as on Shavuot we received the Torah because of our unity, so too Abiyah sought to reunite the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Despite his military victory, however, he was unable to reach his goal. 

As mentioned in Book 2, as much as Shavuot is a day of celebration, the unfortunate events that took place immediately following the giving of the Torah (ie. the sin of the golden calf), required Hashem's great mercy, as well as Moshe's begging on our behalf.  Abiyah, the king of Judah  followed in the wicked ways of his father, and the Jewish people were steeped in idolatry. 

Interestingly, like Rehoboam, Jeroboam, the sinful king of Israel (who actually built an “alternate temple with golden calves!) also had a son named Abiyah. The child became critically ill, died and was eulogized by all of Israel.[1] (The eulogy, even if for the son of an evil king, also shows the theme of unity connected to Shavuot

In the thirty-sixth week, the Jews journey from Zalmonah and camp in Punon. Punon is the place where the Jewish people complained and were bitten by snakes. It was also through Moshe’s copper snake that they were healed. Punon comes from the word “directed” (or faced) and also means death in Greek.[2] During the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people all died and were immediately revived. When they faced Hashem and heard Him speak, their souls left their bodies. Punon also has two letter Nuns, perhaps also a reference to the “50th” day of the omer, which is Shavuot. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the light of Shavuot in contrast to to the darkness of the omer, and now focus on being revived by the Torah as well.

[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/showrashi/false/aid/15898/jewish/Chapter-14.htm

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Week 37 (Book 3): Remembering the Shavuot Experience

BESHALACH: 21. They gathered it morning by morning, each one according to his eating capacity, and [when] the sun grew hot, it melted. 22. It came to pass on the sixth day that they gathered a double portion of bread, two omers for [each] one, and all the princes of the community came and reported [it] to Moses.
HAFTORAH: At her feet he sank, fell, lay; at her feet he sank (and) fell;

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 37- Covenants and Emunah


JOURNEY IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Punon and camped in Oboth.      

Week 37 is the third week of Sivan. The Torah section for this week describes how each person took according to their capacity. There is also a focus on “the sixth day.” The sixth day in Bereshit is not only a reference to the sixth day of the week, but also a reference Shavuot, which occured on the sixth of Sivan. The double portion could be perhaps related to the two crowns of Torah. The fact that “all princes of the community” came together appears to be a reference to unity, a key theme of this month.

The Haftorah verses speak of how Sissera, sank (or knelt, “Karah”), fell, lay. It is remarkable how many times these words are repeated in this verse (which includes part of next week). In verse all of 27, the word karah is repeated three times, and so is the word nafal (fell). In the section of the verse specific for this week, an entire phrase is repeated “at her feet he sank, fell,” with the word “lay” in between. Taken outside the context of Sissera’s death and placed in the context of Shavuot, it is perhaps a reference to the Jewish people’s  experience at Mount Sinai. There we bowed and fell, and lay, at the feet  of the Shechinah. Our souls left our bodies and we had to be revived.

Daf Lamed Zayin (Folio 37) of Sotah discusses the splitting of the Red Sea, including the intiative and self-sacrifice of the tribe of Benjamin and of Nachshon ben Aminadav. It also further discusses the evens at Har Grizim and Har Eival, including a discussion of where the Levi’im and the Kohanim stood. Finally, the daf also discusses the number of covenants were made with the Jewish people (including the one at Har Sinai), and further discussion of the blessings and curses said at Har Grizim and Har Eival. There are many parallels here with Shavuot: the initiative and self-sacrifice of the Jewish people when saying “Na’aseh veNishmah!” (We will do and we will listen!), as well as the covenant experience of Mount Sinai.

Asa, the son of Abijam, was an extremely righteous king, returning the kingdom to the ways of Hashem and ridding it of idol worship. He even removed his own mother from her position due to her worship of Ashera trees. He overlaps briefly with Jeroboam (2 years), as well as with all those kings of Israel that fought for Jeroboam’s succession: Nadav(?), Baasa, Elah, Zimri, Tivni (who was never an undisputed king), and Omri. All of these kings ruled for extremely short times (Tivni didn’t even get to rule), except for Omri, who ruled for 12 years. Asa reigned for forty-one years, and except for a brief moment in which he showed lack of faith in dealing with Baasa, he was extremely righteous and faithful, and led the kingdom of Judah on a good path. It is therefore appropriate that this king be connected with the week after Shavuot.

In the thirty-seventh week, the Jews journey from Punon and camp in Oboth. Rabbi Jacobson explains that Oboth means “enemies.” It also means necromancy, as in the practice of Ovoth and Yidonim. After the giving of the Torah, we begin to be tested by our enemies, in an effort to lower us from the lofty state we achieved. It is important to stay firm. Oboth also has the same spelling Avoth, the patriarchs. It was by visiting Hebron, the Cave of the Patriarchs, that Caleb was able to stay faithful to his mission and come back with a correct report.

The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of being revived by the Torah, and now focus on staying connected to our roots and true to our mission.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Week 38 (Book 3): Preparing for the Summer Months

BESHALACH: 23. So he said to them, That is what the Lord spoke, Tomorrow is a rest day, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake whatever you wish to bake, and cook whatever you wish to cook, and all the rest leave over to keep until morning.   24. So they left it over until morning, as Moses had commanded, and it did not become putrid, and not a worm was in it.  

where he sank, there he fell down dead.
Through the window looked forth, the mother of Sisera [peered] through the window;

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 38 - The Blessing of the Kohanim


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Oboth and camped at the ruins of Abarim, on the Moabite boundary       

Week 38 is the last week of Sivan. Beshalach’s section for this week describes again how the sixth day was special. It also describes the concept of preparing for the Sabbath - as explained in Book 1, there is an idea about preparing for the difficult summer months to come. That preparation must be made in Sivan.

The Haftorah verses continue speak of how Sissera sank and fell down dead, and how Sisera’s mother were peering through the window. Again, taken out of the context of Sisera’s death, the verse also seems connected to the Sinai experience. Also, the mother peering through the window brings to mind the verse of the Song of Songs which states that G-d peers through the window to see their suffering, and that He is ready to return his Shechinah to its rightful place. Again, an apparent reference to the coming months.

Daf Lamed Cheit (Folio 38) of Sotah is all about the blessing of the Kohanim, and how the blessings given outside the Temple differentiated from the ones given inside. The blessing of the Kohanim, which halachically must be given out of love (as the brachah the make before specifies) is the ultimate example of brotherly love and peace amongst the Jewish people. The above verse of Shir HaShirim is also related to Birkat Kohanim.

Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, was also an extremely righteous king. His counterparts in Israel were Omri, Ahab, and Ahaziah (1 year). Jehoshaphat’s name means G-d is Judge. (In Book 2, the prophet for this week is Daniel, whose name also means God is (my) Judge). Jehoshaphat’s one mistake was becoming overly friendly and at times even sought alliances with the evil rulers of the northern kingdom of Israel. This is the corollary to this month’s theme of brotherly love.One must know when to keep one’s distance. Overall, Jehoshaphat was extremely righteous and led the Jewish people for 25 years of significant peace and prosperity.

Contrast Jehoshaphat’s name with Ahab’s name, which makes no reference to G-d, but instead even suggests possible incest. His name means “brother-father.” Ahab himself appears to correct this problem when giving the name of his own son, Ahaziah, meaning, “one that holds on to G-d, which includes Hashem’s name; Ahaziah is also the name of one of the kings of Judah. Unfortunately, Ahaziah followed in the evil ways of his father, was involved in idolatry, and died after only two years of reign.

In the thirty-eighth week, the Jews journey from Oboth and camp in the ruins of Abarim, on the Moabite boundary. Abarim comes from the word Aveirah. Because of our sins related to the summer months of Tammuz and Av, our Temple lay in ruins. Rashi himself makes a parallel to Jerusalem in his commentary to the verse that describes Abarim, one of the few comments he makes regarding the journeys:

the ruins of Abarim: Heb. הָעֲבָרִים עִיּי, an expression denoting waste and ruins, as“into a heap (לְעִי) in the field” (Micah 1:6);“they have turned Jerusalem into heaps (לְעִיִּים) ” (Ps. 79:1).

Moab was a nation known for its immorality. Like Ahab, Moab’s very name suggests incest, and actually was given for that reason. (It is worth noting that after Ahab’s death, it was Moab that revolted against Israel) Moab means “from the father,” because the nation came into existence when Lot had relations with his own daughter. It is our job to fight such immorality, thereby elevating the sparks hidden in the kelipah of this nation.

The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of staying connected to our roots and true to our mission, and now focus on repenting from and fighting against the sins that led to the destruction of the Temple.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Week 39 (Book 3): Challenges to Faith in the Times of Exile

TORAH PORTION OF BESHALACH: 25. And Moses said, Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day [which is the] Sabbath on it there will be none. 


HAFTORAH:  why is his chariot late in coming? Why tarry the strides of his chariots?

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 39 – Laws of the synagogue, during the blessing of the Kohanim and Torah reading.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the ruins and camped in Dibon gad.     

Week 39 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and Gimmel Tammuz. The Torah portion section for this week describes how the mannah did not fall on the Sabbath. This made the people nervous, as Rashi explains:

And Moses said, “Eat it today, etc.”: In the morning, when they were accustomed to go out and gather, they came to ask, “Shall we go out or not?” He [Moses] said to them, “What you have in your possession eat.” In the evening, they came before him again and asked him whether they could go out. He said to them, “Today is the Sabbath.” He saw that they were concerned that perhaps the manna had ceased, and would no longer come down. [So] he said to them, “Today you will not find it.” What is the meaning of "today"? [This implies that] today you will not find it, but tomorrow you will find it. — [from Mechilta]

Tammuz is a difficult month It was in this month that the spies looked at the Land with negative eyes. It was also in this month that, because of Moshe’s brief delay in retunring from the mountain, the grave sin of the golden calf took place, followed by the breaking of the Luchot HaBrit (the Tablets of the Law). It is a month in which our Emunah is challenged. However, in the future, Messianic times, this will be a month of celebration. The mannah, the source of physical and spiritual substance, is not readily available this time of the year. In the words of Moshe in the Mechilta, “today you will not find it, but tomorrow [in Messianic times] you will find it.”

Similar to the above, the Haftorah verses speak of a son’s chariot delaying in coming home. This also represents a challenge to one's faith. In some ways continuing the theme of the previous week, taking the verse out of the context of Sissera’s death, the chariot can have another meaning as well. Visions of the Divine Presence, such as those of Ezekiel and Isaiah, as well as all esoteric kabbalistic literature related to it, are known as Ma’aseh Merkavah, “The Workings of the Chariot.” Starting in Tammuz, we think of how late the Shechinah is in returning to its holy place.
Daf Lamed Tet (Folio 39) of Sotah relates the laws of proper behavior in a synagogue, during the reading of the Torah and the blessing of the Kohanim. The daf also mentions the verses said by the congregation during the priestly blessing, which focus on Zion; during a blessing said on the afternoon of a fast day, the verses are about pleading to Hashem to save us from our exile. The synagogue is known as a mikdash me’at, a miniature Temple. It is during this time of the year, that we focus on Zion, on the Temple’s destruction, and its ultimate rebuilding.

The reign of Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, was completely disastrous. His counterparts in Israel were Ahaziah (one year), and a king also named Jehoram (seven years), the son of Ahab, who was also wicked. In fact, Jehoram of Judah married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and and Jezebel, two of the most wicked and idolatrous people in all of Jewish history. Athaliah was wicked and idolatrous to an extreme, and led her husband on a similar path. Soon, idols and their priests were brought to Jerusalem. Athaliah then convinced Jehoram to kill his own six brothers. So steeped in crime and idolatry was this kingdom, that soon all the nations that had been tributaries of the Kingdom of Judah rebelled, ransacking every house, including the royal palace. Joram’s wives and all but one of his children are captured and killed. He himself suffered from an incurable disease and dies. As we begin this difficult month of Tammuz, the reign of king Jehoram shows how low we sometimes fall, and how important it is to repent. (His name means “G-d is exalted.”)
In the thirty-ninth week, the Jews journey from the ruins and camp in Dibon gad. Dibon appears relate to the word daveh (pining/moaning), while gad means (good) fortune, like the tribe of Gad, which is connected to the month of Elul, and teshuvah as explained in Book 1. As also explained in Book 1, the secret to success is connecting Tammuz and Av to Elul, transforming the word Dal (poor) into the word Dalet (door, gate) a reference to the gates of teshuvah. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the concept of repenting from and fighting against the sins that led to the destruction of the Temple, and now focus on pining for the good tidings that come from such repentance.

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