Weekly Cycle

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Week 22 (Book 3): Adar and Ratzon (Will, Desire)

and the Lord brought the waters of the sea back upon them; and the children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea,

to hear the bleatings of the flocks?
At the divisions of Reuben, (there are) great searchings of heart.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 22 - Actions and Inactions that Destroy the World


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Haradah and camped in Makheloth.

Week 22 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. Adar is connected to the Tribe of Naftali, which was known as a Ayalah Shluchah, a swift (emissary) gazelle. When there are two Adars, the second represents the Tribe of Levi. This tribe served (and will someday soon serve again) as an emissary for the entire Jewish people in performing the Temple service. Adar is the month of Purim, and the Talmud states that “MisheNichnas Adar Marbim b’Simcha.” When Adar enters, we increase in joy. Adar also corresponds to the zodiac sign of Pisces.

The verses of the Song of the Sea for this week refer back to the theme of water. Interestingly, it notes that “the children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” This is reminiscent of Jacob’s blessing to Efraim and Menashe, stating that they would increase “like fish over the land.” For fish to increase over the land is a similar paradox to walking on dry land in the midst of the sea. (Land and sea also parallel the song of the giant sea creatures this week in Book 1)

The Haftorah’s verses for this week continue to refer to Reuben’s doubts and lack of resolve. Resolve is connected to ratzon, will, a quality deeply related with the month of Adar. Naftali is called an “s’vah ratzon,” which means “filled with will.” Levi also was known for its strong determination and self-sacrifice. Reuben’s actions do not reflect such a spirit. It is worth noting that each of the tribes had a perfectly excusable reason for not participating in the fight. They did not share a border with the places in which the fight took place.[1] However, Devorah makes clear that more is expected from her Jewish brethren. This is also in line with Naftali and Levi’s roles as emissaries.

This week’s description of the actions of Reuven begins with a mystifying reference to hearing the bleatings of flocks. The Tanach has a later reference to hearing the bleating of flocks, which is very much tied to the month of Adar. The reference does not involve Reuven, the a firstborn, but rather the first King of Israel, Shaul. Shaul was commanded to completely destroy Amalek. He did not act with enough Ratzon, leaving Amalek’s king alive, as well as the best of the flock. (It is well known that Amalek represents and has the same numerical value as Safek, doubt, which is diametrically opposed to Ratzon. When the prophet Shmuel came to Shaul to reprimand him, Shaul stated that he had fulfilled G-d’s command. Shmuel then asks, so what then was the bleating of flocks that he was hearing. Shaul’s actions, like Reuven’s, showed a certain hesitation, a division, a “searching of heart.” Just like Reuven is replaced as the firstborn, so is Shaul replaced as king.

Daf Kaf Beit (Folio 22) of Sotah continues the discussion of the kinds of actions that may seem pious but end up “destroying the world.” Here again, Reuven and Shaul’s actions come to mind. One of the main discussions is someone who rules when they are not capable, and does not rule when they are capable. Here again, Shaul’s decision, to disobey Hashem by “ruling” tha the king of Amalek and some of the flock could live, and at the same time not taking seriously enough his prominence as king and his ability to tell the people what to do (being “small in the eyes of the people”) led to great destruction, which Amalek continues to cause today.

Jacob is the third forefather of the Jewish people, and his name comes from the word Ekev, heel. It contains the idea of being a messenger (seeing another as the head), which is related to the month of Adar. Purim in general is associated to the concept of the Jewish people being the heel (Ya’akov) and not the head (Yisrael, Li Rosh), and the times of Yikveta d’Meshicha, immediately prior to the coming of Mashiach, called literally the “heels” of Mashiach.

In the twenty-second week, the Jews journey from Haradah and camp in Makheloth. Makheloth means assembly. At least in modern Hebrew, it means choir, a gathering for singing and playing music. Rabbi Jacobson suggests that Makheloth may be the place where the people gathered to see the miracle related to Aharon’s staff. This is connected to the joy we experience in the month of Adar. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of “trembling happiness,” and now prepare for taking that happiness a step further with unity, as well as musical gatherings of singing and dancing.

[1] http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/beshalach63.htm

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Week 23 (Book 3): Being an Emissary

Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam called out to them, Sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.

HAFTORAH: Gilead abides beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why does he gather into the ships?

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 23 - Differences between men and women regarding the laws of sacrifices.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Makheloth and camped in Tahath.

Week 23 is the week of Zayin Adar, Moshe Rabbeinu’s birthday and yahrzeit. Interestingly, just as Zayin Adar usually coincides the Torah portion of Tetzaveh, in which Moshe’s name is omitted, Moshe’s name is also omitted from the verses following the Song of the Sea. Instead of Moshe, it is now Miriam’s turn to lead the women in song (and dance), and she is referred to as Aaron’s sister, not Moshe’s. Here also, there is the theme of being a sheliach, a shluchah (feminine) in this case.     

The Haftorah’s verses now speak of Gilead (also from Menashe)[1] and Dan. Both places are rebuked for their failure to help. It is interesting that there’s a division/duality here too. Part of the tribe of Menashe (Machir) went to help the war effort, while another part, Gilead, stayed behind. The Tribe of Dan’s choice to flee to their ships appears to be even more reprehensible – it seems to be the opposite of what happened at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. There, the Jewish people went to the sea and transformed it into land, thereby defeating their enemy, here, the Tribe of Dan fled the land to take refuge in the sea. This is also opposed to the spirit of being a sheliach – self-sacrifice for a greater cause.

Daf Kaf Gimmel (Folio 23) of Sotah discusses cases in which a Mincha offering is disqualified. The remainder of the daf is primarily about differences between men and women when it comes to the laws of priesthood and sacrifices. The parallel here seems to be that there are somethings that a woman can do in place of a man (like a sheluchah, like Miriam did instead of Moshe above), but there are other things that she cannot do, or does differently.

Yehudah is the leader of his brothers, the lion, the “king” of the tribes. His name comes from the word Hoda’ah, acknowledgement, in the sense that all his brothers will acknowledge him, and act according to his will, on his behalf (like shluchim). Yehudah himself was an emissary for Jacob - he was sent to Egypt first to establish a Yeshiva, a dwelling place for the Torah in exile.

In the twenty-third week, the Jews journey from Makheloth and camp in Tahath. Tahath means bottom, a low point, as was the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet, Tahath also represents the possibility of improvement. Rabbi Simon Jacobson explains this idea as follows:

Another application of Tachath is the depths we fall to when we “leave Mak’heloth,” i.e. forsake and abandon unity (Chasam Sofer). Yet, we have the power to transform Tachath into a place of peace, when we each dwell “beneath (tachath) our vine and fig tree” (see Toldos Yaakov Yosef).[2]
This also appears related to the concept that Hashem created the word because He desired a “Dira Ba’Tachtonim,” a dwelling place in the lower realms. (Midrash Tanchuma; See Week 23, Book 2) The personal journey is to internalize the concept of being united and joyful through musical gatherings in a spiritual place where the focus is more on those surrounding Moses than on Moses himself (like the miracle of Aharon’s staff). From there, we prepare to focus on making a dwelling place in the lower realms by taking advantage of a situation of spiritual lowliness, all of which is also represented in the story of Purim, and in the sacrifices made by Esther herself.

[2] http://meaningfullife.com/oped/2008/07.11.08$BalakCOLON_42_Journeys_Part_4.php

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Week 24 (Book 3): Peretz and the Power of Joy

Moses led Israel away from the Red Sea, and they went out into the desert of Shur; they walked for three days in the desert but did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah.

Asher dwelt at the shore of the seas,
and by his breaches he abides.

Talmud Sotah: Daf 24: extenuating circumstances – women that do not drink the Sotah water.


They journeyed from Tahath and camped in Tarah.

Week 24 is the week of Purim. Soon after the Song of the Sea, the Jewish people find themselves in a situation that they do not have access to water. Our sages teach us that water in the Torah is always a reference to the Torah itself. The story of Purim (and particularly the fast of Esther, in which she did not have food or drink for three days) represents a similar situation, where Hashem was hidden, and the Jewish people’s lives were embittered and threatened by the evil Haman. On Purim, the people’s reaction was reaffirm their belief in G-d and the Torah, receiving the Torah once again.

The Haftorah’s verses now turn to Asher, who also did not participate in the battle. Interestingly, the verse states that Asher dwelt in its “breaches” (mifratzav), which is the root of the name Peretz, the generational link for this week. Rashi explains that Asher was concerned about the parts of its lands that could be vulnerable to attack. Like the tribes mentioned before, Asher’s reaction to the fight was to protect itself. The whole idea of the month of Adar is to be willing to sacrifice oneself for someone else.

Daf Kaf Dalet (Folio 24) of Sotah discusses cases of women that do not drink, often based on extenuating circumstances. The story of Esther is a perfect example of an extenuating circumstance. The Midrash states that Esther was married to Mordechai prior to marrying Achashverosh. Even a plain reading of the story is problematic due to the fact that Achashverosh was not Jewish. However, it is difficult to think of greater extenuating circumstances than those that existed in the days of the Purim miracle. Not only was Esther in a certain way forced into marrying Achashverosh, but her actions actually saved the entire Jewish people!  

Perez is one of the twin sons of Yehudah and Tamar. He burst forward from the womb and emerged first, thereby inheriting the right of the firstborn, which at first appeared to be going to his brother Zerach. The entire story of Tamar has a similar theme to that of Esther (as well as that of Yael, which will be discussed later in the Song of Devorah), which is the idea that under extenuating circumstances certain acts that would require severe punishment are deemed to be righteous. Perez, as mentioned before, comes from the verb “Lifrotz,” which means to breach a fence, a boundary. This can be taken for bad, but also for good, which is reflected in two different sayings found in our tradition: "Poretz Geder Yishchenu Nachash" (one that breaks boundaries is bit by a snake) (Ecclesiastes 10:8) and “Simchah Poretzet Geder” (happiness breaks boundaries. Mashiach is also known as HaPoretz.[1] This is the happiness of Purim and the happiness of redemption, which converts darkness into light.

In the twenty-fourth week, the Jews journey from Tahath and camp in Tarah. Tarah is spelled the same as Terach, the father of Avraham. Terach comes from smell, and the Purim story is very much related to the sense of smell. Smell is very spiritual, and that was the only element not used in Achashverosh’s party. Rabbi Jacobson explains that Terach also means “wild goat” and “old fool,” which is the kind of behavior associated with Purim, when we bring these behaviors into the path of holiness. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of making a dwelling place in the lower realms by taking advantage of a situation of spiritual lowliness, and now focus on spiritually elevating our environment through holy “foolish” behavior.

[1] http://ascentofsafed.com/Teachings/Advanced/Prayer/dodi9.html; Rabbi Moshe Miller citing Samach Tesamach 5657 p. 49; Likutei Sichot vol. 20, p. 259.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Week 25 (Book 3): Hezron and Sweetening Bitter Judgments

SONG OF THE SEA: The people complained against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord instructed him concerning a piece of wood, which he cast into the water, and the water became sweet. There He gave them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them.

HAFTARAH: Zebulun is a people that jeopardized their lives to die, as did Naphtali, upon the high places of the field.

TALMUD SOTAH - Daf 25 - Cancelling warnings


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Tarah and camped in Mithkah.

Week 25 is the last week of Adar. The verses for this week speak of how Moshe sweetens the bitter waters of Marah.  Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, whose yahrzeit is this week, teaches that this is the main service of the tzadik: to sweeten and to cancel the bitter decrees against the Jewish people. (See Mithka, levitical city for this week)

This week, the Haftorah’s verses regarding the reactions of each tribe come to a close, culminating with Zebulun, and, last but not least, Naphtali itself. These tribes completely incorporate the spirit of self-sacrifice required from a sheliach. (See Week 25, Book 1, regarding the frog) They are literally willing to give up their lives for the cause. Naphtali, as we know, represents the month of Adar. Zebulun, in its partnership with Issachar, also illustrates the other main theme of the month of Adar, which is duality. 1

Daf Kaf Heh (Folio 25) of Sotah discusses what do in cases of women that overall start behaving immodestly. It also discusses whether or not a husband can cancel a warning. The conclusion is that he can. This is the same theme as above, representing the avodah, the service of the tzadik, to use self-sacrifice in order to cancel decrees against the Jewish people, even when they are not behaving appropriately.

Hezron, son of Perez, is the father of Caleb. Hezron comes from the word chatzer, which means courtyard, or enclosure. A chatzer is a term often discussed in halachah, particularly in the tractate of Eruvim. There, the discussion is about two neighbors that share a common courtyard. In order to be able to carry on the courtyard, the two neighbors need to set up an eruv chatzeirot.[1] This way, both neighbors formally own the area together, and it is no longer considered a separate domain for either party. Interestingly, the word Eruv comes from the same root as Arev, which means sweet. When Jews come together, and the duality serves a positive function, there is sweetness. This is also one of the themes of the month. Chatzer is also a term connected to the courtyard of the Temple. (See Week 25, Book 2, regarding how this week is connected to Jerusalem).

In the twenty-fifth week, the Jews journey from Tarah and camp in Mithkah. Mithkah somes from the word matok, which also literally means sweet. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of spiritually elevating our environment through “holy foolish” behavior, and now focus on sweetening any bitterness we may experience personally or as a people.

[1] http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Print.asp?ClipID=1079

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Week 26 (Book 3): Connecting to the "Head"

TORAH PORTION OF BESHALACH: And He said, If you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your G-d, and you do what is proper in His eyes, and you listen closely to His commandments and observe all His statutes, all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you, for I, the Lord, heal you. They came to Elim, and there were twelve water fountains and seventy palms, and they encamped there by the water.

The kings came and fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 26: Sotah, unusual situations in a which a woman must drink.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Mithkah and camped in Hashmonah.

Week 26 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which is the “head of the month” that is the “head of all months.” This is the month of Nissan, which is the king of all the months, just as Judah (the tribe of this month) was the king, the leader of all the tribes. 

The twelve water fountains represent the the tribes and the seventy palms represents the seventy elders (Rashi) and perhaps also the seventy general souls that descended to Egypt and the seventy nations. A true leader, the "head of the people," must be connected to all of them. The Haftorah’s verses for this week specifically focus on kings. 

Nissan is also a month of miracles and a month redemption.  The verses of Beshalach also focus on this theme, which is in fact the theme of the entire second half of the year, and Parashat HaMan: faith in Hashem and the exodus from Egypt. The portion speaks about how if we do our part, Hashem will do this. It also speaks of Hashem as our Healer. 

Daf Kaf Vav (Folio 26) of Sotah discusses again a few cases of women that do not drink, but now focuses more on cases of women that must drink. Overall, the theme of the daf are cases that are not only unusual, but that often involves an unusually low spiritual level. It also discusses cases of people that are possible social outcasts, such as the Mamzer, etc. Converts are also mentioned.Yet, among all the above, there is a ray of hope:

Rather, the verse [“She will be vindicated, and bear seed"] teaches that if she used to give birth in pain - she will give birth easily; if she used to bear daughters - she will bear sons; if she used to bear short babies - she will bear tall ones; if she bore babies with a dark complexion - she will bear babies with a light complexion.
This is the story of Judah and Mashiach. From from a Lot’s daughter’s illicit with her father (Moab, a Mamzer), from Judah’s elicit relationship with Tamar (over which she faced the death penalty but then was vindicated), and later from the persistent efforts of a convert (Ruth, who was also vindicated for her actions), comes King David and Mashiach

Ram, son of Hezron, is the father of Aminadav (father of Nachshon and Elisheva, Aharon’s wife); Ram is also Calev’s brother, who is Miriam’s husband. Ram is therefore closely connected to Moshe and the exodus from Egypt. Ram’s name also suggest a connection to the exodus. Ram means mighty, exalted, and when the Jews left Egypt they left with a “Yad Ramah,” and exalted hand/arm. The theme of G-d’s arm/hand in the exodus repeats itself many times in Beshalach. (As an interesting side note, “Ram,” in English, happens to be the Perek Shirah animal for this week, and Nissan is connected to the Zodiac sign of Aries. See Book 1)

In the twenty-sixth week, the Jews journey from Mithkah and camp in Chashmonah. Mithkah somes from the word matok, which also literally means sweet. Chashmonah is connected with the Chashmonaim and the story of Chanukah. The week of Chashmonah is the inauguration of the Mishkan, just like Chanukah is the inauguration of the Second Temple. (Some note that the journey to Chashmonah is the 25th location journeyed to, just as Chanukah is on the 25th of Kislev, and Chanukah itself stands from Chanu-Kah, “they rested on the 25th.”

Rabbi Simon Jacobson explains that the word Chashmonah means ambassador, and may also be connected to leadership. The Chashmonaim themselves became kings. During the first days of Nissan, the Nasi, the leader and representative of each tribe, brought sacrifices for the inauguration of the Mishkan. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of sweetening any bitterness we may experience, and now focus on rededicating ourselves, leading, being connected to our leaders, and starting anew in this second half of the year. 

Blog Archive


Quick Start: