Weekly Cycle

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Week 14 (Book 3): Eber and Fighting Off Physical Desires

SONG OF THE SEA: With Your loving kindness You led the people You redeemed; You led [them] with Your might to Your holy abode.
HAFTORAH: there they will tell the righteous acts of the Lord, the righteous acts of restoring open cities in Israel.
JOURNEY IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Kivroth haTaavah and camped in Hazeroth
On Week 14, also the week of Chanukah, the verses of the Song of the Sea speak of G-d’s redemption and might, leading the Jewish people to His holy abode. This again is a basic theme of Chanukah. This is also the week of Rosh Chodesh Teveth. Teveth is related to the power to multiply, particularly when things seem hopeless.
The Haftorah’s verses continue to describe the Chanukah mitzvah to tell of G-d’s miracles, Pirsumei Nissa. It also speaks of “restoring open cities in Israel,” very much like how the Temple was restored on Chanukah.
Daf Yud Dalet (Folio 14) of Sotah is primarily about the burial of Moshe. Moshe is buried across from (as a protection against) Baal Peor, which is related to promiscuity, intermarriage and idolatry. This is related to Chanukah, as fighting against these negative qualities was one of thr primary ibjextives of the Maccabees. On Daf 14, the tractate also begins a new chapter, returning to the subject of the Sotah ritual. It introduces the topic of the kind of offering that the Sotah brings, which is made of barley, animal food. The actions she is accused of are those of an animal, therefore the offering is also one of an animal. Again, there is a parallel here with Chanukah.
Eber, along with his great grandfather Shem, had established a yeshiva to study God’s laws already back in those days. The destruction of the Temple that took place in Teveth is connected to the fact that Torah study was not given the proper respect. Eber seems to be assisting Shem in the struggle against the values of Yaffeth and his grandson Yavan (Greece). Furthermore, it was by studying Torah in the Yeshiva of Eber that Yaakov prepared to face the deceit and the risk of assimilation in the house of Lavan.
In the fourteenth week, the Jews journey from Kivroth haTaavah and camp in Hazeroth. Hatzeroth is where Miriam slandered Moses, and some say it is also the place where Korach rebelled against him.[1] The personal journey is to use Chanukah to internalize the concept of burying one’s physical desires and focusing on the spiritual. We then turn to focusing on avoiding bad speech and rebellion against our leaders. Lashon Harah is equal to the sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. (BT Arachin 15b) The Talmud also suggests that it was because of these three things that the First Temple was destroyed. (Yoma 9a)[2]

[2] http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/3weeks/vol5no8.html

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Week 15 (Book 3): Peleg and Evil Speech

SONG OF THE SEA: People heard, they trembled; a shudder seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
HAFTORAH: Then the people of the Lord went down to the cities. Praise! Praise! Deborah.
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 15 - The Metzorah
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Hazeroth and camped in Rithmah.

On Week 15 is the fast of the 10th of Teveth, which marks the day in which the Babylonian Empire laid siege to Jerusalem, which was eventually destroyed. The verses of the Song of the Sea speak of how the people heard and trembled, and how the Phlistine inhabitants were seized by a shudder. Many years later, it would be the Jewish people that would tremble and shudder with the coming of the Babylonians and the siege they placed on Jerusalem. In the future, the 10thof Teveth day will be a day of celebration.

 The Haftorah’s verses describe how the people of G-d descended to the cities. The Hebrew word for cities used here is Shearim, which also means gates. On the 10th of Teveth, Nebuchadnezar and his people, who the prophets exclaim were sent by G-d, descended upon the city of Jerusalem and surrounded its gates.

Rashi explains that the reason the song states, “Praise, Praise Devorah!” is because the spirit of G-d had left her, because she had praised herself. This is connected to the idea that the First Temple was destroyed (and the spirit of G-d left it) because the people did not make the blessing over Torah study. First and foremost, we must realize that all Torah knowledge and all prophecy comes directly from G-d, and that there is no room to praise oneself.

Daf Tes Vav (Folio 15) of Sotah is continues the explanation of what the Sotahoffering entailed. The entire Daf consists primarily of contrasting the offering of the Sotah with that of the Metzorah, one who had contacted a spiritual skin disease resembling leprosy or psoriasis. The Talmud also notes that the purification of the Metzorah is more severe than that of the Sotah. The Metzorah’s sin is related to Lashon Harah, evil speech/slander, which, as mentioned last week, is equivalent to all three major sins in the Torah (idolatry, adultery, and murder), another reason given for why the First Temple was destroyed. The Metzorah himself must be exiled from the camp, and can only return once purified of his condition. His exile is similar to the exile endured by the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple.

The Torah explains that Peleg was so named because it was in his days that the Tower of Bavel was made and the world’s population was split and spread into different lands. This “exile” is parallel to that of the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple. The division also appears parallel to the Metzorah above, who was punished with exile because he had himself caused divisiveness among others with his evil speech.

The Babylonians made a point of exiling most of the Jewish people from the land and bringing a different people to dwell in parts of the Land of Israel. The split between the Jewish community in Israel and that of the Babylonian diaspora was one that remained in place for centuries.

 In the fifteenth week, the Jews journey from Hazeroth and camped in Rithmah. Rithmah, which is also known as Kadesh Barnea, was the place of another major sin of Lashon Harah, when the spies, not learning the lesson from Miriam, slandered the Land of Israel. Their actions, and the acceptance of their words by the Jewish people, led to Tisha B’Av, the date of the destruction of both the First and Second Temple. Rashi states:

Rithmah: Heb. רִתְמָה, so named because of the slander of the spies, for it says,“What can He give you, and what can He add to you, you deceitful tongue? Sharpened arrows of a mighty man, with coals of brooms רְתָמִים” (Ps. 120:3-4). - [Mid. Aggadah]

The slander against the Land was ultimately a slander against G-d. The people did not have faith that G-d could conquer the Land for them. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of avoiding bad speech and rebellion against our leaders, and focus on the concept of not speaking Lashon Harah against G-d and the Land of Israel. The Talmud teaches that whoever does not show gratitude towards his fellow human being will end up not showing gratitude to Hashem Himself.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Week 16 (Book 3): Overcoming Setbacks

SONG OF THE SEA: Then the chieftains of Edom were startled; [as for] the powerful men of Moab, trembling seized them;

Praise! Praise! Utter a song.
Arise Barak, and capture your captives, son of Abinoam.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 16 - Soil in the Sotah’s Water


JOURNEY IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Rithmah and camped in Rimmon Perez.

On Week 16, the third week of Teveth, the verses of the Song of the Sea continue theme of being startled and trembling. As mentioned in the previous week, at the time of the siege of Jerusalem, the Jewish people were the ones to shudder.

The Haftorah’s verses also repeat the previous theme of the Divine spirit leaving Devorah because of her praising herself. The second part, related to Barak “capturing  your captives,” may also be a reference to the captivity of Jerusalem itself, as well as its citizens after the city was conquered and the Temple destroyed.

Daf Tet Zayin (Folio 16) of Sotah is continues the explanation of what the Sotah offering entailed, focusing primarily on the soil placed in the water to be drunk by the Sotah. This Daf also contains many  references to the law of the Metzorah. This also appears connected to themes of the previous week, and this month as a whole: exile and lack of proper food and drink.

Reu, son of Peleg, was born in the aftermath of the world’s population being split and spread into different lands. However, as opposed to his father’s name, which means separation, Reu’s name is related to the Hebrew words for shepherd and friend. Therefore, the name appears to symbolize the ability of to regroup and thrive once more after a period of exile and turmoil as was the aftermath of the Tower of Babel, as well as the Babylonian exile.

In the sixteenth week, the Jews journey from Rithmah and camp in Rimmon Perez.  Rimmon Perez means a “bursting” pomegranite. The pomegranite, with its many seeds, is a symbol for being fruitful and fulfilling mitzvoth. The personal journey is to to internalize the concept of avoiding slander and the exile that comes with it, and to now focus on regrouping and going back to being productive.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Week 17 (Book 3): Avraham, Serug, and the Alter Rebbe

SONG OF THE SEA: all the inhabitants of Canaan melted. May dread and fright fall upon them;

HAFTARAH: Then ruled a remnant among the mighty of the nations; the Lord dominated the strong for me.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 17 - Avraham and how the Sotah process can bring blessing.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Rimmon Perez and camped in Libnah.

Week 17, the last week of Teveth, includes the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, on the 24th of Teveth. In the verses of the Song of the Sea, the same theme continues. The inhabitants of Canaan melt, with dread and fright.

The Haftorah’s verses could not possibly be more related to the major qualities of the Tribe of Dan discussed before: strength and ability to multiply after being small in number. The verses states that with God’s help, the remnant overcame the mighty and the strong.

Daf Yud Zayin (Folio 17) of Sotah speaks of the writing of the curses on the scroll that is to be dissolved in the water. The daf also speaks of how curses can be inferred from blessings, and how even in the words “man” and “woman” there is a potential for “fire” if the Divine Presence does not dwell among the couple. This is related to Teveth: because of our sins, the blessings of the Torah were turned to curses due to our idolatry. Also, during the destruction of both the first and second Temple, the Divine Presence left and the Temples were enveloped and destroyed by fire.

The daf also speaks of Avraham, and how he was rewarded for not accepting the booty from the king of Sodom. This appears related to Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad rebbe. His uncompromising stance towards the truth, as well as his selflessness, merited tremendous blessings in these areas. Not only did his stature command the awe and respect of non-Jews, but his comprehensive description of the heavenly realms is one of the most systematic and detailed in the Jewish tradition.

The interaction between Avraham and the King of Sodom also has a strong parallel between the Alter Rebbe and Napoleon. Napoleon was offering the Jews greater material wealth and greater freedom. However, the Alter Rebbe saw that this would lead to spiritual downfall and assimilation. The physical oppression of the … was better than a spiritual one. This is parallel to what the King of Sodom said, “Take … and I’ll take the souls,” which Avraham so vehemently rejected and was greatly rewarded for.
Interestingly, just as Avraham rejected even the most minute personal object, Napoleon sought after the most minute personal object belonging to the Alter Rebbe. However, the Alter Rebbe put fire to his home before leaving, and Napoleon was not able to find a single thing.

Serug, son of Reu, is a reference to an even greater regrouping. Serug comes from the verg Lesareg, which means to interlace, interweave. More than gathering with friends and becoming part of a Shepherd’s herd again (See also Book 1, Week 17). This is also the innovation of the Chassidism of the Alter Rebbe. Chassidim are all one family – they create an unbreakable bond. The Hayom Yom for the 24th of Teveth (which I had not looked at prior writing the above), states:

My grandfather (R. Shmuel) asked the Tzemach Tzedek: What did Grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) intend with the "ways of Chassidus" and what did he intend with Chassidus?
The Tzemach Tzedek answered: The "ways of Chassidus" are that all Chassidim are to be like one family, with affection, as Torah teaches. Chassidus is vitality. Chassidus is to bring life and illumination into everything, to shed light even on the undesirable - to become aware of one's own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.[1]

According to Philo, a Roman Jewish philosopher, Serug and his family were set apart from the rest of their generation because they did not engage in idolatry. Philo seems to have based himself on apocryphal writings, so the validity of this claim is somewhat suspect. Nevertheless, it would indicate a certain tikkun, a fixing of one of the main problem areas related to the Tribe of Dan, idolatry. It also appears related to the second part of the Hayom Yom regarding what is meant by “Chassidus” – “to be aware of one’s own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.”

In the seventeenth week, the Jews journey from Rimmon Perez and camp in Libnah. Libnah comes from the word Leveinim, bricks. Bricks are usually associated with the hard labor the Jews had to endure during their Egyptian exile, in which they had to make bricks. At the end of the exile, they were not even provided any straws.  In his work, Torah Or, the Alter Rebbe, quoting the Zohar, explains that the harsh labor in Egypt has a spiritual counterpart, in the proper study of the Torah. Leveinim, bricks, is a reference to libun hilchesa, the clarification of Torah law. Chomer, mortar, parallels the kal vachomer, the principle of a fortiori, one of principal rules of how to interpret the Torah. It is possible to exchange the harsh labor of exile for the labor in the study of Torah.[2] As mentioned previously, proper Torah study was one of the causes for the destruction of the First Temple, related to this month. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of being fruitful and productive, and now focus on proper Torah study.


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