Weekly Cycle

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Week 9 (Book 3): Lamech and Avoiding Greek Traps

SONG OF THE SEA: the depths congealed in the heart of the sea. [Because] the enemy said, I will pursue,

HAFTARAH: The open cities ceased, in Israel they ceased, until I Deborah arose;
I arose as a mother in Israel.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 9 - Bitter Waters /Samson


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the desert of Zin and camped in Dophkah.

Week nine sometimes falls completely within the month of Cheshvan, while at other times it already includes Rosh Chodesh Kislev. (See Book 2, regarding the concept of how this week represents half of the Tribe of Menashe) The verses of the Song of the Sea for this week appear to be split into two different themes. The first half is still related to the Flood, while the second already enters a new theme, related to the “pursuit” of the enemy. The struggle to fight off the spiritual persecution of the Greek enemy is one of the main themes of Chanukah.

The verses of the Haftorah are also split. The first part speaks of how “open cities ceased” (a reference to how civilization ceased during the Flood). The second part speaks of how Devorah arose, “a mother in Israel.” Devorah’s battle against Sisera parallels the Maccabee’s battle in the times of Chanukah. More than that, a fundamental role of the Jewish mother is to preserve the sacred identity of her child. As mentioned in both Book 1 and Book 2, Hannukah also comes from the word chinuch, which means education. The verse also seems to continue the theme of mothers and important women related to the month of Cheshvan. Rachel, Anath, Yael, and now Devorah.

Daf Tet (Folio 9) of Sotah also appears to be split in two major topics. The first is the continuation of the description of how a Sotah would be punished and tested with bitter waters. The second half contains a discussion of Shimshon, Samson. Although Samson and the Tribe of Dan are represented by the next month, Teveth, nevertheless, the theme of Chanukah and Kislev is also apparent also in the description of Samson, since he was supposed to be pure, and that his downfall came from impure actions, including intermarriage. It is worth noting that Teveth also contains several days of Chanukah.

Lamech, the father of Noah, appears to be a “kosher” version of Lamech the descendant of Cain, who ends up killing Cain, along with his own son. While Cain’s descendant kills his ancestor and his progeny, Seth’s descendant, from the moment his son is born, expresses the hope that the entire world will be comforted through him. Through his son, his entire line of ancestors is saved from destruction, and with it, the entire human race.  

Similarly, Lamech descendant of Cain represents a key element of moral depravity, and of an unchecked worship of aesthics and pleasure typical of Greek culture at the time of Chanukah. Lamech had two wives. Rashi explains that one wife was used for reproduction purposes, while the other was kept barren so that she could stay pretty and youthful. In contrast, the son of Lamech descendant of Seth saw the whole world be destroyed due to moral depravity.

Interestingly, both the Lamech from Cain and the Lamech from Seth have their statements recorded in the Torah. Lamech from Cain says: “Now Lemech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, hearken to my voice; wives of Lemech, incline your ears to my words, for I have slain a man by wounding (him) and a child by bruising (him). If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then for Lemech it shall be seventy seven fold." (Genesis, Chapter 4, v. 23, 24) The verse related to Lamech descendant of Seth states as follows: “And he named him Noah, saying, "This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands from the ground, which the Lord has cursed."  (Genesis, Chapter 5, v. 29)

Lamech descendant of Cain also represents the unchecked use of science and technology, also typical of Greek culture at the time of the Maccabees. Rashi’s commentary on the above verse explains that “Before Noah came, they did not have plowshares, and he prepared [these tools] for them.” While Cain’s line develops technology to improve weapons and ways of killing people (including Cain himself), Seth line uses technology to improve the lives of those around him.

Science and aesthetics can be very positive things, but, as Noah himself states in Chapter 9 of Genesis, these ideals have to be contained within the greater ideals of morality and truth:

26. And he said, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them. 27. May God expand Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them."

Japheth (ancestor of Yavan, Greece, and whose name comes from the Hebrew word Yoffi, beauty) may increase, but in the house of Shem (ancestor of Abraham, whose name itself means “name,” an indication of his connection to truth).

In the ninth week, the Jews journey from the desert of Zin and camp in Dophkah. The personal journey is to internalize the coming of the new moon, Rosh Chodesh, and feel the “knocking” (from the verb dofek) in our hearts, the call to return to Zion, to the Holy Temple. The verse “Kol Dodi Dofek” (Song of Songs 5:2) represents the idea that “Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first [during the first Temple] if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs.…”[1] This is the challenge of assimilation, getting too comfortable in exile.

An important lesson we learn from Lamech in our approach to prayer and Divine service is the need to connect to Hashem in ways that are above the reason. There is a well-known teaching by our sages that in Hebrew word king, Melech, the letter Mem represents the Moach (the mind), and the Lamed, the Lev, the heart. When the Mem and the Lamed are inverted, instead of Melech you get Lemech, which means "fool." As is also emphasized in Chabad Chassidic philosophy, the mind must control the heart. However, when it comes to prayer and to our connection to G-d, there is such a concept, also emphasized in Chabad Chassidic philosophy, of Shtus d’Kedusha, “Holy Folly.” Ultimately, prayer is the service of the heart, not the mind, and our connection to G-d is above nature and above all logic.

[1] A Note on the Title of [Rav Joseph’s Soloveitchik’s work] Kol Dodi Dofek, David Z. Gordon; available at http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=100833

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Week 10 (Book 3): Noah and Seeking Comfort, Compassion

SONG OF THE SEA: I will overtake, I will share the booty; my desire will be filled from them; I will draw my sword, my hand will impoverish them.

When they chose new gods,
then there was war in the cities; was there seen a shield or a spear

Talmud Sotah: Daf 10 – The need for proper upbringing.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Dophkah and camped in Alush.

On Week Ten, now firmly within the month of Kislev, the verses of the Song of the Sea also now focus completely on the enemy’s persecution of the Jews. This again appears to be a reference to the Greeks, who at first were quite confident in their ability to defeat what appeared to be a simple and small Jewish rebellion.

The Haftorah’s verses also now clearly focus on the problem of assimilation, idolatry, and physical persecution, all which were present during the Greek exile as well.

Daf Yud (Folio 10) of Sotah continues to be about Samson, Judah and Abshalom. Its general theme is a discussion of licentiousness and of children having a bad upbringing and going against their parents. These are all themes related to Chanukah, which comes from the word chinuch, education.

The 10th generation from Adam is Noah. Noah lived in a society that had become completely corrupted. This is similar to the corruption faced by the Jews in the times of the Greeks. (Pirkei Avot explains that G-d, out of his infinite mercy and patience, waited ten generations before bringing the Flood). 

In the tenth week, the Jews journey from Dophkah and camp in Alush. Alush means power. The danger of power is that it can easily corrupt. [1] The journey for this week is to take the amorphous feeling of knocking, and have the power to be able to apply it in a positive, powerful way in our daily life.

An important lesson we learn from Noah in our approach to prayer and Divine service is the importance of asking for mercy, comfort. In many ways, that is the very essence of prayer. Noah’s name comes from the verb Lenachem, which means to comfort.  This is related to the Bat in Week 10 of Book 1, who sings: “Comfort (Nachamu), comfort my people, says Hashem your G-d.” It is also related to the words of Rabbi Shimon, also in Week 10 of Book 1:

Be meticulous with the reading of the Shemah and with prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayers routine, but [an entreaty of] mercy and a supplication before the Almighty, as is stated ``For He is benevolent and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and relenting of the evil decree'' (Joel 2:13). And do not be wicked in your own eyes.

Imagine the kind of comfort Noah must have sought, after seeing the entire world destroyed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Week 11 (Book 3): Shem and Being Truthful

SONG OF THE SEA: You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the powerful waters.
HAFTARAH: (when the) forty thousand (went against) Israel? My heart is toward the lawgivers of Israel,
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 11 - Miracles in exile
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Alush and camped in Rephidim, but there there was no water for the people to drink.

On week eleven, week of Yud Kislev, the verses of the Song of the Sea speak of the wind, the sea, and powerful waters. The Hebrew word for wind is the same as the word for spirit and soul, Ruach. Spirituality, and the strength of the spirit, is also what differentiated the Jews from the Greeks in the times of Chanukah. Furthermore, the sea represents hidden wisdom, and water is also a reference to the Torah. (See Fourth Cycle of 22 days) This is connected to Chanukah, but also to Yud Kislev and Yud Tes Kislev.

The Haftorah’s verses speak of the miraculous way in which 40,000 officers of the enemy were defeated, and about the love for the wisemen of Israel. These are similar themes to Chanukah, regarding the miraculous nature of the miracle and the overwhelming number of the enemy, as well as how the inspiration for victory came from the wisemen, in the case of Chanukah, the Kohanim. Perhaps this is also related to the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe, both wisemen and lawgivers, personally saved on Yud Tes Kislev and Yud Kislev respectively.

Daf Yud Alef (Folio 11) of Sotah is primarily about Egyptian enslavement and persecution, and the brave actions of Miriam and Yocheved. It also describes the miraculous ways in which Jewish children were saved. We also celebrate similar miracles during Chanukah.

The 11th generation from Adam is Noah’s son, Shem. As already discussed previously, Shem’s name means “name,” and is connected to the idea of truth. Avraham and all the Jewish (and “Semitic”) people come from him. His brother Yafeth’s name means “beauty,” and Yavan, Greece, is his descendant. The Maccabean war with the Greeks and Greek culture is in actuality a fight between the descendants of Shem and Yafeth.

In the eleventh week, the Jews journey from Alush and camp in Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. Rephidim comes from the word rafeh, weak, and is a reference of a lack of proper devotion to Torah study. The personal journey for this week involves internalizing the concept of using power in a positive, non-corrupt way, and overcoming the weakness that comes with the lack of “water.” This is the fight of Kislev, and also the fight of the Mitteler Rebbe. 

Another key lesson in the service of G-d that we learn from Shem is the need for proper self-reflection, and engaging with ourselves and the world with truth. This is a key aspect of serving G-d, going over our deeds for the day, the week, the month, and seeing what we can improve. This is known as Cheshbon HaNefesh, spiritual accounting, and is also an important part of the Jewish practice of meditation known as Hitbodedut.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Week 12 (Book 3): Arpachshad and the Fiery Furnace

SONG OF THE SEA: Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, exalted in the holy place?      

HAFTARAH: that offered themselves willingly among the people, (saying,) 'Bless the Lord.' 10. The riders of white donkeys,

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 12 - Miriam and Moshe


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Rephidim and camped in the Sinai desert.

On Week 12, week of Yud Tes Kislev, the verses of the Song of the Sea include the rhetorical question: “Mi Chamocha Ba’Elim Hashem,” Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord?  This phrase is the acronym for the name of the Maccabees. The repetition of the question, “Who is like You?” is also reminiscent of the “two lights” the Alter Rebbe brought to the world, in Halakha (nigleh) and Chassidus (nistar). The verse first talks about Hashem’s revealed greatness (Elim means forces of nature), the second about His hidden one.

The Haftorah’s verses speaks of self-sacrifice for G-d’s sake. It also speaks of “riders of white donkeys.” This appears to be a reference to Mashiach, who will arrive on a (white) donkey. The Alter Rebbe’s work, the Tanya, is connected to Yud Tes Kislev. R. Zusya of Anipoli is said to have predicted: “With the Tanya the Jewish people will go out to greet the righteous Mashiach.”

Daf Yud Beit (Folio 12) of Sotah is primarily about Miriam and Moshe. The Talmud relates that Moshe’s name was also Tuviah, because of the great light that was revealed about him when he was born. This is related to the Alter Rebbe, who was named Shneur because of the two lights he brought to this world. The discussion of Miriam is also pertinent. The Talmud speaks of how Miriam spoke to her father, and how by doing so she convinced him, and consequently all the Jewish people, not to divorce their wives. The Alter Rebbe’s daughter, Devorah Leah, had a similar discussion with the Alter Rebbe about giving up her life in order to add years to her father’s, so that the work of spreading the light of Chassidus could continue.

This week's link in the chain from Adam to the last king of Judah is Arpachshad, the son of Shem. His name in Hebrew can be divided into three words: “ohr” (light), “pach” (vial), “shad” (related to “Sh-dai,” one of G-d’s names, which stands for Shomer Daltot Yisrael,” Guardian of the doors of Israel. This is also the of G-d name placed on each Mezuzah). All three words are all clearly connected to Chanukah. Chanukah is the festival of light. We light the Menorah in honor of the small vial (pach) of pure olive oil that lasted eight days instead of one. According to Jewish law, the Menorah should be lit next to the Mezuzah. The Mezuzah is a symbol of dedication, like the name of Chanukah. In fact, when the Mezuzah is first placed, it is common to ceremony known as Chanukath HaBayit, an inauguration/dedication of the home. 

The Midrash states that the name Sh-dai stands for, “The One who told the world ‘dai ‘(enough).” (Chagigah 12a and Midrash Breishit Rabbah 5:8) The name reflects the fact that when Hashem created the world, set limits and boundaries, while He Himself is limitless and inifinite. This is very much the message of Chanukah as well, which we say how G-d can make miracles that are above nature.

In the twelfth week, the Jews journey from Rephidim and camp in the Sinai desert, where they gather around in unison in order to receive the Torah. The journey of this week is understanding that the weakness that comes from the lack of water comes about only in order that we gain even greater levels of Torah knowledge, such as on Yud Tes Kislev is when we receive the Toras HaChassidus, and Chanukah.

Another important lesson in prayer and Divine service that we learn from Arpachshad is his association with Ur Chasdim.[1] This is where Abraham was thrown into a fiery furnace for his defiance of Nimrod and belief in One G-d. Abraham’s great self-sacrifice and willingness to be thrown into the fire brings to mind the self-sacrifice of the Alter Rebbe, the Maccabees, and the Jews of the times of Chanukah. It also brings to mind the meditation technique of the great rebbe, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhenk:

Every moment that you are not learning Torah, especially when you are idle and you are alone in your room or lying in bed and unable to sleep, your thoughts should focus on the positive commandment: “V'Nikdashti besoch bnei Yisrael" –I will be sanctified among the Jewish people” (Vayikra 22:32). You should think in your heart and conjure up in your mind there there is a great and awesome fire burning in front of you reaching up to the heavens, and for the sake of the holiness and sanctity of Hashem you are going against your nature and throwing yourself into the flames in sanctification of His Name. “And HaKadosh Baruch Hu joins good intentions with great deeds” (Kiddushin 40a). By doing this, you are no longer sitting idle but rather you are fulfilling a positive Torah commandment.[2]

[2] MiPeninei Noam Elimelech, Tzeitzel Katan, translated by Tal Moshe Zwecker

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Week 13 (Book 3): Shelah and Chanukah

SONG OF THE SEA: Too awesome for praises, performing wonders! You inclined Your right hand; the earth swallowed them up.
HAFTARAH: those that sit in judgment, and those that walk on the path, tell of it. 11. Instead of the noise of adversaries, between the places of drawing water,
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 13 - the Light of Moshe; Jacob and Joseph
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from the Sinai desert and camped in Kivroth hataavah.
On week 13, week of Chanukah, the verses of the Song of the Sea speak of praising G-d, Who performs wonders, and Whose miracles led to Jewish salvation. Praising G-d for his miracles is one of the key themes of Chanukah.
The Haftorah’s verses also describe the need to tell of G-d’s miracles, and the fact that the Jews were no longer being persecuted “between the places of drawing water,” a reference to the study of the Torah, which the Greeks were attacking.
Daf Yud Gimmel (Folio 13) of Sotah is primarily about the burial of Jacob and Joseph, although it also starts with a brief mention of how when Moshe was born, the room filled with light. Regarding Jacob’s burial, the Talmud highlights how the fight with Eisav was won, not by logical arguments, but through the lone supra-rational act of Chushim, son of Dan. As mentioned before, Dan connected to Teveth and Chanukah. As Eisav was making a baseless claim, and asking for proof for this and that, Chushim could not bear to see his grandfather’s burial delayed, went ahead and killed him. This is very similar to how the Chanukah revolt started. Matisyahu was asked to slaughter a pig on a pagan altar. Not only did he refuse, he killed the Jew and the Syrian representative that had demanded this.[1]The Talmud’s description of Joseph’s burial is also appropriate, as Yosef HaTzadik himself represents Jewish strength in the face of Greek repression. (See Book 1, Week 11)
Shelah, Archpachshad’s son, has one of the names of Mashiach. Shelah is also the name of Judah’s son, which he did not want to marry to Tamar. Rabbi Yosef Jacobson explains the connection between Shelah and Chanukah:
The Truth Emerges
Rabbi Isaac Luryah wrote that "the judgment that began on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is completed some three months later, during the days of Chanukah." That's why it is at this period of time - three months after the intimate union between Judah and Tamar - that Judah (the metaphor for G-d) is "informed" regarding the spiritual status of Tamar (the Jewish people) and the verdict is issued that Tamar has no future.
"When Tamar was being taken out, she sent word to Judah, saying, 'I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles. Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?'"
During that fateful time, when the "prosecuting angels" have almost been successful in demonstrating to G-d that the Jewish people are a failed experiment, at that very moment, the Jew sends word to G-d, saying, "I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles!" The information you received that I abandoned you, is a blatant lie! If I have gone astray here and there, it is merely a superficial, temporary phase. Gaze into the deeper layers of my identity and you will discover that I belong to You, that my intimacy is shared only with You, G-d. "I am pregnant from Judah and not from anybody else!" the Jew declares.
"Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?" For during the festival of Chanukah - when the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is finalized -- the Jew kindles each night a wick, or a cord, soaked in oil, commemorating the event of the Jews discovering a sealed single cruse of oil after the Greeks had plundered the holy Temple in Jerusalem (9).
The Jew further points to the staff in his arm (10). In order to preserve his faith, he was forced time and time again - for 2000 years - to take the wandering staff in his arm, abandon his home, wealth and security, and seek out new territory where he could continue to live as a Jew.
"Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?" the Jew asks G-d. "It is to this man that I am pregnant!" Our loyalty and commitment remain eternally to the owner of the "seal" and "cord" of the Chanukah flames; our deepest intimacy is reserved to the owner of the "staff" of Jewish wandering.
Who Is the Traitor?
"Judah immediately recognized the articles, and he said, "She is right; it is from me that she conceived. She did it because I did not give her to my son Shelah."
When G-d observes the burning flames of the Chanukah menorah, He immediately recognizes that indeed, His people have never left Him. True, the Jew does fall prey at times to the dominating external forces of a materialistic and immoral world, yet this enslavement is skin deep. Probe the layers of his or her soul and you will discover an infinite wellspring of spirituality and love.
"If the Jew has, in fact, gone astray here and there, it is my fault," G-d says, not his. "Because I did not give Tamar to my son Shelah."Shelah is the Biblical term used to describe Moshiach (11),the leader who will usher in the final redemption. G-d says that for two millennia I have kept the Jewish nation in a dark and horrific exile where they have been subjected to horrendous pain and savage suffering. Blood, tears and death have been their tragic fate for twenty centuries, as they prayed, each day and every moment, for world redemption. But redemption has not come.
How can I expect that a Jew never commit a sin? How can I expect that a Jew never try to cast his luck with the materialistic world about him that seems so appealing, when I held back for so long the light of Moshiach?
"It is I, G-d, who is guilty of treason," G-d says. Not the Jew. Tamar is an innocent, beautiful palm-tree, which still has only one heart to its Father in heaven.[2]
In the thirteenth week, the Jews journey from Sinai desert and camp in Kivroth hataavah. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of receiving the Torat haChassidut, and now focus on the concept of burying one’s physical desires, through the concepts of Itkafiah and Itapcha, basic notions in Chassidic philosophy. (explained previously in the blog) [3]Chanukah, as opposed to other holidays, is primarily a spiritual holiday. There is no commandment to make a holiday meal. It is a holiday to sing praise to G-d spiritually.

[1] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/History/Maccabean_Revolt.shtml
[2] http://theyeshiva.net/Article/View/142/Have-We-Betrayed-Our-G-d-Has-G-d-Betrayed-Us
[3] http://www.kabbalahoftime.com/2013/11/explaining-chassidic-concepts-based-on.html; http://meaningfullife.com/oped/2008/06.27.08$KorachCOLON_42_Journeys_Part_3.php:“The Baal Shem Tov (citing Brit Menucha by the 14th century Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham ben Yitzchak of Grenada) interprets the “Graves of Craving” as a state of utter self-nullification through cleaving to G-d when one experiences the “death” of cravings, they become buried with no potential of reviving inappropriate desires.”

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