Weekly Cycle

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Week 6 (Book 3): Descending in order to Ascend and Sweetening "Bitter Waters"

SONG OF THE SEA: Your right hand, O Lord, is most powerful; Your right hand, O Lord, crushes the foe.
HAFTARAH: also the clouds dripped water. The mountains melted at the presence of the Lord,
TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 6 - forbidden relationships, "bitter waters."
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Marah and arrived in Elim, and in Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.
The sixth week of the year is the second of the month of Cheshvan. The verses of the Song of the Sea speaks of Hashem’s right hand, which exacts punishment and represents the attribute of gevurah. The theme of the week remains related to the Flood, as also demonstrated in theHaftorah’s verses that state that“clouds dripped water,” and “mountains melted.”
Daf Vav (Folio 6) of Sotah discusses forbidden marriages (another one of the main causes of the Flood, as angels were marrying humans, etc.), and also the subject of how the bitter waters of Sotah would punish (or absolve) a woman accused of adultery whose witnesses were not available for testimony. Punishment through “bitter waters” for sexual sins is also a main theme of this month.
Yered (יֶרֶד) seems to be the “kosher” version of Irad (עִירָד), whose name is the same, but without the Ayin. “Ayin” literally means the eye, and part of what got Cain in the situation that he was the jealous way in which he looked at Abel’s sacrifices that had been accepted by Hashem. Sexual sins (as well as many others) begin with the eye.
Ayin also means "nothingness." Ecclesiastes states that the difference between humans and beasts is Ayin, "nothing." The deeper explanation of this verse is that the difference between people and animals is the ability to regard oneself as nothing, as simply part of the Infinite Light. Perhaps the difference in names here can also be attributed to the fact that Yered truly made his Ayin into true nothingness, to the point that it does not even show up anymore in his name.
Interestingly, while the names of Cain’s generations are Enoch, Mehujael, and then Irad, Seth’s generations are the other way around: Mahalalel, Yared, and then Enoch. “Yered” and “Irad” come from the verb “Laredet,” which literally means to go down. While Cain’s generation literally went “downhill,” to greater and greater depravity, the descent in Seth’s generations was a positive one. The difference seems to be as follows: Cain’s three generations stand for “education (of lack thereof)” (Enoch, Chanoch in Hebrew, comes from the word chinuch, education) followed by a “profane existence, (Mehujael, from the word chol, profane)” and then further “descent” (Irad). Seth’s three generations stand for “praise” (Mahalel, from the word Hallel, praise), followed by “lowering oneself” (Yared) in order to “educate” (Enoch) the next generation. The results speak for themselves.
Afterwards, Cain’s descendants are Methushael, Lemech, and then Yuval, Yaval, Tuval-Cain, and Na’amah. Seth’s descendants are Metushelach, Lemech, and then Noah. Cain’s generations found more and more found more ways to be depraved, to the point where Lemech has two wives, one only for pleasure (as was the culture at the time, see Rashi). They also found more and more effective ways of killing people, with weapon’s technology, to the point where Cain himself is killed by it.
On the other hand, Yered taught his son well - Enoch walked with G-d, and was so holy, that Hashem removed him from this earth so as to not be badly influenced by its corruption. Enoch’s son was Metushelach, who merited to be the person to live the longest, and passed away without having to experience the flood. Metushelach’s son was Lamech, who had great hopes that his son, Noah, would bring comfort to the world. Even though Noah was not able to save the world, he did save humanity from being completely destroyed, and was a wholesome and righteous individual, who faithfully followed Hashem’s commands. Yered symbolizes our service for this month, which is to go down from the heights of Tishrei, and elevate this world, to make it a home for Hashem.
In the sixth week, the Jews journey from Marah and camp in Elim. In Elim there are twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. The personal journey for this week involves internalizing the concept of “sweetening the bitter waters,” and preparing ourselves for the revelations of the springs of water (12 Tribes) and the 70 palm trees (nations). The strength of the twelve tribes is used to “water” the palm trees, to purify, give life, and elevate the seventy nations.
Again, here’s Rabbi Shimon Jacobson’s interpretation of this journey:
Elimah (or Elim) is the stage of growth and recognition of the deeper strength that emerges from bitter loss and pain. From Marah– after experiencing bitterness – we become empowered with the resources of Elimah: Elimah consists of the same letters as the name Elokim (which is written with a heh), only that the order of the letters (eli mah) means the hidden dimension of love – twelve water springs and seventy palms (the secret and the hidden, sod in Hebrew, is gematria 70) – that emerges from within the dark and the bitter (The Maggid of Mezritch – Ohr Torah Massei. Explained in Ohr HaTorah Massei pp. 1378. 1393. See Degel Machne Efraim).
Because of the exile, there is a great mix-up both in regards of who is from what nation of the world, as well as which Jew is from which tribe. “Mix-up” in Hebrew is “Bilbul,” the root for the word “Bavel,” Babylonia. Part of our work in exile is to undo this whole mix-up, not only in nations, but also in values, morality, etc., and hence the Talmud we study is known at the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud). Through logic and traditional rules of interpretation, we’re able to make sense out of confusion, and place everything in its proper place. The Hebrew word for the Flood, “Mabul” is also related to the word Bilbul, in that the Flood also mixed everything together.

An important lesson we learn from Yered (which means to descend) in our approach to prayer and Divine service is understanding the role of humility. The Chazan (the prayer leader) is called "Yored Lifnei HaTeivah," one who descends in front of the Ark (It is worth noting that early mystics were called Yordei Merkabah, those that descend [to reach] the [Divine] Chariot). The place where the Chazan stands would literally be lower than the rest of the synagogue, and Jewish law forbids praying from a physically elevated place (with certain exceptions). The rationale for all this is because prayer has to come from a place of humility, "MiMa'amakim Karaticha Hashem," one must call out Hashem from the depths, literally. As mentioned last week, it is essential to "Know Before Whom You Stand."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Week 7 (Book 3): More References to Rachel

SONG OF THE SEA: And with Your great pride You tear down those who rise up against You; You send forth Your burning wrath; it devours them like straw.
HAFTARAH: this (was at) Sinai, because of the presence of the Lord, the G-d of Israel. In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,
Talmud Sotah: Daf 7: Being reminded of the righteous deeds of our ancestors.
JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea.
By the seventh week of the year, we are now in the midst of the month of Cheshvan. The verses of the Song of the Sea continue to speak of retribution against Hashem’s enemies related to the Flood. 
The Haftorah’s verses contain two different themes, which are in fact related. They describe the presence of G-d at Sinai, and mention Shamgar the son of Anath. This week includes the yahrzeit of our matriarch Rachel, and both of these concepts have significant feminine qualities. The Divine Presence, the Shechinah, is always referred to as feminine, and often specifically in connection with Rachel. The name Anath (lehavdil) is the name of a prominent figure in Canaanite mythology, a warrior goddess.[1] If Anath is in fact a reference to woman, this would be one of the very few places in the Tanach in which a man’s name is stated along with his mother’s name, not his father.
Daf Zayin (Folio 7) of Sotah discusses further the procedure of how a woman suspected of adultery would be taken to be tested with bitter waters. In the process, she would be asked to reconsider whether she wanted to go through with the punishment, and would be reminded of how her forefathers admitted to their sin, repented, and earned a place in the World to Come. This appears related to Rachel’s yahrzeit this year. (See also Book 2 regarding asking “you father” and reflecting upon the deeds of previous generations)
Enoch seems to be the “kosher” version of Cain’s son with the same name. While Cain’s son has a city founded after him, and he becomes immersed in civilization and even more distant from nature and from Hashem. Seth’s descendant, on the other hand, “walks with G-d.” Rabbi Shalom Arush explains that Enoch spent much of his time in seclusion, so as not to be negatively influenced by the world around him. However, he would reappear on a regular basis to teach the people. Ultimately, he was taken by Hashem alive, in a state of purity. As explained in the previous week, the root of the name Enoch, Chanoch in Hebrew, is Chinuch, education, also a parental quality.
In the seventh week, the Jews journey from Elim and camp by the Red Sea. The personal journey for this week is to internalize the revelations related to the 12 tribes and 70 nations, which are both scattered and mixed together in exile (bilbul, like the Tower of Bavel), and getting ready for an even greater revelation, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. On the week of Rachel Imeinu’s yahrzeit, we feel the exile more deeply, and help elevate it.

An important lesson we learn from Chanoch in our approach to prayer and Divine service is the importance of education. As Pirkei Avot (Chapter 2:5) famously states, "Ein Am Ha'Aretz Chassid," an ignoramus cannot be pious. Even if compared to Hashem we are all complete and total ignoramuses, and even though our connection to Him in prayer is primarily not an intellectual one, there are still basic premises in how we approach the King that require education. Certainly exceptions are made, and everyone, no matter their level of education, has an open and direct line to G-d. Nevertheless, those that have the opportunity to learn how to pray properly should do so. Again, intent in prayer is of key importance, and it becomes much harder to have intent if one does not even understand what he/she is saying.

[1] http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/anath-bible

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Week 8 (Book 3): Methuselah and Affirming Life

SONG OF THE SEA: And with the breath of Your nostrils the waters were heaped up; the running water stood erect like a wall;

HAFTARAH: in the days of Jael, caravans ceased, and travelers walked on crooked paths.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 8 - bitter waters, guarding against illicit thoughts, and Divine retribution


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

On week eight, the fourth week of Cheshvan, the verses of the Song of the Sea continue to references to the miraculous punishment that came through water, again drawing a parallel between the events at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the Flood.

The Haftorah’s verse mentions Yael, continuing the theme of the role of women mentioned in the previous week. The verse also mentions that “caravans ceased, and travelers walked on crooked paths.” This is perhaps a reference to the crooked ways that had taken hold of the human race at the time of the Flood. The word for crooked roads, “arachot akakalot” appears to have at their root the verb “lekalkel,” which means “to ruin.”

Daf Chet (Folio 8) of Sotah also discusses further the procedure of how a woman suspected of adultery would be taken to be tested with bitter waters. The Talmud shows concern that her testing not cause any illicit thoughs on other men. It also discusses the general concept Divine retribution, which comes in the form of middah kneged middah (measure-for-measure).

Methuselah (מְתוּשֶׁלַח) appears to be a “kosher version” of Methushael (מְתוּשָׁאֵל). Methuselah was very righteous and is the person that lived the longest than anyone else in history (969 years). Methuselah passed away immediately prior to the Flood, and shares his yahrzeit with Rachel Imeinu, this month of Cheshvan. Interestingly, Methuselah’s name, like that of Methushael, starts with the word “met,” which means “dead.” However, while Methuselah’s name then includes the word “shalach,” which means “sent,” while Methushael’s includes the word “sha’al,” which means “asked,” or “borrowed,” as well as she’ol, which is means grave, pit or “abode of the dead.” 

While Methushelach’s behavior sends death away from him, Methushael’s behavior seems to be bring it closer. Methushelach’s behavior is life-affirming, while Methushael’s, like that of his predecessors and descendants is the opposite. Metushelach lived in an environment that had been extremely corrupted, and yet maintained his righteousness in a way that was also above nature. That is our challenge in exile as well. This is related to the Pirkei Avot of this week, which mentions things that take a person out of this world. (See Week 8, Book 1)

In the eighth week, the Jews journey from the Sea of Reeds and camped in the desert of Zin. It was at this desert that the food provisions from Egypt ended; the Jewish people cried out to G-d and received the mannah. The Torah also mentions that they had no water, which is also a symbol for the Torah itself. (Bamidbar 20:1-2) Similarly, we are at a point during the year where all our spiritual food provisions from Tishrei are coming to an end, and we have to pray hard for Hashem’s mercy to provide us with the necessary spiritual sustenance to keep going. As we will see during the month of Kislev, the sustenance comes to us in a way that, like the mannah, is totally above nature.

The personal journey is to internalize the great revelations of the Sea of Reeds, and preparing for the new moon, the “supernatural” month of Kislev. (One of the meanings of “Zin” is “moon” and the new moon is empty like the desert, and the Torah states that they arrived there at the new moon. (Bamidbar 20:1-2))

An important lesson we learn from Metuselah in our approach to prayer and Divine service is the need  to simply to affirm life at all times. In order to pray properly, we need to offer praise and thanksgiving simply for being alive in the way that our Creator envisioned for us. As Torah states so clearly, "Choose life!" That is really the only decision we have to make - every day and at every moment.


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