Weekly Cycle

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Week 49 (Book 2): Miriam and Increasing the Wisdom of His/Her Teacher

HAAZINU: Go up this Mount Avarim [to] Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is facing Jericho, and see the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel as a possession, (Deuteronomy 32:49)

HAFTORAH: And that brings me forth from my enemies; And above those that rise against me, You have lifted me; from the violent man You deliver me. (II Samuel 22:49)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Increases the Wisdom of His Teacher (Machkim Et Rabboh)

PROPHET: Miriam[1]


In week forty-nine, as we approach the middle of the month of Elul, Moshe is asked to go up to Mount Avarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, facing Jericho, and is asked to see the Land of Canaan (Israel), which Hashem is giving to the children of Israel as a possession.

The words of this verse are related to Shmuel HaKatan’s words in the Pirkei Avot of this week, and the 49th day, the very last one of the counting of the omer, discussed in Book 1. This is the final step Moshe is to take before passing away and reaching the 50th gate of binah, knowledge, (Nebo stands for “Nun Boh” – “Fifty is in it”). Moshe goes up Mount Avarim (perhaps related to the word “aveirah” - sin) in the land of Moav, a place of great immorality, whose very name is related to the incest that occurred at its conception. Moshe, the humblest of men, is buried there as a way to fix and elevate that place. This is related to Shmuel HaKatan, whose name points to his humility, and who states that we are not to rejoice in the fall of our enemy. All these actions are very much related to month of Elul, and the teshuvah that we perform during this month to fix and elevate our actions of the entire year, and ready to “take possession” of the following year.

In the Haftorah, King David speaks for how Hashem brings him forth from his enemies and above those that rise against him, including men of violence. Here too there is a clear connection to the above statement of Shmuel HaKatan’s words. There is also perhaps a connection to the deliverance from sins and from “accusing angels” that takes place during this month.

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “increases the wisdom of his teacher,” in Hebrew, machkim et rabboh, from the word chochmah, wisdom. This saying appears very much related to the sefirah of this week, Malchut. As mentioned in Book 1, Malchut  is called the “poor” sefirah, in that it has nothing of its own – it simply reflects the emanations of the other sefirot. By reflecting the other sefirot, Malchut is, so to speak, increasing them, bringing them down to a much deeper and fuller understanding, based on reality. We see that more clearly in the actions of Miriam, the prophetess for this week (it is worth noting that the remaining prophets listed in Elul are female, and that the zodiac sign for this month is Virgo).
After witnessing the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and how the Egyptians were enveloped and drowned in it, the Jewish people, led by Moses, perform the Song of the Sea. At the end of the song, Miriam then adds to Moshe’s “wisdom” by gathering the women and having them sing and dance with timbrels, singing a song that reflects that of the Song of the Sea.

We also see an instance in Miriam’s life when she increased the wisdom of her father, convincing him to remarry her mother. This ultimately led to the birth of Moshe. (Talmud, Sotah 12a) Furthermore, the Arizal explains that the well that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert in the merit of Miriam had the power to increase their wisdom and comprehension of the Oral Tradition. The Hebrew word for "well", "be'er", has the the same letters as the word for "interpretation".[2] There is a famous story of how once the Arizal took his disciple, Rav Chaim Vital, and gave him to drink of this water so that he could properly understand the deep concepts of his kabbalistic teachings.

We also find a parallel between Miriam and the words of the Snail in Book 1. The Snail sings in Perek Shirah: “Like the Snail that melts away, the stillborn of a mole that does not see the sun.” After Miriam speaks critically (and incorrectly) of Moshe and is punished with tzara’as, a spiritual disease of the skin, Moshe asks that she be healed by stating: “Let her not be like the dead, which comes out of his mother's womb with half its flesh consumed!" We are supposed to constantly remember this act of Miriam, as it is one of the “Six Remembrances” found in the Torah.

During the month of Elul, the month of teshuvah, there is nothing more appropriate than to focus on working on our speech and avoiding lashon harah, an evil tongue. Speech, as explained in Book 1, is the quintessential characteristic of Malchut. If Miriam, Moshe’s sister who so lovingly raised and supported him, and who spoke of him with only the best of intentions, could be punished so severely for what she said, how much more so should we avoid any kind of negative speech. Miriam repents and is ultimately cured, and just as the zodiac sign of this month represents, we all have the ability to repent and get a clean slate as we approach the Days of Awe.

The levitical city for this week is also a city of refuge, Rammoth Gilad. Rammoth means “heights,” and Gilad is the territory on the other side of the Jordan, which along with Jazer, the tribes of Gad and Reuven chose to inherit. These tribes had a large amount of flock and cattle, and chose this land because of its spaciousness. Gilad is also the land of Elijah the Prophet, and specifically Rammoth Gilad is where King Achab was wounded and died, fulfilling Eliyahu’s prophecy.[3]

Finally, Gilad also appears related to Gal’Ed, the place where Yaakov had to face Lavan before coming to Israel, and where they made a treaty. This appears related to all the concepts discussed above, such as facing one’s enemy (the yetzer harah, which Lavan so much personifies), and preparing oneself to entering Israel (or the new year). The name Lavan also stands for the Lev, the 32 paths of chochmah (wisdom), and nun, the 50 gates of binah (knowledge). Also, before meeting Yaakov, Hashem appears to Lavan in a dream, who is told not to say anything to Yaakov, whether good or bad – this is related to the concept of loshon harah.

[1] The final four weeks of the year also appear to be related to the four matriarchs in inverse order, and four “Chabad matriarchs.” This week would then be related to Rachel and to Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel, granddaughter of the Alter Rebbe. 

[2] Avodat Yisrael, Chukat; Pri Tzaddik, Chukat, 15 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Week 50 (Book 2): Devorah and Properly Understanding What One Learns

HAAZINU: And die on the mountain upon which you are climbing and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. (Deuteronomy 32:50)

HAFTORAH: Therefore I will give thanks to You, O' Lord, among the nations, and to your name I will sing praises. (II Samuel 22:50)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Who Properly Undestands What He Learns

PROPHET: Devorah[1]


We now come to week fifty, the week of Chai Elul, which marks the birth of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, as well as the yahrzeit of the Maharal of Prague. In Haazinu, Moshe is told to “die on the mountain upon which you are climbing,” and be gathered to his people, just as Aaron his brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. We are told that tzadikim never die, and that even in Heaven they continue to climb from level to level. We are also told that when Moshe saw his brother pass away, he desired a death like his. Hashem granted Moshe’s wish. Even at Moshe’s death, we see the importance of brotherly love. There is also a repetition and continuation, somewhat similar to the repetition and continuation we see when comparing the life of the Baal Shem Tov with the life of the Alter Rebbe. Both of their teachings and the Tanya itself is based on the works of the Maharal of Prague. This is also appropriate for the week of Chai Elul, because when a tzadik dies, he’s actually more “alive” then before, and impacts the world much more.

In the Haftarah’s verse for this week, King David speaks of giving thanks to G-d, “among the nations” and singing praises to His name. The idea of giving thanks and praising G-d is ultimately what life is all about. Chassidism is about realizing Hashkachah Pratis (see Yud Tes Kislev) that everything comes from Hashem and that everything is for the good. Furthermore, it is appropriate that this be the message of Chai Elul, because it was also on this date that the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself to the world, “among the nations.”

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “who properly understands what (s)he learns/hears.” This is also the message of Chai Elul, in which the Alter Rebbe continued the tradition he received from his teacher the Magid, who in turn had received from the Baal Shem Tov. The Alter Rebbe pondered what he learned from his teachers and organized it in the Tanya.[2] Similarly, his knowledge of the revealed part of the Torah, was organized in his Shulchan Aruch. The Baal Shem Tov himself said of the Alter Rebbe that he would bring two lights (Shnei Or) into the world, in the realm of the hidden aspects of the Torah as well as the revealed one.

This week’s prophetess is Devorah. There is a parallel between ants and bees (soldierlike, part of something greater; also they both have a queen). Like the Ant in Book 1, Devorah also suffered from the sin of pride, which caused her to lose her prophecy momentarily. Overall, however, Devorah was extremely modest and humble, and that is what made her worthy of becoming a prophet. About her it is said, “The wisdom of a woman built her home.”[3] The word used here is Chochmah, which is the sefirah related to this week.

Devorah also represents the quality of this week, in that as a judge, it was essential that she ponder and properly understand what she heard. We also see this quality in the very song that she sang in the Book of Judges. In it, she ponders over Israel’s situation at the time, the reactions of different tribes to the war, Yael’s heroic actions, how the Jewish people asked her to sing, and the fate of Sisera and his mother. The song also contains a “back and forth” between her and the Jewish people, in which she hears what the Jewish people say to her (“Arise Devorah… arise and sing a song”) and she responds.

The levitical city for the fiftieth week is Mahanaim. Mahanaim is a very special place. It is where Jacob met angels of G-d, who received him into the Land of Israel, after Lavan had departed and returned to his place. (Genesis, Ch. 32) It was from there that Jacob sent messengers to Esav.

Mahanaim was also the place to which King David fled from his son Absalom. It was there that he and his army were given provisions by Barzillai the Gileadite, and where the tide of the his son’s rebellion turned in David’s favor. Among these provisions was honey (perhaps related to the bee, Devorah). (Shmuel II, Chapter 17)

On Chai Elul we enter the final twelve days of repentance before Rosh Hashanah. We are given the necessary “spiritual provisions” necessary for repentance. Each of the twelve days represents repentance for a different month, and Chai Elul itself corresponds to Tishrei.

[1] This week also appears related to our matriarch Leah and to Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, daughter of the Alter Rebbe.  

[2] “Ha'mech'aven et shmu'ato [ ] means ‘think over what you've heard.’ Create a mental filing cabinet.” http://www.aish.com/sp/48w/48942836.html

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The 52 Verses of Haazinu (and its Haftorah), Weeks and Torah Portions

Important dates taking place in week of year
Haazinu / Haftorah
Rosh Hashanah

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!
And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, on the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul;
Yom Kippur

My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.
And he said, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and a rescuer to me.
Lech Lecha

When I call out the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our G-d.
G-d is my rock, under whom I take cover; My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my support, and my refuge; [He is] my savior Who saves me from violence.
Shemini Atzeret

The deeds of the [Mighty] Rock are perfect, for all His ways are just[ice]; a faithful G-d, without injustice He is righteous and upright.
With praise, I call to the Lord, for from my enemies I shall be saved.
Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
Chayei Sarah

Destruction is not His; it is His children's defect you crooked and twisted generation.
For the pains of death have encompassed me; streams of scoundrels would affright me.
First Week of Cheshvan
(Potential 3rd Temple Holiday)

Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?! Is He not your Father, your Master? He has made you and established you.
Bands of [those that shall inherit] the nether world have surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me
Second Week of Cheshvan
(3rd Temple)

Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you.
When I am in distress, I call upon the Lord, yes I call upon my G-d: and out of His abode He hears my voice, and my cry enters His ears.
Third Week of Cheshvan
(3rd Temple)

When the Most High gave nations their lot, when He separated the sons of man, He set up the boundaries of peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.
Then the earth shook and quaked, the [very] foundations of heaven did tremble; and they were shaken when he was angered.
Fourth Week of Chesvan or Rosh Chodesh Kislev
Because the Lord's portion is His people Jacob, the lot of His inheritance.
Smoke went up in His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth did devour; coals flamed forth from Him.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev or 1st week
He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye.
And He bent the heavens and He came down; and thick darkness was under His feet.

Yud Kislev
As an eagle awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them on its pinions.
And He rode upon a cherub and did fly; He was seen upon the wings of the wind.
Yud Tet Kislev
[So] the Lord guided them alone, and there was no alien deity with Him.
And He fixed darkness about Him as booths (lit. Sukkot); gathering of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the crag.
From the brightness before Him flamed forth coals of fire.
Chanukah/Rosh Chodesh Tevet
The cream of cattle and the milk of sheep, with the fat of lambs and rams of Bashan and he goats, with kidneys of wheat, and it [the congregation of Israel] would drink the blood of grapes [which was] as the finest wine.
The Lord thundered from heaven; and the Most High gave forth His voice.
10th of Tevet
And Jeshurun became fat and rebelled; you grew fat, thick and rotund; [Israel] forsook the G-d Who made them, and spurned the [Mighty] Rock of their salvation. (Yeshurun became full of oil (from Chanukah);
And He sent out arrows and He scattered them, lightning and He discomfited them.
Third Week of Tevet
They provoked His zeal with alien worship; they made Him angry with abominations deeds. Positive Light: They were zealous for him against alien worship; they were angry for him against abominable deeds.
And the depths of the sea appeared; the foundations of the world were laid bare, by the rebuke of the Lord and the blast of the breath of His nostrils.
Fourth Week of Tevet
They sacrificed to demons, which have no power, deities they did not know, new things that only recently came, which your forefathers did not fear.
He sent from on high [and] He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

Rosh Chodesh Shvat
You forgot the [Mighty] Rock Who bore you; you forgot the G-d Who delivered you.
He delivered me from my mighty enemy; from them that hated me; for they were too powerful for me.
Yud Shvat
And the Lord saw this and became angry, provoked by His sons and daughters.
They confronted me on the day of my calamity; but the Lord was a support to me.
Tu B'Shvat
And He said, "I will hide My face from them. I will see what their end will be, for they are a generation of changes [reversals]; they are not [recognizable] as My children whom I have reared.
And He brought me forth into a wide place; He delivered me because He took delight in me.
Fourth Week of Shvat
Ki Tissah
They have provoked My jealousy with a non G-d, provoked My anger with their vanities. Thus, I will provoke their jealousy with a non people, provoke their anger with a foolish nation.
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He recompensed me.
Rosh Chodesh Adar
For a fire blazed in My wrath, and burned to the lowest depths. It consumed the land and its produce, setting aflame the foundations of mountains.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord and have not wickedly departed from [the commandments of] my G-d.
First Week of Adar
I will link evils upon them. I will use up My arrows on them.
For all His ordinances were before me; and [as for] His statutes, I did not depart from it.
They will sprout hair from famine, attacked by demons, excised by Meriri. I will incite the teeth of livestock upon them, with the venom of creatures that slither in the dust.
And I was single-hearted toward Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity.
Third Week of Adar

From outside, the sword will bereave, and terror from within; young men and maidens, suckling babes with venerable elders.
And the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness before His eyes.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan
I said that I would make an end of them, eradicate their remembrance from mankind.
With a kind one, You show Yourself kind. With an upright mighty man, You show Yourself upright.
First Week of Nissan
Were it not that the enemy's wrath was heaped up, lest their adversaries distort; lest they claim, "Our hand was triumphant! The Lord did none of this!"
With a pure one, You show Yourself pure; But with a perverse one, You deal crookedly.
First Day of Pessach
For they are a nation devoid of counsel, and they have no understanding.
And the humble people You do deliver; But Your eyes are upon the haughty [in order] to humble them.
Acharei Mot
If they were wise, they would understand this; they would reflect upon their fate.
For You are my lamp, O' Lord; And the Lord does light my darkness.
Fourth Week of Nissan
How can one [person] pursue a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their [Mighty] Rock has sold them out, and the Lord has given them over?
For by You I run upon a troop; By my G-d I scale a wall.
Rosh Chodesh Iyar/ 5 de Iyar
For their rock is not like our [Mighty] Rock. Nevertheless, our enemies sit in judgment.
[He is] the G-d Whose way is perfect; The word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield unto all them that trust (take refuge) in him.
Second Week of Iyar
For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the field of Gemorrah; their grapes are grapes of rosh, and they have bitter clusters.
For who is G-d, save the Lord? And who is a rock, save our G-d?
Pessach Sheini/ Lag Ba’Omer
Their wine is the bitterness of serpents, and the bitterness of the ruthless cobras.
G-d is He who has fortified me with strength; and He looseth perfectly my path.
Fourth Week of Iyar
Is it not stored up with Me, sealed up in My treasuries?
He makes my feet like hinds; And sets me upon my high places.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan/ Yom Yerushalayim
Vengeance is poised with Me, and it will pay at the time their foot stumbles. For the appointed day of their reckoning is near, and what is destined for them hastens.
He trains my hand for war, so that mine arms do bend a brass bow.
When the Lord will judge His people, and will reconsider His servants, when He sees that the power is increasing, and none is controlled or strengthened.
And You have given me the shield of Your salvation; And You have increased Your modesty for me.
Third Week of Sivan
Then He will say, "Where is their deity, the rock in which they trusted,
You have enlarged my step[s] beneath me; And my ankles have not slipped.
Fourth Week of Sivan
who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their libations? Let them arise and help you! Let them be your shelter!
I have pursued my enemies and have destroyed them; Never turning back until they were consumed.
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz
See now that it is I! I am the One, and there is no G-d like Me! I cause death and grant life. I strike, but I heal, and no one can rescue from My Hand!
And I have consumed them, and I have crushed them that they cannot rise; Yes, they are fallen under my feet.
Second Week of Tammuz
For I raise up My hand to heaven, and say, 'As I live forever.
For You have girded me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those that rose up against me.
12,13 of Tammuz/ 17 of Tammuz
When I sharpen the blade of My sword, and My hand grasps judgment, I will bring vengeance upon My adversaries and repay those who hate Me.
And of my enemies You have given me the back of their necks; them that hate me, that I may cut them off.
Fourth Week of Tammuz
I will intoxicate My arrows with blood, and My sword will consume flesh, from the blood of the slain and the captives, from the first breach of the enemy.'
They looked about, but there was no one to save them; [Even] to the Lord, but He answered them not.
Rosh Chodesh Av
Sing out praise, O you nations, for His people! For He will avenge the blood of His servants, inflict revenge upon His adversaries, and appease His land [and] His people.
Then I ground them as the dust of the earth, as the mud of the streets I did tread upon them, I did stamp them down.
Tisha B'Av
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun.
And You have allowed me to escape from the contenders amongst my people; You shall keep me as head of nations; a people whom I have not known serve me.
Tu B'Av
And Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel.
Strangers lie to me; as soon as their ears hear, they obey me.
Third Week of Av
And he said to them, "Set your hearts to all of the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah.
The strangers will wilt, and become lame from their bondage.
Rosh Chodesh Elul
For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it."
The Lord lives, and blessed be my Rock; And exalted be the G-d, [who is] my rock of salvation.
First Week of Elul
And the Lord spoke to Moses on that very day, saying,
The G-d who takes vengeance for me; And brings down peoples under me.
Second Week of Elul
Ki Tetzeh
(Fighting the enemy. Extremely related to Haazinu and Haftarah and saying of Shmuel HaKatan, Week 49)
Go up this Mount Avarim [to] Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is facing Jericho, and see the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel as a possession,
And that brings me forth from my enemies; And above those that rise against me, You have lifted me; from the violent man You deliver me.
Chai Elul
Ki Tavoh
(Interpreting things for the best, just like interpreting that even Acher can do teshuvah)
And die on the mountain upon which you are climbing and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.
Therefore I will give thanks to You, O' Lord, among the nations, and to your name I will sing praises.
Fourth Week of Elul/Slichot
(Everyone is one,  standing together, (heads of the people, carriers of water, wood choppers, etc., like the song of the Chuldah)
Because you betrayed Me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Merivath Kadesh, [in] the desert of Zin, [and] because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of the children of Israel.
He gives great salvation to His king, and He performs kindness to His anointed; to David and to his seed, forevermore.
Slichot/Rosh Hashanah
For from afar, you will see the land, but you will not come there, to the land I am giving the children of Israel.
And these are the last words of David; the saying of David the son of Jesse, and the saying of the man raised on high, the anointed of the G-d of Jacob, And the sweet singer of Israel. (II Samuel 23:1)


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