Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Week 41 (Book 2): Judgement followed by Teshuvah

HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:41)

HAFTORAH: And of my enemies You have given me the back of their necks; them that hate me, that I may cut them off. (II Samuel 22:41)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Judges Him Favorably (Machrioh Lechaf Zechut)

PROPHET: Seraiah


The forty-first week of the year is that of 12th/13th of Tammuz, as well as of the 17th of Tammuz. In the verse of Haazinu, G-d exclaims that He will take vengeance upon His enemies and repay those that hate Him. The Haftorah’s verse contains exactly the same concepts: defeating the enemy and destroying those that hate. Judgement and Divine wrath are certainly central themes of th 17th of Tammuz.

The quality of this week is “judges him favorably” (machrioh lechaf zechut).” This is related to the fixing of our sense sight, which is connected to Tammuz. The exact term used is “Machrioh Lechaf Zechut” which literally means, “tips him to the side of merit.” The sentence therefore is literally translated as “tips him to the side of merit.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that when focuses on someone else’s positive points, he in fact tips the person to the side of merit. Maimonides also addresses this principle more broadly, in the context of Teshuvah, which is also necessary during this month:

Throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of guilt and brings destruction upon himself. On the other hand, if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4)

Like in the previous week, the actions involved are not solely related to his friend, but instead, the invidual includes himself in the “balance,” and by acting justly tilts the balance of his friend as well.

This week’s prophet is Seraiah, Baruch’s brother. Seriah went into exile with the Zedekiah the King of Judah. Similar to Baruch, Jeremiah tasked him with reading dire prophecies to the king. This time, however, the harsh words delivered were against Babylon itself. The Jewish king and the his people were thus now being judged favorably, since Jeremiah’s prophecy assured that their suffering would one day end and be avenged. (Jeremiah, Chapter 51:59-64)

The levitical city for this week is Kedemoth. The desert of Kedemoth was where the Moshe sent messengers to Sihon, king of Heshbon, with words of peace. After Sihon rejected peace, it was in Kedemoth that he was miraculously defeated. Sihon’s actions were rooted in deep Sinat Chinam (gratuitous hatred), which is also what caused the destruction of the Temple commemorated during these days. Kedemoth comes from the word Kedem, which means "days of yore," often used in the context of the Garden of Eden and the previous pristine state of humanity. During this month, we begin our Teshuvah and try to connect back to that state. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Week 42 (Book 2): Mehsiah and Being Placed in the Path of Truth

HAAZINU: 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.' (Deuteronomy 32:42)

HAFTORAH: They looked about, but there was no one to save them; [Even] to the Lord, but He answered them not. (II Samuel 22:42)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Places Him [in The Path of] Truth (Ma’amidoh Al Ha’Emet)

PROPHET: Mehsiah


Week Forty-Two is the last week of the month of Tammuz, and Haazinu’s verse refers to G-d destroying Israel’s enemies. The Haftorah again contains the same theme, associated also with the month of Tammuz, when in the future, the Jewish people’s fortunes in this month will be reversed for the good.

The quality for this week is places him [in the path of] truth (ma’amidoh al ha’emet). The verb used does not means place, but rather "raise." It is the same verb used in the opening verses of Pirkei Avot, in which the Men of the Great Assembly advised that future generations, “raise up many students.” The reason the word “raise” is used, is that the students have to be able to stand on their own two feet. Truth, by definition is the necessary foundation for one to be able to stand on his/her own.[1]

This week’s prophet is Mehsiah. Mehsiah was the grandfather of Baruch and Seriah. His name appears in Chapters 32 and 51 of the Book of Jeremiah. In both chapters, the punishment mentioned is ultimately necessary to set the Jewish people on a path of truth and goodness.

This week’s levitical city is Mepha’ath. Mepha’ath is also one of the cities mentioned in the prophecy against Moab. The word Mepha’ath means "to shine." As mentioned previously, this month is about working on our sense of sight. As we work on our own self-refinement and look at things in the proper positive way, we can see beauty shine forth, both in others and in ourselves.

[1] The letters of emet themselves allude to this. They all have “stable foundations,” and can stand on their own. The opposite of truth, sheker, is made up of three letters that cannot stand on their own – they are unstable and fall. This is reminiscent of the song of the Fox, in week 41 of Book 1, which states, “Woe to him that builds his house without justice and his chambers without lawfulness…” In Week 42 of Book 1, the hound sings, "Let the righteous rejoice in G-d; praise is befitting to the upright." (As explained there, these statements reflect why the Temple could not stand due to the corruption of the times, as well as the proper way to correct these flaws.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Week 43 (Book 2): Destruction that Leads to Peace

HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:43)

HAFTORAH: 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. (II Samuel 22:43)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Places Him [in The Path of] Peace (Ma’amidoh Al Hashalom)



The forty-third week of the year is that of Rosh Chodesh Av. Av is connected to the Tribe of Shimon, while  Rosh Chodesh  itself is the yahrzeit of Aharon the Kohen. It is the month of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and also the day in which the Messiah is born.

In the verse of Haazinu, the theme of Divine retribution continues, although there is now a greater emphasis on praising the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. The Haftorah’s verse also continues the same theme, although here too there is a focus on the physical Land, and the mud of its streets.

The quality of this week is “places him [in the path of] peace” (ma’amidoh al hashalom). Aharon is very much associated with peace. Hillel states that we should all be students of Aharon, who “loves peace and pursue peace…” As explained in the previous week, the verb “ma’amidoh” is connected to raising students. This is hinted to in the lighting of the menorah, in the beginning of the Torah portion of Beha’alotchah, in which Aharon it told to “raise” the lights of the Menorah until they could stand on their own.

This week’s prophet is Haggai. His prophecy is very much connected to the theme of the destruction of the Temple, as well as its rebuilding. His words are also connected to peace:

1. In the seventh [month], on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came through Haggai the prophet, saying:

2. Say now to Zerubbabel the son of Shaltiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak the High Priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying:          

3. Who among you is left, who saw this house in its former glory? And as you see it now, is it not as nothing in your eyes? 

4. And now, be strong, Zerubbabel, says the Lord; and be strong, Joshua the son of Jehozadak the High Priest; and be strong, all the people of the land, says the Lord. And (for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts) do      

5. the thing that I set up with you when you left Egypt. And My spirit stands in your midst; fear not.           

6. For so said the Lord of Hosts: [There will rise] another one, and I will shake up the heaven and the earth and the sea and the dry land [for] a little while.           

7. And I will shake up all the nations, and they shall come [with] the precious things of all the nations. And I will fill this House with glory, said the Lord of Hosts.         

8. The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the Lord of Hosts.

9. The glory of this last House shall be greater than the first one, said the Lord of Hosts. And in this place I will grant peace, says the Lord of Hosts.

(Chapter 2:1-9)(emphasis added)      

The levitical city for this week is Jatir. Jatir, comes from the word Yeter, which means the remains, what is left over after destruction. The name is very appropriate for the month of Av. Yeter can also mean “an addition,” which is related to the word Yoter, which means “more.” In the future with the coming of the Mashiach, Av will be a month of added importance and celebration.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Week 44 (Book 2): Zechariah and Settling One's Heart

HAAZINU: And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Deuteronomy 32:44)

HAFTORAH: 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. (II Samuel 22:44)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: He Deliberates in His Study (Mityashev Liboh Betalmudoh)

PROPHET: Zechariah

Week Forty-Four is the week of Tisha B’Av, and Haazinu’s verse states that Moshe, together with Yehoshuah, spoke all the words of the song into the "ears of the people." As mentioned previously, the month of Av is connected to the tikkun (the spriritual “fixing”) of our sense of hearing. Perhaps Yehoshua is mentioned here together with Moshe because, of all the people, it was he that was best able to absorb Moshe’s teachings.
This week is connected to the birth of Mashiach (on the 9th of Av) and the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah) teaches that,Moshe is the first redeemer and the final redeemer.” Similarly, Yehoshuah is also a prototype for Mashiach Ben Yoseph.

The Haftorah for this week is clearly connected to the coming of Mashiach: “You shall keep me as head of nations; a people whom I have not known serve me.” Mashiach will be not only the king of Israel, but will represent the Kingdom of G-d on earth.

The quality for this week is “he deliberates in his study” (mityashev liboh betalmudoh). Great part of the destruction of the Temple that occurred on the 9th of Av, was due to to the hot-headed behavior of the zealots at that time. The Torah scholars of the time, on ther other hand, sought calm and compromise.

A more literal translation is that “he settles his heart with his study.” The Midrash states that Mashiach is a metzorah, someone who suffers from a form of spiritual skin disease. The Midrash further states that Mashiach cures one wound at a time. The Alter Rebbe explains that the cure for the metzorah is Torah. That is why the verse states that “this shall be the Torah of the metzorah on the day of his purification” (Leviticus 14:2) when a more straightforward wording of the verse should have been, “this is the purification of the metzorah in the day of his purification.” The metzorah is someone whose heart is unsettled. It is the Torah that settles it.

The above statement can also be read to be referring to the heart of his friend – a continuation of the qualities of the previous weeks. Mashiach will be someone known for his Torah and his power of speech. The word Mashiach is spelled the same as Mesiach, one who speaks, converses.

This week’s prophet is Zechariah. We read about a previous Zechariah in the kinot (dirges) for Tisha B’Av, and about how he was killed during the time of the destruction of the First Temple and his blood had to be avenged:. It is connected also to the idea of "settling one's heart" (in this case, the "settling" of Zechariah's blood): 
Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: "There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested."

Nebuzaradan said, "I will appease him." He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then school-children. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: "Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?" At last the blood sank into the ground (Talmud, Gittin 57b).[1]

Zechariah’s prophecy also makes some of the most direct references to Mashiach:
Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your king shall come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding a donkey and a foal, the offspring of [one of] she-donkeys. (Zechariah 9:9)
In the tale of Rabbi Akiva in which he laughs while the other rabbis mourn, it is the prophecy of Zechariah that brings consolation: “Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.”[2]
This week’s levitical city is Holon. Holon comes from the word “chol,” which means sand, as well as profane.[3] Similar to the destruction of the Temple, when something is emptied of its holiness, it is "chol," filled with a vacuum, “dead” like the sand of the sea. And yet, in the Torah perhaps nothing represents more the idea of life, particularly of children, than the sand. We are promised to be as numerous as them one day. One day, our tears of sadness, of “sandness,” will be tears of joy, and "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the water covers the sea" … and the sand. The numerical value of the word ”chol” is forty-four. Holon is also the name of a city in modern-day Israel, the country’s second largest industrial area.

[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/144569/jewish/The-First-Temple.htm#footnoteRef1a144569; the This section of the Talmudic tractate of Gittin is customarily studied on Tisha B’Av.

[3] It is worth noting that this section was written close to the time of Hurricane Sandy, and the Sandy Hook tragedy.

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