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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Week 32 (Book 2): Nahum and Light that Comes from Darkness




HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:32)

Positive light: Because the wine [Torah wisdom] that the Jewish people obtained was from enduring the suffering/fermentation of Sodom, and the fields (concentration camps) of Gemorrah. Their humility comes from great suffering and bitterness. (II Samuel 22:32)

HAFTORAH: 32. For who is G-d, save the Lord? And who is a rock, save our G-d?

QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: Loves Hashem (Ohev et HaMakom)

PROPHET: Nahum

LEVITICAL CITY: Dobrath

  
Week Thirty-Two is the second week of Iyar. Haazinu’s verse discusses how the actions of the Jewish people paralleled those of Sodom and Gemorrah and how they were therefore deserving of great punishment. However, the verse could just as easily be read as to be referring to the enemies of the Jewish people, following the verse immediately prior to this one.


Similarly, a possible reading is to understand the verse to be referring to the victory the Jewish people obtained, which came from enduring the suffering/fermentation of Sodom, and the fields (concentration camps) of Gemorrah. Their strength comes from the great suffering and bitterness they encountered. Rashi mentions that the second part of the verse (as well as the next verse) are related to the suffering the Jews endured.



The Haftorah focuses on the positive note, mentioned in Haazinu’s previous verse. The verse speaks of how Hashem is in the only G-d, and that he is the only Tzur (Rock). As mentioned in Book 1, this week is deeply connected to the previous one, the week of Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, as well as the one before that, the week of Yom HaShoah



The quality for this week is again one of the the characteristics of someone who studies Torah for its own sake, to love G-d (ohev et HaMakom). Why is this word for G-d chosen here? Perhaps it is exactly because this week is connected to the Land of Israel, and it is in this place that we experience G-d in the fullest possible way, just as Yaakov experienced G-d at Beit-El.[1]



This week’s prophet is Nahum. Nahum’s message is also very much about how after great suffering, G-d has redeemed the Jewish people and the Land. We therefore show G-d appreciation, and love:



1. Behold on the mountains the feet of a herald announcing peace. O Judah, keep your feasts, pay your vows-for the wicked one shall no longer continue to pass through you; he has been completely cut off.

2. The scatterer who came up before you is besieged by a siege. Watch the way! Strengthen your loins! Fortify your power mightily.

3. For the Lord has restored the pride of Jacob as the pride of Israel, for the emptiers have emptied them out and destroyed their branches. (Chapter 2)



The levitical city for this week is Dobrath, which means the gathering a flock together.[2] This is a perfect description for the week that celebrates the gathering of the flock of the People of Israel back to its Land. What makes it even more appropriate is that Dobrath is the name of a well known kibbutz established in 1946, in the face of much struggle and Arab opposition.







[1] Makom also expresses a certain experiential communion with G-d, as explained by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. http://www.midreshetmoriah.com/torah/view.asp?id=682


[2] The explanation of the meaning of Dobrath is taken from the kibbutz’s own website: http://www.dovrat.org/Site/pages/inPage.asp?catID=6

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Week 33 (Book 2): Chabakuk and Torah that Comes from Suffering



HAAZINU: Their wine is the bitterness of serpents, and the bitterness of the ruthless cobras. (Deuteronomy 32:33)

Positive light: Their deep Torah wisdom came from the bitter serpents [enemies/exiles], and their ability to be a head (and to have a deep mind), from dealing with ruthless cobras [enemies/exiles].

HAFTORAH: 33. G-d is He who has fortified me with strength; and He looseth perfectly my path. (II Samuel 22:33)

QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: Loves the creations/people (Ohev et HaBriot)

PROPHET: Chabakuk

LEVITICAL CITY: Jarmuth


The thirty-third week of the year is the week of Pessach Sheini and Lag Ba’omer. In Haazinu, the verse speaks again of the bitter punishment faced by the Jewish people, comparing it to wine. Wine is also a known metaphor for the essence and the hidden part of the Torah, associated primarily with the works of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The joy of Lag Ba’omer comes in contrast to the suffering and the mourning that took place during omer period, with the passing of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai himself acquired this “wine” through much suffering. In the end, he said that the sufferring he endured was very much worth it.


In the Haftorah verse for this week, King David exclaims that G-d is his strength. The word used for strength is chayil. As explained in the beginning of this book, chayil is a known reference to the Torah, the source of King David’s power. The second part of the verse contains a word that is written (the ksiv) differently than how it is verbalized (the kri). The word written is darchoh (His way) not darchi (my way). The verse would therefore read, “G-d makes clear to me His perfect way.” The word for perfect used is tamim, which is also a reference to the Torah, as King David himself says in the psalms: “Torat Hashem Tmimah Meshivat Nafesh,” the Torah of G-d is perfect, it restores the soul.

The quality of this week is “loves the creations” (Ohev Et Habriot), the third term used by Rabbi Meir in the description of those that study Torah for its own sake (Lishmah). The first day of this week, Pessach Sheini, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda Bar Ilai, and, as already mentioned, Lag Ba’omer is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi). Rashbi is the quintessential example of someone who studies Torah Lishmah. The quality Ohev Et Habriot is also the term used by Hillel in Pirkei Avot to describe Aharon. Aharon is the leader of the Jewish people associated with the sefirah of Hod, and Lag Ba’omer represents Hod shebeHod in the omer count.


This week’s prophet is Chabakuk. Just as Lag Ba’omer is about the revelation of the essence of the omer itself, Chabakuk was the one that prophecized the verse in which to encompass all of the Torah: Tzadik be’Emunatoh Yichyieh, "the Tzadik lives by his faith." (Chapter 2:5) This verse also perfectly describes Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as well as Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda Bar Ilai, and all the other tzadikim connected to this week. Chabakuk also represents the concept of the revelation the deep secrets of the Torah, as we find in the end of Perek Shirah:
Rabbi Yeshayah, student of Rabbi
 Chanina ben Dosa, fasted eighty-five
fasts. He said, Dogs, about which it is
written, “The dogs are brazen of spirit;
they do not know satisfaction” (Isaiah
56:11) – shall they merit saying a song?
An angel answered him from Heaven and
said to him, Yeshayah, until when will
you fast over this? It is an oath from the
Holy One, Blessed is He; from the day
that He revealed His secret to Havakuk
the prophet, He has not revealed this
matter to anyone in the world.



The levitical city for this week is Jarmuth. It appears that this city is also called Ramoth and Remeth, which mean "height" or "heights." However, Ramoth and Yarmuth contains the letter Mem Vav Tav, which spell Maveth, death. Interestingly, Ramoth in Chronicles is spelled with an alef. Alef Mem Tav spells Emeth, truth (similar to Remeth, another spelling for this city). The name of this city seems to encompass the themes of Lag Ba’omer discussed above, heights and truth in the context of suffering and death.

The Tanach recounts that the city was conquered miraculously by Yehoshua (Ramoth with an alef  contains the word Re’em, perhaps a reference to Yehoshua himself,  who is compared to an animal called a Re'em).
The city was abandoned during the first exile,  but the Jewish people returned to the city in the times of Nechemia. Tel Yarmuth is an important archeological site in Israel today.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Week 34 (Book 2): Zephaniah and Loving Tzedakot




HAAZINU: 34. Is it not stored up with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? (Deuteronomy 32:34)

HAFTORAH: 34. He makes my feet like hinds; And sets me upon my high places. (II Samuel 22:34)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Loves The Ways of Righteousness (Ohev Et Hatzedakot)

PROPHET: Zephanaiah

LEVITICAL CITY: ‘Ein Gannim

Week Thirty-Four is the last week of Iyar, and Haazinu’s verse states that the sins of the Jewish people have not been forgotten, for G-d has stored and preserved them in His treasuries. This the plain understanding of the verse according to Rashi. Nevertheless, it appears that there is again room for a more positive understanding of the verse since the question remains why would the sins of the Jewish people be stored and sealed in G-d’s treasuries, which seems to imply that what is stored is something that He treasures, not something he despises, such as sins. Perhaps, as noted in the previous weeks, the description here is not of the sins of the Jewish people, but of their suffering for His sake, which is something that G-d treasures. Furthermore, the suffering will in fact give access to Hashem’s treasuries (as was the case with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), and to the Jewish people’s return to the Holy Land.


The Haftorah’s verse states that G-d makes King David’s feet (swift) like hinds, and sets him upon David’s high places. G-d set King David to stand in Jerusalem (also known as Ir David, the City of David), which is on a mountain, Mount Zion. Like the last part of the previous verse, the first part of this verse’s kri is different than the ksiv. The verse is read to mean that G-d makes King David’s feet swift like hinds (presumably for battle purposes). The ksiv however, makes reference to G-d’s feet.


The Torah states that the Earth is the place of G-d’s feet. G-d’s representatives on Earth are the Jewish people. Moshe once refers to the Jewish people as “feet.” (Bamidbar 11:21; See the Rebbe’s Ma’amar Ve’Atah Tetzaveh) The word for “hinds,” Ayalot, has the same spelling as Ayalut, strength. (See Psalm 22, where the term “Ayaluti,” my strength, is used) The first part of the verse can therefore be read to mean that G-d gives the Jewish people power to overcome the enemy and conquer the Land. This would fit in with the second part, which speaks of King David being established in Jerusalem. The verse also appears to be a reference to Moshe’s final blessing to the Jewish people, in which he states that “Ve Atah Al Bamoeimoh Tidroch” – and you shall trample upon their high places. Rashi states that this is a reference to Yehoshuah, who when conquering the land is commanded to place his own feet on the neck of the Cana’anite enemies. The neck itself is also a reference to the Temple.


Finally, there is also an incredibly similar verse in the writings of the prophet Chabakuk (from last week), at the end of his prayer, in which describes how G-d gloriously comes to save the Jewish people and their anointed leader, defeat their enemies, and bring them back to their Land: “G-d the Lord is my strength. He made my feet [as swift] as the hind's, and he guides me on my high places. To the conductor [to play] with my melodies!” (Chabakuk 3:19)


Perhaps it is because Lag Ba’omer already passed that the quality for this week is no longer one of the the characteristics of someone who studies Torah for its own sake, although the theme of love does continue, in line with the one of the general themes of the counting of the omer and the preparations for Shavuot. The quality is  “loves the ways of righteousness, justice” (ohev et hatzedakot). The fact that righteousness is written in the plural and feminine form suggests that the characteristic should also be understood as “loves the (multiple) givings of tzedakah.” The reason charity in Judaism is called tzedakah is that it is not primarily considered an act of generosity, but an act of righteousness and justice. This is a quality we see by every Jew, not just those that are observant. We saw (a continue to see) it in particular with regards to efforts to support the Jews of the Holy Land, and the Zionist endeavor as a whole.


This week’s prophet is Zephaniah. His prophecy certainly contains many references to the notion of loving righteousness:


Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who executed His judgment; Seek righteousness, seek humility! Perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the Lord's wrath. (Chapter 2:3)


The Lord is just in her midst; He commits no injustice. Every morning He brings His judgment to light. It does not fail. But the one who commits injustice knows no shame. (Chapter 3:5)


The remnant of Israel shall neither commit injustice nor speak lies; neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth, for they shall graze and lie down, with no one to cause them to shudder. (Chapter 3:13)


Zephanaiah’s words are reminscient of the characteristics spelled out in Week 34 of Book 1. They also hint to the vanity any pointlessness of the human lust for money and trust in it, which is diametrically opposed to tzedakah:


Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord's wrath. And with the fire of His passion the entire land shall be consumed; for an end, yea, a sudden end, He shall make of all the inhabitants of the land. (Chapter 1:18)


The levitical city for this week is ‘Ein Gannim, which means the fountain of gardens. Ein also means “eye”, as well as the Hebrew letter Ayin, which has the numerical value of seventy. One who gives tzedakah in generous amounts is said to have an Ayin Tovah. The Tanya also explains the connection between Tzedakah (Tzedakot) and gardens (in this case, the Upper Garden of Eden and the Lower Garden of Eden), as well as with the letter Ayin.


ביאור הענין: כי גדולה צדקה מכל המצות

The meaning of this [is as follows]: Charity is greater than all the commandments,

שמהן נעשים לבושים להנשמה

for [their performance] produces “garments” for the soul.

The performance of the commandments provides the “garments” that enable the soul to withstand the intense degree of Divine revelation to which it will be exposed in Gan Eden, instead of being nullified by it.

הנמשכים מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא

[These garments] are drawn forth from the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof,

Deriving from a source which is infinite, they enable the soul to cope with the infinite degree of revelation which it will encounter in Gan Eden.

(…)

ומהארה דהארה מאור מקיף הנ״ל, על ידי צמצום רב

And from a reflection of a reflection of the above-mentioned encompassing light, by means of a powerful contraction,

נעשה לבוש לבחינת נפש, רוח, נשמה, של האדם בגן עדן התחתון והעליון

a garment is made in the Lower and Upper Garden of Eden for the [soul-levels called] Nefesh-Ruach-Neshamah of man,

(…)

וזה הוא: זורע צדקות מצמיח ישועות

And this is the meaning of the phrase, “He who sows tzedakot (‘charities’)brings forth yeshuot ('salvations')”; i.e., the distribution of charity results in the salvation brought about by the light of the above-mentioned shin-ayin nehorin.

This alludes to the drawing down of the light and abundance of the shin-ayin nehorin, the “three-hundred-and-seventy lights” spoken of in the holy Zohar.

This light is much loftier than the Ten Sefirot of Atzilut: The letter shin, whose numerical value is 300, alludes to the three intellectual faculties of ChaBaD insofar as they exist at the spiritual level termed “hundreds”; the letter ayin,whose numerical value is 70, hints at the seven emotive attributes, each of which incorporates ten elements. This lofty illumination — the “helmet of salvation” — is drawn down upon the “head”, i.e., the beginning, of the Ten Sefirot.[1]

Similar to Dobrath, ‘Ein Gannim also has a deep connection with the Zionist endeavor. ‘Ein Gannim was the name of Israel’s first “Moshav Poalim,” (worker’s settlement), an approach to settling the land that used a slightly different model than the kibbutz. The moshav’s residents included various prominent members of the Zionist movement, including David Ben-Gurion.






[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/7948/jewish/Epistle-3.htm#footnoteRef19a7948

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Week 35 (Book 2): Uriah and Loving the "Just"


HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

HAFTORAH: 35. He trains my hand for war, so that mine arms do bend a brass bow. (II Samuel 22:35)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Loves Justice (Ohev Et HaMeisharim)

PROPHET: Uriah

Levitical City: Jokneam

The thirty-fifth week of the year is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Sivan, the month of Shavuot, is represented by the Tribe of Zevulun. Zevulun was known for its ability to combine the study of Torah with making a living, supporting not only itself, but also the Tribe of Issachar, which was totally immersed in learning Torah.

The verse of Haazinu speaks of vengeance and reckoning again the Jewish people. Again, however, there appears to be a very positive message. The vengeance could be interpreted to be against the enemy of the Jewish people, and the payment be for the positive deeds of the Jews and their suffering. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, we feel that the day of “payment” for our efforts during the counting of the omer, Shavuot, is fast approaching. Upon receiving the Torah, the Jewish people collapsed as they felt their soul leave their bodies and then return. The revelation to take place in the final day of judgment, will be one in which we will be overawed by G-d’s kindness towards His people. A glimmer of this kindness was seen during the Six-Day War, and the conquest of Jerusalem, on Yom Yerushalayim. Similarly, the conquest of the city was one into which we “stumbled” to victory.

In the Haftorah verse for this week, King David writes of how G-d is the one that trains his hands for war. This is yet another reference to Hashem’s kindness on Yom Yerushalayim, in line with a positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu.

The quality of this week is “loves justice” (Ohev Et HaMeisharim). As like the previous week, Meisharim, is not the standard Hebrew word used for justice. Meishar means to be leveled or plowed, a leveled plain or field. It also comes from the word yashar, straight, and denotes a straight and righteous path. A tzadik is called by this name regarding the fulfillment of positive behavior, while a yashar is so called regarding his fulfillment of the negative mitzvot. (Hayom Yom, 14th of Kislev

Working towards becoming a tzadik and a yashar is part of the preparation for receiving the Torah. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the entire people was able to be “like one man, with one heart,” because of the harmony these two characteristics (and especially fulfillment of the negative mitzvot, in not harming one another). This is the final preparation for the receiving of the Torah. 

Yashar is also the root of the word Yisrael and Yeshurun. The period of the counting of the omer is a time in which there is a personal transformation from Ha’Akov l’Mishor,[1] from Yaakov to Yisrael, as also described in these weeks in Book 1.

This week’s prophet is Uriah, whose prophecy is deeply connected to the above quality of the week and to Jerusalem. It was Uriah who said in the name of G-d that, “Zion will be plowed like a field.” As explained above, “Meishar” means a leveled, plowed plain or field. As explained by Rabbi Akiva, based on the verse in Isaiah 8:2, Uriah’s prophecy is linked to positive outcomes for Jerusalem as well. Just as the prophecy of Uriah had been fulfilled, so too would the positive prophecy of Zechariah also be fulfilled" (Makkot 24b).[2] 

Chassidic thought explains that sometimes a descent is necessary for their to be a greater ascent (Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah). Because of the corruption and crookedness at the time, it was necessary to make Jerusalem plowed and straight, and upright again. From this plowed field, would sprout forth the foundation of Jerusalem today, and the Jerusalem in the Messianic times, with the reconstruction of the Temple, may it be speedily in our days.

Uriah’s personal story is also quite tragic. Because of his negative prophecies, he runs away to Egypt, only to later be brought back and killed by the king of Judah. It is interesting that his message is included, not in a separate book of his own, but in the Book of Jeremiah, and his prophecy is described primarily as being, “like all the words of Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 26:20) Jeremiah is the prophet of the next week. The murder of Uriah was also a Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah. As mentioned previously, he is also referenced in the Book of Isaiah.

The levitical city for this week is Yokneam. Its name appears to be a contraction of the words “Yikneh Am” – He will acquire a nation. These words can also be read as “a nation shall acquire.” On Shavuot, Hashem acquired us as a nation. It was also on Shavuot that we, the Jewish people, acquired the Torah. The verse is nonetheless in the future tense, since this “acquisition process” was to be felt again in the future, in the days of Purim (when the Jews accepted the Torah upon themselves on a higher level), and with the coming of Mashiach. Yokneam today is an important high-tech center, as well as an extensive archeological site.


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