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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Week 28 (Book 2): Elisha and Being Happy with One's Lot


HAAZINU: For they are a nation devoid of counsel, and they have no understanding. (Deuteronomy 32:28)

Positive light: Once this people (Amalek) is no more, there is counsel, and when they are nothing, there is understanding.

HAFTARAH: And the humble people You do deliver; But Your eyes are upon the haughty [in order] to humble them. (II Samuel 22:28)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: He Who Is Happy With His Lot (HaSameach Be’Chelkoh)

PROPHET: Elisha

LEVITICAL CITY: Eshtemoa

Week Twenty-Eight is the week of the first day of Passover. Haazinu’s verse for this week discusses a people who is devoid of counsel and lacks understanding. A completely different take on this verse is that once Amalek is destroyed (Ovad, from the same verb as Arami Oved Avi) there is counsel, and when they are nothing, there is understanding. Amalek represents arrogance, and its destruction (burning the Chametz, our inflated ego) is the source of wisdom (Chochmah in Hebrew, which stands for Koach Mah, the strength of being "what," nothing). Yet another take is that when the Jewish people makes itself like nothing there is counsel and understanding. The Haftorah is also in line with this interpretation, speaking once more of the importance of humility and ridding oneself of haughtiness.

The quality for this week is once more one of the basic characteristics of humility: being happy with one’s lot in life.

This week’s prophet is Elisha, the disciple and successor of Eliyahu. Elisha showed happiness with his lot when he accepted to be Eliyahu’s disciple. Elisha also later receives a very special portion indeed: twice the spirit of Eliyahu. One of the greatest examples of being happy with one’s lot comes from the story involving Elisha and the Shunamite woman. Elisha inquires as to whether she needs anything so that he can repay the great hospitality that she and her husband provided him. Her response? “I dwell among my people.” She did not request anything, even though she did not have any children at the time. (II Kings 4:13)


The levitical city for this week is Eshtemoa. The meaning of its name appears to be “making oneself heard.” This seems related to the Passover Seder and the importance of speaking abundantly of the miracle of Passover.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Week 29 (Book 2): Jonah, Gechazi, and Placing a Fence Around One's Words


HAAZINU: If [only] they were wise and would understand this; they would reflect upon their fate. (Deuteronomy 32:29)

HAFTORAH: For You are my lamp, O' Lord; And the Lord does light my darkness. (II Samuel 22:29)

QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: He Who Makes A Fence Around His Words

PROPHET: Jonah ben Amittai

LEVITICAL CITY: Juttah

The twenty-ninth week of the year is the week of Passover, days two through eight. In the verse of Haazinu, G-d asks that the Jewish people reflect upon their fate. The word for “fate” is Acharitam, which literally means “their end.” Much of Pessach is about reflecting not only about the previous redemption from Egypt, but also using the example of this first redemption to reflect upon the final one (Acharit k’Reshit, as we say in our prayers). In the Diaspora, the eighth day of Passover is celebrated, but in Hebrew that is not known as Shmini (Eighth) but rather Acharon shel Pessach, the Last [Day] of Passover. On that day, it is a Chassidic custom instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov to have a Moshiach Seudah, a special meal in honor of the messianic redemption. In that meal, the Rebbe Rashab instituted that four cups of wine be drunk, just as at the Seder.

The Haftorah’s verse speaks of Hashem being our light in the times of darkness. Although we are still in the darkness of exile, connecting to G-d and to the final redemption brings light to it. During the first redemption, when Egypt was plagued with darkness, the Jewish people still had light.

The quality of this week is he who makes a fence around his words. During Pessach, and especially during the seder, we must be very careful with our words. Pessach stands for “Peh Sach,” the mouth talks.

This week’s prophet is Jonah, from the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah was also a disciple of Eliyahu and Elisha. He is very much represents the idea of putting a fence around one’s words, as he did not want to speak to the Assyrians in order not to help those that he foresaw were going to cause harm to the Jewish people. Even when on a stormy ship that was about to sink due to his refusal, he still did not want to speak. Jonah also is connected to the final redemption, as the Vilna Gaon explains he is a prototype for Mashiach ben Yosef. The story of Jonah is also connected to the redemption from Egypt, as the King of Nineveh is said to be no one other than Pharaoh himself.[1]

The levitical city for the week of Passover is Juttah. Juttah is spelled the same as “Yatteh” to turn, incline, or stretch one’s hand or arm. This word is found in the following passage in the Tanach:

3. Now the Egyptians are men and not G-d, and their horses are flesh and not spirit, and the Lord shall turn (“Yatteh”) His hand, and the helper shall stumble and the helped one shall fall, and together all of them shall perish.              
Rashi - shall turn His hand: For the Holy One, blessed be He, supports everything with His hand, and when He turns it, they will fall, like one who holds something in his hand, and when he inclines his hand, it falls. So is the Midrash Aggadah (Mechilta, Exodus 15:12). Jonathan, however, renders: shall raise the blow of His might.
This verse is extremely appropriate for the week of Passover, which includes the 7th day of Passover, when the Egyptian “horses and their riders” were thrown into the sea. It was during this time that G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm (Yad Chazakah v’haZroah Netuyah, the same root as the word Yuttah).
 




[1] Another student of Elisha who could very well have been the 29th prophet is Gechazi. However, the Tanach as well as the Oral tradition mention quite a few mistakes committed by Gechazi that likely caused him to miss the opportunity to be a major prophet. Because he does not place a fence around his words, Gechazi becomes a Metzorah. If one looks closely at those mistakes though, one will find that Gechazi contained a spark of Mashiach ben David, and that most likely his intentions were good, it is just that the actions were not appropriate for the time and place. Our sages teach us that it was he and his sons who were the Metzora’im by the gates of Aram, who end up saving the Jews at the time. Mashiach himself is also described in the Talmud as a Metzorah by the gates of Rome. (Sanhedrin 98a)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Week 30 (Book 2): Isaiah and Giving All the Credit to G-d


HAAZINU: 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? (Deuteronomy 32:30)

HAFTORAH: For by You I run upon a troop; By my G-d I scale a wall. (II Samuel 22:30)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: He Claims No Credit For His Achievements (Einoh Machazik Tovah L’atzmo)

PROPHET: Isaiah

LEVITICAL CITY: Beth-shemesh (city of Judah on the border)

Week Thirty is the last week of Nissan and includes Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) as well as the yahrzeit of Yehoshua. Haazinu’s verse for this week discusses the above-nature aspects of the persecution against the Jewish people, in which one or two people could pursue a thousand or even ten thousand. As far-fetched as this might sound, this actually happened during the Holocaust. On the other hand, during Yehoshua’s conquering of the Land of Israel, it was the Jews that were able to pursue the other nations, even though they were much smaller today. The same is true for Israel’s more recent wars, such as the War of Independence and the Six-Day War.

The Haftorah is once again more in line with the positive interpretation, reflecting this exact concept. King David talks about how he alone is able to run upon an entire troop of fighters, and how miraculously he’s able to even scale a wall.

The quality for this week, yet again, is about humility, about not taking credit for one’s achievements. Credit must be given to G-d, as reflected in the verse above: “For by You I run upon a troop; By my G-d I scale a wall.”

This week’s prophet is Isaiah. Interestingly, Nissan starts with Amotz, and ends with his son, Isaiah. Isaiah’s behavior also reflects the quality of this week. When Isaiah has one of the most vivid and intimate visions of G-d and the Divine Chariot, his reaction is not to think of himself and how great he must be to have merited such a vision. Quite to the contrary. He exclaims: “'Woe is me, for I am lost, because a man of unclean lips am I, and in the midst of people of unclean lips do I dwell; for the King, the L-rd of Hosts, have mine eyes seen.' [1] Isaiah’s prophecy in general has many admonitions but also many consolations and optimistic visions of the future. However, the optimism is always based on the notion that it is G-d that grants success, once we return to Him. Joshua himself also was very humble, and did not take credit for his achievements; he always saw himself as a follower and disciple of Moshe.

The levitical city for this week is Beth-shemesh, which means the house of the sun. It was Yehoshuah that famously told the sun to stand still:

12. Then Joshua spoke to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, "Sun, stand still upon Gibeon, and Moon in the valley of Ajalon." 13. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Jashar? (which is the Torah)? So the sun stood still in the midst of the heaven, and it did not hasten to go down exactly a whole day.
It is interesting that for the week of Yehoshuah’s yahrzeit the levitical city should be connected to the sun, since after all, our sages compare Moshe to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. Perhaps that is exactly the point, that Yehoshua saw himself not as a separate entity, but simply being “from the house of Moshe,” a student of his that “never left the tent.” Beth-shemesh figures prominently in the Tanach – it is also the birthplace of Shimshon, whose name also is connected to Shemesh, sun. Perhaps more than any other leader, Shimshon represents the idea of supernatural strength, which comes from G-d. 






[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/464019/jewish/The-Prophet-Isaiah.htm

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Week 31 (Book 2): Yoel and the Rock of Israel



HAAZINU: For their rock is not like our [Mighty] Rock. Nevertheless, our enemies sit in judgment. (Deuteronomy 32:31)

HAFTORAH: [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. (II Samuel 22:31)

QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: Beloved (Ahuv)

PROPHET: Yoel

LEVITICAL CITY: Kishion

The thirty-first week of the year is the week of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, as well as Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day. Iyar represents the Tribe of Issachar, who was known for its complete dedication to the study of Torah. In the verse of Haazinu, Moshe exclaims that there is no “rock” as our “Rock”, Tzur, another term for G-d. The best description of this term is probably the way King David describes G-d in the Haftorah verse for this week: a shield in which to take refuge. The verses are also a perfect description of G-d’s protection during Israel’s difficult struggle for independence, one in which Israel faced overwhelming odds, and in which the rest of the world simply sat in judgment. This hypocritical “judgment” continues until this day.
The quality of this week is “beloved” (Ahuv). This term is also used by Rabbi Meir in the description of those that study Tora h for its own sake (Lishmah), as the Tribe of Issachar did. The victory celebrated on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is also a sign of how beloved we are by G-d. This feeling of being beloved came shortly after the Holocaust, when so many of the Jewish people felt so abandoned.
This week’s prophet is Yoel. His prophecy parallels the destruction followed by the modern miracles and victories that took place during this time.[1] It describes the plague of the locusts that completely devastated the Land of Israel. After the Jews repent, they are promised much grain, wine, and oil. (2:18‑19)
The levitical city for this week is Kishion, which comes from the word kasheh, which means difficult, tough. These are characteristics of Issachar (a strong-boned donkey), as well as characteristics shown by the Jews in fighting and winning Israel’s War of Independence.

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