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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Week 23 (Book 2): Hosea and Slowness to Anger (Erech Apayim)




HAAZINU: I will link evils upon them. I will use up My arrows on them. (Deuteronomy 32:23)

Positive light: I will gather the evil that was over them, and destroy completely my arrows (such as Amalek, which I had used in the past against my people).

HAFTORAH: For all His ordinances were before me; and [as for] His statutes, I did not depart from it. (II Samuel 22:23)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: With Slowness to Anger (Erech Apayim)

PROPHET: Hosea

LEVITICAL CITY: Hamoth-dor

The twenty-third week of the year is the week of the seventh of Adar, which is both the day of Moshe’s birth as well as of that of his passing. The verse in Haazinu continues to makes reference to the destruction inflicted on the Jewish people, and the passing of Moshe is perhaps one of the greatest examples of such loss.

Again, if understood more positively, the verse could be a reference to the destruction not of the Jewish people, but of Amalek, a continuous theme of the month of Adar. Rashi’s commentary hints to such an understanding, since it notes that the arrows that attack the Jewish people are the ones that are diminished, not the Jews. The Haftorah continues its positive tone, showing how we actually maintained our faith and obedience to G-d’s laws. Interestingly, the word for “before me” used is Lenegdi, which can also be read as Lenegdai, “towards those against me.” The verse therefore can be read as stating that the Torah’s commandments are a protection against the attackers of the Jewish people, such as Amalek.

The quality of this week is slowness to anger, erech apayim. This is a very appropriate quality for the week of Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrzeit, because it was through his pleading on behalf of the Jewish people that G-d revealed this quality of His, one of the thirteen attributes of mercy. During his plea to Hashem, Moshe stated that if G-d would not forgive the Jewish people, “erase me from Your book.” Because of this statement, Moshe’s name does not appear in the Torah portion of Tetzaveh, which usually occurs on the week of his yahrzeit.

It was also due to Moshe’s lack of this attribute, a relative quickness to anger (at Moshe’s level, of course, which is something we cannot even fathom), that led to his castigating the Jewish people and striking the rock instead of talking to it. This mishap is what prevented Moshe from entering the the Land of Israel and passing away.

This week’s prophet is Hosea. Hosea’s prophecies recorded in the Tanach center around G-d’s unending mercy and slowness to anger, his love for the Jewish people despite their sins.[1]

The levitical city for this week is Hamoth-Dor, which means the springs of Dor. Interestingly Hamoth has the same root as the word Hamath, anger. Springs represent the idea of anger/heat being contained, just as the springs of Tiberias are said to come from an opening in the gates of Gehinnom ("hell") created in the time of the Flood. It was an opening that came from anger and was now contained and turned to positive use. (Dar comes from the word for home, a “domesticated” anger). 


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Week 24 (Book 2): Amos and a "Good Heart"




HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:24)

Positive light: They (Amalek) will sprout hairs of famine attacked by demons, excised by Meriri.. Sleep, meat [meals], I will send them [to give mishloach manot], with the “venom” (wine) of those that lie in the dust (drunkards). 

HAFTARAH: And I was single-hearted toward Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. (II Samuel 22:24)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: With a Good Heart (Lev Tov)

PROPHET: Amos

LEVITICAL CITY: Kartan

Week Twenty-Four is the week of Purim. Haazinu’s verse for this week speaks of the horrible punishments inflicted on the Jewish people.

A simple way to read this verse in a positive light is to once again apply it to the enemies of the Jewish people, to Amalek. Yet there also appears to be a way of interpreting at least the second part of the verse positively while still applying it to the Jewish people. The second part of the verse reads, “Shen Behemoth Eshalach Bam Im Chamat Zochalei Afar.” It can be a reference to the mitzvoth, the commandments of the holiday of Purim: sleep (sheinah); eating a meal and providing a meal for the needy (behemoth, which means animals); messenger gifts, mishloach manot (eshalach bam); and with drinking the “venom” of those that lie in the dust (drunkards, chamat zochalei afar). A reference to wine as venom is found in the verse in the prophecy of Chabakuk, Chapter 2:15. “Woe to him who gives his friend to drink, who adds Your venom and also makes him drunk in order to gaze upon their nakedness.”

The Haftarah’s verse points to the need to be tamim, pure, translated here as single-hearted. The difference between the Jewish people and Amalek ultimately boils down to this. Our sages explain that the essence of Amalek is about instilling doubt in Israel’s faith in G-d. (In Hebrew, Amalek has the same numerical value as Safek, doubt) The key to winning this battle is being tamim with G-d, acting with simplicity.[1]

Ultimately, that is also the test of the mitzvah of drinking on Purim. When one’s mind is not fully in control, and when the truth of one’s personality comes out, is one still able to behave with the utmost devotion to God, and keep away from lewd and improper behavior.

The quality for this week is a good heart (lev tov). This reflects the same characteristics mentioned above. Purim is all about the heart. The intellect is nullified with wine, and our true emotions come out. Wine is also clearly connected to the heart: “Wine gladdens the heart of the human being” (Psalms 104:5) The connection is actually most explicit in the beginning of the Megillah itself: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was good with wine (kitov lev bayayin).” (Esther, 1:10)

This week’s prophet is Amos. Amos’ prophecy very much defines what it means to have a good heart. The following is an excerpt from Amos’ prophecy: “Seek good and not evil in order that you live, and so the Lord G-d of Hosts shall be with you, as you said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; perhaps the Lord G-d of Hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Chapter 5:14-15)           

The levitical city for this week is Kartan, which apparently is short for Kiriataim, which means “two cities.” As explained in Book One, Adar in general and Purim in particular has very much a theme of duality. The heart itself contains within it a duality, a good inclination and a bad one. On Purim, both are supposed to serve G-d, despit the fact that the intellect itself does not play a central role in this service.




[1] See Rebbe Nachman’s Story, “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton,available at http://azamra.org/Essential/sophist.htm)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Week 25 (Book 2): Micah the Morashite and "Faith in the Sages"




From outside, the sword will bereave, and terror from within; young men and maidens, suckling babes with venerable elders. (Deuteronomy 32:25)

Positive light: [The Purim decree will be turned on its head, regarding Amalek…] 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. (II Samuel 22:25)

Faith in the Sages (Emunat Chachamim)

Micah the Morashite

Jerusalem

The twenty-fifth week of the year is the last week of Adar. The verse in Haazinu continues to make reference to the destruction inflicted on the Jewish people, this time describing how they will be decimated regardless of age or gender. This was the decree that Haman imposed on the Jewish people in the times of Purim.

Again, if understood more positively, the verse is a reference to the destruction of Amalek. The Jewish people are commanded to wipe out all of Amalek, including women, the elderly and the babies. When killing Agag, the king of the Amalekites, Samuel exclaims: “As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.” See Samuel I, 15:33:

The Haftorah continues its positive tone, and like in Week 23, again the term Leneged (before or against) is used. The term in this verse is Leneged Einav, “before His eyes,” which in this case can mean “for the one against His eyes.” Amalek is not only against the Jewish people, but against G-d Himself. It is like a thorn in His eyes. Amalek is very much associated with keri, a source of impurity. Cleanness or purity in this context might also mean fulfilling G-d’s commandment to destroy Amalek unquestioningly, correcting King Saul’s mistake.

The quality of this week is faith in the sages, emunat chachamim. This quality is certainly a central theme of the message of Purim, when the Jews showed faith in the actions of Mordechai and Esther. At first glance, Mordechai could even be blamed for starting the persecution against the Jews by not bowing to Haman. However, we see that the Jewish people did not blame him. On the contrary, they had full faith in him, stood behind him, and followed his directives. Haman saw the Jews as an “Am Mordechai,” a nation of Mordechai(s).

This week’s prophet is Micah the Morashite. Much of Micah’s prophecy is directed towards the heads of the Jewish people, its sages:

1. And I said: Hearken now, you heads of Jacob and officers of the house of Israel! Is it not incumbent upon you to know the judgment?
2. Those who hate good and love evil-who rob their skin from upon them and their flesh from upon their bones,        
3. and who ate the flesh of My people and flayed their skin from upon them, and opened their bones and broke them, as in a pot, and like meat within a cauldron 
4. then they shall cry out to the Lord, but He shall not respond to them; and He shall hide His countenance from them at that time, as they wrought evil with their works.  
5. So said the Lord concerning the prophets who mislead my people, who bite with their teeth and herald peace, but concerning whomever does not give into their mouth, they prepare war.
6. Therefore, it shall be night for you because of the vision, and it shall be dark for you because of the divination, and the sun shall set on the prophets, and the day shall be darkened about them.      
7. And the seers shall be ashamed, and the diviners shall be disgraced, and they shall all cover their upper lips, for it is not a statement of G-d.      
8. But I am truly full of strength from the spirit of the Lord and justice and might, to tell Jacob his transgression and Israel his sin.    
9. Hearken now to this, you heads of the house of Jacob and you rulers of the house of Israel, who condemn justice and pervert all that is straight.         
10. Each one builds Zion with blood and Jerusalem with injustice.          
11. Its heads judge for bribes, and its priests teach for a price; and its prophets divine for money, and they rely on the Lord, saying, "Is not the Lord in our midst? No evil shall befall us."         
12. Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.

The above text also echoes a very strong theme of Purim and the month of Adar: the fact that Hashem is hidden. In the Book of Jeremiah, the connection between Micah and emunat chachamim is even more obvious:

Then certain of the elders of the land rose and said to all the congregation of the people, saying: Micah the Morashtite was prophesying in the days of Hezekiah the king of Judah, saying: So said the Lord of Hosts: Zion shall be plowed for a field, and Jerusalem shall be heaps, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest. Did Hezekiah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord? And he entreated the Lord, and the Lord renounced the evil that He had spoken concerning them. But we are doing great harm to ourselves [if we kill him]. (Jeremiah, Chapter 26, 17-19)


The levitical city for this week is Jerusalem, since the Temple was also considered a city of refuge. For now, half rests in the tribe of Judah, while the other half rests in the tribe of Benjamin. (See Week 9) In the future, Jerusalem will have its own territory, separate from those of each tribe. This week is the last opportunity of the year for contributing the half-shekel for the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Megillah, Achashverosh says that he would be willing to give Esther up to half his kingdom, which the sages learn to mean, up to Jerusalem.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Week 26 (Book 2): Amotz and Destroying our Arrogance


I said that I would make an end of them, eradicate their remembrance from mankind. (Deuteronomy 32:26)

Positive light: [Regarding Amalek, and regarding Biur Chametz (burning leavened bread for Passover)] 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. (II Samuel 22:26)

Acceptance of Suffering (Kabalat Hayissurim)

Amotz

Hebron - Kiryat Arba (City of Refuge)

Week Twenty-Six is the week of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Nissan represents Judah, the leader of the brothers, and from whom comes King David and all his royal descendants, including Mashiach. Haazinu’s verse for this week is the last one that directly speaks about destruction, this time utter and complete destruction. This verse is a confirmation that the negativity in the previous verses should be interpreted as referring to Amalek, since, after all, it is Amalek that will be completely and utterly destroyed, not the Jewish people.

Even though it is the month of Adar that is primarily linked to the destruction of Amalek, Nissan also contains a similar theme, in that Passover is marked by the burning of all leavened bread and other substances (chametz). It is well known that in spiritual terms chametz represents the ego, and that the impurity of Amalek is deeply connected to one’s inflated ego. As Rabbi Shalom Arush explains, the kelipah (impurity) of Amalek is haughtiness and lack of gratitude. Haman himself had so much but said that everything he had was meaningless because one man, Mordechai, would not bow down to him.

The Haftorah continues to shed a positive light on G-d’s behavior towards us. When we rid ourselves of our ego and personal desires, and instead act with purity (temimut), focusing piously (chassidut) on what it is that G-d wants from us, then in turn G-d responds in a similar vein. This verse also expresses the quality of “hoda’ah,” acknowledgement, which is closely associated with Judah (it is in fact the root of his name), and G-d’s relationship with him. Judah courageously recognized Tamar’s righteousness. Hashem shows kindness to the royal lineage of Judah, who act kindly and uprightly. Hoda’ah also means to give thanks. When we are grateful, G-d gives us even more reasons to be grateful. The reality is we should be grateful for everything, even what appears to be bad in our eyes, because we must always keep in mind that everything that G-d does is for the good.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the quality for this week is acceptance of suffering (kabalat hayissurim). Acceptance of suffering is the ultimate sign of gratefulness and of humility.

This week’s prophet is Amotz, the father of the prophet Isaiah. The Talmud teaches us that Amotz was the brother of Amatziah, son of King Joash. (Megillah 10b) Amotz saw the spiritual downfall of his brother, who began his reign on a positive note, initially obeying the words of the prophet and becoming militarily successful. However, after his victory and taking spoils from Edom, Amatziah begins to worship their idols. G-d becomes angry with Amatziah and sends Amotz to question his brother’s actions. Amatziah shows tremendous arrogance and dismisses the prophet’s words (Amatziah’s arrogance is also pointed out by the King of Israel, Joash, II Chronicles 21:18, who ultimately defeats him in battle). Amatziah’s downfall comes from keeping the spoils of Edom, and not cleansing them from idolatry – a very strong parallel with the burning of chametz. (II Chronicles 21:16)

Amotz’s words point to his acceptance of the suffering that was to come. When Amatziah dismissed him, his reaction was as follows, “So the prophet desisted, but he said, “I know that G-d has made a plan to destroy you, for you have done this thing, and you have not heeded my counsel.” Amotz does not insist in confronting Amatziah. He understood that the suffering that was to come was G-d’s will, and was due to Amatziah’s arrogance.

The levitical city for this week is Hebron, also known as Kiryat Arbah, also a city of refuge. As explained in Book One, Nissan is the month of redemption, and its weeks represent the redemption from the different exiles endured by the Jewish people. Kiryat Arbah, which means the “City of Four” is a reference to the four couples buried in Hebron (Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeccah, Jacob and Leah) and also the four giants that lived there. The number four is also one of the main themes of Passover itself: four glasses of wine, the four kinds of sons described in the Hagaddah, etc.)

The four giants of Kiryat Arbah appear to be clear references to the four main exiles. The first is Sheshai, a reference to Babylonia. The Jastrow dictionary states that Sheshai is a “surname for Babylonia”, and also spells the word Bavel (Hebrew for Babylonia) in the numerical transposition known as “Atbash.” The Midrash states that this giant had this name because he was made of marble (Shaish in Hebrew) – this appears related to the Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of Babylonia, who had statues made in his honor. The second giant, Achiman, is a reference to Persia. His name appears to be a contraction of the names Achashverosh and Haman, the main enemies of the Jewish people in the Purim story. The third giant, Talmai is a clear reference to Greece, whose leader in the times of Greek exile was Talmai, Ptolomy in English. The fourth giant is referenced simply as the father of the other three. This is the exile of Edom, the “father” of the exiles, the longest and harshest by far. 

Giants are also a symbol of arrogance, while our forefathers, buried in Hebron, are a symbol of humility. Abraham stated to G-d, "I am but dust and ashes." When we nullify the chametz, we pronounce, let it be considered "like the dust of the earth."


The four giants/exiles also appear to parallel the four couples. Sheshai/Babylonia (Bavel), is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, a generation which Avraham had to confront directly - particularly its leader, Nimrod. Avraham is also known for destroying the statues of his father.

Achiman/Persia is an exile and the Purim story are characterized by extreme self-sacrifice, a characteristic of Isaac and theAkeidah, as we saw last week. The Torah also makes references to how Isaac and Rebecca prayed together for a child, and how much of what happened to Isaac and future generations were actually determined by Rebecca's actions, such as the blessing of Jacob over Eisau.

Talmai/Greece was primarily about an affront to the Torah, its Divine origin, and its lifestyle. Torah is mainly a characteristic of Jacob. Jacob, Ish Tam (a wholesome, "simple/straightforward" man) stands in contrast to the godless (or pantheistic) "sophistication" of the Greeks.

The father of the giants/Rome, involves all of humanity. Pax Romana reached the entire world, and in many ways we are still under it today. Edom is Eisav, who was red, also symbolic of Mars and of his military prowess. Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, yet Adam is also an acronym of three people: Adam (himself), David, and Mashiach. David was also red. He was a "kosher" version of Eisav and of the potential that he so badly missed. Mashiach son of David, will come and redeem the entire world, fixing the curse of the snake, and bringing the world back to its fullness and potential, like that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Week 27 (Book 2): Eliyahu and Knowing One's Place


HAAZINU: 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!" (Deuteronomy 32:27)

HAFTORAH: With a pure one, You show Yourself pure; But with a perverse one, You deal crookedly. (II Samuel 22:27)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: He Who Knows His Place (Hamakir Et Mekomoh)

PROPHET: Eliyahu

LEVITICAL CITY: Libnah (City of Refuge)

Week 27 is the second week of Nissan. Its verse in Haazinu makes reference to the theme of the previous week: the problem of haughtiness. Understood as a reference to the destruction of Amalek, the reason it has taken so long for it to come about is because of the haughtiness of the Jewish people, how their inflated ego would distort reality. Unfortunately, we saw some of this after the Six-Day War. The miraculous victory led to uncalled for exuberance and distortions by the Jewish people, which ultimately led to the debacle that took place during the Yom Kippur War. The Haftorah verse has a similar theme. G-d treats those that are pure with purity, while those that are crooked and distort reality, he acts accordingly. During the time before Passover, we try the utmost to purify ourselves, especially of our ego.

The quality of this week is “he who knows his place” (Hamakir Et Mekomoh). This perhaps is the ultimate description of what it means to be humble. Being humble is not about considering oneself to be meaningless, but rather to know one’s place: one’s responsibility and task in life. The word for place in Hebrew, Makom, is also one of the names of G-d. Hamakir et Mekomoh can therefore mean “he who knows his G-d.” That is also the message of Passover. Pharaoh, the ultimate example of an overgrown ego, did not at first release the Jewish people because he said he did not know G-d. Moshe, on the other hand, the most humble of men, knew G-d better than any other mortal.

This week’s prophet is Eliyahu. Eliyahu also was very humble, even though he did not hesitate in speaking up against the King of Israel at the time and rebuking all of Israel for their hesitation in choosing to serve only G-d. Eliyahu knew his place, and when he was asked, “Why are you here, Eliyahu?" Eliyahu responds, "I have acted with great zeal for Hashem, G-d of Legions…”  [Kings I 19:9] Eliyahu is also one of the best examples of someone who “knows his G-d.” Every Shabbat, we read, Eliyahu’s description and exaltation of G-d’s attributes, known as Patach Eliyahu. This prophet also plays a major role in the Passover Seder.



The levitical city for this week is Libnah, also a city of refuge. Libnah comes from the word, “Lavan,” which means white. It is perhaps a reference to the purification before Pessach, as well as one of the koshering processes for utensils, Libun, in which metals are heated until they are white hot. Lavan is also one of the main enemies of the Jewish people. In fact, the recounting of the Passover Seder begins with the phrase, Arami Oved Avi,” an Aramean tried to destroy my father, a reference to Lavan who tried to destroy Jacob. (See Book 1, which shows the connection between this week and Jacob)
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