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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Week 19 (Book 2): Jehu and "Minimized" Pleasure (Ta'anug)



And the Lord saw this and became angry, provoked by His sons and daughters. (Deuteronomy 32:19)
Positive light: And G-d saw this [the prayer], and became insulted with the anger against His sons and daughters.

They confronted me on the day of my calamity; but the Lord was a support to me. (II Samuel 22:19)
                               
Minimized Pleasure (Miut Ta’anug)

Jehu son of Hanani

Abdon

The nineteenth week of the year is the second in the month of Shevat. The verse in Haazinu continues to make reference to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people as being one between a parent and a child. This week’s verse in Haazinu can also take on a more positive note. It could be read in such a way that would indicate that G-d took offense to the anger directed towards His children.

This week’s Haftarah verse is in line with this positive interpretation. It speaks of G-d’s support in times when we are attacked. The support comes from King David’s emunah, one of the themes of the month of Shevat, along with ta’anug, pleasure.

Quite appropriately, the quality of this week is minimized pleasure, miut ta’anug. Again, the idea is not to rid oneself of pleasure altogether, rather to do so with miut, smallness and humility. The idea is to enjoy the world’s pleasure in a way that elevates the world and connects us back to its Creator.

This week’s prophet is Jehu son of Hanani. Jehu spoke out against the corruption of both the kings of Israel and of Judah at the time. Interestingly though, in one of his few positive statements, Jehu praises Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, for his miut ta’anug - having removed idolatrous Ashera trees from his kingdom: “Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast put away the Asheroth out of the land, and hast set thy heart to seek G-d.” (2 Chronicles 19:3) Asherah trees were used for idol worship, as well as to beautify the places in which it was performed. Even though it was pleasing to the senses, planting such a tree near the altar is a violation of a Torah commandment.[1] In fact, Maimonides writes that Jews are forbidden from deriving any pleasure or benefit from such trees used for idol worship. (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 7:10-11) Trees is the most prominent theme of this month.

The levitical city for this week is Abdon. It comes from the word eved, servant. It brings to mind the famous verse found in the Torah portion of Beshalach: "Vaya'aminu BaHashem ub'Moshe Avdo," and they believed in in Hashem and in Moshe His servant. Abdon was also the name of one of the Judges of Israel. The Tanach states that the sons and grandsons of Abdon rode on seventy donkeys. All of the above appears connected to the idea of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah, particularly the Oral Torah, related to this month of Shevat




[1]  http://www.kolel.org/pages/5765/shoftim.html

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Week 20 (Book 2): Azariah and "Minimized" Sleep


HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:20)

Positive light: And He said, “I will hide My face from [their sins]. I will see [focus] on how they will come be at their completion. They will be a generation transformed [by teshuvah]; they are my children! No! There is faith in them [or I have faith in them!]

HAFTORAH: And He brought me forth into a wide place; He delivered me because He took delight in me. (II Samuel 22:20)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Minimized Sleep (Miut Sheinah)

PROPHET: Azariah son of Oded

LEVITICAL CITY: Helkath

On Week Twenty, Tu B’Shevat, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how G-d will hide His face from the Jewish people, because their sins had corrupted His children. Although the verse appears to be very negative, there are quite a few parts that can be understood positively. For example, G-d’s hiding His face and seeing their end can be understood as G-d focusing on future, mercifully awaiting their repentance. The second part of the verse can be read to show that G-d cares about his children and about their faith in Him that needs revealing. This is also the message of the Haftarah’s verse: once we are taken out of our confines, then our true nature comes out, our essence, which G-d so much desires.

This delight and desire are also connected to Ta’anug and the month of Shevat. The original Hebrew phrase for “generation of changes” is Dor Ta'apuchot, which sounds very much like Tapuach, which means apple or esrog. which is connected to Tu B’Shvat. Furthermore, the overriding theme is emunah, faith, which also means the ability of being able to change for the better - to celebrate the New Year of the Trees in the middle of winter, knowing the the spring will one day come, that is the ultimate message of Tu B’Shvat.

The quality for this week is minimized sleep (miut sheinah). Sleep is a state of confinement, in which our our consciousness and ability to serve G-d is significantly reduced. Nevertheless, sleep is also a moment of increased faith. We have faith that we will wake up in the morning.This is also one of the themes of Tu B’Shvat mentioned above. We celebrate it when the trees’ vitality is still dormant. However, the fruit is already there in potential.

 It is better not to “sleep” (slacken) in our service of G-d. However, even in such “sleep,” in moments in which we are not as focused, not as attuned to G-d, we have to act with miut, smallness and humility, hoping to serve Him better in the near future.

This week’s prophet is Azariah son of Oded. Azariah’s prophecy to King Asa also exemplifies the above notion of “minimized sleep. Azariah warns Asa not to slacken, but also informs him that in the days in which the Jewish people were “asleep” in their service, once they returned to G-d and sought Him, they found Him:

1. And the spirit of G-d was upon Azariah the son of Oded.
2. And he went out before Asa and said to him, "Hearken to me, Asa and all of Judah and Benjamin; the Lord is with you because you are with Him, and if you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.
3. Now there were many days for Israel without a true G-d and without an instructing priest, and without the Torah.
4. And they returned to the Lord, the G-d of Israel, when they were in distress, and they sought Him, and He was found by them.
5. And in those times, there was no peace for anyone going or coming for there were great turmoils upon all the inhabitants of the lands.
6. And nation was crushed by nation and city by city, because G-d discomfited them with all troubles.
7. But you be strong and let your hands not slacken, for there is reward for your work."
8. And when Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he strengthened himself and removed the abominations from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had captured from Mount Ephraim, and he renewed the altar of the Lord, which was in front of the vestibule of the Lord.
9. And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin and those dwelling with them from Ephraim and Manasseh and from Simeon, for many of Israel had defected to them when they saw that the Lord their G-d was with them.[1]

The levitical city for this week is Helkath, which means comes from the word “chelek,” part. This is also reminiscent of the theme of tithing of produce, to be performed on Tu B’Shvat. (See Week 20, Book 1).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Week 21 (Book 2): Jahaziel and "Minimized" Speech




HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:21)

Positive light: They have been zealous for me against a non-G-d; have been angered for me against the vanities [of the nations]; Therefore, I will be zealous for them against a non-people; I will be angry for them against a foolish nation.

HAFTORAH: The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He recompensed me. (II Samuel 22:21)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Minimized Conversation (Miut Sichah)

PROPHET: Jahaziel the Levite

LEVITICAL CITY: Rehob

The twenty-first week of the year is the last of the month of Shevat. The verse in Haazinu makes reference to the closeness in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, and how the Jews really upset G-d with their idol worship.

Understood more positively, G-d is in fact praising the Jewish people for their zealousness against idol worship. G-d promises to respond in kind, showing His zealousness for His people. This in fact is the exact meaning of the Haftorah’s verse for this week. G-d rewards us according to our righteousness and our (moral) cleanliness. Zealotry (when performed correctly) stems from the very depths of our faith, as exemplified by Pinchas and Eliyahu. These verses come to teach us that will ultimately be rewarded for our emunah. (Vanities appears related to the idea of focusing on what is not essential, such as the statement “How beautiful is this tree,” explained in Week 21 of Book 1).

The quality of this week is minimized conversation, miut sichah. (Idle talk is also the quintessential example of “vanity.”) Conversation is often a source of distraction, and can lead to unintended consequences. Therefore, the sages warn men not to engage in too much conversation with women, even one’s own wife. However, while idle conversation is frowned upon, purposeful conversation, with miut, humility and smallness, is a very positive quality. Prayer itself is called “conversation,” as the Torah tells us that Isaac went to “converse in the field.” Rebbe Nachman believes “Hitbodedut,” conversing with G-d, to be the highest of all levels. Such conversation in the field seems quite appropriate for the month of Shevat, when we find ourselves focusing so much on nature (See Book 1).  

This week’s prophet is Jahaziel the Levite. His prophecy recorded in the Tanach also demonstrates the power of miut sichah, humility in speech:

14. And Jahaziel the son of Zechariah the son of Benaiah the son of Jeiel the son of Mattaniah the Levite of the sons of Asaph-the spirit of the Lord was upon him in the midst of the assembly.
15. And he said, "Hearken, all Judeans, inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat, so said the Lord to you: You shall not fear, neither shall you be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the war is not yours but G-d's.
16. Tomorrow, descend upon them; behold they are ascending on the ascent to Haziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley, before the desert of Jeruel.
17. It is not for you to fight in this [war]; set yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem; fear not and be not dismayed. Tomorrow, go forth before them, and the Lord will be with you."[1]

The Tanach continues its account with a description of the salvation that takes place that is full of humility, including singing and praising of Hashem. When we are able to simply do our part, and then step back and let Hashem do the rest, incredible miracles happen. Sometimes it is best for us to be quiet, such as at the time of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds: “The Lord will fight for you, but you shall remain silent.” (Exodus 14:14)
The levitical city for this week is Rehob, which means street. It comes from the word rahav, which means wide. A similar word, merchav (wide place), is used in last week’s Haftarah verse. When we are in dire straits and call out to G-d, He responds in a “broad” way. This is the essence of emunah, the theme of the month of Shevat

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Week 22 (Book 2): Adar, Eliezer son of Dodavahu, and "Minimized" Laughter




HAAZINU: 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. (Deuteronomy 32:22)

Positive light: For a fire blazed in My wrath [against Amalek], and burned since Shaul. It consumed [Amalek] the land and its produce, setting aflame the foundations of mountains.

HAFTORAH: For I have kept the ways of the Lord and have not wickedly departed from [the commandments of] my G-d. (II Samuel 22:22)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Minimized Laughter (Miut Schok)

PROPHET: Eliezer son of Dodavahu

LEVITICAL CITY: Kedesh in Galillee (city of refuge)

Week Twenty-Two is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. This month is connected to the tribe of Naftali and the attribute of desire (ratzon). It is also the month of Purim. Haazinu’s verse for this week speaks of how G-d’s wrath burned and led to the destruction of the land and its surroundings.

A positive interpretation is that the wrath spoken of here is not against Israel, but rather against the “foolish nation” that attacks it: Amalek. The Hebrew word translated at first as “lowest depths” is Sheol, which can also be read as Shaul, the first king of Israel who failed to wipe out Amalek, and G-d’s anger against it continued since. In Adar, we read Parashat Zachor, in which we remember to destroy Amalek, and everything it represents. The Purim story itself is a contrast between Mordechai, a descendant of Shaul, and Haman, a descendant of Hagag, the King of the Amalekites. Ultimately, Mordechai defeats Haman, who is killed along with this sons.

The Haftarah’s verse also appears to point to this contrast between good and evil. The first half of the verse affirms good behavior, while the second rejects negative behavior. Interestingly, the part about good behavior, “I have kept the ways,” Shamarti Darchei, contains the letters of Mordechai. The second half, “have not wickedly” Veloh Rashati, is likely a reference to Haman who is called Haman HaRashah. Veloh Rashati is reminiscent of the name, “Vashti,” King Achashverosh’s evil wife, prior to Queen Esther.

The quality for this week is minimized laughter (miut schok). Laughter can lead a person to frivolity, and to ultimately being dragged in to the wrong circles. Laughter is certainly not bad per say – it can have mind expanding qualities, it is even a custom, based on the Talmud, to begin each lesson with a joke - nevertheless such laughter has to characterized by miut, smallness, humility. This is true of the month of Adar, when we are Marbim B'Simcha, we increase in joy, and true for Purim itself, when it is a mitzvah to get drunk and act in a way of schok; we just have to remember to do it with the right intentions.

This week’s prophet is Eliezer son of Dodavahu. His words to King Yehoshaphat incorporate the above idea of being careful in ones social interactions. King Yehoshaphat was righteous, but at one point he associated himself with King Ahab. The prophet rebuked King Yehoshaphat for his actions, and he was punished. The ships he had made with King Ahab were broken, and they were unable to sail them. This is the last event described in the Tanach prior to the King Yehoshaphat’s death.

The levitical city for this week is Kedesh, which is also a city of refuge. Its name comes from the Hebrew word Kadosh, which means “holy.” It is also related to the word Kiddush, which is the blessing over wine. It appears related to the drinking that takes place in Adar, which as superficially frivolous as it might seem, is in fact tremendously holy, in many ways even holier than Yom Kippur.
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