Weekly Cycle

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Week 10 (Book 2): Samuel and Purity

HAAZINU: He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye. (Deuteronomy 32:10)
HAFTARAH: And He bent the heavens and He came down; and thick darkness was under His feet. (II Samuel 22:10)

In Week Ten, now fully in the month of Kislev, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how G-d protected and gave understanding to the Jewish people when they were in dire circumstances. The verse is speaking about spiritual desolation, very much like the state in which the Jewish people found themselves during the times of the miracle of Chanukah. In their confrontation with Greek culture and civilization, G-d not only protected them for assimilation, but gave them the tools of logic and understanding, present in Greek philosophy, so that the Jews could apply them to the Torah. Much of the logical debate and discussion found in the Babylonian Talmud is a product of this encounter. The Talmud contains many Greek words, and in fact the name of the Greek king at the Ptolomy (Talmai in Hebrew) has the same numerical value (gematria) as the word “Talmud.”

The Haftarah’s verse also appears to be connected to Chanukah. The verse speaks of G-d coming down and bending the laws of nature, as well of “thick darkness.” During Chanukah, the Jewish people saw open miracles that defied the laws of nature. Furthermore, it is well known that the Greek exile is compared to darkness, while Chanukah is the festival of light. The comparison between Greece and darkness is noted in the Midrash cited in the previous week.

The quality for this week is purity (Taharah). Last week’s quality, joy, and purity are probably the two quintessential qualities associated with Chanukah. After the Greeks defiled the Temple, the holy Kohanim purified and rededicated it. The miracle of Chanukah is related to the pure oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, which lasted for eight days.

Similarly, this week’s prophet, Samuel, is also the quintessential representation of purity. A Nazir from before birth, Samuel was raised in the Holy Tabernacle by the Kohen Gadol himself. G-d spoke to Samuel from a very young age, and his greatness is compared to that of Moshe and Aharon combined.

This week’s levitical city is Gibeon. This city as well, represents how G-d’s protection of the Jewish people is above nature, and how it is through these “above-nature” qualities that we are able to defeat our enemies. The following is a passage from the book of Joshua:

Then Joshua spoke to the L-rd on the day when the L-rd delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel [in the city of Gibeon], and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still upon Gibeon, and Moon in the valley of Ayalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. (10:12-13)

This miracle also represents the victory of light over darkness. Joshua and the Children of Israel were on the verge of a major victory, and as nightfall was approaching it would have been impossible to continue pursuing the Amorites. That is why it was so important that that the sun stand still, giving the Jewish people sufficient light and time to defeat the enemy. This was an amazing miracle, witnessed by the entire world. It was a sanctification of G-d’s name and an opportunity to spread the knowledge of His miracles, similar to what takes place during Chanukah.

An important lesson that we learn from this week’s quality is that in order to receive the Torah, the mind must be pure and receptive to it. If we are distracted by a million other pieces of useless and/or even debasing images and information, then we cannot absorb the Torah properly. If one's animal tendencies are running wild, it will be very difficult not only to concentrate, but to be able to appreciate the Torah's holiness. Without purifying oneself to the best of one's ability, the actual lines between purity and impurity, between the sacred and the profane, become so blurry that nothing appears to be special in one's eyes. If everything is holy and worthwhile, then nothing is. A "Yes" is only worth something, if sometimes a person also knows when to say "No."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Week 11 (Book 2): Ministering the Sages

HAAZINU: As an eagle awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them on its pinions. (Deuteronomy 32:11)

HAFTARAH: And He rode upon a cherub and did fly; He was seen upon the wings of the wind. (II Samuel 22:11)




The eleventh week of the year (usually) includes the birthday and yahrzeit of the Mitteler Rebbe on the ninth of Kislev, and always include the festival of his liberation on Yud Kislev, the tenth of Kislev. The verse in Haazinu refers to G-d using a metaphor of an eagle taking care of its young. One of the main themes of the Chanukah is Chinuch, education of the young. We see also the pains in which the Alter Rebbe went through in order to educate his son and successor, the Mitteler Rebbe. There is a Chassidic saying that Yud Kislev represents the birth of the Chassid, and that Yud Tes Kislev, on the following week, represents his circumcision. There is an intrinsic connection between these two dates, which speaks volumes of the bond between the first two Rebbes of Chabad.

Both the verse of Haazinu and that of the Haftorah are about wings and flying. They appear related to the above-nature quality of the holidays of this month, as well as the heavenly nature of each holiday’s protagonists.

The quality for this week is ministering the sages. This points to the corollary in the relationship between the first two Rebbes. Just as the Alter Rebbe was meticulous when it came to to the Mitteler Rebbe’s so too was the Mitteler Rebbe diligent in serving his father and continuing his work.

This week’s prophet is Gad. The Midrash teaches us that Gad also diligently served King David, always by his side along with the prophet Nathan. Gad helps King David during very important moments in his reign. He first tells him to Gad tells King David to return to the Land of Judah. (Samuel I, 22:5) He also tells him about the sin of the census, and about constructing an altar.

The levitical city for this week is Gebah, which also has many of the same themes related to Chanukah and Yud Kislev mentioned above. Gebah again brings to the fore one of the most important relationships between father and son, and one of the most miraculous events to happen to them. Samuel I, Chapters 13 and 14, tell of the miraculous story of one of Israel’s wars against the Philistines. The story feautres Shaul and Yonatan, as well as Yonatan's armor-bearer, who ministered to him. 

An important lesson we learn from this week’s quality for acquiring the Torah, is that a key aspect of learning Torah is actually interacting with someone that has already acquired it. There are many key things in Torah that simply cannot be learned from a book. Also, when we are in the presence of a sage, not only can we get our questions answered, but we realize that there are many more questions and issues that require clarification that we had not even begun thinking about.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Week 12 (Book 2): Nathan and Friendship

HAAZINU: [So] the Lord guided them alone, and there was no alien deity with Him. (Deuteronomy 32:12)

HAFTARAH: And He fixed darkness about Him as booths (lit. Sukkot); gathering of waters, thick clouds of the skies. (II Samuel 22:12)




On Week Twelve, that of Yud-Tes Kislev, the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how G-d guided the Jewish people alone, with no foreign gods. One of the basic principles of Chassidism is to understand the concept of Hashkachah Pratit - that everything that happens in the world is directly from Hashem, without interference of any foreign influences are powers. Everything is from Him, and everything is for the very best.

Furthermore, one of the main actions that led to the rededication of the Temple on Chanukah was clearing it of foreign gods that had been placed there by the Greeks and their sympathizers.

The Haftarah’s verse also appears to continue the theme of Yud-Tes Kislev and Chanukah. Chassidut is about transforming the darkness into light. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, darkness is a symbol of the exile of Greece. Chanukah has a very deep parallel with Sukkot. In fact, Chanukah is eight days long in order to parallel the eight days of Sukkot.

The quality necessary for acquiring the Torah for this week is “bonding of friends.” This is perhaps the main principle of Chassidism – that all Chassidim are one family, and that all Jews are one. 

This week’s prophet, Nathan, very much illustrates what is meant by this week's quality. First, he reprimands King David and shows him through a metaphor how his actions regarding Batsheva represented the very opposite of such "bonding of friends." 

Furthermore, is exactly through the "bonding of friends" that Nathan acts on Batshevah’s behalf in order to stave off Adonyah’s usurpation of the throne. Adonyah himself had brought all his friends and allies to declare himself king. King David therefore commands Nathan to join Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, Zadok the Kohen, and other friends/allies in order to declare Solomon the king. (Kings I 12:1-4)

This week’s levitical city is Anathoth. Similar to Book I, where the Raven was the animal for Week 12, Anathot seems to be the darkest of levitical cities. The Zohar explains that Anathot means “poverty.” It was a city of Kohanim gone awry, whose residents wanted to kill the prophet Jeremiah, who himself came from there. G-d speaks to Jeremiah to prophecize against the city, and its prospects are quite dim. Chassidut came to teach us that even Anathoth can be elevated.

Anathoth comes from the word, “Anat,” the name of a Canaanite pagan warrior-goddess, which seems to be related to the Greek pagan goddess Athena. Perhaps this is related to the idea of fighting the Greeks both culturally and militarily, during the times of Chanukah. The name Anat also has a deeper, positive side: it is the name of the parent of Shamgar, one of the judges and redeemers of Israel mentioned in the Book of Judges. It is also the name of one of the members of the Tribe of Benjamin, and of the signers of a covenant with G-d referenced in the Book of Nehemiah. (I Chron 7:8; Nehemiah 10:19) 

An important lesson we learn from this week’s quality for acquiring the Torah is similar to last week's, "ministering the sages." One of the first statements in Pirkei Avot is "Make for yourself a rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person favorably." Acquring a friend immediately follows making for oneself a rabbi. The Talmud (Taanit 23a) also states, "oh chevruta, oh mituta," either companionship or death. Studying with a partner brings clarity and also allows you to better gage one's progress.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Week 13 (Book 2): David and Avigail, and the Quality of "Sharp Discussion"

HAAZINU: He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the crag. (Deuteronomy 32:13)

HAFTARAH: From the brightness before Him flamed forth coals of fire. (II Samuel 22:13)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Sharp Discussion with Students (Pilpul HaTalmidim)

PROPHET(S): David and Avigail


The eleventh week of the year includes the first days of Chanukah. The verse in Haazinu refers to high places and miraculous occurrences, as well as to oil. These concepts can all be found in the Chanukah story. On Chanukah, G-d led the Jewish people to victory in a very high way, that was above nature. The Hebrew word used for “high places,” Bamah, also means altar. The pure oil of the miracle of Chanukah, can also be understood as the pintele yid, the innermost part of every Jew, which always remains pure, and which reveals itself in times of struggle.

This week’s Haftarah verse is also related to the events of Chanukah. It speaks of brightness and fire, which are related to the light of the Menorah, and the Chanukah miracle in general. Furthemore, again the metaphor of coals is used. Coals can be burning on the inside, but it takes an additional step to make that fire be revealed.

The quality for this week is sharp discussion with students, which in Hebrew is called pilpul. One of the qualities that the Jewish people acquired during the Greek exile was the use of tremendous sharpness and logic. As already mentioned in Week 10, the name of the Greek king at the time of Chanukah was Ptolomy (Talmai in Hebrew), which has the same numerical value (gematria) as the word “Talmud.” The Talmud was greatly developed due to the influence of the Greeks, and even includes many Greek words.

This week’s prophets are David and Avigail. King David represents monarchy, and the Maccabees formed the Hasmonean dynasty. King David represents the ability of the Jewish people to be extremely holy and yet extremely involved in the affairs of this world, joining spirituality and physicality, Torah study and prayer, with managing government affairs and fighting wars. One of the major themes of Chanukah is this combination as well. Chanukah has two major themes, the military-political victory over the Greek army, and the victory of Jewish wisdom over Greek wisdom – these two aspects are represented by King David and King Solomon (next week’s prophet) respectively.

Furthermore, Avigail was able to avoid bloodshed by approaching King David and speaking to him about her husband – the Hasmoneans also were able to avoid further bloodshed by forming an alliance with Rome.

David and Avigail both had tremendous powers of pilpul, sharp discussion. King David was known for his sharp mind and the halachah always followed his opinion (source). It was Avigail’s discussion with King David that convinced him not to fight against her husband. (I Samuel, 25:18-38)

The levitical city for this week is ‘Almon. ‘Almon means “hidden” from the word “He’elem” and “Olam.” One of the main ideas of Chanukah and of Kislev as a whole is that of revealing that which is “hidden.” Through the miracle of Chanukah we see that the whole world “Olam” is just an illusion and that G-d’s power is supreme.

On Chanukah even the most “hidden” of Jews come out from their hiding. While there are limitations of what kinds of materials can be used to light Shabat candles, there is no such limitations for Chanukah. Every Jew is “lit up” and excited by Chanukah.

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