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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Week 6 (Book 2): Being Pressed to Perform, Yehoshua and Awe

HAAZINU: Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?! Is He not your Father, your Master? He has made you and established you. (Deuteronomy 32:6)
HAFTARAH: Bands of [those that shall inherit] the nether world have surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me (II Samuel 22:6)
QUALITY TO AQUIRE THE TORAH: Awe (Eimah)
PROPHET: Yehoshua
LEVITICAL CITY: Gath-Rimmon
On Week Six, the second week of Cheshvan, Haazinu’s verse continues the same theme of the previous week: the people’s ungratefulness and disgraceful behavior, after everything that G-d had done for them. This again appears to be a reference to the Flood, when people showed enormous ungratefulness, and seemed to forget that G-d was the Creator.
The Haftarah’s verse also continues the same theme of the previous week, speaking of being being surrounded by the netherworld, and being confronted by the snares of death, like in the times of the Flood.
The quality for this week is awe. After the flood, Noah felt a tremendous awe and fear of G-d, as he saw the entire world be destroyed. Awe is also a feeling inspired by the Temple itself. It is also important to be able to differentiate between awe (Eimah) and fear (Yirah), next week’s quality:
The second quality above, fear ("yirah"), is the more generic term for fear. It is typically used for the fear one has of an immediate threat. The first quality, awe ("aimah"), is typically translated as awe or dread. It implies a low-grade or long-term fear -- of something not as visible or impending. Yirah implies the fear or fright one feels in the presence of danger -- or when going into that job interview. Aimah is the dull but gnawing sense of dread or foreboding one has for a distant yet lurking danger, such as one has when marching into war or, tragically, the citizens of the State of Israel often experience today.
When studying Torah one likewise experiences this same combination of fear and awe. The Machzor Vitri (a commentary on the Siddur (prayerbook) authored by Rabbeinu Simcha of 11th Century France) explains that one feels a more direct fear for his Torah teacher in whose presence he sits, and a more general sense of awe realizing he is ultimately in G-d's presence --and that it is G-d's Torah he must not misunderstand. We may also explain that the sense of awe stems from the realization we are attempting to fathom G-d's infinite wisdom, while the fear is for the more immediate -- that we may not understand what we study or that we allow the Torah's lessons to be neglected and forgotten.[1]
Yirah is a feeling described when Yaakov rested at the place that would later come to be the site of the Temple. After waking from his sleep, the Torah states that Yaakov “was frightened, and he said, ‘How awesome (Norah) is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.’” (Genesis 28:17) Moshe also experienced similar fear when G-d spoke with him at the site of the burning bush, on Mount Horeb (Sinai):
5. And He said, "Do not draw near here. Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy soil."
6. And He said, "I am the G-d of your father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob." And Moses hid his face because he was afraid [yareh] to look toward G-d. (Exodus 3:5-6)
Right before beginning the conquest of the Land of Israel, Yehoshua, the prophet linked to this week, also has an experience similar to that of his master and teacher, Moshe:
And it was when Joshua was in Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and saw, and, behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went to him, and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
And he said,“No, but I am the captain of the host of the Lord; I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and prostrated himself, and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”
And the captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua, “Remove your shoe from your feet; for the place upon which you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Yehoshua’s reaction is considerably different than Moshe’s. Yehoshua had this feeling of impending danger, as he was literally about to march into war. Yet, when encountered with the Divine, the Torah does not state that Yehoshua was afraid, like Yaakov and Moshe had been, even though the angel had a sword in his hand. Perhaps this is because Yehoshua’s encounter is not nearly as intense or as surprising as Moshe’s. In Moshe’s encounter, it is G-d Himself that appears to Him at the site of the burning bush, while to Joshua it was the archangel Michael. Moshe’s encounter was prior to the giving of the Torah, and G-d’s first open revelation to a prophet since Yaakov’s times. Yehoshua, being Moshe’s main disciple as well as his successor, was accustomed to Divine revelation.
Perhaps, (on Yehoshuah’s level of course, which is something we cannot even begin to fathom), he still required some additional yirah. The Talmud (Megillah3a; Eruvin 63a) teaches that one of the reasons why the angel in Joshua’s story appeared to him was because Joshua was neglecting Torah study at night, when he was not in active battle. [2] Perhaps that is also why the angel Michael appeared with a sword. The Talmud (Eruvin 63a)[3] also states that previously, Yehoshua was punished severely for asking a halachik question in front of his teacher, Moshe. Elazar is similarly punished for answering in front of Moshe. Perhaps that is why the following prophet is Pinchas and not Elazar. Pinchas did show tremendous fear, and also specifically asked Moshe before killing Zimri.
This week’s levitical city is Gath-Rimmon. Gath-Rimmon means winepress of pomegranites; in Cheshvan we are pressed to do as much as we can to fill ourselves with good deeds (like the pomegranite that is filled with seeds). It is a time of immense personal effort in changing the world for the better.

An important lesson we learn from this week's quality to acquire the Torah is to realize that sometimes it is not enough simply “to go with the flow.” We have to press ourselves – realize that there is so much more we can be accomplishing. This is done in part by focusing a bit more on our of awe of G-d.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Week 7 (Book 2): Hearing the Cry of Rachel

HAAZINU: Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you. (Deuteronomy 32:7)
HAFTARAH: When I am in distress, I call upon the Lord, yes I call upon my G-d: and out of His abode He hears my voice, and my cry enters His ears. (II Samuel 22:7)
QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Fear (Yirah)
PROPHET: Pinchas
LEVITICAL CITY: Golan of Bashan (also a city of refuge)
On the seventh week of the year, which almost always includes the yahrzeit of our matriarch Rachel,[1] Haazinu’s verse makes a reference to reflecting on the history previous generations, and asking our fathers and our elders. These words appear related to thinking of our matriarch, as well as of the Flood itself, which occurred in previous generations. In fact, Rashi makes a direct reference to the Flood in his commentary:
Remember the days of old: what G-d did to past generations who provoked Him to anger.  
reflect upon the years of [other] generations: [I.e.,] the generation of Enosh, whom [G-d] inundated with the waters of the ocean, and the generation of the Flood, whom [G-d] washed away. 
This week’s Haftarah verse, especially the line, “and out of His abode He hears my voice, and my cry enters His ears,” has an even greater connection to our matriarch Rachel. After all, the most famous line in perhaps all of Tanach regarding Rachel is found in the Book of Jeremiah:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel is weeping for her children and refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are away. And G‑d will answer her: Restrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work will be rewarded, says G‑d; and they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future . . . that your children will return to their own borders” (Jeremiah 31:14–16; Rashi commentary on Genesis 48:7)
G-d will ultimately listen to Rachel’s voice and her cry for her children in exile, just as He listens to King David. King David’s verse is also a reference to G-d’s abode, the Holy Temple, the third one which, as explained, will be inaugurated in the month of Cheshvan.
The quality for this week is fear, Yirah. As explained in the previous week, this is a feeling closely associated with the Flood, but also to the Third Temple.
This week’s prophet is Pinchas. As also explained in the previous week, Yirah is a quality very closely connected with Pinchas. His actions against the lack of fear of Heaven demonstrated by the Tribes in the sin of ba’al peor, ultimately made him worthy to become a Kohen, later a Kohen Gadol, and then Elijah the Prophet.
The levitical city for this week is Golan of Bashan, also a city of refuge. Golan comes from the word “Galut,” which means exile, a theme very much related to the above quotation regarding Rachel, our matriarch. Galut also contains also the same root as the verb “legalot,” to reveal. As we exert ourselves in exile, we come to great revelations. That is the reason why Abraham did not object to the fact that we would be exiled and then return with great possessions. These possessions were not just material, but spiritual as well – the Torah itself. The Hebrew word used for possessions, “Rechush,” has the same numerical value as the word “Torah.”[2]
An important lesson we learn from this week's quality to acquire the Torah is the need for proper fear when studying. The Alter Rebbe explains in Chapter 41 of the Tanya that fear of G-d is a key element not only in fulfilling the negative precepts of the Torah, but the positive commandments as well. It is often fear, not love, that gives us the initial push we need in order to get things done.


[1] In some years, the 11th of Cheshvan is the last day of the previous week, Week 6.
[2] Heard at Chabad of South Broward, in the name of the Rebbe.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Week 8 (Book 2): Humility is Key



TORAH PORTION OF HAAZINU: When the Most High gave nations their lot, when He separated the sons of man, He set up the boundaries of peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:8)

HAFTARAH: Then the earth shook and quaked, the [very] foundations of heaven did tremble; and they were shaken when he was angered. (II Samuel 22:8)

QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: Humility (Anavah)

PROPHET(S): Elkanah and Chanah 

LEVITICAL CITY: Be’eshterah (Ashtarot)

On Week Eight, the last week of Cheshvan, Haazinu’s verse is another clear reference to the Flood. Again, the connection to the Flood and immediately subsequent events is explicitly stated in Rashi’s commentary:

When the Most High gave nations their lot: When the Holy One, Blessed is He, gave those who provoked Him to anger their portion, He flooded them and drowned them [i.e., that was their lot].

when He separated the sons of man: When [G-d] scattered the Generation of the Dispersion [which built the tower of Babel], He had the power to remove them from the world [altogether], but He did not do so. Rather, “He set up the boundaries of peoples,” [i.e.,] He let them remain in existence and did not destroy them.

The Haftarah’s verse also appears clearly connected to the Flood. King David speaks of the firm foundations of Heaven and Earth trembling due to G-d’s anger.

The quality for this week is humility. True humility involves concern for others besides yourself.[1] Noah failed this test. Moshe, on the other hand, who is described in the Torah as the humblest man on earth, exemplified this quality, and was a tikkun for his previous incarnation as Noah. When told by Hashem that He would destroy all the people and build a nation out of him, very much like what G-d had told Noah, Moshe’s response was that if G-d were to do so, “Erase me from Your book.” This phrase in Hebrew, M’cheni Nah, has the same letters as Mei Noach, the Waters of Noah, which is how the Flood is described in the Prophets. (Isaiah 54:9, Haftarah for Parashat Noach)[2]

This week’s prophets, Elkanah and Channah, are very much related to theme of the month of Cheshvan: prayer and the Temple. Both also exemplify humility. It is from Channah that we learn how to pray with utter self-nullification and humility, whispering so that no one can hear us but ourselves and Hashem. Elkanah also is an example of humility, in that despite his extraordinarily high level, he was concerned about the rest of his generation, the entire people of Israel. He would make yearly pilgrimages to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood, each time taking a different route in order to encourage more and more people to join him in this important mitzvah, which at the time was being disregarded. He did so despite the fact the priests that were serving there had become corrupt. Elkanah’s behavior, his humble attempt to unify the people and elevate them, appear to be the cure for their complacency. In fact, Channah and Elkanah’s son, Samuel, would be the one to elevate the people to a new level of holiness.

This week’s levitical city is Be’eshterah, another name for Ashtarot. This levitical city appears to be named after Ashtoreth, a pagan goddess that King Solomon is said to have worshiped. (1 Kings 11:1-10) The major commentaries state that he did not commit idol worship, but that his wives did, and that his failure to take action made it as if he himself had committed the sin. King Solomon built the First Temple and completed it during this month.

Ashtarot appears to be related to idol worship involving richness.[3] That is the struggle King Solomon faced, being very wealthy himself, and to some extent is the struggle we all face, as we dive into the month of Cheshvan and risk becoming drowned in material concerns. As we become involved in the world, we have to be careful not to corrupt ourselves with false gods, false ideologies and other rationalizations and self-deceptions. It is also important to remember the verse first stated by King Solomon in the Song of Songs, that many waters cannot extinguish the love [for G-d].[4] As explained in Book One, the "many waters" are a reference to the difficulties and turbulence involved in making a living, which however great, cannot extinguish the love of a Jew for G-d.[5]

An important lesson that we learn from this week’s quality for acquiring the Torah is that at the essence of our acquiring the Torah is humility, complete self-nullification before G-d. Hashem placed His essence in the Torah, and it is by immersing ourselves completely in it that we can obtain total unity with Him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in one of his early discourses (Ma'amarim) that there is even a higher (more humble, self-nullified) level than learning Torah for the sake of uniting our soul with Hashem, and that is to learn Torah for its own sake (Torah LiShmah), without any consideration for anything else, even that by doing so we are performing a mitzvah or becoming closer with G-d, even though both are obviously true. When we learn at such a level, there is no more we.[6]




[1] Heard from Rav Shalom Arush.
[2] Shem M’Shmuel
[4] Chapter 8:7
[5] Ma’amar “Mayim Rabbim” of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch.
[6] As Moshe later stated about himself and Aharon, "Nachnu Mah?," "What are we?" or "We are what (nothing)."


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Week 9 (Book 2): Choosing Joy



HAAZINU: Because the Lord's portion is His people Jacob, the lot of His inheritance. (Deuteronomy 32:9)

HAFTARAH: Smoke went up in His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth did devour; coals flamed forth from Him. (II Samuel 22:9)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Joy (Simchah)

PROPHET: Eli

LEVITICAL CITY: Future City of Refuge (half tribe of Menasheh) / Yerushalayim  

On the ninth week of the year, which sometimes includes Rosh Chodesh Kislev,[1] Haazinu’s verse makes a reference to how Jacob is G-d's portion, his inheritance. This is very much related to Kislev and the events that took place during the time of the Chanukah miracle. The theme of inheritance is in fact the theme of the Pirkei Avot for this week, as explained in Book 1. It is worth again making reference to the Midrash that states, "darkness symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees, ordering Israel to, 'Write on the horn of an ox that you have no inheritance in the G-d of Israel.'”[2]

This week’s Haftarah verse is also related to the events of Chanukah. The central theme is fire and coals. The miracle of Chanukah is clearly connected to light and fire. Coals are also an important metaphor for the Jewish people at the time. Coals can be cold on the outside, but hot on the inside – all it takes it to reveal that inner heat. That revelation was apparent at the time, and is still apparent now, when Jews of all types come out of the woodworks to celebrate Chanukah together. The verse also seems related to G-d’s might, which appears related to the other aspect of the Chanukah miracle, the military victory over the Greeks.

The quality for this week is joy, Simchah. Joy, especially of the more spiritual kind, is one of the major themes of Chanukah, specifically praise (Hallel) and thanksgiving (Hoda’ah). It is also one of the main aspects of the Temple itself, and of the service of the Kohanim.

This week’s prophet is Eli. As the Kohen Gadol, he is clearly related to the above. His service in the Temple had to be done with great joy, despite the great difficulties he encountered in his life, specifically regarding the corruption of his children. Similarly, one of the themes of Chanukah is fighting against the corrupting and impure forces of the Helenist culture at the time.

Because roughly half of the time this week falls within the month of Cheshvan, and the four levitical cities associated with the Tribe of Menashe have already been listed, the levitical city for this week is one of the three Future City of Refuge. This city, which will be on the other side of the Jordan river, will likely be in the territory of the Half-Tribe of Menasheh, which also settled on the other side of the Jordan. 

Half of the time, this week is already associated with the next month of the Jewish calendar, Kislev, which is related to the Tribe of Benjamin. Half of the Temple’s area, which is also considered a city of refuge, rests in the Tribe of Benjamin. In the future, however, Jerusalem will be its own territory, not associated with any particular tribe.

It also seems appropriate that this week be associated with Jerusalem since it is the culmination of the month of Cheshvan, which is related to the completion of the First Temple and the dedication of the future Third Temple. Similarly, Kislev is connected to the completion of the Tabernacle (the Mishkan) and the rededication of the Second Temple, which is celebrated during Chanukah.

An important lesson we learn from this week’s quality for acquiring the Torah, is that the state of joy is not supposed to be dependent on the particular situation in which we find ourselves. To be happy is, first and foremost, a choice. We first choose to be happy, and in the merit of that choice, G-d will certainly give us plenty of reasons to rejoice.




[1] As explained in Book 1, even when this week falls completely within Cheshvan, it is nonetheless still connected to the events of Chanukah, as it includes as holiday celebrated by the Maccabees on the 23rd of Cheshvan.
[2] Genesis Rabba 2:4
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