Weekly Cycle

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Week 47 (From the Book): Time for Teshuvah (Return to G-d)!

The snake is saying, "G-d supports all the fallen, and straightens all the bent." (Psalms 145:14)
Rabbi Yaakov would say:This world is comparable to the antechamber before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber, so that you may enter the banquet hall.
He would also say: A single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the World to Come. And a single moment of bliss in the World to Come is greater than all of the present world.
Hod shebeMalchut (glory and gratefulness within the context of kingship)

This week marks Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul’s main characteristic is teshuvah, repentance. The Alter Rebbe explains that the King (G-d) spends most of the year inside his palace, where it is more difficult to reach him. During the month of Elul, the King goes out to the field to speak to His people and to listen to their pleas. During this time, He greets everyone with a smiling countenance. In Elul, we can have greater direct contact with G-d by increasing our Torah studies, prayer and repentance, as well as good deeds.

During this month, we have the opportunity to be extremely close to G-d. Through teshuvah and asking for forgiveness, we can properly prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah. Elul is represented by the tribe of Gad. Gad was a very powerful and courageous tribe. Its name literally means "luck," and indicates that the Jewish people are completely above luck and chance – everything depends on our teshuvah.[1]

How appropriate then it is that the animal to sing this week in Perek Shirahis the snake, who declares that G-d supports all the fallen, and straightens all bent. (Psalm 145:14) The snake, from the story of Creation and beyond, has always been associated with sin and the evil inclination. Its verse perfectly embodies the spirit of teshuvah with which we begin the month of Elul.

The number forty-seven is the gematria of the name Yoel (Joel).[2] The Book of Joel contains many parallels to the month of Elul. Like several other books of the prophets, the book speaks profoundly about the need for repentance. Joel specifically refers to the need for teshuvah before the “great day”of judgment. The book also describes the Jewish people’s closeness to G-d, and makes many mentions to the sound of the shofar. During almost the entire month of Elul, we blow the shofar every day after prayer as a preparation for the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah.

In Pirkei Avot this week, Rabbi Yaakov states that this world is like an antechamber for the World to Come; one must prepare oneself in the antechamber in order to enter the banquet hall. He also states that one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the world to come. Similarly, a single moment of pleasure in the World to Come is better than all the life of this world. (IV: 16-17) This teaching is perfectly suitable for Rosh Chodesh Elul, when the Jewish people begin the process of teshuvah. Similarly, just as the purpose of this world is only to serve as an ante-room for the World to Come, the month of Elul also serves as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This week, the combination of sefirot results in hod shebemalchut, glory and gratefulness within the context of kingship. It is time to bring our service of Hashem to fruition in a tangible and real way.

A lesson in self-improvement that we extract from the snake is that even if we fall to the lowest possible levels, we can still repent and be forgiven and uplifted by G-d.

[1]Ryzman, p. 195
[2]This week also marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, on the 26th of Av.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Week 48 (From the Book): To Fight Coldness with Warmth

The Scorpion is saying, "G-d is good to all, and His mercy is upon all of His handiwork." (Psalms 145:9)

Rabbi Shimon the son of Elazar would say: Do not appease your friend at the height of his anger; do not comfort him while his dead still lies before him; do not ask him about his vow the moment he makes it; and do not endeavor to see him at the time of his degradation.

Yesod shebeMalchut (foundation and firmness within the context of kingship)

In week forty-eight, which includes the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, the scorpion in Perek Shirah sings of how G-d is good to all and is merciful to all His creations. (Psalm 145:9) The scorpion carries a heavy load of transgression and sin, and therefore thanks G-d for His mercy towards it.

Spiritually speaking, the scorpion’s venom is worse than that of the snake. The snake's venom is hot, representing passion and desire for forbidden things; however, the scorpion’s venom is cold, symbolizing indifference. It is much easier to redirect passion for what is forbidden towards something positive than it is to attempt to "redirect" indifference.

Nevertheless, it is possible to “treat” indifference as well, through the study of Torah. We see this in the purification process of the metzorah, someone who had been inflicted with a form of spiritual “leprosy/psoriasis” due to slander or other related sins and/or problematic social behaviors. The Torah concludes this section by stating, “zot Torat hametzorah,” “this is the Torah of the metzorah.  The Alter Rebbe asks why verse uses the word “Torah,” when instead is should have simply stated “this is the purification of the metzorah.” The answer is that the Torah is the metzorah’s purification.

The number forty-eight is the number of qualities listed in Pirkei Avot necessary in order to acquire the Torah. It is also the number of male prophets and the number Levitical cities explicitly mentioned in the Torah. All of these three categories have at least one thing in common: they each represent the Torah itself.

The Hebrew letters for the number forty-eight is mem and chet, which spell the word mo’ach, brain. The intellect is the main conduit to receiving and internalizing the Torah, but it is also usually associated with coolness. However, by inverting these two letters, one spells the word cham, which means hot. Perhaps this is another hint as to how to combat coldness and indifference. At times one might need to let go of one’s intellect, even if only temporarily, in order to divert feelings of indifference and convert them into a heated desire for Torah and mitzvot. 

The Pirkei Avot lesson this week is contained in the teachings of Rabbi Shimon the son of Elazar. He advises us not to appease our neighbor at the time of his anger, not to console a mourner while his dead lies before him, not to ask about the details of a vow at the time it is made, and not to seek someone at the time of his degradation. (IV: 18) Rabbi Shimon’s words are the inverse of the scorpion’s song, as it describes situations in which a person is affected and overly "heated" by their emotions. At such times, any attempt to interfere, even for the sake of helping out that person, would most likely prove to be counterproductive. In the situations described by Rabbi Shimon, it is better to coldly use our intellect and to distance ourselves from the situation for now. In this sense, the cold qualities of the scorpion can be used for the good.

The words of Rabbi Shimon also describe part of the process teshuvah during Elul. At first, in the heat of Rosh Chodesh Elul, we might think that we can repent from all sins and transform ourselves in a single moment. While this certainly is possible, usually the most effective teshuvah is the one that is experienced over a longer period of time. That is why we gradually perform teshuvah over the course of the entire month of Elul, in order to remain firm in our resolve all the way to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This sefirot combination for this week results in yesod shebemalchut. During this week, we intensify our Jewish foundation to do teshuvah, thereby further establishing G-d’s kingship in this world.

Finally, the lesson in self-improvement we learn from the scorpion is that we have the ability and the responsibility to help those individuals who are distanced from the Torah and to show them the warmth and the beauty of Judaism.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Week 49 (From the Book): To Bring More Light in Order to Extinguish Darkness Altogether

The Snail is saying, "Like the snail that melts away, a stillborn of a mole that does not see the sun." (Psalms 58:9)
Shmuel the Small would say: "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G-d see, and it will displeasing in His eyes, and He will turn His wrath from him [to you]" (Proverbs 24:17-18).
Malchut shebeMalchut (kingship within the context of kingship)
In week forty-nine, as we approach the middle of the month of Elul, the snail in Perek Shirah declares that the enemies of Hashem will melt and will be like a stillborn that does not see the sun. (Psalm 58:9) The snail seems to be in a position that is even worse than that of the snake and the scorpion; it is literally fading and melting away. This verse is also deeply connected to the month of Elul when through our teshuvah we melt away our inner feelings of darkness and sadness and connect directly to G-d’s light.
The song of the snail comes from a Psalm in which King David refers to the ability to reduce the evil inclination to nothing, as he himself was able to accomplish. This statement is very appropriate for this week, given that it is on day forty-nine (or week 49 in this case) that we complete the Counting of the Omer. With the end of week forty-nine, we conclude the work of self-improvement of the emotional sefirot for this year. After climbing step by step, week after week, we hopefully significantly diminished the evil inclination within us.
The lesson from Pirkei Avot for this week is in the words of Shmuel HaKatan (“the Small”), who teaches us not to rejoice when our enemy falls, lest G-d dislike it, and turn away His wrath from him (onto us). (Chapter IV: 19; Proverbs 24:17-18) The teaching of Shmuel is connected to how we ought to behave in the face of the fall of our greatest enemy - our evil inclination. Shmuel HaKatan, was so named because of his great humility. We must seek always to be humble, especially in these days of Elul.
And completing the cycle, this week the sefirot combination results in Malchut shebeMalchut, which represents completely majestic behavior still connected to this material world. Malchut is also called the “poor” sefirah, in that it has nothing of its own – it simply reflects the emanations of the other sefirot. In that sense, it is very humble, like Shmuel HaKatan.
The lesson for self-improvement derived from the snail is that we must bring the light of the Torah to all those who are currently in spiritual darkness.

[Gematria Thought: As noted above, the number forty-nine represents the number of days of the Omer count, as well as the number of years until the Jubilee. Forty-nine is the culmination of the entire Omer count, and represents completion, seven times seven.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Week 50 (From the Book): To Know That There Are No Limits to Our Growth and Closeness to G-d

The Ant is saying, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise." (Proverbs 6:6)

Elisha the son of Avuyah would say: One who learns Torah in his childhood, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on fresh paper. One who learns Torah in his old age, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on erased paper.

Chochmah (wisdom)

Weeks 50 to 52 represent the holiday of Shavuot, in which we are given an even higher level of the intellectual sefirot than the level originally given to us on Passover. These three weeks are also connected with the “Passover” weeks of the coming year, representing the intellectual sefirot granted prior to the Counting of the Omer. The intellectual sefirot are chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and da'at/keter (knowledge/crown). This first week is connected to the sefirah of chochmah.

On week fifty, which contains the Chassidic holiday of Chai Elul, in Perek Shirah it is the ant’s turn to sing. It tells those that are lazy to study its ways and gain wisdom. (Proverbs 6:6) Chai Elul is the birthday of the Ba’al Shem Tov as well as that of the Alter Rebbe. The Ba'al Shem Tov was the founder of the Chassidic movement, and the one who revealed deep secrets of the Torah that enabled every Jew to serve Hashem on a higher level. The Alter Rebbe, who considered himself the spiritual grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, was the founder of Chabad Chassidism. The name Chabad is an acronym for the three intellectual sefirot, chochmah, binah and da'at, often translated as wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. The main goal of Chabad Chassidism is to bring light and Chassidic warmth to the intellect, the coldest part of the human being. As mentioned in week twelve, Chassidism lights a certain fire inside the person, a kind of wake up call for us to serve Hashem more appropriately and be more diligent, like the ant.[1]

The number fifty represents the festival of Shavuot as well as the Jubilee year. Fifty, like the number eight, symbolizes something extraordinary, beyond nature and beyond human comprehension. The ant is an example of an animal that does not appear to conform to logical parameters. Its force appears to be above comprehension, since it is able to carry loads that are dozens of times its own weight. The ant sings of how we can acquire wisdom, chochmah, by following its own example and behavior. To the extent that we are connected to Hashem, we are also capable of doing things that at first glance appear to be impossible, because G-d’s power is completely beyond nature. When we connect to the immense teshuvah that results from the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, as well as the many great miracles that took place during their lives, the power and energy we receive on Chai Elul itself is also something that exceeds our comprehension.

In Pirkei Avot, Elisha the son of Avuyah states that those who learn Torah when young are compared to ink written on new paper, while those that learn it in their old age resemble ink written on paper that has been erased. (IV: 20) This first interaction with the Torah, both by a child and by an older person is linked to sefirah of chochmah. Chochmah represents the first contact with the wisdom, that feeling we have when an idea first lights up in our minds.

The Talmud refers to Elisha the son of Avuyah as Acher, "The Other," because he was excommunicated by the rabbis of the time. His actions and behavior were incredibly disrespectful and evil in G-d’s eyes, to the point that a heavenly voice declared that everyone should do teshuvah, except for Elisha the son of Avuyah.[2] It is not mere coincidence that Acher falls exactly in the week of Chai Elul. The Chassidic way is always to try to find the good side of people and situations, and to bring closer even those furthest away and help them do teshuvah. This was previously explained in week 12 as well, the week of the 19th of Kislev, the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism, in which the raven sings. The Rebbe of Lubavitch, based on an interpretation of the Arizal, explains that G-d would have accepted even Acher’s repentance.[3]

Furthermore, the teaching of Elisha the son of Avuyah, which appears to be negative, can also be taken in an extremely positive way. The word used for old, zaken, also means wise, and stands for “zeh shekanah chochmah,” one who has acquired wisdom.[4] The word used for erased machuk, is spelled the same as mechok, which means from a chok, a law of the Torah that is beyond human comprehension. With these two concepts in mind, the second part of the teaching of Elisha the son of Avuyah can be understood in the following sense: a sage who studies the Torah resembles the ink written on paper absorbed as a law that is beyond human comprehension. A true sage accepts all of the Torah, even the parts that are more comprehensible to the human mind, as if it were all a chok, something beyond understanding. This in fact was exactly the initial mistake that Acher made that led him astray. He was somewhat arrogant and thought that he could understand everything with his intellect. When faced with a particular situation that went beyond his logical grasp, he became a heretic. The Ba’al Shem Tov always extolled the beauty of the faith of simple Jews who lacked great understanding. These Jews accepted the Torah as if it were all a chok.

Moreover, the Alter Rebbe teaches that the word chok is also connected to the word chakuk, meaning carved or etched. When a person begins to study Torah, he or she connects to the Torah, but both the person and the Torah are still separate entities, such as the ink and the paper. However, once a human being matures and studies like a sage, the person and the Torah become a single entity - the Torah is carved in the heart of the person, and there is no way to erase it any longer. This concept can also be found in the Talmud, in the tractate of Shvuot, which states that when a person begins to study the Torah it is called the Torah of Hashem. After studying, that Torah is now called Toratoh (his Torah), since the Torah is now an intrinsic part of that person.

Acher’s lesson is also connected to the ant. As much as the ant has the wonderful qualities noted above, it is also capable of having a not very positive characteristic: feelings of arrogance and superiority. We see that in its own song, it calls others lazy while praising its own qualities. In many ways, arrogance is even considered worse than sin. About someone arrogant, G-d says that "He and I cannot live together." This is something very serious, and something Chassidism also came to fix. There is a well known saying by one of the most extraordinary of all Chabad chassidim, Reb Hillel Paritcher. He said that before he became a chassid, he considered himself a tzadik. However, once he began to study the Tanya (the main writing of the Alter Rebbe), he thought to himself: " Halevai [I hope I can become] a beinoni (an intermediate Jew)!" The Alter Rebbe himself emphasized the importance of humility in a ma'amar (Chassidic discourse) he recited soon after his release from prison on the 19th of Kislev. In this ma’amar, entitled Katonti (I became small), the Alter Rebbe explains that we must realize that any accomplishment we achieve is due to the grace shown to us by G-d. Acknowledging this Divine assistance should make us even more grateful, small, and humble. Every time we get closer to G-d we must feel even smaller in relation to Him. This correct response to blessings we receive is exemplified by Jacob after he fled from Laban.

At the end of the first chapter of the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that impurity, kelipah, is linked to the four natural elements: fire, water, air and earth. The Alter Rebbe explains that fire is connected to anger and arrogance (the ant). Water represents the desire for physical pleasure (the snake). Air is connected to indifference and sarcasm (the scorpion). Earth represents sadness and laziness (the snail). During the first four weeks connected to the month of Elul, we do teshuvah for our sins related to each one of these elements and animals.[5]

In the Talmudic tractate of Chullin, Rabbi Akiva states the following:

How manifold are Thy works, O Lord! Thou hast creatures that live in the sea and Thou hast creatures that live upon the dry land; if those of the sea were to come up upon the dry land they would straightway die, and if those of the dry land were to go down into the sea they would straightway die. Thou hast creatures that live in fire and Thou hast creatures that live in the air; if those of the fire were to come up into the air they would straightway die, and if those of the air were to go down into the fire they would straightway die. How manifold are Thy works, O Lord![6]

Rabbi Akiva’s statement is connected to the four natural elements mentioned above. In fact, he seems to be teaching how to deal with these different types of kelipah: take them out of their natural habitat.
As mentioned above, this week is connected to Shavuot and to the sefirah of chochmah. This week would also represent the “eighth week,” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of malchut.

The great "gift" of self-improvement that we can receive from the ant is that there are no limits to our closeness to Hashem, and that like the ant we can serve as an example for people who wish to attain higher levels in their Judaism.

[1] Hayom Yom, 17th of Av, p. 79a
[2] Talmud Yerushalmi, Chagigah 77B
[3] Marcus, p. 151
[4] Talmud, Kedushin 32b
[5] See also the writings regarding the month of Elul of Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulay, the Chidah.
[6] Chullin 127A

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Week 51 (From the Book): To Understand That We Are All One Soul

The Weasel is saying, "Let every soul praise G-d, Halleluyah!" (Psalms 150:6)

Rabbi Yossi the son of Yehudah of Kfar HaBavli would say: One who learns Torah from youngsters, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks [unfermented] wine from the press. One who learns Torah from the old, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine.

Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine.

Binah (understanding)

In the fifty-first week, still in the month of Elul, it is the weasel (Chuldah) who proclaims that all live beings should praise the Lord, Haleluyah! (Psalm 150:6). This is a reference to the power of repentance in the month of Elul and also to the messianic age when all beings, even the lowest, will openly praise Hashem. Week 51 also includes the 25th of Elul, the day in which the world was created (on Rosh Hashanah, man was created, See Week 52), and is therefore connected with the concept that all living things should praise G-d, the Creator and Master of the Universe.

Chuldah is also the name of one of the seven prophetesses mentioned in the Tanach. She was the last to prophesy before the beginning of the Babylonian exile. Her words related to the fall of the Davidic dynasty in the kingdom Judah. The dynasty was extremely corrupt, and the prophecy of Chuldah is very powerful and incriminating.

The weasel represents corruption and decay, both in nature and in civilization. Chuldah comes from the word Chaled, which means decadent. Interestingly, the Talmud states that the weasel is the only land animal that has no correspondent in the sea.[1] In the first time that the world became corrupt, G-d brought upon the Flood. The weasel, who cannot live in water and does not have any sea animal that corresponds to it, reminds us of this unfortunate time in the history of humanity and the world as a whole.

The weasel beautifully describes the redemption from this decaying state, as well as how to achieve it. Whereas before, due to its decadence, the whole world was destroyed as a single entity, the weasel urges us all to praise G-d together as a single entity. In the song of the weasel, the word used for living being is neshamah, which literally means breath, as well as soul. In this verse, the word is used in the singular, even though it is referring to all beings. The explanation for this is that the weasel understands that we are all ultimately a single soul, a part of G-d.

As mentioned above, neshamah also means breath. Breath itself represents life, as well as the most basic connection we have with Hashem. Through our breath we are connected to Hashem and the world constantly, in a way that is beyond our comprehension. In Elul, we recognize this constant connection with G-d. As also mentioned previously, we know that in Elul, "the King is in the field," ready to hear our requests. Elul is also a good time to go to the field or any other secluded place to breathe, meditate, and talk to Hashem.

In this week, the lesson from Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Yossi the son of Yehudah of Kfar HaBavli, who teaches that to learn Torah from the young is like eating unripe grapes and drinking [unfermented] wine out of the press, but to learn from older masters is like eating ripe grapes and drinking old wine. Rabbi Meir adds to this statement, saying that one should not just look at the vessel, but what is inside. There are new containers full of old wine and old vessels that do not even contain new wine. (IV: 20) Rabbi Yossi compares the Torah to wine, which affects us in ways that are beyond our intellect. Also, with age, a person acquires knowledge and experiences that go beyond his or her previous intellectual capacity.

The wine comparison made by Rabbi Yossi is also related to the sefirah of binah, the second intellectual sefirah. After the "light bulb moment" at the time an idea is conceived, that idea then needs to be developed and properly understood intellectually, just like the fermentation of wine. Rabbi Yossi teaches us that it is not ideal to learn from those who have not had time to properly process their Torah ideas, even though Rabbi Meir explains that this is not necessarily related to the teacher’s physical age.

As in the previous week, here too there is a way to understand Rabbi Yossi’s lesson in a purely positive way. The word for young, ketanim, literally means small, but can also be understood as humble, such as in the Shmuel HaKatan (the Small), who teaches the Pirkei Avot lesson for week forty-nine. The Hebrew word used for grapes, anavim, is phonetically practically the same as the word humble in Hebrew, anav. The Hebrew word used for unripe is kehot, which is also the name of Moses and Aaron’s grandfather, Kehot. Finally, the term used for "out of the winepress” is migitoh, which, with a bit of poetic license, can be read as a m’yegiatoh, which means “from one’s own efforts.” Wine is a metaphor of the most mysterious secrets of the Torah. A humble person teaches these secrets in a way in which the student deduces the most hidden secrets of the Torah through his own efforts. This is much more valuable than simply receiving all of one’s knowledge "on a silver platter."

One could then read the above verse as follows: “One who learns Torah from humble ones is like studying under Kehot, i.e., Moses and Aaron, and learning the deep secrets of the Torah through one’s own efforts. This is closely connected to Elul and Rosh Hashanah, when we humbly strive to correct our behavior and connect with G-d.
As mentioned above, this week is connected to Shavuot and to the sefirah of binah. A "gift" of self-improvement we receive from the weasel is that any person, no matter their level, can connect directly to Hashem in a simple and natural way, without the need for intermediaries, just like the very act of breathing. We must also remember to realize that we are all one.

[1] Bechorot 8A

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Week 52 (From the Book): To Crown G-d as Our King

The Dogs are saying: "Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before G-d our Maker." (Psalms 95:6)

Rabbi Elazar HaKapar would say: Envy, lust and honor drive a man from the world.
He would also say: Those who are born will die, and the dead will live. The living will be judged, to learn, to teach and to comprehend that He is G-d, He is the former, He is the creator, He is the comprehender, He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the plaintiff, and He will judge. Blessed is He, for before Him there is no wrong, no forgetting, no favoritism, and no taking of bribes; know, that everything is according to the reckoning. Let not your heart convince you that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgment and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Daat/Keter (knowledge/crown)

Finally, we come to week fifty-two, when the dogs cry out for all to worship and prostrate themselves before G-d our Maker. (Psalm 95:6) This week coincides with Rosh Hashanah of the following year. On Rosh Hashanah, man was created. The question then arises why do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on this date, and not on the 25th of Elul?

The Midrash also relates that when Adam was created even his heel (the lowest and least sensitive part of his body), outshone the sun, so holy was he. In fact, he was so full of light that all of the animals came and bowed down to him, believing that he was their creator. But Adam told them, “Come let us bow down together and worship the One Who created us all.” This was his function and purpose — to bring all of the world to the service of Hashem.[1]

The words of the dogs in Perek Shirah are Adam’s exact words on the day of Rosh Hashanah, recalling the desire for all of Creation to bow before G-d and worship Him. It also describes the main purpose of Rosh Hashanah: crowning Hashem, our Creator, as our King. What a remarkable conclusion for this awe-inspiring text.

The song of the dogs echoes that of the rooster, as we start the yearly cycle over again. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two times of year when Jews kneel and completely bow before G-d during prayers. By lowering our heads all the way to the ground, we submit our intellect to the Divine King, who is infinitely greater than us and beyond our comprehension. The dog has this same characteristic, as the word for dog in Hebrew, kelev, means kuloh lev, it is “all heart” - its heart completely dominates its intellect. In our daily lives, it is a basic principle in Chabad Chassidism that the intellect must always rule over the heart. However, when we stand before Hashem, our Father, King and Judge, we know that our intellect is nothing compared to Him.

In Kabbalah, the dog also represents the concept of kelipah, impurity. The very image of Satan, also known as the Angel of Death, is that of a dog with many eyes. The dog is all heart, and it is specifically by way of our emotions that the evil inclination attacks. The conclusion of Perek Shirah contains an explanation given by an angel to Rabbi Yeshaya, a student of Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa, as to the reason for the inclusion of the dog in Perek Shirah. The angel explains that the dogs behaved very well and remained silent during the Jewish people’s departure from Egypt. The angel also mentions how the dog’s feces are used in tanning leather for tefillin and other holy writings. As with the redemption from Egypt, in the final redemption and the messianic era, even the deepest impurities will be nullified, and will be elevated for the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot.

The number fifty-two has the gematria of the Hebrew word kelev (dog) and also the word Behemah (animal), which also represents a form of kelipah. Moreover, the number fifty-two is the number of one of the names of G-d, B"N, which is connected to the kabbalistic concept of raising the divine sparks that are stuck in the kelippot. When we finished raising all these sparks, G-d finally send our Mashiach. Fifty-two is also the gematria of Eliyahu (Elijah), the name of the prophet who will announce Mashiach’s arrival.

Week 52 represents the total transformation of the dog, from being associated with impurity to holiness, marking the time of the coming of Mashiach, announced by Eliyahu HaNavi. The Talmud on Bava Kama 60b states that, “When dogs ‘cry’ the Angel of Death has come to town.  When they ‘laugh’ Elijah the Prophet has come.” 
We already see today, just how much dogs themselves have changed. They are no longer usually associated with impurity. Instead, they are man’s loyal companions, and demonstrate enormous positive, healing behaviors.

The letters nun and beit together form the word ben, which means son. There is a verse from the Book of the Prophets saying that before the great final day, G-d will send Elijah, who will bring back the hearts of parents through their children.

Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment, and we relate to G-d as our King. However, it is also a day in which we relate to Hashem as His children. Children are an important theme in the Torah readings of Rosh Hashanah. We read of how Sarah was barren for 90 years until she gave birth to Isaac. We also read of a similar story regarding Chanah.[2] Both of these events took place on Rosh Hashanah. The story we read about Hagar, Abraham’s maidservant, is also about saving the life of her son, Yishmael. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read about the sacrifice of Isaac, and the Haftorah is about Rachel weeping for her children, and of Ephraim, described as Hashem’s dear and beloved son. Moreover, perhaps the story most associated with the blowing of the shofar is about a lost prince who after many years even forgets his mother tongue, yet when he sees his father the King, he calls out in a deep and loud cry.

Fifty-two is also the gematria of the word “bakol,” which means “in everything.” The Torah states that by the end of Abraham’s life he had been blessed with “bakol.” There are many interpretations of what bakol means (especially given the fact that Isaac was blessed with “mikol” (“from everything”) and Jacob with “kol” (everything)). 

Nevertheless, one of the main interpretations of this verse is that Abraham was blessed with a daughter. This is also appropriate for this last week, as we complete “everything” in the year, and begin again.[3]

When the letters of the word “bakol” are spelled out, their numerical value is the same as the gematria of the word “shofar.”[4] This appears to be another connection between Week 52 and Week 1.

This week in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Elazar HaKapar teaches that envy, lust and the pursuit of honor take a man out of the world. (IV:21) Rabbi Elazar’s statement captures the idea that we must be in control of our emotions. Ultimately, feelings of envy, lust and pursuit of honor are irrational, given that it is Hashem who runs the world and that everything He does and commands is for our own good.

There is also a more positive way to understand this teaching. If we direct these desires toward G-d, in “holy” envy (also known as the envy of scholars), desire to be close to G-d, and to honor Him, our relationship with G-d will be so strong that it will take us out of the concealment and illusion that is this world. As mentioned previously, the Hebrew word for world is olam, which comes from the word ehelem, which means illusion and concealment.

He also states as follows:

Those who are born are destined to die, those who are dead are destined to live again (in another version to be resurrected), and those who live (again) are destined to be judged. To know, to make it known and to have knowledge that He is G-d, He is the Maker, He is the Creator, He is the Comprehender, He is the Judge, He is the Witness, He is the Litigant, and He will judge. Blessed be He, before whom there is no iniquity, no forgetfulness, no favoritism or bribery, and know that everything is done according to the reckoning. Let not your evil inclination convince you that the tomb is a place of refuge for you, for you were created against your will, against your will you were given birth, against your will you live, against your will you will die, and against your will you are destined to provide accounts before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He." (IV:22)
This second part of Rabbi Elazar’s teaching is a perfect description of what Rosh Hashanah is all about. With these words, we recommence the yearly cycle, as well as life’s cycle in general.

Rabbi Elazar HaKapar’s lesson is closely connected with the judgment of Rosh Hashanah, as well as with the sefirah of da'at, the application of knowledge to the reality of everyday living. Notice how the word da'at (knowledge) appears repeatedly in Rabbi Elazar’s words: "to know, to make known and to have knowledge" in Hebrew are written as leidah, lehodiah, le'ivadah, all verbs that have the da'at as their root.
This week is connected to Shavuot and the sefirah of da'at, also referred to as keter, crown. As mentioned previously, during the week of Rosh Hashanah, we crown G-d as our King. We must understand that we are nothing compared to Him. He alone decides, judges and creates. He is   G-d, King of Kings, Blessed and One. There is nothing besides Him.

A lesson we can derive from the dogs is that it is our duty to reach out to those who are suffering and distant from Judaism, to raise them so that they too can praise their Creator.

[2] The very last day of this week, the last day of the entire cycle, is the 6th of Tishrei, yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chanah Schneerson, the mother of the Rebbe.

[3] Noam Elimelech; Rabbi Ginsberg

[4] Vedibarta Bam - And You Shall Speak of Them, Volume I - Bereishit; Chayei Sarah, available at: http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/vedibarta-bam/005.htm


Blog Archive


Quick Start: