Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Week 39 (From the Book): To See the World in a Positive Light in Order to Elevate It

The Bear is saying, "Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, the village that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the peaks of the mountains. Let them give glory to G-d and tell of His praise in the islands." (Isaiah 42:11-12)

Rabbi Meir would say: Engage minimally in business, and occupy yourself with Torah. Be humble before every man. If you neglect the Torah, there will be many more causes for neglect before you; if you toil much in Torah, there is much reward to give to you.

Netzach shebeYesod (victory and endurance within the context of foundation and firmness)

This week marks Rosh Chodesh Tammuz as well as Gimmel Tammuz, the date of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s passing and also the beginning of the liberation of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Tammuz is represented by the tribe of Reuven, Jacob’s firstborn.

The name Reuven comes from the word reiyiah, sight, and the month of Tammuz is related to the tikkun, the fixing, of our sense of sight. Reuven is also connected to teshuvah in general. The Midrash states about Reuven that he was the first to repent out of love, without first being chastised by Hashem.[1]

This month is also connected to the tikkun for the sin of the spies. Moses sent spies that journeyed throughout the Land of Israel during the entire month of Tammuz and, except for Joshua and Caleb, viewed the Land of Israel in a negative light.

Tammuz also is connected to several tragedies that occurred on the 17th day of this month. Among these tragedies is the destruction of the first tablets containing the Ten Commandments, as well as the breach of the walls of Jerusalem. However, Tammuz is also connected with the final redemption. In the future, when we ultimately repent and are redeemed, the 17th of Tammuz will no longer be a day of fasting and mourning, but rather a day of celebration.

The transformation and teshuvah of Tammuz parallels that of Reuven. Jacob took away Reuven’s firstborn rights after a severe mistake he made involving one of his father’s concubines. Reuven spent his entire life doing teshuvah for his sin. The Torah recognizes his repentance, still referring to Reuven as the firstborn son of Jacob long after the unfortunate event took place.

On the thirty-ninth week, the Bear sings in Perek Shirah, asking all to raise their voice: the desert and the cities, the villages, and the wilderness of Kedar; everyone is to chant melodies and cry with joy: those that dwell among the rocks and on the top of the mountains as well as those in the islands. (Isaiah 42: 11-12)

The song of the Bear alludes to the concept of looking at the world with good eyes, in a positive light. The Bear sees that the deserts, the cities, the villages, the mountains and the islands, all have the great potential of praising G-d. This is how we should all see the world – everyone has this potential. We just need to open our eyes to see it.

One of the main accomplishments of the Rebbe, which actually began with the Previous Rebbe, was to always see in each follower and in every Jew their enormous potential for good. That is how the Rebbe was able to form so many leaders and inspire so many people. The Rebbe was able to spread the light of Judaism and of Chassidism to the far corners of the world: cities as well as spiritual deserts, mountains and isolated islands.

Eliyahu HaNavi, who will announce the coming of Mashiach, is also associated with the Bear. As explained in week 12, the Tanach states that before Elijah ascended to heaven, Elisha asked him for a double portion of Elijah’s own strength.[2] Soon afterwards, when Elisha purified the waters of a particular city, he was insulted by a few young men who would make their money transporting clean water from another location. Elisha’s miracle had rendered their services useless. The youngsters starting instigating Elisha, calling him bald, which was meant to strike a contrast between him and Elijah, who had a head full of hair. After the insult, Elisha cursed these youngsters, and two bears (an apparent reference to the double portion he had received from Elijah) came out of the wilderness and killed them.[3]

It is interesting to note that just as the bear’s song makes explicit references to Arabia (Kedar), the Talmud contains various stories of how Elijah would disguise himself as an Arab when he would appear before tzadikim, either as a way to test or help them.

Thirty-nine is the number of the types of work prohibited on Shabbat. These prohibitions parallel the thirty-nine types of work performed in building the Mishkan, a miniature Temple where the Divine Presence resided. The Mishkan represents a microcosm of the world, and just as G-d rested on the seventh day during the creation of the world, the Jewish people rested on the same day when they were building the Mishkan.

The Bear’s song refers to distant and uninhabited places that have the potential of praising Hashem, thus making a home for Hashem in this world. The Midrash Tanchumah teaches that G-d’s primary objective in creating the world was in order to make a home for Him in the lowly realms. That home is the Mishkan.

The letters that form the number thirty-nine, lamed and tet, spell out the word tel, which means mountain. The laws pertaining to Shabbat are known as "mountains on a wire," because a vast number of prohibitions are deduced from just a few explicit verses in the Torah.

The Pirkei Avot of this week is expressed in the teachings of Rabbi Meir.  The Talmud states that whoever saw Rabbi Meir studying, witnessed how he would take mountains and grind them into each other. He was also known for miracles, many of which involved Eliyahu HaNavi.

Rabbi Meir also represents the idea of teshuvah, return to G-d, and ​​seeing the potential in people and in faraway places. He was himself a descendant of Roman converts. When a certain group of people mistreated and insulted him, he followed the advice of his wife Beruria, and instead of praying for their destruction, prayed that they do teshuvah, which they ultimately did.[4]

Rabbi Meir states that we should minimize our commercial activities in order to focus ourselves in Torah study. He advises us to be humble towards everyone. Furthermore, he teaches that if we waste Torah study time, we will find many obstacles against us, but if we toil greatly in its study, we will find abundant reward. Rabbi Meir’s words are also connected to Tammuz, Reuven and the process of teshuvah, demanding that we humbly transform any lack of dedication to the Torah (which caused such obstacles and tragedies for our people), into full dedication and toil, leading ultimately to enormous reward.

This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebeyesod. We must be persistent and determined to maintain our foundation in Torah and mitzvot. We know that Joseph, who represents the sefirah of yesod, had to endure Potiphar’s wife’s constant attempts to seduce him, and yet Joseph was ultimately successful in resisting her. Rashi compares Potiphar's wife to a bear. There will always be bears trying to distract us from our central purpose. We must stand firm and strong like a bear, and not lose sight of our goal.

This week, we learn from the bear that wherever we find ourselves, we must attempt to speak of the Torah and elevate the place we are in as much as possible.

[2] 2 Kings 2:9
[3] 2 Kings 2:23-25
[4] Talmud Brachot 10a

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Week 40 (From the Book): To Fight for Truth

The wolf is saying, "For every matter of iniquity, for the ox, the donkey, the lamb, the garment, for every lost item which he says, 'This is it,' the matter of both of them shall come before the judge; he who the judge finds guilty shall pay double to the other." (Exodus 22:8)

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Yaakov would say: He who fulfills one mitzvah, acquires for himself one angel-advocate; he who commits one transgression, acquires against himself one angel-accuser. Repentance and good deeds are as a shield against retribution.

Hod shebeYesod (glory and gratefulness within the context of foundation and firmness)

In week forty, still in the beginning of the month of Tammuz, the wolf sings in Perek Shirah that for every matter of crime - upon the ox, donkey, sheep, clothes or any lost time for which there is a dispute - the cause of both parties shall come before the judge, and the one whom the judge finds guilty shall pay double to the other.” (Exodus 22:8)

The song of the wolf has a very strong connection with Reuven. As explained in the previous week, Reuven had lost the double portion that was his right as a firstborn because of a mistake he made by moving the bed of one of Jacob's concubines. On another occasion, when Jacob refused to let his children take Benjamin to Egypt, Reuven said that if he personally did not bring Benjamin back, he would be willing to give up his two sons. This would amount to a double loss.

The wolf is the symbol of the tribe of Benjamin, who in turn, is also closely connected to the song of the wolf. After arriving in Egypt, Benjamin is accused of theft by the viceroy (Joseph).

Of all of Jacob’s children, Benjamin is also the one most connected with the Land of Israel, because he was the only one who was born there.

The wolf’s song also contains a very interesting parallel with the conquest of the Land of Israel. Rashi’s first comment in the Torah explains why the Torah begins with the creation of the world and not with the first mitzvah, of blessing the new moon, which was given at the time of our departure from Egypt. Rashi explains that when the nations of the world accuse us of being “thieves," claiming that we are "stealing" the land, we will respond saying that the world and all that is in it belongs to G-d, and that it is He who determines what land to give to whom.

Forty is related to the intensification of firmness and stability of the number four. The number forty is also deeply related to the concept of internalizing G-d’s eternal truth: the Torah. Forty is the number of days and nights that Moses spent in Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Forty is also the number of years the Jews wandered in the desert, the number of days and nights of the Flood, and the number of seah (unit of measurement) of water required for a kosher mikvah.

In Pirkei Avot, the age of forty is associated with understanding – it takes forty years to truly understand his master’s teaching. Moreover, pregnancy is forty weeks long (the time in which an angel teaches the fetus the entire Torah). Finally, the spies spent forty days scouting the Land of Israel (from Rosh Chodesh Tammuz to Tisha B’Av, including this very week).

In Perek Shirah, the wolf sings of the verdict for a person who steals. It is known that the Flood only began after people began to steal. The Flood also served as a mikvah to purify the world.
This week, the lesson in Pirkei Avot is found in the words of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Yaakov, who teaches that he who does a mitzvah acquires for himself a defender, and he who commits one transgression, acquires for himself an accuser. Repentance and good deeds are like a shield against retribution (punishment). (IV: 11) Pirkei Avot’s lesson is closely linked to thievery, a transgression that brings about an accuser. At the same time, it is also linked to the month of Tammuz and the tikkun of sight. It is important to look favorably upon the other and upon their possessions. Often jealousy is what leads to theft. We should also look favorably upon people, in order to serve as good defenders. We also see here the theme of teshuvah, closely connected with the tribe of Reuven.

The combination of sefirot results in hod shebeyesod, glory and gratefulness within the context of foundation and firmness. This week we should be thankful, dedicated, and grounded in our moral ways. The lesson in self-improvement we learn from the wolf is that we cannot give in to corruption. We must stand strong in order that justice and truth prevail over falsehood.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Week 41 (From the Book): Not to Become Corrupt

The fox is saying, "Woe to him that builds his house without justice and his chambers without lawfulness; that uses his friend’s service without wages, and does not give him for his hire.” (Jeremiah 22:13)

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar would say: Every gathering that is for the sake of Heaven, will endure; that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure.

Yesod shebeYesod (foundation and firmness within the context of foundation and firmness)

In the forty-first week, the fox in Perek Shirah warns against those who build without righteousness and justice. (Jeremiah 22:13) This week, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, we begin the three weeks of mourning connected to the destruction of the Temple, the House of G-d. This destruction occurred due to the injustice and lawlessness of the Jews of that time.

This week also marks the Chassidic holiday of the 12th and 13th of Tammuz. This holiday, known as Yud Beit-Yud Gimmel Tammuz, celebrates the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn’s birthday as well as the date in which he was freed from prison in Communist Russia. Among Chabad Chassidim, this day is called “Chag HaGeulah,” the Festival of Redemption.[1]

The fox is considered a symbol of the Temple’s destruction, as depicted in the Talmud in the tractate of Makkot. The Talmud tells the story of how a group of rabbis were gathered soon after the destruction of the Temple and saw a fox enter the area of the Temple Mount where the holiest part of the Temple had stood. While all the other rabbis cry when they see the fox, Rabbi Akiva is able to see this event with optimism and in a positive light (characteristic related to the month of Tammuz), to such an extent that he starts to laugh. Rabbi Akiva then explains to them how the Torah makes the prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction dependent on the prophecy of its redemption. Now that the first prophecy was fulfilled, the second will be fulfilled as well. As he explains to the other rabbis the reasoning behind his laughter, Rabbi Akiva is able to truly comfort them. (See Conclusion)

At the time of Yud Beit-Yud Gimmel Tammuz, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe challenged the entire Soviet empire at the time and won.[2] Despite his open defiance, refusal to obey orders, and insistence of not giving up even an “inch” of his religiosity, the Previous Rebbe was eventually released from prison, and his death sentence was commuted. Years later, the Soviet Union itself, filled with injustice and G-dlessness, collapsed, along with the Berlin Wall. The Seventh Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, predicted the fall of the Soviet Empire many years prior, when few thought that such a collapse was even possible.

The number forty-one spells the Hebrew word em, which means mother. This appears to be quite appropriate for the beginning of the three weeks of mourning, the second half of which takes place during the month of Av, which in Hebrew means father. In this historically difficult period for the Jewish people, it is important to remember that the difficulties presented to us by G-d are ultimately for our own good, just like a father and mother sometimes need to be strict with their child. 

In Judaism, the mother is the akeret habayit, the anchor of the house - she is responsible for the home’s values ​​and general atmosphere. Similarly, the upkeep and moral atmosphere of the Temple, G-d’s home, was primarily the responsibility of the kohanim (priests). Much of the extremely holy service of the priests paralleled house chores: the work involved in the daily sacrifices, the lighting of the Menorah, and tending to the upkeep of the Temple were very similar to cooking, cleaning, and lighting candles for Shabat.

During the time of the Second Temple, the priestly class had become enormously corrupt. Even the position of the High Priest was open for sale to the highest bidder. The Temple itself could not stand due in great part to this lack of morality.

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar teaches in the Pirkei Avot for this week that an assembly that convenes for the sake of Heaven will be long lasting, but one that convenes not for the sake of Heaven will not. The teaching of Rabbi Yochanan is very similar to the above. He emphasizes the importance of not becoming corrupt or divided due to selfish motives. The firmness of the community comes from rock solid commitment to our principles and a desire to fulfill the will of G-d. The best example of this is the Sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch himself, whose efforts ensured Judaism’s survival despite intense Communist oppression. On the other hand, when we do not follow the word of Hashem, the entire community suffers and our structures do not endure, as was the case during the destruction of the Temple.

The sefirot combination for this week is yesod shebeyesod: absolute firmness in our Jewish values. A lesson in self-improvement we learn from the fox is that we must not allow ourselves to be dragged down by dishonesty and thoughts of immediate gain. By walking in the path of Torah, we will certainly be more solid and secure.

[1] When each day of the year is given a combination of sefirot, the 12th of Tammuz falls on gevurah shebeyesod shebeyesod. The Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was the sixth Rebbe, which parallels the sixth sefirah, yesod. Moreover, Yosef represents the sefirah of yesod while Yitzchak the sefirah of gevurah. It is worth noting that this book was completed on this date.
[2] Perhaps the most famous excerpt of his imprisonment was when the Communist interrogators tried to force the Rebbe to divulge certain information. When the Rebbe refused, they waved a gun at him and said:
"Do you see this little toy? This little toy has made a lot of people talk; it will make you talk as well."
The Rebbe answered very firmly, "That toy can only frighten people who have one world and many G-ds. A person who has one G-d and two worlds is not afraid of your little toy." The Chassidic Approach to Joy, available at: http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/the-chassidic-approach-to-joy/05.htm

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Week 42 (From the Book): To Be Loyal and Pursue Justice

The hound is saying, "Let the righteous rejoice in G-d; praise is befitting to the straight." (Psalms 33:1)

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Shamua would say: The dignity of your student should be as precious to you as your own; the dignity of your colleague, as your awe of your master; and your awe of your master as your awe of Heaven.

Malchut shebeYesod (kingship within the context of foundation and firmness)

In the forty-second week, now in the midst of the three weeks of mourning, the hound in Perek Shirah sings to the righteous to rejoice in the Lord, and that for the upright (yesharim) it is becoming to praise Him. (Psalm 33:1)

The hound represents uprightness, and often hunts after last week’s animal, the fox, who represents corruption and injustice. The hound is also the quintessential example of loyalty. During this period, despite our outward signs of mourning, we also come to the realization that after so many centuries in exile and despite so many tragedies, like the hound, the Jewish people still managed to maintain its loyalty and faith in G-d. Furthermore, G-d also maintained His faith in us. Such loyalty and uprightness, both on the part of the Jewish people and on the part of G-d, is certainly worthy of recognition and praise.

The Talmud explains how the verse of the hound is also deeply connected to the Temple. The term “befitting” (na’avah), should be read as naveh, habitation, a reference of how the enemies of the Jewish people had no power over the Temple constructions performed by King David and Moses.[1] Similarly, it is important for us to remember that the world has no power over the “holy habitation” inside each one of us. Upon being released from prison, the Previous Rebbe was sent into exile by the Soviet regime. At the Leningrad train station, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn parted with the following words, quoting his father: “This all the nations of the world must know: only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule... In any matter affecting the Jewish religion, the Torah, and its mitzvot and customs, we are not subject to the dictates of any power.”[2]

Forty-two is the number of journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. During these journeys,  G-d tested His people several times, yet we maintained our loyalty and proved ourselves worthy of His love. The Jewish people also tested G-d several times in the desert, yet G-d also did not give up hope in them.

Forty-two contains the letters mem and beit, which in Hebrew spells the word bam, which means “in them.” The Ba'al Shem Tov teaches that the words “vedibarta bam,” contained in the prayer of the Shemah, is a reference to the forty-two personal journeys each individual undergoes in his or her life, which parallel the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people in the desert.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Eliezer the son of Shamua teaches us that the honor of your student should be as precious to you as your own, while the honor of your colleague should be like that given to your teacher; the reverence for your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven. Here again there is a close connection with Tammuz and the ability to look deeper and see the great value and potential of each person, be it a student, a colleague, or a teacher. Interestingly, the hound itself is a perfect example of this teaching. Its devotion to its master is like that due to G-d!

Completing the cycle of yesod, this week’s sefirot combination results is malchut shebeyesod, kingship within the context of foundation and firmness. This week, we maintain a solid foundation in our Judaism and use it to influence the world around us.

A lesson in self-improvement that we can extract from the hound is that just as it sings of being upright, and pursues the fox, we also must pursue justice at all costs, as stated in the verse in Deuteronomy: “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof,” “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.”[3] We must always strive for justice.

[1] Talmud, Sotah 9a.

[2] “Daily Quote,” available at http://www.chabad.org/dailystudy/hayomyom.asp?tDate=6/28/2007

[3] Deuteronomy 16:20

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