Weekly Cycle

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Week 36 (From the Book): To Have Emunah

The gazelle is saying, "And I shall sing of Your strength, I shall rejoice of Your kindness in the morning, for You were a refuge to me, and a hiding place on the day of my oppression." (Psalms 59:17)

Rabbi Yossi would say: Whoever honors the Torah, is himself honored by the people; whoever degrades the Torah, is himself degraded by the people.

Chesed shebeYesod (kindness within the context of foundation and firmness)

Week thirty-six in the Jewish calendar marks the holiday of Shavuot. The entire week is also known as “Shivah Yemei Miluim,” in which Shavuot sacrifices could still be brought to the Temple. On this week in Perek Shirah, the gazelle praises Hashem’s kindness in the morning, a shelter and refuge in times of trouble. (Psalm 59: 17)

The Hebrew word for gazelle is Tzvi, which has the same gematria as the word emunah, complete faith in Hashem. The word tzvi is composed of three letters, tzadi, beit, yud, and is an acronym for the phrase “tzadik b'emunatoh yichieh,” "a tzadik lives through his faith," a verse from the prophet Habakkuk. The Talmud explains that this verse is actually a summary of the entire Torah that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai on Shavuot.[1]

The song of the gazelle expresses its faith in Hashem, both in the morning and in times of trouble (“night”). A similar concept is found in the beginning of Psalm 92, which states, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing to Your name, O Most High; To declare in the morning Your kindness and Your faith at night.”[2] After the troubles we encountered during the Counting of the Omer, which is associated with the night, on Shavuot, we witness the revelation of Hashem, clear as day.[3]

The horns of the gazelle are like a double crown, and we know that the Jewish people also received a double crown on Shavuot, as a reward for their faith in G-d. The Midrash teaches that while other nations refused to accept the Torah, the Jews did not even first ask what was in it. They simply stated, "Na'aseh veNishmah," "We will do and we will listen." The Jewish people willingly accepted to fulfill the commandments of the Torah even before knowing and understanding what they entailed. Hashem therefore gave each Jew two crowns, one for “Na'aseh” (we will do) and another for “Nishmah” (we will hear/understand). Unfortunately, these crowns were later removed after the sin of the golden calf.

The number thirty-six represents the thirty-six secret tzadikim that sustain the world. The number thirty-six is also ​​the total number of Chanukah candles that are lit during the eight days of the holiday. These two concepts seem connected to the light revealed to us on Shavuot, when, due to our efforts during the Counting of the Omer, we are all closer to being on the level of tzadikim. These thirty-six tzadikim are literally the foundation of the world.

This week’s lesson in Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Yossi, who teaches that one who honors the Torah will be honored by others, while one who dishonors the Torah, will be dishonored by others. (IV: 8) This lesson is strongly related to the giving of the Torah, as well as to the unfortunate events that took place shortly thereafter. When we accepted the Torah, we were shown great honor, but when we dishonored the Torah with the sin of the golden calf, that honor was taken away.

On this week, the combination of sefirot is chesed shebeyesod, kindness within foundation. On Shavuot, the Jewish people had to stand firm (by not getting too close to the mountain and not letting their souls expire completely from the tremendous Divine revelation), in order receive from G-d the great good that is the Torah. (As the week of Shavuot and the Shivah Yemei Miluim, this week also represents the “eighth week” of the cycle of Hod)

A lesson in self-improvement we may learn from the gazelle is that we must have faith in Hashem at night (during difficult times), knowing full well that the night will eventually pass and we will be able to thank Hashem in the openly revealed light of day.

[1] Makkot, 24A
[2] Psalm 92: 2,3
[3] Shem M’Shmuel, Lag Ba’omer

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Week 37 (From the Book): To Maintain our Humility and Not Forget the Greatness We Experienced

PEREK SHIRAH: The elephant is saying, "How great are your works, G-d; Your thoughts are tremendously deep." (Psalms 92:6)

PIRKEI AVOT: His son, Rabbi Yishmael would say: One who refrains from serving as a judge avoids hatred, thievery and false oaths. One who frivolously hands down rulings is a fool, wicked and arrogant.

He would also say: Do not judge on your own, for there is none qualified to judge alone, only the One. And do not say, "You must accept my view," for this is their [the majority's] right, not yours.

SEFIROT: Gevurah shebeYesod (discipline and judgment within the context of foundation and firmness)

As we arrive at week thirty-seven, the week after Shavuot, the elephant in Perek Shirah proclaims, "How great are your works, G-d; Your thoughts are tremendously deep." (Psalms 92:6) The Hebrew word for great used by the elephant is gadlu, from the word gadol, big, and the elephant itself is the largest of all the land animals. The verse of the elephant is also from Psalm 92, mentioned in the previous week.

On Shavuot, we were all deeply impressed with the greatness of Hashem and His Torah. After this day of great Divine revelation, we all become higher and greater spiritually. The elephant comes to emphasize to us the greatness of that experience, and that it is important not to let ourselves forget it. Elephants, after all, are renowned for their memory. Physical greatness is also associated with the week after Shavuot because that is when we read the Torah portion of Nasso, the largest one in all of the Five Books of Moses.[1]

The number thirty-seven has the gematria of the root of the word gadol (big). Thirty-seven is also the numerical difference between the name of Moses (345) and Korach (308).[2] The “deep thoughts” mentioned by the elephant may actually be a reference to the rebellion of Korach against Moses and Aaron. 

Korach wanted the leadership position to himself and convinced a susbstantial number of his fellow tribesmen and neighbors to rebel. During his confrontation with Moses and Aaron, Korach and his congregation were miraculously sucked into a deep pit, which Pirkei Avot states was thought of and created by G-d in the very first week of Creation. The Rebbe explains that Korach and his group were brought into the pit while still alive in order that they be granted the opportunity to repent and return to G-d, as did Korach’s sons. This event happened on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the begnning of this current month, and the Torah portion entitled “Korach,” which recounts this story, is often read communally by the Jewish people during the last days of Sivan.

It is appropriate that Moses is also associated with the elephant, the largest of the land animals, because as noted in Week 4 and Week 23, Moses is also related to the eagle, the largest bird, and the Leviathan, the largest sea animal. Moses was, and will always be, the greatest of all prophets.

The lesson from Pirkei Avot for this week is from Rabbi Yishmael, who teaches that one who refrains from making legal ruling removes himself from enmity, theft and unnecessary oaths: but one that frivolously issues legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant. (IV:7) Rabbi Yishmael also states that the only one who can judge on his own is G-d, and that an individual should not say, “Accept my view,” for that is the right of the majority, not the individual’s.

The teaching of Rabbi Yishmael is connected with the emphasis on unity and harmony linked to the month of Sivan, as well as to the humility necessary in order to properly fulfill the commandments of the Torah. We must do all that is in our power not to aggrandize ourselves at the Torah’s expense, always remembering that only G-d is truly great.

Rabbi Yishmael’s words are also a clear reference to the interactions between Moses and Korach. Korach was an enormously rich person, with a deep-seated enlarged view of himself. During his rebellion against Moses and Aaron, Korach’s claim was based on a concept similar to the latter part of Rabbi Yishmael’s words; that Moses and Aaron should follow the majority and not retain key positions for themselves. Moses explained that Korach’s rebellion was ultimately against G-d Himself, who had chosen him and Aaron as the leaders of the Jewish people. As noted above, G-d does, and will, judge alone.

The combination of sefirot for this week results in gevurah shebeyesod. On this week, we must work with strength and discipline to maintain our solid foundation in our study of Torah and our fulfillment of mitzvot. The elephant represents this strong foundation. After all, who can move an elephant against its will?[3]

Finally, a lesson in self-improvement that we learn from the elephant is that even the largest animal realizes the infinite greatness and depth of Hashem.

[1] Nasso has 176 paragraphs; the largest Psalm, 119, has 176 verses; the largest Talmudic tractate, Bava Batra, has 176 folios.
[2]Dr. Akiva G. Belk, “Elazar, Korach, Shuvah, Pride and Depression,” available at http://www.jewishpath.org/gematriaelazarkorachetc.html; http://www.safed-kabbalah.com/Arizal/Korach5761.htm
[3] There also appears to be a connection between the elephant, Pil in Hebrew, and Eliyahu HaNavi. Both have the same gematria, 120; See also Talmud, Brachot 56B, where the description of a dream with an elephant follows the description of a dream with Pinchas, who is Elijah.   

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Week 38 (From the Book): To Be Strong and Courageous in order to Defend the Common Good

The Lion is saying, "G-d shall go out as a mighty man, He shall arouse zeal, He shall cry, even roar, He shall prevail over His enemies." (Isaiah 42:13)

Rabbi Yonatan would say: Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth; and whoever neglects the Torah in wealth, will ultimately neglect it in poverty.

Tiferet shebeYesod (beauty and balance within the context of foundation and firmness)

And in the thirty-eighth week, at the end of the month of Sivan, comes the opportunity for the lion to declare in Perek Shirah that the Lord will come as a mighty warrior, and shall take revenge as a man of war. Triumphant, Hashem will roar and overcome His enemies. (Isaiah 42:13) This verse is connected with the month of Sivan, where all the people trembled at the voice of G-d presenting the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The lion’s verse is also related to the tribe of Zevulun, who would go out to sea in search for trade. Our sages make a very interesting link between the idea of "going out to war” and "going out in order make a living," which as we know can be a kind of war. (See Week 20 regarding how the age of twenty is both the age to pursue a livelihood and to enlist for war).

The week of the lion is not only the last week of the month of Sivan, but is also the last week of spring. The next two months of the summer, Tammuz and Av, are quite intense, and are closely linked to the destruction of the Temple. Moreover, these months are also connected to the reconstruction of the Temple and the coming of Mashiach.

In this verse for week thirty-eight, Hashem Himself is referred to as a lion. It should be noted that the Temple is also often referred to as a lion (Ariel, which literally means "lion of G-d"). The lion is also the symbol of the tribe of Judah, from whom comes King David and Mashiach. There is a Midrash that further explores this lion theme: "The lion (Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor) appeared during the lion (the month of Av) and destroyed Ariel (the Temple), so that the Lion (G-d) will appear during the lion (the month of Av) and rebuild Ariel."[1] Similarly, the lion’s verse compares Hashem to a man at war, a roaring lion, who will defeat His enemies and redeem His people.

In the last week of Sivan we prepare spiritually, physically, and psychologically, for the intense period that is to come. The next months of Tammuz and Av can be ones of much pain, but also contain the spirit of redemption - it all depends on how we approach them. In order to succeed, we must connect with the spark of the lion of Judah, of David, and of Mashiach, which each of us carries inside. If we prepare well, taking into account everything we learned from Passover to Lag Ba’Omer, to Shavuot, we will be strong as lions and, with G-d constantly on our side, we will have absolutely nothing to fear.

Thirty-eight is the gematria of the Hebrew word Bul, the Biblical name given to the month of Cheshvan. The Torah states that “in the month Bul, which is the eighth month, the house [of G-d] was finished throughout all the parts thereof, and according to all the fashion of it, and he [Solomon] built it in seven years.”[2] On week twenty-three, in Adar, we had discussed the significance of the gematria of the word Ziv, the biblical name given to the month of Iyar. We mentioned how on Iyar the construction of Solomon’s Temple began. Having fully experienced the redemption of Adar and Nissan, having worked on ourselves in Iyar, and experienced the revelation of the Torah in Sivan, our internal Temple should now feel completed. It is our duty to properly protect that Temple, and to bring about the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Thirty-eight is composed of the letters chet and lamed, which form the word chol, meaning sand, and reminds us of the blessing Abraham received that his offspring would be as numerous as the sand in the sea. Chol also means profane, connected to the destruction of our Temple, our exile, and the profanation of G-d’s name that took place in the months that follow Sivan. Chet and lamed also form the word lach, which means wet or fresh. We leave Sivan and spring as a whole, fresh and full of water (a metaphor for Torah), and are now ready to face the summer heat.

The Pirkei Avot lesson for this week is from the teaching of Rabbi Yonatan (IV: 9): one who fulfills the Torah in poverty will fulfill it in wealth, but whoever neglects the Torah in wealth will come to neglect it in poverty. During this week we experience a similar concept. If we violate the Torah so close after we experienced its revelation in Sivan, it will be even harder to fulfill it in the potential poverty experienced during the months of Tammuz and Av. However, if we fulfill the Torah during those months of "poverty," we will transform them into months of tremendous spiritual, intellectual, and emotional enrichment, with the coming of Moshiach. In addition, our commitment to the Torah in the "spiritual poverty" of exile will be compensated with the ability to fulfill the Torah in the “spiritual wealth” of the Messianic era.

This week’s Pirkei Avot is also closely linked to the tribe of Zevulun, given its wealth and ability to provide for the tribe of Issachar, who was devoted entirely to the study of Torah. Zevulun itself, although more professionally active than Issachar, also remained faithful to the Torah and devoted to its study.

The sefirot combination for this week results in tiferet shebeyesod: beauty and balance within foundation. During this week, we feel the beauty and balance of the Torah within us, and reinforce our Jewish foundations in order to face the difficult coming months.

A lesson in self-improvement that we draw from the lion is that we must be brave and willing to “go out” beyond our insulated worlds and comfort zones in order to help those around us.

[1] Yalkut Shimoni, Section 259
[2] Kings I, 6:38

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