Weekly Cycle

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Week 26 (From the Book): To Be Humble and Let G-d Guide Us

The sheep [and goat] is saying:[1] "Who is like You among the might ones, G-d, who is like You, mighty in holiness, awesome in praise, worker of wonders." (Exodus 15:11)

Rabbi Yishmael would say: Be yielding to a leader, affable to the black-haired, and receive every man with joy.

Hod shebeNetzach (glory and gratefulness within the context of victory and endurance)

In the twenty-sixth week, that of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, in Perek Shirah, the small pure (kosher) domestic animal proclaims that no one is as strong, awesome and miraculous as Hashem (Exodus 15:11). The small pure domestic animal is a reference to the sheep (the month of Nissan corresponds to the zodiac sign of Aries), as well as to the goat. Rosh Chodesh Nissan marks the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, in which sacrifices of pure kosher animals, such as the sheep and goat, were brought.
Nissan is the month of redemption and miracles. The relationship of shepherd and flock is one of the most important metaphors for the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. G-d is far above our comprehension, just as the shepherd is also completely beyond the understanding of his flock. At the same time, like sheep, we have total humility and faith that our Shepherd will lead us in the right path, despite perhaps having to face foxes and lions along the way.

The goat is also used a symbol for the Jewish People in the famous song that is sung by many Jews on Passover night, Chad Gadya. The song’s name means “One Goat,” and also appears to be phonetically similar to the word Haggadah, the text that is read during the Passover Seder. Chad Gadya is similar to Perek Shirah, in that it also includes many animals and natural elements. The animals in Chad Gadya function primarily as symbols for various exiles we have endured and the different nations that conquered the Land of Israel. The cat that eats the goat is a reference to Assyrians; the dog that eats the cat is a reference to Babylon; the stick is Persia; the fire is Macedonia; the water, Rome; the ox, the Saracens; the slaughterer, the crusaders; the Angel of Death, the Turks. At the end, G-d saves us from all these enemies and returns us to our Land.[2] The two zuzim, the coins used to purchase the goat are said to be a reference to the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments given to Moses at Mount Sinai,[3] but also appear to be a reference to the two Temples that were destroyed, and its people exiled. Zuz means to move, to change places. The Third Temple, however, will not move, it will be everlasting.

Similarly, each animal in Perek Shirah that sings during Nissan represents a different exile, as well as a redemption from it. Sheep were G-ds to the Egyptians, our first exile, and the goat, Seir in Hebrew, is a reference to Esau, our last. It was in this month that we were redeemed from Egypt, and it is in this month that we will be redeemed in the future.

The Torah states unequivocally that Nissan is the head of all months, Rosh Chodashim. It is therefore represented by the Tribe of Judah, who was the leader of his brothers, and from whom King David descends. All legitimate kings of the Jewish people - including Mashiach – are descendants of King David and therefore of Judah. The word for Judah in Hebrew, Yehudah, comes from the word hoda’ah, which means acknowledgement. This is the same root of the word Modeh, as in the prayer we make when we first get up in the morning, the Modeh Ani, in which we acknowledge G-d as our King and thank Him for returning our soul. The tribe of Judah is characterized by self-sacrifice, acknowledgement, and thankfulness.

Because the Egyptians idolized sheep, it is extremely appropriate that it be the one to proclaim the absolute greatness of Hashem. The Sheep is the animal used in the Passover sacrifice, showing the Egyptians that G-d is far greater than any other god. On Shabat HaGadol (the “Great Shabbat,” which takes place right before Passover), we celebrate the miracle of how the Egyptians did not react negatively toward the Jewish people, when they tied sheep to their bedposts, and told the Egyptians that they were about to sacrifice their gods in the coming days.

Nissan is the month of Passover, and it is therefore appropriate that this week’s song be from the Song of the Sea, which was sung after the miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds.[4]

The number twenty-six is the gematria of G-d’s name, “Hashem.” Twenty-six also equals two times the number thirteen, the gematria of the word echad, one, as well as ahavah, love.

Rabbi Yishmael in Pirkei Avot teaches us this week that we must submit to a superior (literally “the head”), and be courteous to a younger person, greeting every person with joy (III:12). Among the kohanim, Rabbi Yishmael was the head, the Kohen Gadol. In addition to his close connection with Hashem, Rabbi Yishmael, as Aaron before him, had a great love for each member of the Jewish people, independent of his or her status or stature. This verse also has a clear connection with Nissan, the head of the months.

The sefirot combination for this week results in hod shebenetzach. With humility and gratitude, self-sacrifice and acknowledgement, we achieve the miraculous victory and redemption that takes place during this month.

We learn from the sheep and the goat that our work of improving ourselves physically and spiritually must be based on our strong belief that only Hashem can truly redeem us.

[1] While Rabbi Slifkin translates this animal only as sheep, Rabbi Lazer Brody includes goats as well. The Hebrew term can be translated literally as “small/thin pure animal.”
[3]  Ibid.
[4] Exodus 13:16

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Week 27 (From the Book): To Purify Ourselves in order to Change

The cow is saying, "Rejoice to the Lord over our strength, trumpet to the Lord of Jacob!" (Psalms 81:2)

Rabbi Akiva would say: Jesting and frivolity accustom a person to promiscuity. Tradition is a safety fence to Torah, tithing a safety fence to wealth, vows a safety fence for abstinence; a safety fence for wisdom is silence.

He would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, "For in the image of G-d, He made man" (Genesis 9:6). Beloved are Israel, for they are called children of G-d; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they are called children of G-d, as it is stated: "You are children of the L-rd your G-d" (Deuteronomy 14:1). Beloved are Israel, for they were given a precious article; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they were given a precious article, as it is stated: "I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it" (Proverbs 4:2).

All is foreseen, and freedom of choice is granted. The world is judged with goodness, but in accordance with the amount of man's positive deeds.

He would also say: Everything is placed in pledge, and a net is spread over all the living. The store is open, the storekeeper extends credit, the account-book lies open, the hand writes, and all who wish to borrow may come and borrow. The collection-officers make their rounds every day and exact payment from man, with his knowledge and without his knowledge. Their case is well founded, the judgment is a judgment of truth, and ultimately, all is prepared for the feast.

Yesod shebeNetzach (foundation and firmness within the context of victory and endurance)

As we arrive at week twenty-seven, even closer to Passover, it is the turn of the large pure (kosher) domestic animal to proclaim that we rejoice to the G-d of Jacob, the source of our strength. (Psalm 81:2) The large pure domestic animal is seen as a reference to the cow. The Jewish people are called by the names Israel and Jacob. Jacob is usually the name used when we are in a more fragile, humble state. When we are feeling weak, we must rely even more on Hashem as the source of our strength. This is also the week of the yahrzeit of the Rebbe Rashab, on the 2nd of Nissan. The Rebbe Rashab’s leadership took place during a tumultuous time in Jewish history, when the Jewish people were in a particularly fragile state (like the song of the cow), and faced the harsh anti-religious oppression of the Bolsheviks in Russia.

The cow also represents the spiritual exile and impurity of Egypt, embodied by the golden calf. Conversely, the cow also represents the purification through the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. The Red Heifer had to be completely red, pure and complete/whole (tamim).[1] The Red Heifer's ashes were used for purification of the highest form of impurity - contact with the dead. This purification process had to be performed by every Jew that found himself in a state of impurity in order to bring the Passover offering during this month.  It is for this reason that we read a special Torah portion about the Red Heifer, known as Parashat Parah, in a few weeks before this holiday. The Rebbe Rashab also is a tremendous example of purity. He established Tomchei Tmimim yeshiva system – its students were known as tmimim, the pure, wholesome ones. The Rebbe Rashab’s last ma’amar was about the ultimate destruction of Amalek and the husks of impurity (kelipah).

The number twenty-seven is formed by the Hebrew letters kaf and zayin, which form the word zach, “pure.” In preparation for Passover, we must purify ourselves physically and spiritually, returning to G-d, and eagerly awaiting his redemption.

The Pirkei Avot for week twenty-seven is found in the lessons of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva is known for his many popular sayings, one of which is directly related to the purification of the people of Israel. Rabbi Akiva states how praiseworthy are the Jewish people, whose purification comes directly from our Father in Heaven.[2]  In the Pirkei Avot for this week, Rabbi Akiva first describes how to maintain one’s purity, by not engaging in jest. He also describes how dear is man, since he was created in the image of G-d, and how beloved are the People of Israel, who are called G-d’s children and were given the Torah. Rabbi Akiva’s section in Pirkei Avot includes several other fundamental and profound teachings that serve as the intellectual foundation of the Jewish religion. Similarly, the teachings of the Rebbe Rashab serve as intellectual foundation of Chabad philosophy.

Rabbi Akiva ends his words in Pirkei Avot stating that everything is prepared for the feast. In Nissan, too, everything is prepared for the feast of Passover. There is no one better than Rabbi Akiva to be sharing his lessons during the month of Nissan, given that he is one of the greatest examples of complete humility and self-sacrifice (qualities related to this month and to Passover). This sage began to study Torah at the age of 40, sitting silently and humbly alongside small children... and the result? Rabbi Akiva became one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time. Rabbi Akiva’s name also has the same root as the name Jacob. Both names come from the word eikev, which means heel. This is in contrast to the name Israel, which contains the same letters as Li Rosh, “mine is the head.” While the head is the highest part of the body, the heel is the lowest.

This week’s sefirot combination results in yesod shebenetzach, that is, foundation within determination, victory and redemption. This is perhaps the most prominent feature of Jewish education during our long exile. Nissan is when we were liberated from Egypt, physically and spiritually, and when we will be liberated from the current exile as well.

The lesson learned from the cow is that in the journey to make our tikkun - our spiritual correction, the very reason why we came into the world - G-d is the source of our strength. The cow sings about Jacob, who worked hard all his life to overcome the obstacles laid out before him along the way. Only after much perseverance and determination did Jacob manage to overcome these difficulties and become Israel. Each of us also undergoes changes and progress, even if we do not realize it. In this process, G-d is always by our side.

[1] The word tamim is related to the word tam, simple/pure, which is also connected to Jacob. In his early years, Jacob is called an “Ish Tam Yoshev Ohalim,” a pure/simple man who dwells in the tents (of study). (Genesis 25:27)
[2] Mishnah, Yoma 8:9

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Lion - Rabbi Yonatan Connection (Week 38)

Notice the connection between the Lion and the saying of Rabbi Yonatan: those that connect to truth in "poverty" (spiritual , intellectual, or physical) will be connected to it in "wealth." While those that disconnect in wealth, become disconnected in poverty. The Lion brings its tail (the "poor") to its head ("wealth"), while the Fox brings its head down to its tail.

The message is the same. Let's take advantage of the wealth and power of Sivan, so that we can make the most of Tammuz and Av, which are around the corner.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Week 28 (from the Book): To Recognize our Limits in order to Free Ourselves from Them

The pig [and rabbit] is saying:[1] "G-d is good to the good, and to the straight-hearted." (Psalms 128:2)

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Azariah would say: If there is no Torah, there is no common decency; if there is no common decency, there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of G-d; if there is no fear of G-d, there is no wisdom. If there is no applied knowledge, there is no analytical knowledge; if there is no analytical knowledge, there is no applied knowledge. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.

He would also say: One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; comes a storm and uproots it, and turns it on its face. As is stated, "He shall be as a lone tree in a wasteland, and shall not see when good comes; he shall dwell parched in the desert, a salt land, uninhabited" (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place. As is stated: "He shall be as a tree planted upon water, who spreads his roots by the river; who fears not when comes heat, whose leaf is ever lush; who worries not in a year of drought, and ceases not to yield fruit" (ibid., v. 8).

Malchut shebeNetzach (kingship within the context of victory and endurance)

On this twenty-eighth week, which includes the first night of Passover, in Perek Shirah, the small impure (non-kosher) domestic animal sings that, “G-d is good to those that are good, and to those that are upright of heart. (Psalm 125:4) Some translations believe this to be a reference to the pig, while others to the rabbit. This week also includes the yahrzeit of the Third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel (the Tzemach Tzedek), and the birthday of the Seventh Rebbe, who carries the same name of the Third, his ancestor through direct patrilineal descent.[2]

The pig is considered by the sages to be a hypocrite, because it proudly displays the external characteristics of being kosher, split hooves, but internally, its intestines, make it a non-kosher animal. The physical makeup of the rabbit and other animals of its kind (such as the hare and the hyrax) is the exact opposite. These animals do not have split hooves, yet their intestines are that of a kosher animal. Internally, they are "upright of heart," but their actions and external characteristics are clearly not so.

Aside from the pig and the camel (Week Thirty), the hyrax and the hare are the only other two animals explicitly mentioned in the Torah as not being kosher. The Midrash in Vaikra Rabbah 13:5 explains that the hyrax represents the Persian exile, while the hare represents the Greek one. The pig represents the Roman exile, connected to Esau and his descendants. This is the exile we are currently in. The song these animals sing is a reference to the final redemption, when even the pig will be "upright of heart,” and all these animals will be kosher.

The Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe represent the main thrust of the message of Passover: redemption. The name “Tzemach Tzedek” is actually one of the names of Mashiach, as is also the name “Menachem.” As we see from the animals above, redemption has two major aspects: internal traits (intellectual, emotional) and external ones (material, physical). In relation to “internal” redemption, both the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe introduced very important new concepts in Chassidic thought and were finally able to publish and disseminate the works of previous Rebbes. At the same time, both were extremely successful externally, in the realm of action. The Tzemach Tzedek established agricultural settlements that saved many Jews from dire poverty, and also rescued thousands upon thousands of children forced to enlist in the Russian army. Similarly, the Rebbe was able to establish Jewish centers all over world, and helped save thousands of Jews trapped in the "iron curtain" of the Soviet Union.

The number twenty-eight represents twice the value of fourteen, yad, a reference to the strong and outstretched arm of G-d that took us out of Egypt. (See Week 14) Here, that concept is doubled, representing two outstretched arms. On Passover, we celebrate that Hashem saved us then, while fully believing that He will soon save us again, in a way that is even more miraculous than what took place in Egypt.

Twenty eight is formed by the letters kaf and chet, forming the word koach, which means strength. Koach also means potential energy, that which is yet to be revealed. The pig seems to have the possibility and potential to be kosher, but ultimately it is not – at least not yet. As mentioned earlier, the pig represents Esau, the brother of Jacob, who had enormous potential; that potential made Isaac believe that Esau would ultimately be worthy of the rights and blessings of the firstborn. Like the pig, Esau would also pretend to be a tzadik before his father, so much so that the Midrash relates that Esau would ask Isaac how to tithe salt and straw. Salt and straw do not need to be tithed, and therefore Esau’s request made him look like he was ready to go beyond the letter of the law. The Rebbe explains that salt is an example of potential energy. Salt by itself is just salt, but when combined with other food it can enhance its flavor, and even preserve it from spoiling.

This week, the lesson from Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Elazar the son of Azariah. Interestingly, rabbinical discussion in the Passover Haggadah begins with this rabbi’s remarks. In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Elazar teaches us that without Torah there is no work (also translated as proper social conduct), and without work (or proper social conduct) there is no Torah. Without wisdom there is no fear of G-d, and without fear of G-d, there is no wisdom. Without knowledge, there is no understanding, and without understanding, there is no knowledge. Without flour (sustenance) there is no Torah, and without Torah there is no flour.  Rabbi Elazar also states that anyone whose knowledge exceeds his good deeds is like a tree with many branches and few roots, but one whose good deeds exceed his knowledge is like a tree that has few branches but many roots.

In Rabbi Elazar the son of Azariah’s words we also see the duality and relationship between required internal and external kosher characteristics. Knowledge requires action, and vice versa. Rabbi Elazar does make clear, however, that action must take priority. This was also something emphasized by the Rebbe, who stressed that the main thing is action, “HaMa’aseh Hu HaIkar.”

The flour mentioned here is perhaps also reference to matzah and also to the custom of providing flour to the poor (Maot Chitim, literally “wheat” money), so that they can also properly celebrate Passover. Furthermore, in order to prepare for Passover, we must rid ourselves of our own chametz, both the external leavened (self-inflated) bread, as well as our “internal” chametz, our inflated ego.

This week we complete one more cycle of seven weeks. This week’s sefirah combination is malchut shebenetzach. During the Passover Seder, we experience victory, humility, and redemption, all expressed openly in this physical world. Through the song of the pig and rabbit, we learn to aspire to a life of complete integrity and complete redemption.

[1] The Artscroll translation, by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, includes a picture of a rabbit, not a pig. The Hebrew term can be translated literally as “small/thin impure animal.”
[2] It is worth noting that their respective wives also carry the same name, Chayah Mushka.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Week 29 (From the Book): After the Initial Inspiration, To Get to Work

PEREK SHIRAH: The beast of burden is saying, "When you eat the fruit of your labors, happy are you and good is your lot." (Psalms 128:2)

PIRKEI AVOT: Rabbi Eliezer [the son of] Chisma would say: the laws of kinin (bird offerings) and the laws of menstrual periods---these, these are the meat of Halachah (Torah law). The calculations of solar seasons and gematria are the condiments of wisdom.

SEFIRAH COMBINATION: Chesed shebeHod (kindness within the context of glory and gratefulness)

As we enter the twenty-ninth week, the week of Passover, in Perek Shirah, the large impure (non-kosher) domestic animal sings that those that eat from the work of their own hands are praiseworthy and are blessed with good. (Psalm 128:2) This animal has been translated by Rabbi Slifkin simply as the “beast of burden.”[1] On Passover, we feel the influx of Hashem’s blessings and redemption. At the same time, from the second day of Passover onwards, the Jewish people begin counting the omer and begin working towards self-improvement. Thus, by the time Shavuot arrives, we will have merited to receive the Torah, at least in part through the work of our own hands.

This week’s animal appears to be a reference to Yishmael and his descendants. This son of Abraham was known for his great capacity for praying and for trusting in G-d’s blessings and salvation.[2] In fact, Yishmael did receive great blessings, although part of the blessings showed that there were aspects of his lifestyle that still needed to be improved. The angel tells Hagar, Yishmael’s mother, that "his hand would be on everyone.”[3] Later in life, Yishmael repents, returns to G-d, and has a good relationship with Isaac.[4] In messianic times, Isaac and Yishmael will coexist in peace.

Our sages interpret the verse of the beast of burden to be a dual blessing, “praiseworthy” – in this world, and “good for you” - in the world to come. There is a custom in Chassidic circles, instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov, to make a meal on the eighth day of Passover called Moshiach Seudah, in honor of Mashiach and the world to come.

The number twenty-nine is connected to the cycle of the moon (29.5 days to be exact), on which the Jewish month is based. Muslims, who consider themselves descendants of Yishmael, follow a purely lunar calendar. Twenty-nine is also the number of days in a woman’s menstrual cycle. (See Pirkei Avot below)

The lesson in Pirkei Avot for this week is found in the teaching of Rabbi Elazar the son of Chismah. He explains that the laws relating to bird sacrifices and menstrual cycles are essential, while astronomy and numerological calculations (gematria) are the spice of wisdom. (III:18) On Passover, we do not eat chametz, leavened bread. Spiritually, this represents the notion that on Passover we set aside everything that makes us feel “inflated” and takes away from our essence, our core identity as reflected in our relationship with G-d and with each other.    

Furthermore, on Passover, G-d connects to us on a deeply personal level, primarily as our Redeemer, instead of as the Creator of the Universe. (See Appendix I) This appears to be taught in this week’s Pirkei Avot: G-d does not want us to lose ourselves in grandiose and esoteric topics, such as astronomy and gematria. He would rather see us involved also in the details of properly serving Him in how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis.

The two sets of laws mentioned in Pirkei Avot are particularly important to daily conduct. They are fundamental to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People, and between husband and wife (which is also a metaphor for our relationship with G-d, as expressed in Solomon’s Song of Songs). Bird sacrifices are related to our ability to come closer to G-d.  The word for sacrifice in Hebrew is korban, from the word karov, which means close (nowadays, because we cannot bring sacrifices, prayer and study serve as substitutes). Similarly, the laws related to the female menstrual cycle are essential in order to make wives permissible to their husbands.[5]

This week, the combination of sefirot results in chesed shebehod. This week, we work on ourselves in order to properly receive and appreciate G-d’s blessings that we receive during Passover. (This week would also represent the “eighth week” of Shavuot and “Shivah Yemei Miluim” of the cycle of Netzach. This is appropriate, as Pessach is the festival of redemption)

We learn from the beast of burden that in our path towards righteousness, Hashem helps us and journeys with us along the way. Nevertheless, we should not want or expect our spiritual development to be "spoon-fed." Even if ultimately everything comes from G-d, we must work hard to achieve spiritual elevation ourselves.

[1] Slifkin, p. 11
[2] Genesis 21:10, 48:22, Targum
[3] Ibid.
[4] Genesis 25:9, Rashi
[5] The Torah sets forth laws regarding times during a woman’s menses in which husband and wife do not touch, and instead interact primarily on a spiritual plane. These essential laws help preserve a higher level intimacy and attraction, since the physical side of the relationship is renewed each month.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Week 30 (from the Book): To Know that the World Needs More Love and Respect

PEREK SHIRAH: The camel is saying, “G-d shall roar from upon high and cause His voice to sound forth from His holy place, His shout echoes profoundly over His dwelling place. (Jeremiah 25:30)

PIRKEI AVOT: Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): "From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation."

Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), "Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city."

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): "If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you"; "fortunate are you" in this world, "and good is to you" in the World to Come.

Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows. As is stated (I Samuel 2:30): "For to those who honor me, I accord honor; those who scorn me shall be demeaned."

SEFIRAH: Gevurah shebeHod (discipline and judgment within the context of glory and gratefulness)

In the thirtieth week, the last week of Nissan and the week of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is the turn of the camel in Perek Shirah to proclaim that, “the Lord roars from upon high; His voice is heard from His holy place; His roar echoes loudly over His dwelling place. (Jeremiah 25:30) The verse of the camel describes how Hashem strongly laments the destruction of the Temple. Due to its destruction, the Jewish people have had to survive for a very long period of time without its basic source of spiritual sustenance, just like the camel survives for long periods without water. Nissan is the month of redemption, both the redemption from Egypt as well as the future redemption. However, even on Passover itself we have an egg on the Seder plate as a sign of mourning to remember the destruction of the Temple and that the final redemption has not yet taken place. This week also marks the yahrzeit of Yehoshua Bin Nun, on the 26th day of this month.

As is explained in the same Midrash cited in week twenty-eight, the camel represents the Babylonian exile, when the First Temple was destroyed. Moreover, like the beast of burden, the camel also appears to be a reference to Yishmael.[1] As we complete the month of Nissan, we relive all the exiles and the redemptions that the Jewish people experienced throughout history, while hoping to soon experience the final redemption that will take us out of the current exile.

Thirty is an intensification of the qualities of balance represented by the number three. The number thirty also has the numerical value of the name Yehudah. As mentioned previously, Nissan is represented by the Tribe of Judah. Pirkei Avot teaches that thirty is also the age of koach, strength and potential. (See Week 28) At thirty, one is at the height of his or her physical and intellectual capacity. It was at the age of thirty that the kohanim would begin serving in the Temple. Such strength and potential are associated with Judah and his descendant, King David, who unlike Esau, acknowledged and repented from their mistakes, and were able to fully tap into their capacity for good.

In Pirkei Avot this week, Ben Zoma teaches: "Who is wise? One who learns from every person; Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination ... Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his portion.” This teaching is closely related to the tragic events that took place during the time of the Counting of the Omer. The death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples was caused by the difficulty they had in respecting, accepting, and learning from each other’s interpretations and applications of their master’s teachings.

The destruction of the Temple and the exile in which we find ourselves to this day (which includes also the events of the Holocaust) is due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred. We will be redeemed from this final exile through ahavat chinam, baseless love for each individual.

Ben Zoma’s lesson is closely related Yehoshua Bin Nun. He was Moses’ closest disciple and successor, and yet also could relate to everyone: “on the verse describing Joshua as ‘a man in whom there is spirit,’ Sifrei explains “that he was able to meet the spirit of every man.”[2]

Ben Zoma’s second question and answer, “Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination,” also appears related to the yahrzeit of Joshua. The Rebbe once said regarding his yahrzeit that, “On this day, assistance from heaven is granted to become a conqueror, like Yehoshua Bin Nun, ‘the most prominent of the conquerors.’"[3] During this week, we prepare for the conquests related to the following month (Iyar), and learn to become strong conquerors like Joshua.

In this week, the combination of sefirot results in gevurah shebehod. The Counting of the Omer, especially after the end if Passover and the month of Nissan, marks a period of service to G-d that can be potentially difficult, requiring both strength and discipline in order to conquer our evil inclination.
An additional lesson that we can extract from the words of the camel is that we must always remember our mission in the world: to create a dwelling place for G-d in this world, starting by creating a sacred space for Him within ourselves.

[1] Talmud, Brachot 56b (where the description of a dream with a camel follows description of a dream with Yishmael); Midrash Asseret Melachim, Midrash Pitron Torah
[2] Tanya, Compiler’s forward
[3] From the Rebbe’s Letters, available at: http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/letters-rebbe-2/07.htm

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