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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Week 5 (from the Book): To Use All Tools Available in order to Elevate the World

The Crane is saying, "Give thanks to G-d with the lyre; make music for Him with the ten-stringed harp." (Psalms 33:2)

Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi would say: Beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world, for the toil of them both causes sin to be forgotten. Ultimately, all Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and to cause sin.

Those who work for the community should do so for the sake of Heaven; for then the merit of their ancestors shall aid them, and their righteousness shall endure forever. And you, [says G-d,] I shall credit you with great reward as if you have achieved it.
Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.

He would also say: Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He should nullify the will of others before your will.

Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood [or: Do not say something that ought not to be heard even in the strictest confidence, for ultimately it will be heard]. And do not say "When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,'' for perhaps you will never free yourself.
He would also say: A boor cannot be sin-fearing, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a bashful one cannot learn, a short-tempered person cannot teach, nor does anyone who does much business grow wise. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

He also saw a skull floating upon the water. Said he to it: Because you drowned others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you, will themselves be drowned.

He would also say: One who increases flesh, increases worms; one who increases possessions, increases worry; one who increases wives, increases witchcraft; one who increases maidservants, increases promiscuity; one who increases man-servants, increases thievery; one who increases Torah, increases life; one who increases study, increases wisdom; one who increases counsel, increases understanding; one who increases charity, increases peace. One who acquires a good name, acquired it for himself; one who acquires the words of Torah, has acquired life in the World to Come.

Hod shebeChesed (glory and gratefulness within the context of kindness)

On the fifth week of the Jewish calendar, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. The month of Cheshvan is represented by the tribe of Menashe. Menashe, the firstborn son of Joseph, assisted his father in managing the entire Egyptian empire at the time. In Cheshvan, we bring all the holiness that we acquired in Tishrei, and use it in our day-to-day spiritual and physical endeavors to elevate the world. After the introspection and delving into the treasures of the Torah that took place in Tishrei, we must put our new resolutions into practice in this physical world. In this service, we use all powers, tools, and technologies available to us.  In Perek Shirah, the crane sings to G-d with joy, asking that we use musical instruments such as the lyre and the ten-stringed harp to thank Hashem.[1] With instruments, our music to Him will be even more beautiful.

In Pirkei Avot, the words of Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi are also related to the above description of the month of Cheshvan. Rabban Gamliel states that the study of Torah should be combined with making a living. Rabban Gamliel explains that it is specifically through the combination of Torah and work that one is able to stay away from sin. The subsequent sayings of Rabban Gamliel are also related to the concept of being active in the world. He describes how one should go about work on behalf of the community, as well as how to interact with the government. The additional sayings of Rabban Gamliel, as well as the words of Hillel, included in this section, also discuss how to interact with others and how to balance the need to engage with the material world, and yet not lose focus on what is truly important.

Hillel specifically talks about a situation of someone who was drowned in the water, which is very appropriate for the beginning of the month of Cheshvan, the month of the Flood. As will be further explained in week twenty-four, the Flood and its mighty waters are often used as a reference to material concerns, which threaten to drown us.

This week’s sefirah is hod shebechesed, which, as mentioned above, is closely connected with Aaron, and the service of the Kohanim (priests). As also mentioned, Cheshvan will be the month in which the future Third Temple will be inaugurated, and that is where the Kohanim will elevate the material world through their sacrifices.

A lesson in self-improvement that we can learn from the crane is the power of music. After all, music and the sound of instruments is one of the most powerful and ancient forms of fighting sadness. David would play the harp in order to gladden King Saul, who was tormented by depression. The Levites would also sing beautiful songs as the Kohanim performed their tasks.




[1] See Genesis 4:21, on how musical instruments, specifically the lyre is described in the Torah as one of the first technologies developed by human beings.

[Gematria thought: The number five represents the five books of Moses, the Torah. At Mount Sinai, Moses brought the Torah down from heaven into this physical world, transforming it forever. Five is also one more than the number four, which as mentioned in the previous week, reflects the basic structure of the world(s).]

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Week 6 (From the Book): To Impact the World, Laying a Foundation for Future Generations


PEREK SHIRAH: The songbird is saying, "The songbird has also found her home, and the sparrow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young - Your altars, G-d of Hosts – my King and my Lord." (Psalms 84:4)

PIRKEI AVOT: Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai received the tradition from Hillel and Shammai. He would say: If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself---it is for this that you have been formed.

Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai had five disciples: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus, Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Kohen, Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel, and Rabbi Elazar the son of Arach. He would recount their praises: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus is a cemented cistern that loses not a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya---fortunate is she who gave birth to him; Rabbi Yossi the Kohen---a chassid (pious one); Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel fears sin; Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an ever-increasing wellspring.

[Rabban Yochanan] used to say: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, and Eliezer the son of Hurkenus were in the other, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, Eliezer the son of Hurkenus included, and Elazar the son of Arach were in the other, he would outweigh them all.

[Rabban Yochanan] said to them: Go and see which is the best trait for a person to acquire. Said Rabbi Eliezer: A good eye. Said Rabbi Yehoshua: A good friend. Said Rabbi Yossi: A good neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To see what is born [out of one’s actions]. Said Rabbi Elazar: A good heart. Said He to them: I prefer the words of Elazar the son of Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.

He said to them: Go and see which is the worst trait, the one that a person should most distance himself from. Said Rabbi Eliezer: An evil eye. Said Rabbi Yehoshua: An evil friend. Said Rabbi Yossi: An evil neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To borrow and not to repay; for one who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty, as is stated, ``The wicked man borrows and does not repay; but the righteous one is benevolent and gives'' (Psalms 37:21). Said Rabbi Elazar: An evil heart. Said He to them: I prefer the word of Elazar the son of Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.

SEFIROT: Yesod shebeChesed (foundation and firmness within the context of kindness)

On the sixth week of the Jewish year, during the month of Cheshvan, the songbird in Perek Shirah praises G-d for providing it a home, and for providing a nest for the sparrow to lay its young. The songbird’s verse also speaks of the altars of G-d. As mentioned above, it is during this month that the Third Temple, G-d’s home and the location of His altars, will be dedicated, perhaps even in this sixth week. (See Table I)

In Pirkei Avot, Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai, who received the oral tradition from Hillel and Shammai used to say that those who have learned much Torah should not want special recognition, since they were created exactly for this purpose. (II:8) As further noted below, this week is connected to the sefirah ofYesod and Joseph. In fact, the special recognition that Joseph received, and which he himself felt he merited, created great problems for him in his relationship with this brothers.

Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai perfectly represents the Oral Torah, as well as the number six. His teaching is clearly related to the learning the Oral Torah. Furthermore, he is portrayed in Pirkei Avot with five additional students, making six in total. The praises he gives to his students are closely related to their ability to receive the oral tradition from him. Finally, Rabban Yochanan’s entire life story is about complete dedication to the Oral Torah. He managed to escape the Roman siege of Jerusalem right before its destruction, and set foot on a journey to establish a center for Jewish scholars in Yavneh. There, he and other sages transmitted the Oral Torah and ensured the survival of Judaism as a whole.

Rabban Yochanan son of Zakkai’s journey is also connected to the month of Cheshvan, when we leave our introspective and purely spiritual pursuits and delve into the material world in order to elevate it and to ensure our survival. Similarly, he asks his students to "go out” and see which is the proper path to way to take and which should be avoided. This request is also connected with concept of going out of our state of introspection during the month of Tishrei in order to engage in the material world and ensure our livelihood.

This week’s sefirah combination is yesod shebechesed. This combination, as well as the song of the songbird, reminds us of Joseph, who provided sustenance for his entire family and for the rest of the world. He was the viceroy of Egypt, in charge of all of the provisions of the empire. It was his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream that allowed for Egypt to stockpile its food supplies, preempting a seven-year period of extreme famine that greatly impacted the entire region. Joseph was the foundation of the good that all others received, both physically and spiritually.

We can draw a precious lesson in self-improvement from the songbird. As explained in the fourth week, we have an obligation to care for others besides ourselves. The songbird teaches us that we must work to create a solid foundation for our children and for all future generations, including one’s students. This can serve as a great motivation for a person who is overwhelmed by his or her own challenges.



[Gematria Thought: The number six represents the six orders of the Mishnah, of which the Oral Torah is comprised. Like much of the Written Torah, most of the Mishnah is about transmitting G-dly concepts in a manner that deeply involves the physical realm, monetary damages, and criminal punishments. What happens when an ox destroys neighboring property? What happens when two people claim to have rights over the same piece of property? The Oral Torah goes a step further than the Written Torah, giving specific examples and rulings, and analyzing such cases with great minutiae. ]

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Week 7 (from the Book): To Recognize and Reveal the Divine Presence within Us and the World

The swallow is saying, "So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, G-d my Lord – I shall give thanks to You forever." (Psalms 30:13)

They would each say three things. Rabbi Eliezer would say: The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger. Repent one day before your death. Warm yourself by the fire of the sages, but be beware lest you be burned by its embers; for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.

Malchut shebeChesed (kingship within the context of kindness)

On the seventh week of the year, still in the month of Cheshvan, the swallow sings in Perek Shirah of how it cannot be silent, but rather must sing to Him of His glory and thank Him forever (Psalm 30: 13).
The Hebrew word for forever is l'olam, which contains the word olam, which means world. Olam comes from the word ehelem, which means “mask” or “hidden.” It is through our involvement with the world during this month that we reveal G-d’s presence in the world, which until that point had been hidden.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the honor [kavod] of your neighbor must be so precious [chaviv] to you as if it were your own, and that one should not become easily angered. (II:10). Rabbi Eliezer also teaches that one must repent one day before death. However, as no one knows when he or she will die, everyone must repent daily. Rabbi Eliezer further cautions us regarding our behavior in front of sages in order not to be harmed by their reactions.
We know that the Flood began on the seventeenth of the month of Cheshvan, which falls either during week seven or week eight. This unfortunate phenomenon would not have taken place had the people of the time repented one day before their death and properly treated their neighbors and sages. The Torah also holds Noah accountable for the Flood, because he did not pray for the rest of the people. In this sense, the honor of his neighbors was not precious to him – he thought only of himself.
For Rabbi Eliezer, in order to follow a just path, it is very important to have a “good eye,” and to avoid an “evil eye” at all costs. We also know that one of the main causes of the Flood was stealing. Such criminal actions usually begin by looking at someone else’s possessions with an evil, jealous eye.
The sefirah combination for this week is malchut shebechesed. This week marks the yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) of our matriarch Rachel, who represents malchut. Aside from malchut, she also displayed a strong attribute of chesed, and perfectly exemplified the above mentioned teaching in Pirkei Avot: she helped her sister Leah secretly marry her beloved Jacob, just so that her sister would not be publicly embarrassed. Jacob agreed with Rachel’s father, Laban, that Jacob would work seven years to marry Rachel. After seven years passed, Laban placed Leah under the canopy instead. The Talmud teaches that Jacob foresaw the possibility that Laban would try to trick him, and so he had given Rachel certain signs so that he would be able to recognize her on their wedding night. When Rachel saw Leah under the canopy, she could not bear to see her sister be so humiliated and gave her the signs.[1]
As mentioned previously, King David represents malchut, and is connected to the idea of ​​repentance and return to G-d. As also mentioned, malchut is associated with the power of speech, like the swallow which cannot be silent.
The Alter Rebbe explains that malchut, which means kingship, is closely related to the concept of kavod, honor or glory, a word also used in the song of the swallow. The connection between malchut and kavod can be gleaned from the phrase we say right after reciting the Shemah: “Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuto L’Olam Va'ed,” “Blessed be the Name of the Honor of His kingdom forever and ever.” Cheshvan is also a month that is closely related to the Temple, where the glory, kavod of Hashem rests.
We extract from the swallow a very important lesson in self-improvement and daily living: to always recognize and thank G-d. The swallow recognizes the greatness of G-d and constantly shows its gratitude. The swallow also teaches us that when praising G-d it is not enough to simply use instruments (as in Week Six); it is also important to sing using our own voice.


[1] Bava Batra, 123a.
[Gematria Thought:  The number seven has many meanings. Our sages tell us that “Kol haShvi'im Chavivim,” every seventh is precious/beloved. Seven represents the seven days of the week, and particularly the beloved seventh day, the Sabbath. The number seven and the Sabbath are both connected with the idea of ​​returning to G-d. There are seven emotional sefirot, and the number seven is represented by sefirah of malchut.]

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Week 8 (from the Book): Not to Lose Focus on our Spirituality and Relationship with G-d

The Swift




The swift is saying, "My help is from G-d, Maker of Heaven and Earth." (Psalms 121:2)

Rabbi Yehoshua would say: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and the hatred of one's fellows, drive a person from the world.

Chesed shebeGevurah (kindness within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the eighth week of the year, as we approach the end of the month of Cheshvan, the swift sings of its recognition that all help comes from G-d, Creator of Heaven and Earth (Psalm 121:2).

The swift’s verse is closely connected with Cheshvan. As we go deeper into this month, we feel increasingly immersed (and sometimes even sinking) in the various material concerns and tasks we need to accomplish. Therefore, we need Hashem’s help in order to keep us afloat, and not to lose focus on our spiritual objectives.

This week, the teaching of Pirkei Avot is in the words of Rabbi Yehoshua, who teaches about sin: "The evil eye, the evil inclination and hatred towards [G-d’s] creations take a person out of this world" (II:11). Sin takes us out of this world. However, this phrase can be understood in a positive way: repentance after sin takes a person to much higher levels, beyond the limitations of this physical and material world.

There is a strong connection between the teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua in Pirkei Avot and the month of Cheshvan. The evil inclination and hatred prevailed upon the land at that time. The Torah teaches that theft was particularly prevalent at that time – theft - act on the desire of the evil eye and desire for that which is not yours. People of the time were so materialistic that they downplayed the importance of ethics and spirituality.

The combination of the sefirot for this week results in Chesed shebeGevurah. The Flood began slowly, giving people ample opportunity to repent, even after the rain began.[1] The truth is that the flood was not all bad – it served to cleanse the world, and to allow for a fresh start. The flood, which lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, parallels the 40 cubits necessary for a kosher mikvah, the purifying ritual bath that cleanses a person of impurity. (This week would also represent the “eighth week,” or “Shavuot” of the cycle of Chesed and the seven days in which Shavuot sacrifices were brought, known as “Shivah Yemei Miluim”)

In this week, we see that the swift is fully aware of G-d’s kindness, His justice, and His omnipotence. We must strive to follow suit, and direct ourselves always to Him. We learn from the swift that we need G-d in everything and for everything. Thus, if we are feeling alone and helpless, we should follow the example of this bird and pray to G-d for help.








 [1]Genesis 7:12, Rashi

[Gematria Thought: The number eight represents the concept of that which is above nature. Eight is one more than seven, which represents nature, such as in the seven days of the week. Eight is primarily associated with the concept of Mashiach, in that when Mashiach comes our whole existence will be one that is above nature as we know it today. While King David’s harp had seven strings, the harp of Mashiach will have eight.[2] The number eight is also a reference to the unique relationship of the Jew with G-d (a relationship that is above nature). A concrete example of this relationship is the fact that circumcision is performed exactly on the eighth day of life of a newborn.

Eight is also related to the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of the Temple, whose service to G-d was above this world. The Kohen Gadol’s garments, as well as the service he performed, were particularly aimed at rectifying the sins of the Jewish people.

[2] “The Month of Cheshvan According to the Book of Formation,” available at:
 http://www.inner.org/times/cheshvan/cheshvan.htm]


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