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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Introduction - How to Read the Blog


"For everything there is a season and for every time there is a purpose under Heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

We spend much of our life in spiritual darkness. We often go about our lives with great uncertainty, without the benefit of sage advice or guidance. Yet somehow we just keep going, attaching ourselves to values that confuse our minds and our hearts, and ignoring the real needs and wants of our soul.

We become so busy with our own personal affairs and so distracted by the avalanche of superfluous information directed at us, that we blind ourselves to the signs all around, the lessons and warnings G-d presents to us at every moment. Certain instances, however, awaken us from this darkness. In those times, which are like lightning bolts of clarity, we realize that there is something greater, something beyond this physical plane and our worldly concerns.

The reality is that our soul needs to sing! Yet what are we to do if we do not know the melody and the lyrics of the song? The Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, explains that this is the feeling behind the shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is the most basic and primal expression of the soul, and it is with this cry that the Jewish people awaken spiritually at the start of every year.

This blog’s objective is to bring us closer to our song - the song of the soul - and the Jewish calendar itself is its sheet music. In an effort to promote more harmony in our lives, we will study important Jewish figures, texts, values and techniques for spiritual enhancement that will make ourselves attuned to the energy of each week of the year. This book will give access to unknown tools, which allow for an open channel of dialogue with G-d. These teachings are not new. They are already found in the Torah itself. They are within everyone’s reach, close to the mouth and to the heart. (Deuteronomy 30:11; Tanya - Introduction)

Through continuous effort, an individual who is committed to change can obtain personal as well as collective transformation: in the family, the local community, the city, and beyond. As the prophet Isaiah exclaims, the Earth was not created to be chaos. (Chapter 45:18) We desperately need to live in a better world, and leave it more peaceful for future generations.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, teaches that one should “live with the times.” (Hayom Yom, 2nd of Cheshvan, p. 101) By connecting Jewish lessons to fixed times in the Jewish calendar, the book is meant to serve as a tool for self-reflection and spiritual development.

The Counting of the Omer


The Counting of the Omer, known in Hebrew as Sefirat Ha'Omer, is a Torah commandment to count the weeks and days from which the omer sacrifice was offered in the Temple. This sacrifice was made of barley, which in those days was primarily an animal food, and had the Biblical measurement of one omer. The counting takes place every year during the 49 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost).

The Counting of the Omer has always been used by the Jewish People as a basis for spiritual development. In Egypt, the Jewish People had reached the 49th level of spiritual impurity. During the first 49 days that followed their escape from Egypt, the Jewish people gradually purified itself, until it reached the 49th level of purity. Within but seven weeks, upon reaching Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had become so spiritually and emotionally refined that the entire nation was able to encamp there in complete harmony, peace, and unity: “as one person with one heart.” It was only in this way that they merited to receive the Torah. 

During the omer count performed every year between Passover and Shavuot, there is a custom to spend each day concentrating on a different combination of sefirotSefirot, as further explained below, are Divine attributes which are also found within every individual. By doing so, it is possible to obtain a level of spiritual and emotional improvement similar to what the Jewish people achieved after leaving Egypt.

The Counting of the Omer takes places mostly during the Jewish month of Iyar, a month known for its healing powers. A hint of Iyar’s connection to healing is found within the letters of its name, alefyud and reish, an acronym from the biblical verse Ani Hashem Rofechah, “I am G-d your Healer.”

Besides from being a time of great spiritual elevation and healing, unfortunately the omer is also a reminder of a sad period in the history of the Jewish people. Twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva passed away during these days. They suffered from a plague inflicted due to their lack of unity and respect for one another, the very opposite of what characterized the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.

The plague ended on the 33rd day of the omer, known as Lag Ba’Omer. This is one of the reasons why this date is so commemorated. Another reason for celebrating Lag Ba’Omer is because it is the yahrzeit – the anniversary of the passing – of the great tzadik Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who died many years after the plague. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, himself a student of Rabbi Akiva, is the author of the Zohar, the basic and most important text of the Kabbalah.

The order in which the combination of sefirot takes place for each day of the omer follows a very simple principle. As further explained below, there are seven emotional sefirot, and since the Counting of the Omer occurs over seven weeks, each week represents one sefirah. The first week represents the first sefirahchesed (kindness), while the second week represents the second sefirahgevurah (discipline), and so forth. Furthermore, each day within each week represents a subdivision of one of the seven emotional sefirot within that sefirah. For example, the first day of the omer represents the attribute of chesed within chesed (chesed shebechesed), as it is the first day of the first week. The second day of the first week represents the attribute of gevurah within chesed (gevurah shebechesed). Lag Ba'Omer is the fifth day of the fifth week. The fifth sefirah is hod, and therefore Lag Ba’Omer represents hod shebehod. The sefirot combinations of each day of the omer are found in most prayerbooks.

Furthermore, the most basic element in the commandment of the Counting of the Omer is to give each day a specific number. Numbers in Judaism have tremendous meaning that goes much beyond their day-to-day usage. Each number has kabbalistic significance, and each letter in the Jewish calendar has a numerical value.

Incredibly, just as Lag Ba’Omer takes place on the thirty-third day of the omer,  two thirds into the counting between Passover and Shavuot, so too – and this is quite remarkable – the week of Lag Ba’Omer falls two thirds into the Jewish year, exactly on the thirty-third week! Each week of the year therefore parallels each day of the Counting of the Omer, and each week is connected to the sefirah combination for that day. It is therefore possible to work on oneself through the sefirot and the numbers related to the omer during the entire year.

Pirkei Avot and Perek Shirah

In addition, from Passover to Shavuot, in most religious Jewish communities there is a custom to study the Pirkei Avot, also as a mechanism of self-improvement. Pirkei Avot, which literally means “Chapters of the Fathers,” is part of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) compiled by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi. In these chapters, each of the main rabbis of the generation writes in concise form what he considers to be most important in order to live ethically and in accordance with the principles of the Torah. Pirkei Avot can also be understood as “Father Chapters,” since these chapters include the fundamental principles for the study and fulfillment of the rest of the Torah. In this sense, the teachings of Pirkei Avot are like "parents," and the rest of the Torah’s teachings are like their children.

This book shows how the teachings of rabbis found within the first four chapters of Pirkei Avot are organized in such a way that each rabbi corresponds to a week of the year. Similarly, this book will show how this weekly method of self-improvement is also related to each animal of Perek Shirah.

Perek Shirah, which means Chapter of Song, is an ancient text that is not very well known, as it has been published only in a handful of prayerbooks around the world. While the authorship of this work is not certain, many attribute it to King David. Perek Shirah itself hints to David’s authorship as it describes his interaction with a frog immediately following the completion of the Book of Psalms. In this conversation, the frog exclaims, “David! Do not become proud, for I recite more songs and praises than you.” 

Among sacred Jewish texts, Perek Shirah is a pioneer when it comes to the environment. It is a work of enormous lyricism and exaltation of the Creator, including songs from the sun and the moon, Heaven and Earth, as well as from various members of the plant and animal kingdoms. The praises found in this book are like a great orchestra in which, instead of musicians, each element and living being contributes to a beautiful and emotional masterpiece. That result is the best possible exclamation of G-d’s greatness by all of His Creation.

It is extraordinary that of all the different elements and creatures listed in Perek Shirah that glorify the Creator, there are exactly fifty-two animals in Perek Shirah, one for each week of the solar year.

In Judaism, as well as in many other cultures, it is well known that humans can learn many important lessons on how to behave by observing animals and nature. The Book of Job, for example, teaches that we should learn how to glorify G-d by observing birds.[8] The Talmud teaches that “Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned to be modest from cats, to avoid theft from ants, to avoid promiscuity from doves, and derech eretz (proper conduct) from roosters.” The Book of Proverbs advises those that are lazy to observe the ant. Despite the fact that this animal has no supervisor, it collects its food in the summer and stores it during the harvest season. In a similar vein, in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Teima tell us to be “bold like the leopard, swift like the eagle, fast like the deer, and courageous like the lion, in order to fulfill the will of your Father in Heaven.”

It is quite often easier for a person to learn character traits from animals because human beings are full of paradoxes and internal conflicts, while animals have emotional attributes that are strong and clear, without room for human subtleties. The fact that during the omer we work on our emotional characteristics (our animal qualities) is reflected in the omer offering itself, which was made out of barley, an animal food. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the process of self-analysis which begins on Passover and runs through the Counting of the Omer, culminating on Shavuot, is parallel to the kind of food related to each of these days. On Passover we eat matzah, which involves total nullification of the ego; the omer, made of animal food, reflects our struggle to improve our emotional/animal characteristics; on Shavuot, once our character traits have been refined, leavened bread is brought into the Temple for the first time.

When reading Perek Shirah, it is fascinating to observe how the animals so gracefully praise and acknowledge G-d’s actions. If animals glorify G-d in such a way, how much more so should we! Furthermore, through each animal and its respective song, we extract examples and lessons on how to help us heal and combat sadness.


How to Read This Blog

The blog can be read from beginning to end all at once, but its main purpose is to be experienced during each cycle. Along with the meaning of every Jewish month and the important dates of the Jewish calendar, the idea is to connect with the spiritual energy of the cycle through the paradigms listed in each book. While doing so, one should try to absorb and internalize the teachings found in them, in order to improve one’s daily conduct.

The 32 paths of wisdom can be experienced through cycles of 22 days, which parallel the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, culminating with the 22 days of the Three Weeks of Mourning, from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av. 

Books 1 through 7 of the blog can also be experienced during each day of the actual omer count, from Passover until Shavuot (using one week for each day), given that the omer count is itself a microcosm of the whole year. The fifty-two weeks of the year are also reflected in the rituals and times connected to each day. 

The weeks of this book can even technically be applied on a yearly basis, with each week representing a different year. This may have both an individual application, with each week representing a year in a person’s life, but could even be applied to history as a whole, which would more or less parallel the cycles of Sabbatical and Jubilee years.

For the individual, the cycle would start at birth, and then restart at age 52. Examples of this would be King Solomon and Shmuel HaNavi, who both lived 52 years. This may also apply to more than one reincarnation. In the Passover Hagaddah, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah states that he “was like a man of 70.” The Vilna Gaon teaches that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, who was only 18, knew that he was a reincarnation of Shmuel HaNavi, and so therefore, he saw himself as being 18 plus 52, which equals 70.

For those seeking a daily connection throughout the year, this can be done simply by subdividing each week, using a different sefirah for each day. In this way, a person would perform seven separate “omer counts.” The first day of the year is chesed shebechesed shebechesed (the first day of the first week of the first series of seven weeks), and Lag Ba'Omer will represent not only hod shebehod but, hod shebehod shebehod (the 5th day of the 5th week of the 5th series of seven weeks).

In order to succeed in this journey, the reader will benefit from one more ingredient: emunah. Emunah means faith in G-d. The Midrash states that the Sea of Reeds only split, allowing the Jewish people to cross, after Nachshon ben Aminadav threw himself into the water. At that time, we know that the Jewish People was completely cornered, seeing the Egyptian army approach on one side, and facing the deep waters of sea on the other. What was the way out?  The Jewish people hesitated, and somewhat panicked, despite the great number of Divine miracles they saw upon being freed from Egypt. At this moment, without having second thoughts and believing firmly that everything would work out for the best, Nachshon jumped into the sea. When the waters were already entering his nostrils, the Sea of Reeds split and all of the Jewish people followed him.  The Midrash explains that G-d wanted His people to act based on emunah.

Thus, it is through Nachshon’s example that we learn how to conduct our lives. Emunah is a process we develop (it is etymologically linked to the Hebrew word for craft, omanut), but to begin, a person needs a certain amount of faith, to just jump in like Nachshon. The obstacles in Nachshon’s way were removed because he was determined to bring G-d’s will into reality. After all, nothing is impossible or even difficult for the Eternal One, Who took His people out of the land of Egypt. G-d took His dear people out of slavery; He did not do so through an angel or a messenger, but did it Himself, through His strong hand and outstretched arm. For this reason, besides celebrating Passover annually, the Jewish people also remember its freedom from Egypt in its daily prayers, despite the fact that this liberation took place a few millennia ago.

Filled with emunah, one can march onward with ease in this beautiful spiritual journey. It is with this strong sense of faith, truth and hope that we present the tools for Jewish wisdom, understanding and knowledge contained in the pages to follow.

The Rebbe's well known commentary to the introductory words of
Pirkei Avot (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1175ff), are adapted and summarized below, from an excerpt of the book, "In the Path of our Fathers."  The words in brackets, red, and italics are added to explain the connection with the Five Books of Moses. The author also humbly shows how the books of “The Kabbalah of Time” attempt to reflect this same pattern.  


If the Mishnah's purpose was merely to describe the chain of tradition, a more detailed list would have been appropriate.[4] By mentioning only these five individuals or groups, the Mishnah alludes to five traits that are essential in developing a relationship with the Torah.

"Moshe" represents a unique fusion of humility and pride. Although he was "more humble than any man on the face of the earth,"[5] he served as a firm leader of the people, confidently telling them: "It is I who stood between you and G-d."[6]  [Bereishit, the Book of Genesis, is essentially about Derech Eretz, proper behavior, as in the statement, Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah, “proper behavior” preceded the Torah. In Bereishit, the Torah first teaches us about how to properly behave by recounting the deeds of our forefathers. It is only in Shemot, the Book of Exodus, that we learn about the Torah itself and its commandments.  Book 1 in "The Kabbalah of Time” is also focused on proper behavior, which we learn even from animals. Interestingly, in the end of the Book of Genesis, various tribes are compared to animals, because certain good behaviors of each tribe have become instinctual, like that of an animal.]

"Yehoshua" represents the epitome of dedicated devotion - "a youth who never left the tent."[7] Such dedication is also necessary if one is to make the Torah a part of one's thinking processes. [As mentioned above, it is in Shemot, the Book of Exodus, that we acquire the Torah. Acquiring the Torah demands tremendous commitment, like that of Yehoshua. Acquiring the Torah is also the theme of Book 2 in the “Kabbalah of Time.”]

"The elders" represent the virtues of maturity and cultivated wisdom. The commitment of Yehoshua must be nurtured through disciplined study. [Disciplined study and cultivating wisdom parallels the main theme of Vayikrah, the Book of Leviticus, which is primarily about the services and sacrifices of the priests in the Tabernacle. Book 3 in "The Kabbalah of Time” is also about Divine service and prayer.]

"The prophets" represent a drive to make one's thinking processes reflect one's spiritual values. This is necessary to ensure that the knowledge of the elders remains more than human wisdom, and reflects the G-dly source of the Torah. [The Torah’s spiritual values are in clear display throughout Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers, particularly in the first part of it. Each member of the Jewish people is counted, and a particular focus is given to the Nasi, the leader of each tribe. Book 4 in "The Kabbalah of Time” is also about our spiritual values, realizing that we are spiritual in essence, and connecting to the Nasi.]

In regard to "the Men of the Great Assembly," our Sages explain the name was given because they "restored the original glory."[8]

Moshe referred to the Almighty as "the great, mighty and awesome G-d."[9]

Yirmeyahu said: "Gentiles are celebrating in His palace; where is His awesomeness?" And when he referred to G-d,[10] he did not use the term "awesome."

Daniel said: "Gentiles are subjugating His children; where is His might?" And he did not use the term "mighty."[11]

They [the Men of the Great Assembly] arose and said: "On the contrary, this is His might; that He overcomes His natural tendency, and shows patience to the wicked. And this is His awesomeness; for were it not for His awesomeness, one nation could not endure among the many."[12]

The Men of the Great Assembly were able to see G-dliness even in the darkness of exile. This is the last quality which the mishnah chose to emphasize as a prerequisite for our study of the Torah; regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, we must appreciate G-d's intent. [The second half of Bamidbar also focuses on the tests and the darkness of exile. The tests of exile bring about tremendous tragedy; yet they also reveal our true nature, our Divine Essence. Book 5 in "The Kabbalah of Time” is also about being able to see G-dliness, particularly in exile.]

In the above discourse, the Rebbe also mentions that “the Men of the Great Assembly” established guidelines, applicable to all, that ensured the continuation of the Judaism and the Jewish people throughout the long exile to come. Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy, is also about setting general guidelines applicable to future generations that would find themselves in different circumstances, such as those living in the Land of Israel. Book 6 in “The Kabbalah of Time” is also about general guidelines, prayers applicable to all people in all situations, such as the Book of Psalms and Tikkun HaKlali (Rebbe Nachman’s General Remedy).

Book 7 in the “The Kabbalah of Time” is a song that provides a microcosm/summary of the previous books, and parallels Haazinu.

Footnotes:
  1. See the Rambam's Introduction to the Mishneh Torah, where he indeed provides a more detailed index.
  1. Bamidbar 12:2.
  1.  Devarim 5:5.
  1. Shemot 33:11.
  1. Yoma 69b.
  1. Devarim 10:17.
  1. Yirmeyahu 32:18.
  1. Daniel 9:4.
  1. Hence, in the daily prayers which they instituted we say "the great, mighty, and awesome G-d," as Moshe did.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Portuguese Introduction (2011 Draft)

Por vezes nos sentimos isolados em nosso canto, espalhados que estamos dentre os diversos e mais remotos espaços físicos, emocionais, intelectuais e espirituais. Sentimos que estamos perdidos, desconectados do mundo exterior, afastados das pessoas, natureza, de D’us e que, esta situação não tem remédio! Tão ocupados com os afazeres de nossas vidas e distraídos pela avalanche de informação supérflua, perdemos a sintonia com os sinais existentes a nossa volta – os avisos que Ele apresenta a cada instante. Além disso, inúmeras vezes nos apegamos a valores falsos que confundem a mente e o coração, obstruindo os verdadeiros valores da alma.

Visando uma vida mais harmoniosa, este livro tem por objetivo difundir valores e técnicas judaicas. Se utilizadas diariamente, asseguramos que irá promover uma transformação pessoal positiva. Para tanto, a narrativa tem como elemento básico associar lições judaicas ao tempo físico. O Judaísmo é uma religião principalmente ligada ao tempo e não ao espaço físico. Cumpre notar que, os ensinamentos para aprimoramento espiritual visando aplacar a distância entre o indivíduo e Seu Criador estão justamente prescritos na Torá. As lições sagradas estão ao alcance de todos, perto da boca e coração, e não misteriosas ou distantes: nos céus, montanhas ou mar (Deuteronômio 30:11 e seguintes). Portanto, este livro pretende mostrar como acessar ferramentas “desconhecidas”, mas existentes na Torá. Assim, pretendemos que o livro ajude a propiciar um canal aberto de diálogo com D’us.

Está escrito nos Livros Sagrados que poderoso é aquele que contém suas paixões e ira (Pirkê Avot 4:1). Quantos litígios podem ser evitados se o ser humano contiver seus ímpetos de arrogância e fanatismo? Acreditamos que através de uma luta diária, o indivíduo pode obter uma transformação pessoal, como também promover mudanças no seu núcleo familiar, comunitário, e assim, sucessivamente. Afinal, conforme prega Isaías, a Terra não foi criada para ser um caos (Capítulo 45:18). Precisamos sim, e desesperadamente, viver em um mundo melhor, e deixá-lo mais pacífico para as futuras gerações.

Seguimos twitters, blogs e sites... Estamos sempre em busca. Porque então não darmos uma chance a esse método aqui mapeado de conexão com D’us? Se utilizado todas as semanas do ano, promoverá uma conexão direta com o Criador. Como ensina o Rabino Schneur Zalman de Liadi, é preciso “viver com o tempo”!

Resumidamente, este livro promove uma forma de viver ligada com o tempo. Serve de auto-análise e desenvolvimento espiritual, a partir das canções de cada animal no Perek Shirá, dos preceitos de cada rabino do Pirkê Avot, e sefirá (característica divina) ligada a cada dia da contagem do ômer.

A contagem do ômer sempre foi usada pelo Povo Judeu como base de aprimoramento espiritual. A contagem começa em Pessach e segue até Shavuot. No Egito, o Povo Judeu estava no 49o nível de impureza. Durante a contagem do ômer, gradativamente o povo se purificou, revertendo o quadro para atingir o 49o nível de pureza! Ao chegar no Monte Sinai, estavam tão refinados espiritual e emocionalmente, que ali acamparam em harmonia e paz, com união total: “como uma pessoa só, com um só coração”. Só assim foram merecedores e puderam ser presenteados com a Torá.
Da mesma forma, é possível obter esse aperfeiçoamento através da concentração diária em uma sefirá (uma explicação mais detalhada sobre o significado das sefirot (plural de sefirá) segue abaixo). A contagem do ômer ocorre na maior parte dentro do mês de Iyar, que está ligado a cura. O mês de Iyar é conhecido como um mês de healing, pois é formado pelas letras hebraicas que simbolizam o verso “Eu sou Deus Seu Curador” (Êxodo 15:26).

Abrindo parênteses, além de ser uma época de elevação espiritual e cura, lamentavelmente o ômer marca uma era triste na história do Povo Judeu. Em decorrência de uma praga, faleceram vinte e quatro mil alunos do Rabi Akiva, justo durante esses dias. Esta praga que ocorreu exatamente pela falta de união e respeito mútuo entre os alunos, terminou no 33o dia do ômer, Lag Ba'Ômer. Este é um dos motivos pelos quais essa data é tão celebrada. A outra principal razão pela qual se comemora Lag Ba’Ômer é atribuída ao yahrzeit – aniversário de falecimento – do grande tzadik Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, muitos anos depois. Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai é o autor do celebrado Livro Zohar, o texto básico da Cabalá.

Impressionante notar, tal qual a festividade de Lag Ba'Ômer representa dois terços (33/50) da contagem dos dias entre os feriados judaicos de Pessach a Shavuot, também –– a semana de Lag Ba’Ômer constitui a trigésima terceira semana do ano, de acordo com o calendário judaico. O cômputo das semanas é sempre feito a partir da semana de Rosh Hashaná, no mesmo dia da semana na qual começa a contagem do ômer. Por exemplo, se Pessach cai numa terça-feira e a contagem do ômer começa na quarta-feira, então a contagem das semanas começaria na quarta-feira antes de Rosh Hashaná. Assim, é possível dar a cada dia do ano uma combinação de sefirot. Lag Ba’ômer representará não só hod shebehod, mas sim, hod shebehod shebehod (5o dia, 5a. semana e 5a serie de sete semanas). (Para saber quado começa cada semana do ano, veja a Tabela II, no final do livro).
Em consequência, cada semana deste livro está representada e conectada por uma variação das sefirot, procedimento semelhante ao adotado durante a contagem do ômer entre Pessach e Shavuot. A partir das características de cada sefirá, este livro mostra como uma pessoa pode trabalhar o seu lado interior visando auto-aprimoramento.

Entre Pessach e Shavuot, na maioria das comunidades judaicas, existe o costume de se estudar o Pirkê Avot, também como mecanismo de auto-aperfeiçoamento. Pirkê Avot, que significa Capítulos dos Patriarcas, é parte da Mishná (Torá oral) compilada por Rabi Iehudá HaNassi. Nesses capítulos, cada principal rabino da geração escreve, o que considera de mais importante para se viver eticamente de acordo com a Torá. Pirkê Avot também pode ser entendido como “Capítulos dos Pais”, pois nele estão incluídos os princípios fundamentais para o estudo e cumprimento da Torá. Neste sentido, as lições do Pirkê Avot são como "pais", e o restante da Torá são como filhos. Tal conclusão é uma decorrência dos conceitos básicos listados nesses capítulos sagrados.

Este livro mostrará como os pronunciamentos dos rabinos constantes nos primeiros quatro capítulos do Pirkê Avot estão organizados; de tal forma que, cada rabino corresponde a uma semana do ano. Igualmente, se revelará como este trabalho semanal de auto-aprimoramento também está relacionado com cada animal do Livro Perek Shirá. O Perek Shirá que significa Capítulo da Canção, é um texto pouco conhecido. Foi publicado em apenas alguns livros de prece no mundo. Outra razão pelo qual seu texto não é veiculado, reside no fato de que sua leitura não é obrigatória durante as rezas diárias. De autoria ainda desconhecida, certos comentaristas atribuem a criação do Perek Shirá ao Rei David ou ao seu filho, o Rei Salomão.

Dentre outros livros sagrados do judaísmo, o Perek Shirá é pioneiro em matéria ambiental. Este poético livro contém os elementos essenciais do universo, incluindo os céus e a terra, plantas e animais. Suas páginas sãode extremo lirismo, deslumbramento e exaltação ao Criador. Tal qual ocorre em um concerto de orquestra, ao invés de músicos, cada animal deste livro oferece sua contribuição em prol de um belo resultado sentimental. No caso do Perek Shirá, o produto final é desvelado através da melhor possível aclamação à D’us por parte dos representantes do reino animal ali elencados.

É sabido que o ser humano pode aprender sobre conduta observando o comportamento dos animais e os atos da natureza. No Livro de Jó, está contido o ensinamento de como devemos glorificar a D’us observando o procedimento dos pássaros (Capítulo 35:11). O Talmud nos ensina que mesmo sem a Torá, aprenderíamos sobre modéstia com os gatos, e a não roubar com as formigas (Eruvim 100b). Neste sentido, o Pirkê Avot leciona através do ensinamento de Iehudá ben Teimá, para sermos ousados como o leopardo, ligeiros como a águia, ágeis como o veado, e fortes como o leão.(Cap. 5:23). Impressionante: também o livro de Provérbios ensina ao preguiçoso para observar a formiga e com ela adquirir sabedoria. Este animal embora não tenha patrão, supervisor ou soberano, provê seu pão no verão e estoca alimento durante a colheita (Cap. 6:6)!

Na realidade, muitas vezes para o ser humano é mais fácil aprender determinadas condutas com os animais. Sabemos que o indivíduo é cheio de paradoxos e conflitos internos, enquanto os animais tem características fortes e claras, sem espaço para as tantas sutilezas humanas.

Prosseguindo, fascinante observar na leitura do Perek Shirá como os animais reconhecem o poder criador de D’us e são agradecidos em seus louvores! Se os animais glorificam à D’us, que dirá como a humanidade deveria louvá-Lo, já que detém o poder da comunicação verbal... Sob o prisma ecológico, nas páginas do Perek Shirá encontram-se distintos louvores do reino animal exaltando as maravilhas do Criador. E, através de cada animal e de sua respectiva canção, extraímos lições edificantes para combater inclusive a depressão.
É extraordinário perceber que dentre todos os elementos da Terra que glorificam seu Criador Único, existem os animais listados no Livro exatamente em número de 52, um para cada semana do ano!

As páginas deste livro vão mostrar o elo de conexão dos animais do Perek Shirá, dos rabinos do Pirkê Avot, e de cada combinação de sefirot, com as datas relacionadas a cada semana.
Este livro pode ser lido de uma vez do início ao fim, mas seu propósito principal é de que seja vivenciando a cada semana. Além de explicar o significado de cada mês no calendário judaico e de apontar datas e feriados importantes, a idéia é fazer com que o indivíduo se conecte com a energia espiritual da semana através de três prismas: Perek Shirá, Pirkê Avot e contagem do ômer. A intenção é propiciar ao leitor a internalização dos ensinamentos contidos nestas páginas, de modo a alcançar uma conduta mais positiva no dia-a-dia.

O livro também pode ser vivenciado durante cada dia da própria contagem do ômer, de Pessach até Shavuot (usando uma semana para cada dia), pois a contagem do ômer é em si um microcosmo de todo o ano. As 52 semanas também se refletem por inteiro nos rituais e horários do dia. (Ver Apêndice e Tabela I, no final do livro)

Para poder cumprir a jornada devidamente, o leitor precisará ter humildade e mente aberta, além de outro ingrediente básico imprescindível: fé em D’us. Está escrito no Midrash1 que o mar se abriu e os judeus só puderam prosseguir depois que Nachshon se jogou ao mar. Com o propósito de recordar o episódio, sabemos que o Povo Judeu estava completamente emboscado antes da abertura do mar. Qual a saída? Na frente, águas profundas e, atrás, o impiedoso exército egípcio. Por tudo isto, o povo estava hesitante e incrédulo, apesar dos inúmeros milagres divinos que tinham culminado com sua libertação do Egito. Sem titubear, acreditando piamente em um desenlace favorável, Nachshon se lançou ao mar. Quando as águas estavam já entrando em suas narinas, o Mar Vermelho se abriu e todos o seguiram. O Midrash explica que D’us queria que Seu povo agisse baseado em fé.

ortanto, a partir do exemplo de Nachshon aprende-se que basta ter certeza e acreditar com fervor no Eterno Único Criador do resplandecente universo. Os obstáculos foram removidos pois existiu determinação por parte de Nachshon de realizar um desígnio divino. Afinal, nada é impossível ou sequer difícil para o Eterno que tirou Seu povo da terra do Egito (Êxodo 20:2 e Salmo 78). Isto mesmo, D’us tirou Seu querido povo da escravidão: Ele não enviou anjos nem emissários para esta missão, realizada com Sua mão poderosa e braço estendido (Deuteronômio 4:34). Por isto, além de celebrar anualmente a festividade de Pessach, diariamente nas rezas matutinas, o Povo Judeu lembra de sua libertação da escravatura, ocorrida há milênios atrás.

Em conclusão, imbuído de fé pode o indivíduo trilhar firme esta proposta para uma bela jornada espiritual de duração anual. E é movido pela fé, verdade e esperança que as ferramentas na busca de entendimento da sabedoria judaica se seguem apresentadas nas próximas páginas deste livro.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Introduction to 22-Day Cycles


Introduction

We live in a time of tremendous material disparity. While many of us have access to technologies and luxuries previous generations could not even dream of, large populations remain deprived not only of such advances, but also of even the most basic needs and services such as food, water, shelter, healthcare, and personal safety. Millions have been displaced, many of which are still searching for a place to call home, while many more millions live in tension and often despair.

We also have become enslaved to a culture of always having to know what just happened in the last moment, and eager for constant updates, no matter how impersonal or irrelevant to our daily lives. We are made aware of “breaking news” and “latest developments,” tragedies and dangers across the globe that stimulate, but also alarm us and cause additional anxiety. We are impacted by this deluge of information,[1] which often is opinionated and sensationalized, meant to seek attention instead of to inform, when not to deliberately mislead and slander.  We lose ourselves, our focus and time, and cannot even accomplish the simplest of tasks without interruption. In the process, we have also lost much of our privacy. Every piece of information gleaned about us becomes a marketing tool, if not something worse.

In the area of social interaction and networking, we have never been so electronically “connected” and yet so distant and “disconnected” at the same time. Many become enamored and even addicted to receiving personal approval through “likes” and “hearts” on social media that are not only impersonal, but probably mean next to nothing or nothing at all. Responses are also expected to be almost immediate, as more and more devices track not only if a message was sent, but also when it was read. Relationships are becoming empty and superficial, and many suffer from loneliness and depression, which can go unnoticed and untreated.

Furthermore, individuals are often in a state of constant struggle. This can be due to past traumas or disappointments, addictions or fraught relationships, or perhaps challenges in the areas of health, finding a spouse, fertility, raising children, caring for a loved one, or making a living.  Even for the most privileged among us, there is a general sense of unfulfilled potential, a sense that there's something missing.

The truth is that in fact there is something missing. Humanity remains "unredeemed," even if most of us do not even know what such “redemption” would entail. In the quest for fulfillment, many are unaware of how Judaism, Chassidism in particular, can provide us with the tools necessary to address our challenges and to live in a state of gratitude and joy.

With these tools, one is better able to face struggles and losses, both collective and individual. While acknowledging shortcomings, one learns to be compassionate and forgiving, focusing on the good within others and within oneself. One can also rediscover how to have faith and live in the present, as well as the wisdom and delight contained within every Divine teaching and commandment. 

This approach is best exemplified in the period in the Jewish calendar known as the "Three Weeks of Mourning." Every year, between the 17th of the Jewish month of Tammuz[2] and the 9th of the month of Av, the Jewish people remember our greatest losses: the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The Temple, originally built by King Solomon, and then rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah,[3] was the focus of Jewish observance at the time. Even today, many of our rituals and symbols, prayers and houses of worship, are based on how services in the Temple were performed. Its destruction, first by the Babylonians (684 B.C.E.) and then by the Romans (70 C.E.), represents a calamity of gigantic proportions, and was accompanied by murder and persecution of the Jewish population of those times.

The Book of Lamentations[4] states that, "all her pursuers overtook her [Jerusalem] within the straits." The "straits" is a reference to this three-week period. On the 17th of Tammuz, the walls of Jerusalem were breached, which eventually led to the destruction of the Temple. Both Temples were destroyed on the same date on the Jewish calendar: the 9th of Av. The Code of Jewish Law states that when Av begins, “we decrease in joy.”[5]  As further explained below, there are certain restrictions that apply to the Jewish people during this time, so as to decrease activities that lead to happiness.

But if the goal in overcoming our struggles and losses is to be joyful and grateful, how can we learn to do so specifically from the days in which such tragedies took place, to the extent that we are urged to decrease in joy on them? With G-d’s help, the answer to this question, as well as to how we can incorporate the lessons from this period into the entire year, will be found in the following chapters of this book.



Seeking Balance

Tisha B’Av is the day of our greatest tragedies, yet it is also the day that marks the birth (and the much anticipated arrival) of Mashiach. Everything in G-d’s creation is balanced in perfect equilibrium: darkness and light, purity and impurity, good and evil, and even sadness and joy.[6] This is best exemplified by the teachings of the wisest man to ever live, King Solomon. In Ecclesiastes, he sets out various opposing emotions and actions, and states that there are specific times for each. There is also a famous legend about King Solomon’s ring, which could balance out a person’s joy or sadness, and had the following words inscribed: “This too shall pass.”[7]

Rabbi Moses Maimonides, known as the most important codifier of Jewish law since perhaps Moses himself,[8] also begins his magnum opus, the Mishna Torah, by stating that a person should always strive for balance and moderation, also known as the “middle path.” Maimonides, who was also a physician, elaborated on the known scientific concept of Homeostasis, which means that the human body itself is always in search of balance.

During the Three Weeks, from the Seventeenth of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av we remember that our world was literally torn apart – our walls breached, our Temple destroyed - but that was only in order to rebuild ourselves and achieve even greater heights. Whenever we are faced with struggles that bring us down, we must quickly strive to regain our balance and keep moving forward, in harmony with ourselves and the world.

This book will focus on three concepts in order to achieve this balance:

I.                    The Hebrew Alphabet and the Sefirot –the Building Blocks of Creation

Our sages teach us that the building blocks of Creation are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the Alef Beit.[9] G-d used these letters in order to create each and every element of existence. The letter by itself is an ingredient – the word is the smallest unit.[10] It is interesting that in Hebrew, letters only create words once they connect to one another, and are balanced by one another.

Each one of us is also an Olam Katan, a “small world,” and we also contain within us the elemental forces of the Alef Beit, just as each one of us contains a mirror image of the Sefirot.[11]

Just as the Alef Beit has twenty-two letters, there are twenty-two days from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av. We may therefore use these days to strengthen our connection to the Alef Beit within ourselves.

On Tisha B’Av, we read together the Book of Lamentations, in which each of the four first chapters is written as an acrostic – the first verse starts with an Alef, followed by Beit, Gimmel, etc. until the last verse of the chapter which starts with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Tav. The last chapter of Lamentations has twenty-two verses, but is not an acrostic. This break in structure appears to symbolize how everything has gone out of order, and is in desperate need to be put back in place. That is our job during these days – to put things, including our internal Alef Beit, back in order,[12] in balance.


Study of Torah – the Blueprint of Creation

Another way in which we seek to build ourselves and find balance during this period is through the study of Torah. While on Tisha B’Av we do not study most Torah subjects, there are certain topics that are permitted, particularly those related to the destruction of the Temple. One Talmudic story in particular that is generally studied is the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza. This is an account of the baseless hatred, extremism, and the general lack of harmony that existed among the Jews (and also between the Jews and the Romans), which ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple.

More broadly, during the summer months that include Tammuz and Av, there is a widespread custom to continue to study Pirkei Avot – the Ethics of our Fathers.[13] This work is particularly geared towards improving our relationships and being in harmony with our fellow human beings. During the 9 days of Av, there is also a custom of making Siyumim (completing tractates of Talmud study, and sharing the joy of completing the study with others.[14]


Perek Shirah – Balance within Creation

Another potential source of balance is to look at Creation itself. In the first chapters of Perek Shirah, a Song of Nature attributed to King David, the elements listed come in pairs that are often diametrically opposed: Heaven and Earth, Day and Night, Gan Eden (Paradise) and Gehinom (Purgatory), etc. Here is as well the lesson appears to be that G-d is not to be found in one extreme or another, but in moderation. This was G-d’s ultimate message to Elijah the Prophet:

Then the word of the Lrd came to him: ‘Why are you here, Elijah?’ He replied, I am moved by the zeal for the Lrd, Gd of Hosts…” The Lrd said to him, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lrd, for the Lrd is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lrd. But the Lrd was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, but the Lrd was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lrd was not in the fire. And after the fire – a still, small voice.
(I Kings 19:9-12)



Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah (Descent for the Purpose of Spiritual Ascent)

A key concept in Jewish thought is the notion of “Yeridah leTzorech Aliyah,that every descent is only for the sake of an even greater and fuller ascent. After Tisha B’Av, comes Tu B’Av, the day in which the moon is full again. The joy of Tu B’Av is the greatest of the entire year because it comes after the tragedy of Tisha B’Av.[15]

As we seek to find our balance, we can learn from the brokenness and deep introspection of Tisha B’Av how to be joyful and empathetic, and connected to others during the rest of the year.[16] From certain acts which we are prohibited to do on Tisha B’Av (specifically because they increase our joy), we can learn what we should do during the rest of the year. We also learn how to be joyful and apply these lessons from the customs connected to Tu B’Av.

For example, on Tisha B’Av, we are not supposed to greet people and ask how they are doing. (The exact language used is to “inquire about their peace,” which involved more than just a superficial greeting.)[17] We learn from this, how important it is to greet people with a smile and show sincere interest in their wellbeing during the rest of the year. Tu B’Av commemorates a series of events in which the Jewish people were reunited and showed empathy for one another. On that day, young men would go out of to greet the young maidens in order to find their brides.

The potential brides would exclaim, “Young man, please lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself for a wife. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family.” The Talmud teaches that each woman would speak of different qualities that they thought might make a good impression on a potential groom, focusing on their good points. Similarly, by asking the men to “lift up their eyes,” the young women would encourage them to look at them in a more spiritual way.

Similarly, on Tisha B’Av, along with not eating and drinking, we also do not bathe, perfume ourselves, wear leather shoes, and do things that give us physical benefit and embellish us, improving our general wellbeing. We learn from this that during the rest of the year, we are supposed take care of ourselves, and make sure that we can feel and be at our best. On Tu B’Av, the young women would dress nicely in borrowed pure white garments. The Talmud states that the clothes were borrowed out of concern for the women who may not have a garment. This carries a tremendous lesson regarding the need for empathy.

On Tisha B’Av, we are forbidden to study topics of Torah that make us happy. We learn from this how great it is to study Torah (and to find joy in it!) during the rest of the year. The Talmud teaches that starting from Tu B’Av, as the nights become longer, the Jewish people would increase in their Torah study.

On Tisha B’Av, and during the entire three weeks that precede it, we do not listen to music. On Tu B’Av, the young women would dance together.

As will be explained in further detail in the next chapter, the entire year can be divided into cycles of 22 days, and the Three Weeks is one of those cycles. We can apply the lessons of these three weeks to the entire year using fundamental tools and sacred texts that follow this 22-day pattern, and thereby function in greater harmony with the Jewish calendar. As noted in our first book, the idea is to find and connect our fourfold song: the song of the individual, the song of the Jewish people, the song of humanity, and the song of nature as a whole.



[1] As mentioned in Book 1.
[2] The Jewish Calendar, which is determined by both the sun and the moon, consists of 12 months (13 in leap years): Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, Teveth, Shvat, Adar (I and II in leap years), Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, and Elul. Each month is also connected to various other “forces” in nature, including also the signs of the Zodiac.
[3] Ezra the Scribe was…. Nehemiah was…
[4] This book was composed by the Prophet Jeremiah and is part of the Tanach (the Jewish Bible). Contrary to public perception, the writings in that book were composed prior to the destruction of the First Temple, even though it describes in great detail all the tragedies that took place.
[5] (Explain Code of Jewish Law – “set table”; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 122:7)
[6] Jewish law itself balances the statement that as of the month Av begins we decrease in joy, with the statement that when the month of Adar begins we increase in joy.
[7] Footnote?
[8] “From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses.”
[9] The Sefer Yetzirah, one of the foremost Kabbalistic works, begins by explaining that G-d created the world through 32 mystical paths, which represent the ten sefirot and the twenty two letters. The verse first of the Torah, “In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the Earth, Bereshit Barah Elokim Et HaShamayim ve’Et Ha’Aretz,” can also be read as, “Bereshit Barah Elokim ‘Et’ [spelled Alef Tav” In the beginning, G-d created [the Hebrew letters] from Alef, the first letter, to Tav, the last.
[10] http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/228,2266616/A-Language-of-Letters-Inside-the-Hebrew-Alef-Bet.html
[11] The Kabbalah explains that G-d’s attributes manifest themselves in heavenly spheres known as sefirot. Sefirah (sefirot in the plural) can be translated as emanation, characteristic, quality or divine attribute. We also have a reflection of these sefirot within us, which are also known as middot. There are ten sefirot in total, three intellectual (Keter (or Da’at), Chochma, Bina) and seven emotional (Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut).
[12] The Hebrew word for order is Seder, which is also the name of the Passover meal. Part of the redemption process is putting everything, including our intellectual and emotional energies, in its proper place. An aspect of this spiritual work begins on Pessach and goes through the entire 49-day period of the Counting of the Omer (in which each day we “work” on a combination of Sefirot, and culminates on Shavuot.” The Passover Seder and Tisha B’Av are extremely connected – to the extent that we even place an egg on the Seder Plate as a reminder of Tisha B’Av and the destruction of the Temple. Both nights also always fall on the same day of the week. 
[13] The communal study of Pirkei Avot begins in the Counting of the Omer, as a way to fix our emotions, as mentioned in the previous note.
[14] Despite our limited understanding, we focus on the good: we celebrate our achievements in Torah and promise to return to our study.

[15]  Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says, “Never were more joyous festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” On this day, young maidens of Israel would dress in white and dance in the vineyards. Young men would come greet them in order to find their brides. Thus the full moon of Av is seen as greater than that of any of the other months, due to the contrast between its brightness and the deep darkness of the Ninth (Tisha b'Av) that precedes it. The greater the descent the greater the ascent, and "greater is the light that emerges from darkness." (see Tanya ch.26 — based on Prov. 14:23 and Eccl. 2:13.) https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/4089863/jewish/FIFTEENTH-OF-AV-TU-BAV.htm
[16] Story about the Friederker Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, putting the clothes of others.
To be able to truly relate to others, we must try our best to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.
[17] Shulchan Aruch p. ___ - Shulchan Aruch, which means “Set Table,” is the compilation of Jewish Law for practical day-to-day activities, including festivals, etc.

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