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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Week 42 (Book 6): Reviewing the Last Week of Tammuz - Psalms 124-126; 105:27-29; 89:43

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

Chapter 124

1. A song of ascents by David. Were it not for the Lord Who was with us-let Israel declare- 2. were it not for the Lord Who was with us when men rose up against us, 3. then they would have swallowed us alive in their burning rage against us. 4. Then the waters would have inundated us, the torrent would have swept over our soul; 5. then the raging waters would have surged over our soul. 6. Blessed is the Lord, Who did not permit us to be prey for their teeth. 7. Our soul is like a bird which has escaped from the fowler's snare; the snare broke and we escaped. 8. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Chapter 125

1. A song of ascents. Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion which never falters, but abides forever. 2. Mountains surround Jerusalem, and the Lord surrounds His people from this time and forever. 3. For the rod of wickedness will never come to rest upon the lot of the righteous; therefore the righteous need not stretch their hand to iniquity. 4. Be beneficent, O Lord, to the good and to those who are upright in their hearts. 5. But as for those that turn to their perverseness, may the Lord lead them with the workers of iniquity. Peace be upon Israel.

Chapter 126

The psalmist speaks of the future, comparing our Divine service in exile to one who sows arid land, then cries and begs G-d to send rain upon it so that the seed not be wasted. When he merits to reap the crop, he offers thanks to G-d.

1. A song of ascents. When the Lord will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers. 2. Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with songs of joy; then will they say among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for these.” 3. The Lord has done great things for us; we were joyful. 4. Lord, return our exiles as streams to arid soil. 5. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. 6. He goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed; he will surely return with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves.


Chapter 105

27. They placed upon them the words of His signs and His miracles in the land of Ham.
28. He sent darkness and it darkened, and they did not disobey His word.
29. He turned their water into blood, and it killed their fish.


43. You raised the right hand of his adversaries; You caused all his enemies to rejoice.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Week 43 (Book 6): Reviewing the Week of Rosh Chodesh Av - Psalms 127-129; 105:30-32; 89:44

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

Chapter 127

King David instructs his generation, and especially his son Solomon, to be sure that all one's actions be for the sake of Heaven. He also criticizes those who toil day and night in pursuit of a livelihood.

1. A song of ascents for Solomon. If the Lord does not build a house, then its builders labor upon it in vain. If the Lord will not guard a city, the vigilance of its watchman is in vain. 2. It is in vain for you, you who rise early, who sit up late, and who eat the bread of tension, for in fact He gives His loved ones sleep. 3. Behold, the heritage of the Lord is children; the fruit of the womb is a reward. 4. As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of youth. 5. Fortunate is the man who has his quiver full of them; they will not find themselves shamed when they speak with enemies in public places.

Chapter 128

This psalm extols one who enjoys the fruits of his own labor, avoiding theft and deception, even refusing gifts. It also describes behavior appropriate to the G-d-fearing.

1. A song of ascents. Fortunate is every man who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. 2. When you eat of the labor of your hands, you will be happy, and you will have goodness. 3. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your house; your children will be like olive saplings around your table. 4. Behold, so will be blessed the man who fears the Lord. 5. May the Lord bless you out of Zion, and may you see the goodness of Jerusalem all the days of your life. 6. And may you see children [born] to your children; peace upon Israel.

Chapter 129

The psalmist laments the troubles of Israel.

1. A song of ascents. Much have they persecuted me from my youth on. Let Israel declare it now- 2. "Much have they persecuted me from my youth on, [but] they have not prevailed against me.” 3. The plowmen plowed upon my back; they wished to make their furrow long. 4. But the Lord is just; He cut the cords of the lawless. 5. They will be humiliated and will be turned back, all the haters of Zion. 6. They will be as grass upon the rooftops that withers before one plucks it, 7. wherewith the reaper has never filled his hand, nor the sheaf-binder his arm; 8. and of which the passers-by never have said: "The blessing of the Lord be upon you; we bless you in the name of the Lord."

Chapter 105

30. Their land swarmed with frogs in the rooms of their monarchs.
31. He commanded and a mixture of noxious beasts came, lice throughout all their boundary.
32. He made their rains into hail, flaming fire in their land.


44. You even turned back the sharp edge of his sword, and You did not raise him up in battle.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

"In Service:" Vayikra and the Fine (Humble) Line between the Holy and the Unholy

This week we begin a new Book of the Five Books of Moses, Vayikrah, Leviticus. The very first word, Vayikrah, (and [God] called [Moshe]) is written with a small Alef.

Chapter 1

1And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying, א. וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:
And He called to Moses: ... [קְרִיאָה] is an expression of affection, the [same] expression employed by the ministering angels [when addressing each other], as it says, “And one called (וְקָרָא) to the other…” (Isa. 6:3). To the prophets of the nations of the world, however, He revealed Himself through expressions denoting coincidence and impurity, as the verse says, “and God happened to [meet] (וַיִּקָּר) Balaam” (Num. 23:4). - [Bemidbar Rabbah 52:5] [The expression וַיִּקָּר has the meaning of a coincidental happening, and also alludes to impurity. [See Deut. 23:11, regarding the expression מִקְרֵה לַיְלָה.]

Rashi does not explicitly mention the small Alef, but rather simply focuses on the difference between Vayikra and Vayikar, which is how the word would read without the Alef altogether. Much has been said about the fact that the small Alef would represent Moshe's humility, and that by making the Alef small, Moshe would be therefore giving less emphasis to the fact that G-d called out to him.

The fact that Alef is singled out and made smaller, however, suggests that Moshe is not at all trying to make himself appear more like Bilaam. On the contrary, he is emphasizing the difference between himself and Bilaam, which is exactly what Rashi picks up on. What is that difference? Humility.

19. Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Balaam. The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye (Ayin), a meek spirit (Ruach) and a humble soul (Nefesh). The disciples of the wicked Balaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul. (Pirkei Avot, Chapter 5)

In Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), King Solomon states that the difference between a man and an animal is Ayin (nothing). It's not that there is no difference, but that the difference is the ability to be "nothing," a humble vessel.

19For there is a happening for the children of men, and there is a happening for the beasts-and they have one happening-like the death of this one is the death of that one, and all have one spirit, and the superiority of man over beast is nought [Ayin, with an Alef], for all is vanity. יט. כִּי מִקְרֶה בְנֵי הָאָדָם וּמִקְרֶה הַבְּהֵמָה וּמִקְרֶה אֶחָד לָהֶם כְּמוֹת זֶה כֵּן מוֹת זֶה וְרוּחַ אֶחָד לַכֹּל וּמוֹתַר הָאָדָם מִן הַבְּהֵמָה אָיִן כִּי הַכֹּל הָבֶל:

Our sages mention that in the most important prayer in Judaism, the Shemah, the difference between the words Echad (one) and Acher (other), is very slight:

Rav Zeira said: “Even parts of the Torah that seem like little slivers ("Kotzin") are actually tremendous mountains ("Tilei Tilim"). They  can destroy the entire world if they are not preserved.... [For instance,]  in the verse (Devarim 12:4), ‘Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is  *One* (Alef Chet Dalet),’ if the Dalet of Echad is changed into a Reish by  erasing the little sliver that distinguishes between the written form of  the two letters, it can cause the  destruction of the entire world (because  the verse would read, "Hashem is *another*). In the verse (Shemot 34:14):  “Do not bow down to a *another* (Alef Chet Reish) G-d ,” if the Reish of  Acher is changed into a Dalet by adding a little sliver, it can cause the  destruction of the entire world (because the verse would then read, "Do not  serve the *one* G-d"). (Vayikra Rabba, 19:2; "Parsha Page," Rav Kornfeld)

The difference between the Dalet and the Resh is simply a sliver, like the Hebrew letter Yud. The Yud represents spirituality. There is a very fine line between what is holy and unholy. Between truth and falsehood. This is related to the month of Adar:

Rabbi [Sholom] Gold pointed out that we celebrate Haman’s downfall during  the month of Adar (Alef, Dalet, Reish). At this time, we work on  strengthening our perception of Hashem Echad and not bowing down to an El  Acher. The mission of Adar is to learn to differentiate between the Dalet  and the Reish, and through this, to reveal the "Alef," (which, having a  numerical value of one, represents the Creator) whose Oneness will finally  be revealed to all when Amalek is completely destroyed. ("Parsha Page," Rav Kornfeld) 

The letter Alef itself also has a very special humble/spiritual quality, shared in part by the Yud and the Ayin. This humility is also an essential aspect of the Sefirot of Netzach and Hod. The Alef is the first letter of the first word of the first of the Ten Commandments, Anochi Hashem Elokecha, "I am the Lord your G-d." This Alef is said to contain the entire Torah. Yet what is the sound of this letter? It is silent, humble. It serves simply as a vessel for the vowel. That is the true goal of spiritual service: to be a vessel. That is also the goal of the entire book of Vayikra.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Week 44 (Book 6): Reviewing the Week of Tisha B'Av - Psalms 130-132; 105:33-35; 89:45

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

Chapter 130

The psalmist prays for an end to this long exile.

1. A song of ascents. Out of the depths I call to You, O Lord. 2. My Lord, hearken to my voice; let Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas. 3. G-d, if You were to preserve iniquities, my Lord, who could survive? 4. But forgiveness is with You, that You may be held in awe. 5. I hope in the Lord; my soul hopes, and I long for His word. 6. My soul yearns for the Lord more than those awaiting the morning wait for the morning. 7. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is kindness; with Him there is abounding deliverance. 8. And He will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Chapter 131
In this prayer, David declares that never in the course of his life was he haughty, nor did he pursue greatness or worldly pleasures.

1. A song of ascents, by David. O Lord, my heart was not proud, nor were my eyes haughty; I did not seek matters that were too great and too wondrous for me. 2. Surely I put my soul at peace and soothed it like a weaned child with his mother; my soul was like a weaned child. 3. Let Israel hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.

Chapter 132

David composed this psalm while he and the elders of Israel wore sackcloth, in mourning over the plague that had descended upon the land, and their being distant from the Holy Temple. David therefore offers intense prayers, entreating G-d to remember the hardship and sacrifice he endured for the sake of the Temple.

1. A song of ascents. O Lord, remember unto David all his suffering, 2. how he swore to the Lord, and vowed to the Mighty Power of Jacob: 3. "I will not enter into the tent of my house; I will not go up into the bed that is spread for me; 4. I will not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids; 5. until I will have found a place for the Lord, a resting place for the Mighty Power of Jacob.” 6. Lo, we heard of it in Ephrath; we found it in the field of the forest. 7. We will come to His resting places; we will prostrate ourselves at His footstool. 8. Ascend, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the Ark of Your might. 9. May Your priests clothe themselves in righteousness, and may Your pious ones sing joyous songs. 10. For the sake of David Your servant, turn not away the face of Your anointed. 11. For the Lord has sworn to David a truth from which He will never retreat: "From the fruit of your womb will I set for you upon the throne. 12. If your sons will keep My covenant and this testimony of mine which I will teach them, then their sons, too, will sit on the throne for you until the end of time. 13. For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. 14. This is My resting place to the end of time. Here will I dwell, for I have desired it. 15. I will abundantly bless her sustenance; I will satisfy her needy with bread. 16. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her pious ones will sing joyous songs. 17. There I will cause David's power to flourish; there I have prepared a lamp for My anointed. 18. His enemies will I clothe with shame, but upon him, his crown will blossom."


Chapter 105

33. And it struck their vines and their fig trees, and it broke the trees of their boundary.

34. He spoke and locusts came, and nibbling locusts without number.
35. And they consumed all grass in their land, and they consumed the produce of their soil


45. You have brought an end to his shining, and his throne You have cast down to earth.

Week 45 (Book 6): Reviewing the Week of Tu B'Av - Psalms 133-135; 105:36-38; 89:46

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from

Chapter 133

1. A song of ascents, by David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together. 2. Like the precious oil [placed] upon the head, flowing [in abundance] down the beard, the beard of Aaron which rests upon his garments. 3. Like the dew of Hermon which comes down upon the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord has commanded blessing, life unto eternity.

Chapter 134

The psalmist exhorts the scholarly and pious to rise from their beds at night, and go to the House of G-d.

1. A song of ascents. Behold: Bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who stand in the House of the Lord in the nights. 2. Lift up your hands in holiness and bless the Lord. 3. May the Lord, Who makes heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

Chapter 135

1. Praise the Lord! Praise the Name of the Lord; offer praise, you servants of the Lord- 2. who stand in the House of the Lord, in the courtyards of the House of our G-d. 3. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to His Name, for He is pleasant. 4. For G-d has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His beloved treasure. 5. For I know that the Lord is great, our Master is greater than all supernal beings. 6. All that the Lord desired He has done, in the heavens and on earth, in the seas and the depths. 7. He causes mists to rise from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings forth the wind from His vaults. 8. It was He who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, of man and beast. 9. He sent signs and wonders into the midst of Egypt, on Pharaoh and on all his servants. 10. It was He who struck down many nations, and slew mighty kings: 11. Sichon, king of the Amorites; Og, king of Bashan; and all the kingdoms of Canaan. 12. And He gave their lands as a heritage, a heritage to His people Israel. 13. Lord, Your Name is forever; Lord, Your remembrance is throughout all generations. 14. Indeed, the Lord will judge on behalf of His people, and have compassion on His servants. 15. The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the product of human hands. 16. They have a mouth, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see; 17. they have ears, but cannot hear; nor is there breath in their mouth. 18. Like them will their makers become-all who trust in them. 19. House of Israel, bless the Lord; House of Aaron, bless the Lord; 20. House of Levi, bless the Lord; you who fear the Lord, bless the Lord. 21. Blessed is the Lord from Zion, who dwells in Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!


Chapter 105

36. And He smote every firstborn in their land, the first of all their strength.
37. And He took them out with silver and gold, and there was no pauper among their tribes.
38. Egypt rejoiced with their departure for their fear had fallen upon them.


46. You have shortened the days of his youth; You have enwrapped him with shame forever.  


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