Weekly Cycle

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Week 45 (Book 4): Appreciating True Beauty

STORY OF CHANNAH: 17. And the sin of the lads was great before the Lord, for the men despised the offering of the Lord.    


SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 1

TZADIKKIM: Don Isaac Abravanel (10th of Av) and Sir Moses Montefiori (13th of Av) 

Week 45 is the week of Tu B’Av, The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how the sons of Eli would despise the sacrificial offerings to Hashem in the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word used is Niatzu, often used in Tanach in the context of not appreciating the beauty of the Mitzvot. Tu B’Av is the happiest day in the Jewish calendar (along with Yom Kippur) and the most romantic day. The Talmud describes it as a day particularly fit for appreciating the beauty of others, particularly one’s future spouse. Real beauty, however, is not only physical.The Mishnah states that on this day,
The daughters of Jerusalem came out and danced in the vineyards exclaiming at the same time, "Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty but set your eyes on [good] family." As it says, "Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that fears the lord, she shall be praised." (Ta'anit 26b)
Chapter 6 of Pirkei Avot lists eight qualities that are becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world. The first one mentioned is in fact beauty (No’i). The message here appears to be exactly this. Outer beauty that reflects the inner beauty of the righteous is becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world. Outer body that is not accompanied by fear of G-d is deceitful and vain.
Chapter 1 of the Song of Songs contains a similar theme. One of the main focuses of this chapter is beauty. However, it would do a tremendous injustice to this holy writing to think that King Solomon was speaking primarily about physical beauty.
1. The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.

2. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine.

3. Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is 'oil poured forth.' Therefore, the maidens loved you.

4. Draw me, we will run after you; the king brought me to his chambers. We will rejoice and be glad in you. We will recall your love more fragrant than wine; they have loved you sincerely.

5. I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem! Like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. (...)

10. Your cheeks are comely with rows, your neck with necklaces (...)

15. "Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely; your eyes are like doves."

16. "Behold, you are comely, my beloved, yea pleasant; also our couch is leafy.

Rashi explains the use of the word “comely” (Na’avah), in relevant part:
The allegory is that the congregation of Israel says to the nations: I am black in my deeds, but I am comely in the deeds of my ancestors, and even some of my deeds are comely. If I am guilty of the iniquity of the [Golden] Calf, I can counter it with the merit of the acceptance of the Torah (Song Rabbah).
Regarding verses 15 and 16, Rashi explains that G-d says to Israel that she is fair, “fair with the deeds of your forefathers and fair with your own deeds, because.. there are righteous among you who clung to Me like a dove, which, as soon as it recognizes its mate, does not abandon it to mate with another… ” Israel responds by saying that The beauty is not mine, but yours; you are the comely one… for You overlooked my transgression and caused Your Divine Presence to rest in our midst.”
This week contains the yahrzeits of two very prominent Sephardic philanthropists, statesmen, and advisors to European kings: Don Isaac Abravanel (10th of Av) and Sir Moses Montefiori (13th of Av). Both were able to join outward physical wealth, luxury and beauty with inward G-dly pursuits and integrity.

From Chabad.org:

Don Isaac Abravanel
Don Isaac Abravanel was one of the greatest Jewish statesmen who played an important part in European history. At the same time he was not merely a loyal and strictly religious Jew, but a great scholar, Bible commentator and philosopher. He was the last of the long line of great Jewish leaders and heroes of the Spanish Golden Age.
Isaac was born into a wealthy and learned family in Portugal. His father Judah was state treasurer of Portugal, and a great favorite of Alfonso V, king of Portugal. Isaac received a thorough Jewish education, and took a keen interest in languages and philosophy. Later he succeeded his father in the service of the king.
In his greatness, Isaac never forgot his humble brethren. He used his vast wealth to support the needy. Thus, when Alfonso captured the town of Arzilla in Morocco, and there were two hundred and fifty Jews among the prisoners, Isaac Abravanel appointed twelve representatives to gather funds to redeem them, and he himself was the greatest donor. When they were redeemed, he supported them from his own means for about two years, until they learnt the language and could earn their own livelihood. Abravanel also used his great influence to better the position of his brethren in other lands.
When Alfonso V died and Don Joao II succeeded to the throne of Portugal, Abravanel's fortune changed. In the year 5243, Don Joao II began a policy that aimed at getting rid of the nobility, and particularly the ministers of state that served his father. Abravanel learned just in time that the king beheaded several of the highest ranking officers, and that he was slated -to share a similar fate. He was on the way to answer the king's call, but on learning what awaited him, Abravanel fled to Toledo in Spain, where his family had once lived. Accompanied by his wife and two children, Abravanel arrived in Toledo almost penniless, as the ungrateful. John had confiscated all his wealth.
Abravanel quietly obtained a position with a Jewish banking firm, and was glad to have time to pursue his studies and literary work. He continued his commentaries on the Bible which he had been forced to interrupt because of the pressure of state affairs. He wrote his commentaries on Joshua, Judges and Samuel, but when he began his commentaries on the book of Kings, the king of Spain summoned him to take over the state treasury. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain knew that they could find no greater financial genius, and in the very same year when the notorious Torquemada became head of the Inquisition in Spain, Abarvanel officially became treasurer to the king and queen (two years before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain).
When that terrible decree of the expulsion of all Jews from Spain except those who would give up their faith, became known, Abravanel tried hard to avert the catastrophe. He begged of the king and queen to reconsider their cruel decree, and he offered a huge sum to the king's treasury. The king and queen turned a deaf ear to all his personal pleas and declined his gifts of money.
On the 9th of Av, 5252 (July 30, 1492), Abravanel and his family were on the march with the rest of their co-religionists He gave up his exalted position and joined his beloved brethren in exile and suffering. The unfortunate refugees finally reached Naples in Italy. When Ferdinand learned that the Jews found a haven in Naples, he requested the king of Naples (also called Ferdinand) that he should not permit the refugees to. remain in his land. The young king of Naples, however, ignored the protest and demands of the cruel rulers of Spain. Moreover, he invited Abravanel to the royal house and appointed him as his adviser. Abravanel served both him and his son Alfonso II who succeeded to the throne in 1494. Unfortunately Naples was captured by King Charles of France in the following year, and King Alfonso II fled to Sicily. Abravanel accompanied his Majesty in exile, and continued to serve him with a fatherly devotion, until the exiled king died. Then Abravanel left for the island of Corfu in the Mediterranean.
Having lost all his wealth to the French conquerors, Abravanel suffered poverty and hardship. He moved to Monopoli, a town in the Kingdom of Naples, and 8 years later finally settled in Venice. Here it was not long before the rulers of Venice invited him to the council of state, and Abravanel became one of the leading statesmen of that Venetian Republic. Here in Venice Abravanel died in the year 5269, at the age of 71, deeply mourned by the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Venice. The leading rulers of Venice attended his funeral, and he was laid to rest in Padua.

Sir Moses Montefiore

Moses Montefiore was a devoted worker for the public welfare, a mediator and intercessor in behalf of his brethren, a statesman and a diplomat. Everywhere Kings and Princes received him cordially, and he always defended the Jewish position with pride and vigor, doing his utmost for his coreligionists in various European countries.
Moses Montefiore was born on the 13th of Cheshvan, 5545 (1784) in the Italian city of Livorno. His grandfather, Moses Chaim Montefiore was a Sephardic Jew from that city, who later settled in London. He had 17 sons, one of whom, Joseph Elijah, was the father of Moses. When Joseph Elijah, together with his wife, traveled on business to Livorno, Moses was born there.
Moses Montefiore was raised in England in an atmosphere of Torah and Mitzvoth, and he remained a staunch, devout Jew throughout his entire life. In London he developed a big business, together with his brother Abraham. They did business with the Rothschilds: dealt in finance, and large industrial and commercial establishments. They formed an Insurance Company; a Gas Company, that introduced gas-lighting into many of the important cities of Europe. They also had a hand in the building of railroads, and in many other industrial and financial enterprises.
Moses Montefiore accumulated great wealth and became famous. In 1837 he was appointed "Sheriff" of London. He was the second Jew to occupy that important position. In the same year, Queen Victoria, who had just ascended the British throne, gave him the honorary title of "Knighthood," with the title "Sir" and in 1846 he was elevated to the rank of Baron. He occupied a number of important positions, both in Jewish and social circles.
Moses Montefiore differed from certain other Jews who, upon accumulating wealth and honor, sad to say, turn away from their religion. Moses Montefiore, as already mentioned, remained a religious Jew his entire life. At an early age, he started to interest himself in the lot of his fellow Jews. Later on, he used his great influence to obtain equal rights for the Jews in England. He was Gabbai (trustee) of the Sephardic Congregations of London, and was six times elected as Community Leader (Rosh HaKahal). For a period of 3 6 years, he was the head of the "Jewish Board of Deputies" - the organization of the United Congregations, and of elected Jewish officials, who represented British Jewry. When, at the age of 90, he gave up his position, the United Congregations of England gave him a farewell gift -12,000 pounds sterling. He donated the entire sum to build houses for the poor in Jerusalem. Being an orthodox Jew, he naturally loved the Holy Land, and he supported the worthy institutions most generously. He visited Eretz Yisroel seven times -the last time being in 1875, at the age of 91. If we take into consideration that a journey in those days entailed great difficulties, we can then realize what it meant for a person of such an advanced age to undertake such a trip. He distributed a vast amount of money in Eretz Yisroel; he built Synagogues, supported Yeshivos, and founded various types of important institutions. He had previously built a tomb over Mother Rachel's grave, in 1866, the magnificent tomb which is so well known. The Jews in Eretz Yisroel regarded him as a G-d sent messenger, sent to help them in their great need.
When the terrible blood-libel broke out in Damascus in 1840, Sir Moses Montefiore went there personally to defend the falsely accused Jews. The outrageously false blood-libel (that Jews use Christian blood in the Matzah for Pesach) that had cost so many Jewish lives in the dark times of the Middle Ages, and was then renewed in Damascus, not only threatened the lives of the accused, but also those of the entire community, and of Jews everywhere. Sir Moses Montefiore (with the help of other prominent Jewish and non-Jewish leaders) managed to persuade the Sultan to issue a "firman" (decree) in which he declared the blood-libel to be false and prohibited its renewal.
In 1846 the Russian government officially invited Sir Moses Montefiore to visit Russia in connection with the Jewish situation in Russia. The Czarist government, aided by some leaders of the "Haskalah" ("Enlightenment") movement, tried to Russify, i.e., assimilate, the broad masses of Russian Jewry. The government hoped that with the support of such an important Jewish personality as Sir Moses Montefiore, it would certainly win its fight against the religious Jewish leaders in Russia, who refused to cooperate with the government in this matter, and who hindered every effort to force assimilation on Russian Jewry. The then Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, was especially opposed to all efforts that would lead to assimilation, and he worked with body and soul to prevent their succeeding.
Sir Moses Montefiore accepted the invitation, but not with the intention of becoming a tool in the hands of the assimilationists, but in order to become personally acquainted with the Jewish position in Russia, where the majority of world Jewry lived. Moreover, he wanted to see what he could do about the persecutions and pogroms which so often plagued the Jews there.
When Sir Moses Montefiore arrived in Petersburg (now called Leningrad), the Czarist minister, Count Kissilev, the Minister of the Interior, and Uvarov, the Minister of Education, greeted him with a long list of "accusations" against Russian Jewry and their religious leaders.
Sir Moses Montefiore did not rely on the testimony of these anti-Semitic ministers, and the misguided and misleading Maskilim. He undertook a trip through the towns and villages where the Jews lived, and upon returning to London, he compiled two memoranda from the material he gathered during his trip. One memorandum he sent to the Russian Interior Minister, and the other one to the Minister of Education. Sir Moses Montefiore wrote to them in a polite but firm manner, so as not to incite them, that the Jewish problem in Russia had nothing to do with the Jews' education, which happened to be on a high level. He denied the false accusations made against the Jews, and in turn, accused the government of dealing falsely with the Jews; he described the terrible economic position of the Jews because of government decrees, expulsions, pogroms, and economic sanctions. He demanded equal rights for the Jews, and stressed that it would also be a blessing for the country.
Thanks to the great self-sacrifice of the Russian Jews, who were strengthened and encouraged by Sir Moses Montefiore's efforts on their behalf, the government finally gave up many of its plans to force conversion and assimilation of the Russian Jews. Their economic position also took a turn for the better because of Sir Moses Montefiore's recommendations.
In 1872 Montefiore visited Russia once more, and was received by Czar Alexander the Second. Montefiore was pleased to notice the growth of a new class of Jewish business men and professionals since his first visit, but he did not notice the assimilation that had taken hold of these "upper" classes.
Sir Moses Montefiore was also received in audience by the Pope in Rome (in 18 5 8 ) when he went there to intercede on behalf of an Italian Jewish boy who was forcibly converted as a small child lying ill in bed. The gentile maid "sprinkled him with water," and the church declared him to be a Christian. The boy was forcibly taken away from his parents and brought up as a Christian. The case of the child Murtara caused a great storm of indignation, but no intercession helped to return the child to his Jewish parents.
When in Rumania, on a visit to help his Jewish brothers there, Sir Moses Montefiore once found himself in grave danger when a wild mob wanted to attack him. He narrowly escaped with his life. Nothing deterred him, however, when it was a question of helping his poor, persecuted brothers.
Sir Moses Montefiore died on the 13th of Av 5645 (1885) at the ripe old age of over 100 years.
The Montefiore Museum contains a great collection of gold and silver artistry that Sir Moses Montefiore received as gifts from kings and rulers, as well as documents of great historical importance. His Yahrzeit (anniversary) is observed yearly by the institutions which are maintained even today from the funds that he left for this purpose.
Other yahrzeits this week include Rav Hillel Paritcher (13th  of Av), Rabbi Yaakov Leiner (2nd Ishbitzer Rebbe, author of Beis Yaakov and Sefer HaZemanim, 15th of Av) and Rabbi Meir Noson Halberstam (son of the Divrei Chaim and father of the first Bobover Rebbe, 15th of Av).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Week 46 (Book 4): Serving G-d with Strength

STORY OF CHANNAH: 18. And Samuel was serving before the Lord, being a lad girded with a linen robe.  

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT:  strength,    

SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 2

TZADIKKIM:  Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneerson (father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 20th of Av) and Rabbi Aharon of Belz (Fourth Rebbe of Belz, 21st of Av)

Week 46 is the last week of the month of Av. The verse speaks of Shmuel’s service of Hashem as a child, girded with a linen ephod. “Girding” is a term that is particularly indicative of strength, and the linen ephod is a sign  of his holiness and spiritual growth.[1]

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that benefits the righteous and the world is exactly that: strength. Again, not just any kind of strength, but strength associated with staying firm in the service of G-d, in order to serve Him in the best way possible.

The very beginning of Chapter 2 of the Songs of Songs also speaks of strength, but specifically relating to the ability to stay strong in the face of attacks, continuing to serve Hashem with beauty and holiness:

1. "I am a rose of Sharon, a rose of the valleys."

Rashi - a rose of the valleys: This is prettier than the rose of the mountains because it is always moist, since the sun has no strength there.   

2. "As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters." 

Rashi - As a rose among the thorns: which pierce it, but it remains constant in its beauty and its redness, so is my beloved among the daughters. They entice her to pursue them to stray like them after strange gods, but she remains firm in her faith.
This week contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneerson (father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 20th of Av) and Rabbi Aharon of Belz (Fourth Rebbe of Belz, 21st of Av).

From Ascent:

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson [1878-20 Av 1944], father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was considered by the Rebbe Reshab to be one of his three greatest chassidim. An outstanding scholar and a leading Kabbalist of his generation, he was the Chief Rabbi of the major Ukrainian city Yekaterinoslav (today called Dniepropetrovsk) until his arrest and exile. His extensive writings while in exile crammed into the margins of his books, were rescued, smuggled out, brought to his son, and are currently being published in a multi-volume set called “Toldot Levi Yitzchak.”         

Rabbi Aharon of Belz [1900 - 21 Av 1957], the fourth rebbe in the Belz dynasty, was considered one of the purest holy men of his generation. In 1944 he miraculously escaped from the Nazis and moved to Israel, where after a brief time in Jerusalem he set up his court in Tel Aviv. The current Belzer Rebbe, who has established a huge center in Jerusalem, is his nephew.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yaakov Culi (author of the Meam Loez,19th of Av) and Rabbi Meir Hagadol of Premishlan (22nd of Av).

[1] http://www.azamra.org/Bible/I%20Samuel%202-3.htm

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Week 47 (Book 4): The Purpose of Wealth

STORY OF CHANNAH: 19. And a small robe his mother would make for him, and she would bring it up to him from appointed time to appointed time, when she ascended with her husband, to slaughter the sacrifice of the (festive) days.
SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 3
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (the Satmar Rebbe, 26th of Av) and Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal (the Skulener Rebbe, 29th of Av)

Week 47 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the month of Teshuvah (repentance). The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how she would make a small robe for her son Shmuel, and bring it up to him every year during the holidays. Shmuel’s beautiful robe, which he would receive every year (See Rashi), symbolizes the idea of serving Hashem from a position of wealth. It also represents Shmuel’s continued growth, despite the potentially negative influence of Eli’s sons.
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is wealth (Osher). As noted above, the righteous use their wealth and materials to serve G-d.
Chapter 3 of the Song of Songs contains a similar theme. The last couple of verses speak of serving G-d out of wealth, a quality that very much defined King Solomon’s reign:
9. King Solomon made himself a palanquin of the trees of Lebanon.
10. Its pillars he made of silver, its couch of gold, its curtain of purple, its interior inlaid with love, from the daughters of Jerusalem.
11. Go out, O daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his nuptials and on the day of the joy of his heart.
The crown given to Solomon by his mother also is reminiscent of the above story, in which Chanah makes a robe for Shmuel. Rashi explains that both the crown and the palanquin are a reference to the Tent of Meeting (the Ohel Moed). Regarding the materials mentioned, Rashi comments as follows:
its couch of gold: His couch and His dwelling were on the Ark cover, which is gold.
its curtain of purple: Heb. מֶרְכָּבוֹ. This is the dividing curtain, which hangs and “rides” (רוֹכֵב) on poles from pillar to pillar.
its interior inlaid: arranged with a floor of love-the Ark with an Ark cover, cherubim, and Tablets.
This week contains the yahrzeits of two very prominent Chassidic rebbes, which established their courts in America after the war: Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (the Satmar Rebbe, 26th of Av) and Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal (the Skulener Rebbe, 29th of Av).
From Ascent.org:
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum [1888-26 Av 1979], miraculously escaped from Bergen-Belsen in 1944, after which he went to the Holy Land. In 1947 he moved to the USA, where he established himself as the Satmar Rebbe, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, doing extensive work in establishing Torah education networks. Famed as the leader of Hungarian Jewry and the largest Chassidic group in the world, and as the spiritual leader of the opposition to a secular-based Jewish government in Israel, he was also one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation.
Rebbe Eliezer Zusia Portugal [1 Cheshvan, 1898 - 29 Av 1982], the Skulener Rebbe, immigrated to the USA in 1960, after imprisonment in Rumania and international efforts to secure his release. He is the author of Noam Eliezer and Kedushas Eliezer, and was a prominent follower of the Shtefaneshter Rebbe, but is best known for his superhuman efforts to rescue Jewish orphans and refugees in Eastern Europe before, during and after WWII and his continuing support of them, and his Chessed L'Avraham network of schools for children that continue until today. Those who merited to be in his presence were astonished by the length of his prayers and the beauty and intensity of the tunes that he composed, many of which have become internationally famous today.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of two prominent figures in the Ger dynasty: Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (son of the Chidushei HaRim and father of the Sfas Emes, 27th of Av) and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Alter (son of the Sfas Emes, 29th of Av)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Week 48 (Book 4): To Honor the Righteous

STORY OF CHANNAH: 20. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and he would say, "May the Lord grant you seed from this woman," because of the request which he had requested of the Lord, and they would go to his place.           
SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 4
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, 3rd of Elul) and Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (4th Lelover Rebbe, leader of Chassidic community in Jerusalem, 5th of Elul)

Week 48 is the second week of Elul. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how Eli would bless Elkanah and Chanah with more children. The end of the verse states that “they (Elkanah and Chanah) would go to his (Eli’s) place.” This addition at first appears somewhat unnecessary. Yet, it serves to emphasize the extent to which Elkanah and Chanah would go in order to honor Eli, the Kohen Gadol and judge of the generation. Perhaps it was particular because of the honor shown to Eli that he was able to grant such a powerful blessing. Rashi comments that the inverse order found in Eli’s verses is also in order to emphasize Chanah’s righteousness:
because of the request which he had requested: for himself a son. And Eli would say to him, “May the Lord grant seed, etc.” May it be the Divine Will that all the children which you will have, will be from this righteous woman. This is (therefore) an inverted sentence.
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is honor. As noted above, honoring the righteous can serve as a direct link to G-d’s blessings. To honor the righteous is ultimately to honor G-d Himself.
Chapter 4 of the Song of Songs is completely about Hashem honoring the Jewish people. Every verse is one of praise for their attributes, their righteousness: “7. You are all fair, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you.”
This week contains the yahrzeits of two very prominent Jewish leaders in modern day Israel: Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, 3rd of Elul) and Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (4th Lelover Rebbe, leader of Chassidic community in Jerusalem, 5th of Elul)
From Orot:
Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (5625/1865-5695/1935), served as the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Erets Israel. He was born in Grieva, a suburb of Dvinsk, Latvia, to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hakohen Kook and Perel Zlata Felman. The elder Kook’s intellectual roots were in the famed Volozhin Yeshiva, founded by the eminent disciple of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin. Abraham Isaac’s maternal grandfather Raphael, on the other hand, was a hasid of Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, author of Responsa Tsemah Tsedek. At an early age, Abraham Isaac imbibed both of these influences, which would later germinate in his thought, producing a unique fusion of the mitnagdic and hasidic traditions. Abraham Isaac studied in his youth with the rabbi of neighboring Dvinsk, Rabbi Reuven Halevi, author of Responsa Degel haRe’uveni. Later, he studied in Lutchin and Smorgon. The young genius was engaged to the daughter of one of the great rabbis of the generation, Rabbi Elijah David Rabinowitz-Te’omim of Ponevezh.
During the year preceding his marriage, Abraham Isaac studied in Volozhin, where he developed an intimate relationship with the rosh yeshivah or dean, Rabbi Naphtali Zevi Judah Berlin.
After serving as rabbi in the small town of Zoimel and later in the city of Boisk (Bauska), Latvia, in 1904 Rabbi Kook accepted the invitation of the port city of Jaffa, Erets Israel, to serve as its rabbi. In Erets Israel, Rabbi Kook, who was himself an interesting mixture of the old and the new, exerted a profound influence on both the Old and New Yishuv, as they were referred to in those days. His brilliance in all aspects of Torah attracted the finest minds among Jerusalem’s young pietists: Zevi Pesah Frank, Jacob Moses Harlap, Israel Porath, and others, who would become the leaders of the next generation. By the same token, Rav Kook had a unique gift for reaching out to the modern elements in Erets-Israeli society who were alienated from Jewish tradition. Thus, Rav Kook cemented relations with the halutsim, the pioneers in the outlying settlements. Especially in the new settlement of Rehovot was Rav Kook able to count many friends. His deep philosophical thoughts, as well as the poetic expression he gave to them, could not fail to impress the avant-garde writers of the day. Samuel Joseph Agnon, Joseph Brenner, et al supped at Rav Kook’s shalosh se’udot (third meal of the Sabbath). Rav Kook served as rabbi of Jaffa for a decade.
In 1914 Rav Kook traveled to Europe to attend the conference of Agudat Israel, a newly formed Orthodox movement, in order to impress upon the delegates the importance of Orthodox participation in the settlement of Erets Israel. Due to the outbreak of World War One the conference was cancelled, and Rav Kook found himself stranded on the European continent, unable to sail home. He spent the war years, first as a private citizen in St. Gallen, Switzerland in the home of an admirer Mr. Abraham Kimhi, and later in London as rabbi of the prestigious East End synagogue Mahzikei Hadat, founded by East European immigrants.
At war’s end Rav Kook returned to Erets Israel, becoming the Ashkenazic Rabbi of Jerusalem, and eventually Chief Rabbi of Erets Israel. It was during this final phase of his career that Rav Kook emerged as a world leader of Jewry. In 1924 he spent the better part of a year in the United States as part of a three-man rabbinic delegation sent to raise funds for the destitute yeshivot of Eastern Europe. About that time, Rav Kook established a yeshivah of his own in Jerusalem, known ever since as Merkaz Harav. The institutions Rav Kook established, namely the chief rabbinate and Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, continue to this day. Rav Kook’s teaching was preserved both orally by his disciples, and in the abundant writings he penned, some of which have yet to see the light of print. Rav Kook returned his soul to his Maker on 3 Ellul, 5695/1935, the exact day on which he had entered Jerusalem sixteen years earlier.
From Ascent.org:
Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (1844-5 Elul 1918) was one of the most respected rabbinical figures in old Jerusalem through World War I, and the leader of its Chassidic community. He was the official head of Kollel Warsaw, and in 1883 succeeded his father as Lelover Rebbe.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Chanoch Henoch Dov of Alesk (1st of Elul), Rabbi Eliezer Hager (the Damesek Eliezer of Vizhnitz, 2nd of Elul), Rabbi Moshe Aharon Pinto (5th of Elul), Rabbi Yomtov Lippman Heller (the Tosfot Yomtov, 6th of Elul), Rabbi Zalman Leib (Yekutiel Yehudah) Teitelbaum (the Sigheter Rav, author of Yetiv Lev, 6th of Elul), Chacham Eliyahu Chaim (son of Chacham Moshe and father of Chacham Yosef Chaim, the Ben Ish Chai, 7th of Elul).

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Week 49 (Book 4): G-d's Wisdom

STORY OF CHANNAH: 21. For the Lord remembered Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the lad Samuel grew up with the Lord.
SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 5
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen Rabinowitz of Lublin (9th of Elul), Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (12th of Elul), and Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad (the Ben Ish Chai, 13th of Elul)

Week 49 is the third week of Elul. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. It also mentions how Shmuel grew. Conception is generally associated with Chochmah, wisdom, while the development of the fetus is associated with Binah. Chochmah is also associated with male characteristics, while Binah with female ones. Chochmah is potential that needs to be developed, just like Shmuel himself was a sharp and wise at a very young age, but still needed to grow and develop.
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is wisdom. Wisdom is only truly good when it is developed “with the Lord,” as is the case with the righteous in general, and Shmuel in particular. As stated in Proverbs, “the beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d.”
Chapter 5 of the Song of Songs, particularly the last section, is primarily about Hashem’s wisdom. Rashi shows how the metaphors used are all depicting the beauty of the Torah and its wisdom:
[10] My beloved is white: to whiten my iniquities. Clear and white; when He appeared at Sinai, He appeared as an old man, teaching instructions, and so, when He sits in judgment (Dan. 7:9): “His garment was like white snow, and the hair of His head was like clean wool.”
and ruddy: to exact retribution upon His enemies, as it is stated (Isa. 63.2): “Why is Your clothing red?”
surrounded by myriads: Many armies encompass Him.
[11] His head is as the finest gold: The beginning of His words shone like finest gold, and so Scripture says (Ps. 119: 130): “The commencement of Your words enlightens.” The commencement of, “I am the Lord your God” showed them first that He has the right of sovereignty over them, and He then issued His decrees upon them.
his locks are curled: Heb. קְוֻצוֹתָיו תַּלְתַּלִים. Upon every point (קוֹץ וָקוֹץ) [of the letters of the Sepher Torah] were heaps of heaps (תִּלֵי תִּלִים) of halachoth.
black as a raven: because it was written before Him in black fire on white fire. Another explanation: His locks were curled when He appeared on the sea, appearing like a young man mightily waging war.
[12] His eyes are like doves beside rivulets of water: Like doves, whose eyes look toward their dovecotes, so are His eyes on the synagogues and study halls, for there are the sources of Torah, which is compared to water.
bathing in milk: When they look into the judgment, they clarify the law in its true light, to justify the just, to give him what he deserves, and to condemn the guilty, to repay his [evil] way upon his head.
fitly set: on the fullness of the world. They wander over the entire earth, gazing upon good and evil. Another explanation: Torah scholars, whom the Holy One, blessed be He, makes as eyes to illuminate the world, just as the eyes illuminate for man; like doves that wander from dovecote to dovecote to seek their food, so do they go from the study hall of one sage to the study hall of another sage, to seek the explanations of the Torah.
by rivulets of water: in the study halls, which are the sources of the water of Torah.
bathing in milk: Since he calls them eyes, and the eye (עַיִן) is a feminine noun, bathing (רוֹחֲצוֹת) is in the feminine conjugation. They cleanse themselves with the milk of Torah and whiten (clarify) its mysteries and enigmas.
fitly set: They resolve the matters appropriately. Another explanation: His eyes עֵינָיו, [like] עִנְיָנָיו His topics. The sections of the Torah, the halachoth, and the Mishnayoth are like doves which are comely in their walk beside the rivulets of water, [i.e.,] in the study halls; bathing in milk, made clear as milk, as I have explained.
[13] His jaws: the commandments of Mount Sinai, for He showed them a friendly and smiling countenance.
his lips are like roses: the commandments (lit. statements) that He spoke in the Tent of Meeting, which are for appeasement and for atonement and for a pleasant fragrance: the law of the sin offering, the guilt offering, the meal offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering.
[14] His hands: the Tablets, which He gave with His right hand, which are the work of His hands.
wheels of gold: These are the commandments, about which it is said (Ps. 19:11): “They are to be desired more than gold, yea more than much fine gold.” Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Nehemiah: They were made miraculously. They were of sapphire, yet they could be rolled (Song Rabbah, Tanch. Ki Thissa 26). Another explanation: because they bring about (lit. roll) much good to the world.
set with chrysolite: He included the 613 commandments in the Decalogue.
his abdomen is [as] a block of ivory: This is the Priestly Code (Leviticus), placed in the center of the Five Books of the Pentateuch, like the intestines, which are set in the middle of the body.
[as] a block of ivory, overlaid with sapphires: It appears as smooth as a block of ivory, and is set with many details [derived from] similar wordings, general principles, and inferences from minor to major.
[15] founded upon sockets of fine gold: Said Rabbi Eleazar Hakkappar: This pillar has a capitol above and a base below. Said Rabbi Samuel the son of Gadda: The sections of the Torah have a capitol above and a base below, and they are juxtaposed before them and after them, e.g., the sections of the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year, [are juxtaposed to] (Lev. 25:14): “And if you transact a sale,” to teach you how severe the dust (i.e., a minor infraction) of the Sabbatical Year is, as appears in Tractates Bava Metzia and Arachin (30b). Also, like (Num. 27: 16): “May the Lord… appoint a man over the congregation,” and (ibid. 29:2): “Command… My sacrifice, My bread.” Before you command Me about My children, command them about Me (Sifrei Num. 27:23), and similarly, many [such instances]. Therefore, it is stated: “His legs are [as] pillars of marble, founded, etc.”
his appearance is like the Lebanon: One who reflects and ponders over His words finds in them blossoms and sprouts, like a forest which blooms. So are the words of Torah-whoever meditates over them constantly finds new explanations in them.
chosen: Heb. בָּחוּר, chosen as the cedars, which are chosen for building and for strength and height.
[16] His palate is sweet: His words are pleasant, e.g. (Lev. 19:28): “And you shall not make a wound in your flesh for one who has died… I am the Lord,” faithful to pay reward. Is there a palate sweeter than this? Do not wound yourselves, and you will receive reward. (Ezek. 33:19): “And when a wicked man repents of his wickedness and performs justice and righteousness, he shall live because of them.” Iniquities are accounted to him as merits. Is there a palate sweeter than this?
This week contains the yahrzeits of three prominent Jewish thinkers: Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen Rabinowitz of Lublin (9th of Elul), Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (12th of Elul), and Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad (the Ben Ish Chai, 13th of Elul).
From Revach.net:
One of the great lights of Chasidic thought and arguably its most prolific author, was not born a Chasid. Rav Tzadok HaKohen was born to his father Rav Yaakov the Av Bais Din of Kreisberg in Lithuania. His grandfather Rav Zalman Mireles was the Rov of the three prestigious communites of Altuna-Hamburg-Wansbeck in Germany and was the son-in-law of the Chacham Tzvi.

Rav Tzadok was a child prodigy. He said about himself that when he was one year old, he would make a bracha on his mother's milk. At age two he davened from a siddur. By age three and a half he was learning Gemara with Tosfos. Before his Bar Mitzva he was already writing Shailos U'Tshuvos. He delivered four drashos at his Bar Mitzva which were printed in the Sefer Meishiv Tzedek. He was a rising star in the Litvishe world.

The turning point came after his first marriage came to a premature end, but his wife wouldn't accept a divorce. He wandered among the Gedolim to secure a Heter Mei'a to enable him to remarry. During this difficult period he met with the Shoel U'Maishiv (Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson of Lublin), Rav Tzvi Hirsh Chayos, Rav Shlomo Kluger and others. He also met with great Chasidic Rebbes including Rav Shalom of Belz, the Divrei Chaim, the Chidushei HaRim, Rav Meir Premishaln and others. When he met Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Izhbetzer Rebbe and former talmid of the Kotzker Rebbe before breaking away, he found in him a soulmate. The Litvishe Rav Tzadok became his ardent Chasid. At the end, his first wife accepted the Get and he did not need a Heter Mei'a. He then remarried and moved to Lublin.

Under Rav Mordechai Yosef, Rav Tzadok learned together with another Litvak turned Chasid (and broke his father's heart in the process), Rav Leibele Eiger the grandson of Rebbi Akiva Eiger and son of Rav Shlomo Eiger. After the petira of Rav Mordechai Yosef in 1854, Rav Tzadok refused to take his mantle of his Rebbe and lead the Chassidim. Instead he pushed Rav Leibele Eiger to become the Rebbe. In the ensuing 33 years until Rav Leibele's petira he learned in solitude composing his multitude of seforim. In 1887 after Rav Leibele's petira, he again refused to lead the Chasidim and pushed for Rav Avrohom Eiger to lead the flock. This time however the Chasidim refused to give in and he ultimately became the Rebbe of Lublin.

He very much wanted to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel but his Chasidim would not hear of it. Rav Tzadok was Niftar on 9 Elul, 5660/1900. Although he did not leave behind any sons, he left the world with his vast writings which have made a profound impact on Jewish thinking moving forward. His seforim include, Pri Tzadik (Chumash), Divrei Sofrim, Otzar HaMelech (Rambam), Yisroel Kedoshim, Tzidkas HaTzadik, Taanas Hashovim, Kuntras Divrei Chalomos, and many others. Yehi Zichro Baruch.
From Ascent.org:
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765 - 12 Elul 1827) spent many years as a business man and a pharmacist. He was a beloved disciple of "the Seer" and of "The Holy Yid" whom he succeeded. Known as "a rebbe of rebbes," his major disciples included the Kotsker and the first Rebbes of Ger and Alexander.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad, the Ben Ish Hai (27 Av 1834 - 13 Elul 1909), is one of the most important Sephardic Jewish sages in the last two centuries. At the age of 25, he succeeded to his father's rabbinical position and continued in it for 50 years. In 1869 he visited the Holy Land and was offered the position of Rishon LeZion (Sephardic Chief Rabbi), but he did not accept. A great scholar and Kabbalist and highly regarded as a pure and holy man, is rulings are adhered to still today by many Sephardim world-wide. He published many important books on Jewish law, Midrash, Kabbalah and Ethics.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of various tzadikim from the Rizhin/Sadiger dynasty: Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib of Pashkan (10th of Elul), Rabbi Shalom Yosef Friedman of Friedman of Sadigora (11th of Elul), and Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman of Sadigora (11th of Elul).
In addition, this week contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Briah Hopstein (The Be’er Moshe, Second Rebbe of Kozhnitz), Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Twerski of Cherkas (13th of Elul) and Rabbi Avraham Yissachar Behr HaKohen Rabinowitz of Radomsk (13th of Elul).

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