Weekly Cycle

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Week 44 (Book 4): Building G-d's House


STORY OF CHANNAH: 16. And (if) the man said to him, 'Let them make the fat smoke now, and (then) take for yourself, as your soul desires,' And he would say, 'No, but now you shall give. And if not, I shall take by force.'

PIRKEI AVOT ON G-D’S ACQUISITIONS: and one acquisition is the Holy Temple… The Holy Temple, as it is written (Exodus 15:17), "The base for Your dwelling that you,   G-d, have achieved; the Sanctuary, O L-rd, that Your hands have established"; and it says (Psalms 78:54), "And He brought them to His holy domain, this mount His right hand has acquired."

PSALM 127: A song of ascents about Solomon. If the Lord will not build a house, its builders have toiled at it in vain…

TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal, 5th of Av) and Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Horowitz (the Chozeh of Lublin, 9th of Av)

Week 44 is the week of Tisha B’Av, the third of the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how the sons of Eli would threaten to take a portion of the sacrifices by force, even before they were ready. Their behavior showed a great disdain for the laws of sacrifices and for the person bringing it. Their actions are reminiscent of the baseless hatred at the time of the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av and of the corruption of the priests of those days as well.
The quotation from Pirkei Avot is about how the Temple is one of G-d’s acquisitions. The verses cited in support for this concept speak of how the Temple is G-d’s dwelling, which He established and acquired with His hands. In contrast, the sons of Eli spoke out of a sense of entitlement, as if the Tabernacle and the sacrifices were theirs. They placed their will before that of G-d, to Whom the Tabernacle truly belonged.

Chapter 127 in the Book of Psalms was said by King Solomon. The psalm is about building of the Temple, and how its success is totally dependent on G-d’s will. Failure to keep G-d’s will will lead to its ultimate destruction, as took place on Tisha B’Av. (See Rashi)
This week contains the yahrzeits of two of the greatest masters of Kabbalah and Chassidut: Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal, father of Kabbalah as we know it, 5th of Av) and Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Horowitz (the Chozeh of Lublin, successor of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk,9th of Av).

From Ascent:
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-5 Av 1572), Known as "the holy Ari," revolutionized the study of Kabbalah and its integration into mainstream Judaism during the two years he spent in Zefat before his death at 38. Much of Chasidic thought is based on the Ari's kabbalah teachings, as recorded by his main disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital. (For a fuller biography) (For teachings of the Ari translated into English)

Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Horowitz (1745 - 9 Av 1815), known as 'the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin', was the successor to R. Elimelech of Lizensk (1717-1787), and leader of the spread of chassidus in Poland. Many great Rebbes of the next generation emerged from his followers, including: the Yid HaKodesh, Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, Meir of Apta, David of Lelov, the Yismach Moshe, the Sabba Kadisha of Radoshitz, the Bnai Yisasscher, Rabbi Naftali Zvi of Ropshitz, the Maor Vashemesh and Sar Shalom of Belz. Many of his insights were published posthumously in Divrei Emmes, Zichron Zos, and Zos Zichron.
Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Shimshon Ostropolier (3rd of Av), Rabbi Chaim Yechezkel Taub of Ozorov (3rd of Av), Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky (first Skverer Rebbe in America, 3rd of Av), Rabbi Ephraim Taub of Kuzmir (4th of Av), Rabbi Benzion Halberstam (2nd Bobover Rebbe, 4th of Av)

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).


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