Weekly Cycle

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Week 20 (Book 4): Hanging in There Through the Winter

STORY OF CHANNAH: 20. And it was, when the time came about (lit. after the seasons and the days), after Hannah had conceived, that she bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, because (she said); "I asked him of the Lord."

QUALITY: and power, as is stated (Proverbs 8:14): "Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power."           

PROVERBS: Chapter 20

TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch and Rav Yechiel Danziger (first Rebbe of Alexander)     

Week 20 is the week of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. The verse from the story of Channah describes the birth of Shmuel and his naming. Conception and birth appears to be one of the major themes of the month of Shevat as well. In Shevat, the fruit is there in potential, but it still takes a change of "seasons and days" for the the tree to actually bear fruit. In the meantime, one must still deal with the harshness of winter.  

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that people enjoy “power” from those that study Torah for its own sake (Lishmah). (Gevurah, also translated as “might,” “strength” or “discipline,” as well as judgment) In Channah’s story above, Eli’s blessing gives Channah the necessary strength to bear a child. Shmuel’s name and the explanation given for it demonstrate that everything came from Hashem.

Chapter 20 of the Book of Proverbs contains the above theme of Gevurah, related to might, discipline, but also judgement:

2. Fear of a king is like a lion's roar; he who provokes him forfeits his life.   (…)
8. A king sits upon a throne of judgment; all evil is spread out before him.            
9. Who will say, "I have cleansed my heart; I have become purified of my sin"? (…)
14. "It is bad, it is bad, " says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.   

Rashi interprets the last verse above to be specifically referring to difficulties and pains, as well as the rewards associated with Gevurah:

“It is bad, it is bad,” says the buyer: If one acquires Torah through poverty and the pains of hunger, he says, “Woe is to me for this evil and for this trouble,” but when he goes away full of wisdom…

then he boasts: about the pain he suffered.

This week usually contains the yahrzeits of two important Chassidic dynasties: Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (13th of ShevatRav Yechiel Danziger of Alexander (14th of Shevat) and Rav Elimelech Menachem Mendel Landau of Strikov (19th of Shevat). Alexander and Strikov are extremely interrelated. Strikov is essentially a continuation of the Alexander dynasty.

Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch is one of the foremost figures in the Karlin dynasty. Lechovitch later branched out into the chassidic dynasties of Kobrin,  Koidanov, and Slonim. There are many Chassidic stories about him, as well as many of his recorded Chassidic statements. He once gave the following blessing: “Don’t fool yourself, don’t fool G-d, and don’t fool people.”  https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/lyakhovichi/RabbiMordechai.htm; http://asimplejew.blogspot.com/2008/05/question-answer-with-rabbi-shlomo.html

Rav Yechiel Danziger of Alexander was the founder of the dynasty, which prior to the Holocaust was the second largest, following only that of Ger. He was a student of Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorka. After Rabbi Yitzhak’s son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorka, passed away, many of his disciples became Alexander Chassidim. Many of Rav Yechiel’s teachings are recorded in the primary text of this group, Yismach Yisroel, written by Rav Yechiel’s son.

After Rav Yechiel’s son, Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchok Danziger, passed away, the mantle of leadership was eventually transferred to Rav Elimelech Menachem Mendel Landau of Strikov. His yahrzeit also often falls on this week, the 19th of Shevat. The latter only accepted leadership once his brother, Rabbi Tzvi Aharon passed away. During the leadership of Rav Menachem Mendel, there were 150 Strikover houses of study throughout Poland.He also founded a Yeshiva in Israel, Yeshivas Zechusa DeAvraham, and his Torah thoughts are published in two works: Maggid Devarav L’Yaakov and Bayeshishim Chochmah.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk Katz (the Pnei Yehoshua, 14th of Shevat), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (14th of Shevat), Rav Yechezkel of Kuzmir (grandfather of the first Modzitzer Rebbe, 17th of Shevat), and (sometimes) Rav Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim (the Divrei Shmuel, 19th of Shevat)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Week 21 (Book 4): Malchut (Kingship)

STORY OF CHANNAH: 21. And the man, Elkanah and his entire household, went up to slaughter to the Lord, the sacrifice of the days and his vow.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: The Torah grants him sovereignty (kingship)     

PROVERBS:  Chapter 21

TZADDIKIM: Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (22nd of Shevat) and Rav Yehoshua Rokeach (23rd of Shevat)

Week 21 is the last week of  Shevat, and includes the yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Rebbe. The verse from the story of Channah describes Elkanah’s annual pilgrimage to the Tabernacle. The term “household,” Beitoh, in the Torah, is usually a reference to someone’s wife. This verse comes to preface the fact that Channah chooses to stay behind to nurse Shmuel, and bring him to the Tabernacle, to live there, only once he is weaned.  

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah grants kingship, Malchut. Malchut, as previously explained, is a feminine sefirah (Divine attribute). (See Book 1, Week 21) Malchut receives its energy from the other sefirot. Here, too, the verse states that the Torah gives (Notenet) kingship. It is up to us to know how to receive it. In the above verse, Elkanah ascends to the Tabernacle as an act of gratitude.

Chapter 21 of the Book of Proverbs begins by speaking about kingship, and also contains reference to the central role of a wife (in this case, for the bad):

1. A king's heart is like rivulets of water in the Lord's hand; wherever He wishes, He turns it. (…)
9. It is better to sit on the corner of a roof than with a quarrelsome wife and the house of a friend. (…)
19. It is better to dwell in a desert land than [with] a quarrelsome and vexatious wife.

Besides Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s yahrzeit (22nd of Shevat), this week also contains the yahrzeits of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (also the 22nd of Shevat) and Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach (the Second Rebbe of Belz, son of the Sar Shalom, 23rd of Shevat).

Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk was known for his immense Torah knowledge, already achieved at a very young age, and for his uncompromising pursuit of truth. His often sharp and penetrating sayings cut through people’s ego and fantasies. Among his students were the first two leaders of the dynasty of of Ger, the largest Chassidic group in all of Poland.

The 22nd of Shevat is also the yahrzeit of one of the Kotzker’s closest disciples, Rabbi Yehuda Leib (Leibel) Eiger of Lublin, grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. The 21st of Shevat is the yahrzeit of another disciple of the Kotzker, R. Yechiel Meir Lifschitz of Gostynin (Der Tilim Yid).

Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach expanded the Belz dynasty begun by his father into the largest in Galicia. He was known for his vigorous battle against the Haskalah, the Jewish secularist “enlightenment” movement. Rav Yehoshua was a tremendous Torah scholar, who was also known for common sense in his leadership. He inspired his followers to study Torah with great devotion, and set up programs for newly married men to continue to study in Yeshiva.

Other yahrzeits this week include (sometimes) Rav David HaLevi Segal (author of the “Taz, the Turei Zahav, 26th of Shevat) and Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Elazar Leiner (the "Tiferes Yosef," Radziner Rebbe, 26th of Shevat)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Week 22 (Book 4): Dominion versus Kingship, Royalty

STORY OF CHANNAH: 22. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband: "Until the child is weaned, then I shall bring him, and he shall appear before the Lord, and abide there forever.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: dominion           

PROVERBS: Chapter 22

Week 22 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Adar. The verse from the story of Channah continues last week’s description of Elkanah’s annual pilgrimage, in which Channah chooses to stay behind to nurse Shmuel. Interestingly, the text emphasizes how Channah told her husband the reason why she chose not to go. This additional emphasis, demonstrates Channah’s concern for her husband, as well as a certain level of subservience, even though, Channah ultimately has her way in the matter. Adar is the month of Purim, which is the story of how another woman, Queen Esther, is able to convince her husband, Achashverosh, to save the Jewish people and destroy its enemy, Haman, who was effectively ruler of the kingdom at the time.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah grants dominion, Memshalah. Memshalah is different from kingship, Malchut, in that it does not necessarily reflect royalty. One can rule without being king, like Joseph did as viceroy, and like LeHavdil, Haman did, as mentioned above. Memshalah appears to reflect more of a masculine power, connected to shear power and force, while Malchut is has a more elevated sublime feminine quality, as reflected in the Sefirah of Malchut, which is connected to speech. This is all very much connected to the above verse in Channah’s story and to Adar.

Chapter 22 of the Book of Proverbs is very much about power. Its focus is primarily on economic power, physical wealth.

1. A name is chosen above great wealth; good favor over silver and gold.
2. A rich man and a poor man were visited upon; the Lord is the Maker of them all.          
4. In the wake of humility comes fear of the Lord, riches, honor, and life.  
7. A rich man will rule over the poor, and a borrower is a slave to a lender.

The word used for “rule” in verse 7 is Yimshol, from the same root as Memshalah.

This year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Week 23 (Book 4): Coming to a Good Decision

STORY OF CHANNAH: 23. And Elkanah her husband said to her: "Do what seems good to you. Stay until you have weaned him, only, may the Lord fulfill His word." And the woman stayed and nursed her son, until she weaned him.  

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: and jurisprudence.       

PROVERBS: Chapter 23

Week 23 is the week of Zayin Adar, Moshe’s birthday as well as the date of his passing. The verse from the story of Channah describes how Elkanah allows Channah to do what she believed as right for Shmuel, which was to stay with him until he was weaned. The verse has a curious line, on which Rashi comments. Elkanah says to Chanah: “may the Lord fulfill His word.” To what is Elkanah referring? Rashi explains as follows:

RASHI - only, may the Lord fulfill His word: Since you asked of Him seed of righteous men (above v. 11), and Eli announced to you through divine inspiration: (above v. 17) “The God of Israel will grant your request,” may the Lord fulfill His word. This is according to the simple interpretation. The Midrash Agadah, however, explains thus: Rabbi Nehemiah said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, the son of Rabbi Isaac: Every day, a divine voice would resound throughout the world, and say: A righteous man is destined to arise, and his name will be Samuel. Thereupon, every woman who bore a son, would name him Samuel. As soon as they saw his deeds, they would say, “This is not Samuel.” When our Samuel was born, however, and people saw his deeds, they said, “It seems that this one is the expected righteous man.” This is what Elkanah meant when he said, ‘May the Lord fulfill His word,’ that this be the righteous Samuel.  

Elkanah is praying that Shmuel indeed be righteous. According to Rabbi Nechemiah, Elkanah was praying that this be in fact the “expected righteous man,” for which everyone was hoping. There is a clear parallel here with Moshe Rabbeinu, the expected redeemer of the Jewish people.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that the Torah grants jurisprudence, Chikur Din. Chikur Din means to investigate a matter in order to arrive at the right decision. In the above story, Elkanah essentially tells Channah to make the decision, to “do what seems good to you.” This quality also seems very much related to the Sefirah combination for this week, Gevurah shebeNetzach (judgment in the context of endurance; see Week 23, Book 1)

Chapter 23 of the Book of Proverbs is very much about jurisprudence. It also continues the theme of the previous week, rulership.

1. If you sit down to dine with a ruler, you should understand well who is in front of you,
12. Bring your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge.    
19. Hear you, my son, and grow wise, and walk in the way of your heart.

As mentioned last week, this year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Week 24 (Book 4): "When Wine Comes in Secrets Come Out"

STORY OF CHANNAH: 24. And she brought him with her when she had weaned him, with three bulls, and one ephah of meal, and an earthenware jug of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord, to Shiloh, and the child was young.    

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: The Torah's secrets are revealed to him    

Proverbs: Chapter 24

Week 24 is the week of Purim. The verse from the story of Channah depicts how she brought her son to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh. In Hebrew, the first word in the description of what she brings is Parim (bulls), spelled the same as Purim. Also mentioned in the verse is a jug of wine, which is also symbolic of Purim.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that, “the Torah’s secrets are revealed to him.” The Talmud famously states, “Nichnas Yayin Yotzeh Sod,” when wine enters, secrets exit (are revealed). This is usually has a negative connotation. On Purim, however, this is indeed very positive. When one drinks, secrets of Torah are revealed to him.

Chapter 23 of the Book of Proverbs appears to be primarily about fighting evil, and very much brings to mind the dichotomy between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman.” One is supposed to drink on Purim until one does not know the difference between the two phrases.

1. Do not envy men of evil; do not desire to be with them;  
2. for their heart thinks of plunder, and their lips speak of wrongdoing.
15. Wicked man, do not lurk by the dwelling of a righteous man; do not plunder his resting place.
16. For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.       
17. When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult,
24. He who says to a wicked man, "You are righteous"-peoples will curse him; nations will be wroth with him.   

The end of the chapter is also related to a practice that is usually bad during the year, but that on Purim gains a positive connotation: sleep during the day.

32. And I, myself, saw; I applied my heart; I saw and learned a lesson.      
33. Little sleep, little slumber, little clasping of the hands to lie down.
34. Then your poverty will come strolling and your wants like an armed man.

The above statement is very much reminiscent of the one in Pirkei Avot related to Purim and Week 24: “Rabbi Dosa the son of Hurkinas would say: Morning sleep, noontime wine, children's talk and sitting at the meeting places of the ignorant, drive a person from the world.”

As mentioned last week, this year there are two months of Adar, and yahrzeits are usually commemorated on the second one, unless the person passed away in the first Adar in a year that also had two. We will therefore, leave the descriptions for the next month, when we repeat weeks 22 through 25.  

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