Weekly Cycle

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week 5 (Book 4): Loving G-d and Bringing Him into the World: Ryzhin and Bluzhev

STORY OF CHANNAH: 5 but unto Hannah he gave a double portion; for he loved Hannah, but the LORD had shut up her womb.   
TZADIKIM: Rav Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz and Rabbi Yisrael Spira of Bluzhev (29th of Tishrei) 
Week 5 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan.  The verse from the story of Channah is about how Elkanah would give her a double portion, but that she could not become pregnant. This aspect of Channah runs parallel to the story of our matriarch Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel dearly, yet G-d had also not graced her with children. Today, one of the few dates of Cheshvan that we do commemorate is the anniversary of the passing (yahrzeit) of Rachel, on the 11th of Cheshvan.
The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is also associated with love: “loves G-d.” In Hebrew, it is written “Ohev et HaMakom,” which literally means loves “the Place.” In various texts, G-d is called “the Place,” because He is not placed within the world, rather the world is placed within Him. There is no place devoid of G-d.[1] That means that even when we go outside our comfort zone, outside the “Garden of Eden” that is Tishrei and holiday observance, and into the “danger zone” that is Cheshvan and world involvement, G-d is always with us. We are always within Him.
Chapter 5 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of loving G-d (reminiscent also of the love between Jacob and Rachel), and being aware of the pitfalls that exist once we engage with the world around us:
3. For the lips of a strange woman drip honey, and her palate is smoother than oil.      
4. But her end is as bitter as wormwood, as sharp as a two-edged sword. (...)
15. Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own spring.           
16. May your springs spread out rivulets of water in the squares. (…)                                
19. [The wife of your youth] is a lovely hind and a graceful mountain goat, her breasts will satisfy you at all times; you shall always be intoxicated with her love.
Rashi explains that the “strange woman” is a reference to foreign gods and apostasy, while the “wife of your youth” and “your own cistern” is the Torah. The references to water are also appropriate for the month of Cheshvan, the month of the Flood.
This week, yahrzeits continue to be related to the Rizhin dynasty. The 29th of Tishrei is the yahrzeit of Rav Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz, the son-in-law of the Rizhiner, and the founder of the Vizhnitz chassidic dynasty. Also (often) this week, is the yahrzeit of the Rizhiner himself, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, on the 3rd of Cheshvan. An interesting story is told of an interaction between these two tzadikim, which very much exemplifies what was mentioned in the previous week, of how the spiritual path of Rizhin is about elevating the physical world yet also remaining above and beyond its limitations and pleasures:
One day when the Tzemach Tzaddik and the Rizhiner were engaged in a meal, the Rizhiner put his fork down after he was only half way through with his meal. When the Tzemach Tzaddik questioned him the Rizhiner said that before he was born, he had made a deal with his neshomo (soul), only to eat enough to get by, and not a morsel more. The Tzemach Tzaddik then commented that he just realized something. "All my life there was something that bothered me, and I just figured out the answer," he said. "On Friday night we sing shalom aleichem, welcoming the the angels that accompany us home from shul into our homes. But then, just a short while later, we sing tzeischem lesholom, bidding them farewell. Why do we send them away so soon? Now I realize why. It's because angels can't partake in earthly pleasures. They can't taste food. We don't want to show them disrespect by eating in front of them, so way say goodbye before we begin our meal," at which point the Tzemach Tzaddik put down his fork, indicating that he was in the presence of a maloch at that moment, the Rizhiner himself.[2]
Also usually this week, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Spira, the Bluzhover Rebbe. Rabbi Yisrael survived the Holocaust, having himself experienced the agony and suffering of the concentration camps and having lost his wife and children. There are many stories of his miraculous survival, righteousness and dedication during this time and afterwards. The Bluzhever Rebbe was able to find G-d literally in the gates of hell on earth:
During the days of Chanukah, the Rebbe lit candles in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Once when he recited the blessings, a Jew asked him a question: “Rabbi, even if you stubbornly lit the Chanukah candles and said Lehadlik Ner and She’asa Nissim [the blessings of lighting candles and remembering the miracles], what justification do you have in saying Sheheheyanu Vekiyemanu Vehigi’yanu Lazman Hazeh [“Who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time”]? During a time in which thousands of Jews are dying terrible deaths, why would you say Sheheheyanu?”
“I too asked myself this question,” the Rebbe replied. “I looked for an answer and found one: When I recited the blessing, I saw that a large crowd had gathered – risking their own lives in so doing – to watch the lighting of the candles. By the very fact that G-d has such loyal Jews – prepared to give their lives for the lighting of the candles – by that very fact alone we may recite Sheheheyanu.”[3]
Other yahrzeits this week include Shimon HaTzadik (29th of Tishrei), Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi son of Rabbi Yechiel Danziger of Alexander, the Tiferes Shmuel (29th of Tishrei), and (sometimes) Rabbi David ou-Moshe (1st of Cheshvan), Rabbi Baruch son of Rabbi Yisrael Hager, the Seret-Vizhnitz Rebbe, the Makor Boruch (2nd of Cheshvan), Rabbi Eliezer of Dzikov son of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz (3rd of Cheshvan), Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Kopust (elder brother of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, 3rd of Cheshvan), and Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Shapiro of Piazetsna, the Aish Kodesh (4th of Cheshvan).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Week 6 (Book 4): Dealing with Difficult People

STORY OF CHANNAH: 6 And her rival vexed her sore, to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.
TZADIK: 7 Cheshvan- Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro of Lublin
PROVERBS: Chapter 6
Week 6 is the second week of Cheshvan. The verse from the story of Channah continues to reflect the story of our matriarch Rachel, whose yahrzeit is on the 11th of Cheshvan. As mentioned in the previous week, G-d had not graced her with children. Yet she watched how her own sister, who Jacob did not intend to marry, had one child after the other.
The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is again associated with love: “loves people.” In Hebrew, it is written “Ohev et HaBri’ot,” which literally means loves “the creatures.” This is a quality very much associated with Aharon HaKohen, Moshe’s brother and the first High Priest. As Hillel states in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, “Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aharon--a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.” (emphasis added). Our sages explain that people are referred her as creatures (or creations), because Aharon loved those people that had no obvious positive qualities other than the fact that they were created by G-d. In Cheshvan, when we are “out and about” in the world, we are likely to encounter people that also do not appear to have any positive qualities, yet we must love them and learn from them.
In the above verse from the story of Channah, we see the difficult situation she was in. Channah had to live with a rival, Peninah, that vexed her about the fact that she had children while Channah did not. Such a situation required great “love for people,” and the ability to judge others favorably. In fact, we are told that Peninah’s motives were in fact positive ones – she wanted to enhance Channah’s prayers.
Chapter 6 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of loving G-d’s creatures. It speaks of how to behave when encountering strangers, and what to look out for when faced with unscrupulous and violent men and evil and adulterous women. The chapter also teaches us to learn lessons from other creations, animals: the ant, the bird and the deer.
1. My son, if you have stood surety for your fellow, have given your hand for a stranger, 2. you have been trapped by the sayings of your mouth; you have been caught by the sayings of your mouth.
5. Save yourself like a deer from the hand and like a bird from the hand of the snare. 6. Go to the ant, you sluggard; see her ways and become wise,
12. An unscrupulous man, a man of violence, walks with a crooked mouth;
13. he winks with his eyes, shuffles with his feet, points with his fingers.
24. to guard you from an evil woman, from the smoothness of the alien tongue.
25. Do not covet her beauty in your heart, and do not let her captivate you with her eyelids.
This week, we discuss another important rabbinical figure related to the Rizhin dynasty. The 7th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro of Lublin, known for institutionalizing the Daf Yomi cycle. Rav Shapiro was a devoutchassid of Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, the Chortoker Rebbe, discussed in Week 4. Rav Shapiro was the chief rabbi of Galina and Piotrkov, and author of the book Or HaMeir. He is also well known as the founder of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, in 1930.
Rabbi Shapiro faced tremendous challenges and difficulties in convincing the Jewish leadership and the rest of the community at the time to institute the Daf Yomi cycle, in part because of his young age. Today it is the hallmark of the vibrancy of Talmudic scholarship worldwide.
Also mentioned in Week 4 was the Holy Yid of Peshischa. The 7th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of not one, but two of his descendants, both of them rebbes in their own right: Rabbi Nosson Dovid Rabinowitz of Shidlowitz, grandson of the Holy Yid, and Rav Yerachmiel Tzvi Rabinowitz of Biala-Shedlitz.
It is also important to mention the continuation of the line of Rav Menachem Mendel of Kosov, founder of the Vizhnitz dynasty, also mentioned last week. The 9th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yidele Horowitz, the Dzikover Rebbe, who was raised by his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Yisrael Hager, Rebbe of Vizhnitz:
Although known as a formidable scholar and a man of exceptional character, he shunned the limelight and abhorred any reverence or treatment as a Rebbe. He lived a very frugal life. Absolutely all the monies forwarded to him by admirers and Chassidim were immediately distributed to orphans and widows.[1]
Other yahrzeits this week include that of Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid (6th of Cheshvan), Rabbi Shlomo Dovid Yehoshua Weinberg of Slonim son of Rabbi Avrohom, the Bais Avrohom (6thof Cheshvan), and Rabbi Asher bar Yechiel, the Rosh.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Week 7 (Book 4): Elevating (and Being Elevated) by Your Place

7 And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she vexed her; therefore she wept, and would not eat.   
rejoicer of G-d          

Rabbi Menachem Nachum, the Maggid of Chernobyl, and Rabbi Avraham Wienberg, the Slonimer Rebbe (11th of Cheshvan)

Proverbs, Chapter 7

Week 7 is the third week of  Cheshvan.  The verse from the story of Channah continues to reflect the story of our matriarch Rachel, whose yahrzeit is usually this week. As previously explained, Rachel’s cries are especially heard by G-d. The verse also emphasize’s Channah’s pilgrimage to the Temple every year. As also previously explained, the month of Cheshvan is closely linked with the Third Temple.

The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is “rejoicer of G-d."In Hebrew, it is written “Messameach et haMakom,” which literally means “makes the Place happy.” As in Week 5, Hashem is called, “the Place,” as no place is devoid of Him. In addition to there being no place devoid of Him, there is one place where His Presence is more concentrated than anywhere else: the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days.
A person’s geographical location has an immense impact on them, to the extent that Maimonedes writes that if a person wishes to repent from misdeeds, one of the options is to seek to change the locations of where they live. There is also a concept that when a person changes locations they change their mazal, their destiny. This is one of the ideas of Avraham leaving the land of his forefathers and going to Israel. Channah herself goes to the Temple to weep and pray for a child. She is not satisfied in staying in her place, despite the vexation she suffered.

However, as the quality of this week appears to emphasize, once a person is on the level of learning Torah for its own sake, it is not so much the role of place to make a person happy, as it is the role of the person to make the place happy. It is in our power to create a proper Torah atmosphere, an idea very much emphasized by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneersohn, as well as by his successor, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Even when faced with a barrage of attacks by those around us, like those suffered by Channah, it is still up to us, not up to others or to the place we find ourselves, how it is that we choose to behave.

Chapter 7 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of being careful about foreign places, again similar to the messages of Week 5 and Week 6:

10. And behold a woman [was coming] toward him, the nakedness of a harlot with her heart besieged.   
11. She is bustling and rebellious; her feet do not dwell in her house.                     
12. Sometimes [she is] in the street, sometimes in the squares, and she lurks at every corner. (...)
25. Let your heart not veer off into her ways; stray not in her paths.           
26. For many are the dead that she has felled, and numerous are all her victims.                
27. The ways of the grave are to her house, descending to the chambers of death.

Along with Rachel Immeinu, there are (at least) two other important yahrzeits on the same date, the 11th of Cheshvan. Both the first in the line Chassidic dynasties that remain important sources of light and inspiration until today:  Rabbi Menachem Nachum, the Maggid of Chernobyl [1730-1787], and Rabbi Avraham Wienberg, the Slonimer Rebbe [1804-1883].

The Maggid of Chernobyl was a close disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov, as well as of the Maggid of Mezeritch. He is also known for his work, Meor Einayim. Chernobyl is also at the root of other important Chassidic dynasties, such as Skver and Tolna. It is interesting to note that Chernobyl, a place nowadays usually associated with tragedy, is also associated with tremendous holiness, Torah, and spirituality.

The Slonimer Rebbe was a disciple of Rabbi Noah of Lechovitch and Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. He is also known for his work, Yesod Ha’Avodah, as well as Chesed L’Avraham and Be'er Avraham on the Mechilta.  Rabbi Wienberg was well respected among both chassidim and non-chassidim, in a place traditionally opposed to Chassidic thought, Lithuania. Under his leadership, Slonim Chassidim also became established in Israel. (Ascent)

Other yahrzeits this week include that of Rabbi Zev Wolf Kitzis (12th of Cheshvan), Rabbi Baruch of Kosov (author of Yesod HaEmunah and Amud HaAvodah, 13th of Cheshvan),  Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Perlow of Stolin-Karlin the son of Rabbi Yisrael of Karlin (14th of Cheshvan), and (sometimes) Rabbi Avroham Yeshaya Karelitz (the Chazon Ish, 15th of Cheshvan); Rabbi Chaim Pinto (HaKatan, 15th of Cheshvan); Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (16th of Cheshvan), and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosov (from whom stem both the Vizhnitz and Kosov dynasties, 17th of Cheshvan).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Week 8 (Book 4): Rejoicing with Creation

STORY OF CHANNAH: 8 And Elkanah her husband said unto her: 'Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?'      


TZADIKKIM: the Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Zimra) and Rabbi Avraham Azulai, author of the Chessed L’Avraham (21st of Cheshvan)

PROVERBS:  Chapter 8

Week 8 is the fourth week of Cheshvan.  The verse from the story of Channah once again reflects that of our matriarch Rachel, whose yahrzeit is in Cheshvan. Here we see Elkanah interfering, trying to make her happy. The more we leave Tishrei, the more bogged down we feel in the affairs of the world. This feeling can certainly be overwhelming at times. It is good to be able to reach out to someone to inspire us, make us happy.

The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is exactly that: “rejoice of people,” making them happy. In Hebrew, it is written “Messame’ach et HaBri’ot,” which literally one who makes “creatures” happy. Sometimes in order to make people happy, you have to remind them, first and foremost that they are created beings, which have the same basic needs as every other, such as eating and sleeping, etc. (why eatest thou not?); it also important to focus on the positive (am not I better to thee than ten sons?); and that things may only look bad from our very limited perspective, but our Creator has a plan for each one of us, and everything He does is for the very best.  

Chapter 6 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of making G-d’s creatures happy, particularly through the Torah. Much of the chapter is also about Creation itself:
21. There is substance to give inheritance to those who love me, and I will fill their treasuries.
22. The Lord acquired me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old.              
23. From the distant past I was enthroned, from the beginning, of those that preceded the earth.  
24. I was created when there were yet no deeps, when there were no fountains replete with water.          
25. I was created before the mountains were sunk, before the hills; 
26. when He had not yet made the land and the outsides and the beginning of the dust of the earth.          
27. When He established the heavens, there I was, when He drew a circle over the face of the deep;        
28. when He made the skies above firm, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep;                      
29. when He gave the sea its boundary, and the water shall not transgress His command, when He established the foundations of the earth.
30. I was a nursling beside Him, and I was [His] delight every day, playing before Him at all times;
31. playing in the habitable world of His earth, and [having] my delights with the children of man.

This week, on the 21st of Cheshvan, is the yahrzeit of two very prominent Kabbalists, from the Sefardi tradition: the Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Zimra) and Rabbi Avraham Azulai, author of the Chessed L’Avraham (some say his yahrzeit is the 24th). 

The Radbaz was the Chief Rabbi of Egypt from approximately the year 1514 to 1553. He was the teacher of the Holy Arizal  (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) as well as the Shita Mekubetzetzet, Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi. In addition, the Radbaz was a wealthy businessman.[1]

Rabbi Avraham Azulai was also a major influence upon the Arizal, and is often quoted in his works. He was the Chief Rabbi of Hebron, and the great, great, grandfather of the Chidah (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai), perhaps the most prominent of all Sefardi authorities in recent history.[2]

Other yahrzeits this week include that of the Knesset Yechezkel, the third Rebbe of Radomsk (20th of Cheshvan), Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi (20th of Cheshvan), and (sometimes) Rabbi Yissachar Dov ben Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, of Belz (22nd of Cheshvan).

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Week 9 (Book 4): Enclothed in Humility

STORY OF CHANNAH:  9 So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk--now Eli the priest sat upon his seat by the door-post of the temple of the LORD;    

QUALITY OF THOSE THAT STUDY TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE: The Torah enclothes him with humility 
PROVERBS: Chapter 9

TZADIKKIM: Rebbe Yaakov Leiser, the second Pshevorsker Rebbe (27th of Cheshvan), and Rebbe Tzvi Hirsh, the second Riminover Rebbe (29th of Cheshvan)           

Week 9 at times is the week of Rosh Chodesh Kislev, and sometimes is contained completely within Cheshvan. The verse from the story of Hannah is divided into two parts. It continues to relate Hannah’s actions, and then introduces the next major figure to play a role in the story: Eli the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. It is worth remembering that the month of Kislev, and Chanukah in particular, is very much related to the Kohen Gadol, and to Kohanim in general. Rashi explains that Eli had been appointed judge over all of Israel. Similarly, in the times of Chanukah, the Chashmona’im were not only Kohanim, but were also kings over Israel. (See Book 2, where it explains that Eli is the prophet of this week) Eli is also sitting by the door-post (literally, Mezuzah) of the Temple. This is the exact location where one is to place and light the Chanukah Menorah!

The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is, “the Torah enclothes him with humility.” This is a very interesting word combination – because one would think that clothes, and especially the kind of beautiful clothes one would associate with the Torah, would bring honor and elevation, not humility. The Torah portion of Tetzaveh, which describes the clothes of the High Priest, state that they are “L’Chavod uLeTifaret,” for honor and beauty. Is this not a contradiction? It is not a contradiction, because the honor and beauty are not for the sake of the individual. On the contrary, the honor and beauty are for Hashem, as well as for the position of the High Priest, not the high priest himself. In fact, the beauty and splendor of the clothes of the high priest, make the priest himself feel extremely small and humble. The same is true of the Torah. The more we learn and realize how great Hashem is and how profound is His Torah, the more we feel small and humble.  

Rashi’s comments on the above verse also help clarify this point:

and Eli the priest was sitting on the chair: The defective spelling denotes that on that day, he was seated on a huge chair, for he was appointed judge over Israel.

The fact that Eli was sitting on a huge chair makes his position as judge feel very great and important, but it makes Eli himself feel very small, to the point that even the spelling of the word “sat” (Yoshev) is missing a letter. It hints to how humble it made him feel. The fact that he sat outside, ready to greet all that came in, is also a great sign of humility.

Chapter 9 of the Book of Proverbs is also divided into two parts. The first part, encompasses many of the basic ideas of how the Torah’s honor and beauty can uplift us, and yet also enclothe us with humility at the same time:

1. Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.        
2. She has prepared her meat; she has mingled her wine; she has even set her table.           
3. She has sent her maidens, she calls on the wings of the heights of the city,         
4. "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here." To the one devoid of sense, she says to him,  
5. "Come, partake of my bread and drink of the wine I have mingled.      
6. Leave, you simpletons, and live, and step in the way of understanding."

Rashi explains that “her house,” is the world itself, and that the seven pillars are the seven days of Creation.
The latter part of the chapter continues the themes associated with the Flood – corruption, and the temptation of adultery. Hidden within the chapter is the verse at the root of the Jewish response to Greek corrupting ideas:

10. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and the knowledge of the holy ones is understanding.

The Greeks were known for their wisdom, but unfortunately not for their fear of the Lord. King Solomon explains that the very beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d, and that true knowledge and understanding are intrinsically linked with holiness, Kedushah.

This week is the yahrzeit of Reb Yaakov Leizer, the second Rebbe of Pshevorsk, on the 27th of Cheshvan. His father-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Gevirzman, was the great-grandson of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. He based himself in Antwerp, Belgium, and was well known for his Divine inspiration and miracles.[1] The following excerpt also indicates his tremendous humility:

Although he was a Rebbe of hundreds of chassidim and was respected worldwide, he never deviated from his humble, simple ways. He respected the lowliest Jews, comforting them with warm words and helping with their needs. He would often sleep on a bench in the ezras nashim, offering his own bed to wandering beggars. He slept in his sukkah with tens of others who did not have a sukkah of their own.
His gemilus chassadim and tzedakah were legendary. He collected funds and supported the needy and downtrodden with incomparable humility.[2]

This week is also often the yahrzeit of the second Rebbe of a chassidic line closely tied to Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. The 29th of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Tzvi-Hirsch of Riminov the personal attendant of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Riminov, and later his successor. Rebbe Menachem Mendel Riminover was one of the main disciples of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, along with the Maggid of Koznitz, the Apter Rav, and the Chozeh of Lublin. He also studied under Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg as a child. Rebbe Tzvi-Hirsh of Riminov was a devoted chassid and humble assistant, earning the title of Rav Tzvi Hersch Meshares (helper). As Rebbe, he had reputation as a miracle worker and was known for his Divrei Torah, later collected and published in the holy book Be’erot HaMayim, as well as many others.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Abba son of Rabbi Yitzchak Abuchatzeira (26th of Cheshvan), and (sometimes) Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerondi (28th of Cheshvan) and Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg, the Tzitz Eliezer (30th of Cheshvan).


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