Weekly Cycle

Monday, December 26, 2016

Introduction to Book 4


Book 4

In the first part of the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, things are still going smoothly in the desert. The Tribes are counted, and a special focus on the “prince” of each tribe, the Nassi. The Princes bring offerings, Aharon lights the Menorah, the Second Passover takes place, and the formation is set in which the Jews will journey in the desert. Overall, it’s a general sense of feeling beloved and the eminent entrance into the Land of Israel.

Book 4a is also about realizing that we are spiritual in essence, connecting to the Tzadik (the righteous one) within each one of us, as well as the Tzadik Yesod Olam, the leader of the generation, who is also known as the Nassi. It is also about being on the level of being able to be confronted with ideologies and ideas that run counter to Judaism, and being able to reject the bad but yet elevate the kernel of truth found within them. As mentioned above, that is also what Bamidbar is about.

Much of these themes are reflected in the life of King Solomon, the consummate Tzadik, who lays everything before us in his writings, our spiritual encampment so to speak. As the King of Israel, along with King David, he is also the ultimate Nassi.

The sets of 52 explored in this book are as follows:

Hanna’s story and song is about the making of a Tzadik and Nassi: Shmuel. It is also about Elkanah and Eli, who were the leaders of the generation at the time.

Chapter 6 of Pirkei Avot lays out the characteristics connected to those who study Torah for its own sake, a stage of perfection associated with the Tzadik.

The book also explores the lives of more recent Tzadikim. Each Tzadik is particularly connected with the date of his/her passing, in which the soul of the Tzadik reached ultimate completion.

Finally, we delve into each of the writings of King Solomon, starting with the Book of Proverbs, followed by Ecclesiastes, Psalm 72 and the Song of Songs. There are 52 chapters in total. An attempt will also be made to describe the Thirteen Tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, which contain similar themes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Week 1 (Book 4): Elkanah and Rabbi Meir, Acquiring Wisdom and the Yenuka

STORY OF CHANNAH: 1 Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of the hill-country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
PIRKEI AVOT: Rabbi Meir states: Whoever studies Torah for Torah's sake alone, merits many things
PROVERBS: Chapter 1
TZADDIKIM: Rabbi Yisrael son of Rabbi Asher of Stolin known as the "Yenuka"
Week 1 is the week of Rosh Hashanah. Tishrei is represented by the Tribe of Ephraim. The verse from the story of Channahis about how Elkanah, the leader of the generation and a prophet in his own right, was from Ephraim.
The verse for this week starts by stating, “Ish Echad,” “one man” – the emphasis is on “one,” just like Rosh Hashanah the focus is on one. Ramathaim-Zophim means the heights that look into the future. Isn’t that what Rosh Hashanah is about?
The Pirkei Avot section for this week begins by stating the name of Rabbi Meir, and the topic of discussion for the remaining sections of the rest of the year: the concept of Torah Lishmah, studying Torah for its own sake, a very high level. Like Elkanah, Rabbi Meir was unique, head and shoulders above every one else in his generation. The statement, “merits many things,” appears almost superfluous. Some commentaries indicate that this refers to physical blessings aside from the spiritual ones listed below. That is the idea of Rosh Hashanah – in as much as it is a spiritual day, it is related to our physical achievements in this world.
Chapter 1 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of learning Torah for its own sake, although the book speaks more in terms of wisdom, acquiring wisdom for its own sake, and for the sake of becoming closer to the Creator:
1. The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, [are];
2. To know wisdom and discipline, to comprehend words of understanding;
3. To receive the discipline of wisdom, righteousness, justice, and equity;
4. To give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth.
5. Let the wise man hear and increase learning. The understanding man shall acquire wise counsels
6. to understand an allegory and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.
7. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.
This week, on the 2nd of Tishrei, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisroel. the Yenukah of Karlin. More than any other rebbe, the Yenukah represents how the idea of a rebbe is one that is higher than intellect. He became rebbe at the age of five years old.He was a tremendous gaon and tzadik, and his chassidim expressed both love and fear of him. As a few other tzadikim, like Shmuel and Shlomo HaMelech (both of which also came to prominence at a very young age), the Yenuka lived to the age of 52.
Although Karlin-Stolin is in Eastern Europe, the Yenuka is also known as the“Frankforter;” because there is where he passed away and was buried. He specifically asked to buried in the place of his passing, somehow foreseeing its importance. As it turned out, the Yenukah was buried extremely close to another tzadik who passed away on Rosh Hashanah (1st of Tishrei), Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, the author of the prayer uNetaneh Tokef. The following is a description of the events that led to this prayer:
One of the most emotional prayers of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services is the Unetaneh Tokef, recited before the Kedusha of Musaf. Written by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, about one thousand years ago, the prayer describes the Yomim Noraim, the High Holy Days, as a time of judgment, where people symbolically pass before Hashem. In the prayer, there is a listing of the possible fates that may befall people, but it also includes an emphasis on Hashem's attribute of forgiveness. To read text of prayer, click here. This is the story behind this stirring prayer:
Rabbi Amnon was famous for his righteousness. The bishop of Mainz heard of the rabbi and wanted to meet him.
Rabbi Amnon and the bishop spoke about religion. Deeply impressed by the rabbi's piety, the bishop was determined that such a good man become his friend and advisor. He also insisted that he leave the Jewish religion and convert to Christianity.
At first, the bishop gently argued with Rabbi Amnon, trying to show how his faith was superior to Judaism. Then the bishop tried to bribe Rabbi Amnon with promises of fame and money if he would convert to Catholicism. But Rabbi Amnon remained steadfast. He would never convert.
After a while, the bishop became frustrated and started yelling, "You are as stiff-necked as all your people! You can be sure that I will quickly end your stubbornness and make you do as I wish."
A few days after this initial meeting, the bishop summoned Rabbi Amnon to his palatial manor and confronted him directly. "Accept my faith," he threatened, "or you will definitely die!"
Rabbi Amnon replied, "Give me three days to think about the matter -- then I shall give you my answer."
"So be it," the bishop agreed.
Rabbi Amnon returned to his home. He put on sackcloth and ashes. He fasted and prayed, distraught at having given the impression that he even considered betraying Hashem. After the three days passed, Rabbi Amnon did not return to the palace. The bishop was furious. He ordered his guards to bring Rabbi Amnon to his palace.
The guards hurriedly seized Rabbi Amnon and brought him to the palace. The bishop confronted the rabbi, "Jew, how dare you disobey me? Why have you broken your promise to bring me your answer after three days?"
Rabbi Amnon looked up at the bishop. "In a moment of weakness I fell into sin and lied. I made a false promise and defied my faith. I sought the cowardly grace of three days in which to give you my answer. Instead, I should have said, 'Shema Yisroel HashemElohaynu Hashem Eh-chad' ('Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One'), and allowed myself to be killed."
The bishop was furious. "Your feet disobeyed me by not coming to the palace. For that, they shall be torn from your body."
"No," Reb Amnon replied. "My feet should not be torn, but rather my tongue for it betrayed Hashem."
"Your tongue has uttered the truth, and therefore will not be punished."
The furious bishop ordered Rabbi Amnon's feet to be chopped off, joint by joint. They did the same to his hands. After each amputation R'Amnon was asked if he would convert, and each time he refused. Then the bishop ordered that he be carried home, a maimed and mutilated cripple, together with his amputated parts. A few days later, on Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Amon requested that he be carried to the synagogue.
Once there, he asked to be taken to the Ark. Before the congregation recited Kedusha, Rabbi Amnon asked to be allowed to sanctify Hashem's name in the synagogue as he had in the bishop's palace. He recited Unetaneh Tokef and died just as he finished the last words of the prayer.
Three days later, Rabbi Amnon appeared in a dream to Reb Klonimus ben (the son of) Meshullam, a great Talmudic and Kabbalistic scholar in Mainz, and taught Reb Klonimus the text ofUnetaneh Tokef and asked him to send it to all the Jewish people to be recited in the Musaf service of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, just before Kedusha. Rabbi Amnon's wish was carried out and the prayer has become an integral part of the Rosh Hashanaand Yom Kippur services.[1]

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yitzchak-Meir of Kapichnitz (2nd of Tishrei), and (sometimes) Rabbi Yechiel Michil of Zlotchov (the Maggid of Zlotchov, 25th of Elul), Rabbi Shmuel Abba Zikelinsky of Zichlin (26th of Elul), Rabbi Shalom Rokeach (The Sar Shalom, First Belzer Rebbe, 27th of Elul), Rebbetzin Devorah Leah Schneerson (3rd of Tishrei) the Chayei Adam (4th of Tishrei), Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola (the Shpoler Zeide, 6th of Tishrei) and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mother, 6th of Tishrei).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Week 2 (Book 4): Chen, Merit, Life and Death Choices, and the Magen Avraham

2And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah and the name of the second was Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. בוְלוֹ֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י נָשִׁ֔ים שֵׁ֚ם אַחַת֙ חַנָּ֔ה וְשֵׁ֥ם הַשֵּׁנִ֖ית פְּנִנָּ֑ה וַיְהִ֚י לִפְנִנָּה֙ יְלָדִ֔ים וּלְחַנָּ֖ה אֵ֥ין יְלָדִֽים:
PIRKEI AVOT: not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone
PROVERBS: Chapter 2
TZADDIKIM: Rabbi Noach, the son of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (8th of Tishrei); Rabbi Avraham Aveli Gombiner, the Magen Avraham (9th of Tishrei)
Week 2 is the week of Yom Kippur.  The verse from the story of Channah speaks of “two wives.” Both the number two as well as the concept of marriage and relationship is related to this week. (See Book 1, where the animal for this week is the hen, followed by the rooster for week 1). The name Peninah means “pearl,” which signifies inner beauty and purity. Channah comes from the word “chen,” which means grace as well as mercy. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains, chen is a quintessential ingredient in prayer. The Talmud also teaches us that we learn how we are supposed to pray by Channah’s example. These concepts are all closely tied to Yom Kippur, when through prayer and fasting we reveal our inner sanctity and beauty, find grace in the eyes of Hashem and are cleansed from our past transgressions.

The Pirkei Avot section for this week explains that the existence of whole world is worthwhile for the Tzadik, the one that studies Torah for its own sake. Interestingly, the above verse in the Channah’s story tells of how Peninah had many children, and yet Channah did not have any. Peninah’s existence and that of all her children (and the whole world) was worthwhile because of Channah, even though Channah herself did not have any children. This is similar to the statement in the Talmud regarding Rabbi Chanina (whose name also comes from the word chen): “The whole world is nourished because of Chanina, and for Chanina, one amount of carob is enough from Sabbath eve to the next.” (Brachot 17b) (See Book 2, Week 48) Tishrei very much connected to the creation of the world, and to its continued existence once our sins are forgiven on Yom Kippur.

Chapter 2 of the Book of Proverbs contains a theme of Yom Kippur and the choice between righteousness/good (which leads to life) and sin/evil (which leads to death):

18. for her house sinks to death, and her paths [lead] to the dead;   
19. none who go to her return, neither do they achieve the ways of life                 
20. in order that you go in the way of the good, and you keep the ways of the righteous.  
21. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain therein.      
22. But the wicked shall be cut off from the land, and the treacherous shall be uprooted therefrom.

This week, on the 8th of Tishrei, it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Noach, the son of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch. Rabbi Noach is an important link in the chain of various Chassidic dynasties, including Slonim, Kobrin, Koidenov, and Karlin. He taught that “a Jew who begins to question his emunah should have faith that he has faith! When he fails to feel the strength of that faith within, he should assure himself that the faith is there, but remains hidden and obscured.”[1] This is related to what was mentioned above above Yom Kippur.

A day later, on the 9th of Tishrei is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Avraham Aveli Gombiner, the Magen Avraham, one of the greatest halachic (Jewish law) authorities of all times. He was born in 1637 and was very weak and sickly as a child.[2] His writings also have a special connection to the spirit of Yom Kippur:

In paragraph 156 of Magen Avraham he writes, “It is a mitzvah for all men to love each Jew as himself, as it is written, ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18], and whoever hates a Jew in his heart transgresses a prohibition, for it is said, ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart’ [v.17]. When someone sins against his fellow, he should not keep a grudge in silence, but he should say, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ and he should not speak to him harshly, to the point of shaming him, but reprimand him in private, calmly, and with soft language.”[3]
Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Elazar Nisan of Drobitich (1854), son of the Yismach Moshe and father of the Yetev Lev of the Satmar-Sighet dynasties (9th of Tishrei); Rabbi Akiva (10th of Tishrei); and (sometimes) Rabbi Yitzchak Tzarfati (father of Rashi); Rabbi Avraham the Malach (“the Angel,” son of the Magid of Mezeritch, 12th of Tishrei), Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (the Rebbe Maharash, 4th Rebbe of Lubavitch, 13th of Tishrei), andd Rabbi Akiva Eiger (also 13th of Tishrei)

Furthermore, there is a tradition that on the 7th of Tishrei is the yahrzeit of Zevulun, the son of Yaakov, our patriarch.

[1] NETIVOT SHALOM (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein); The Burning Bush: Defining the Jewish Core
[3] Ibid.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Week 3 (Book 4): Pilgrimage and Friendship, Happiness and the Maggid of Kozhnitz

STORY OF CHANNAH: 3 And this man went up out of his city from year to year to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there priests unto the LORD.        

PIRKEI AVOT: He is called friend     

PROVERBS: Chapter 3

TZADDIKIM: Rav Yisrael Hopstein (the Maggid of Kozhnitz, 14th of Tishrei) and Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (15th of Tishrei)

Week 3 is the week of Sukkot.  The verse from the story of Channah speaks of three priests: Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas. The verse also speaks of Elkanah’s yearly pilgrimage to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish calendar, along with Passover and Shavuot. Rashi explains that Elkanah’s pilgrimage was unique:

And that man was wont to go up: This is the present tense. He would go up from one appointed season to another appointed season, to Shiloh. Midrash Aggadah (M.S. 1: 1,5, 7): The route he followed this year he did not follow the next year, in order to publicize (his pilgrimage) to the Israelites that they should do likewise.

Elkanah’s behavior was characteristic of that of a Tzadik. He served as a role model, and actually succeeded in bringing more pilgrims to Jerusalem in the process.

The Pirkei Avot section for this week explains that one that studies Torah for its own sake is called a “friend.” Interestingly, Elkanah’s behavior above exemplifies such friendship. In general, Sukkot is a time of much social interaction, in which we invite each other to our respective sukkot.

Chapter 3 of the Book of Proverbs contains the theme of peace, friendship and hospitality characteristic of Sukkot:

27. Do not withhold good from the one who needs it when you have power in your hand to do it.           
28. Do not say to your fellow, "Go and return, and tomorrow I will give," though you have it with you.               
29. Devise no harm against your fellow, when he dwells securely with you.           
30. Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, if he did you no harm.

This week, on the 14th of Tishrei, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Hopstein, the Maggid of Kozhnitz. The Kozhnitzer Maggid was known by his followers as “the second Baal Shem Tov,” so holy and special was his ways. He was born to his mother and father at a very old age after a blessing from the Baal Shem Tov himself. The story of how this blessing came about is a book in and of itself. The story involves his parents being rewarded for their Simcha (happiness) and for their dancing around the Shabat table, which is clearly connected with these days of Sukkot (as well as Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah in week 4):

You should know, that at the time the bookbinder [the Maggid's father] broke out in a joyous dance onf Friday night, expressing his gratitude to Hashem, there was a great 'simcha' (celebration) in all worlds, and the heavenly tribunal danced with and joined in his happiness. Now you can understand, the Baal Shem Tov explained to his students, why I smiled Friday night, because I saw the great simcha going on in the upper worlds, so it brought me a unique simcha.[1]  

Like the Magen Avraham, he also was sickly as a child, and was a tremendous prodigy. There is also a story that connects these two tzadikim:

The story goes that when the Maggid of Koznitz was young, he arranged to study Magen Avraham with a friend every day in the early morning. After the first session, their hearts were aflame even more than usual in their service of G-d, to that point that they were overcome by extreme enthusiasm. The Maggid decided to go to his Rav, Rabbi Shmelke of Nickelsburg, and ask him from where this great light came. When he went to see his Rav, as soon as he crossed the threshold of his home Rabbi Shmelke said to him, “Israel, I can see on your face that you studied Magen Avraham. That book generates a great light in the heart of the wise.” [2]

A day later, on the 15th of Tishrei, the first day of Sukkot, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (the father of Rabbi Noach, mentioned last week). His teachings are an essential part of Karlin Chassidism, as well as the other dynasties mentioned last week. One of the key elements of his teachings is the focus on happiness.[3]

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Mordechai of Nadvorna (15th of Tishrei), Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch ben R' Shlomo Shapiro of Munkach, author of Darkei Teshuva (1913) father of the Minchas Elazar (16th of Tishrei), and (sometimes this week and sometimes next week) Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (18th of Tishrei), Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (the Vilna Gaon, 19th of Tishrei), Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowitz (the Yid HaKadosh, the “Holy Jew” of P’shischa), and Rav Eliezer Papo (the “Peleh Yoetz,” 20th of Tishrei).

[1] http://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/1081/1/MQ47771.pdf
[2] http://www.hevratpinto.org/tzadikim_eng/093_rabbi_avraham_aveli_gombiner_the_magen_avraham.html
[3] http://asimplejew.blogspot.com/2008/05/question-answer-with-rabbi-shlomo.html

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Week 4 (Book 4): Thinking of Others, Feeling Beloved, and the Rebbes of Chortkov and Ribnitz

STORY OF CHANNAH: 4 And it came to pass upon a day, when Elkanah sacrificed, that he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions;

PIRKEI AVOT: beloved,         

PROVERBS: Chapter 4

TZADIKIM: Rabbi David Moshe Friedman (the first Chortkover Rebbe, 21st of Tishrei) and Rabbi Chaim Zanvil Abramowitz  (the Ribnitzer Rebbe, 24th of Tishrei)

Week 4 is the week of the end of Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.  The verse from the story of Channah is about how Elkanah would give portions of his sacrifices to Peninah and her sons and daughters. This parallels the idea of how on Sukkot, sacrifices are brought on behalf of all the nations. This verse is a prelude to the next, which speaks of how, nevertheless, he would give a double portion to Hannah, just as Hashem nevertheless appoints a special day following Sukkot, in which the sacrifices relate only to the Jewish people. Shmini Atzeret is compared to the time after all the guests of a great party go home, and only His beloved companion remains.

The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is exactly that: “beloved.” The adjective truly encapsulates the love and joy of this week.

Chapter 4 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of feeling “beloved” and not abandoning the Torah when learning it for its own sake:

6. Do not [leave] her, and she will preserve you; love her and she will guard you.    
7. The beginning of wisdom [is to] acquire wisdom, and with all your possession acquire understanding.        
8. Search for her, and she will exalt you; she will honor you when you embrace her.     9. She will give your head a wreath of grace; she will transmit to you a crown of glory. 10. Hearken, my son, and take my words, and years of life will increase for you.

This week, on the 21st of Tishrei, Hoshanah Rabbah, it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, the Rebbe of Chortkov, son of the Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin. Chortkov was known for its appeal to wealthy chassidim, and for serving Hashem through wealth, similar to the path of the Rizhiner himself. Bringing Hashem’s blessings into the physicality of this world is one of the themes of this Week as discussed in Book 3 and others.

Also (almost always) this week, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Chaim Zanvil Abramowitz, the Ribnitzer Rebbe, on the 24th of Tishrei. The Ribnitzer was a disciple of Rabbi Avraham Matisyahu of Shtefanesht, grandson of the Rebbe Yisrael of Rhizhin. The Ribnitzer Rebbe was a well known tzadik and performer of miracles, whose life seemed to be completely above this physical plane. For approximately 60 years, he fasted from Sabbath to Sabbath, and his times for prayer seemed to be above the limitations of space and time.

It is fascinating to think that such contrasting lifestyles could both represent the way of Rizhin, but that is the case. The Rizhiner Rebbe was himself a descendant of Rabbi Avraham “the Angel,” and of his father the Maggid of Mezritch, both known for their spiritual, heavenly existence.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Pollonoye (21st of Tishrei), Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Premishlan (21st of Tishrei), and (sometimes) Rabbi Levi of Berditchev (25th of Tishrei), Rabbi Moshe Sofer (25th of Tishrei) and Rabbi Asher son of Rabbi Aharon (HaGadol), the Stoliner Rebbe (26th of Tishrei).


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