Weekly Cycle

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Week 48 (Book 3): Manasseh and Asking Hashem to Forget

BESHALACH: 7. He named the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarreling] because of the quarrel of the children of Israel and because of their testing the Lord, saying, Is the Lord in our midst or not? 8. Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.  
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 8. that the Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, and he said to them, "Thus says the Lord, G-d of Israel; I brought you up from Egypt, and I brought you out of the house of bondage. 9. And I saved you from the hand of Egypt, and from the hand of all your oppressors; and I drove them out from before you, and I have given you their land.
TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 48 – Reforms of Yochanan Kohen Gadol

Week 48 is the second week of Elul, also including a day of Rosh Chodesh. Because of the people’s quarreling and testing of Hashem, doubting whether Hashem was in their midst, Amalek came and fought against them. (See Book 1, on how the scorpion in week 48 represents the coldness of Amalek) This ultimately brought them to cry out to G-d and battle against Amalek’s G-dlessness.
The Tanach verses for this week include G-d sending the people a prophet in response to their crying out to Him. Because the people in the times of Gideon cried for mercy, G-d responded with mercy and reassurance.
Daf Mem Chet (Folio 48) of Sotah describes the reforms made by Yochanan Kohen Gadol. The daf also describes a prohibition against singing after the destruction of the Temple, the loss of Ruach HaKodesh, and various spiritual declines since the Temple was destroyed and the Sanhedrin abolished. A general theme again the incredible need for teshuvah.
King Menasseh, the son of Hezekiah, was extremely evil and fell deeply into idolatry. Worse, he led the people of Judah to perform idolatry as well. However, after King Menasseh was taken captive a tortured, he did sincere teshuvah, and when he returned to the throne he acknowledged Hashem and tried to bring the people back. Menashe means to “forget.” In Elul, we ask Hashem to “forget” our inappropriate behavior throughout the year.
The forty-eighth week is connected to conquering the Chivites. Their name appears to come from the Aramaic word for snake: Chiviah. The Chivites are connected to the negative side of Yesod: being self-centered and overly concerned with one’s own pleasures. General, the perfecting of the sefirah of Yesod involves the control of one’s sexual impulses, exemplified by Yosef HaTzadik.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week 49 (Book 3): Amon and Raising the Lowest of Sparks

BESHALACH: 9. So Moses said to Joshua, Pick men for us, and go out and fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand. 10. Joshua did as Moses had told him, to fight against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur ascended to the top of the hill.
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 10. And I said to you, 'I am the Lord your G-d, you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.' But you have not obeyed me." 11. And the angel of the Lord came, and sat under the oak which was in Ophra, that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite; and his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to be enabled to flee from Midian.
TALMUD SOTAH: DAF 49 – the power of prayer and the times of Mashiach.

Week 49 is the third week of Elul. The Torah section for this week is related to the fight against Amalek, who represents the worst kind of kelipah, impurity. This fight was physically led by Joshua, but spiritually by Moshe’s prayer, with the aid of Aharon and Hur. Each of these figures represent a different aspect of the Jewish people. Moshe is Netzach, Aharon Hod, Joshua Yesod, and Hur, Miriam’s husband from the tribe of Judah, is Malchut. All of these characteristics had to work together in order to defeat Amalek. (See Book 1, on how the week 49, the culmination of the Omer count, represents the dissipation of kelipah)
The Tanach verses also speak of the fight against Canaanite nations and their ideology. The leader to fight against their oppression is also introduced here: Gideon. There are very strong parallels between Moshe and Gideon, both in their humility, and questioning their appointment. Gideon also has aspects of Malchut, because he is the only judge in which his son was also appointed a leader, just like a king. Gideon is from the tribe of Menashe son of Joseph, which is related to Yesod. Rashi explains that the prophet who came to speak to the nation was Pinchas, who was a kohen, who is connected to the sefirah of Hod.

Daf Mem Tet (Folio 49) of Sotah describes the power of prayer. The daf also describes the various spiritual declines since the destruction of the Temple. It depicts in great length how certain aspects of holiness and saintliness were lost after certain rabbis died. It also describes the problems of the generation of Mashiach. These problems will cause us to ultimately cry out to G-d and be saved. This is what we are meant to do in Elul as well, as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah.

King Amon, the son of Menasheh, is considered the most evil of all the kings of Judah. Unlike his father, he did not do teshuvah.  He “not only worshipped all his idols but also burned the Torah and committed incest with his own mother (Sanhedrin 103:6).”[1] Fortunately, his rule only lasted two years, because he was murdered in a conspiracy. Amon’s reign’s sinfulness is a precursor for the saintliness of his son Josiah’s reign, discussed next week. Therefore, we see that the above is also related to the theme of teshuvah of  the month of Elul.

The forty-ninth week is connected to conquering the Jebusites. Their name comes from Jebus, the city conquered by King David and made into Israel’s capital and the future home of the Beit HaMikdash, Jerusalem. Jebus appears related to the Hebrew word bushah, shame. Yerushalayim is a combination of the words “fear” (Yirah) and “peace” (Shalom).
The Jebusites are connected to the negative side of Malchut, which means kingship, and is connected with the power of speech. The negative side of Malchut therefore is evil speech, Lashon Harah. Lashon Harah represents the very opposite of the above qualities. Someone who speaks Lashon Harah is shameless and does not properly fear Heaven. It also causes quarelling and social ostracism, the exact opposite of peace.

King David witnessed the power of Lashon Harah in his interactions with King Saul. King Saul’s hatred for David arose from others speaking positively of David in front of him (this is known as Avak Lashon Harah). Also, Doeg’s Lashon Harah caused the annihilation of the entire priestly city of Nov. King Saul’s own soldiers were not successful against the Philistines due to their slander of David.[2] The best example of avoiding evil speech comes from David’s ancestor Tamar, who refrained from accusing Judah even though she’d be thrown in a fire and burned alive. From Tamar our sages learn that it is better to throw oneself in the fire than to shame someone in public (from the Hebrew word bushah).
The conquest of the seventh nation, the Jebussites, and the conquest of Jerusalem represents a final, crowning step in the conquest of the land, just as forty-nine is the final day of the counting of the omer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Week 50 (Book 3): Josiah and Emunah

BESHALACH: 11. It came to pass that when Moses would raise his hand, Israel would prevail, and when he would lay down his hand, Amalek would prevail. 12. Now Moses hands were heavy; so they took a stone and placed it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one from this [side], and one from that [side]; so he was with his hands in faith until sunset.   
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 12. And the angel of the Lord appeared and said to him, "The Lord is with you, mighty man of valor." 13. And Gideon said to him, "Please my lord, if the Lord be with us, why then has all this befallen us? And where are all His wonders which our forefathers told us, saying, 'Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?' But now the Lord has forsaken us, and He has delivered us into the hand of Midian."

Week 50 is the week of Chai Elul. The Torah section for this week continues to describe the fight against Amalek. The key ingredient in the fight is Emunah, faith. It is well known that Amalek represents lack of faith, and has the same numerical value as the word safek, doubt. Our sages teach us that it was not Moshe’s hands that won the war, but rather when the Jewish people would turn their face towards Heaven, in an act of faith, that is when they would gain the upper hand.
The Tanach section for this week shows Gideon’s doubts and a relative lack of emunah. These doubts are in essence the same kind of doubt that Amalek sought to instill. How could it be that the people of G-d, with G-d Himself on their side, fall prey to the attacks of another nation? The answer, of course, is that it is due to our sins, and that it is only in this way, partially reliving the exile and the exodus originally experienced in Egypt that we come to teshuvah, which is the theme of of the month of Elul, especially Chai Elul.

After completing the tractate of Sotah, which corresponds to the Counting of the Omer, we now move to the tractate most associated with it, Nazir, which represents the three weeks connected to Shavuot as well as Passover of the coming year. The Nazir is also deeply connected to the teshuvah of Elul.
Sotah follows Nazir in the order of the Mishnah, and the reason for this is addressed in the opening pages of both tractates. The discussion makes note of the fact that in the Torah itself, the sections on Sotah and Nazir are side-by-side, although there it is Sotah, not Nazir, which comes first. The reason give for the juxtaposition in the Torah (which is the basis for the juxtaposition in the Talmud) is that, “one that sees a Sotah in her disgrace (kilkulah) should make a vow to abstain (become a Nazir) from wine.” The reason the order in the Talmud is reversed is because the legal discussion goes from vows (which are similar to Nazir) and only then turns to other related topics. The same is true regarding the two orders here. Passover comes before the omer, which represents the “vows” we take to be free and to receive the Torah, which begins the omer process. On Shavuot, once one has seen the Sotah in its disgrace (in other words, once he’s broken (kilkul) his animal behaviors and his Ruach Shtus of Kelipah during the counting of the omer, he is ready to move to an even higher level, to become a Nazir from wine, to crown himself (from the word Nezer) from wine of Torah, which is given to us on Shavuot. On Shavuot we received two crowns, one for Na’aseh and one for Nishmah. (See Book 1, Week 36)

The Torah states regarding the nazir, "for the crown of his G-d is on his head" (Bamidbar 6:7). Ibn Ezra explains this to mean: "He has a crown of royalty on his head." Similarly, the Torah calls him "holy," as it says: "He is holy to Hashem." (6:8)[1] There are three types of people who are crowned with a "nezer" in the Tanach: the King, the Kohen Gadol, and the Nazir. The first to be called this way is the Kohen Gadol (Shemot 29:6; Vayikra 21:12), followed by the Nazir himself (Bamidbar 6:7), and the King. (II Shmuel 1:10) Interestingly, both the King and the Kohen Gadol have strict rules about how often they are to cut their hair. [2] The very first mention of a Nazir is regarding Joseph, who is called the “Nazir of his brothers.” (Bereishit 49:26)
The Reisha Rav, HaGaon Rav Aaron Levine, explains how Joseph’s life in fact parallels that of the Nazir. Rav Levine divides Joseph’s life in three phases: 1) the conspiracy of his brothers which almost led to his death; 2) as a slave in Egypt in the house of Potiphar, where he has to stave off Potiphar’s wife’s advances, which were due to his physical beauty, including his long hair; 3) the events leading up to his appointment as viceroy and meeting his brothers again, when he had wine for the first time in 22 years. Rav Levine parallels these three phases with the main three prohibitions of the Nazir: 1) not being in contact with the dead; 2) letting one’s hair grow; and 3) not drinking wine.[3]  

For the purpose of these upcoming three weeks related to Shavuot, Nazir is divided into the sections of 22 dapim. They roughly parallel a division of the chapters of the tractate into 3 sections: chapters 1 – 3 (daf 2 to 20); 4 – 6 (daf 21 – 46); 7 – 9 (daf 47 – 66).
Dapim Beit through Kaf Beit (Folios 2 - 22) of Nazir (which mostly cover chapter 1 – 3), describe the kinds of vows and expressions that make a person a Nazir; instances in which the vow has to be recommenced; and how Naziriteship only applies in the Land of Israel. (This parallels the first years of Joseph’s life in the Land of Israel).

King Josiah, the son of Amon, is considered the most righteous of all the kings of Judah since David. He completely repudiated the ways of his father, repaired the Temple, and elevated the spiritual stature of the people in an unparalleled way. (It is appropriate that he be the king mentioned for the week of Shavuot/Chai Elul). His greatness and righteousness shone forth from time he took the reigns at the tender age of 8 (this also parallels with the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe’s childhood). Despite strengthening the people spiritually and militarily, Josiah was ultimately defeated. In what appeared to be a preventable death, Josiah did not allow free passage for Pharaoh on his way to war with another power, overestimating how much the people had repented. Josiah was thus killed in battle, and the Jewish people  were once again burdened by an Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh Necho.
In the fiftieth week, we also move from working on the emotional characteristics to those of the intellect. This is connected to expanding our territory, and is related to conquering the Kenites.

The Kenites are connected to Chochmah. The name appears to be related to the Hebrew word kinyan, which means “acquisition,” and of all sefirot, kinyan is associated with Chochmah. In fact, the Hebrew word for elder/sage is Zaken, which stands for Zeh She Kanah Chochmah (he who acquired wisdom). The Alter Rebbe, whose birthday is this week, is called in Hebrew, “Rabbeinu HaZaken,” our wise/elder rabbi.

The Kenites are the descendants of Yitro, and historically had good relations with the Jewish people in biblical times. Yitro himself represents both the positive and negative aspects of the trait of Chochmah. Before converting, Yitro engaged in every type of idol worship, and was deeply familiar with Chochmat HaGoyim, the wisdom of the nations. His wisdom made his recognition of G-d all the more powerful. Yael is married to Chever the Keinite, and among her descendants would be the source of most of our Chochmah today, Rabbi Akiva. The Midrash states that Yael became pregnant from Sisera, and that from this line of descendants would come Rabbi Akiva. This is similar to Yitro, who went from having the Chochmah related to the opposite of the service of Hashem, to the ultimate service of Hashem. Rabbi Akiva’s life also draws a similar parallel – he was unlearned until the age of 40, and then became the greatest sage of all times.

[1] https://www.kby.org/english/torat-yavneh/view.asp?id=3781
[2] www.seliyahu.org.il/parasha/par5757/epar57037.rtf
[3] http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/eylevine/5761mikeitz.htm

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Week 51 (Book 3): Using Understanding (Binah) to Strengthen our Faith in the Merciful King

BESHALACH: 13. Joshua weakened Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.  14. The Lord said to Moses, Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it into Joshua's ears, that I will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens 
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 14. And the Lord turned toward him and said, "Go, with this your strength, and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" 15. And he said to Him, "Please O Lord, with what shall I save Israel? Behold, my thousand is the poorest in Menasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's household."
GENERATIONS FROM ADAM TO THE LAST KING OF JUDAH:  Jehoiakim, also known as Eliakim

Week 51 also falls within the month of Elul. The Torah section for this week describes how Joshua weakened Amalek, and how Moshe is told to inscribe in the Torah and recite into Joshua’s ears that Hashem will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek. Hashem’s statement and Moshe’s words to Joshua are meant to encourage all those in doubt that Hashem will certainly destroy Amalek and punish them for their impudence. As mentioned previously, Amalek has the same numerical value as safek, doubt. This is the time of the year in which we strengthen our faith in G-d and prepare to crown Him as our King. 
The Tanach section for this week again shows Gideon’s doubts and feeling of weakness. Like the section from the Torah, Hashem gives Gideon strength and encouragement, while appealing to Gideon's logic and understanding. There is also an interesting parallel between Gideon who is from Menasheh and Joshuah who is from Efraim, both descendants of Joseph.
Dapim Kaf Gimmel through Mem Dalet (Folios 23 - 44) of Nazir (which mostly cover chapters 4 – 6), describe cases in which others join in someone’s vow, nullifying a wife’s vow, and other laws relating to women and their vows or power to annul the vow of others. The tractate then discusses vows made by mistake (such as vows made without known about the destruction of the Temple), as well as other mistakes Nazirites might make, trespassing the conditions of their vows. This parallels the second phase of Joseph’s life, when he mistakenly grew his hair and made himself attractive to Potiphar’s wife; it also parallels the further personal crisis Joseph endured, after being falsely accused and imprisoned. Nullifying vows is one of the most important preparations for Rosh Hashanah.
Prior to Jehoiakim, his brother Jehoahaz reigned briefly for three months. He displeased Pharaoh Necho, and was replaced with Jehoiakim, who was renamed Eliakim. Eliakim was lax in his piety, and did not help the people return to Hashem. Judah was engulfed by greater and greater corruption and depravity. (See Book 1, how week 51’s Wiesel is related to these qualities. Chuldah is also the prophetess that foretold of the destruction of Judah to King Josiah). Eliakim angrily refused to listen to the prophets, and instead sought to kill both Jeremiah and Baruch. He ultimately was forced to submit to Babylonia (who had defeated Egypt) and pay heavy taxes. After three years, he rebelled. The rebellion was quashed and he died in captivity. Jehoiakim failure to listen to the prophets was his greatest folly.
Both Jehoiakim and Eliakim mean “G-d will establish.” The only difference in the two names is the name of G-d used. The name “El,” in contrast to the name “Hashem,” is a reference to the thirteen attributes of mercy and is particularly connected to the month of Elul. (Alter Rebbe, Likkutei Torah, Re’eh) Throughout the month of Elul, these attributes are constantly repeated during Selichot (prayers of forgiveness and repentance said all month by Sefardi communities, and in the week prior to Rosh Hashanah in Ashkenazi ones). Elul itself begins with the letters of the name “El.”
The fifty-first week is related to conquering the Kenizites. The root of their name is Zaken spelled backwards. As mentioned previously, Zaken, translated as elder or sage, stands for “Zeh She Kanah Chochmah,” he who has acquired wisdom. The Kenizim stand for that which is the complementary “mirror” of Chochmah, namely Binah, understanding.
There are at least two very famous righteous leaders whose name are related to these people: Caleb the Kenizite and his brother Othniel ben Kenaz. Both are also known for their territorial conquests. Caleb, along with Joshua, was the only spy who came back from the Land of Israel with a positive report. Othniel ben Kenaz conquered Kiriat Sefer, and thereby merited to marry Caleb’s daughter, Achsah. (Joshua 15:17) Both also embody the attribute of Binah, a form of intellectual conquest.[1]
Caleb used his understanding to deal with the other spies with great cunning, thereby avoiding an even greater disaster. Caleb’s name contains the word “Lev,” heart, which is closely connected to the attribute of Binah.
Othniel ben Kenaz was the first Judge of the Jewish people. He was also the one to restore the Jewish laws that had been forgotten by Joshua during the mourning period of Moshe. Othniel ben Kenaz used deductive reasoning, the main attribute of Binah, to be able to decipher those laws.

[1] It seems interesting that the words Achsah, Kenaz, and Sefer are phonetically quite similar to the names for Ashkenazim and Sefardim.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Week 52 (Book 3): Crowning G-d as Our King

BESHALACH: 15. Then Moses built an altar, and he named it The Lord is my miracle.  16. And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal, [that there shall be] a war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation.
TANACH VERSES FOLLOWING THE HAFTORAH: 16. And the Lord said to him, "Because I shall be with you, and you shall strike Midian as one man." 17. And he said to Him, "If I have now found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is You that speaks with me.

Week 52 is the week of Rosh Hashanah. The last verse in Beshalach describes how Moshe built an altar and named it “Hashem [is] my miracle.” It also mentions how Amalek is an impediment to Hashem’s throne, literally an obstacle to His Kingship, which must be fought against in every generation. Rosh Hashanah is about crowning Hashem as King, and therefore this description of the fight against Amalek is all the more significant. Again, Amalek represents doubt, and Rosh Hashanah is the time of the ultimate certainty in our faith in G-d; it is when we crown Him as our King.
The parallel Tanach section continues its connection to Amalek in that Hashem attempts to further allay Gideon’s doubts, even though Gideon’s lack of complete emunah is self-evident by his request that Hashem grant him a sign. Ultimately Hashem does grant Gideon a sign and his faith is restored. There is a parallel between altar Moshe built and the sign asked by Gideon. In reality, both are signs and testaments; one is meant for the future, testifying to a past miraculous battle, while the other is meant to confirm a recent past assurance, testifying to future miraculous battle that is still to take place. These are also two dimensions of Rosh Hashanah – one related to the year that passed, and the other to the year that is to come.
Dapim Mem Heh through Samech Vav (Folios 45 - 66) of Nazir (which mostly cover chapters 7 – 9), make comparisons between the Nazir and the Kohen Gadol and other rules regarding someone impure that is to enter the Temple; it also discusses rule in the case where there is doubt as to whether someone became unclean; it also discusses the Nazirite vows of women and slaves; the laws of the Metzorah, and whether Shmuel HaNavi was a Nazir. This parallels the third part of Joseph’s life, where he attains a position of power and stature, and is also responsible for the affairs of Egypt, in which essentially the entire population becomes his slaves. References to the Kohen Gadol and Shmuel HaNavi also appear related to Rosh Hashanah, given that Hashem answered Chanah’s prayers for a child on Rosh Hashanah, and that answer was conveyed by Eli the Kohen Gadol.
Like Jehoiakim, Mattaniah’s rule was preceded by a brief three-month rule by his nephew, Jehoahaz, also known as Jeconiah. Jerusalem was then besieged by Babylonia, who conquered the city and exiled all the nobles as well as most of the rest of the population, leaving only the very poorest behind. Jeconiah was also exiled, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed his uncle Mattaniah as a tributary, changing his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah also did not show signs of repentance, and he too rebelled against the emperor. Zedekiah threw Jeremiah in prison; later Jeremiah was also thrown in a mudpit, and almost died before being saved by the king. Zedekiah refused to heed Jeremiah’s call to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. The rebellion was again quashed, but this time Jerusalem was devastated and the Temple was destroyed. The king tried to flee but he was captured. His children were murdered in front of him and his eyes were put out. Similarly, on Rosh Hashanah, one cannot run away from one’s fate. One must be ready to face the King and be judged.
This also appears to be the significance behind the last king of Judah’s change in names. Mattaniah means, “G-d’s gift,” while Zedekiah means “G-d’s justice.” Rosh Hashanah is primarily about being judged by G-d for our deeds over the past year. (Eventhough Rosh Hashanah is also about Chesed and G-d giving us life and sustenance for the coming year. See Week 1, also of Rosh Hashanah).
The fifty-second week is related to conquering the Kadmonites. Their name is associated to the word “kadmon,” original primordial. This term is often used in Kabbalah as a reference to the beginning of Creation, and the primordial forces of existence. Adam Kadmon is a supernal Divine revelation that is connected to Keter (crown), the intellectual sefirah for this week, known also as Da’at, knowledge. Adam Kadmon is also a reference to Adam, the first man, created on Rosh Hashanah. The Nachash Kadmoni, the primordial snake, is connected to the essence of the Yetzer Harah, which will ultimately be destroyed with the coming of Mashiach. Only then will we be able to fully crown Hashem as our King (See also Book 1, Week 52).


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