Weekly Cycle

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Week 46 (Book 2): Mordechai and the Quality of "Listens and Adds"

HAAZINU: And he said to them, "Set your hearts to all of the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah. (Deuteronomy 32:46)

HAFTORAH: The strangers will wilt, and become lame from their bondage. (II Samuel 22:46)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Listens and Adds (Shomeah Umosif);

PROPHET: Mordechai Bilshan


Week Forty-Six is the last week of the month of Av. It also includes the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson. Haazinu’s verse states that Moshe told the people to set their hearts to his words in order to command their children to observe the Torah. Again, the words of Haazinu appear related to hearing properly. Rashi notes that ”set your hearts,” is also a reference to the eyes and the ears (connected to the months of Tammuz and Av).

Rav Levi Yitzchak was the perfect example of someone that set the words of the Torah to heart, and commanded and trained his child, the Rebbe, with utmost perfection. This again is the reminiscent of the song of Perek Shirah for this week in Book 1, in which the prolific creeping creatures speak of children.

Another aspect of the creeping creatures, that of total nullification and humility, is reflected in the Haftorah verse. The verse speaks of the enemies wilting before King David. 
The quality for this week is “listens and adds” (shomeah umosif). We come back once again to the main rectification (tikkun) of the month of Av: the ability to listen properly and positively.

This week’s prophet is Mordechai.  Mordechai and the redemption of Purim also represent the idea of “listening and adding.” Mordechai listened to a conversation of those that wished to assassinate King Achashverosh and reported the conversation to Queen Esther. Thanks to him, the conspiracy was toppled. Mordechai’s words were added to the chronicles of the king and, later, when the future of the Jewish people hung in the balance, Achashverosh checked the chronicles and saw that was the one Mordechai had saved him, but that he had not been rewarded for his actions. This was the crucial turning point in the Megillah’s account. Esther’s role in recounting Mordechai’s words (as well as specifically attributing those words to Mordechai) is later mentioned as a quality that brings about the redemption.
Mordechai is the last known prophet of the 48 ones listed in the Talmud. Esther is the last female prophet. G-d willing, she will be discussed in week 52.
The Levitical City for this week is 'Ain. It means "spring" in Hebrew. Today, a famous place in Israel called "Ayin" is Ein Gedi, close to the Dead Sea, among many other springs throughout the Land. A spring is an indication of something much deeper, coming from deep below the ground. One must pay close attention (Ayin also means "eye," a window into the soul). 'Ayin also seems related to a similar word, Ayin spelled with the letter Alef, which means nothingness, representing nullification. Like the Prolific Creatures in Book 1, our salvation comes from humility, our sense of Ayin, as in the verse, "Essah Eynai el heHarim, M'Ayin Yavoh Ezri..." (Psalm 121) One possible translation is, "I turn my eyes (Ayin in plural) to the mountains, and my salvation [from Hashem, as explained in the following verse] comes from [my sense of] Ayin.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Week 47 (Book 2): Mashiach ben Yosef and Learning in Order to Teach


HAAZINU: For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it." (Deuteronomy 32:47)

HAFTORAH: The Lord lives, and blessed be my Rock; And exalted be the G-d, [who is] my rock of salvation. (II Samuel 22:47)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Learns in Order to Teach (Lomed Al Menat Lelamed)

PROPHET: Unknown / Oded (Mashiach ben Yosef)

LEVITICAL CITY:  Future City of Refuge (which will be in the Tribe of Gad on the other side of the Jordan River)

The forty-seventh week of the year is that of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the month of teshuvah (penitence and return to G-d), and is represented by the Tribe of Gad. Gad was a strong tribe, and stands for the idea that the fate of a Jew is not predetermined, but rather is dependent on his or her return to G-d. The verse of Haazinu reflects this idea, as it states, “For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land…”
The Haftorah’s verse also has the focus on life. It starts by stating, “The Lord lives,” and states how it is by clinging to G-d, the Rock, that one is saved. The theme of life during the month of Elul is very important, as it is a preparation for the Day of Judgment on Rosh Hashanah. For chassidim, Elul is known also for Chai Elul, the “Life of Elul,” the birthdays of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe said that during Elul, we feel that the King is in the field. In other words, we feel even more just how alive He is.
The quality of this week is learns in order to teach (lomed al menat lelamed). Only by being prepared to teach what we learned does that teaching really become alive. The Kabbalah teaches that this is the difference between the Dead Sea (which receives water but does not give), and the Sea of Galilee, which is full of life because it receives but also gives to the Jordan river. In Chassidism, Torah is always compared to water exactly for this reason, because it goes from a high place to a low place.
Furthermore, it is usually only when you are ready to teach that you come to realize whether you’ve learned anything at all! Even before students ask questions and sharpen your knowledge, the process of taking in information when you hope one day to teach it is much more proactive.
This quality is appropriate for Rosh Chodesh Elul because Teshuvah is first and foremost and example of self-evaluation and proactive learning (the latter to be discussed more next week). As mentioned previously, in Elul is when “The King is in the field,” when Hashem leaves His castle, so to speak, and is out in the field visiting His subjects. It is also time for us to go to the field and talk to Him. In order to know what to say, and put into words the things about which we need to confess, we need the quality of “learning in order to teach,” even if in this case the only ones that need teaching is ourselves.
In his list of the 48 prophets, Rashi states that he does not know the 47th or the 48th. This is also where states that if one does not consider Daniel to be a prophet one should then include Shemayah. This appears to be inconsistent because how can Rashi “in the same breath” state that he is missing two prophets from his list, yet mention in an extra prophet in the case prophet number 38 should not be considered one. There appears to be more to this than meets the eye, and this book humbly suggests that prophets 47 and 48 are none other than Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. These were prophets that were “unknown” to Rashi in the sense that they had not yet come to the world.
Rabbeinu Chananel states that the missing two prophets are Oded and Chanani, both of which are mentioned along with the names of their children who are specifically mentioned as prophets. The Vilna Gaon supports this view. What is interesting about these two names is that they are very much connected with Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. Chananiah is one of the names given for Mashiach (Ben David) in the Talmud. Oded comes from the word “Od”, which means to increase, similar to the name Yosef, whose name’s root also relats to adding. When Rachel named Yosef, she said, “Yoseph Hashem ben acher,” “May Hashem add for me another son.” The Yalkut Shimoni explains that ben acher also means “ben acharono shel olam,” one that will come at the end of time, the “meshu'ach milchamah,” “the anointed one [like Mashiach] of war,” a descendant of Yosef. There is also a well known verse in the Torah which states, “Od Yosef Chai” (Yosef is still alive). Yosef also asks his brothers “HaOd Avi Chai?”-  Is my father still alive?

Mashiach Ben Yosef is also particularly connected to the Perek Shirah animal of this week mentioned in Book 1, the snake. The word for snake, nachash in Hebrew, has the same numerical value as the word MashiachMashiach will come to the world to remove the impurities introduced by the snake.
In addition, the snake appears to be specifically linked to Mashiach ben Yosef. Yosef had been thrown into an “empty pit without water,” which Rashi explains to mean that it had not water, but had snakes and scorpions. Yosef was also able to withstand the seduction of Potiphar, sexual sin being the prime example of the hot venom of the snake (compared to the cold venom of the scorpion, discussed next week). He maintained his foundation, and is therefore called Yosef HaTzadik.

Later, when Yosef was still pretending not to recognize his brothers, he tells them, “Haloh Yedatem Ki Nachesh Yenachesh Ish Asher Kamoni,” which is usually translated as "Did you not know that a man like me performs divination?" This sentence could also be understood as, "Did you not know that a man like me, Mashiach, will be able to fight the power of the snake?” We also see that in the Torah, it is Yosef that has the power to fight Esau, who in Kabbalah represents the embodiment of the supernal snake.
Mashiach Ben Yosef also will be able to withstand the temptations and the hot venom of those that stand in the way of G-d’s revelation in this lowly world. The quality of Mashiach is also that of a teacher and the concept of lilmod al menat lelamed (learning in order to teach). His teachings will be so lofty that he will even teach the Patriarchs, yet he will also reach out to the simplest of Jews. (Hayom Yom for the 1st of Menachem AvMashiach Ben Yosef will reveal the truth of G-d and rid the world of the lies of the snake.

The greatest example of someone who’s life represented the ideals of Mashiach Ben Yosef is the Frierdiker Rebbe, the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak. The Rebbe wrote extensively on how the life of the Frierdiker Rebbe paralled the life of Yosef. Furthermore, the Frierdiker Rebbe faced down the evil powers of Esau, exemplified by Communism (and to some extent Nazism), and prevailed. The values he championed are still alive today, and Chabad Chassidism is alive and well, while both Communism and Nazism are essentially dead. In Book 1, animals for week 47 and 48, the snake and scorpion, parallel Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. Esau is represented by the snake, a “hot” yetzer harah, which Mashiach ben Yosef, who has the spark of Yosef, is able to fight.The Rebbe Rayatz also emphasized the idea of learning in order to teach, and teaching every Jew. If you know the Alef-Beis, teach it to your fellow Jew.
The levitical city for this week is also unknown. It is one of the additional cities to be added on the other side of the Jordan River, once Mashiach comes and the borders of Israel are expanded. The Tribe of Gad, which represents the month of Elul, also has its territory on the other side of the Jordan.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Week 48 (Book 2): Mashiach Ben David and Learning in Order to Practice

HAAZINU: And the Lord spoke to Moses on that very day, saying, (Deuteronomy 32:48)

HAFTORAH: The G-d who takes vengeance for me; And brings down peoples under me. (II Samuel 22:48)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Learns in order to Practice (Lomed Al Menat La’asot)

PROPHET: Unknown / Chanani (Mashiach ben David)

LEVITICAL CITY: Future City of Refuge (which will be in the Tribe of Gad on the other side of the Jordan River)

Week Forty-Eight is the second of the month of Elul, yet also includes the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. The verse of Haazinu are of how G-d spoke to Moshe on that very day. Elul is about understanding that we are to live in the present, to make changes now, for a better judgment on Rosh Hashanah. Similarly, Haftorah’s verse for this week is in the present, unlike most of the rest of the Haftorah, which is either in the past or in the future.

The quality of this week also emphasizes the theme of the previous week, to be proactive in one’s learning and in one’s behavior: one “learns in order to practice” (lomed al menat la’asot). Our Teshuvah, return to G-d, during the month of Elul, must ultimately lead to a change in actual physical deed.
As explained in the previous week, the prophet for this week is said to be “unknown” by Rashi. Rabbeinu Chananel and the Vilna Gaon claim that it is “Chanani,” although we have no information about Chanani other than that he was the father of another prophet. As also explained last week, it is highly improbable that Rashi knew only 46 of the 48 prophets, especially given that he even suggests listing another prophet, Shemayah, in the case that Daniel should not be counted. Therefore, there is a distinct possibility that these two “unknown” prophets are referred to this way by Rashi because they had not yet come in Rashi’s time: Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David.
One of the names given for Mashiach Ben David is Chanina. Another sage with this name, Chanina Ben Dosa, is mentioned in the Talmud as the quintessential example of a Tzadik Yesod Olam (the righteous one that is the foundation for the entire world): “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) Chanina comes from the word “chen,” which is related to both mercy and grace. Rebbe Nachman teaches that Mashiach’s main weapon is prayer, and we learn how to pray from Chanah, whose name also comes from the word chen.
Yet, despite Mashiach’s focus on prayer and teaching Torah (mentioned last week), we know that ultimately the Messianic times will come when there are physical changes to the reality in which we live. That is one of the essencial aspects of the concept of malchut (kingship) and of King David himself, who was involved physically transforming the world for the better. As the Rebbe would always state, “HaMa’aseh Hu Ha’Ikar,” the main thing is the deed. The above is closely related to the quality for this week, to learn in order to do, to practice (lomed al menat la’asot).
In Week 48 of Book I, the Perek Shirah animal is the scorpion, a reference to the evil inclination and impurity related to coldness and indifference (a scorpion’s venum is cold). The scorpion is also likely a reference to Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people, who strikes “at the tail” of the camp (those least connected to the Torah), with “its tail,” as the verse states:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt. Who met you on the way and attacked the weak ones, who were straggling [“tailing”] after you, and you were faint and weary and did not fear G-d.” (Deut. 25:17,18)
Rabbi Avraham Kahn further explains:
The Hebrew word for "meeting" used in this connection can also be translated as "cooling". The nations were afraid of the Jewish people but the cynicism of Amalek "cooled them down". Rashi compares the cynic to somebody jumping into a hot bath. Although he got burned, he nevertheless cooled it down for others, proving that it was possible to survive somewhat to jump into the hot water. Amalek jumped into the hot bath for no reason other than to "cool down" the Jewish people.[1]
While Mashiach Ben Yosef’s task appears to be more related to fighting against the “hot” impurity of the snake, Mashiach Ben David appears more connected to fighting the coldness and indifference of the scorpion, although the two are clearly related. Here is Rabbi Ginsburgh explanation of the scorpion:
Our sages teach us that the scorpion (עַקְרָב) is the deadliest member of the general category of poisonous creatures whose archetypal figure is the primordial snake of Eden. The Hebrew word for "scorpion," derives from the word meaning "heel" (עַקֵב) as is said: "And you [the snake] shall bite him [man] at the heel" (Genesis 3:15). Thus the scorpion symbolizes the consummate "bite" of the snake at the heel of man.
While the poison of the snake is considered "hot," the poison of the scorpion is considered "cold." The Mashiach is the one and only soul who can overcome, kill, and ultimately revive the primordial snake (in order to convert it to good). (The soul of Mashiach and his continuous state of consciousness manifest the ultimate rectification of "heat," "burning" solely in his love for God and Israel, as well as that of "cold"-absolutely "cold" to the false vanities of this world.) This is the secret of the well known gematria that "Mashiach" (מָשִׁיחַ) equals "snake" (נָחָשׁ).[2]
Every quality can be used for good or for bad. Love and fear, passion and indifference all have their proper place.
It is worth also looking at how the teachings for this week and the past one relate to previous sections of Pirkei Avot:
Rabbi Eliezer would say: The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger. Repent one day before your death. Warm yourself by the fire of the sages, but be beware lest you be burned by its embers; for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals. (II:10)
Rabbi Eliezer tells us to repent one day before our death – given that no one knows when they are going to die, repentance should take place every day (especially during Elul). Interestingly, Rabbi Eliezer then turns to the idea of connecting to the sages, yet how one should be careful about his/her dealings with them. As the Talmud states, “If one merits it, the Torah is an elixir of life; if one does not merit it, the Torah becomes a potion of death." (Yoma 72b) This is said particularly regarding someone who studies Torah [and treats Torah scholars] without proper fear of G-d – someone who is cold and indifferent, like the scorpion, like Amalek above.
This in fact ties in to the other Pirkei Avot statement related to the qualities necessary to acquire the Torah of the past two weeks:
Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi would say: One who learns Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to learn and teach. One who learns in order to do, is given the opportunity to learn, teach, observe and do. (IV:5)
Finally, it is also interesting that both weeks 47 and 48 are weeks of Rosh Chodesh (“head of the month”), almost always the only time this happens during the year. This parallels the two “heads” of the Jewish people, Mashiach Ben Yosef and Mashiach Ben David. This issue is thoroughly addressed in the appendix of Book I, part of which provided below:
This duality in the Jewish calendar is reflected in the Jewish people itself and in their two prototypical leaders: Judah and Joseph. As mentioned above, Judah represents Nissan. Tishrei is represented by Ephraim, the son of Joseph (his other son, Menashe represents the following month, Cheshvan).
The tension, balance, and contrast between Judah and Joseph is very apparent in the way the Torah places the very parallel stories of Joseph and Judah side by side,[3] as well as in the depiction of their direct confrontation, in the Torah portion of Vayigash.[4] Even the names of these two tribes are similar, because Joseph sometimes is called “Yehosef,” carrying the first three letters of G-d’s name, Hashem, just like Judah.
This balance and tension has continued throughout our history, most notably with King David and King Shaul, the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel (also called Ephraim in the Torah), and even eventually with the coming of two Mashiachs, ben David and ben Yosef, also known as Mashiach ben Ephraim.
Rabbi Moshe Wolfsohn explains that this division is reflected even in the current differences between Chassidic and Lithuanian/non-Chassidic. Similar differences seem to exist between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and baalei teshuvah (those who return to G-d, acknowledging their mistakes) and tzadikim gemurim (righteous one, who never sinned in the first place). Joseph is the prototype of the tzadik gamur, while Judah of the baal teshuvah.
The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy Chariot, Hashem’s holy throne, has a lion on the right (the symbol of Judah) and an ox on the left (the symbol of Joseph). The same prophet Ezekiel, in the haftorah reading for Vayigash, is told by G-d to collect one stick for Judah and one for Ephraim, and to join them together, symbolizing that in future Yosef and Yehudah will become completely united.[5]
The Jewish calendar also contains another duality and synthesis: its days are counted in accordance with the cycles of the sun and the moon. While the West’s calendar (based on the Roman one) is purely solar, and the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, the Jewish calendar has aspects of both. Each month in the Jewish calendar follows the moon, yet, as mentioned in Week 22, the Jewish year often contains two Adar months. This way, Passover always occurs in the spring, and all other months correspond to particular seasons accordingly. Here also, Joseph appears primarily associated with the year as a whole (countering Esau), while Judah appears to be primarily connected to the lunar months (countering Yishmael).
This week’s prophet is unknown like last week’s. Like the one for last week, Rashi states that perhaps the prophet is Chanani, the father of one of the other prophets, whose name is mentioned. One of Mashiach ben David’s names is Chanina. Therefore, perhaps the prophet for this week is none other than Mashiach ben David. The greatest life example of Mashiach Ben David is the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Rebbe changed the face of world Jewry, rescuing so many from the cold forces of assimilation and the overall dispersal that had taken place all over the world after the Holocaust. The Rebbe also fought strongly against giving in to the forces of Yishmael in Israel. Those that wanted to give in were many times driven by indifference to the importance of the Land of Israel, and how giving up land was really a matter of Pikuach Nefesh. In Perek Shirah, in Week 48 of Book 1, the scorpion is a reference to the “cold” yetzer harah. It is also a reference to Amalek, who strikes “at the tail” of the camp, with “its tail.” Judah, the ancestor of King David and Mashiach, is the one that fights against Yishmael. The effects of the Rebbe’s campaign are still very much felt today in Israel, and all over the world, in many ways, more strongly than ever before. The Rebbe also exemplified the value of “Lomed al menat la’asot.” He always stated, HaMa’aseh Hu Ha’Ikar. The main thing is the deed.
The levitical city for this week is also unknown. It is also one of the additional cities to be added on the other side of the Jordan River, once Mashiach comes and the borders of Israel are expanded. The Tribe of Gad, which represents the month of Elul, also has its territory on the other side of the Jordan.

[3] Genesis, Ch. 37 - 39

[4] Genesis, 44:18

[5] Ezekiel 37:15; See Rabbi Matis Weinberg, Patterns in Time, on Chanukah

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Week 49 (Book 2): Miriam and Increasing the Wisdom of His/Her Teacher

HAAZINU: Go up this Mount Avarim [to] Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is facing Jericho, and see the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel as a possession, (Deuteronomy 32:49)

HAFTORAH: And that brings me forth from my enemies; And above those that rise against me, You have lifted me; from the violent man You deliver me. (II Samuel 22:49)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Increases the Wisdom of His Teacher (Machkim Et Rabboh)

PROPHET: Miriam[1]


In week forty-nine, as we approach the middle of the month of Elul, Moshe is asked to go up to Mount Avarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, facing Jericho, and is asked to see the Land of Canaan (Israel), which Hashem is giving to the children of Israel as a possession.

The words of this verse are related to Shmuel HaKatan’s words in the Pirkei Avot of this week, and the 49th day, the very last one of the counting of the omer, discussed in Book 1. This is the final step Moshe is to take before passing away and reaching the 50th gate of binah, knowledge, (Nebo stands for “Nun Boh” – “Fifty is in it”). Moshe goes up Mount Avarim (perhaps related to the word “aveirah” - sin) in the land of Moav, a place of great immorality, whose very name is related to the incest that occurred at its conception. Moshe, the humblest of men, is buried there as a way to fix and elevate that place. This is related to Shmuel HaKatan, whose name points to his humility, and who states that we are not to rejoice in the fall of our enemy. All these actions are very much related to month of Elul, and the teshuvah that we perform during this month to fix and elevate our actions of the entire year, and ready to “take possession” of the following year.

In the Haftorah, King David speaks for how Hashem brings him forth from his enemies and above those that rise against him, including men of violence. Here too there is a clear connection to the above statement of Shmuel HaKatan’s words. There is also perhaps a connection to the deliverance from sins and from “accusing angels” that takes place during this month.

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “increases the wisdom of his teacher,” in Hebrew, machkim et rabboh, from the word chochmah, wisdom. This saying appears very much related to the sefirah of this week, Malchut. As mentioned in Book 1, Malchut  is called the “poor” sefirah, in that it has nothing of its own – it simply reflects the emanations of the other sefirot. By reflecting the other sefirot, Malchut is, so to speak, increasing them, bringing them down to a much deeper and fuller understanding, based on reality. We see that more clearly in the actions of Miriam, the prophetess for this week (it is worth noting that the remaining prophets listed in Elul are female, and that the zodiac sign for this month is Virgo).
After witnessing the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and how the Egyptians were enveloped and drowned in it, the Jewish people, led by Moses, perform the Song of the Sea. At the end of the song, Miriam then adds to Moshe’s “wisdom” by gathering the women and having them sing and dance with timbrels, singing a song that reflects that of the Song of the Sea.

We also see an instance in Miriam’s life when she increased the wisdom of her father, convincing him to remarry her mother. This ultimately led to the birth of Moshe. (Talmud, Sotah 12a) Furthermore, the Arizal explains that the well that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert in the merit of Miriam had the power to increase their wisdom and comprehension of the Oral Tradition. The Hebrew word for "well", "be'er", has the the same letters as the word for "interpretation".[2] There is a famous story of how once the Arizal took his disciple, Rav Chaim Vital, and gave him to drink of this water so that he could properly understand the deep concepts of his kabbalistic teachings.

We also find a parallel between Miriam and the words of the Snail in Book 1. The Snail sings in Perek Shirah: “Like the Snail that melts away, the stillborn of a mole that does not see the sun.” After Miriam speaks critically (and incorrectly) of Moshe and is punished with tzara’as, a spiritual disease of the skin, Moshe asks that she be healed by stating: “Let her not be like the dead, which comes out of his mother's womb with half its flesh consumed!" We are supposed to constantly remember this act of Miriam, as it is one of the “Six Remembrances” found in the Torah.

During the month of Elul, the month of teshuvah, there is nothing more appropriate than to focus on working on our speech and avoiding lashon harah, an evil tongue. Speech, as explained in Book 1, is the quintessential characteristic of Malchut. If Miriam, Moshe’s sister who so lovingly raised and supported him, and who spoke of him with only the best of intentions, could be punished so severely for what she said, how much more so should we avoid any kind of negative speech. Miriam repents and is ultimately cured, and just as the zodiac sign of this month represents, we all have the ability to repent and get a clean slate as we approach the Days of Awe.

The levitical city for this week is also a city of refuge, Rammoth Gilad. Rammoth means “heights,” and Gilad is the territory on the other side of the Jordan, which along with Jazer, the tribes of Gad and Reuven chose to inherit. These tribes had a large amount of flock and cattle, and chose this land because of its spaciousness. Gilad is also the land of Elijah the Prophet, and specifically Rammoth Gilad is where King Achab was wounded and died, fulfilling Eliyahu’s prophecy.[3]

Finally, Gilad also appears related to Gal’Ed, the place where Yaakov had to face Lavan before coming to Israel, and where they made a treaty. This appears related to all the concepts discussed above, such as facing one’s enemy (the yetzer harah, which Lavan so much personifies), and preparing oneself to entering Israel (or the new year). The name Lavan also stands for the Lev, the 32 paths of chochmah (wisdom), and nun, the 50 gates of binah (knowledge). Also, before meeting Yaakov, Hashem appears to Lavan in a dream, who is told not to say anything to Yaakov, whether good or bad – this is related to the concept of loshon harah.

[1] The final four weeks of the year also appear to be related to the four matriarchs in inverse order, and four “Chabad matriarchs.” This week would then be related to Rachel and to Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel, granddaughter of the Alter Rebbe. 

[2] Avodat Yisrael, Chukat; Pri Tzaddik, Chukat, 15 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Week 50 (Book 2): Devorah and Properly Understanding What One Learns

HAAZINU: And die on the mountain upon which you are climbing and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. (Deuteronomy 32:50)

HAFTORAH: Therefore I will give thanks to You, O' Lord, among the nations, and to your name I will sing praises. (II Samuel 22:50)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Who Properly Undestands What He Learns

PROPHET: Devorah[1]


We now come to week fifty, the week of Chai Elul, which marks the birth of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, as well as the yahrzeit of the Maharal of Prague. In Haazinu, Moshe is told to “die on the mountain upon which you are climbing,” and be gathered to his people, just as Aaron his brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. We are told that tzadikim never die, and that even in Heaven they continue to climb from level to level. We are also told that when Moshe saw his brother pass away, he desired a death like his. Hashem granted Moshe’s wish. Even at Moshe’s death, we see the importance of brotherly love. There is also a repetition and continuation, somewhat similar to the repetition and continuation we see when comparing the life of the Baal Shem Tov with the life of the Alter Rebbe. Both of their teachings and the Tanya itself is based on the works of the Maharal of Prague. This is also appropriate for the week of Chai Elul, because when a tzadik dies, he’s actually more “alive” then before, and impacts the world much more.

In the Haftarah’s verse for this week, King David speaks of giving thanks to G-d, “among the nations” and singing praises to His name. The idea of giving thanks and praising G-d is ultimately what life is all about. Chassidism is about realizing Hashkachah Pratis (see Yud Tes Kislev) that everything comes from Hashem and that everything is for the good. Furthermore, it is appropriate that this be the message of Chai Elul, because it was also on this date that the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself to the world, “among the nations.”

The quality needed to acquire the Torah for this week is “who properly understands what (s)he learns/hears.” This is also the message of Chai Elul, in which the Alter Rebbe continued the tradition he received from his teacher the Magid, who in turn had received from the Baal Shem Tov. The Alter Rebbe pondered what he learned from his teachers and organized it in the Tanya.[2] Similarly, his knowledge of the revealed part of the Torah, was organized in his Shulchan Aruch. The Baal Shem Tov himself said of the Alter Rebbe that he would bring two lights (Shnei Or) into the world, in the realm of the hidden aspects of the Torah as well as the revealed one.

This week’s prophetess is Devorah. There is a parallel between ants and bees (soldierlike, part of something greater; also they both have a queen). Like the Ant in Book 1, Devorah also suffered from the sin of pride, which caused her to lose her prophecy momentarily. Overall, however, Devorah was extremely modest and humble, and that is what made her worthy of becoming a prophet. About her it is said, “The wisdom of a woman built her home.”[3] The word used here is Chochmah, which is the sefirah related to this week.

Devorah also represents the quality of this week, in that as a judge, it was essential that she ponder and properly understand what she heard. We also see this quality in the very song that she sang in the Book of Judges. In it, she ponders over Israel’s situation at the time, the reactions of different tribes to the war, Yael’s heroic actions, how the Jewish people asked her to sing, and the fate of Sisera and his mother. The song also contains a “back and forth” between her and the Jewish people, in which she hears what the Jewish people say to her (“Arise Devorah… arise and sing a song”) and she responds.

The levitical city for the fiftieth week is Mahanaim. Mahanaim is a very special place. It is where Jacob met angels of G-d, who received him into the Land of Israel, after Lavan had departed and returned to his place. (Genesis, Ch. 32) It was from there that Jacob sent messengers to Esav.

Mahanaim was also the place to which King David fled from his son Absalom. It was there that he and his army were given provisions by Barzillai the Gileadite, and where the tide of the his son’s rebellion turned in David’s favor. Among these provisions was honey (perhaps related to the bee, Devorah). (Shmuel II, Chapter 17)

On Chai Elul we enter the final twelve days of repentance before Rosh Hashanah. We are given the necessary “spiritual provisions” necessary for repentance. Each of the twelve days represents repentance for a different month, and Chai Elul itself corresponds to Tishrei.

[1] This week also appears related to our matriarch Leah and to Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, daughter of the Alter Rebbe.  

[2] “Ha'mech'aven et shmu'ato [ ] means ‘think over what you've heard.’ Create a mental filing cabinet.” http://www.aish.com/sp/48w/48942836.html


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