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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Week 41 (Book 2): Judgement followed by Teshuvah



HAAZINU: When I sharpen the blade of My sword, and My hand grasps judgment, I will bring vengeance upon My adversaries and repay those who hate Me. (Deuteronomy 32:41)

HAFTORAH: And of my enemies You have given me the back of their necks; them that hate me, that I may cut them off. (II Samuel 22:41)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Judges Him Favorably (Machrioh Lechaf Zechut)

PROPHET: Seraiah

LEVITICAL CITY: Kedemoth

The forty-first week of the year is that of 12th/13th of Tammuz, as well as of the 17th of Tammuz. In the verse of Haazinu, G-d exclaims that He will take vengeance upon His enemies and repay those that hate Him. The Haftorah’s verse contains exactly the same concepts: defeating the enemy and destroying those that hate. Judgement and Divine wrath are certainly central themes of th 17th of Tammuz.

The quality of this week is “judges him favorably” (machrioh lechaf zechut).” This is related to the fixing of our sense sight, which is connected to Tammuz. The exact term used is “Machrioh Lechaf Zechut” which literally means, “tips him to the side of merit.” The sentence therefore is literally translated as “tips him to the side of merit.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that when focuses on someone else’s positive points, he in fact tips the person to the side of merit. Maimonides also addresses this principle more broadly, in the context of Teshuvah, which is also necessary during this month:

Throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of guilt and brings destruction upon himself. On the other hand, if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4)

Like in the previous week, the actions involved are not solely related to his friend, but instead, the invidual includes himself in the “balance,” and by acting justly tilts the balance of his friend as well.

This week’s prophet is Seraiah, Baruch’s brother. Seriah went into exile with the Zedekiah the King of Judah. Similar to Baruch, Jeremiah tasked him with reading dire prophecies to the king. This time, however, the harsh words delivered were against Babylon itself. The Jewish king and the his people were thus now being judged favorably, since Jeremiah’s prophecy assured that their suffering would one day end and be avenged. (Jeremiah, Chapter 51:59-64)

The levitical city for this week is Kedemoth. The desert of Kedemoth was where the Moshe sent messengers to Sihon, king of Heshbon, with words of peace. After Sihon rejected peace, it was in Kedemoth that he was miraculously defeated. Sihon’s actions were rooted in deep Sinat Chinam (gratuitous hatred), which is also what caused the destruction of the Temple commemorated during these days. Kedemoth comes from the word Kedem, which means "days of yore," often used in the context of the Garden of Eden and the previous pristine state of humanity. During this month, we begin our Teshuvah and try to connect back to that state. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Week 42 (Book 2): Mehsiah and Being Placed in the Path of Truth




HAAZINU: I will intoxicate My arrows with blood, and My sword will consume flesh, from the blood of the slain and the captives, from the first breach of the enemy.' (Deuteronomy 32:42)

HAFTORAH: They looked about, but there was no one to save them; [Even] to the Lord, but He answered them not. (II Samuel 22:42)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Places Him [in The Path of] Truth (Ma’amidoh Al Ha’Emet)

PROPHET: Mehsiah

LEVITICAL CITY: Mephaath

Week Forty-Two is the last week of the month of Tammuz, and Haazinu’s verse refers to G-d destroying Israel’s enemies. The Haftorah again contains the same theme, associated also with the month of Tammuz, when in the future, the Jewish people’s fortunes in this month will be reversed for the good.


The quality for this week is places him [in the path of] truth (ma’amidoh al ha’emet). The verb used does not means place, but rather "raise." It is the same verb used in the opening verses of Pirkei Avot, in which the Men of the Great Assembly advised that future generations, “raise up many students.” The reason the word “raise” is used, is that the students have to be able to stand on their own two feet. Truth, by definition is the necessary foundation for one to be able to stand on his/her own.[1]


This week’s prophet is Mehsiah. Mehsiah was the grandfather of Baruch and Seriah. His name appears in Chapters 32 and 51 of the Book of Jeremiah. In both chapters, the punishment mentioned is ultimately necessary to set the Jewish people on a path of truth and goodness.

This week’s levitical city is Mepha’ath. Mepha’ath is also one of the cities mentioned in the prophecy against Moab. The word Mepha’ath means "to shine." As mentioned previously, this month is about working on our sense of sight. As we work on our own self-refinement and look at things in the proper positive way, we can see beauty shine forth, both in others and in ourselves.






[1] The letters of emet themselves allude to this. They all have “stable foundations,” and can stand on their own. The opposite of truth, sheker, is made up of three letters that cannot stand on their own – they are unstable and fall. This is reminiscent of the song of the Fox, in week 41 of Book 1, which states, “Woe to him that builds his house without justice and his chambers without lawfulness…” In Week 42 of Book 1, the hound sings, "Let the righteous rejoice in G-d; praise is befitting to the upright." (As explained there, these statements reflect why the Temple could not stand due to the corruption of the times, as well as the proper way to correct these flaws.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Week 43 (Book 2): Destruction that Leads to Peace



HAAZINU: Sing out praise, O you nations, for His people! For He will avenge the blood of His servants, inflict revenge upon His adversaries, and appease His land [and] His people. (Deuteronomy 32:43)

HAFTORAH: Then I ground them as the dust of the earth, as the mud of the streets I did tread upon them, I did stamp them down. (II Samuel 22:43)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Places Him [in The Path of] Peace (Ma’amidoh Al Hashalom)

PROPHET: Haggai

LEVITICAL CITY: Jattir

The forty-third week of the year is that of Rosh Chodesh Av. Av is connected to the Tribe of Shimon, while  Rosh Chodesh  itself is the yahrzeit of Aharon the Kohen. It is the month of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and also the day in which the Messiah is born.

In the verse of Haazinu, the theme of Divine retribution continues, although there is now a greater emphasis on praising the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. The Haftorah’s verse also continues the same theme, although here too there is a focus on the physical Land, and the mud of its streets.

The quality of this week is “places him [in the path of] peace” (ma’amidoh al hashalom). Aharon is very much associated with peace. Hillel states that we should all be students of Aharon, who “loves peace and pursue peace…” As explained in the previous week, the verb “ma’amidoh” is connected to raising students. This is hinted to in the lighting of the menorah, in the beginning of the Torah portion of Beha’alotchah, in which Aharon it told to “raise” the lights of the Menorah until they could stand on their own.

This week’s prophet is Haggai. His prophecy is very much connected to the theme of the destruction of the Temple, as well as its rebuilding. His words are also connected to peace:

1. In the seventh [month], on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came through Haggai the prophet, saying:

2. Say now to Zerubbabel the son of Shaltiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak the High Priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying:          

3. Who among you is left, who saw this house in its former glory? And as you see it now, is it not as nothing in your eyes? 

4. And now, be strong, Zerubbabel, says the Lord; and be strong, Joshua the son of Jehozadak the High Priest; and be strong, all the people of the land, says the Lord. And (for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts) do      

5. the thing that I set up with you when you left Egypt. And My spirit stands in your midst; fear not.           

6. For so said the Lord of Hosts: [There will rise] another one, and I will shake up the heaven and the earth and the sea and the dry land [for] a little while.           

7. And I will shake up all the nations, and they shall come [with] the precious things of all the nations. And I will fill this House with glory, said the Lord of Hosts.         

8. The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the Lord of Hosts.

9. The glory of this last House shall be greater than the first one, said the Lord of Hosts. And in this place I will grant peace, says the Lord of Hosts.

(Chapter 2:1-9)(emphasis added)      


The levitical city for this week is Jatir. Jatir, comes from the word Yeter, which means the remains, what is left over after destruction. The name is very appropriate for the month of Av. Yeter can also mean “an addition,” which is related to the word Yoter, which means “more.” In the future with the coming of the Mashiach, Av will be a month of added importance and celebration.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Week 44 (Book 2): Zechariah and Settling One's Heart



HAAZINU: And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Deuteronomy 32:44)

HAFTORAH: And You have allowed me to escape from the contenders amongst my people; You shall keep me as head of nations; a people whom I have not known serve me. (II Samuel 22:44)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: He Deliberates in His Study (Mityashev Liboh Betalmudoh)

PROPHET: Zechariah

LEVITICAL CITY: Holon
Week Forty-Four is the week of Tisha B’Av, and Haazinu’s verse states that Moshe, together with Yehoshuah, spoke all the words of the song into the "ears of the people." As mentioned previously, the month of Av is connected to the tikkun (the spriritual “fixing”) of our sense of hearing. Perhaps Yehoshua is mentioned here together with Moshe because, of all the people, it was he that was best able to absorb Moshe’s teachings.
This week is connected to the birth of Mashiach (on the 9th of Av) and the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah) teaches that,Moshe is the first redeemer and the final redeemer.” Similarly, Yehoshuah is also a prototype for Mashiach Ben Yoseph.


The Haftorah for this week is clearly connected to the coming of Mashiach: “You shall keep me as head of nations; a people whom I have not known serve me.” Mashiach will be not only the king of Israel, but will represent the Kingdom of G-d on earth.


The quality for this week is “he deliberates in his study” (mityashev liboh betalmudoh). Great part of the destruction of the Temple that occurred on the 9th of Av, was due to to the hot-headed behavior of the zealots at that time. The Torah scholars of the time, on ther other hand, sought calm and compromise.


A more literal translation is that “he settles his heart with his study.” The Midrash states that Mashiach is a metzorah, someone who suffers from a form of spiritual skin disease. The Midrash further states that Mashiach cures one wound at a time. The Alter Rebbe explains that the cure for the metzorah is Torah. That is why the verse states that “this shall be the Torah of the metzorah on the day of his purification” (Leviticus 14:2) when a more straightforward wording of the verse should have been, “this is the purification of the metzorah in the day of his purification.” The metzorah is someone whose heart is unsettled. It is the Torah that settles it.


The above statement can also be read to be referring to the heart of his friend – a continuation of the qualities of the previous weeks. Mashiach will be someone known for his Torah and his power of speech. The word Mashiach is spelled the same as Mesiach, one who speaks, converses.

This week’s prophet is Zechariah. We read about a previous Zechariah in the kinot (dirges) for Tisha B’Av, and about how he was killed during the time of the destruction of the First Temple and his blood had to be avenged:. It is connected also to the idea of "settling one's heart" (in this case, the "settling" of Zechariah's blood): 
Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: "There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested."

Nebuzaradan said, "I will appease him." He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then school-children. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: "Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?" At last the blood sank into the ground (Talmud, Gittin 57b).[1]


Zechariah’s prophecy also makes some of the most direct references to Mashiach:
Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your king shall come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding a donkey and a foal, the offspring of [one of] she-donkeys. (Zechariah 9:9)
In the tale of Rabbi Akiva in which he laughs while the other rabbis mourn, it is the prophecy of Zechariah that brings consolation: “Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.”[2]
This week’s levitical city is Holon. Holon comes from the word “chol,” which means sand, as well as profane.[3] Similar to the destruction of the Temple, when something is emptied of its holiness, it is "chol," filled with a vacuum, “dead” like the sand of the sea. And yet, in the Torah perhaps nothing represents more the idea of life, particularly of children, than the sand. We are promised to be as numerous as them one day. One day, our tears of sadness, of “sandness,” will be tears of joy, and "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the water covers the sea" … and the sand. The numerical value of the word ”chol” is forty-four. Holon is also the name of a city in modern-day Israel, the country’s second largest industrial area.







[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/144569/jewish/The-First-Temple.htm#footnoteRef1a144569; the This section of the Talmudic tractate of Gittin is customarily studied on Tisha B’Av.



[3] It is worth noting that this section was written close to the time of Hurricane Sandy, and the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Week 45 (Book 2): Malachi and the Quality of "Asking and Responding"



HAAZINU: And Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:45)

HAFTORAH: Strangers lie to me; as soon as their ears hear, they obey me. (II Samuel 22:45)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Asks And Responds (Shoel Umeshiv)

PROPHET: Malachi

LEVITICAL CITY: Debir

The forty-fifth week of the year is that of Tu B’Av. In the verse of Haazinu, Moshe finishes speaking “all” the words to “all” of Israel. The word “Kol” (all) appears two times in the verse, and is also the root of a third word “Vayichal,” completed. The completion mentioned in the verse can be understood as a reference to Moshe himself, the words of the song, and/or even the Jewish people itself. It hints to the complementary relationship between these three entities: Moshe, the Torah, and the Jewish people. It is also reminiscent of the “Creeping Creatures,” the animals of Perek Shirah for this week in Book I, who are humble and nullify themselves before G-d. This humility allows for peace and wholeness/completion. (Shalom and Shlemut) Wholeness and completion is also the theme of Tu B’Av, which is connected to marriage, as well as the concept of all of Israel being together as one (it was on this date that the tribes were allowed to intermarry). Furthermore, is was on Tu B’Av that the decree that had taken place on Tisha B’Av (that the entire generation would die in the desert because of the sin of the spies), as well as many of other later decrees, were “completed.”
The Haftorah is also about hearing properly the key rectification (tikkun) of this month. It is also about the power of teshuvah and of words spoken by the leader of the generation. At first, those mentioned by King David were lying strangers; however, as soon as he spoke to them, they obeyed, changing their ways.
The quality of this week is “asks and responds” (shoel umeshiv). This quality also reflects the importance of listening properly. It also brings to mind the conversations that would take place between the single women and men in Tu B’Av mentioned in the Talmud (See Week 45, Book I). Relating to the study of Torah, there is a famous Jewish proverb that states, “there is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt” (ein simchah k’hatarat hasefeikot). Tu B’Av, along with Yom Kippur, is the happiest day of the Jewish calendar.  
Similarly, after Tisha B’Av, we are left with many questions – how could G-d do such things to His own people? We answer each others questions to the best of our ability, like the words of Rabbi Nehorai in Pirkei Avot for the previous week (also in Book I): “…your colleagues will help you [learn properly]... rely not on your own understanding.” Ultimately, even the words of our colleagues may not prove sufficient, we have no choice but to return to the words of Rabbi Yannai, the Pirkei Avot lesson for this week in Book I: “We have no comprehension of the tranquility of the wicked, nor of the suffering of the righteous.” The answer is emunah, faith. We must know that everything that happens to a person is for his or her own good. This notion, Rebbe Nachman states, is an aspect of the World to Come.
One of the best responses to witnessing death and destruction is redoubling our efforts in rebuilding and creating life. One might even say that ultimately the best response to the Holocaust has been the tremendous physical and spiritual growth and prosperity that is now taking place, particularly in the Land of Israel.
This week’s prophet is Malachi. His prophecy comes right after the destruction of the Temple. Malachi speaks of how G-d loves Jacob and hates Esau. Esau cheered the destruction of the First Temple and would be the nation responsible for destroying the Second. Malachi prophecizes that Esau may say that it will rebuild, but G-d will demolish. Not so regarding Jacob. The Book of Malachi is also full of “back and forth,” asking and responding, the quality to acquire the Torah for this week. Here are a few examples:
Chapter 1

6. A son honors a father, and a slave his master. Now if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My fear? says the Lord of Hosts to you, the priests, who despise My name. But you said, "How have we despised Your Name?"      

7. You offer on My altar defiled food, yet you say, "How have we defiled You?" By your saying, "G-d's table is contemptible."

8. When you offer a blind [animal] for a sacrifice, is there nothing wrong? And when you offer a lame or a sick one, is there nothing wrong? Were you to offer it to your governor, would he accept you or would he favor you? says the Lord of Hosts.

9. And now, will you pray before the Lord that He be gracious to us? This has come from your hand. Will He favor any of you? says the Lord of Hosts.   

Chapter 2

14. And you will say, "Why?"-Because the Lord testified between you and the wife of your youth, that you dealt treacherously with her, and she is your companion and the wife of your covenant. 

15. Now did He not make one who had the rest of the spirits? Now what does the one seek of the seed of G-d? Now you shall beware of your spirit, that it shall not deal treacherously with the wife of your youth.     

16. If you hate [her], send [her] away, says the Lord G-d of Israel. For injustice shall cover his garment, said the Lord of Hosts, but you shall beware of your spirit, and do not deal treacherously.           

17. You have wearied the Lord with your words, and you say, "How have we wearied [Him]?"-By your saying, "Every evildoer is good in the Lord's sight, and He desires them," or, "Where is the G-d of judgment?"              

Chapter 3

7. From the days of your fathers you have departed from My laws and have not kept [them]. "Return to Me, and I will return to you," said the Lord of Hosts, but you said, "With what have we to return?"

8. Will a man rob G-d? Yet you rob Me, and you say, "With what have we robbed You?"-With tithes and with the terumah-levy.                

13. "Still harder did your words strike Me," says the Lord, but you say, "What have we spoken against You?" 

14. You have said, "It is futile to serve G-d, and what profit do we get for keeping His charge and for going about in anxious worry because of the Lord of Hosts?"    

15. And now we praise the bold transgressors. Yea, those who work wickedness are built up. Yea, they tempt G-d, and they have, nevertheless, escaped.                       

Malachi’s prophecy also has Messianic aspects characteristics of the month of Av:

23. Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord,

24. that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers-lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.

It is also worth noting that our sages state that Malachi is actually Ezra the Scribe. It was Ezra that led the Jewish return to the Land of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the canonization of the Tanach, the Five Books of Moses (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ktuvim). It was an incredible “response” to the tragedy of Tisha B’Av.

The levitical city for this week is Debir. Debir means the Temple itself! It is also a name used for the inner courtyard of the Temple and the Holy of Holies.
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