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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Week 35 (Book 2): Uriah and Loving the "Just"

HAAZINU: Vengeance is poised with Me, and it will pay at the time their foot stumbles. For the appointed day of their reckoning is near, and what is destined for them hastens. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

HAFTORAH: 35. He trains my hand for war, so that mine arms do bend a brass bow. (II Samuel 22:35)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Loves Justice (Ohev Et HaMeisharim)


Levitical City: Jokneam

The thirty-fifth week of the year is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Sivan, the month of Shavuot, is represented by the Tribe of Zevulun. Zevulun was known for its ability to combine the study of Torah with making a living, supporting not only itself, but also the Tribe of Issachar, which was totally immersed in learning Torah.

The verse of Haazinu speaks of vengeance and reckoning again the Jewish people. Again, however, there appears to be a very positive message. The vengeance could be interpreted to be against the enemy of the Jewish people, and the payment be for the positive deeds of the Jews and their suffering. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, we feel that the day of “payment” for our efforts during the counting of the omer, Shavuot, is fast approaching. Upon receiving the Torah, the Jewish people collapsed as they felt their soul leave their bodies and then return. The revelation to take place in the final day of judgment, will be one in which we will be overawed by G-d’s kindness towards His people. A glimmer of this kindness was seen during the Six-Day War, and the conquest of Jerusalem, on Yom Yerushalayim. Similarly, the conquest of the city was one into which we “stumbled” to victory.

In the Haftorah verse for this week, King David writes of how G-d is the one that trains his hands for war. This is yet another reference to Hashem’s kindness on Yom Yerushalayim, in line with a positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu.

The quality of this week is “loves justice” (Ohev Et HaMeisharim). As like the previous week, Meisharim, is not the standard Hebrew word used for justice. Meishar means to be leveled or plowed, a leveled plain or field. It also comes from the word yashar, straight, and denotes a straight and righteous path. A tzadik is called by this name regarding the fulfillment of positive behavior, while a yashar is so called regarding his fulfillment of the negative mitzvot. (Hayom Yom, 14th of Kislev

Working towards becoming a tzadik and a yashar is part of the preparation for receiving the Torah. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the entire people was able to be “like one man, with one heart,” because of the harmony these two characteristics (and especially fulfillment of the negative mitzvot, in not harming one another). This is the final preparation for the receiving of the Torah. 

Yashar is also the root of the word Yisrael and Yeshurun. The period of the counting of the omer is a time in which there is a personal transformation from Ha’Akov l’Mishor,[1] from Yaakov to Yisrael, as also described in these weeks in Book 1.

This week’s prophet is Uriah, whose prophecy is deeply connected to the above quality of the week and to Jerusalem. It was Uriah who said in the name of G-d that, “Zion will be plowed like a field.” As explained above, “Meishar” means a leveled, plowed plain or field. As explained by Rabbi Akiva, based on the verse in Isaiah 8:2, Uriah’s prophecy is linked to positive outcomes for Jerusalem as well. Just as the prophecy of Uriah had been fulfilled, so too would the positive prophecy of Zechariah also be fulfilled" (Makkot 24b).[2] 

Chassidic thought explains that sometimes a descent is necessary for their to be a greater ascent (Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah). Because of the corruption and crookedness at the time, it was necessary to make Jerusalem plowed and straight, and upright again. From this plowed field, would sprout forth the foundation of Jerusalem today, and the Jerusalem in the Messianic times, with the reconstruction of the Temple, may it be speedily in our days.

Uriah’s personal story is also quite tragic. Because of his negative prophecies, he runs away to Egypt, only to later be brought back and killed by the king of Judah. It is interesting that his message is included, not in a separate book of his own, but in the Book of Jeremiah, and his prophecy is described primarily as being, “like all the words of Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 26:20) Jeremiah is the prophet of the next week. The murder of Uriah was also a Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah. As mentioned previously, he is also referenced in the Book of Isaiah.

The levitical city for this week is Yokneam. Its name appears to be a contraction of the words “Yikneh Am” – He will acquire a nation. These words can also be read as “a nation shall acquire.” On Shavuot, Hashem acquired us as a nation. It was also on Shavuot that we, the Jewish people, acquired the Torah. The verse is nonetheless in the future tense, since this “acquisition process” was to be felt again in the future, in the days of Purim (when the Jews accepted the Torah upon themselves on a higher level), and with the coming of Mashiach. Yokneam today is an important high-tech center, as well as an extensive archeological site.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Week 36 (Book 2): Accepting the Truth

HAAZINU: When the Lord will judge His people, and will reconsider His servants, when He sees that the power is increasing, and none is controlled or strengthened. (Deuteronomy 32:36)

HAFTORAH: And You have given me the shield of Your salvation; And You have increased Your humility for me. (II Samuel 22:36)

QUALITY FOR ACQUIRING THE TORAH: Loves Reproof (Ohev Et Hatochachot)

PROPHET: Jeremiah


Week Thirty-Six is the week of Shavuot and Haazinu’s verse states that G-d will judge His people and relent once he sees the strength of the enemy increasing. Shavuot is not a day usually associated with judgment. However, in many ways it does have many aspects of judgment, like Rosh Hashanah. How a person’s studies will go during the year is largely determined on how they go on Shavuot. Just like we try not to sleep much on Rosh Hashanah, on Shavuot we stay up all night learning Torah. Furthermore, as much as Shavuot is a day of celebration, the unfortunate events that took place immediately following the giving of the Torah (ie. the sin of the golden calf), required Hashem's great mercy, as well as Moshe's begging on our behalf.

The Haftorah’s verse also appears to be a clear reference to Shavuot. At Mount Sinai, G-d lowered Himself (a sign of increased humility) in such a way that it was possible that He be revealed to the Jewish people.

The quality for this week is loves reproof (Ohev Et Hatochachot). Prior to Shavuot every year we read the Tochachah (the “reproof”) in the Torah Portion of Bechukotai. As explained in the previous paragraphs, this week is also connected to the events immediately following the giving of the Torah, which include much reproof. Furthermore, it is only by being open to reproof that one is able to learn and grow; it is an essential element in serving G-d, one of the main teachings of the Book of Proverbs:

Reprove not a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.  Give a wise man, and he will become yet wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and the knowledge of the holy ones is understanding.   (Chapter 9:8-10)

This week’s prophet is Jeremiah, whose prophecy is by far the one most associated with reproof. After all, it is Jeremiah that so strongly spoke about the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem’s devastation and the Babylonian exile, and who witnessed these events during his lifetime. It was also Jeremiah who recorded the Book of Lamentations, depicting so vividly and emotionally G-d’s reproof. Jeremiah was on a level attained by very few prophets, and it is therefore also appropriate that he be the one associated with the week of Shavuot. Jeremiah’s message is also one that is extremely pertinent to Shavuot:

"Thus saith the L-rd: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the L-rd Who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the L-rd."
The levitical city for this week is Kartah. Kartah (with an alef) means “city” in Aramaic. Perhaps the meaning here is that the giving of the Torah involves knowing the simple truth, even if such a truth is painful. The Jewish people come from Shem, whose name literally means “name.” This also points to the simple truth he represented. The ruins of Kartah, in the outskirts of Haifa, are an important (and beautiful) archeological site in Israel today.[1]

There is also an opinion that Kartah is Tavor, a city of the tribe of Issachar.[2] Mount Tabor was shared by the tribes of Issachar and Zevulun. It seems appropriate that Zevulun and Issachar would in this way “share” the levitical city for the week of Shavuot, a sign of brotherly love that was so essential to the giving of the Torah. It is also worth noting that the zodiac sign for the month of Sivan is gemini, twins. It is also worth noting that Mount Tabor thought itself worthy of being the mountain to receive the Torah, and was later the scene of miracles in the times of Devorah:

3. Hear, O kings, give ear, O princes; I, to the Lord I shall sing, I shall sing to the Lord, the G-d of Israel. 
אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי: This word is repeated. I have heard an Aggadic interpretation: The Holy One did not rob (by withholding) the reward of Mount Tabor and Mount Carmel who arrived at the giving of the Torah, expecting it to be given upon them, and turned away in shame. The Holy One said to them, “I will pay you double fold. It was said at Sinai, (Ex. 20:2) ‘(אָנֹכִי) I am the Lord your G-d,’ at Tabor it will be said, ‘I… I…’ (אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי). It was said at Sinai, ‘I am the Lord your G-d (ה׳ אֱלֹקֶי),’ at Carmel it will be said twice, (I Kings 18:39) ‘The Lord He is G-d, the Lord He is G-d (ה׳ הוּא הָאֱלֹקִים)’ in the days of Elijah.” (Rashi on Judges 5:3)


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Week 37 (Book 2): Strength and Stability that Come From Humility

 HAAZINU: Then He will say, "Where is their deity, the rock in which they trusted, (Deuteronomy 32:37)

Positive light: Then He will say [to the enemies of the Jewish people]…

HAFTORAH: You have enlarged my step[s] beneath me; And my ankles have not slipped. (II Samuel 22:37)


PROPHET: Ezekiel


The thirty-seventh week of the year is the third week of the month of Sivan. In Haazinu, the verse speaks of how G-d will ask the Jewish people where are the gods that they had trusted in the past. A positive reading of this verse is that it is not referring to the Jewish people, but to the other nations. This readimg is in line with the Haazinu verse for week thrity-one, which states that our “Rock” is not like theirs.
The Haftorah verse for this week also speaks of G-d’s support, like that of a stable rock. The verse also seems to parallel the verse of the elephant in Perek Shirah, which speaks of how the works of G-d are great (Gadol, big, like the elephant. Gimmel Dalet Lamed also have the numerical value of 37). 

The quality of this week is “keeps far from honor.” Pirkei Avot teaches that seeking honor is something that takes a person out of this world. Honor, or anything that feeds a person’s ego, is an enormous obstacle in the service of G-d. Haughtiness is diametrically opposed to holiness. Despite the great honor bestowed on the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, the experience was so awe inspiring, that is led to even greater humility. This quality is also the focus of the verses in Book 1, particularly those in Pirkei Avot, which speak about not handing down judgments unnecessarily, as one that does so is “a fool, wicked and arrogant.” Seeking honor is also what led to Korach’s downfall, which is also discussed there.
This week’s prophet is Ezekiel, who is very closely connected to the idea of keeping far from honor. G-d commands Ezekiel to do things that go so tremendously against what we would consider to be “kevod habriot” (honor and dignity”), it is difficult to fathom anyone being capable of doing them. Ezekiel is commanded to eat excrement! Yet, it is also Ezekiel that has the most exalted visions of G-d. In fact, the Haftorah reading for the first day of Shavuot is Ezekiel’s vision of the Heavenly Chariot, the opening lines of his book. Ezekiel was also a kohen, like Uriah and Jeremiah, the prophets of the previous two weeks.

The levitical city for this week is Dimnah. Dimnah literally means dunghill, again reflecting how one is to stay away from honor.[1]  .

[1] There are opinions that Dimnah is also the city of Rimmono, which means, “his pomegranate.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Week 38 (Book 2): Daniel and Not Acting Arrogantly with One's Knowledge

HAAZINU: who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their libations? Let them arise and help you! Let them be your shelter! (Deuteronomy 32:38)
HAFTORAH: I have pursued my enemies and have destroyed them; Never turning back until they were consumed. (II Samuel 22:38)
QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Does Not Act Arrogantly With His Knowledge (Studies)
PROPHET: Daniel (Shemaiah)

Week Thirty-Eight is the last week of Sivan, and Haazinu’s verse continues the questions from the previous week, where G-d asks the Jews where is the protection that they sought from other gods. Again, a positive reading of the verse would be a continuation of the questions asked to Israel’s enemies. The Haftorah’s verse appears to directly support this reading, since it speaks of how King David (the Jewish people) was able to pursue his enemies and destroy them completely, without their being able to find any refuge.

The quality for this week is “does not act arrogantly with his knowledge (studies).” As explained in the previous week, haughtiness is diametrically opposed to holiness and to the Torah. Therefore, to act arrogantly based on his knowledge would be the utmost example of inappropriate behavior. After all the knowledge does not belong to the individual but to G-d. Another way to read the verse is to read it to mean “does not act arrogantly with His (G-d’s) knowledge,” because the knowledge is ultimately all G-d’s. This is also an important message of the month of Sivan.

This week’s prophet is Daniel. It is worth noting that in Book 1, we explained how Week 38 is that of the lion. Daniel is known primarily for his being thrown in the den of hungry lions and miraculously being saved.

Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream shows how Daniel does not act arrogantly with his knowledge. Interpretation of the dreams comes from G-d. Everything comes from G-d:

And to these youths, the four of them, G-d gave knowledge and understanding in every script and wisdom, and Daniel understood all visions and dreams. And at the end of the days that the king ordered to bring them, the chief officer brought them before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and of all of them, no one was found to equal Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; and they stood before the king. And in every matter of the wisdom of understanding that the king requested of them, he found them ten times better than all the necromancers and astrologers in all his kingdom. (Chapter 1:17-20)

Then Daniel entered and requested of the king that time be given him, and the interpretation would be told to the king. Then Daniel went home and let his colleagues, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, know of the matter. And to pray and beg of the G-d of heaven about this secret, that Daniel and his colleagues should not perish with the remaining wise men of Babylon. Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in the vision of the night; then Daniel blessed the G-d of heaven.  

Daniel spoke up and said, "May the Name of G-d be blessed from everlasting even to everlasting, to Whom are wisdom and might. And He changes the times and the seasons, He removes kings and sets up kings; He grants wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know understanding. He reveals the profound and secret things; He knows what is in the dark, and light dwells with Him. To You, O G-d of my forefathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and might, and now You have let me know what I requested of You, for the matter of the king You have let me know." (…)

The king spoke up and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, "Do you have the ability to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?"   Daniel answered the king and said, "The secret that the king asks, no wise men, astrologers, necromancers, or demonologists can tell the king. But there is a G-d in heaven Who reveals secrets, and He lets King Nebuchadnezzar know what will be at the end of days; that is your dream and the visions of your head on your bed.  

You, O king, your thoughts came while on your bed, what will be after this, and the Revealer of secrets lets you know what will be. And I-not with wisdom that I possess more than all living, did He reveal this secret to me, but in order that they should let the king know the interpretation, and you should know the thoughts of your heart. (Chapter 2:16-30)

Daniel’s actions are like those of his predecessor, Joseph, in his first interaction with Pharaoh:

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it, but I have heard it said of you [that] you understand a dream, to interpret it." And Joseph replied to Pharaoh, saying, "Not I; G-d will give an answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh." (Genesis 41:15-16)

Rashi explains that there is a discussion among the sages on whether Daniel should be considered a prophet. Therefore, some substitute Shemaiah. The prophet Shemaiah, who prophesized in the times of Rehavam, the son of Solomon, would be significantly out of the chronological order presented here. There was another Shemaiah (a kohen), the father of Uriah, which would be somewhat closer chronologically, but still out of order. Perhaps, the name Shemaiah is instead another hint to the quality of this week, and of Daniel. The name Shemaiah comes from the word “Lishmoah,” to hear, and the name of Hashem, meaning “heard G-d,” or perhaps “G-d heard.” It hints to the humility and complete lack of arrogance necessary for a prophet; to remember that his function is simply to be a conduit, to hear the word of G-d, when G-d hears His people. These are the qualities associated with the month of Sivan as well.

The levitical city for this week is Nahalal, whose name includes the word “hallel” to praise. To praise G-d for all the kinds he’s done for us is the ultimate form of humility.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Week 39 (Book 2): Baruch and Not Being Happy in Handing Down Decrees

HAAZINU: See now that it is I! I am the One, and there is no G-d like Me! I cause death and grant life. I strike, but I heal, and no one can rescue from My Hand! (Deuteronomy 32:39)

HAFTORAH: And I have consumed them, and I have crushed them that they cannot rise; Yes, they are fallen under my feet. (II Samuel 22:39)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Does Not Take Pleasure in Handing Down [Halachic] Decisions (Einoh Sameach B’hora’ah)


LEVITICAL CITY: Betzer, City of Refuge

The thirty-ninth week of the year is that of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz as well as Gimmel Tammuz, the date of the Rebbe’s passing and also the beginning of the liberation of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Tammuz is marked by the the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached. This month is represented by the tribe of Reuven, Jacob’s firstborn.
In the verse of Haazinu, G-d exclaims that He is the One true G-d. He causes death, but he also grants life. He strikes but He also heals. This verse perfectly represents the month of Tammuz, which before the times of Mashiach is associated with death and suffering, but which afterwards will be associated with life and healing.
The Haftorah verse for this week seems related to the very last words in Haazinu, which state that “no one can rescue from My Hand.” During this month, in the past we have been crushed and consumed, but in the future, the enemies of the Jews will fall under their feet.

The quality of this week is “does not take pleasure in handing down [halachic] decisions.” This is related to the idea of not using the Torah for one’s own honor. A more literal translation of the phrase, is that the person “is not happy” in making rulings. Tammuz has certainly been a month in which the Jewish people have not been happy in the past, as we have been handed down difficult decrees during this time. Yet, we must realize that it is also in our power to reverse these decrees, through Teshuvah, repentance. 
This week’s prophet is Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah. Baruch was given the task of reading Jeremiah’s dire prophecies to the people; a task he certainly was not happy performing and in which he did not take pleasure. Nevertheless, he handed down the decrees, in accordance to his master’s will. Interestingly, all four prophets of the month of Tammuz are related to Baruch. After Baruch, the following prophet is his father, then his brother, and then finally his grandfather.

The levitical city for this week is Betzer, which is also a city of refuge. Betzer means fortification, a very appropriate name for this week, since it was in Tammuz that the fortifications of Jerusalem were breached. It is also worth noting that all cities for this week are connected to Moab, and Jeremiah’s prophecy against this nation in Chapter 48 of his book. Moab represents the kelipah of broad powers (both physical and intellectual), and the fear of losing them.[1] This is parallel to Reuven himself.


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