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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Week 15 (Book 2): The Prophet Iddo and the Importance of Scripture


HA'AZINU: And Jeshurun became fat and rebelled; you grew fat, thick and rotund; [Israel] forsook the G-d Who made them, and spurned the [Mighty] Rock of their salvation. (Deuteronomy 32:15)

POSITIVE INTERPRETATION OF THE ABOVE VERSE: And Jeshurun became full of oil and kicked [away the enemy]; you grew full of oil, thick and rotund [in holiness]; [Israel] spread out [the knowledge of] the G-d Who made them, and made song with the lyre regarding the [Mighty] Rock of their salvation.

HAFTORAH: And He sent out arrows and He scattered them, lightning and He discomfited them. (II Samuel 22:15)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Scripture (Mikrah)

PROPHET: Iddo

LEVITICAL CITY: Gibbethon

The fifteenth week of the year includes the Fast of the Tenth of Teveth. The verse in Haazinu refers to the Jews’ rebellion against G-d after so much that He had done for them. During the time of the tragedies related to the 10th of Teveth, the Jewish people “grew fat,” forsaking G-d and not properly valuing the Torah.

The verse in Haazinu can also take a more positive meaning. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for fat, shemen, used twice in this verse, is the same word in Hebrew for oil. Oil, of course, is related to the Chanukah miracle. The lights of Chanukah include Rosh Chodesh Teveth, and in this way shine through the entire month. This verse can therefore understood in a more positive light as, “Yeshurun became full of the miraculous oil from Chanukah.” Every year on Chanukah there is a mitzvah to publicize the miracles that took place during this time. Perhaps this is how the second part of this verse should be understood: “[Israel] spread out the word of the G-d Who made them.”  

This week’s Haftarah verse appears to be more in line with this more positive interpretation. The Haftarah contains the theme of spreading/scattering, as well as of light.

The quality for this week is scripture. As mentioned previously, the reason for the destruction of First Temple was related to not saying the blessing over the study of Torah, and not valuing sufficiently the holiness of scripture.

This week’s prophet, Iddo, is also connected to the written Torah.  The only reference to Iddo in Tanach is that he wrote down the events of Rehoboam as well as the genealogy of the kings of Israel, along with Shemaiah the Prophet. Iddo took the importance of scripture and of written records very seriously.

Iddo’s actions also appear related to a violation of the word of Hashem, such as occurred on the 10th of Teveth. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 89b) teaches us that Iddo is the prophet that violated his own word and was therefore mauled by a lion. How parallel this is to the 10th of Teveth, when the Jewish people failed to heed to the words of the prophets and scripture.


The levitical city for this week is Gibbethon. This city is also connected to tragedy. The Talmud states that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva that died were “from Gibbethon to Antipatris.” Similar to the message of the month of Teveth (and the Tribe of Dan), from an additional five students, Rabbi Akiva was able to rebuild everything. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Week 16 (Book 2): Michaiah and the Oral Torah


HAAZINU: They provoked His zeal with alien worship; they made Him angry with abominable deeds. (Deuteronomy 32:16)

Positive Light: They were zealous for Him against alien worship; they were angry for Him against abominable deeds.

HAFTARAH: And the depths of the sea appeared; the foundations of the world were laid bare, by the rebuke of the Lord and the blast of the breath of His nostrils. (II Samuel 22:16)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Mishnah (Oral Torah)

PROPHET: Michaiah son of Imlah

LEVITICAL CITY: Ajalon

On Week Sixteen, still in the month of Teveth, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how the Jewish people made G-d angry due to their idol worship. Idol worship and other abominations were also the cause of the destruction of the First Temple, which is related to Teveth. Idol worship is also specifically related to the Tribe of Dan (represented by Teveth), in that this trie was the first one to introduce idol worship in the Land of Israel after its conquest. This tragic event is depicted in the account of Pessel Micha, the statue of Micha, toward the end of the Book of Judges.

This week’s verse in Haazinu can also be understood more positively. Perhaps the zealousness and anger here can be understood not as a reference to Hashem, but as a reference to the Jewish people, in that they were zealous and angry for G-d. In fact, the tremendous zeal against idolatry was one of the defining characteristics of the Macabbees. Kohanim as a whole are known for their zeal as well as sometimes for their “hot-headedness.”

The Haftarah’s verse again appears to parallel a more positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu. Rashi comments that the verse is actually a reference to the redemption from Egypt – the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. 

Perhaps the depths of the sea is a reference to the Talmud; similarly, the “foundations of the world” may also be a reference to the Temple. The Temple itself (and the Even Shtiah, the foundation stone, contained within it), represents the foundation of the world, the point in which Creation began.

The quality for this week is Mishnah, the Oral Torah. This week is still very much connected to the tragedy of the 10th of Teveth, which occurred due to the relative lack of importance and holiness attributed to Torah study.

This week’s prophet is Michaiah son of Imlah. One of the key aspects of the oral Torah is the need to be true to its method of being passed on from generation to generation, and the need to be true to ourselves in the method of its interpretation. Sometimes, there are “rabbis” who claim to be speaking in the name of the oral tradition, but are in fact corrupting it. In Machaia’s story, in Kings I, Chapter 22, 400 false prophets claimed to have a positive interpretation of the events, while only one prophet, the true one, saw things as they really were. The story shows that even false prophets can be moved by a “spirit,” but that spirit nonetheless may be false. Michaia prophesized in the times of Ahab, who was a wicked king that nevertheless studied Torah. Again, this represents a corruption of the values connected to Torah study, which are at the root of the events of the 10th of Teveth.

The levitical city for this week is Ayalon. This is the place in which Joshua ordered the moon to stop, and where he was greatly victorious against five Amorite kings. The Talmud states that the sun and a the moon are a metaphor for Moshe and Joshua, and the process of disseminating the oral tradition. Just as Joshua received the oral tradition from Moshe, so too does the moon receive its light from the sun. The moon contains no light of its own – it is completely nullified to the light of the sun.

Teveth is the only month that has a holiday in the new moon, Chanukah. The new moon and its subsequent waxing and waning are symbolic of the concept of being small but then growing tremendously, a characteristic of the month of Teveth and the Tribe of Dan. Just as the moon almost disappears completely but then makes its way back  to full size, so too the Jewish people.

Ayalon’s history after its conquest by Joshua is depicted in various places in Tanach, and like the story of the Jewish people as a whole, it had its “ups and downs.” The Amorites pushed out the Tribe of Dan from this area, although it was later the scene of victory of King Saul and Jonathan over the Philistines, and was later inhabited by the tribes of Benjamin and Efraim. When the Kingdom split between Israel and Judah, Ayalon was near the border between these two entities, and the city was fortified by Rehoboam, the King of Judah.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Week 17 (Book 2): Obadiah and Minimized Business Activity


HAAZINU:They sacrificed to demons, which have no power, deities they did not know, new things that only recently came, which your forefathers did not fear. (Deuteronomy 32:17)

Positive Light: Would they sacrifice to demons? No. [Their] power was G-d; they did not know new ones. They came from close by, [and] your forefathers did not fear them.

HAFTARAH: He sent from on high [and] He took me; He drew me out of many waters. (II Samuel 22:17)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Minimized Business Activity (Miut Schorah)

PROPHET: Obadiah

LEVITICAL CITY: Gath-Rimmon

The seventeenth week of the year is the last in the month of Teveth. The verse in Haazinu continues to make reference to idolatry and their abandoning G-d. As mentioned previously, these are themes related to Teveth and the Tribe of Dan.

Again, this week’s verse in Haazinu can also take on a more positive note. It could be read in such a way that would indicate that they rejected idolatry and assimilation. Assimilation’s attraction, in the times of the Greeks as well as today, is that it is depicted as being something new and contemporary, while the values of the Torah are portrayed as being “outdated.” Another attraction of assimilation is that the attraction of other cultures is exactly related to those aspects that are closest to the Torah and to people that are like us. The Greeks and helenized Jews came from close, they championed values, such as wisdom and humanism, that were often quite close to Jewish ideals.

This week’s Haftarah verse is in line with the positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu. Hashem remained connected to the Jewish people throughout their struggles. In times of many enticements, he drew them “out of many waters.” As mentioned in Book 1, “many waters” is a reference to struggles when making a living.

The quality of this week is minimized business activity, miut schorah. Business activity and the quest for money can easily become “idolatrous.” It can become an end in of itself, and we end up forgetting the whole point of why we sought to have money in the first place – to be able to better serve our Creator and provide for our families. That is why the Torah advises us to conduct our business affairs with “miut,” smallness and humility, remembering that ultimately our study of Torah and our service to G-d is what is most important.

This week’s prophet is Obadiah. Obadiah, like Michaia, prophecized in the times of King Ahab, in which idolatry became rampant. Ahab himself also exemplified the very lack of miut schorah – taking the field of another by force, and killing the owner. It was for this act that Ahab was punished with a Heavenly death sentence.

Obadiah, on the other hand, is perhaps the best example of “business activity” with humility and smallness before G-d. He used his money to keep alive one hundred prophets, and protect them against Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.  It was this act that earned him prophecy. Obadiah’s name also hints to this quality, as it means the servant/worker of G-d. Obadiah understood that his main work was not for men, but for G-d.

Obadiah’s prophecy, recorded in the Tanach, is about how G-d loves Jacob and hates Esau – the message in the fight against assimilation. Much of what attracted the Jews to Roman culture and its ofshoots are their similarities with Judaism. Esau is Jacob’s brother after all. Like Jacob himself told Esau,

And he said to him, "My master knows that the children are tender, and the flocks and the cattle, which are raising their young, depend upon me, and if they overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die. Now, let my master go ahead before his servant, and I will move [at] my own slow pace, according to the pace of the work that is before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my master, to Seir. (Genesis 33:13, 14)

Jacob did not want to stay with Esau and have him be a bad influence on his family. Perhaps now it is also better understood why Jacob spoke of the flocks as well as of his children. Jacob did not want his possessions to be prey to Esau’s unending ambition.

The levitical city for this week is Gath-rimmon. It means winepress of pomegranites: Here again, when we are out in the world, engaging in business activity and facing its darkness, we have the opportunity to do many mitzvoth, and be full like the pomegranate. The pomegranate’s many seeds is also a reference to the ability to multiply, which is connected with Teveth.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Week 18 (Book 2): Achia HaShiloni and "Minimized" World Activity


HAAZINU: You forgot the [Mighty] Rock Who bore you; you forgot the G-d Who delivered you. (Deuteronomy 32:18)

Positive light: Rock [or Creator], they are your children; forget completely [our sins]; G-d delivers you.

HAFTORAH: He delivered me from my mighty enemy; from them that hated me; for they were too powerful for me. (II Samuel 22:18)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Minimized World Activity (Miut Derech Eretz)

PROPHET: Achiah HaShiloni

LEVITICAL CITY: Mishal

On Week Eighteen, Rosh Chodesh Shevat, Haazinu’s verse speaks of how the Jewish people forgot about G-d, who bore and delivered them. Shevat is a month very much connected with nature – it includes the New Year of the Trees. It therefore seems appropriate that the verse speak of G-d’s relationship to us using the “natural” metaphor of giving birth. However, Shevat also represents the idea of being above nature, as well as the Oral Torah; it represents the idea of taanug (pleasure) and emunah (celebrating Tu B’Shvat in the midst of winter).

This week’s verse in Haazinu can also be understood more positively, as a prayer. “Rock [or Creator], they are your children; forget completely [our sins]; G-d delivers you.” The Haftorah’s verse also appears to continue the theme of prayer. The verse describes G-d’s intervention in the world in a way that is above nature.(See below about the Levitical City of Mishal, below, as well as the Grasshopper in Week 18 of Book 1).   

The quality for this week is minimized world activity (miut derech eretz). This seems to be a direct parallel with the Pirkei Avot teaching for this week in Book 1. When all of one’s affairs in this world are in a way of miut (humble and "minimized"), we see much more the Hand of G-d in all of our affairs.

This week’s prophet is Achiah HaShiloni. He, perhaps more than anyone, represents the idea of acting in a way that is above nature. He lived longer than any of the other prophets (as recorded by Maimonides, and taught Eliyahu HaNavi as well as the Ba’al Shem Tov. It was because of both men's minimized world activity that they merited to have Achiah HaShiloni revealed to them.

Achiah also told the Ba’al Shem Tov that he needed to reveal himself to the world. He directed him to be involved in the world, but in a way of miut, "smallness." Additionally, the Baal Shem Tov spoke of the importance of being a genuine and good person and having a simple connection to G-d. This seems related to both the idea of “Derech Eretz” – having good behavior and being a mentch, as well as the idea of taking care of the “Amei Ha’Aretz,” simple folk.



The levitical city for this week is Mishal, which means prayer, request. This is related to the song of the Grasshopper (Week 18, Book 1) , and to the Shmoneh Esreh, which has eighteen blessings. It is also related to ta’anug and to emunah, qualities of the month of Shevat. Mishal also has the same letters as Moshel, to rule. In prayer, we accept the notion that G-d is the ultimate Ruler.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Week 19 (Book 2): Jehu and "Minimized" Pleasure (Ta'anug)



And the Lord saw this and became angry, provoked by His sons and daughters. (Deuteronomy 32:19)
Positive light: And G-d saw this [the prayer], and became insulted with the anger against His sons and daughters.

They confronted me on the day of my calamity; but the Lord was a support to me. (II Samuel 22:19)
                               
Minimized Pleasure (Miut Ta’anug)

Jehu son of Hanani

Abdon

The nineteenth week of the year is the second in the month of Shevat. The verse in Haazinu continues to make reference to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people as being one between a parent and a child. This week’s verse in Haazinu can also take on a more positive note. It could be read in such a way that would indicate that G-d took offense to the anger directed towards His children.

This week’s Haftarah verse is in line with this positive interpretation. It speaks of G-d’s support in times when we are attacked. The support comes from King David’s emunah, one of the themes of the month of Shevat, along with ta’anug, pleasure.

Quite appropriately, the quality of this week is minimized pleasure, miut ta’anug. Again, the idea is not to rid oneself of pleasure altogether, rather to do so with miut, smallness and humility. The idea is to enjoy the world’s pleasure in a way that elevates the world and connects us back to its Creator.

This week’s prophet is Jehu son of Hanani. Jehu spoke out against the corruption of both the kings of Israel and of Judah at the time. Interestingly though, in one of his few positive statements, Jehu praises Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, for his miut ta’anug - having removed idolatrous Ashera trees from his kingdom: “Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast put away the Asheroth out of the land, and hast set thy heart to seek G-d.” (2 Chronicles 19:3) Asherah trees were used for idol worship, as well as to beautify the places in which it was performed. Even though it was pleasing to the senses, planting such a tree near the altar is a violation of a Torah commandment.[1] In fact, Maimonides writes that Jews are forbidden from deriving any pleasure or benefit from such trees used for idol worship. (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 7:10-11) Trees is the most prominent theme of this month.

The levitical city for this week is Abdon. It comes from the word eved, servant. It brings to mind the famous verse found in the Torah portion of Beshalach: "Vaya'aminu BaHashem ub'Moshe Avdo," and they believed in in Hashem and in Moshe His servant. Abdon was also the name of one of the Judges of Israel. The Tanach states that the sons and grandsons of Abdon rode on seventy donkeys. All of the above appears connected to the idea of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah, particularly the Oral Torah, related to this month of Shevat




[1]  http://www.kolel.org/pages/5765/shoftim.html
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