Friday, August 20, 2010

Elul/Ki Seitzei: Purim, Shevet Dan and the lessons for a better Rosh HaShana

This week’s Parsha on the whole deals with the issue of Tikkun, rectification. Through a closer analysis of the Tikkun of Elul and the general Tikkun of the world we will be able to hopefully come away with a strong lesson on how to overcome that which prevents us from making the most of our experience on Rosh HaShana.

An apology is required in advance – this essay is longer than usual. This is due to a larger spectrum of factors that are dealt with. The connections are broad and beautiful. Enjoy.

The concepts we will hopefully discuss have been influenced by Emunas Itecha, Pachad Yitzchak Rav Reichman and Rav Sitorsky.

To put things in perspective let’s lay down a few examples as to how Ki Seitzei raises the issue of rectification. The first concept discussed is that of the Eishes Yefas To’ar. We are told that in the course of a battle, if a warrior sees a woman who catches his eye, then with certain regulations he can take her as his own. While on the simple level we see this as the Torah creating a leniency for our baser desires as the Gemara describes, the Ohr HaChayim takes a more esoteric approach:

When we go to war as a nation we are doing so on a much higher level, way above that which rests on the geo-political playing field. When Am Yisrael goes to war in a manner of holiness we are doing so do eliminate the forces of evil in the world. The very physical action of destroying that which opposes Hashem creates a massive spiritual Tikkun.

But even in the evil of that which we need to destroy exists small sparks of holiness that can be saved and salvaged. And with the careful eye of the Tzaddikim fighting in Hashem’s army they can pick out those sparks of holiness and release them from the evil which keeps them on lock-down.

So – when we go to war to destroy evil, where are those hidden sparks of holiness hidden? In the Eishes Yefas Toar. By destroying the evil of the enemy as a whole and simultaneously picking out the small bits of that which is good we can bring a Tikkun to the nation which we are batteling.

Another example that we see is found when we learn about Hashavas Aveida - returning a lost object. How is this a Tikkun? Bob has a certain amount of property to his name – his control extends over these objects. If he loses something, then that lost object extends beyond the reach of his control. He who returns the object to Bob has brought about a Tikkun to the wholeness of Bob’s property.

There are other examples, but that’s not our focus. We need to discuss the most important Tikkun of all, and that is how our Parsha ends. We need to delve into Mechias Amalek - the total decimation of Amalek.

The Jewish people were one fire. After inexplicable miracles they leave Egypt in full glory. They are on the way to Har Sinai. They are bound to receive the Torah. Everything is great.

But what happened to the Jewish people on the path? Amalek attacked. The Passuk in our Parsha says, “Asher Karcha BaDerech” they happened upon you on the Derech - the way. The Stutchiner Rebbe Shlita brings out the depth of the Passuk. Reb Tzadok HaKohen explains that in order to reach the most intrinsic meaning of what a word in Torah really means then the analysis must begin with how it is used the first time that it appears in Torah. So where is the first time that we Derech? Back in Parshas Bereishis. Let’s analyze.

Adam HaRishon is born on Rosh HaShana. He doesn’t even last a few short hours before sinning with the Eitz HaDa’as. He eats from the Tree of Knowledge and is forced to leave the Garden.

Hashem placed two angels with revolving, flaming swords to block the passage back into Gan Eden. This path is what the Torah calls the Derech Eitz HaChayim, the way (back) to the Tree of Life. And thus based on this we see that the Derech that Amalek interrupted when we were attacked in the desert was the Derech Eitz HaChayim.

How is the journey to Har Sinai the Derech Eitz HaChayim? The answer is that we call Torah, Eitz Chayim Hi LaMachazikim Ba, Torah is the Tree of life for those that cleave to it. We describe Torah as Chayeh Olam eternal life, exactly how the Torah described the potential results of eating from the original Eitz HaChayim situated in Gan Eden. The journey to Har Sinai where Amalek attacked is the Derech Eitz HaChayim. And destroying him (even if as a concept more than a physical nation) means clearing
That Derech.

To bring things a bit deeper, let’s introduce a concept about the Jewish cycle of the year. The Mishna tells us that the world really has two starting points: Nisan and Tishrei. If we see the Jewish calendar as a circle with twelve sections, then we would see these two months six months apart on exactly opposing parts of the year. What emerges is that these two starting points generate two different perspectives of the twelve months that make up the journey through the year.

Thus if both of these months are a “Rosh HaShana” of sorts that would mean that the processes leading up to them would also parallel on a certain level. So Elul, our month, which precedes the Rosh HaShana of Tisrei would chronologically line up with Adar, the month which precedes the “Rosh HaShana” that takes place in Nisan.

It takes little seeking to see how Adar is a month of the destruction of Amalek. Adar’s heavy-hitting holiday is Purim. Purim is the holiday where we battle and defeat Haman, both the biological and ideological outgrowth of Amalek. It is in this month where Amalek as an entity takes a tremendous blow. And Chazal tell us that our victory on Purim served as a re-acceptance of the Torah. All that which was lacking due to Amaleks attack on the way to Har Sinai was undone and was given a Tikkun when we overcame those same forces on Purim.

How does this connect back to Elul? As we have previously seen, Elul serves an acrostic, or Rashei Tevios for many different things, each of those different initials revealing another facet of the month. This week we can point out another, surprising Rashei Teivos for Elul. In Megilas Ester we are commanded to send gifts Ish L’Rei’eihu U’Matanos L’Evyonim - Gifts from man to his friend and presents to the poor. This Rashei Teivos of this phrase in the Megila also serve as the letters which spell Elul – thus connecting Adar to Elul and more specifically Purim to Ki Seitize.

A quick review before we go on: Adar and Elul are parallels on the two simultaneous cycles of the year. Adar, the month of Purim, which is a battle against Amalek lines up against our Parsha, the Parsha of Tikkun which comes to a peak with the biggest Tikkun of all which is Mechias Amalek. It is Amalek who is responsible for keeping us away from the national Tikkun of getting back to the Eitz HaChayim and out from the under the influence of the Eitz HaDa’as.

There is much discussion as to how the Original Snake which caused the sin of the Eitz HaDa’as later came to be revealed in human, then national, then ideological form of Amalek. In the same way that the Snake caused Chava (Eve) to doubt the totally unified dominance of Hashem, so too Amalek continues in this path trying to insert doubt into our Emunah - faith, and thus the Gematria, the numerical value of Amalek is Safek which is the Hebrew word for doubt. Both the Snake and Amalek prey on the loose ends, the sensitive areas, the weakest points, seeing as those would be the best choices for places to combat clear Emunah and replace it with Safek.

And that is exactly what Amalek did. When Amalek attacked, the Passuk says that he attacked “HaNecheshalim, the weak and the tired, those who straggled behind. The commentators tell us that these stragglers were the members of the Tribe of Dan who were forced to follow the rest of the camp from behind due to their issues with Emunah (shockingly, they got caught up in idol-worship upon the exodus from Egypt). So it makes a lot of sense that Amalek would strike here.

How is this relevant? We know that in the camp, each tribe was given a flag with an image that thematically described what that tribe was all about - Dan’s flag contained a picture of what? A Snake.

Dan in his ideal state represents the Nachash D’Kedusha the snake on the side of holiness, as displayed by his flag as well as the blessing which he receives from Yaakov Avinu. At the end of Sefer Bereishis where Yaakov Avinu blesses all the tribes, he says the following about Dan. “Dan Yadin Amo - Dan shall avenge his peopleYihi Dan Nachash Alei Derech - and Dan shall be a snake upon the Derech (the reader knows exactly which Derech is being referenced here!).

On the other hand, as we have explained, Amalek brings out the Nachash D’Tumah, the snake on the side of impurity. Thus had Amalek’s attack on the tribe of Dan been fully successful it would have been a decisive display of the dominance of the Nachash D’Tumah.

In the blessing we mentioned a moment ago Yaakov said that Dan will take revenge for his people. When does this happen? It happens in this week. Parshas Ki Seitzei always falls out in the week of the Ninth of Elul, which we are taught is the Yartzeit, the commemoration of the passing of Dan. (In Judaism, the day one dies marks the day that his life source came into its fullest fruitin and therefore nothing is left. And on that day, every year after an expression of that person’s soul re-enters the world. Thus Dan’s passing on in this week would mean that…) even though Amalek struck first, Parshas Ki Seitzei, which comes out in Dan’s week shows us that in the end the Nachas D’Kedusha of Dan will win out with the eventual Mechias Amalek.

Fine, so we need to go through this week’s Parsha with all of its connections to learn about the depth of destroying Amalek. But how is this going to give us a better Rosh HaShana?

We are told to destroy Amalek. How are we told to do this? Through the commandment of Zachor. Don’t forget what he did to you. How does remembering him help us wipe him out? Certainly the opposite is true! IF we forget all about Amalek that will lead to him eventually being swept away in the pages of history! Remebering him seems counter-intuitive to totally destroying him.

We can answer in the following way: We explained that Amalek’s key weapon is doubt. Doubt takes that which was clear to me originally and shakes things up so that I end up less certain of those same concepts. Thus it is the power of memory, constant review, a repetitive internalization of the fact the God runs the show that overcomes the doubt that Amalek uses to break our Emunah. Thus it is through Zachor that we overcome Safek.

The connection to Rosh HaShana is simple. Rosh Hashana is the day that we declare God as King. We drive the message of Emunah home like no other time of the year. And throughout our sources, Rosh HaShana is called many times by the name of Yom HaZicaron - the Day of Memory.

It is Amalek, the Snake, the Sin of the tree of knowledge and the doubt which comes with all three of them which keep us away from internalizing that God is King. But through destroying this doubt, through Mechias Amalek we can overcome these hurdles and truly celebrate our connection to the Divine.

It is a tremendous Avodah to constantly work on one’s Emunah. But it this task which will bring about Mechias Amalek and the eventual complete Tikkun of the world. Let’s start this week. The week of Dan, the week of the Parsha of Tikkun, when we connect back to Purim – now is the most opportune time to connect ourselves to our most powerful faculties of Zicaron.

If we can truly work on our Emunah, if we can truly drive home the point that God is king, then it will serve as a personal Tikkun for each one of personally. It is through this that we will be able to make the most of our time in Elul, eventually in Rosh HaShana and hopefully in our lives on the whole. If we can do this there is no doubt that we will live lives of happiness and meaning, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately to Tikkun Olam!

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