Friday - Shabbat, Aug 28 - Aug 29, 2015

Torah Reading: Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19)
Haftorah (for Ki Teitzei and R'ei): Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5
Note: In addition to the weekly Haftorah, we make up the Haftorah for Parshat R'ei which was replaced two weeks ago with the Haftorah of Rosh Chodesh

Pirkei Avot: Chapters 1-2

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:16 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:16 PM


Ki Teitzei

The Rebellious Son and Daughter

One of the most troubling features of modern times is the phenomenon of the wayward child; the child who rebels against his or her parents, their values and way of life.

This phenomenon is not new and has been addressed by the Torah; in this week’s parsha, where it discusses the “ben sorer u’moreh-the rebellious child.” The underlying message of this section is that moral education must start early, otherwise what seems to be a relatively mild form of rebellion can morph into a deadly form.

In truth, the Oral tradition, as recorded in the Talmud, attaches many conditions towards becoming a full-fledged ben sorer u’moreh, and be “eligible” for its harsh punishment. These conditions are so onerous, that it was virtually impossible to ever mete out the punishment. This prompted our Sages to declare: “a Ben sorer u’moreh never existed in real life.” It seems that the Torah’s intent was to present us with a hypothetical scenario to teach us vital lessons concerning the moral education of our children.

The Talmud (end of Tractate Sukkah) records an example of a rebellious young woman, whose name was Miriam bas Bilgah, who rebelled against her people and brought disgrace and calumny on her entire family. This Miriam, converted to the pagan, Hellenic faith and married a Greek official. She entered the Temple and pounded the Altar with her shoe and declared: “Wolf wolf! You have plundered the property of the Jewish people, but you did not stand by them in their time of need!”

Two Windows Shut Down

Because of her radically irreverent behavior, which, the Talmud assumes, she picked up from her own parents, her entire family, was penalized.

Bilgah, was the name of one of the 24 families of priests who were privileged to serve in the Beis Hamikdash. Because of the negative influence of this family it was relegated to an inferior position in the Temple. One of the ways it was penalized, the Mishnah (the end of Tractate Sukkah) states: “its window was sealed.”

There are two explanations as to the meaning of “its window.” According to Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah, each of the 24 families had its own alcove where their priestly garments were kept. Bilgah’s family window-alcove was sealed compelling it to store its garments with some other family.

According to the Jerusalem Talmud, however, the “window” refers to the alcove where they kept their knives needed for the slaughtering of the sacrificial animals in the Temple. This family could no longer use their own alcove.

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

A punishment must fit the crime. There must, therefore, be a connection between the punishment and the transgression of Miriam bas Bilgah and of the entire Bilgah clan. Why would removing their access to a window be a suiting punishment for disrespecting the Altar and the Temple? And what connection does the sealing of these two alcoves (where they stored the priestly garments and knives) have with Miriam bas Bilgah’s errant behavior?

Furthermore, why does Maimonides offer an alternative explanation for the alcove that was sealed and not cite the one given by the Jerusalem Talmud (that it was the alcove where they stored the knives)?

Melody Opens Windows

To understand the deeper meaning of this entire episode we ought to reflect on the spiritual dimension of “windows.”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe), commented on the rabbinic phrase: “Kol m’orer hakavanah-melody awakens concentration.” Simply put this means that when we vocalize our prayers it helps to stimulate our focus and concentration. The Previous Rebbe, however, interpreted this phrase in a novel fashion: “Melody opens up windows.” The Hebrew word kavanah is etymologically related to an Aramaic word which means windows. Music has the capacity to open windows in our soul.

Prayer is a meditative experience in which we engage the mind with the understanding of G‑d’s greatness, His providence and love for us, etc. This reflection is intended to ignite passion for G‑d in our hearts, which should ultimately affect our thought, speech and action throughout the day. What begins in the mind, passes through the heart, and extends to all of our functions.

But, there are times when we experience a blockage between the mind and the heart. As much as the mind tries to arouse our emotions, we remain numb. When that occurs, our efforts must be directed at opening a “window” between our mind and heart.

And then there are times when we do get inspired, but we nevertheless experience resistance when we attempt to translate that excitement into practice. Once again, we have to open a window to allow the inspiration to reach our thoughts, speech and action.

The medium that opens up these windows for us, the Previous Rebbe explained, is melody. Music, has the capacity to open up windows that allows our mind’s understanding to reach our heart’s emotions, and from there flow unobstructed to and through our entire being.

The Root Cause: Sealed Windows

To reveal the cause of their errant behavior the Sages of the Temple period had the windows to the members of the Bilgah family’s knives and priestly garments sealed to impress upon them, and serve as a lesson for us, that their rebellious behavior was rooted in their failure to open up two parallel windows in their own lives.

Miriam bas Bilgah was a product of exile conditions. She was under the spell of the Greek way of life. The Greek’s of that period were known for their brilliant philosophical teachings. However, their intellectual knowledge, which included sophisticated teachings about morality, rather than introducing enlightenment to the world (micro and macro), brought moral and spiritual decadence and darkness.

Miriam bas Bilgah was a product of this milieu which engendered the twin blockage between the mind and the heart and between the heart and behavior.

The window or alcove where the knives were stored was symbolic of the constricted neck area, which serves as the blockage between the mind and the heart. The knives were used to sever the head from the heart and alluded to the root cause of Miriam bas Bilgah’s behavior. There was a severance of the connection between mind and heart.

The other opinion (that the window where the priestly garments were stored was sealed) focuses on the second blockage between the heart and thought speech and action, which are referred to in the Tanya (Chapter 4) as the soul’s garments. Our personality consists of our intellect and emotions. Thought, speech and action are the “garments” of our soul because, as garments which lend expression to our bodies, they express our personality; our understanding and our emotions.

Jerusalem Talmud Windows

The Jerusalem Talmud is known as the Talmud of light which represents clarity of mind. In this illuminated environment, the problem which causes rebellious behavior, must be attributed to a blockage between the mind, the source of light and enlightenment, and the heart. A person, bereft of all feelings for G‑d and Torah, will inevitably lose their desire to abide by the Torah’s directives.

The Babylonian Talmud, by contrast, is known as the Talmud of darkness, because it was composed in the Babylonian exile and has to contend with more dismal exile conditions. In these times, our primary focus has to be on our soul’s garments; thought speech and action. While we must never give up on bringing more light to our minds and opening up windows to our hearts, what is now most crucial is the translation of our ideals into practice. Maimonides, cited by the Rebbe on numerous occasions declares: “One thought, word or action can tip the scales for the good and bring salvation to the entire world.”

Babylusalem Talmud? A

As we stand today straddling the fence between Galus-exile and Geulah-Redemption we must integrate both the Babylonian Talmud model of windows (removal of the blockage that does not allow our actions to follow our feelings) and the Jerusalem Talmud paradigm (removal of the blockage between our mind and our heart).

How do we open both windows?

In addition to learning Torah (particularly the subject of Redemption and Moshiach, which will alter the way we think and bring more G‑dly light into our minds, which in turn, has a greater capacity to affect our emotions and our behavior), the Rebbe advocated increased joy.

This is in tune (no pun intended) with the Previous Rebbe’s interpretation of the words “melody opens windows.” Spiritual Jewish music (such as Chassidic nigunim) has the capacity to break through all the blockages, especially the melodies which express true spiritual joy.

Indeed, the Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) stated, “Simcha-joy breaks through boundaries.”

Bilgah: With Joy

It is interesting to note that according to a 18th century Sephardic Sage, the letters of the name Bilgah, can be rearranged to read “b’gilah” with joy.

When we reject the misguided exile melodies and embrace the kosher and holy joy (including the profound and spiritually uplifting Chabad Chassidic melodies) which derives from our anticipation of the imminent Geulah, we can open up all the windows in our souls and remove the curse of the sealing of Bilgah’s windows.

We will no longer have to witness the so-called “generation gap” which turns our youth against their elders, as in the ben sorer u’moreh model, because our youth will experience the joy of Judaism and of the Geulah and we will see the fulfillment of the Biblical prediction, “the hearts of the fathers will be restored through the children.”

Even today Moshiach “watches from the windows and peers through the cracks,” but, imminently we will see the total removal of the barriers, so there will no longer be a need for windows to prevent the Miriam bas Bilgahs- singing the wrong tune (b’gilah). Instead even those “who repose in the earth will arise and sing,” the “tenth song” with Moshiach’s harp that will ultimately consist of ten strands!