Tag Archives: Jordan

Rabbi Goren & the Threshing Floor of Thorns

In this week’s parasha, Vayechi, we read about the passing and burial of Jacob. We are told that all of Egypt mourned his death for seventy days, after which Joseph requested permission to take leave and bury his father in the Holy Land. The whole family went along for the journey (except the youngest infants), together with many high-ranking Egyptian officials and dignitaries (Genesis 50:7). Then the Torah tells us that

they came to Goren haAtad, which is beyond the Jordan, they held there a very great and solemn lamentation; and he observed a mourning period of seven days for his father. And when the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning at Goren haAtad, they said, “This is a solemn mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” That is why it was named Avel-Mitzraim, which is beyond the Jordan. (50:10-11)

The commentators are puzzled by these perplexing verses. What is meant by Goren haAtad? Why did they bother traveling “beyond the Jordan” if they were coming up from Egypt? Why did the family mourn again, for another seven days (especially since Jacob had not even been buried yet)? Why did the Canaanites suddenly show up?

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) says goren means a “threshing floor” and atad means “thorns”. But why would anyone thresh thorns? Rashi explains that the Canaanites and Ishmaelites came to wage war when they saw the massive procession coming up out of Egypt. They then saw Jacob’s coffin, and Joseph’s crown resting atop, and each of their leaders came to pay their respects, too, and hung their own crowns around the coffin. The Talmud (Sotah 13a) that Rashi quotes from says that the leaders of Esau were there, too, and altogether there were 36 crowns hung around Jacob’s coffin. This gave the whole thing an appearance like a “threshing floor surrounded by thorns”.

If we look at the design of ancient threshing floors, we find a circular flat surface, usually surrounded by rocks or a low-lying fence. The outer barrier was probably to keep away wild animals from consuming the grain that was being threshed, or to keep the oxen doing the threshing from wandering away. Instead of rocks or a fence, one could plant thorny bushes around the threshing floor for the same reason. That might explain the appearance of Jacob’s coffin in the centre, surrounded by “thorny” crowns all around.

A threshing floor in Santorini, Greece

The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, 1550-1619) isn’t too happy with this explanation. He points out that if it was common to surround threshing floors with thorns back then, why is this particular one called “the threshing floor of thorns”? He provides some alternate explanations: one has to do with the death of Jacob bringing about another famine in Egypt, while the other sees “thorns” as symbolic of wicked people whose fate is to be “threshed” and destroyed. The Torah is indeed speaking about threshing thorns here! We know that every verse in the Torah is encoding much deeper information, mystical, prophetic, and relevant for all time. So, what is the Torah really trying to tell us here? What might the “threshing floor for thorns”, this Goren haAtad, really be? Continue reading

The Zohar Prophecy of the Six-Day War

Tonight, we usher in Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, commemorating the liberation of Jerusalem on the 28th of Iyar, 5727 (June 7, 1967) during the Six-Day War. As explored in depth before, Yom Yerushalayim happens to be on the day of Sefirat haOmer that corresponds to Chessed sh’b’Malkhut, literally “Kindness in Kingdom”. It is the first day, and first step, of the Malkhut week. In the same way, the liberation of Jerusalem on that day in 1967 was the first step towards re-establishing the ultimate Malkhut, God’s Kingdom, here on Earth, and restoring Malkhut David, the Kingdom of David in Israel. After all, it is King David who first established Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. The aspect of Chessed on this day was that Yom Yerushalayim—and the entire miraculous Six-Day War in general—was a clear display of God’s Kindness. More amazing still, the Zohar seems to have exactly predicted this day many centuries earlier.

IDF Paratroopers that liberated Jerusalem, with Rabbi Shlomo Goren holding a Torah scroll, at the Western Wall on June 7, 1967.

In Zohar Chadash on parashat Balak, the Zohar comments on the End of Days prophecy of Bilaam. Recall that the gentile prophet Bilaam was hired by King Balak of Moab to curse Israel, but instead ended up blessing Israel. Within his blessing, he gave a prophecy of Acharit haYamim, the “End of Days” (Numbers 24:14, one of four places in the Torah where Acharit haYamim is mentioned). One of the things that Bilaam predicted was that in the far future (“I see it, but not now…”) the princes of Moab would be subdued. The Zohar Chadash expounds upon this verse and says:

In the End of Days, (according to the metaphorical “days”) when the sun will rise in the “Sixth Day”, when the cycle of years will work out in such a way that the Sabbatical and Jubilee will come together, which will happen 274 years [before the end] of the “Sixth Day”, a sound will go forth to arouse the great heights of the heavens…

The Zohar goes on to describe in detail the events that will happen in those final years, the “birth pangs of the Messiah”, culminating in the coming of Mashiach and his subsequent kingship. The Zohar employs the famous notion that each day of Creation corresponds to a millennium of civilization. Civilization as we know it is meant to last for 6000 years. The Messianic Age must come before the end of the sixth millennium, ie. the cosmic “Sixth Day”, to usher in the final Cosmic Shabbat millennium. The Zohar says that 274 years before the end of the Sixth Day there will be a Sabbatical Shemittah year, followed by a Jubilee (the 50th year of the Sabbatical cycle). So, if we count 274 years from the end of 6000, we get to the Jewish year 5726, or 1966. That year was indeed observed as a Sabbatical year in Israel. The following year, 5727 (corresponding to the end of 1966 and most of 1967), would have been a Jubilee. We also know that the Messianic Age is meant to begin after the conclusion of a Sabbatical year (as stated in multiple places in Midrash and Talmud, such as Sanhedrin 97a). Thus, it seems the Zohar posited long ago that the “Footsteps of the Messiah” period would begin in 1967.

This fits perfectly with what actually happened in 1967, when Israel miraculously routed all of its enemies in a mere six days (which, I think, is further symbolic of this Zohar prophecy that repeatedly speaks of the “Sixth Day” over and over again). More significantly, after two millennia, the Jewish people were once more in control of their holiest city and eternal capital, as well as the surrounding Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. Recall that Israel recaptured Jerusalem and the “West Bank” from the Jordanians. Jordan lies on the ancient territory of Moab, and the Zohar specifically gives this prophecy in its discourse on the verse that says the princes of Moab would be subdued!

Rabbi Shlomo Goren blows the shofar by the Western Wall during the 1967 liberation of Jerusalem.

Finally, we can deduce from the Zohar that 1967 was a Jubilee year. The Torah states that in a Jubilee year, a shofar should be blown and “freedom should be proclaimed in all the land…” (Leviticus 25:10) This makes Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall during the liberation of Jerusalem even more significant. It may very well be that the recapture and reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 formally began the pre-Messianic Age, and we are undoubtedly nearing the fulfilment of the rest of the incredible prophecies, too.

Happy Jerusalem Day!

*Postscript: Since first publishing this article, there have been some requests at clarification of the Zohar chronology. The exact language of the Zohar is רע”ד מן יומא שתיתאה, meaning “274 years from the sixth day”. Some interpret it to mean 274 years into the sixth day, meaning the year 5274. However, that year was not a shemittah year, so it cannot be the meaning of the Zohar. We have to say the Zohar means 274 years from the end of the sixth day, meaning 5726, and that year was indeed a shemittah. (Besides, the passage begins by saying this will happen at the End of Days, so we would expect a year closer to the final 6000.) Some have pointed out that certain commentaries say there is an alternate version of this Zohar that says 384 years, not 274, but using 384 is even more problematic since we do not get a shemittah year either counting from the start or from the end of the sixth day! I believe the only possible accurate reading is indeed “274 years from the end of the sixth day”.

What are the True Borders of Israel?

This week we read another double portion, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. The latter, literally meaning “holies”, instructs us on the key mitzvot that make us especially holy. Of course, while all of the Torah’s mitzvot serve to make us holier, the ones in Kedoshim particularly have special merits. The list starts with revering one’s parents and observing the Sabbath (Leviticus 19:3). It peaks with the famous mitzvot of judging others favourably (v. 15), not gossiping (v. 16) nor bearing a grudge (v. 18), and loving your fellow as yourself. Other big mitzvot include not wearing shaatnez (v. 19, a mixture of wool and linen), and not getting tattooed (v. 28). Finally, there is a list of prohibited sexual relationships, before God says: Continue reading