Thursday, April 19, 2018

If It All Turned White It Is Pure

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Most of the parsha of Tazria tells us the laws of diagnosing and quarantining a Metzora. It begins to say that if a person notices a white patch develop on his skin, he should be brought before a Kohen, only a Kohen can pronounce a person ritually impure on account of Tzaraas. If the Kohen sees that hair inside the patch changed from its color to white or the white patch appears deeper than the skin around it, it is definitely Tzaraas and the Kohen pronounces him ritually impure. If however he doesn't see one of these signs, the Kohen will quarantine the person for seven days. On the seventh day, the Kohen reexamines the person. If he sees one of the signs or if the patch became bigger, he is pronounced impure. If it becomes smaller or darker than the usual shades of Tzaraas, it is not Tzaraas. If it is the same as it was the first time he was examined, the Kohen quarantines him for another seven days. 

On the seventh day, the Kohen reexamines him as before, and the same rules apply, except that this time, if the patch remains the same, it is not Tzaraas, and he is pronounced ritually pure of Tzaraas. 

In a case that the Kohen determined that it was indeed not Tzaraas, the person must wash his clothes and go to the mikvah and he is pure. In other words, even though he is not a Metzora, he was considered impure, but at a lower level of impurity. 

Then the Torah seems to continue with these laws, but for some reason, it starts with a verse, as if it is beginning a new subject. "If a person has a patch of (what appears to be) Tzaraas, he is brought to the Kohen." Then the Torah continues with more details about diagnosing a Metzora. It adds that if some skin within the white patch appears fresh, like normal skin, it is another sign that it is definitely Tzaraas. It is just an old patch of Tzaraas that fresh skin started to grow on. Then it says that if the patch spread over the entire person's body, meaning everywhere the Kohen can see, he is pronounced ritually pure. Later, if fresh skin appears somewhere on his body, the Kohen will pronounce him impure, because his whole body isn't completely covered. 

Why does the Torah start this as if it is a new subject? Why didn't it continue with something like, "And if the Kohen sees fresh skin...?" As it does in the following verse, "And if the Tzaraas erupts on the skin, that the Tzaraas covers all the skin with the patch, from his head until his feet, wherever the eyes of the Kohen can see. The Kohen examines it, if it covers all his skin, he pronounces the patch ritually pure, if it all turned white, he is pure." There is even a break in the Torah before and after these laws, indicating that it is a separate subject. If it is just adding more details about Tzaraas, it is not a new subject. So there must be something very unique here that the Torah deems it necessary to start it as a new subject. What is the new idea that we learn from here? 

To understand this, let us look at another difficulty in this passage. 

The verse says, "If it all turned white, he is ritually pure." The Torahs Kohanim and the Rambam say, that this only applies when the Kohen first pronounced him ritually impure, and then it spread all over. But if the person appears before the Kohen to begin with and it's all over his body, or after he was already pronounced ritually pure, it then spread all over, he is impure. 

However, Rashi, who explains the simple meaning of the verse, doesn't say anything, leading us to believe, that it doesn't matter what the circumstance is, "If it all turned white," he is pure. 

Torahs Kohanim and the Rambam tell us the law, Rashi, on the other hand, doesn't come to teach us the final law, rather, to teach us the simple meaning of the verse. It is common that the law is different from the simple meaning. The Torah has many levels of interpretation, there is the simple meaning, the legal, the esoteric, and more. They each teach us different things, they connect to different aspects of our lives. So it is okay if they disagree with each other. However, when we see this kind of disagreement, we have to ask: What is the underlying factors of this disagreement? And what can we learn from them? 

The Torahs Kohanim and the Rambam are looking at the legal aspect of the verse. All of the laws of purity and impurity are biblical decrees. That means that they are what they are, we don't use logic to infer anything else from them, and we apply the law to that specific case and no other scenario. 

Being that the law of, "If it all turned white," comes right after the law, that when fresh skin appears within a white patch, the Kohen pronounces him ritually impure, we must conclude, that only after he is pronounced impure, and then it spreads all over, is he pure. 

Rashi on the other hand, is explaining the simple meaning. According to the simple meaning, the reason that, "If it all turned white," is pure, is because of logical reasoning. Because, now that it spread all over his body, we recognize that it is not Tzaraas, rather the natural condition of his skin, and that is why he is pure, it was never Tzaraas to begin with. 

Now we can understand why it is a new subject. Because it is teaching us about a case that was never Tzaraas to begin with. Being that it has nothing to do with Tzaraas, it is a new subject. 

This will help us understand something that the Talmud says. 

The Talmud says, "The son of David (Moshiach) won't come until all the kingdoms will turn over to heresy. Rava asks: What is the verse (that proves this point)? 'if it all turned white, he is ritually pure.'" And Rashi explains, "Just as with a patch that spread all over the skin, when all the kingdoms will turn over to heresy, redemption will come." 

This Talmudic passage is also found where the Talmud tells us signs that we are in "ikvisa d'mishicha," the time just before the coming of Moshiach. 

Why will Moshiach come when the whole world will become heretical? There are two ways to understand this, in line with the two approaches to "If it all turned white," that it is either a biblical decree or a logical reasoning. 

The first way of looking at it, is that things will be so bad that there will be no choice but for Hashem to send Moshiach. Just like a biblical decree, it is from the top down, directly from Hashem, without our input. 

The second way of looking at it, is that the whole world becoming heretical is a point of clarity, when they will all recognize that they have nothing to do with Hashem, and it will become clear that only we do. Then Moshiach will come and they will want to learn from us, therefore, we will have a tremendous effect on the world, and we will all serve Hashem together, as it says, "For then I will convert the nations to a pure language that all of them call in the name of Hashem, to worship Him of one accord." This is from the bottom up, like logical reasoning it will come from the world's understanding.

This is similar to what the Talmud says about the Jewish people, "The son of David (Moshiach) won't come but in a generation that everybody is deserving or that everybody is undeserving. In a generation that everybody is deserving, as it says, 'And your nation are all righteous, they will forever inherit the land.' In a generation that everybody is undeserving, as it says, 'And He saw that there was no (righteous) man, and He was astounded that there was no one to intercede.' And it says, 'For My sake, for My sake I will do.'" 

Since the Rambam rules that, "The Torah assures us, that in the end Yisrael will do teshuva at the end of their exile and they will be redeemed immediately." Meaning, that we will do teshuva because we want to, and we will be deserving. We can conclude that the nations of the world, because of our influence, being a light on to them, teaching them what Hashem wants from them, to keep the Seven Mitzvahs that were given to the Children of Noah, they will deserve it too. 

By being a light on to the nation, they will become a help to us in completing our mission. This will surely hasten the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Split Hooves & Chewing The Cud

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In this week's parsha, Shemini, there are the laws of kosher animals. When it comes to land animals, there are two signs that tell us that they are kosher, cloven hooves or in the common vernacular, split hooves, and that it is a ruminant, it chews its cud.

The common domesticated animals that we eat are cattle, sheep and goats, but a lot of animals in the wild are kosher, including all kinds of deer, antelope, moose, buffalo, bison, wildebeest, giraffe, and many more. All of them are herbivores, and none of them are animals of prey. These animals don't have upper teeth and chew their food in a side to side motion.

There is a discussion about these signs. The question is: Are they what causes the animal to be kosher or are these animals kosher for other reasons, just that Hashem gave them these signs so we can identify them as kosher?

It seems from the verse, "because it chews its cud," that it is what causes the animal to be kosher. But even if it's not, the fact that Hashem gave us these signs to differentiate between kosher and non-kosher animals, it means that we can learn from them how to know if the animal part of us, the body and the animal soul, is acting in a kosher manner or not.

Being that the Torah tells us about both kosher and non-kosher animals, it is a message to us that the animal part of us could possibly be acting in a non-kosher way. And even if we go through the motions of keeping the Torah, we could still be acting in a non-kosher way. As we see when it comes to law, sometimes using the law, one can do terrible things and make people's lives miserable, but it is legal. The same is possible with Torah, one can follow the letter of the law and at the same time, not be a good person, and that is not kosher.

Let us see what we can learn from the kosher signs, that will act as a litmus test, as to whether the animal part of us is kosher or not.

Animals, like humans, have their heads and hearts separated from the ground, it is only their legs that touch the ground and even they are separated from the ground by hooves. This means that we should not have our higher faculties, our heads and hearts, our thoughts and emotions, invested in earthly pursuits, just the lower faculties of action, our arms and legs, and even they should have a separation, meaning, only as much as necessary.

The hooves have to be split, meaning that even in our earthly pursuits, Hashem should be able to come through and permeate them, making the physical G-dly.

The law is that the hooves have to be split through and through. This means that when they walk, with every step, they connect to the ground with both a right and left hoof. Meaning, that when we deal with earthly matters, we should always have the balance of drawing good closer with the right, and pushing bad away with the left. Good is what is in line with the Torah, bad is what is not. There has to be a constant effort to keep on the right path, not to veer to the right or the left.

This is especially important when making an effort to bring someone closer to Hashem. Some, with their kind hearts, make the mistake of watering down Judaism, in the hope that this will get them involved. This is wrong, because it is a slippery slope, and eventually it is not Judaism anymore. The right way, is to keep Torah what it is and bring them closer to it, however, one shouldn't change the Torah to fit another's lifestyle.

Others, in their zealousness, make the mistake of being too strict when it is uncalled for, pushing people away from Judaism.

The same is true for every one of us. There is a fine line that has to be held, veering left or right just a small amount, can get us totally lost.

Nobody ever got lost all of a sudden. First he was on the correct path, then he veered just a little bit off the path, then a bit more and a bit more. Until he found himself totally lost.

There is one more thing to do to keep the animal part of us kosher and that is learned from chewing the cud. After the animal swallows its food, it regurgitates it and chews on it again. This means that all that was mentioned above, is not enough. Even with all those strategies in place, when it comes to earthly pursuits, we have to constantly reevaluate our situation and make certain that we are on the right path.

We can also learn if we are serving Hashem properly, by applying these kosher signs to evaluate it.

Generally love and fear are opposites, but when it comes to serving Hashem both work together. It is a split hoof, love on the right and fear on the left, and with each step they go together.

Most of us by nature, serve Hashem in one of these two ways. Some of us through love and others through fear. For example, some of us might love to do acts of kindness, but when it comes to things that take discipline we are not so involved, others love discipline, but are not so involved in doing acts of kindness. But if we only do what comes naturally to us, how do we know that it is truly for Hashem? Maybe we are doing it because it is our nature. When we serve Hashem through only one of these two ways, it is like one solid hoof, it's not kosher. When we go against our nature and serve with both love and fear, a split hoof, then we know that it is kosher.

It has to be split through and through. Meaning, that you shouldn't just be going through the motions of love and fear superficially, but it should truly affect you through and through. You have to be real.

And again, one must "chew his cud," constantly reevaluating himself to see if he is on the right path.

May we learn to be real and true through and through and serve Hashem with both love and fear. This will surely keep us on the right path, the path that leads us to the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Acharon Shel Pesach Haftora Part I: Moshiach & His Effect On The World

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The Haftora for Acharon Shel Pesach is from the book of Yeshayahu. It begins with a prophecy about the destruction of Sennacherib and the Assyrians, who already captured the Ten Northern Tribes and were now threatening the kingdom of Yehuda. It continues with prophecy of Moshiach, what he will be like and what the world will be like when he comes. Followed by the ingathering of the exiles, and the joy we will experience.

The whole Haftora is about the time of Moshiach. Even the beginning, which speaks of the destruction of Sennacherib, is a message about the coming of Moshiach. First, because the king of Yehuda at that time was Chizkiyahu, of whom the Talmud says, that "Hashem wanted to make Chizkiyahu Moshiach." And second, to Chizkiyahu and Yehuda, it seemed impossible to overcome Sennacherib and his powerful army, who exiled the Ten Northern Tribes, who were much stronger than Yehuda. Yehuda was gripped with fear and the futility of their situation. Hashem destroyed Sennacherib and his army, and the kingdom of Yehuda had a miraculous salvation. Same is true about the times of Moshiach, although we are suffering and it seems impossible, our salvation will come quickly and in a miraculous way.

Why do we read about Moshiach on Acharon Shel Pesach?

The first days of Pesach are about the Exodus from Egypt. The last days of Pesach are about the future redemption. Because of this, we read the Song of David on Shevii Shel Pesach, instead of the Song of Devorah. Because David is the father of Moshiach.

The light of Moshiach shines bright on the last days of Pesach, but even stronger on Acharon Shel Pesach, which is only celebrated outside of Israel. This is because, we transform the day from mundane to holy, as we take a plain weekday and turn it into Yom Tov. And that is what the coming of Moshiach is all about, the total transformation of the world from mundane to holy.

The Haftora now tells us about King Moshiach, and what he will be like.

"And a staff will come out from the shoot of Yishai and a branch will sprout from his roots. The spirit of Hashem will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of Hashem."

What is this spirit of Hashem that will rest upon him? It is a very high level of G-dliness, where the neshama and Hashem's Essence are one. It is beyond the world, it is a place of total unity and it is not subject to any kind of division that is found in the world, even in the most sublime spiritual realms.

Moshiach will therefore be a unifier of opposites. First the unification of above and below, the spiritual realms and our physical world. We experienced this at the splitting of the sea, a brief taste of Moshiach, in preparation of receiving the Torah. At Mount Sinai we again experienced this in a more powerful way, as we were given the power to connect heaven and earth, to imbue the physical with G-dliness through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvahs. However this will only be complete when Moshiach comes, and the essence of Hashem will dwell openly in this physical world, there will be a total unification of opposites.

We see this in the Haftora, first with Moshiach himself, he will have a spirit of "wisdom (chochma) and understanding (bina)," chochma is the opposite of bina. Chochma is the ability to conceive a new idea. In order to do this, you must totally not exist, it is only the idea, that is why, when a new idea comes to you, all of a sudden you recognize where you are and that you were thinking, because at the time that you conceived the new idea, it was like you weren't there. Bina is contemplation, it is you thinking about the idea and its details, you are totally there.

Then it says that he will have "a spirit of counsel and strength," which are opposites. Counsel is from the mind, strength is from the body and emotions. He will have a spirit of "knowledge and fear of Hashem," again opposites. Knowledge of Hashem, brings you to love Him, the opposite of fear.

This uniting of opposites continues with the world. First the animals as it says, "And the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat, and the calf, the lion, and the fattened ox together, and a young boy will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze Together," all opposites. Then even the earth will know Hashem, and earth doesn't have the ability to think, as it says, "for the land will be full of the knowledge of Hashem like the waters cover the sea." The earth, which is the opposite of the ability to think, will be full of the knowledge of Hashem.

Are these expressions to be taken literally or metaphorically? The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim says, that they are a metaphor for how the Jewish people and the nations of the world will act towards one another. However, in his Igeres Techiyas Hameisim he says, that what he wrote in Hilchos Melachim (about taking it metaphorically), is not to be taken as the law, rather, that it could be understood that way. In other words, even according to him, it is possible that it will be literally. There is a rule that, "a verse shouldn't be taken out of its simple meaning," Then perhaps it should be taken liberally, and accordingly some do take it literally. So it is a sure thing that the nations of the world, even those that are vicious like snakes, will become tame and friendly.

The Haftora says about Moshiach, "He will smell the fear of Hashem, He won't judge by the sight of his eyes, nor by the hearing of his ears." Meaning, that he will judge by his ability to smell. The Talmud tells a story of how the rabbis used this as a test to see if Bar Kuziba (Bar Kochba) was Moshiach. They saw that he could not judge by smell and they knew that he wasn't. According to the Zohar, this sense of smell is higher than wisdom and understanding. But didn't it say, that he will have " a spirit of wisdom and understanding?" What is the point of the wisdom and understanding, if he will be judging people by his ability to smell? Here again you have opposites, smell is higher and on the outside, wisdom and understanding are lower and on the inside, but by Moshiach these abilities will unite, the higher and lower, the inside and outside will also be one.

How will he be able to judge without witnesses? Doesn't the Torah require witnesses? Some suggest that he will only confirm that the judgements are accurate. But the indication of the Talmud, that he will "smell and judge," is that he will actually judge cases, and not merely confirm. So how can he do that?

The law is, that a king can judge without witnesses in certain cases. For example, to maintain order. This kind of judgment he will do by scent. The difference between a regular king and Moshiach, is that a regular king would do it as a one time thing, however, with Moshiach it will be a regular occurrence.

Then it says, "with the utterance of his lips he will slay the wicked." This is difficult to understand, because as we mentioned above, Moshiach will bring with him such a great level of awareness of Hashem, and the Torah that he will teach will be deeper than that of Moshe Rabbeinu. So how is it possible that any wickedness will exist? What wicked will he slay?

The reason that Moshiach will have such a profound effect on the world, is because his neshama is from the highest place, higher than any other. The rule is, that what ever is higher falls down lower, so that things that seem low to us, like wickedness and evil, originate from a very high spiritual source, just they fall so low, that we can't see the good in them. Since Moshiach comes from even a higher source, he will be able to reveal the good in the lowest of things. "He will slay the wicked," means that we won't see them as wicked anymore, rather as good. We will see that everything Hashem created is truly good.

It also works the other way around. If we raise the lowest and most mundane parts of our lives to Hashem, we draw Moshiach closer.

It is interesting to note, that there is a special prayer that we add on Yom Tov, when the Holy Ark is opened before Torah reading, it begins "Ribono Shel Olam," In it, we ask that the words of the verse, "The spirit of Hashem will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of Hashem," should be actualized in us. This verse is clearly talking about Moshiach, on what basis do we ask that we should be like Moshiach?

The highest level of our soul, the "yechidah," is equal in every one of us. That is the part of us that is one with Moshiach, so in our essence, we all have a bit of Moshiach. Even though we don't feel it, it effects us, and we are blessed one way or another with this blessing. When we see miraculous things happening in our lives, and tremendous success, out of the normal, we know that these blessings are coming true.

In addition to the wolf, the leopard, the lion and the bear, the Haftora says, "A baby will play at a vipers hole and an infant will stretch out his hand over an adder's den. (These snakes) will not damage nor harm anywhere on My Holy Mountain, for the knowledge of Hashem will fill the earth like the waters cover the sea." What does the knowledge of Hashem have to do with snakes and wild animals and not damaging?

Another question. It seems that all the people with the dangerous animals, are little children. First a young boy, then a baby and finally an infant. Why children?

These wild animals will remain the same, and yet not damage, because if they become tame, then what is the big deal saying that they won't damage? The amazing thing that will occur is that they will remain wild and still not damage. And this will be because "The knowledge of Hashem will fill the earth." How will this work?

Another question. Why isn't it enough that the world should become filled with the knowledge of Hashem? Why is it necessary to be filled, so much so, that it will be like the waters cover the sea?

The people in the world have a direct effect on it. The world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem because there will be a broadening of the minds of humanity. And because they will have a profoundly deeper understanding, they will recognize the truth of Hashem. This will cause a transformation in humanity. And being that humanity will be affected, the animals will as well.

However, if the world will only be filled with the knowledge of Hashem, that would mean that every part of the world will be filled according to its ability to understand. That would mean that a smart person would know more than someone who is less smart, and that can breed different opinions, which can lead to arguments and strife.

That is why it will be, like the waters cover the sea. In the sea there are mountains and valleys, there are also all different types of creatures and plants, but when you look from above the water, all you see is the water. The same will be when Moshiach comes, there will still be smart people and less smart, but because they will be totally engulfed by the knowledge of Hashem, everybody will be equally nullified before Hashem, in other words, there will be no clashing egos, it will only be about Hashem. This is the ultimate unity that is possible, therefore there will be peace, the ultimate level of peace that can possibly be achieved.

When you speak about children, especially babies, it automatically includes everybody, but if it would have said adults, we would think that children are excluded.

Symbolically the child is the Jewish people, as it says, "Israel is a young child and I love him," it symbolizes all that is innocent and pure, and all that is good and holy in the world. The snakes symbolize the first snake that instigated the first sin with the tree of knowledge and it symbolizes all that is bad in the world. Since the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem, and the source of the evil will be revealed, that it is really good, there will be true peace and harmony between them.

May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach today, on Acharon Shel Pesach, when the light of Moshiach shines brightest. We surely deserve it. The time has come.

Dedicated to my son Eli Chaim who celebrates his birthday on Acharon Shel Pesach. We are so proud of you, may Hashem give you a successful year. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Three Matzahs & Four Cups Of Wine

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Our sages established, that we drink 4 cups of wine at the Seder, for the 4 expressions of redemption that Hashem commanded Moshe to convey to the Jewish people, at the beginning of parshas Vaera, "I will take you out... I will save you... I will redeem you... And I will take you (to Myself as a nation)..." 

If these 4 expressions of redemption are so significant, that they should be symbolized by the Seder, why not have 4 matzahs which are a biblical commandment, as the Mishnah tells us, that the reason we have matzah, is "because our parents were redeemed from Egypt," as opposed to 4 cups of wine that are only a rabbinical enactment? 

Why do we need 3 matzahs? The simple reason is, that 2 whole matzahs are for hamotzi, just like on every Yom Tov we make the blessing of hamotzi on 2 whole challahs or matzahs, and an extra broken piece of matzah, poor man's bread, to recite the Haggadah over. 

However, being that everything in Torah is perfect and we know that the reason we have matzah, is "because our parents were redeemed from Egypt," the 3 matzahs must represent redemption as well. 

With this understanding, we can conclude that there are two aspects of redemption, one is connected to the number 3 and is represented by matzah, and the other is connected to the number 4 and is represented by wine. 

What are these two aspects of redemption? And why are they represented by wine and matzah? 

We are told, that the Jewish people had sunken to such a low in Egypt, that if they would have stayed a moment longer, they would have been totally lost, with no chance of redemption. It was only that Hashem pulled us out in the nick of time. In other words, it wasn't on our merits or through our efforts that we were redeemed, rather it was a one sided redemption, Hashem did it himself. 

This is what the Exodus was all about, being redeemed by Hashem himself, without our effort. Being that it was from Him, and we had no involvement, we have no pleasure in it. This is represented by matzah, which doesn't have much flavor, it is poor man's bread, symbolizing that we were poor in understanding and poor spiritually. We have 3 matzahs, representing the first 3 expressions of redemption, "I will take you out... I will save you... And I will redeem you..." These are all one sided, they are all from Hashem himself without our involvement. Being that these 3 actually happened at the Exodus, they are represented by matzah, a biblical commandment. 

The fourth, "And I will take you to Myself as a nation," didn't reach completion until we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, after 50 days of working on ourselves to be worthy of receiving Hashem's Torah. Being that it came about through our effort and on our merit, we have pleasure in it, therefore it is represented by wine that has flavor. Because it only reached completion 50 days after the Exodus, it is not totally connected to Pesach, and therefore, only a rabbinical enactment. 

So you have 3 that is given, and the fourth that is developed by the recipient. This will help us understand a few other things. 

This is one of the reasons that we have 3 fathers and 4 mothers. In producing a child, the part of the father is to give, but the mother takes what she received, and with her body's effort, she develops it into a complete baby. Being that 3 represents giving, there are 3 fathers, and since 4 represents taking and developing through our own effort, there are 4 mothers. 

The same thing is with Torah. The written Torah, which is called, "The mussar (discipline) of your father," because it is given to us completely by Hashem, we have no input. It is similar to redemption from above, symbolized by matzah a biblical commandment. 

However, the oral Torah, the Mishnah, Talmud, etc. is called, "The Torah of your mother," because our great rabbis develop and complete its details, showing the importance of personal involvement in the Torah. This is similar to redemption through our effort, symbolized by wine, a rabbinical enactment. 

You may ask, the fourth is only one, so why do we have 4 cups of wine? 

Because through our effort, we reveal that the essence and the purpose of the first three is for the fourth, so our effort begets all 4. Hence 4 cups of wine. 

May we soon merit to see the final redemption, which we deserve and earned. The time has come. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tzav & Shabbos Hagadol The Connection

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The Shaloh Hakadosh tells us that the parsha of the week is connected to the time of year that it is read. In a regular year (not a leap year), it is very common that Tzav falls on Shabbos Hagadol, the Shabbos right before Pesach. What is the connection between Tzav and Shabbos Haggadol?

What is Shabbos Hagadol?  Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in the Shulchan Aruch Harav says, "We call the Shabbos before Pesach Shabbos Hagadol, because a great (gadol) miracle happened on it. Because the Pesach (lamb) was taken on the 10th of the month (of Nissan)... That day was Shabbos... And when (the Children of) Israel took their Pesach (lambs) on that Shabbos, the first borns of Egypt gathered near (the Children of) Israel, and asked them, why are they doing so? They responded, that this is a Pesach offering to Hashem, because He will slay the firstborns of Egypt. The firstborns went to their fathers and to Pharaoh, to beseech that they send Israel, and they didn't want to. The firstborns made war with them and killed many of them, this is the meaning of the verse, 'To hit Egypt with their firstborns.'  They established to remember this miracle in all generations on Shabbos and called it Shabbos Hagadol. Why didn't they establish (the remembrance of this miracle) on the tenth of the month, whether it fell on Shabbos or during the week, like they established all of the holidays? Because on the 10th of Nissan Miriam passed away and they established it as a fast day when it falls during the week..."

So we call it Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos, because a great miracle happened. What was so great about the miracle, that we should remember it in every generation? This miracle didn't really help the Jewish people, even after they had their war, the Jewish people were still stuck in Egypt. It wasn't until the death of the firstborn, that they were able to go free. So it doesn't seem to have helped them at all.

Miriam passed away 39 years after the miracle of Shabbos Hagadol. Why was the fast that was established on the day of her passing, able to push off the remembrance of the miracle, to Shabbos?

There were many miracles that happened for the Jewish people over the generations, as we say in the Haggadah, "In every generation they stand up to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands." In those miracles, either the enemy was destroyed or they were subdued.

What made this miracle great was that it came from the Egyptians themselves, and not only that, it came from their firstborns, the strength and vigor of Egypt. They themselves went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded that Israel be released, and the even went to war against their own for this. The darkness itself became the light, our enemies became our advocates.

To take it a step further, a miracle is a change in nature. But in this case even the nature of Torah was changed. In the Torah system, there are things that are holy, and there are things that are neutral, but with some work we can elevate them to holiness. For example, food. Food is generally neutral, but if you recite a blessing over it and use the energy that the food gives you, to serve Hashem, that food is elevated to holiness.

Then there are things that are intrinsically unholy, and we can't make them holy, all we are meant to do with them, is avoid them. For example, non kosher food, there is no way to elevate it.

The Egyptians fell into the unholy and can't elevate category, and here they were transformed to do Hashem's will.

This is a truly great miracle, beyond any other. Therefore it is called great, hence the name Shabbos Hagadol.

This will help us understand the connection between Shabbos Hagadol and Miriam's passing.

Rashi asks, "Why is the passing of Miriam near the teaching of the Parah Adumah (the Red Heifer)? To tell you, that just as the Parah Adumah atones, so too, the passing of Tzadikim atones." Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that this means that "they accomplish salvations in the midst of the land, by atoning for the sin of the generation, even for those done intentionally, low and depraved."

Just as the miracle of Shabbos Hagadol changed the unholy and what can't be elevated, to do what Hashem wants, so too, the passing of Miriam atoned for low and depraved sins that can't become holy. And true atonement means that the actual sin becomes a merit, the darkness itself becomes light.

Now we understand why the remembrance of the miracle could be pushed off to another day, in this case, Shabbos.

It is similar to when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, the law is that we don't blow the shofar, because an ignorant person may want to hear the shofar and mistakenly carry it to the person who knows how. By carrying in a public place, he would be breaking the Shabbos. To protect him from breaking the Shabbos, we all don't hear the shofar.

You may ask, why should we all miss out on the great mitzvah of shofar, because of a few ignorant people? The answer is, that we don't exactly miss out on the mitzvah, because what is spiritually accomplished by blowing the shofar, gets accomplished by the day of Shabbos itself.

The same is true about Miriam's passing. Being that the essence of the great miracle, was that the darkness itself became light, and that is also what the passing of Miriam represents, it is not truly pushed off. The essential idea is accomplished by commemorating Miriam's passing.

At the end of parshas Tzav, it tells about the seven days of milu'im, a time of training for Aaron and his sons in the Mishkan service. Why was it called milu'im? Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains, that it comes from the word miluy, which means full and complete. About the time of Moshiach it says, "That the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun." That which was lacking in the moon, will be filled (it will give its own light). A similar thing happened spiritually, when the Mishkan was set up during that week, the spiritual attribute of malchus was raised up.

To explain. The moon doesn't give its own light, it reflects the light it receives from the sun, but when Moshiach comes, its status will be raised and it will give its own light. Same thing applies to the spiritual attribute of malchus. Right now it has nothing of its own to give, it only reflects what it receives from the other attributes, however when Moshiach comes it will be raised and have what to give on its own. And what Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi is saying, is that in a small way, this happened when the Mishkan was set up.

In other words, that which is normally dark and doesn't give its own light, the moon and malchus, will begin to give their own light. The darkness itself becomes light.

This idea is seen in the name of the parsha, Tzav. In the Talmud it says, that whenever it says Tzav, it is referring to idol worship. At the same time, the Torahs Kohanim tells us about the word Tzav, that it means, "alacrity (to fulfill Hashem's will), now and for generations, even if it means taking a loss." And Tzav (96) has the numerical value of the two names of Hashem, E-l (31) and Adnai (65) combined. What is dark is itself giving light.

We can accomplish turning the darkness itself into light through teshuva. When we do teshuva, our worst sins become merits. The darkness itself becomes light.

The common denominator between Shabbos Hagadol, Miriam's passing and parshas Tzav, is that the darkness itself becomes light.

May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach soon, when we will see how the darkness and the suffering of the exile, itself will become light. The time has come.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How To Make Pesach Easier

With Pesach on the way, some are filled with dread and overwhelmed with the monumental task that lies ahead called making Pesach. Because most of the preparation is shopping, cleaning and cooking, it is common that the brunt of the work falls on the wife and she shouldn't have to enter Pesach exhausted and feeling used. While it is hard work and some stress is expected, try to make it as least stressful as possible, so you can have a happy home and a happy Pesach.

If the wife is the high energy, creative, organized type, the husband should move out of her way, make sure that she has what she needs and count his blessings.

This article will give some tips on how to make preparing for Pesach and Pesach itself less stressful and more enjoyable for the whole family. Though it will focus on families with young children, you will find ideas in this article for everybody, just take whatever you think will be helpful for you.

Make a Plan and Follow It

Write up a plan and make it as detailed as possible. It should cover, readying the house for Pesach, minhagim (traditions) you will keep, the Seder, meals, Chol Hamoed outings. Based on your plan, you will know what to shop for, clothes, kitchenware, and food.

When you plan, plan on making things as easy as possible. Eliminate everything that is unnecessary, and search for the easiest way to do things. The clearer and more detailed your plan is, the easier it will make your Pesach.

Once you create your plan, you can use it from year to year, but you will probably have to review it and make some changes.

The only thing is that you follow through on your plan.

Preparing the House

Make a checklist for every room. For example.

Bedroom 1
  • Closet
  • Dresser
  • Desk
  • Bed
  • Floor

Do the same for every bedroom, hallway, bathroom, family room, living room, dining room, dinette, kitchen and so on.

Whoever is doing the task, should check it when it is done. You can even add a second checkbox to each task, for you to check, that it is satisfactory.

The next thing is to assign the work to whoever will be responsible for it. Hired help, father, mother and children if they are capable.

Hiring Help

You should hire help according to what you could afford. The more the better. But at least for the hardest tasks, like cleaning the refrigerator, the oven (if you don't have self clean), the stove top, etc.

The Children

It is okay to have your children help, but it is not okay to turn them into slaves or to make them miserable. They have been learning about cleaning for Pesach in school, now they can do it as well. Give them each a sheet of paper with their tasks for that day, explain how you want it done, and they should check the boxes when they complete each task. You can inspect their work when they are done, and check your box. You can even offer a treat as an incentive, for when their work is complete. Their task sheet should be right next to yours in a central location, like the kitchen table, so it is a family thing and they will see you and the other children filling their tasks as well. If it is a lot, split it into two or three days, and have a separate sheet and treat for every day.

Try to Make Things Easier

Be clever and remember that Pesach is just 8 or 7 days, you don't have to have things perfect and you can live without some things.

Here are some ideas of things we do or don't do in our home, to make life easier.

  1. We used disposable goods and plasticware wherever and whenever we could. This makes clean up a breeze.
  2. We don't empty our kitchen, we seal the pantry the cabinets (except for under the sink) and the drawers with tape and sell it with the chametz. We bought a chef rack with wheels to be our temporary pantry and cabinets, and a few plastic bins to hold potatoes, onions, nuts etc. After Pesach, all of our Pesachware are boxed, put on the rack, rolled away and stored until next year.
  3. We don't make Pesach cakes or other things like that, it is not worth the hassle. We have fruits, melons, nuts and chocolate instead. It is healthier and no one misses the cake. The same is for anything else that is to much work, unnecessary or doesn't really enhance the meal.
  4. We cover the counters with plastic drop cloth. It is cheap and goes into the garbage after Yom Tov. We have a few large floor tiles (different colors for milk and meat) on top of the plastic to put hot pots and pans on.

I am sure you will come up with your own clever ideas to make life easier. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Minhagim

Sit together with your spouse and discuss how you will celebrate Pesach, and which minhagim you will keep. You might want to be strict about some things, but you have to be practical, taking into account your whole family and their needs. For example, you may not want to buy processed foods, but if you have little children, you might want to buy some lady fingers for snacks and chocolates for treats. Another example, some have a tradition not to use cutlery that fell on the floor for the rest of Yom Tov, but if you have little children, you will find, that very quickly, you will have nothing to eat with. So you will have to decide if you are going to be able to keep that one.

If you have a tradition that will make everyone miserable, you don't have to keep it. For example, if you have a certain food that you ate at your parents Seder, that is a hassle to make or no one but you likes, either don't have it or make it yourself. You will find, that your family will create their own special traditions.

Plan Your Meals

Create a menu for the whole Pesach, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Also, think about the outings, and what you will eat on them. Once you have this information, you will know what food items you have to buy.

Chol Hamoed

Chol Hamoed is part of Yom Tov and there are specific laws that pertain to it. It is not totally like a weekday, and our sages say strong words about those who disrespect Chol Hamoed. It is a good idea to sit down with the children that are old enough (9) and review the laws of Chol Hamoed from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. You will find that your children will take it seriously, because you made it important.

Chol Hamoed Outings

Your children expect to go on outings on Chol Hamoed. There is nothing more frustrating for the kids than waiting for you to get your act together. So plan your outings before Pesach.

The outings should be according to your means, and consider doing an outing with family or friends, it doesn't have to be expensive. It can be a trip to a park or a nature hike.

Shopping

It is proper to get new clothes for the family for Pesach. And if you can afford it, jewelry for the wife and girls.

Take the menu that you created and based on that, make a shopping list for food, drinks and kitchenware. Fruits and vegetables should be enough to last until sometime on Chol Hamoed, you can get fresh fruits and vegetables during Chol Hamoed.

We are blessed to live in a time, that most things can be ordered from the comfort of your home. So order whatever you can, and have it delivered.

Preparing for the First Days of Yom Tov

Most of the food preparation, is going to be for the Seder. Some of my fondest memories growing up, was of the family preparing for the Seder. We had the music playing in the kitchen, and all of us had something to do. Everything can be done on the two days before Pesach, but mostly on Erev Pesach. You can use the same method as cleaning the house, where they can check a box when they are done.

Plan the Seder

If you have a family with kids under bar and bas mitzvah, you want them to be able to participate in the Seder. But if your Seder goes to the wee  hours of the morning, you are going to lose them. They are most important by the Seder, and you should plan the Seder around them.

Here are a few things that will make this possible.

  1. Have the kids take a nap for a few hours on Erev Pesach.
  2. Get rid of wasted time.
    1. Have the table set and ready to start the Seder before they come home from shul, so that right when they get home the Seder could begin, immediately. Everything needed up until the meal should be on the table, or be a ready to be brought out on a moments notice.
    2. Some should be in charge of running the Seder, keeping it flowing. There is no need to rush, just keep it flowing.
    3. Someone should be in charge of bringing things to the table when they are needed.
  3. Dvar Torahs
The Seder is not the time to start searching for something to share at the Seder. Don't come to the Seder with 10 different Haggadahs, hoping to find something to share. Prepare everything you are going to say a few days before Pesach, and come to the Seder with a plain Haggadah, with no commentary. If you don't have time to prepare, here are some ready made Seder Dvar Torahs.
  1. The children have been preparing for the Seder in school, and surely have something to say. You might want to make rules, such as, 1 or 2 dvar Torahs per person until the meal, and another during the meal. You keep the rule as well. This will force you to say what is most important.

After Pesach

When Yom Tov is over, and you are packing up the Pesach things, take inventory of everything you have and make a note of all the things you thought would make your next Pesach better. Attach the list to the outside of your Pesach goods, so that you will have it when you start planning your next Pesach.

Have a wonderful Pesach!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Power of An Adam

The parsha of Vayikra begins, "And He called to Moshe, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, to say. Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, adam, a man (or woman) from among you that will bring an offering to Hashem, from animals..."

There are many questions that can be asked on these verses, this article will touch on a few.

This is the beginning of the laws of sacrificial offerings to Hashem. Rashi tells us, that before every time Hashem spoke to Moshe, He first called him, as a sign that He cherished him. However, it is only mentioned that He called him here, by the laws of offerings. Why?

According to the Midrash, this was the first time that Moshe was called to the Tent of Meeting since it was first put up and the glory of Hashem filled it. Perhaps that is why it mentions that Hashem called him, because it was the first time. But this brings up the question: Why was the first laws taught from the Tent of Meeting, the laws of offerings?

Being that these are the first, we must conclude, that it is most important. Even the Talmud calls the book of Vayikra, the book that focuses on the laws of offerings, "Hachamur Sheb'sforim," the most important of the books. Also, since it is the third book of the five books of the Torah, the middle of the Torah, shows of its great significance.

More questions. The first word of the first verse, "Vayikra, and he called," is written in the Torah with a small Alef. What is the significance of this?

The second verse says, "adam, a man from among you that will bring an offering." Why doesn't it just say, "If you bring an offering?" We would certainly know that it is referring to a person. What is the significance of saying that it is an adam who is bringing it?

The Zohar says, "We, Israel have the merit that Hashem calls us adam, as it says, 'adam, a man from among you that will bring.' What is the reason He calls us adam? Because it is written, 'And you who are attached to Hashem your G-d...'" Now we can understand why our verse specifically says "adam," because it is the adam part of us, our attachment to Hashem, that makes it possible for us to bring sacrificial offerings, as will be explained.

The Midrash says, that the reason Hashem commanded the Jewish people to bring offerings, is because they are attached to Him, this is the meaning of the verse, "Just as a belt is attached to the hips of a person..."

Although they both speak of attachment to Hashem, they are talking about two different kinds of attachment. The Midrash is talking about an attachment like a belt, that although it is attached, it is not truly one with you. This is called the attachment of vessels, something could completely fill the vessel, but its not truly attached. The Zohar, on the other hand, speaks of an essential attachment, in which we are one with Hashem. This is called the attachment of lights, where the source of light and the light coming from it are one.

They are referring to different aspects of sacrificial offerings. The Midrash is referring to the sacrifice itself, which is brought to sustain the world, as the Talmud Yerushalmi says, "Because through the sacrifices, the rules (of the nature) of the world are sustained." But what gives us the ability to bring offerings that will sustain existence? It is the fact that we are essentially one with Hashem and therefore, higher than the world. Because we are higher than the world, we can have an effect on its existence.

How does bringing a sacrificial offering sustain the world? In Kabbalistic teaching, the whole world is divided into four biological kingdoms. There is domem, inanimate objects, like rocks, sand and water. Tzomeach, vegetation. Chai, living creatures. And medaber, people who have conversation. In sacrificial offerings all were represented. The inanimate object was the salt that accompanied every offering. Vegetation, was the wood that burned on the altar, where it was offered. Also, offerings were generally accompanied by wine libations, cakes made of flour and sometimes oil, all of which are from vegetation. The living creature was the animal that was offered. And then there was the person who brought the offering. By all parts of the world being represented in the offering, and being raised to Hashem, the whole world is energized.

It  is specifically the adam part of us that is one with Hashem. There are four names for man in Hebrew, adam, ish, enosh and gever. Adam is the highest name, it is the G-dly part of us, as it says, "And Hashem created the adam in His image..." It is the part of us that is one with Hashem and therefore, higher than existence, hence it can effect existence. This is why the verse specifically says "adam," because it is the adam part of us that could bring a sacrifice and sustain the world.

This differentiation between lights and vessels is found by Torah and mitzvahs as well, doing mitzvahs attaches us to Hashem like vessels and the study of Torah, like lights . Prayer is a mitzvah, the daily prayers were established in the place of the actual sacrifices, they sustain existence. But it is the study of Torah that gives us the ability to bring prayers that can effect the world.

Now we can understand why the first transmission from Hashem to Moshe via the Tent of Meeting was the teaching of the sacrificial offerings. The main purpose of the Tent of Meeting was the transmission of the Torah, and the main purpose of the Torah is brought about through the sacrifices. The purpose of Torah is to effect the world around us, making it into a home for Hashem. And sacrifices do this in two ways. First, the offering itself, taking a mundane animal and by offering it up to Hashem, it becomes holy. That is how we make the world into a home for Hashem, by taking the mundane physical world and turning it into a holy place. The second way, is as mentioned above, through the sacrifices we effect the whole world.

Although the Torah is Hashem's wisdom and it seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that it has anything to do with this mundane physical world, that is only true about the Torah itself. But when you consider the source of the Torah, Hashem's infinite essence, that has no bounds, not even that it can't be connected to the physical world, and that He desires to have a dwelling in this lowly limited physical world, and that this is the true essence of the Torah as well, then every mundane physical part of existence becomes significant and essentially connected with the Torah.

How do we draw Hashem's unlimited essence into the world? In other words, how is it possible for us to be an adam, reveal our essential oneness with Hashem's essence, and effect the world in the way of sacrificial offerings? It is only through selflessness and humility, by us being naught, we allow Hashem's unlimited essence to come through. This is learned from the first word of the parsha, "Vayikra, and He called." Why doesn't it say, "And Hashem called?" It just says, "And He called," we know that it is Hashem Who is calling Moshe, why does it avoid calling Him by His Name? Because here His infinite essence, beyond any name and beyond any description, called to Moshe.

Why was he able to draw this great level of G-dliness into the world? Because of his selflessness and humility, which is symbolized by the small Alef in the word Vayikra.

We all have a little bit of Moshe in us, and that comes with the ability to be selfless and humble. If we tap into that, we too can draw Hashem's unlimited essence into the world and make the mundane holy.

Through our collective effort, we will make this world into a home for Hashem's unlimited essence and usher in the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. The time has come.

Dedicated to my daughter Chava who is celebrating her birthday this week, I love you and I am proud of you.