Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Altar - The Pintaleh Yid

There were two altars in the Mishkan, parshas Teruma teaches us about the copper altar, upon which animal sacrifices and meal offerings were brought, and parshas Tetzaveh tells us about the golden altar, upon which incense was offered. 

The last Mishnah of Tractate Chagiga, which is also the last Mishnah of the Order of Moed, speaks about these two altars. It says that the two altars cannot become impure. What is the reason? According to Rabbi Eliezer, "since they are like earth," meaning, that the Torah calls them earth and earth cannot become impure. According to the sages, "since they are (only) coated (with gold and copper)," meaning, that since the coatings of gold and copper are just that, coatings, they are secondary to what is underneath. And being that what is underneath cannot become impure, the coatings don't become impure. 

Being that Hashem is infinite, the Torah, which is His knowledge, is infinite as well. That means that it applies to us at every time and in every place. Just as when the Torah was given, it applied to every one of us, so too, it applies to each and every one of us, as if it was given today. It also has an infinite number of interpretations, as everyone of us has a different neshama, and we see the Torah through the lens of our neshama. We also approach Torah from our own circumstances and our own paradigm. 

What is the lesson that we are meant to learn from this teaching, that the two altars cannot become impure? 

We are all a small Temple, where the Divine Presence wants to reside, just as the Temple had different vessels in it, so too, we have different aspects to our makeup, mind, thoughts, emotions, etc. 

Sometimes we can have a mundane unholy thought, it is also possible to have an inappropriate sinful thought. In other words, it is possible for one of the persons "vessels," mind, thoughts, feelings, etc., to become impure. When this happens, we have to find a way to make the vessel pure again, that it should be worthy of a Temple vessel, where Hashem could reside once more. How does one go about doing this? 

People can be generally divided into two categories, whether physically or spiritually, they are rich or poor. By the rich everything is gold and by the poor, their money is copper.  

Every Jew, irrespective of how he or she feels inside or acts on the outside, the essential Jew, the pintaleh Yid, can never be touched, it can never become impure. And that is the altar of the person, on which we sacrifice the evil inclination, and come closer to Hashem. When we connect with the pintaleh Yid, we become totally pure. 

Why do we become totally pure? "Since they are like earth," and earth cannot become impure. What is the symbolism of earth? The earth is nullified before everyone, as we all trod on it. When we connect with the pintaleh Yid, we are totally nullified before Hashem, and as we say at least three times a day, "And my soul should be like earth before all." When we are nullified, there is no self, there is only Hashem's will that is revealed in the Torah. 

"Since they are like earth," are the words of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkanus, who was known as Rabbi Eliezer Haggadol (the great), who was greater than all the sages of Israel together, and still he had no ego, as the Talmud tells us, "He never said anything that he hadn't heard from his teachers." He was like earth, nullified before Hashem, and that was the path of service he taught his students to follow. On a deeper level, he was at such a high plane, that he only saw that everything was the essence of Hashem, he didn't see the external shell, whether it was gold or copper, he only saw the essence, earth. 

The sages say, "since they are (only) coated (with gold and copper)." They are saying that not everyone is at Rabbi Eliezer's level, most of us recognize the exterior, and at times we will have failings. The wealthy see the gold, and they may be tempted to follow the desires that come with affluence, and the poor, all they have is copper, and they may be tempted to do something dishonest to get ahead. 

Whether rich or poor, we must realize that the gold and copper are only an exterior shell, that is nothing and nullified to what is underneath, the pintaleh Yid. Ultimately we will come to realize this and do teshuva, and we will merit to see the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Incredible Potential Hidden In Our Struggles

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In this week's parsha, Teruma, Hashem commanded Moshe to accept the donations that the Jewish people would bring for the construction of the Mishkan. And He listed thirteen or fifteen physical items that they could bring for the Mishkan. "Gold, silver and copper..." And He continues, "They should make Me a Mikdash (a Temple), and I will dwell within them." This is a guarantee that if they will build it, He will come and dwell in the Mishkan. 

Hashem is not bound to the boundaries of time and space, He is above time and space, but here He says that He will rest His presence in a physical space, a Mikdash, which is precise in its measurements. This is not only referring to the Temple that stood in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount which was stationary, but to the Mishkan that traveled with the Jewish people all over, and wherever they settled, Hashem's presence came to rest in the Mishkan. 

Hashem is not bound by space, He is everywhere, as it says, "I fill the heavens and the earth." Why did Hashem say to make a particular place for His presence to rest? 

It is true that Hashem is everywhere, however, His presence is hidden, and it is only revealed through our service. But isn't it true that we can draw Hashem's presence in any place that we serve Him? Why can't we do the Temple service wherever we are? Why is it connected to a particular place, the Mishkan and the Temple? Hashem said, "In every place that I will (allow the) mention of My name, I will come to you and bless you." Only where He allows, the Mishkan and the Temple. 

The main service in the Mishkan and the Temple, physically and even spiritually, was offering sacrifices. The physical sacrifices were actual animals that were offered on the altar. The spiritual sacrifices nowadays is our prayers, as the Talmud tells us, that the prayers "Were established in the place of the daily sacrifices." 

Both the physical and spiritual sacrifices are connected to the Mishkan and the Temple. The rule was that "Once the Mishkan was erected, they weren't allowed to use the personal altars," they were only allowed to offer their sacrifices at the Mishkan. And the same rule applied "when they came to Yerushalayim," were the Temple was built. And when we say our prayers, we face towards the Temple, "the gateway to heaven," where all our prayers ascend on high. 

I understand why physical sacrifices had to be brought in the physical Temple, but prayers are a spiritual thing, why do they have to be connected to a physical place? The main thing is that we bring ourselves close to Hashem through our prayers. That is the meaning of the word korban, that we usually translate as sacrifice, it is from the word karov, which means close, to bring yourself closer to Hashem. Prayer is the service of the heart, it is totally spiritual. Even though we have to say our prayers with our lips, that helps us awaken the feelings in our hearts. However, the main thing is that we connect spiritually with Hashem. If that is the case, why do our prayers have to be connected to a physical place, the Temple? 

To understand this, let's take a look at a rule in spirituality, "Anything that is higher (spiritually), falls to a lower place (physically)." 

When Hashem says, "I will dwell within them," He is saying that His essence - which is higher than any physical limitations, and even higher than the idea of no limitations, infinite, which comes with its own set of limitations - wants to dwell in the physical world. Since He is higher than anything, He is revealed in the lowest, in measured physical places and objects, namely the Mishkan, the Temple and their holy vessels. 

He is above any limitations, and above the idea of no limitations. Therefore, He can bring infinite and finite together. In other words, where is the essence of Hashem revealed? Where infinite and finite come together, He is the enigma of all enigmas. 

And where did infinite and finite come together? In the Mishkan and Temple. In both the Mishkan and the Temple, there was a chamber called the Holy of Holies, and while the room could be measured, and the holy vessel that was there, the Ark of the Covenant, could be measured, it didn't take up any space. If you were to measure the space between the Ark and the walls of the Holy of Holies, you would end up with the exact total measurement of the whole chamber. In the Mishkan, 10 cubits by 10 cubits, and in the Temple, 20 cubits by 20 cubits. That means it took space, and at the same time, it didn't take space, infinite and finite together, the enigma of enigmas, in the physical. 

That is why our prayers are connected to a physical place, because it is through the physical that we encounter Hashem's essence. 

In Torah, the world is divided into four kingdoms. The lowest is domem, inanimate things, like stones, earth and water. Higher than that is tzomeach, vegetation, things that grow, like grass, plants and trees. Then there is chai, living things, like animals, birds and fish. And finally, there is medaber, people that have conversation. 

The Mishkan was made mostly of tzomeach, vegetation, and chai, animals, like the wooden panels and the coverings and curtains, which were made of wool, linen and animal skins. There was also domem, inanimate, but it wasn't the main part of the construct of the Mishkan. 

The Temple was built of stone, domem, inanimate. 

When we had the Mishkan, we were only able to reach the levels of G-dliness that were hidden in tzomeach and chai. When we built the Temple, we were able to reach the levels that were hidden in domem also. 

Now that we are in exile, and we don't have our Temple, we are able to reach even lower, and draw G-dliness into the lowest physical places and objects. The Temple was a place of open G-dliness, as they witnessed ten miracles there daily. Yes it was made of the inanimate, but it was the holiest inanimate ever. We now have the lowest and darkest world, and it continuously gets darker and darker. We have the ability to draw G-dliness into the lowest possible levels, that is where Hashem wants to be, and that is where the deepest levels of His essence can be found. 

Why are we able to draw and reveal Hashem's deepest essence? Because we each are a small Temple. That is the meaning of the verse, "They should make Me a Mikdash (a Temple), and I will dwell within them." Why does it say, "within them," when it should say within it? Our sages tell us, that it means "within each and every one" of us. Hashem wants to dwell in us. We are also the enigma of enigmas, we have a body that is the most physical and at the same time, we have a neshama that is truly a part of Hashem. 

How do we draw G-dliness into the lowest possible levels? Learning Torah and doing mitzvahs only effect the physical that is connected to our Torah study and our performance of mitzvahs. If we want to effect the lowest levels, we have to take the most mundane physical parts of our lives and make them holy too. We have to, "acknowledge Him in all our ways," similar to Shabbos, when even eating and sleeping are holy. 

I feel that the more difficulties one faces and the darker things seem, the more you can accomplish in the world drawing Hashem's essence into the lowest place, simply because you are in a lower place. So the lower you stand and the more difficulties you face, the more you are in a position to draw G-dliness into the world, and do Hashem's deepest desire, "to make Him a home in the lowest realm." 

This doesn't mean that you should want to struggle, that would be silly, but if you are already there, know that you are in a position to accomplish amazing things. 

This idea keeps me positive, so much has been taken away from me, but I see the opportunity found in my struggle, I see the great light in the darkness, to lift others up with my heart, my smile and my writing. I also see what my amazing wife Dina has done with the tremendous struggles that she has been dealt. A sick husband, who can't do husband things and fatherly things for our children. So much has fallen on her shoulders, and on top of that, she makes sure that I am taken care of. But from her difficulties and darkness, she has managed to lift the spirit of tens of thousands, with her talks and blog posts. That is truly amazing and I am inspired by her. I don't even know if she knows how incredible she is. 

May we use the potential in the situation that we are dealt, it will surely make this world into a home for Hashem, no more will we suffer, because Moshiach will be here. The time has come. 

This is dedicated to my wife Dina, I am truly grateful for her and I am blessed to be her husband. She is medicine for the world. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Even The Simplest Torah Law Is Hashem's Deepest Will

This week's parsha, Mishpatim, begins, "And these are the laws that you should tasim (set) lifnayhem (before them)." On the word lifnayhem, there are several different explanations.

One of the explanations in the Talmud is brought by Rashi, "Before them, and not before the Idol worshippers." When Jewish people have a dispute amongst them, they should bring it before a Jewish court and not before the court of the land. This is true, even if you know that in this case, the jurisprudence of the land is the same as that of the Torah. The first explanation is, lifnayhem, before a Jewish court.

Another explanation in the Talmud, is that when you are teaching a student, you have "to show him the panim," the reasons for the laws, and not leave him to figure them out on his own. Everything should be laid out clearly for the student. Panim, which means a face, means that nothing is hidden, the face shows who the person is and what he or she is feeling. The second, is lifnayhem, to teach the panim, the reason.

The Alter Rebbe tells us the Chassidic and esoteric explanation, that lifnayhem means "lipnimiyusam," that these laws should reach the innermost hidden recesses of the neshama. As the Talmud Yerushalmi translates the word before lifnayhem, tasim, to mean sima, a treasure, which is a hidden thing. In other words, if you will teach the treasure of the Torah, the esoteric part of the Torah, then you will reach the treasure of the person, the innermost depths of the neshama.

When there are different explanations on one word of the Torah, there has to be a common link between the explanations. What is the connection between these three explanations?

We also have to understand why did Hashem put the teaching of lifnayhem specifically by the laws called Mishpatim?

There are three kinds of laws. The first is chukkim, decrees, laws that we don't know the reason for. Hashem decreed them and we do them because He wants us to, and for no other reason. Examples of these laws are kosher, shatnez, and the laws of purity and impurity.

Then there are laws called eidus, testimony, these are laws that bare witness to an event, like Shabbos and the holidays, or that remind us of something, like Teffillin, mezuza and bris. We wouldn't understand them on our own, but once Hashem told us about them, they make sense.

Finally, there are Mishpatim, torts, and other laws that make sense, and if Hashem wouldn't tell us them, we would understand them on our own.

Which laws does the teaching of lifnayhem make more sense to apply to?

If you go with Rashi's explanation, that we shouldn't bring our cases before a non-Jewish court, it makes sense to have this teaching by Mishpatim, because it is the only kind of laws they adjudicate. They have nothing to do with Shabbos, kosher, etc.

If you go with the Talmud's explanation, that lifnayhem means to teach the reasons behind the laws, Mishpatim seem the least necessary to give the reasons for, because they make sense to us. On the other hand, eidus and chukkim, that are unclear to us, it would make more sense to have to teach the reasons.

And if you go with the Alter Rebbe's explanation, that they should reach the innermost depths of the neshama, for Mishpatim it seems unnecessary to be inspired to the depths of the neshama. On the other hand, eidus and chukkim, that aren't natural to us, for them we need to reach to the depths of our neshamas, and be inspired.

With all this stated, we have to ask: Why is the teaching of lifnayhem specifically taught by Mishpatim and not by eidus and chukkim?

Even though "the main thing is the action," for example, Teffillin. If one studies all about Teffillin, and is inspired to the depths of his neshama, but he hasn't put on Teffillin yet, he has done nothing, and he is considered "a head that has never put on Teffillin," which is a very sorry state for a Jewish man. On the other hand, if one knows nothing about Teffillin, and is not in the least inspired, but he puts on Teffillin, he does the mitzvah and he is required to say the blessing over Teffillin, pronouncing Hashem's name.

Nevertheless, what Hashem really wants, is that when we do a mitzvah, it should affect our whole person. Not only action, speech and thought, but even the mind, the emotions and even the higher faculties of will and pleasure. This is not only referring to mitzvahs of the heart, like love and fear, belief and knowing Hashem, but also the most simple of mitzvahs, Mishpatim, should permeate the whole of the person, that he should take pleasure in doing the simplest action for Hashem.

This works the other way around too, Chukkim, that we don't understand, and do out of accepting Hashem's will, should also be accepted by the mind.

This doesn't mean that he thinks, "True I don't understand them, however, there is a reason that is above my ability to understand, but someone smarter than me understands them, and Hashem has a good reason for them, so I will rely on their understanding." Because we are meant to do them out of accepting Hashem's will, and this way of thinking, is not accepting His will, rather it is relying on another's understanding. What we are meant to do, is to get to a point, where the mind is totally on board and fully accepts that it is good to do Hashem's will, even without understanding. Because of his simple faith, his mind doesn't even question about the reasons behind the chukkim.

It turns out, that in order to do chukkim in a way that permeates all of the faculties of the person, one would have to reach deep inside, to the depths of his neshama. And if he does, he will find pleasure in doing chukkim, that don't seem to have any purpose, he will take pleasure in doing Hashem's will. So it seems more important "to show him the panim" of the laws, to give him a deeper understanding, in order that he could attain this great level of service. However, since Mishpatim make sense to us, we don't need to reach deep inside or have a deep understanding to find pleasure in doing them.

The question now becomes stronger. Why is the teaching of lifnayhem specifically by Mishpatim?

To understand this, let's take a look at another teaching on this verse, "And these are the laws that you should set before them," Our sages say, "And these (means), in addition to the first (laws)." In other words, these laws are in addition to the Ten Commandments, in the previous parsha. Just as the Ten Commandments were said at Sinai, also these Mishpatim were said at Sinai.

The Ten Commandments are made up of the most sublime ideas, "I Am Hashem your G-d..." and "you shall not have any other gods before Me." And at the same time, it has "do not murder." and "do not steal." The fact that these laws of stark contrast, the most holy, and the most base, are together in the Ten Commandments, shows us that we should bring the two ideas together. The laws that even the simplest of people understand on their own, like "do not murder," and "do not steal," we shouldn't keep them because they make sense, but because of the "I Am Hashem your G-d," that is hidden in them, that they are Hashem's deepest will.

The same is true for Mishpatim, the simple laws that make sense to everyone, they have to be "in addition," and similar to the Ten Commandments, meaning, that we shouldn't keep them because they make sense, but because they are Hashem's deepest will.

And this is the connection between the three explanations. The Mishpatim should reach the innermost hidden recesses of our neshamas. That, for a Jew, is step number one. Step two, therefore, we shouldn't take our disputes to a non-Jewish court, because although they may rule the same as the Torah, they are not ruling that way because it is Hashem's will. Step three, Hashem also wants us to understand them with our minds, but the understanding works this way. I understand that it is Hashem's will, therefore, it makes sense.

And now we can understand why the teaching of lifnayhem is specifically by Mishpatim, because for eidus and chukkim we don't have to apply ourselves to know that they are Hashem's will first. On the other hand, Mishpatim, we need to put in the effort to see them as Hashem's will. They need to reach the innermost depths of our neshamas.

May we see Hashem's will in the simplest and most mundane of laws, bringing Him into every aspect of our lives. This way we will make a home for Hashem in ourselves, our homes, and our place in the world. This will usher in the time of Moshiach, when the whole world will be a home for Hashem. The time has come.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bringing Hashem Into Our Daily Lives

This is dedicated to the runners of Team Yitzi, who are running the Miami marathon on Sunday. Raising money for the Hurwitz Family fund, which keeps me going, and allows me to continue to write these dvar Torahs, they bring Hashem into the most mundane activity of running, by doing Tzedaka through it. I am so grateful for every one of them. 

To support their efforts go to and make a donation. 

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The first words of the Ten Commandments are "Anochi Havaya Elokecha, I Am Hashem your G-d." The Midrash says that the word "Anochi is from the Egyptian language." 

This is difficult to understand, because the Ten Commandments, "encapsulates the whole Torah," it encapsulates all of the mitzvahs,  as Rav Saadia Gaon tells us. That is also the reason the Ten Commandments has 620 letters, is for the 613 biblical mitzvahs, plus the 7 rabbinical mitzvahs. 

In the Ten Commandments itself, every one of us heard the first two, "I Am Hashem your G-d..." And "you shall not have any other gods before Me," directly from Hashem. The first two Commandments themselves encapsulates all of the mitzvahs. "I Am Hashem your G-d..." which is positive, represents the 248 positive commandments. And "you shall not have any other gods before Me," which is negative, represents the 365 negative commandments. 

Within the first two, "Anochi, I Am Hashem your G-d..." is the greater of the two, because it's only about Hashem, while "you shall not have any other gods before Me," is only after one possibly has a thought about other gods. 

Within the first Commandment, there is, "Anochi Havaya Elokecha," which represents three different ways Hashem relates to the world. 

Havaya surrounds the world, it is the creative force that makes the world exist. However, that light is too great for the physical world to handle. Elokecha, is the same as Elokim, it acts like a shield that protects the world by translating the light of Havaya, filling every part of existence with the exact amount of the light it needs, and thereby, it allows nature to exist. Havaya is the G-dly force of existence, Elokim allows for nature. 

Anochi, is "Who I Am," the essence of Hashem, higher than both Havaya and Elokim. According to the Zohar, the word Anochi itself, encapsulates the whole Torah. It begs the question: Why is the essence of Hashem, in the Ten Commandments, represented by an Egyptian word?! 

The question becomes stronger if you consider the hierarchy of languages. The Torah is written in the Holy Language, the highest of all. It is called the Holy Language, because it doesn't have words for inappropriate things. The terms are borrowed from other languages. 

The lowest of all languages, is from the most licentious and degenerate society of all time, Egypt. Anochi, which is the essence of Hashem, is written in the lowest of all languages, Egyptian. Why? 

The Midrash says that the main thing that happened with the giving of the Torah, is that "What is above could now go below, and what is below could now go above." And that is the mission of the Jewish people, to infuse the physical with G-dliness through using the physical for Torah and mitzvahs, and even more than that, to do our daily mundane activities for Hashem, "acknowledge Him in all your ways." 

How far does this have to go? How important is this to our mission? 

Hashem tells us in the first word of the Ten Commandments, and the first word He ever said to us. "Anochi," Hashem wants us to bring His deepest essence into the lowest of places, into even what represents the extreme low, the Egyptian language. 

And that is what Moshe responded to the angels who wanted the Torah to stay in heaven, "did you go down to Egypt?" Are you able to draw the essence of Hashem into the lowest physical place? He doesn't want to be in heaven, but on earth, to be revealed in the lowest levels. 

It is not enough to keep the letter of the Torah law, we have to, "Acknowledge Him in all our ways." If not, it brings the opposite, destruction, heaven forfend, as our sages tell us, "Jerusalem wasn't destroyed, but because they established their laws in accordance with Torah law," and not more. It is not enough to seal ourselves in a cocoon of Torah, we have to go into the world and bring Hashem's ways into the most mundane activities, we have to "Acknowledge Him in all our ways." 

It is the same in our relationships. It is not enough to follow the letter of the law, it is not enough to do just what is expected. You have to have a heart, and be a mentch. You have to love your spouse in every way. 

If we "Acknowledge Him in all our ways." If we bring Hashem into everything we do, even in the most mundane, we will surely merit to see the rebuilding of Jerusalem, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Reveal What Is Hidden

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Before the splitting of the sea, the Jewish people were in a place called Pi Hachiros, which opened up to the shore of the Sea of Reeds, the sea was raging and Pharoah with the whole Egyptian army was pursuing them, quickly approaching. Moshe said to them, “Have no fear, stand firm and witness the deliverance that Hashem will perform for you today, for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again. Hashem will do battle for you, and you shall remain silent.”

The Midrash says that there were four factions, four opinions of how to deal with their situation. One group said, "we should drown ourselves in the sea," anything but resume to be their slaves. The second group said, "we should return to Egypt," and be their slaves, at least we will live. The third said, "we should make war against them," perhaps we will win. And the fourth group said, we shouldn't do any of the first three options, but "we should cry out to Hashem," and He will surely help. 

our verses was a refutation to all four factions. To those who said, "we should drown ourselves in the sea," Moshe said, "stand firm and witness the deliverance that Hashem will perform for you today," to those who said, "we should return to Egypt," he said, "for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again." To those who said, "we should make war against them," he said, "Hashem will do battle for you," and to those who said, "we should cry out to Hashem," he said, "you shall remain silent.”

Rather, what should they Do? Hashem said, "Speak to the children of Israel, and they should journey Forth."  Continue on the path that leads to Mount Sinai, where you will receive the Torah, because that is the whole reason for the Exodus from Egypt. 

It is hard to understand, how the answer to all of these four opposing opinions, could be in a single statement. They are so different, that some are diametric opposites. 

"We should drown ourselves in the sea," is the diametric opposite of, "returning to Egypt." And both are, in a way, giving up, the diametric opposite of, "making war against them." All three are taking matters into their own hands, as opposed to "crying out to Hashem," which is putting it in Hashem's hands. So how can they all be swept away with one short statement? 

The order of Moshe's answer is also difficult to understand. It would make sense to first respond to "return to Egypt," because that was the lowest of the four and the opposite of what they were doing, the Exodus from Egypt. Then the other three, each a step higher, drowning, war and prayer. Instead, he responded to "drowning in the sea" first. Why? 

Another question. What was wrong with their recommendations, that they had to be refuted? True, drowning in the sea, is against our belief, one must not take his or her own life, and returning to Egypt is giving up, and as a Jew, one must never give up hope in Hashem. However, to go to war with them, is a noble gesture, standing up to our oppressors, and protecting our families. What is wrong with that? And what could be better than putting our total faith in Hashem, by turning to Him in prayer? Isn't that what we are meant to do in a crisis? 

Finally, what are we meant to learn from this event? 

Even though the Exodus happened seven days earlier, the Jewish people were not completely free until the splitting of the sea, as they were still being pursued by the Egyptians. It was only after they crossed the sea and the Egyptians drown, that the Exodus was complete. 

This is one of the reasons that we mention the splitting of the sea in our prayers. Because we have an obligation to mention the Exodus every day, and according to some, one must also mention the splitting of the sea, the end of the Exodus, otherwise it isn't considered as if he mentioned the Exodus at all. Because until the splitting of the sea, we weren't completely free. 

From this is understood, that in order to free ourselves from our personal Egypt, as we say in the Haggadah, "In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself, as if he came out of Egypt." And as it is explained to mean, "In every generation, and every day," we have to negate the first four opinions and act in the way of "journeying forth." In other words, there are two stages in the Exodus, first leaving Egypt, and second, the splitting of the sea. 

Leaving Egypt is the first stage, in it we negate the confines and the servitude to the evil inclination and the animal soul, and we serve Hashem through accepting His yoke. Without which there is no freedom, because if he is not able to keep even one mitzvah, because of the hold the evil inclination and animal soul have on him, he is not truly free. 

The problem he faces after entering this stage, is that since he is only serving Hashem through accepting His yoke, Pharoah and the Egyptians, the evil inclination and the animal soul, continue to chase after him and cover up the light of the G-dly soul that is in him. 

However, when he enters the second stage, he starts to serve Hashem in a way that "turns the sea into dry land," he uncovers and reveals the G-dliness that is hidden in the world, he sees Hashem in everything, then he is truly free, the evil inclination and the animal soul can't bother him anymore. When he works on himself and reveals his true purpose, and follows the path that Hashem wants him to take, in other words, the path that allows him to "journey forth," then he is truly free. 

The problem with the four opinions, is that they keep you from "journeying forth." The groups are in the order of worst to least incumbering. 

The worst of all, is "we should drown ourselves in the sea." This is the attitude of one who cuts himself off from the world. He isn't interested in taking care of anybody but himself. He throws himself into the sea, the sea of Torah, the sea of Teffilla and the sea of teshuva. And when you ask him, "What about the world? What about another Jewish person?" He says, "let someone else do it! Why should I mix into Hashem's affairs?!" It is cold in the exile, so he puts on his coat and he is warm. He could warm up others, but he says, "I can't warm up the whole world" it is beneath his dignity to do a small amount, if he can't warm up the whole world, he will do nothing. So he puts on his coat and he is warm. Very nice. 

The problem with this way of thinking, is that it goes nowhere. 

The next faction said, "we should return to Egypt," and be their slaves. This is the person who is stuck. He feels the burden of the Torah, the burden of Judaism, but it is a burden. He keeps the Torah, but he has no enjoyment in it. He serves Hashem through accepting His yoke. It is honorable to serve Hashem this way, but accepting His yoke is only the beginning of serving Hashem, ultimately, one has to understand and find pleasure in his service. But what should he do? It is difficult to be a Jew. Nebach. 

The problem with this way of thinking, is that he is stuck in the jail of his mind, in perpetual servitude, and because of that, he can't move forward. 

The third faction said, "we should make war against them." This is the person who sees the Torah and its holiness as fighting the forces of evil. He is leading the charge. 

The problem with this way of thinking, is that Hashem wanted us to go to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, and this is a distraction from the task at hand. Plus, how does he know that it is coming from the right place? Perhaps it is just his nature to like to fight. Did he ask Moshe if it's what Hashem wants? 

The fourth faction said, "we should cry out to Hashem." This is the person who is at a very high level, he puts his total trust in Hashem. The problem with this, is that he does nothing, but Hashem wants us to put in our effort and use our abilities to serve Him. 

We as Jews live in a dichotomy, on one hand, we have to trust in Hashem that He will take care of us, and at the same time, He wants us to use our abilities to the fullest. On one hand, we are meant to believe that everything that happens is from Hashem, and therefore, totally good, even if we don't see it that way. And at the same time, we are meant to ask for revealed good, and trust that He will grant us what we are asking for. 

This way of thinking is totally valid and praiseworthy, it is the essence of a Jew. Why do we have this dichotomy? Because Hashem is able to have polar opposites within Him, and we are one with Him, therefore, we have this ability, this dichotomy, as well. 

I see this in my own life. It is so hard for me, and it is so difficult and heartbreaking for my wife and children to live this life. On one hand, we know that this is Hashem's will, and we know that he has a good reason for giving me ALS. We do our best to be happy, and we try to use our challenge to do good, lift others up, and teach the ways of Hashem. On the other hand, we pray every day, for this test to come to an end, that we see revealed good, total health and function, and we expect it to happen. I know it's crazy, but that is who we are, Jews, and that is truth at the highest level, when you are who you are. 

What is the path that we are meant to follow? The way of Hashem, to "journey forth," to head towards the destination that will accomplish what Hashem wants. To make this world into a home for Hashem. 

The common denominator of the four opinions, is that they were all opinions based on human intellect, which is at best, flawed. And since they share this common link, they were refuted in the same short statement. 

How do you figure out which path Hashem wants you to take? 

It is the path that you know is correct, but it is also the one that you want to follow the least. The mitzvah you have the most difficulty with, is the one that you need to do the most. Because the evil inclination puts up a fight, when it comes to what is most important for you to do. 

May we journey forth on the path that Hashem wants us to, even though it is a struggle. This struggle will uncover the G-dliness within us, and the G-dliness that is in the world. Just as following Hashem's path split the sea for us and completed the redemption from the Egyptians, so too, by following the path that Hashem wants us to, and not what is easy, we will once again split the sea, reveal the G-dliness that is hidden in the world, and Moshiach will come. The time has come. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

At Midnight Hashem's Love For Us Is Revealed

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Part 1: At Midnight Hashem's Love For Us Is Revealed 

When Moshe told Pharaoh, Hashem's words about the plague of the death of the first born, he changed the words of Hashem. Hashem said, that it would happen "At midnight," meaning, at exactly midnight, but Moshe changed it, he said, "At around midnight," just in case Pharaoh's astrologers' times would be off, they wouldn't be able to claim that Hashem's time for midnight is wrong. 

Either way, we see that when it came to foretelling about the death of the firstborn, Hashem wanted Moshe to tell Pharaoh the time it would happen "midnight." 

At the foretelling of the other plagues, we don't see that the exact time was important. Why didn't he just say that it would happen during the night? Why was it so important to say that it would happen at midnight? 

Another difference between the first nine plagues and the death of the firstborn, was that by the first nine, there was no need for the Jewish people to take any precautions to protect them from the plagues, they were simply not affected by them. However, by the death of the firstborn, they had to take two precautions, first, that "you should not go out... from the opening of your house until morning," second, they had to put the blood of their circumcisions and of their Pesach sacrifice "on the two doorposts and on the lintel" of their homes. 

Why was this plague different, that they had to take precautions? The Talmud and the Midrash tell us, "when permission is given to the destroyer, he doesn't differentiate between the righteous and the wicked." And because of that, a Jew could have been also smitten in the plague. Why did the "destroyer" have free reign by the death of the firstborn, but not at the first nine plagues? Why did they have to take specifically these two precautions?  

One of the differences between the first nine, and the death of the firstborn, was that the first nine plagues were very specific, blood, frogs, lice, etc., there was nothing for the destroyer to do that you could call "permission" to destroy. However, by the death of the firstborn, the goal was to kill them in any way possible, that is free reign. So the Jewish people had to take precautions. 

Another difference between them. The first nine plagues weren't to punish or destroy the Egyptians, their purpose was to make Hashem known to them, as Hashem said, "with this they will know..." "In order that they will know..." etc., " that I Am Hashem." Being that the Jewish people already knew Hashem, there was no need for them to have the plagues. On the other hand, the death of the firstborn was meant to punish the Egyptians, to kill them, and not to let them know that "I Am Hashem." And being that the Jewish people fell to the lowest levels in Egypt, the destroyer had a good  argument, "What is the difference between these and these?" "These are Idol worshippers, and these are..." What is the difference between the Jews and the Egyptians, that I should not go after the Jews as well? Therefore, they had to take precautions. 

Even though the plague of the firstborn was done by Hashem Himself, as He said, "And I will pass over... And I will smite every firstborn... I Am Hashem," and our sages explain it to mean, as we say in the Haggadah, "I and not an angel... I am He and no other." However, the Zohar tells us, that the destroyer was there as well, and he was able to instigate, therefore there was the need for precautions. 

Outdoors in Egypt, there was no protection, the destroyer had free reign, no differentiation would be recognized. The only option was to stay indoors. 

Indoors, being that Hashem made a separation between the Jewish people and Egypt, as He said, "And I will pass over you," so the houses of the Jewish people provided a differentiation that the destroyer had to heed, the blood on the doorposts and lintels, provided the sign for the destroyer that the house was off limits. 

However, there is still a question that has to be clarified. Being that the destroyer had a valid argument, "What is the difference between these and these?" Why were the Jews protected from the plague of the firstborn? 

The plague of the firstborn came from the essence of Hashem, which is higher than the world, beyond both the physical and spiritual realms. Therefore it was at midnight, as it is known in Kabbalah, the first half of the night is gevurah, strength, as it gets darker and darker, and the second half of the night is chesed, loving-kindness, as it gets lighter and lighter. 

Chesed and gevurah are diametric opposites, and naturally it is impossible for these opposites to come together, like magnets of opposite polarities. The only way for them to come together, is through something outside of them bringing them together. The thing that brings them together is midnight, which is a fleeting moment, and nobody can know that exact moment, only Hashem, the creator of the world, can know it. So midnight is above existence and that is why it can bring the two halves of the night, chesed and gevurah together. 

This essence of Hashem is not bound by the nature of existence. In other words, the destroyer's argument, "What is the difference between these and these," doesn't stand. As Hashem says, "Isn't Eisav Yaakov's brother?" Meaning, aren't they equal? But He continues, "I love Yaakov and I hate Eisav,"  because in Hashem's essence above existence, He has chosen to love us over every other nation. And since the death of the firstborn was at midnight, above existence, where we are chosen and loved by Hashem, the destroyer couldn't touch us. 

This was the message that Hashem wanted Moshe to convey to Pharoah. "Even though you think that we are the same, and the, plague should really hurt the Jewish people as well, it will not, because it is happening at midnight, above existence and above the natural order of things, therefore, while the Egyptians will be affected by the plague, the Jewish people will not." 

During the plague of the firstborn, the essential love that Hashem has for the Jewish people shined bright. 

The rule is, that any revelation of G-dliness, can only be brought down through our efforts. Even an essential truth that permeates all of existence, like the love of Hashem for the Jewish people, though it is always there, it is hidden until we do a physical act to reveal it. 

To reveal the essence of Hashem, higher than the world, we did two things that showed self sacrifice beyond our understanding and beyond our nature. 

First was circumcision, that is done when a baby is eight days old, before he understands what is being done. And when Moshe told the Jewish people, that they would have to do a circumcision, they did it without hesitation, showing their great belief in Hashem. 

The second was the Pesach sacrifice, which was a lamb, a deity of Egypt. They had to take it into their homes four days early, so that the Egyptians would see and ask about it. The Jewish people would have to say that they were going to slaughter it, and sacrifice it to Hashem. Then they did it, they sacrificed the deity of Egypt before their very eyes. That took tremendous self sacrifice, it was beyond understanding, and showed their great belief in Hashem. 

Our sages sometimes say, "In the merit of their belief, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt." And other times they say, "In the merit of the blood of the circumcision and the blood of the Pesach sacrifice, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt." How could they both be true? Because they are one and the same, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt because of their belief in Hashem, and how did they show it, through their circumcisions and Pesach sacrifices. 

Now we will understand why they had to specifically put the blood of their circumcisions and of their Pesach sacrifices on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. Because these brought out the essential love that Hashem has for us, higher than the world. 

It was our faith and belief in Hashem that goes beyond our understanding, that merited our redemption from Egypt. And in the merit of our faith and belief in Hashem, we will soon see the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Part 2: Midnight. Beyond Existence Into Existence 

The Midrash tells us two opinions of how the plague hit at midnight. One opinion is that, "the Creator divided (the night)," and the other opinion is that, "the Knower of times and hours, He divided (the night)."

What is the difference between these two opinions?

The Radvaz explains, that "The Creator divided (the night)," means that Hashem split the night in two and there was a pause in time, in the orbital cycle of the world, as long as the plague was going on. And "The Knower of times and hours, He divided (the night)," means that Hashem calculated the exact moment of midnight, and everything happened at precisely that moment.

What is the difference if you hold one way or the other?

If you say that there was a pause in time, that means that in order for the plague of the firstborn to happen, existence had to cease for the duration of the plague. Meaning that since the plague was beyond existence, there had to be a pause in existence when it occurred. If you say that it happened at the precise strike of midnight, then although it was coming from a place that is beyond existence, the miracle happened within existence, existence didn't have to stop. Like the miracle of Purim, it happened within nature.

When there are two opinions in a matter, we say, "These and these are the words of the Living G-d," meaning that both are true. When it comes to a law, we have to follow one opinion, but when it comes to a story, we have to try to figure out how both are possible to be true at the same time.

How did it happen at the same time? It happened in nature, but at the same time, it was noticeable that it was beyond existence. In other words, beyond existence was existing within existence.

This makes sense, because this initiated the actual Exodus from Egypt, whose main point was to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, and begin our mission as the Jewish people. The Midrash tells us that what happened at the giving of the Torah, was that, "What is above could now go below," in other words, we as the Jewish people, through living a Torah life, draw G-dliness from above, and even beyond existence into the lowest physical parts of existence.

This is also the theme of the two mitzvahs, circumcision and the Pesach sacrifice.

Circumcision is doing a mitzvah with the lowest part of the body. Showing that we can and should draw G-dliness into the most corporal parts of the body. The most sublime into the most mundane.

The Pesach sacrifice takes it a step further. The lamb represents your possessions and your place in the world. The lamb is outside of you. This means, not only do we have to infuse our bodies with G-dliness, but our possessions and the world around us as well.

The Pesach sacrifice differed from all other sacrifices, in that all other sacrifices, the fact that parts were eaten, wasn't integral to the sacrifice, it was an aside. On the other hand, the Pesach sacrifice, its whole purpose was to be eaten, which is one of the most animalistic things we do. This again shows how we take the mundane physical and infuse it with G-dliness. 

How amazing are we, the Jewish people. We have an inborn faith and belief in Hashem. His essence above existence has chosen us and loves us. Most of all, it is our actions, Torah, mitzvahs, kindness, prayers, and daily mundane activities, done for Hashem's sake, that shows our faith in Him and draws the greatest levels of G-dliness, even His deepest essence beyond existence, into the lowest physical places of existence. This is our mission, to draw G-dliness into the world, until the highest levels of G-dliness feels at home in our bodies, our homes, and the world around us.

When we complete our mission, Hashem will feel totally at home in this world, in other words, this world will be a home for Hashem, no more will He be hidden, rather, we will experience Hashem in everything. This by definition is the time of Moshiach which we are waiting for. Just as in the story of the Exodus, we will once again, experience Hashem's essential love for us openly, and He will redeem us, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

When You Can't Bare To See The Suffering

Parshas Vaera begins with Hashem's response to Moshe's question, "Why have You made things worse for this nation (the Jewish people)?" In other words, Hashem sent Moshe on a mission to Egypt to begin the redemption, and things only got worse. How is it possible for Hashem's mission to make things worse for the Jewish people? Hashem, Who is all good, is sending Moshe, who is all good, on a mission to start the redemption, which is supposed to be a good thing, and it only became worse for the Jewish people. How is that possible? 

Hashem responds, "I Am Hashem. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov..." 

Our sages say that this was a rebuke to Moshe, that Hashem was saying that the forefathers were tested over and over again, and they didn't ask Me "why?" They just accepted My will and they didn't question. You, on the other hand... 

We have to understand, why, in fact, did Moshe ask, "Why have You made things worse for this nation?" Moshe was at a higher level than the forefathers, he was the one who received the Torah directly from Hashem. He was the seventh in line from Avraham, and our sages say, "all sevenths are favorites." So how could Moshe, who was so great, be questioning Hashem? 

Also, if Hashem wanted to extol the virtues of the forefathers, why does He call Yaakov by his lower name Yaakov, instead of his greater name Yisrael? 

And finally, every story in the Torah is meant to be a lesson to every one of us. It seems from here, that we are meant to choose between our forefathers and Moshe our teacher, and that we should choose the way of our forefathers over Moshe. How could it be that we are meant to choose between our forefathers and Moshe? How can it be, that we are not meant to choose the way of Moshe, rather the ways of our forefathers? 

To understand this, we first have to understand the difference between the service to Hashem of our forefathers and Moshe. 

Moshe's served Hashem through chochma, wisdom, as he was the teacher of Torah to the Jewish people. Torah is the greatest wisdom that exists, it can only be understood with the mind, therefore, it was given through Moshe, whose way was through wisdom. 

The forefathers service to Hashem was through their emotions. Avraham's emotion was chesed, loving-kindness, his service to Hashem was through love. Yitzchak's emotion was gevurah, strength and discipline, his service to Hashem was through fear and awe. Yaakov's emotion was tiferes, beauty, which is the ability to know when to apply chesed and when to apply gevurah, it is a mix of the two. Beauty is a blend of features, sharp and soft. His service to Hashem was through love and fear. 

Of course the forefathers also had wisdom, they studied Torah, and Moshe had emotions, as we see in the story of the Egyptian taskmaster beating the Jew, and the two Jews fighting, it really bothered him, and he sprung into action. However the main thrust of their service to Hashem, was for the forefathers, through their emotions, and for Moshe, through his intellect. 

Since Moshe served Hashem through wisdom, and Hashem's actions posed a question that bothered him, he couldn't continue until his question was answered. That was the way he served Hashem. 

The forefathers, on the other hand, served Hashem through their emotions, they felt what Hashem wanted and they did it, questions of why Hashem did something, didn't stand in their way of them serving Hashem. 

One of the differences between emotions and wisdom, is that emotions are a direct cause to an action, you feel like doing something and you do it. On the other hand, wisdom, doesn't cause direct action, it really doesn't have an effect on one's actions at all, only when the wisdom is applied to the emotions, does it result in an action through the emotions. That is why you see very smart people who are in the clouds unaware of reality, and other smart people that do the stupidest things, because their wisdom is aloof and detached. 

When Hashem said to Moshe, "I Am Hashem. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov..." He was telling Moshe, that with the redemption, a new mode of service is needed, and it will include the path of our forefathers as well as the path of Moshe, wisdom and emotions. 

The main reason for the Exodus, was to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Midrash tells us that what happened at the giving of the Torah, was that, "What is above could now go below, and what is below could now go above." Before the giving of the Torah, spiritual and physical didn't mix, G-dliness remained above, meaning separate, it wasn't able to permeate the physical. With the giving of the Torah, all that changed, now the spiritual can permeate the physical and that is the main service of the Jewish people, to infuse the physical with G-dliness through using the physical for Torah and mitzvahs, and to serve Hashem. 

This was also true when it came to emotions and wisdom. "What is above could now go below," meaning that wisdom, which resides in the brain, above, has to permeate the emotions, which reside in the heart, below. And it works the opposite way as well, "What is below could now go above," that wisdom should be affected by the emotions, and accept the will of Hashem without question. 

Hashem is not asking of us to choose our forefathers over Moshe, rather, to mesh the two, and serve Hashem through both wisdom and emotions. 

Now we will understand why Hashem uses the name Yaakov here. Yaakov is the name that represents permeating the physical world with G-dliness. Yaakov could be divided into yud eikev, yud stands for Hashem, above, and eikev, which means a heel, the lowest part of a person, meaning, that the lowest place should be permeated with G-dliness, the emotions should be affected by wisdom. 

The lesson here for us is that it is not enough to serve Hashem through our nature, rather the business man should set times to study Torah, below should come above, and the scholar has to be involved with the needs of the layman, above should go below. 

We see that Moshe took upon himself this way of life, although he was the greatest in wisdom, he was involved in the day to day lives of the Jewish people. He brought his intellect into his emotions and into action. He did exactly what Hashem was telling him in this parsha. 

This is often our challenge, and this is my challenge as well. How do we reconcile our sense of right and wrong with Hashem's ways? We all are trying to do our best, and we all suffer beyond what makes sense to us. Why do we need to suffer so much? On one hand, we have to accept Hashem's ways, on the other hand, we need to learn from Moshe, to ask and demand, that things should get better for us and the entire Jewish nation once and for all. 

I am certain that Hashem put me in this position for a reason, and I accept His will, but at the same time, I see how much my wife and children are suffering and I am suffering too. I can't bare to see it, so I ask and pray that the suffering stop. 

We each have our mission to infuse the physical world with G-dliness, however, we must also feel the pain of our brothers and sisters, and ask, pray and even demand, that Hashem send Moshiach and bring an end to this exile, and our suffering once and for all. May it happen soon.