Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Special We Are

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
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The Haftora for parshas Yisro, is Yishayahu's vision of the spiritual realm, know in Chasidic and Kabbalistic teaching, as the world of Briya.

The connection to our parsha, is that our parsha speaks of the giving of The Ten Commandments, when the Jewish people experienced a similar vision and perhaps even greater.

Every name of Hashem has a different level of holiness and is connected to a different spiritual realm. The greater the name, the higher the realm.

In the Haftora, Yishayahu sees Hashem, here referred to with the name Adnai (Ado-nai), sitting on a throne, and the angels, called Serafim, are praising Hashem. Serafim are the angels of the world of Briya, and the name of Hashem they experience there, is Adnai (which is a lower name than the Tetragrammaton, that we don't pronounce, but say Adnai instead).

He sees the "Serafim standing above Him."  Meaning, that they are standing above the level of Adnai. If these angels are from the world of Briya, how can they be above Adnai, when that is the name they are privy to, shouldn't they be with Him?

These angels know, that there is a higher level of Hashem to be experienced and they yearn for that. Therefore they are above, as the Baal Shem Tov's says, "In the place where a person's will is, that is where he is." Since the Serafim want to be above, they are.

Although we are talking about angels, the Baal Shem Tov's teaching is about a person. A person's thoughts are very powerful, even when he is physically in one place, in his thoughts, he can be somewhere else, and just like the angels, he is really there.

We see this in Jewish law as well. On Shabbos, one may walk 2000 cubits (approximately 3000 feet) out of his city. If he wants to go further, he can make an eiruv techumim, in which he puts food at the 2000 cubit mark, making this spot his official residence. Now he can go another 2000 cubits from that point. Though he will physically spend Shabbos in his real home, in the city, nevertheless, since in his thoughts he is at his eiruv, he is considered there.

The implications of this idea are tremendous. First, our thoughts are real, and thinking about someone, affects that person. This is why I appreciate it so much, when people tell me that they are thinking of me. Just like when you look at water, you see your reflection. So to the thoughts and feelings you have for another are reflected back at you by him. So your positive thoughts make a difference.

To take it a step further. Every Jewish person, in his essence, wants to be with Hashem. Even if a Jew is totally lost from his faith, deep within the recesses of his soul, he wants to be with Hashem and do His will. This means, that a Jew is always with Hashem, and therefore you must never give up on him, no matter how far you think he is.

The Haftora continues. Yishayahu heard the angels call to one another to pray, and they said together, "Holy holy holy is the G-d of hosts, the whole Earth is full of His glory." This is a verse we say several times a day, in our prayers. What is the meaning of this verse to us? Why say holy three times? What is the meaning of the earth is full of His glory, shouldn't they say that the Heavens are full of His glory?

The Midrash tells us, that it is like a parable of countrymen who made their King three crowns. What did he do with them? He put one on his head, and the other two on his children's heads. So too, every day the Heavenly hosts put before Hashem three holys, saying, "Holy holy holy." What does He do with them? He puts one on his head and two on the Jewish people.

What does each holy represent? The are connected to the words in the Shema, "With all your heart, with all your soul and with all your means." The first one is on Hashem's head. It is the recognition, that there is something higher. It is connected to the heart, which yearns to reach and connect to higher levels of Hashem. The second and third are on our heads. It is our ability to draw G-dliness down and make the physical holy, through studying Torah and doing mitzvahs. The study of Torah is connected to the soul, being the spiritual part of our service to Hashem. The mitzvahs are connected to our means, being the physical part of our service to Hashem.

The angels recognize, that our Torah study and mitzvahs down here, are most important, and that it draws Hashem's glory into the physical. This is why they say, "The whole Earth is full of His glory."

on another level, since Hashem chose us from all of existence and gave us neshamos, which are a part of Him. Therefore, we one with Him, we are His representation in this world, we are His glory.

Now that we are aware of how special every Jew is, we can understand the continuation of the Haftora. Yishayahu realized, that he saw a very holy sight, and said, "Woe is to me! For I am lost, because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a nation of unclean lips." He was later punished, for speaking disparagingly about the Jewish people. Because the leader of the Jewish people, should know the value of a Jew, and never speak badly of one, let alone the whole nation. This is written in the Tanach, as a lesson to us, not to speak badly of another Jew.

To make the point, Hashem sends him on a mission to the Jewish people. As if to say, "Even if they don't seem to be the way you think they should, never give up on them, because the value of every Jew is immeasurable."

This is why Hashem chose to take us out of Egypt, and gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. Because we are that special.

It is because of this, that we are able to make such a big difference in the world, and accomplish the mission that we were chosen for, to fill the whole world with Hashem's glory. Which we will witness with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Greatness Of Jewish Women

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
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The Haftora for parshas Beshalach, Shabbos Shira, is about our Shofetes Devora Hanavia (our leader/judge Devora the prophetess).

She summoned her general Barak, to wage war against the mighty Canaanite general Sisera and his army. Barack insisted that Devora go with him to battle, which she agreed to do, but she told him that he wouldn't be credited with the victory, rather a woman would have that honor.

They went to war and completely destroyed the Canaanite army, but Sisera got away. He ran to the tent of Chever the Kenite, thinking that he would be safe there, being that there was a good relationship between him and the Canaanite king. Chever's wife was Yael, a courageous woman. She hid him in her tent, giving him a false sense of security. He asked for some water, and she gave him milk, which made him sleepy. As he slept, she took a tent peg and a hammer and drove the peg into his temple and he died.

Yael is the woman who was credited for the victory, as she put an end to Sisera and an end to the Canaanites.

Devora sang a song to commemorate the victory, and there was peace for forty years. 

The connection to our parsha is that the parsha tells of the splitting of the sea, when we were finally free from the Egyptians, and the song we sang on that momentous occasion.

The Song by the Sea was sung by both the men and the women, why is the Haftora about women, and about a song of a woman, Devora?

When we look at the parsha. We see that there was a difference between the way the men sang and the way the women sang. All the men did was sing, however, when the women sang, it says, "And all the women went out... with tambourines and dances." Why was there more joy by the women than by the men, not only did they sing, but they had tambourines and danced as well? And why did they have tambourines?

"According to the pain, so is the reward." So to, according to the suffering, so is the joy that follows, when the suffering is gone. All the Jewish people suffered in Egypt, but the women suffered more. Seeing their newborn babies being thrown into the Nile, was worse than the hard labor the men suffered. Although it affected the men as well, what happens to a baby has more of an affect on a mother.

Now that they were finally free of Pharaoh, the joy was so great, not only did they sing, but they danced and played their tambourines as well. And because the women's joy was greater, we read the Song of Devora, a woman.

Our great sages tell us, that "In the merit of righteous women our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt, and in the merit of righteous women we will be redeemed in the future." The parsha and the haftorah highlight three women, Miriam, Devora and Yael, because we can learn from them, about the righteousness of women. The parsha also mentions "all the women," Because there is a lesson to be learned from them as well.

When it mentions Miriam, the Torah calls her "Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister." Why not Moshe's sister? Because it is referring to the time before Moshe was born. The name Miriam comes from the word mar, which means bitter, since she was born around the time that the bitter servitude began. As a little girl, she witnessed Pharaoh's evil decree, that "Every boy that is born should be thrown in the river."  She prophesied, that her parents would give birth to the savior of the Jewish people. She had complete trust in Hashem, that this prophecy would come true. And when Moshe was put in a basket, in the river, the Torah tells us, that she "stood at a distance to see what would become of him." And she continued to wait for the next eighty years, knowing that it would surely come to pass. She suffered bitterly and felt the suffering of her people. And now as they crossed the sea, and they were free at last, she witnessed with great joy as her prophecy had come true.

From Miriam we learn of the great trust righteous women have in Hashem. This is also seen in all the Jewish women of the time, as they prepared tambourines, trusting that Hashem would redeem them. These are the tambourines they took with them, as they left Egypt, into the desert, trusting that they were in Hashem's hands, soon to be free.

We know that the women suffered terribly as their babies were being thrown into the Nile. There is a lot of symbolism here. The Nile was Egypt's god, it was the river that sustained them. In other words, they worshipped making a living. We, on the other hand, serve Hashem, and know that our sustenance comes from Him. More than not, most children spend more time with their mother than their father, this means that the mother's influence, is so important. Some make the grave mistake of throwing their children into the river of making a living, to the sacrifice of a proper Jewish education. Because the culture demands it, and because "what will my friends say?" However, the strong Jewish mother puts Hashem first, knowing that our sustenance is from Hashem. She saves her children from the Nile, and makes sure to give her babies the best Torah education, so that they will grow up in Hashem's way. This is the greatest nachas a parent could have.

The Haftora calls Devora the wife of Lapidus, the word Lapid means a flame, because she would make the wicks for the Mishkan in Shiloh. Her wicks would light up the Mishkan, and from there the light would spread to the whole world.

This is the calling of all Jewish women, to fill their own Mishkans, their homes, with the light of Shabbos candles, which has a profound impact on her family. It is symbolic of the atmosphere, which she sets in her home, as she has an effect on her husband and her children, making her home a dwelling place for Hashem and His blessings.

Devora would judge the people sitting under a date palm. Why? Because a date palm's fronds are high up on the tree and don't really give shade. She did this out of modesty, not to be alone with other men, as she judged and advised them. In Devorah's song, she blesses Yael, to be "Blessed among the women of the tent." Which refers to our matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, who were known for their modesty. The tent also refers to the home, which means her commitment to her spouse.

I am amazed by the greatness of Jewish women, especially because I can see that they sense and feel the pain of the exile, more than us men do. When I see how much my wife Dina endures, with such grace. Despite everything, she takes the time to be there and lift the spirits of others, I am at a loss of words. Jewish women are simply amazing.

These noble traits of Jewish women, is what brought the redemption from Egypt, and these same traits will bring the future redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Dedicated to my wife Dina, a truly great woman, in honor of our 21st anniversary, which is this Shabbos, Tu B'Shvat.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Do Not Fear, I Am With You

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
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The Haftora for parshas Bo, is Yirmyahu's prophecy of the destruction of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. This is followed by a vision of hope and reassurance, that the Jewish people will return to their homeland.

The connection to our parsha is clear. Parshas Bo tells us of the destruction of Egypt by Hashem, through the final three plagues. Followed by the exodus from Egypt, which was the beginning of the travels, that brought the Jewish people to the Holy Land, Israel.

The Haftora begins with a detailed description of the devastation of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar and his army, who will come from the north. So vast will his army be, that they will be more than a swarm of locust. It describes how the Egyptians would waiver out of fear, and flea. Even Pharaoh will be afraid, he will talk big, but when the time comes, he too will waiver. Egypt will be deserted for a time, and then its dispersed will return.

The Jewish people will see the Egyptians returning to their homeland, and wonder, when will they be returning to their homeland? The prophecy continues with a reassurance, that they too will return to their homeland. "Do not fear My servant Yaakov, do not be dismayed Yisrael, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your descendants from the land of their captivity. Yaakov shall return, and be at rest and at ease, and none shall make them afraid. Do not fear My servant Yaakov..., because I Am with you..."

In this verse, the Jewish people are referred to as Yaakov and Yisrael. It is also the custom of many to say or sing "Do not fear my servant Yaakov," after Shabbos. What is the difference between Yaakov and Yisrael? Why is the custom to specifically use the name Yaakov after Shabbos? And finally, why is Yaakov called "My servant?"

The Talmud tells us, that after Hashem changed Avram's name to Avraham, we are not permitted to call him Avram anymore. As the verse says, "Your name will no longer be called Avram." However, even though the verse says the same with regards to the name Yaakov, "Your name will no longer be called Yaakov," we are permitted to call him Yaakov, because after his name was changed to Yisrael, the Torah continues to use the name Yaakov.

The question is, why continue to use Yaakov, when the name Yisrael is a greater name?

The difference between Yaakov and Yisrael is, that the name Yaakov refers to us when we need to contend with the physical world and outsmart the evil inclination, in order to use the physical for G-dliness. Yaakov is called, "My servant," as this work is pleasureless, like the work of a servant, and like a servant, Yaakov doesn't feel a closeness to Hashem. This is because, as the name suggests, Yaakov comes from the word akeiv, a heel, referring to the lower part of the neshama, that can be concealed by the body and the physical world.

Yisrael refers to us when we are above the physical and we are called Hashem's son, "Yisrael is My first born son," as we feel close to Hashem. Instead of the evil inclination and the physical being a hindrance to our service to Hashem, it becomes a helper. As the name Yisrael is, "Because you struggled with angels and with men and you prevailed." Meaning, that he has overcome the opposing angels and the scoffers, to the point, where not only do they not hurt, but rather, they help. This is because, the letters of the name Yisrael, make the anagram, li rosh, which means, I have a head. The head refers to the higher part of the neshama, that nothing has the power to conceal.

This is also the meaning of the verse from parshas Balak, that we say on Rosh Hashanah, "A sin was not observed in Yaakov, and toil was not seen in Yisrael." Yaakov doesn't have any sins, because he has the ability to overcome every challenge through toil. Yisrael, on the other hand, doesn't have to toil, because he is above it all.

In a general sense, this is the difference between a Tzadik and the average Jew. The Tzadik is at the level of Yisrael, he has no struggle, because he has totally changed his evil inclination into good. However, the average Jew is like Yaakov, he struggles, but he overcomes.

On another level, we see that the average Jew has both Yaakov and Yisrael. It is the difference between the weekdays and Shabbos. During the weekdays, when he must contend with the physical and his evil inclination, to overcome and transform them into holiness, he takes on the role of Yaakov. However, when Shabbos comes, even the physical becomes holy, as we see, that eating food on Shabbos is holy, sleeping on Shabbos is holy, etc., that is when he takes on the role of Yisrael.

This is true for a Tzadik as well, albeit in a more subtle way. As understood from the fact, that he was still called Yaakov, even after he earned the name Yisrael. This is because even a Tzadik must be Yaakov at times.

Now you can understand the custom to say after Shabbos "Do not fear My servant Yaakov." Why Yaakov? Because we are coming from Shabbos, when we are Yisrael, where everything is holy and there is no struggle, and entering the weekdays as Yaakov, with darkness, struggles, and hardships, and that is scary. Why shouldn't we be afraid? Hashem says, "Because I Am with you." This also means, that Hashem specifically puts us in this situation, and helps us accomplish what he wants most, that we turn this dark world into a place where Hashem could reside openly. So when Hashem says, "Do not fear My servant Yaakov," He give us the strength to persevere and succeed.

In fact, there is really nothing to fear, as we are certain that ultimately we will be victorious. Because at our core we have a Neshama, which is a part of Hashem, and just as no one can rule over Hashem, so to, no one has power over us. As we see from the last words of the Haftora, "I will not make an end of you..., and I will not wipe you out." while others may be wiped out, we will always remain, because we have an essential connection to Hashem which can never be erased. On top of that, we have a guarantee, that "Not one of us will be cast away." And that "All of Yisrael will have a portion in the world to come."

Knowing this will fill us with joy, and the joy will help us succeed even quicker.

One time, my wife Dina came into the room and noticed that I was smiling. She asked me, "Why are you smiling?" I explained that growing up, we were always taught about being happy and having trust and belief in Hashem, especially in times of darkness and difficulty. But I didn't know how I would react when put to the test. Now that Hashem has given me ALS, He put me in the darkest of places, and I handled it well, that makes me happy. So now I know, and somehow knowing makes things easier.

May we merit to win our final victory, which will usher in the coming of Moshiach, when it will be like Shabbos the whole time. May it happen soon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Action Is The Main Thing

Shabbos Rosh Chodesh
Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
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All Vaeira Dvar Torahs
The Haftora for parshas Vaeira has two prophecies from our prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel), plus two verses from a previous prophecy.

The first prophecy is about the destruction of Egypt. Hashem says that He will lay waste to Egypt, it will be uninhabited for forty years, and then they will return, but Egypt will never be a superpower again.

Hashem gives a reason for the downfall of Egypt. Because Egypt didn't keep their word, and come to Israel's aid when they needed it most. They were a "prop of reeds," meaning, that when Israel needed to lean on Egypt, when they were being attacked by Sennacherib, and later by Nebuchadnezzar, Egypt folded as a prop made of weak reeds, and didn't come to Israel's aid.

But then, a few verses later He gives what seems to be a totally different reason. Because of Pharaoh's arrogance and denial of Hashem's providence, as he said, "The river is mine, and I made it."

The prophecy of the destruction of Egypt fits in with the message of parshas Vaeira, which tells of the devastating plagues that Hashem brought on Egypt. It even was for similar reasons. First, for the suffering they wrought on the Jewish people. And second, that Pharaoh be humbled from arrogance and denial of Hashem, as he said, "Who is Hashem, that I should listen to his voice," and come to realize that Hashem is G-d. This attitude was common by all the Egyptians, as we see from the reason Hashem gave Moshe for bringing the plagues, "And Egypt will know that I Am Hashem."

What connection is there between denial of Hashem because of arrogance and treating the Jewish people badly?

The question here itself is the answer. When a person is arrogant, his ego is so great, that there is no room for G-d, let alone another person so he treats others badly. (As we have seen just recently, how so many leaders of countries turned their backs on Israel, by means of a UN resolution, claiming that the Jewish people have no connection to their holy sites, in denial of G-d, His Torah and historical facts.)

The second prophecy in the Haftora, is about Nebuchadrezzar (another name for Nebuchadnezzar). Hashem says that He will give Egypt into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and his army will enjoy the spoils, as a reward for capturing the city of Tzor (Tyre). Because they put so much effort into the siege of Tzor, but aside for its capture, the soldiers came away with nothing. All this,  because "The action which he carried out," was what Hashem wanted to be done.

The Haftora is meant to resemble the parsha, and bring out its theme. The first prophecy about the destruction of Egypt fits in nicely as explained earlier. But how does the prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar's reward express the message of the parsha? True his reward was the taking of Egypt, but that is merely a detail, and what more, our parsha doesn't mention anything about another empire conquering Egypt.

If we take a closer look at our parsha, it becomes clear. The parsha opens with Moshe's complaint to Hashem. Moshe did what Hashem asked him to do, he went to Pharaoh, and asked him to allow the Jewish people to go and serve Hashem. And ever since then, the servitude only got worse. So he asked Hashem, "Why did You make things worse for this nation?"

Hashem answers, "I also heard the groaning of the Children of Israel, that the Egyptians are enslaving them.... Therefore tell the Children of Israel I Am Hashem, and I will take you out... I will save you... I will redeem you... I will take you... And I will bring you to the land..."

how does this answer the question? He already heard their groaning before Pharaoh made things worse, why didn't Hashem save them then?

We must conclude that the harsh servitude was somehow necessary, and that it needed to get even worse before Hashem could save them. What could possibly be the reason for this?

The reason for our descent to Egypt, was for us to receive the Torah. In order for the Torah to come down into the physical world, two things had to happen. First, we needed to become vessels to receive the Torah. The main idea of the Torah is to do Hashem's will, and to do that, our will had to be completely nullified, and that was done through the servitude in Egypt. This last blow, making it even harder for them, completed the process, now we were ready.

Second, just as it was necessary for the Jewish people to be prepared for receiving the Torah, so too, the world had to be prepared. Being that Egypt was the super power that ruled the world, they needed to recognize Hashem. As mentioned above, the Egyptian attitude was one of arrogance and denial of Hashem. This attitude needed to be broken for the Torah to be given, because the Torah is about the nullification of our will to do Hashem's will. Therefore, Hashem sent the plagues to break Egypt and it worked, as Pharaoh said at the end of the parsha, "Hashem is the Righteous One, and me and my nation are the wicked ones."

So the theme of the parsha, is getting ready to receive the Torah. And our main goal is that through our actions, doing the mitzvahs, we become connected to the One Who commanded us to do them, Hashem.

Now we can understand how the second prophecy aligns with the message of the parsha. Nebuchadnezzar did just that, he did what Hashem wanted, and he was rewarded for that.

You may be wondering. Tzor was a port city on the Mediterranean, and it was also along the road to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to capture Tzor for his own selfish reasons, because he wanted to rule the world, and Tzor was a strategic asset. Even the verse says that he was being given Egypt, merely for "The action which he carried out." Which implies that it just was something he did, not that he did it for Hashem. So why is he being rewarded?

This is a lesson to us here, is that the most important thing is the action, to do what Hashem wants, and even when the intentions are not that perfect, the reward is deserved.

This is in line with the Baal Shem Tov's teaching, that we should love every Jew, even those that are at the ends of the earth, and who you have never seen. Because every Jewish person has done many good deeds, as our sages tell us, "They are full of mitzvahs like a pomegranate (is filled with seeds)." Every good deed has an effect on the whole world, as the Rambam says with regards to someone who does a mitzvah "He tips himself and the whole world to the side of merit and causes for himself and for them redemption and salvation." So it turns out, that we each receive redemption and salvation from every Jewish person, even those we never met.

Now that I am unable to do things, I see how special it is. I used to do so much, and from all the things I used to do, I miss helping people the most. There is nothing better than being there for others. At least I am able to lift others spirits with my smile, my heart and through these Dvar Torahs. For these things I am grateful.

May we merit to see the ultimate transformation of the world with the coming of Moshiach. When we will see how it was our actions, mitzvahs and good deeds, that brought salvation and redemption. May it happen soon.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Plant Now Benefit Later

Dear friends,

This is what I wrote for parshas Shemos. I wanted it to be ready for last Shabbos, but Hashem and my computer had different ideas. It's a little bit longer than usual, but I hope that you will enjoy it.


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The Haftora for parshas Shemos has one theme, divided into three parts. The theme is the blossoming of redemption. First, we go down into exile for a reason. Second, in the darkness of the exile is where we are able to accomplish the most, developing ourselves and the world for the ultimate redemption. Third, the gathering of the exiles and how when Moshiach comes, we will reap the fruits of our labor in exile.

There are also hints of how to bring Moshiach, through showing love to our fellow Jews.

The connection to our parsha, is that the parsha begins with the descent of the Jewish people into Egypt. Then it tells of the hard labor and the amazing growth of the Jewish nation. And finally the beginning of our redemption from Egypt, when Hashem sent Moshe to start the process of the Exodus.

What We Do Now Is Most Powerful

Another connection to our parsha is the first verse of the Haftora. The parsha begins, "And these are the names of the Children of Yisrael who came to Egypt." The Haftora also begins, "Those who came," and continues, "whom Yaakov caused to take root, Yisrael budded and blossomed and they filled the face of the Earth with fruit." Just as the parsha tells us, how the Jewish people multiplied.

Both Yaakov and Yisrael are names of the Jewish people. When it comes to taking root it says Yaakov, but by budding and blossoming it says Yisrael. Why the difference?

Yaakov, refers to the Jewish people when they interact with the physical world, which in the time of exile, is a very dark place. Yaakov is symbolic of serving Hashem out of accepting the yoke of His will, which is our main service to Hashem in exile. This form of service is not necessarily very meaningful, but it is the most powerful. It is compared to planting which is hard work. Planting a small tasteless seed in the ground, where it is dark and cold. But it is there where this small tasteless seed takes root, and grows into a great tree. The transformation from a small seed to a large tree, is exponentially great. The same is true about our service in exile. It is hard work, tasteless, it is cold and dark, but here is where our work takes root and the transformation is well beyond our efforts.

Yisrael refers to the Jewish people's interaction with the spiritual and G-dly, which is mainly in the time of Moshiach. Yisrael is symbolic of serving Hashem out of understanding. It is compared to budding and blossoming, and the growth of fruit. Above ground, in the light and warmth, the budding and blossoming is visible and beautiful, and the fruit is tasty and enjoyable. Because in the light and revelation of Hashem in the era of Moshiach, we will have the pleasure of seeing the accomplishments of our actions and the fruit of our labor.

All this will be possible, only because of the seeds we planted in the exile. So our work now as Yaakov, in the darkness of the exile, is what gives us the great pleasure as Yisrael, in the time of Moshiach.

Hashem Will Take Every Jew By The Hand 

The Haftora continues with a rebuke to the Jewish people for their idol worship and then resumes telling about the time of Moshiach. "It will be on that day, Hashem will remove the kernel from the chaff of the river and until the brook of Egypt, and you, the children of Israel, will be gathered one by one. And it will be on that day, the great shofar will be sounded, and those who are lost in Assyria and those who are cast away in Egypt, will come and bow down to Hashem on the Holy Mountain, in Yerushalayim."

Hashem will remove the kernel, which is the Jewish people. From the chaff, which are the nations of the world. The river is Assyria, which was by the Euphrates, until the brook of Egypt. What is the significance of Egypt and Assyria, which are mentioned or hinted to, in these two verses? And why are the exiles in Egypt called "cast away," while those of Assyria are called lost?

There are two types of exiles. Egypt is symbolic of every exile of oppression and servitude. As the name Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, which means constraints. When the Jewish people were in the Egyptian exile, they were in forced servitude. That is why they are called "cast away," because they are oppressed.

The second kind of exile, is one of abundance and freedom. As the name Assyria in Hebrew is Ashur, which means happy. And when the Jewish people were exiled to Assyria, they had religious and economic freedom. When there is abundance and freedom, it is easy to get lost in the culture of the time and stray from the Jewish way. This is why the exiles of Assyria are called lost.

The verse says, "and you the children of Israel, will be gathered one by one." Literally, "to the one, one." What is the meaning of these words?

First, that every Jewish person will be gathered. Second, that Hashem Himself will be involved personally with taking every individual one of us, as Rashi explains that He will take each of us by the hand. Third, the "one," the essence of every Jew, will be gathered and become united with "The One," which is Hashem.

Alternatively, it is a call to each of us, to reach out to others with love and bring them closer to Hashem.

The Call Of The Great Shofar

"The great shofar will be sounded," what is the significance of a "great" shofar? Also, from the verse, there is no indication as to who is doing the blowing, why?

The sound of the shofar reaches the core of every Jew. The question is, how powerful is its effect? There are four levels in shofar, each of them shakes us up by touching our core.

The shofar of Rosh Hashanah, is a cry from deep within the heart of a Jew, deeper than the reach of our understanding. Therefore, it reaches deep within Hashem, to the divine will, which is far beyond divine wisdom. This causes Hashem, so to speak, to blow the shofar, meaning, shining from his divine will upon us. This is the meaning of the verse, "Hashem our G-d will blow the shofar."

Greater than the shofar of Rosh Hashanah is the shofar blowing of Yom Kippur, which was blown to announce the jubilee year, of which the Torah says, "You must proclaim shofar blasts."

Greater than that, was the shofar that was sounded at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Of which the Torah says, "The sound of the shofar was going and very strong."

Yet, the sounding of the shofar when Moshiach comes will be even greater than all the previous three, as it is called the "Great Shofar." It will be so strong, that it will reach every Jew, even "Those who are lost in Assyria and cast away in Egypt." It will affect them so much so, that they "will come and bow down to Hashem." Meaning, that they will start to keep Torah Judaism. And at what level? The verse continues, "on the Holy Mountain in Yerushalayim," meaning, the holiest level.

Why will it be so powerful? Because of the blower. While the shofar of Rosh Hashanah, jubilee, and Giving of the Torah are great, they all come from a place in Hashem that relates to the world. However, the sound of shofar of Moshiach, comes from the essence of Hashem, beyond any connection to existence. That is why it doesn't tell us who is doing the blowing, because it is a part of Hashem that is beyond any name or description. This call of the shofar will reach the essence of every Jew, no matter how far they have strayed.

The Rebbe explains, that this is similar to major events in the world, like the Six Day War, where the hand of Hashem was so apparent, that the souls of Jewish people all around the world, were set ablaze.

The Haftora continues with a rebuke to Efraim (the ten northern tribes), for their arrogance and the devastating consequences headed their way. Then it speaks of the future glory of Yehuda and Binyamin, followed by a depiction of their present drunken and irreverent state.

Love Brings Moshiach

The last two verses return to the subject of Moshiach, "So says Hashem to the House of Yaakov, who redeemed Avraham." The simple meaning here, is that Hashem, Who saved Avraham, is speaking to the House of Yaakov. However, it could be read, as if Yaakov is the one who redeemed Avraham. What are we meant to learn from this? And what does it have to do with Moshiach?

Avraham's attribute is love. As Jews, we are obligated to love every Jewish person, irrespective of their observance level. However, when a friend who is observant sins, and even after you approach him and talk to him about it, he continues to do so, the Talmud tells you to hate him.

This is where Yaakov's attribute of compassion redeems Avraham. When you see your friend's failing, you will hate the bad in him, but at the same time, you will recognize that he has good deep within. You will have compassion on his Neshama, which will awaken the love for your friend again.

Since love among Jews is a key element in bringing Moshiach, it is mentioned here.

The verse continues, "Yaakov will no longer be ashamed... When he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, they shall sanctify My name, and sanctify the Holy One of Yaakov, and they shall praise the G-d of Israel.

May it happen soon.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Parent's Living Will

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In parshas Vayechi, we read about Yaakov's last words to his children and Yosef's last words to his brothers. In the Haftora we read of King David's last words of advice and instruction to his son Shlomo.

From both the parsha and the haftorah we see the importance of advising our children before the day comes.

The thing is, that we don't know when that day will come. As for me, Hashem has chosen to give me ALS, and since the diagnosis, the day has been staring me in the face. My wife Dina, and good friends whose parents have passed on, have been trying to impress upon me, the importance of writing a living will. At first, I was being stubborn, not wanting to consider the suggestion that the day might come. But then, a few of my friends suddenly passed, which got me thinking, that it is probably a good idea for everyone to do, even those that are healthy.

Now that I have started, it has become so meaningful to me, as it has given me a clarity of what I really want, for my family in general, and for my wife and each of my children specifically. I don't plan to wait for them to find out, when my time comes. As soon as I am done, I will share it with them, so that they know how I feel about them, what I think they are capable of, and what I wish for them.

A father's and mother's advice, is so powerful and cherished by their children. Even if they ignore it now, eventually it will have a tremendous impact.

My suggestion to every parent, and anyone who has been a teacher or mentor to someone they truly care about. Start the process of writing a living will, and you will find it meaningful, it will give you clarity and your family will be grateful that you did it.

May we be a guiding light to our families and merit Hashem's blessing, to see them turn better than we could have imagined. May they be a nachas to Hashem, to the Jewish people, and especially to us.

Becoming A Man

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The Haftora for parshas Vayechi, tells of King David's last words and instructions to his son Shlomo and it gives a tally of his years as king.

The connection to our parsha is Yaakov's last words to his children and Yosef's last words to his brothers.

The Haftora begins  to tell us, that when the time of David's passing was nearing, he instructed his son Shlomo. "I am going the way of all the earth, and you should strengthen yourself and become (ish) a man."

At this point, Shlomo was twelve years old, before Bar Mitzvah. These words are a message from every parent to their Bar Mitzvah boys crossing into Manhood, "strengthen yourself and become a man." Why does he need to strengthen himself to become a man?

In Hebrew, there are four terms for the word "man," adam, ish, enosh and gever. Adam, refers to the intelligent aspect of man, the mind, brain, etc. Ish, is the emotional side of man, feelings, heart, etc. The last two, enosh and gever, are the way adam and ish express themselves. Enosh, refers to emotional or intellectual weakness. Gever, refers to emotional or intellectual strength.

What is strange in this verse is the use of the word "ish," which refers to the emotional. The reason why a boy enters Manhood at thirteen, is because, that is when he becomes a Bar Daas, which is the natural development of his intellectual properties. However, here David uses the word "ish," which has to do with his emotions. Wouldn't it make sense to say "adam?"

The intellectual aspect of man, remains in his thoughts and can only be expressed by coming through his emotional self, in speech and action. The development of a person's mind, does not ensure that he will act correctly, that is why we find a lot of smart people doing stupid and destructive things. It takes effort to apply what you know, so that it affects how you act. So while a boy enters Manhood because of the natural development of his intellectual properties, it takes personal effort to apply what he knows to how he acts, because that is not natural. Therefore David's instructions to Shlomo are, as if to say - I know that you are smart, but that won't help you, unless you can apply it to the way you act. So "strengthen yourself," meaning, you will have to put your own effort and hard work, to become an "Ish," an emotionally well developed person. Only then will your great wisdom be useful and serve you well.

The same is true for every Bar Mitzvah boy, if he wants to become an ish, he will have to put in the effort.

The first mitzvah that a Bar Mitzvah boy becomes obligated to do, is the reading of the Shema. Here we see the same idea, that knowledge doesn't necessarily bring to action.

The Shema begins, "Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one. And you will love Hashem your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your means." But between the first two verses, our great sages inserted another verse, "The name of Hashem's glorious kingdom is blessed forever and ever." Why did they feel the need to add this verse? Isn't the knowledge of Hashem's oneness enough to bring him to love Hashem?

The answer is the same as before. Just because you understand something doesn't mean you feel it. The extra verse, is to apply it to yourself, by actively accepting Hashem's dominion over you.

Another mitzvah that comes with Bar Mitzvah is Teffillin. The Torah says, "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they should be as totafos between your eyes." By the Teffillin that goes on the arm, the Torah says, "You shall bind them." However, by the head Teffillin, it says, "they should be." Why the difference? Another interesting thing, is that the head and the arm Teffillin are two separate mitzvahs, but in order to put on the head Teffillin, you are required to first put on the arm Teffillin. Why?

The answer is in the same vein as the previous answer. The head Teffillin sit on the part of the head where the brain is, it is connected to the intellect. Because the intellectual properties of a person develop naturally, all the Teffillin needs to do, is "be" there. Whereas the arm Teffillin are near the heart, which is connected to emotions and the arm and hand are all about action. Therefore, effort needs to be exerted to "bind" them, because emotional development comes through effort. And being that our intellect is expressed via our emotions, the emotional self needs to be developed first, so that the intellect could be properly expressed. Hence the Teffillin of the arm has to be on before the head.

I see this with my children as well. Thank G-d, I have been blessed with smart children, but I see how much work it takes for them to be the great kids they are. For me, there is no greater nachas, than watching my children growing up and becoming a mentch and a Torah observant Jew.

May our efforts we put into our children be fruitful. May we watch them grow into mentchen, and may they always be a source of nachas, to Hashem, to the Jewish people, and especially to us.