Friday, August 17, 2018

You Have To Be A Mentch

This week's parsha, Shoftim, tells us that we are not allowed to cut down fruit bearing trees, "for the Adam (man) is the tree of the field." The Sifri says, "This teaches us that the life of a person, is only from the tree." This is difficult to understand, because surely the life of a person is sustained by other foods that don't grow on trees as well. Why does it say specifically trees? 

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains the verse, "Bread feeds the heart of man." That bread satisfies a person more than meat. 

Why does food satisfy a person? And why is bread more satisfying than meat? 

He explains that everything in the world is divided into four kingdoms, the lowest is domem, inanimate objects, like rocks, sand and water, all metals and minerals. Above that is tzomeach, things that grow, like plants and trees. Above that is chai, living things like animals and fish. And the highest is medaber, people who have conversation, which means that they think about things and discuss them. 

The rule is that the higher a thing is in its spiritual source, the lower it falls down here into the physical world. So although chai and tzomeach are lower than us in the physical, in their source they are higher. And of course, the source of tzomeach is higher than chai. 

Being higher in their source, means that when we eat them, we connect to their source, and that is why they are satisfying, because they are higher. Since plants are from a higher source than animals, we are more satisfied from bread, which is from wheat, a plant, than from meat. 

If you will ask: What about domem, inanimate objects? I would surmise, that they are more important than plants to our existence, like water and salt, without which, we could not survive. Yet with the exception of water which we drink, we don't make a meal of domem, and we certainly don't eat them. They are added to a meal, and that is how we connect to their source. But being that we don't eat them as a meal, they are not part of the discussion. 

Now that we know that tzomeach is most satisfying, being that the most prominent of all plants are trees, it makes sense that the Sifri says, that "the life of a person, is only from the tree." Trees are symbolic of all that grows, all tzomeach. 

The Talmud says, "What is the meaning of the verse, 'for the Adam (man) is the tree of the field,' is then a man a tree of the field? Rather, because it says (about fruit-bearing trees), 'for from it you will eat and you should not cut it down,' and it says (about non-fruit-bearing trees), 'It you could destroy and cut down.' How does this work? If he is a proper talmid chacham (Torah scholar), you should eat (learn) from him, and you shouldn't cut him down, if not, destroy him and cut him down (turn away from him)." 

What is a "proper" talmid chacham? One whose Torah effects his actions, he doesn't only study, he has a refined character due to his study. 

From this is understood, that not only does a person get fed from a tree, but the actual person is like a tree. The Talmud asks, in what way? And answers, that in a certain way, a person is like a tree. 

This brings up a few questions. 

Why does the Talmud ask, "Is then a man a tree of the field?" There are many ways a person is compared to a tree, even the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos compares a man to a tree. It seems from the Talmud's question, that the whole of the person is like a tree. However, the answer it gives, is that in one more detail a man is like a tree. In which way is this answer, more the whole of the person, than all the other comparisons? 

The answer of the Talmud just focuses on a talmid chacham, which is only one segment of the population. But from the Talmud's question, "Is then a man a tree of the field?" It seems that it is referring to every person. How does the answer explain, how every person is like a tree? 

And finally, is there a connection between the Sifri's answer and the Talmud's? 

A person is called a "small world." Meaning, that everything that is found in the world, is also found in a person in some way. Just as the world is divided into domem, tzomeach, chai and medaber, a person is as well. 

In a person, tzomeach, refers to his or her emotional makeup, which grows as he or she matures, and it is always growing. 

The main distinction between medaber, people, and everything else, is that we have intellect, the ability to think about things. And that is the question of the Talmud, "Is then a man a tree of the field?" In other words, is this what a person is all about, a tree, tzomeach, his emotional makeup? Isn't a person about his or her cognitive abilities? 

The question becomes stronger, when you think about the word used to say "man" in our verse. In Hebrew there are four ways to say man, adam, ish, enosh and gever. Adam refers to the intellect of a person, while ish refers to his emotional makeup. So the Talmud's question becomes, "Is then an adam a tree of the field?" Is that what an adam is all about, his emotional makeup, I thought that adam refers to his intellect? 

The Talmud answers, that the whole point of one's intellect, is that it affects his emotions, so that they become in line with his intellect. Then he has reached the pinnacle of an adam. There is no point in the intellect, if doesn't affect the way the person acts. If he is a genius, but not a mentch, he missed the point and he has not reached the pinnacle of an adam. 

About knowing Hashem it says, "And you should know today, and you should bring it to your heart." In other words, the whole point of "you should understand today," is that "you should bring it to your heart," the seat of the emotions. Knowing is not enough, it has to change you as a person. 

The Talmud uses a parable to explain this, if he is a "proper" talmid chacham, it is not enough to be a talmid chacham, to have the knowledge, but he has to be proper, his knowledge has to affect him as a person, if not, turn away from him. 

This parable clearly describes the whole of the person, that your intellect has to affect your emotional makeup. Then you're a mentch, an adam. 

The "small world" is similar to the "big world." Just as in the big world, although tzomeach looks lower, and it needs us to raise it up. However, once we eat it, we are affected by its source, which is higher. So too, in the small world, emotions seem lower than intellect, however, in its source, emotions are higher. Once we raise our emotions through our intellect, then the source of the emotions affect our intellect, raising it ever higher. 

Although there are many ways that a person is like a tree, this particular parable defines the essence of every man, that his intellect has to effect his emotions. 

This is also the connection between the Sifri and the Talmud. The answer is the same, ultimately tzomeach is most effective, the Sifri is explaining how it is in the big world, and the Talmud is explaining how it is in the small world, the person. 

Let's go a bit deeper.

Since being a person is defined as having intellect, our small world is found in our intellect, that means that our intellect itself has all four parts, domem tzomeach, chai and medaber within intellect. The ish of the intellect, is the lower part of the intellect, that has an affect on the emotions, and the adam of the intellect, is the essence of intellect, higher than any connection to the emotions.

The Talmud's question is, "Is then an adam a tree of the field?" It is true that the intellect has to have an affect on the emotions, but does it have to be the essence, the adam of the intellect, that affect the emotions? Wouldn't it be enough for the lower part of the intellect, the ish, to have an affect on the emotions?

The Talmud answers, that if it doesn't have fruit, you can cut it down. This doesn't only refer to the branches of the tree that have the fruit, but also to the trunk and the roots of the tree that don't have any fruit growing from them. You could ask, why would you cut down the trunk, just because its branches don't produce any fruit? But that is a silly question. Obviously, in order for the branches to have fruit, there must be the trunk and the roots. The fact that there is no fruits growing on the branches, is because the roots and the trunk are also not doing their job, so you can cut them down.

The same is true about the essence or the adam of the intellect. Although it doesn't affect the emotions directly, its purpose is ultimately for the emotions, and if it doesn't affect the emotions, it is not fulfilling its main purpose.

You may ask : Why is it not enough for the lower part of the intellect to work on the emotions? What do I gain by using the higher part of the intellect to influence the emotions?

First, since the lower part of the intellect has an affect on the emotions, it is likely to be affected by the emotions as well. If for some reason the heart is in a dark and cold place, blocking all of the emotions, it could as well block the light of the intellect. If that happens, the lower part of the intellect will not be able to have any effect on the emotions. On the other hand, the adam of the intellect, is above the emotions, and can't be affected by them. Therefore, it will always be able to have an affect on the emotions.

Second, even if the lower part of the intellect is not affected by the emotions and is able to work on them and refine them, it won't be able to change them completely, they will remain in their nature, just more refined. This is because the lower part of the intellect is not above the emotions, it can only work with what they already are, moving them into a positive direction. On the other hand, the adam of the intellect, is above the emotions, and therefore it can always affect them, and even change their nature completely. This is actually the main purpose of the essence of the intellect, to change the nature of the emotions.

May we have a strong influence on our emotional makeup, that they become in line with our intellect, then we will be trees that can be eaten from. This will help us have a good influence our surroundings, which will help us bring Moshiach closer. May he come soon. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You Have To Flee To Elul

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This week's parsha, R'ei, is always read on the Shabbos before the month of Elul, or on Rosh Chodesh Elul itself. 

Our sages say that the word Elul is an acronym for, "Ina l'yado v'samti l'cha," which is from a verse that talks about one who killed inadvertently, Hashem "caused it to come to his hand, and I will give to you" a place to flee to. 

The law is, if a person kills someone inadvertently, he has to flee to the safety of a sanctuary city, lest he be killed by the "avenger of blood," which means a relative of the one who was killed. He goes there, first to await trial, and then if he is found to have killed inadvertently, he is exiled to the city of refuge until the Kohen Gadol passes away. The exile atones for his inadvertent killing, because "exile is an atonement." 

The words in the verse that make the acronym Elul, is not the part about inadvertently killing, but rather, the part of the verse that speaks of his merit, Hashem "caused it to come to his hand," and the part about his atonement, "And I will give you" a place to flee to. 

These cities of refuge, were wherever the Jewish people were, in the desert (during the forty years they were there), in Israel, and across the Jordan, which was considered outside of Israel. 

The general function of a city of refuge, is to save the body of the person who killed someone inadvertently. But what about his soul? How does his soul get atonement? The sin is a grave one, it's true that it was inadvertent, but he took a life, and the rule is, that one must atone for an inadvertent sin as well. 

Why must one atone for an inadvertent sin? Because how does a Jew come to sin at all, when it goes against his nature? A Jew by the nature of his soul and even his body, wouldn't sin. Therefore, he would never put himself in a situation that he would come to sin, he would naturally run away from it. Just as a person wouldn't jump into a fire by mistake, because it's totally against his nature. That is why, "No sin will be caused for the righteous," as Rashi explains, "No sin will chance before him inadvertently." Because it is totally against our nature. 

Why then does he sin? It is only because his animal soul is overpowering him, blocking the G-dly soul and his natural instincts. The animal soul schleps him to do all kinds of things that the animal is attracted to. And since he allowed his animal soul to gain power over him, and perhaps he even feeds the beast with his bad habits, he is liable and needs atonement. 

The atonement for both body and soul is through the city of refuge, which is exile, and "exile is an atonement." 

The city of refuge also helps someone who murdered intentionally. As our sages say, "Both the inadvertent and the intentional (killer) first go to the city of refuge." The intentional murderer is protected from the "avenger of blood," until he is called to trial. And most likely, he will be found innocent, as it is known, that if they would sentence someone to death once in seven years, the Sanhedrin would be called, a murderous court. 

However, until he would be taken to trial, he would have time to do teshuva. 

When it comes to teshuva, there is an advantage now in the exile over the time of the Temple. In Temple times, even if a person would do teshuva, he would still get the punishment. 

The Noda B'Yehuda explains, that teshuva is in the heart, however we can only judge according to what we can see. Being that there is no way to see what is in his heart, we are obligated to follow through with the punishment. 

But that was then. However since forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin stopped hearing capital cases. The only way for those cases to come to justice, is through divine judgment, meaning that he receives the punishment of death from above. And since Hashem knows what is in his heart, teshuva helps. 

This acronym of Elul is telling us, that this month is a city of refuge in time, and we should use it well, through taking an account of the past and doing teshuva for all of our sins. In a sense, every sin is akin to spilling blood. because with every sin, one takes life away from his G-dly soul, from Hashem, and gives it to the animal soul, to the evil inclination. 

The month of Elul is the city of refuge, one should flee there and exile himself there. Meaning, he should separate himself from his sinful ways, from his desires, his bad tendencies and his wrong conclusions, and flee to the month of Elul and live there, meaning, that he resolves to settle there and to live in the way of the month of Elul, taking an account of his life and doing teshuva. Then "exile is an atonement." 

This will atone, not only for the inadvertent sins, but also for the intentional ones. 

And even if he is not yet able to do teshuva from love, which "turns sins into merits," at least he can do teshuva from fear. And it doesn't matter what inspires him to do teshuva, whether it's the month of Elul, the upcoming High Holidays or the broken relationship between him and Hashem. Every sin constitutes a blemish in that relationship, and if he will think about this, how his relationship with Hashem is broken, it will surely bring him to do teshuva from fear, which "turns intentional sins into (the category of) unintentional."  

This doesn't mean that he has to suffer, by torturing himself or fasting, on the contrary, a person who has to be in a city of refuge, is not required to torture himself or fast, rather the exile itself is the atonement. 

In the city of refuge, they provide for him everything that he was accustomed to having. As the verse says, "And he should live - we do things that give him life." This is why, "A student who is exiled, we exile his teacher with him," because, even though his teacher is far beyond him in knowledge and understanding, he nevertheless "gives him life," which means, that he will motivate him to do teshuva, and mend his relationship with Hashem, the source of life. 

Fleeing to the city of refuge, Elul, saves him from the "avenger of blood." Who is the avenger of blood? It is the Satan, who is the evil inclination, who seduces the person to sin in the first place, he lodges the complaint, he is the prosecutor, and he is the angel of death. 

What is the Satan's complaint? "So and so killed the soul, he killed the G-dly soul that is in him, he is spilling the blood of the Holy One and giving it to the empty one." 

How can he save himself? He should flee to the city of refuge, and there he will be protected from the avenger of blood, until the day of judgment, Rosh Hashanah. And even if his sin was intentional, he has the ability to do teshuva before the day of judgment. 

Hashem is saying to the Jewish people, "I Am giving you twenty nine, thirty days, if you will use this time to rid yourselves of your bad habits and tendencies, that you were doing until now, 'and flee there,' if you will flee into the ways and tendencies of Elul, in order to remain there. Then you will be able to repair everything that was not right, from the beginning until now, and you will automatically be saved from the avenger of blood and all who wish to press charges against you. And through doing teshuva, first teshuva out of fear, which turns them into unintentional (sins), and then teshuva out of love, which turns them into merits, you will be inscribed and sealed in the book of Tzadikim, for a good and sweet year."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

What Is The Value Of A Mitzvah?

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This week's parsha, Eikev, begins, "V'haya eikev tishmeun," which means, "And it will be, (eikev) because you will listen." Then it lists a bunch of blessings that we will get for listening. 

The word used to say "because," is "eikev," which is not the normal word used to say this, in fact, it is not a common word to use at all. It is obvious that the Torah is trying to hint something by using this strange word. What is it trying to tell us? 

Rashi explains, that the word eikev could also mean a heel, and he says that the words in the verse mean, "If you will keep the less important mitzvahs, that get trampled by a person's heel." The source of his explanation is from the Midrash, which says, "Less important mitzvahs that people aren't careful with, rather, they cast them under their heels." 

The words of Rashi are clear, he talks about mitzvahs that are trampled on, which is what a heel does, it steps on things. However, we have to understand the words of the Midrash, because if someone casts away a mitzvah, he is throwing it away, what is the difference if it is under his heel or not? What is the Midrash trying to tell us by adding that it is under the heels? 

The Midrash continues to say, that this is the meaning of what King David said, "Why should I fear in days of misfortune? The iniquity of (akeivai) my heels surround me." David was saying that he wasn't afraid "of the strict mitzvahs of the Torah," rather, "of the less important mitzvahs, perhaps I didn't keep one of them... because it was less important, and you said to be careful with a lenient mitzvah as (you would) with a strict one." 

Surely David kept all the mitzvahs, even the lenient ones, the Midrash actually continues to say so, bringing David's words, "Also Your servant was careful with them, (eikev) because in observing them, there is much reward." So what does he mean by saying that he is afraid because of his inobservance of the less important mitzvahs? 

The Midrash is not talking about a person who thinks that you shouldn't keep the less important mitzvahs at all, on the contrary, he thinks that you should keep them, and for the most part, he does. It is just that he "casts them under the heels," meaning, he pushes them off later and later, until after the heel, meaning, that they come at the very end. 

He has a very good reason for doing this. He argues, "first I have to make sure that the head is in order, meaning, the strict mitzvahs, then the less strict mitzvahs, after I am done with them, if I have time, I will take care of the heel, the less important mitzvahs, and perhaps after that I will do the extras that beautify a mitzvah, or go beyond what is expected according to the letter of the law. There is an order that one should follow, and that is what I am doing." 

He argues, "What do you expect from me, I'm not ready for it yet, let me do the basics, the biggies, and after I am used to them, I will think about the small stuff." 

He even comes up with a clever anecdote, "You say that a Jew has to love another Jew, even if he has never met him before, I am having a hard enough time with the ones I know. It is like someone who is not wearing a shirt, but he has a tie around his neck." 

Sounds logical, however, if you want to have the blessings in our parsha, the Midrash tells us that we have to keep the heel mitzvahs, and David was afraid of not keeping these mitzvahs well enough. It seems that these mitzvahs are super important, but they are called lenient, or less important mitzvahs. How are we to make sense of this? 

There are two ways to approach mitzvahs. You can come from a position of understanding, in this approach, there is an order to the mitzvahs, some are stricter than others. Then there is doing what Hashem wants, from a position of accepting his yoke, to do the mitzvahs, "because He commanded us," and because when you do a mitzvah, you are connecting to the essence of Hashem. As it is explained, mitzvah is related to the word tzavsa, which means a connection. Every time you do a mitzvah, you are connecting with Hashem's essence. From this approach, it doesn't matter which mitzvah you are doing, every mitzvah is Hashem's will, every mitzvah connects you to His essence equally. 

The question is: Which one of these approaches are more in line with Jewish values? The parsha, the Midrash and King David are telling you, that you should keep the heel mitzvahs, as you would keep the head mitzvahs, they are all the same. And if we follow this approach, we receive the amazing blessings found in our parsha. 

This is a general idea in Judaism. Belief and faith must come before understanding. When we stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, we said, "We will do and we will listen." Doing Hashem's will and connecting with His essence is first and most important. Understanding is also important, but it's second. 

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, once hired a teacher for his children. This teacher was of the opinion, that children shouldn't be told stories of wonders and miracles until they were older and already had a firm knowledge in Torah. When his father, the Rebbe Rashab, who was the Rebbe at the time, found out the teacher's opinion, he was quickly sent on his way. Because it is the stories of wonders and miracles that imbue the children with belief and faith in Hashem. In other words, belief has to come before understanding. 

The evil inclination is clever and he always comes up with a strategy, and this one is a good one. He tells you to do everything, but use your intellect, and follow the order of things. But that is because he is the evil inclination, and he doesn't want you to connect with Hashem's essence. 

And this is why we receive the blessings if we take this approach. Because when we serve Hashem from our understanding, measured and calculated, then He grants our needs in a measured and calculated way, which is not what we want. However, when we serve Hashem beyond our understanding, when we accept the yoke of Heaven and do the mitzvahs because it is His will and because we want to connect with Him, then he gives us uncalculated blessings, infinite and beyond understanding. 

How do you balance between beyond understanding and order? Beyond understanding doesn't have to mean chaos, rather, when you have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, don't start to make calculations, big or small, biblical or rabbinical, whether it is an enactment from the Men of the Great Assembly at the beginning of the second Temple era, the generations that followed or even from the last generation, it is all Hashem's will, so do it with your whole heart. We also should not convince ourselves of doing things that Hashem doesn't want, under some logical pretext, to have a personal gain. Hashem's will should be our goal and what we strive for. 

If we act with belief and faith in Hashem, the way he wants us to, He will surely bestow His infinite blessings upon us, and He will give us the ultimate blessing that we long and hope for, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Marriage Tips For Men Part V: What To Do When You Can't Fix It

Dedicated By Dr. Ezra and Lauren Kest 
In honor of Dr. Leon and Rochelle Brooks 
Who teach us how to navigate the world b'simcha. They should be blessed with good mental and physical health for many years to come, enjoying their beautiful family and all the fruits of their labor.

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In a marriage, it is possible for there to be hard times. Sometimes the difficulties can be dealt with and other times they are insurmountable. In my life there are insurmountable difficulties, and it is not just me that has to deal with the hurt, my wife Dina probably has the brunt of the hurt, difficulties and anguish. In our case, it is dealing with a sick spouse, which means that not only does she have to take care of me, but she is also taking care of the family. On top of that, everything I used to do, has now fallen on her shoulders as well. To make it all worse, being that I can't move, she doesn't have the comfort that normally comes with touch, that a normal husband can provide for his wife, so that can make her feel alone, and it is worse, because I am right there. 

We recognize that our situation, as bad as it is, it is not the worst. Because for starters, I am here, and I get to be part of the family. Also, my wife and children have a husband and father that loves them, although it is expressed in a limited way. There are far more difficult situations than ours. For example, childlessness, having a child who is sick or the passing of a child, etc. But we have to realize that everyone has difficulties, and for some reason, the way Hashem created the world, a person's personal problems are all consuming. It doesn't matter how big or small, we all have some issues that cannot be fixed. 

The first thing to know, is that a person's problem should not be brushed aside as small, even though in contrast to another's problem, it may sound petty, and downright meaningless. Because it is their problem, and to them, it's big. 

Sometimes you have the ability to deal with an issue and fix it, but other times the difficulties are unfixable, and heartbreaking. What are you to do in those cases? And what should you not do? How can you help your wife deal with the difficulties and heartbreak, when you might be suffering as well? How can you be a good husband, in unfixable situations? 

I don't claim to have all the answers, I certainly do not. And every woman is different, so different things will bring them comfort. I can only give you some basic rules, and you, knowing your wife, will have to bridge the gap and find a way to help her. 

I use the word help, because it is her life and you can't make her happy. You can only help in the process, or refrain from doing things that will make her unhappy. But it is not your soul responsibility to make her happy, she has the major part in that, and there are some people, who by nature are unhappy. 

Here are a few things that will help. Being a guy, I am not sure why they work, but they do. I guess women are just different. 

Don't Try To Fix It 

Women, like men, have inner struggles and inhibitions, and that is their nature, it is part of who they are. If you try to fix your wife's inner struggles and inhibitions, you are trying to change her, and that means that you are not happy with who she is. In a sense you are saying that you don't like her, so it will backfire on you and she will become more unhappy. 

For men, there is us and our problems, and they are two separate things, that is why we love to fix our problems. However with women, their inner struggles and inhibitions, is part of who they are, and they rather learn to live with themselves, than deny who they are, because it is betraying themselves. Only your wife, can choose to change who she is, and if and when she does, be there to support her in her endeavor. 

If there is a tragedy that you both are facing, don't make light of it, and don't fake being happy. Just let it be what it is, and be comforting. 

How To Be Comforting 

Understand Her 

Listen to her and understand what she is feeling and going through. To her, if you don't take the time to understand what she is feeling and going through, you simply don't care about her, and you are making light of the issue. This will bring her to be more hurt and resent you. Just listen and understand, and feel her pain, this itself will give her a lot of comfort. 

Be With Her In Her Pain 

Being that there isn't much you can actually do to help the situation, you should do the few things that you can. One of the things that you can do, is to be with her and be available to her in her pain. 

If you suffer with her, she won't be alone, and that will help her deal with the hurt, because it is easier to go through it with someone else. 

If you try to cheer her up, you will probably fail, instead, allow her to feel what she is feeling, and let her know that you are there for her when she needs you. This way, her feelings are respected, and validated, and that is comforting. And because she knows that you are there for her when she needs you, it will be comforting as well. 

What does it mean to be there for her? To listen to her vent her feelings and to be vulnerable enough to cry with her. 

Physical Comfort 

You should know what physical expressions bring your wife comfort and a feeling of being together in harmony, and satisfy that need. 

It could be a gesture as well, that makes her feel loved and cherished. Small or big, if the gesture is done lovingly, and sincerely, it will bring her comfort, at least momentarily. Momentary comfort has value. 

Make Sure That She Has The Time And The Means To Take Care Of Herself 

It is common that in this situation, your wife will be so involved, that she will neglect her own needs, and her emotional and physical energy will become depleted. If this happens, all of the challenges she is facing will become magnified, and the pain she will feel inside will be unbearable. 

Help her set things up, that she will be taken care of. Work things out, that she will have the time and resources necessary to take care of herself. Meaning, the right foods and supplements, and things that make her feel like a mentch, like clothing and beauty needs. Things that will relieve the tension that builds up in her body, like time at the spa, massages, etc. A vacation to a place that makes her feel happy, and a retreat from all the problems. In other words, give her a chance to feel like a mentch. 

If she is already depleted and at the end of her rope, then you have to arrange what is necessary, immediately. Once she is feeling a little better, you can plan to make sure it doesn't happen again. However, life isn't perfect, in these situations, you will have ups and downs, and you will have to be flexible and take the punches as they come. 

Sometimes she will just need something small to lift her spirits. If you know what makes her feel good, then arrange it. For example, if she likes to watch the waves at the beach, send her there. If there is another place that makes her feel good, send her there. If all fails, new shoes and chocolate usually help for a quick pick-me-up, whatever you know that works you should do. You might think that it is silly, but if it works it works. You might think that it will be short lived, but momentary comfort has value. 

When Nothing Is Going To Work 

There are sometimes that you can tell, that nothing will work. Even the thought that chocolate or shoes will help, is insulting. In that case, be there for her and recognize that it's an impossible situation. Remind her of who she is, and take her to a place that makes her feel close to Hashem. A place that is beautiful and serene, where she can melt and become one with the world that Hashem created. 

The Power Of Music 

There are sometimes that the heart goes numb, and nothing seems to penetrate it. In that case, music, the language of the soul, could be the best way thaw a frozen heart. So if you know the kind of music your wife likes, or the song that gets to her, turn it on.

It is truly amazing, how music can help. How many people have said, that music is what got them through the most difficult of times. It really works, and if it works for your wife, use it.

A Project 

When things are unfixable and it seems that it will stay that way for a long time, barring some miracle, breakthrough, or the coming of Moshiach. It is a good idea for your wife to be involved in something that she likes, something that will take her mind off the pain. It could be anything that she likes. 

In this case, your job is to be supportive of what she is doing. Your support will be a comfort to her. 

My Final Words On The Subject 

After all this, there are times that I see Dina falling apart, I see that the suffering is unbearable, and there is nothing that I can do or say. Sometimes I know that it is so bad that she has no tears left to cry, and she is beyond the end. There are times that I am paralyzed and unable to do anything to help her. It breaks my heart to see her suffering and hurting, and feeling alone. Because I can't do anything, I just cry, and ask Hashem to help us. I never make light of her pain, I know it’s real and raw and excruciating, but I also know that she will bounce back and I am always so relieved and happy when she does. 

May Hashem take away the pain and suffering from all of us, may He take away the reason for our suffering, this dark and bitter exile, when "Hashem will erase the tears from upon every face." May it happen soon.

I want to thank my wife Dina, for her help writing this article. I couldn't have done it without you. 

Marriage Tips For Men Part III: What to say to your wife and how to say it 
Marriage Tips For Men Part IV: Making A Home   

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shabbos, The Light In The Darkness

This week’s dvar Torah is dedicated in honor of 
Sol and Clara Kest of blessed memory 
Who were pillars of chesed and were instrumental in building many Torah institutions in Los Angeles and the world over

Dedicated by Dr. Ezra and Mrs. Lauren Kest
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This week's parsha, Devarim, is always read the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av, and sometimes on Tisha B'Av itself, when it falls on Shabbos. What is the significance of Devarim? And why is it connected to Tisha B'Av? 

The Talmud tells us that the book of Devarim, was said by Moshe, "from his own mouth." In other words, Hashem didn't dictate it word for word, as He did for the first four books of the Torah, rather, Moshe said it in his own words. Not that he said his own ideas, Tosafos explains, that he said it with "divine inspiration," which is prophecy. 

The Rambam says, that if someone says about even one word of the Torah, that Moshe said it from his own thoughts, he is considered a heretic. In other words, the book of Devarim was also said by Hashem, just the transmission was in a different way. Whereas the first four books were dictated by Hashem, the book of Devarim entered the mind of Moshe as prophecy, and the word of Hashem came "through Moshe's throat." 

There are many levels of prophecy, and Moshe had the highest possible level. About his prophecy, it says, "There never arose another prophet in Israel like Moshe, whom Hashem knew face to face." His prophecy had another advantage over others, in that others saw their visions as a metaphor, on the other hand, Moshe had clear and direct visions, he saw exactly what he was meant to convey, or what was going to happen, not a metaphor. 

With the book of Devarim, a new system of transmission of Hashem's word began. Until this point Moshe was a messenger, relaying Hashem's words, but now His word would enter Moshe's mind and it would come out of "his own mouth." And this is the way the word of Hashem came through the ages ever since, first through the prophets, then the sages of the Mishnah, Talmud, and the sages of every generation. And this is the way it continues to come to us to this very day. As our sages say, "Everything that a seasoned scholar will innovate in Torah in the future, was all given to Moshe from Sinai." Meaning, that even today, the innovations and enactments of our great Torah scholars, are Torah from Sinai, the word of Hashem. 

In the book of Devarim, there are new teachings as well as teachings that give clarity to things that are taught in the first four books of the Torah, and without them, we wouldn't understand the first four books. We may gather from this, that the whole Torah hinges on Moshe's words in the book of Devarim. By extension, the same may be said for the sages of every generation, "The part of Moshe that was spread into every generation," who innovate and explain the Torah. If we don't believe in them, and if we don't follow their edicts, we question the validity of the Torah. This is what the Midrash says on the verse, "They believed in Hashem, and in Moshe his servant." That one who believes in the faithful shepherd (Moshe), it is as if he believes in Hashem, and one who speaks against the faithful shepherd, it is as if he speaks against Hashem. 

The book of Devarim, was said to the generation that was to enter the Holy Land. This will help us understand why it had to be said through Moshe. The first four books of the Torah, were said to the generation of the desert, who were totally separate from worldly matters, they lived a spiritual life and didn't have to be invested in the physical world. Therefore, they were able to receive the direct words of Hashem, Moshe was just the messenger to convey His exact words. However, the generation entering the land, would have to contend and struggle with the physical world, they wouldn't be able to handle the direct words of Hashem. Being in the physical, they would need the Torah to come to them through the physical. By the word of Hashem entering Moshe's mind, and being expressed "from his own mouth," it was coming through the physical. 

As the generations got further and further away from that point, they became more and more enwrapped in the physical world, and the more the word of Hashem garbed itself in the physical, through the words and enactments of our Torah scholars. Not just any Torah scholars, but those who are accepted by the Jewish people as Torah leaders. 

There is a positive aspect of the generation entering the land, over the generation of the desert. Even though they experienced the revelation of Hashem regularly, the generation of the desert were not privy to His essence. The essence of Hashem is drawn into the world specifically through the physical, because it is in the physical that He desires to be. Through our Torah study and performance of mitzvahs in the physical world, we draw the essence of Hashem. The further the generation, the more we are in the physical and the more of His essence we can draw. Until the final generation before the coming of Moshiach, us, who will draw the completeness of His essence, and Moshiach will come. 

In a way, the book of Devarim is the greatest of the five. Because it enables us to bring the first four, that were said to the lofty and spiritual generation of the desert, into the physical world, and accomplish their purpose. 

It is the innovations in Torah and the enactments of the Torah scholars of the last generation, that makes Moshiach come. Because it is those last enactments, the words of Hashem to the final generation, that completes the Torah of Moshe from Sinai, and they are the specific actions necessary, to strike the last blow, and bring the exile to an end. 

The Three Weeks are the darkest time on the Jewish calendar. Within the Three Weeks, Tisha B'Av is the darkest day, the day that we were thrown into the exile. 

The Shabbosim in the Three Weeks are Hashem's "preemption of the cure before the infliction." As they are an oasis, a taste of Moshiach, in this dark time. Shabbos is so holy, that we are not allowed to show any sign of mourning on it, instead, we have to be happy and take pleasure in the day. On the Shabbosim of the Three Weeks, we add in joy, so as to not be seen as mourning in any way. 

This idea is also found in Jewish law. The Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, was the chief rabbi of Yekaterinoslav, modern day Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. There was a man who regularly wore slippers on Shabbos. In the week that he was sitting shiva, Reb Levik instructed him to wear shoes on Shabbos, so that it won't look as if he was mourning. 

On Shabbos there is no exile, it reminds us that the whole exile is merely a preparation for the time of Moshiach. And because these Shabbosim are contrasted against the darkness of the Three Weeks, their light shines brighter than the Shabbosim of the rest of the year. 

Understandably, the last Shabbos of the Three Weeks, which falls before Tisha B'Av or on Tisha B'Av itself, is the Shabbos in the darkest possible time. Therefore it shines brighter than any other Shabbos, it is the ultimate "preemption of the cure before the infliction." Therefore, the parsha of Devarim, the beginning of the book of Devarim, which makes it possible for us to draw Hashem's essence into the physical world and bring Moshiach, is read on this Shabbos. Because it is in essence, the cure to the exile. 

We are the last generation, we will merit to bring Moshiach. May the merit of our Torah and mitzvahs, hasten his coming. And may we soon see these dark days of the Three Weeks, turn into days of joy, and Tisha B'Av into the most festive holiday. May it happen now, before Tisha B'Av. The time has come. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Loving Another For No Reason Will Bring Moshiach

Dedicated By Dr. Ezra and Lauren Kest
In the zechus of a Refua Shelaima for Chaim Pinchas Meyer Ben Leah 

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In this week's parsha, Matos, Hashem commands Moshe, to go to war against Midian. "And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Take revenge for the Children of Israel against the Midianites, afterwards, you will (die and) be gathered to your people.' Moshe spoke to the people, saying, 'Arm (Heichaltzu) from among you men for the army, that they can do battle against Midian, and carry out the revenge of Hashem (Havaya) against Midian. You shall send a thousand from every tribe, from all the tribes of Israel.'"

There are some difficulties in these verses. 

Why is the war against Midian connected to Moshe's passing? It seems from the verse, "afterwards, you will be gathered to your people," that for some reason, this war had to be done specifically through Moshe, and that it was necessary for him to do this for the completion of his soul's mission in this world. Why is the war against Midian connected to Moshe? 

What was the purpose of this war? It was not to acquire their land, Midian was not part of the land of Israel, it was not one of the seven nations of Canaan. We have to understand, what was the purpose of this war? 

When Hashem commanded Moshe, He said that it is "revenge for the Children of Israel against Midian." However, when Moshe said it to the Jewish people, he said that it is "the revenge of Hashem (Havaya) against Midian." Is it the Children of Israel's revenge or Hashem's? Why would it be Hashem's revenge? What the Midianites did, wasn't against Hashem, it was against the Jewish people, He even said, that the reason for the war was, "because they were hostile to you (the Children of Israel)." Rashi says, that it is the same, if you go against the Jewish people, you are going against Hashem. This is true, but from Moshe's words, "the revenge of Hashem (Havaya) against Midian," it seems that it is personal to Hashem, and specifically to His name Havaya. We have to understand, why the war against Midian is personal to Hashem and specifically to His name Havaya? 

Moshe's words to the Jewish people are grammatically incorrect. "Arm (Heichaltzu) from among you," the word "Heichaltzu" indicates that it is referring to everybody, that everyone should arm themselves. But the verse continues, "from among you," and the following verse says, "a thousand from every tribe," meaning, that it was a specific few, not everyone. It would make more sense to say, "yeichaltzu," which would be referring to some and not all, rather than, "Heichaltzu." Why does it say Heichaltzu? 

Another question. On the words, "from all the tribes of Israel," Rashi says, "To include the tribe of Levi." The tribe of Levi was usually exempt from going to war, because they were in the service of Hashem. Why did they go out to this war? 

The word Midian, comes from the word madon, which means strife or argument. Midian is the essence of separation and divisiveness, their hate is for no reason, they just can't stand the other, their mere existence is an affront to Midian. As we see from the story itself, Israel had no intention to conquer Midian, and Midian knew it. But they tried again and again to start with the Jewish people. First, through Ballam and then they sent their own daughters to defile themselves, and bring the Jewish men to sink to a low. 

While the seven nations of Canaan represent the seven negative emotions that we must conquer, Midian is not a part of them. Because the seven negative emotions are conquerable, like someone who has a reason for disliking another, if the reason is removed, so is the hatred. However, with Midian there is no reason, it is blatant hatred. They are not one of the seven, but rather the essence and the core of all evil, hatred and divisiveness, and all of the other seven negative emotions emanate from it. Therefore, it is not to be conquered, but destroyed. 

The name Havaya represents the diametric opposite of Midian. It is all about inclusion and unity. It is what creates the world and allows it to exist, seemingly as an entity of its own. Although it is much higher than existence and would make sense to be separate, the opposite is true, it is what unifies all of existence. 

The same is true about everything holy, it unifies, and if it doesn't, it is not holy. The opposite is true for the unholy, it serves as a divider, creating strife and argument wherever it goes. It is an agent of hatred and divisiveness. 

So Midian is not just bad, it is the antithesis to the name Havaya, it is the antithesis to His Torah, His purpose of creation. And because we were put here to fulfill His purpose, it is the antithesis to the Jewish people as well. 

How do we oppose this great evil? It is specifically through Moshe. About Moshe it says, "And the man Moshe was the humblest from any person on the face of the earth." It is humility and self nullification, that makes room for another and unifies. Therefore, it is Moshe that has to wage this war, and it is the completion of his soul's mission, because this is the essence of Moshe, to unify through humility and self nullification. 

This is true for all of us. We each have to be unifiers through humility and self nullification, to allow for the other to exist and thrive. We can do it, because we each have a little bit of Moshe inside of us, which gives us the ability to be humble and strengthens us to follow through and unify ourselves and Hashem's world. 

Now we can understand why the tribe of Levi went to war as well. Because this war was not for capturing land, or to gain the spoils of the battle. The reason for the war was for Hashem. Being that the tribe of Levi was only to serve Hashem, they went to war. Even more, perhaps we could say, that they were the most important tribe in the war. Sent by Moshe, a Levi, and lead by Pinchas from the tribe of Levi. 

It is possible for someone to hate at this level, blatant hatred for no reason. The source of this hatred is the person's big ego, it is not that the other person did anything to him or to anybody else, it's just that his ego is so big that there is no room for anyone else, so he is filled with hatred. He might have a reason for disliking the other, but it is not real, the reason came after the hatred. He manufactured the reason to justify his blatant hatred, and to make him feel righteous. 

This is especially bad when the person is a Torah scholar, because if his ego is in the way, he is not able to get to the truth of the Torah. In order to come to the truth of Torah, one must be humble, so he listen to another's opinion, and even consider that he might be wrong. Even worse, with his big ego, self-righteousness, and holier-than-thou attitude, he could lead others astray, and he could influence others to hate as well. This is the opposite of what Hashem wants, and the opposite of holiness. 

Another problem with having a big ego. A Jew has to be able to hear what his friend is telling him, and he has to be able to confide in another, because how else would he know that he is on the right path. If his ego is inflated, he will be too full of himself, to listen or confide in another, because "What does he know?" "Why would I listen to him?" 

now we can understand why Moshe said, "Heichaltzu," meaning, everyone. Because on a deeper level, this is a war that we all must wage. We all must destroy our egos, the Midian inside of us. 

Matos is always read during the Three Weeks, when both of our Temples were destroyed. Our sages tell us, that the first Temple was destroyed because of idolatry, adultery and murder. And the second Temple was destroyed because of blatant hatred. The first exile, following the destruction of the first Temple, lasted seventy years, the present exile, which followed the destruction of the second Temple, has gone on for almost two thousand years. We must conclude, that what put us into this exile is worse than what put us in the first exile. In other words, to Hashem, hatred for no reason is worse than the big three, idolatry, adultery and murder. 

What is the remedy for this exile? What is the key to bringing Moshiach? It is humility and self nullification, that will make you a unifier and it will bring you to love another for no reason, the opposite of what destroyed the Temple. This is what Hashem wants most, and this is the key to bringing Moshiach. May he come soon.