Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Greatest Good Comes Through Our Struggles

Print         Devarim
This week's parsha, Devarim, is always read on the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av or on Tisha B'Av itself and it's called Shabbos Chazon, because we read the Haftora of Chazon Yeshayahu, the Vision of Isaiah. 

Nothing is by chance, being that parshas Devarim is always Shabbos Chazon, there has to be a connection between Devarim and Shabbos Chazon. What is that connection? 

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev said that on Shabbos Chazon we are shown a vision of the third Temple, a vision from a distance and this is the essence of Shabbos Chazon. 

The book of Devarim is called Mishneh Torah. Mishneh Torah is different from the first four books of the Torah, in that the first four books are talking to the generation of the desert and Devarim is talking to the generation that were going to enter the Land of Israel and therefore would have to know certain things that the generation of the desert didn't have to deal with. 

The difference between the generation of the desert and the generation that entered the Land, is that the generation of the desert was a generation of knowledge, they were at the level of Moshe, who saw G-dliness. However the generation that entered the Land they were involved in physical pursuits, and they didn't see G-dliness, they only heard from their fathers and teachers. As it says in next week's parsha, "And now Israel listen." 

What is the difference between seeing and hearing? When you see something it is unquestionable, no one can convince you out of it, because you saw it. On the other hand, when you hear something, no matter how convincing it is you can be talked out of it if someone questions it, has a more convincing story or argument. 

Therefore the generation that entered the Land had to be told about self sacrifice, because they only heard about G-dliness, they didn't see. However the generation of the desert didn't have to be told about self sacrifice, because they saw G-dliness. 

Although the generation that entered the Land was on a lower level than the generation of the desert, nevertheless they had an advantage over the generation of the desert of which it says, "For you have not yet come to the resting place or to the inheritance, which Hashem your G-d is giving you." Which they could only have after they entered the Land of Israel. Because the true intention of Hashem is specifically brought to fruition through being involved in the physical. Only then can you acquire the resting place and inheritance. 

So Devarim, which is the beginning of Mishneh Torah, is about a descent in holiness, but it is specifically through this descent that brings us to the true ascent. 

The same is true about Shabbos Chazon, on one hand, it comes in the darkest time of year, the nine days, on the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av or on Tisha B'Av itself, when both of our Temples were destroyed. On the other hand, specifically through this descent that brings the ultimate ascent. As the Holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev said that on Shabbos Chazon we are shown a vision of the third Temple. 

The same is true in every challenge or even tragedy, there is an opportunity. And if you train yourself to look for the opportunity, you will be able to take control of the situation and even turn it into a positive or if it can't be turned into something good, at least something good could come out of it. You should ask yourself these questions. What does Hashem want me to gain from this? What does Hashem want me to learn from this? How can I use this for something positive? 

When I was diagnosed with ALS, it was devastating to me and my family. By taking this attitude, I was filled with a mission to uplift as many as I can through these articles and my wife Dina became one of the most inspirational speakers and has uplifted tens of thousands. It doesn't fix the problem, but it makes our lives more meaningful and therefore more bearable. 

May we merit to see these days of darkness turn to light and the happiest days on the calendar and may we merit to see the construction of the third Temple that will be built by Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Don't Be Satisfied

Print         Matos         Maasei
Parshas Maasei begins, "These are the travels of the Children of Israel that they went out of Egypt," the word "journeys" is said in the plural, meaning that in order to get out of Egypt they had to travel many journeys.

There is a famous question asked about this. They only went out of Egypt on the first journey from Ramses to Sukkos, they were already out of Egypt then. Why does it say "journeys" in plural?

Another question. The Jewish people traveled 42 journeys coming out of Egypt until they reached the Holy Land. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, which is from the word Maitzarim, meaning constrictions, which is what they broke free from. Why did they need 42 journeys to break free, when with the first journey they were already free?

What are we meant to learn from this?

When it comes to constraints and being free there are many levels, freedom is relative. If you break free from a lower level you are still in constraints compared to a higher level. So although they broke free from Egypt, they still had a way to go, every journey breaking free from the constraints of the previous level, until they reached true freedom, the completion of their journeys, Yarden Yereicho, and they entered the Holy Land. And that is why it says "journeys," in the plural.

The same is true about this dark and bitter exile, we are on a journey, every time we reach a point of freedom, and it gets a little bit comfortable, we are reminded that we haven't reached the ultimate freedom, Yarden Yereicho, which is symbolic of Moshiach, about whom it says, "He will judge by smell," Yereicho is related to the word reiach, which means smell.

The same is true for each and every one of us. What we accomplished yesterday is good, we broke through the constraints of yesterday and it is an accomplishment, but now that we reached this level, this becomes the new baseline, and today we can go higher. It is a big mistake to think that you have already reached high enough, if you can go higher you must, because a person is called a mehalech, which means to go and to not stay put, every day higher and higher.

This is seen in Davening, which is called the ladder of Yaakov, as it says, "A ladder set on the ground and its top reaches the heaven." When you Daven you are reaching up to Hashem, as opposed to Torah study, which is from the top down, it is what it is, infinite, and we try to understand it, each of us according to our ability. However Davening is us reaching up to Hashem, trying to take our relationship with Him to a deeper and higher level.

When we Daven, every section of the prayer is another rung on the ladder, from when we prepare to Daven by setting our minds to focus on prayer, until we reach the Amida, and when we get there we are so one with Him that we don't exist, we are completely nullified before Him to the point where we have to say, "Hashem, open my lips and my mouth will tell your praises." Totally vulnerable and intimate.

And when we Daven every day, we are not doing the same thing as yesterday, rather we are picking up at the closeness we attained yesterday and we reach even deeper and higher than ever.

In a marriage it is the same way. The deepness of love that you reached yesterday is not enough today, every day you have to take it higher and deeper through being open, honest and vulnerable.

If we strive to go ever higher as a nation and in our personal relationship with Hashem, we will surely merit the final journey, the ultimate freedom, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Only You Can Do Your Part

Print         Pinchas
In this week's parsha, Pinchas, it tells about the aftermath of the story of Zimri, when Pinchas, who was the junior of the group, took action and saved the day.

How do we know that Pinchas was the junior of the group, and wasn't given special attention? The Talmud tells us how Moshe taught the Torah to the Jewish people. First he would teach it to Aaron, then he would teach it to Aaron's sons Elazzar and Ethamar, then he would teach it to the seventy elders, and then he would teach it to all of the Jewish people. And Pinchas got the teaching with all of the Jewish people, he wasn't given special treatment.

And because of his actions he was rewarded to be a Kohen, him and all of his descendants after him, an everlasting reward.

Moshe, Aaron, Elazzar, Ethamar and the seventy elders didn't know what to do, the law slipped their minds, only Pinchas remembered. They said to him, "the reader of the letter should carry it out."

What are we meant to learn from this?

There are things that the leaders of the generation are not going to tell you to do, it doesn't mean that they should not be done. If you see a good thing that is not being done and you can do it, you should. And the reason that greater people aren't doing it, perhaps it is "in order for Pinchas to take the Kohenhood," meaning that it is for you to make a difference, your purpose in the world that you were created for.

Just as physically everyone has his or her part in the world, and "no one can touch the (G-d given) livelihood of his friend," so too, no one can touch the spiritual livelihood of his friend, no one can touch his part in Torah.

His part in Torah doesn't necessarily mean the study of Torah, it means his innovation in Torah, just as the Talmud tells us that Rabbi Akiva taught a law that Moshe didn't know. And it means that no one can do another person's mitzvah, his or her spiritual purpose in the world.

Every person has a unique physical and spiritual mission in the world that only he or she can do and when we do it we refine the  world, making it into a home for Hashem, and that is our part in bringing Moshiach. May he come soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

To Be Or To Do? That Is The Question

The Rebbe giving me a dollar (1990) 
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Gimmel Tamuz, the 3rd of Tamuz, is the Rebbe's day. You may ask, "how can I connect to the Rebbe?" I will tell you. 

There are two ways to be connected with the Rebbe, the first way is by learning his teachings. The more you do, the more you understand who he is, and the more you connect to him on a personal level. 

The second way is by doing what he wants. When you do what he wants, you become an extension of him, and in a way, for the moment, you are him, and you can't get much closer than that. 

I merited to grow up by the Rebbe, it was easy to recognize that he was the leader of the Jewish People. 

Since I was a young yeshiva student, I've felt that the greatest accomplishment was to do what the Rebbe wants. 

However, There was a competing need, the need to be in the presence of the Rebbe. Which fostered a deep and meaningful connection with the leader of the generation, and was also an amazing experience. 

The dilemma we had was, which is more important, to be in the Rebbe's presence, or to do his work? 

Though I was in his presence on many occasions, from the age of 16, whenever I had to choose, between doing the Rebbe's work, and being in his presence, doing his work always won out. I felt that being by the Rebbe, was for me, while doing his work, was for him. 

It seemed clear, That to be the Rebbe's soldier, accomplishing what he wanted, was by far more important. 

Gimmel Tammuz, 26 years ago, some were shattered, broken, and it took them some time to pick up the pieces, and figure out what to do next. Until that point, for them, being in the Rebbe's presence was everything. What now?

For me it was sad, but It didn't break me. It was clear. Just continue to do what the Rebbe wants. 

Ultimately, I got the best of both. Being close on hundreds of occasions, and doing the Rebbe's work. 

When I was close I felt that he was proud of me, I was his man, his soldier. 

Becoming his shliach, his emissary was just the next step, because in many ways I was already his emissary. 

The Rebbe is the Moshe of our generation. Hashem speaks through him. His mission is Hashem's mission. Doing the Rebbe's mission is doing Hashem's mission. Then, You are one with the Rebbe, one with Hashem. Now that's close. 

What the Rebbe wanted most is that Moshiach should come. And he believed that we can do it. By adding in Torah study and the performance of mitzvahs,, especially the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, loving our fellow Jew, we will bring Moshiach. 

What is there left to do? Just a little. In your home, at work or wherever you are. Do an extra mitzvah, and have a positive influence on another, that he or she should also do a mitzvah. 

This way we will accomplish the mission. We will bring Moshiach and be once again in the Rebbe's presence. May it happen soon. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

A True Leader Can't Have His Head In The Clouds

Print         Shelach
In this week's parsha, Shelach, Moshe sends spies into Canaan, and it says that "He called Hosheah the son of Nuun, Yehoshua," Moshe changed his name. On this verse the Talmud tells us that he prayed for Yehoshua, "G-d should save you from the advice of the spies."

The spies were all righteous at the time, otherwise Moshe wouldn't have sent them. It begs the question. Why did he feel the need to pray for Yehoshua, "G-d should save you from the advice of the spies."? And if he had a feeling that something bad was going to happen, why did he only pray for Yehoshua, why not pray for all of the spies?

Love for your fellow is one of the greatest Mitzvos, and it is the foundation of all the Mitzvos, as the Talmud Yerushalmi tells us that Rabbi Akiva said, "this is a great rule of the Torah."

About the love for your fellow, the Talmud tells us a story that convert came before Shamai and said, "teach me the whole Torah (while standing) on one foot." Shamai chased him out with a measuring stick. Then he came before Hillel said the same thing, "teach me the whole Torah (while standing) on one foot." Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, don't do to your friend, everything else is an explanation."

We have to understand that because Hillel gave him this answer, it means that it is true, so why didn't Shamai respond the same way?

Shamai was a tzadik and commonly by tzadikim they are not of this world, they are here, but they are drawn to the above, and really don't want anything to do with this world. Therefore they are very strict and measured in the way they do everything, not wanting to partake in even the simplest pleasure. And they often don't understand why a person would want to work, do business or for that matter, have anything to do with this world other than serving Hashem. Shamai was very strict and measured, and didn't see why everyone else shouldn't be the same, he didn't see that the average person is not able to be like him, so strict and measured, that is symbolized by him chasing him out with a measuring stick. His students, Beis Shamai, were the same, they were tzadikim that didn't relate to the average person, that is why the law doesn't follow their ruling in most cases.

Hillel, on the other hand, was the leader of his generation and the leader of a generation has to relate to the average person. The same is with his students, Beis Hillel, they were also tzadikim, but they were able to relate to the average person, that is why the law follows their ruling in most cases.

The Zohar tells us that three tzadikim were in a generation that were not up to par, Noach, Avraham and Moshe.

Noach didn't go out to the people of his generation to teach them the right way, only when they came to him and asked him why he is building the ark, did he tell them that Hashem was going to send a flood to destroy them, because they are wicked and perhaps they should change their ways.

Avraham went out to the people of his generation and taught them about Hashem, but he was only interested in turning them into tzadikim, otherwise they weren't good enough. As we see how he pleaded with Hashem to save Sodom and Amora, " perhaps there are ten tzadikim," otherwise they weren't worth saving.

Moshe, on the other hand, was the first faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, and he lead the generation of the desert, whom he took out of Egypt and when they did the sin of the golden calf, he asked for everyone to be forgiven, and if not, "erase me from your book." And the Midrash tells us that one of the reasons that he didn't enter the Holy Land is so he would remain with his generation, of which Rabbi Akiva, the great lover of the Jewish people, said, "the generation of the desert has no portion in the world to come," Moshe stayed with them so that he could fight for them to receive a portion in the world to come. He was a faithful shepherd to the end and he still is.

The spies were tzadikim, they were above, strict and measured, they didn't want to deal with the physical world. When they saw the land they realized that in order to succeed in this land, they would have to plow, sow, reap and harvest. They couldn't understand why anyone would want to do that when they could live in the utopia that they had in the desert, where they had manna from heaven to eat, water from the well of Miriam to drink, their clothes grew with them and were kept clean automatically and they could serve Hashem without worry. That is what they wanted, they couldn't relate to the average person.

Moshe knew that Yehoshua was going to be the next leader of the Jewish people, he couldn't be like the other spies, he had to relate to the people of his generation and he had to lead them with their mission in mind that they should make a home for Hashem in the physical world. How can they do that if not by engaging in the physical world, plowing, sowing, reaping, and harvesting, to name a few. So that is why he prayed for Yehoshua and not the others, because he had to be more than the other tzadikim, he had to be the leader of a generation, he had to feel the needs of the people and the mission they have to accomplish.

The lesson here is clear, we should be like Beis Hillel, feel the needs of our brothers and sisters, and step up the mitzvah of loving your fellow, especially now when Moshiach is almost here. We can bring it ever closer, especially through this mitzvah. May he come soon. 

Dedicated in honor of the Rebbe, whose yortziet is this coming week. A true leader of our generation, a faithful shepherd. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Harmony

Print           Bahaloscha
Chapter 2 Mishnah 1. Rebbe [Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi] would say: Which is the straight path for the man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind... 

What does he mean by asking, "Which is the right path for the man to choose for himself?" Isn't there a clear verse that teaches us the proper way to act is the Torah way, "straight are the ways of Hashem," Isn't that clear enough? We must conclude that within Torah there is a straight path that is beyond the letter of the law and that needs clarifying. 

Then he answers, "Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it," This sounds like do whatever you feel is right. Is everyone in a position to be the arbitrator of right and wrong? Isn't that anarchy? "And harmonious for mankind." This sounds like unprincipled leadership. Take a poll of what the people want and base your judgment on that. What if they want what is bad in the eyes of Hashem, which is commonly the case. 

How does this connect to the one who says it, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi? 

"Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it," doesn't mean that you should do whatever you feel like doing, rather it means that you should work on yourself to be a better person, to do what is best for you, the Torah way. And "harmonious for mankind..." means the work that you do with others, what is best for them, acts of kindness. 

These are usually mutually exclusive things, either you like to work on yourself or you like to work with others. What Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi is asking us to do, is to have a good mix of both in our daily lives. You can do both, and you can find satisfaction and fulfillment in both areas. 

This specifically pertains to Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, because he was a Nassi, not only that but it was part of his essence, that was what he was called, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. A Nassi is the leader of the Jewish people and as the Nassi he was in the unique position to mesh them both, to be concerned with the needs of others, the people of his generation and at the same time, he had to work for his own good. On the other hand, a regular person doesn't have to be concerned so much with both, he can focus mostly on one. 

Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was a Shepherd of the Jewish people and he wanted that each and every one of us to have the two simultaneously, to be there for others and at the same time, work on ourselves. 

The word tiferes here is translated as harmony, but it can also mean beauty. Avraham's attribute was chessed, kindness, Yitzchak's was gevurah, strength, Yaakov is tiferes, and every  Nassi has a little bit of Yaakov in them. 

Harmony is when you have two or more things working together simultaneously, and that is beautiful. When two people sing and they sound good together, it's beautiful. Beauty is the same, beauty is the meshing of soft and sharp features, if one has only sharp features it's not beautiful, and the same is with only soft features. When someone has both and they work together well, it's beautiful. 

Tiferes is when you are able to mesh chesed and gevurah in perfect harmony. 

That is what Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi is asking of us, to mesh doing for others and working on ourselves in perfect harmony. 

This is truly the perfect mix, because you are working on yourself and giving to the world, to others. And if we do that, we will surely merit the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Lessons From The Sota II

Print        Nasso
This week's parsha, Nasso, tells us the laws of the Sota. If a husband has a feeling of jealousy, and says to his wife, "do not seclude yourself (hide) with that man." And then it continues with the details of what happens if in fact she was alone with that man. 

Aside from the simple meaning of the passage, that it is talking about a husband and wife, on a deeper level, it is talking about the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, He is, so to speak, the husband and every one of us, is the wife. 

On Mount Sinai, He said, "You should not have any gods before Me," that was His statement of warning to us. In a way He is saying, "do not seclude yourself (hide) with that man." 

We have to ask: How is it possible to hide from Hashem? He is everywhere, as the Zohar says, "There is no place that is void of Him," and as Hashem says, "If a man hides in hidden places, will I not see him?" So how is it possible to be hidden from Him? 

The answer is, that Hashem says about a person with an inflated ego, "he and I can't dwell in the same place." In a way the big shot is hiding himself from Hashem. It is only that way, because Hashem wants it to be that way, He really doesn't like a big ego. It is as if He is not there. 

As the Baal Shem Tov interprets the verse as a statement, "If a man hides in hidden places, and (he is an) I, I will not see him" 

The Talmud says, "A husband who took back his jealous statement, his statement is void." This only works if she hadn't secluded herself with the man prior to the husband taking back his statement. If however she has already secluded herself, it isn't in his power to take it back any more. 

The Talmud Yerushalmi says that he can still take it back, even if she had been secluded. "As long as the Megillah has not been erased." This was the end of the process that the Sota went through. They would write the passage of the Sota on parchment, which was called the Megillah, it would be erased in water, and then the Sota would drink it. 

There seems to be a difference of opinion between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi. How can we reconcile the two? 

The Rogechover answers this dilemma. He says that the Yerushalmi is talking about a specific case, when the seclusion would normally be appropriate, and it is only inappropriate because of the husband's jealous statement. For example, if he said, "I don't want you to be alone with your father," which is normally allowed. 

Since it is only based on his own words, he could take it back at any time. 

The truth is that Hashem really sees everything and there is no hiding from Him. The only reason we are able to be hidden from Him, is because Hashem chose it is to be that way. "Every big ego is disgusting to Hashem," and "he and I can't dwell in the same place." 

Since Hashem imposed this on Himself, He can always change His mind and take it back, even after the so called seclusion. 

In the case of the Sota, she goes through a process that ends with erasing of the Megillah. They erased the ink from the parchment in water. This is only possible with parchment and ink or the like, because they are two entities that are attached, so they can be separated. However if the words are engraved then there is no erasing them. 

When one studies Torah in a way that it is engraved into the person, then although he secluded himself from Hashem, by having a big ego, when he finds humility, he will immediately be forgiven, he doesn't have to go through a process, because it can't be erased. However when he studies Torah in the way of ink on parchment, then as in the Sota's case, she had to offer a sacrifice of barley, which is animal fodder and a very small amount, which is considered a poor person's offering. So too, does the one who has a big ego has to realize that he is acting like an animal, that only thinks of himself and is poor, as poor in judgement. 

And when he goes through this process, he doesn't remain the same, but becomes much better than before, as the Sota was healed, even if she wasn't able to have children, she now was able to have children. 

May we merit to come closer to Hashem and see a miraculous healing for all of us. And may we meet the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 
Dedicated in honor of our son Mendel, who celebrated his birthday this week, may Hashem give you an amazing year, Mommy and I are so proud of you.