Friday, January 17, 2020

How To Learn Torah

1:1 Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things. 

Why does the Mishnah go through the trouble of mentioning all these five, Moshe, Yehoshua, the Elders, the Prophets, and the Men of the Great Assembly? It could have said simply that Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and gave it to the generations that followed until the Men of the Great Assembly. Why specifically Moshe, Yehoshua, the Elders, the Prophets, and the Men of the Great Assembly? 

Another question. The commentaries tell us that the Elders are the Judges who led the Jewish people from after the time of Yehoshua until the first prophet, Shmuel. Why does the Mishnah change their name from Judges to Elders? By changing Judges to Elders, the Mishnah is telling us that these names are not arbitrary, rather it's trying to teach us something. And being that our Mishnah is talking about the establishment and the strengthening of Torah, we have to conclude that it has something to do with the establishment and strengthening of Torah. What are we meant to learn from them? 

The Mishnah is trying to teach us the traits that are necessary in order to ensure proper Torah study and that we reach Hashem's true intention. 

Moshe. The Torah tells us about Moshe that he was "the humblest of all men." And our sages say that because he made himself small, the Torah is called in his name. The trait of humility readies one to study Torah. 

Yehoshua. The Torah tells us about Yehoshua that "he didn't move from within the tent," where Moshe taught Torah. This means that one has to be totally given over to the study of Torah. Even a person who works every day, when he studies Torah, it should be as if Torah is his whole life. 

After the Tanna tells us the two traits that are necessary as an approach to Torah study, he now tells us three traits that are necessary for the study of Torah itself. 

Elders. Our sages say, "(Who is an) Elder? One who acquires wisdom." In order to acquire Torah, in order that you gain an essential bond with the Torah you learn, you have to be diligent and put toil and effort into it. This is why the Tanna changed the name from Judges to Elders, because we wouldn't learn much from Judges. 

Prophets. When one learns Torah in order to derive the law, he needs help from above to come to the true law. This is akin to prophecy. 

Men of the Great Assembly. Their purpose was to establish the bottom line law, what we should actually do. On top of that, they set up precautions to distance us from breaking the laws. When one learns Torah in order to derive the law, he will delve deeper into the subject, because of the fear that he will not realize Hashem's intention and therefore he will come to the true law. 

This will explain another difficulty in our Mishnah. It says, "They said three things." Why is it important to tell us that they said three things, can't we count? When the other Tannaim say three things, which is quite often in Pirkei Avos, it doesn't say that they said three things. 

There are different opinions as to who said the three things. If we go with the opinion that it's the Men of the Great Assembly, we can say that until this point, when learning Torah, there were only two in play, the Giver of the Torah and the one learning the Torah. Then came the Men of the Great Assembly, whose purpose was to establish the bottom line of the law, in order to know what to do in the real world, in order to refine and purify it, to turn it into a home for Hashem, because that is the reason that He created this world in the first place. So now there are three, Hashem, the one learning and the world. The purpose of creation was finally realized. Before it was understood that there were two things, but "they said (there were) three things." 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Making Vessels Is The Main Thing

Although this is on the Haftora for the second Shabbos of Chanukah it touches on the essence of  Chanukah.

Making Vessels Is The Main Thing 

The Haftora for the second Shabbos of Chanukah is about the vessels that king Shlomo and Chirom made for the first Temple. All communities read this Haftora for the second Shabbos of Chanukah, but  Ashkenazic communities read this also for parshas Vayakhel and Sefardic communities read this also for parshas Pekudei.

The connection to Vayakhel and Pekudei is easy to understand, because they speak about the vessels that Betzalel and Elihav made for the Mishkan. But it's difficult to understand its connection to Chanukah.

The Haftora brings out the theme of the parsha or the holiday. Since everyone reads this on the second Shabbos of Chanukah it means that it's more related to the theme of Chanukah. And being that it's read on the second Shabbos of Chanukah, it's proof that it's more related to Chanukah than the Haftora for the first Shabbos of Chanukah, because we have the rule on Chanukah that "We add in holiness," meaning that the theme of Chanukah gets stronger and stronger as the holiday progresses and we light more and more candles. By explaining how it connects to Chanukah, we will get a deeper appreciation for Vayakhel and Pekudei.

It is difficult to understand how this Haftora connects to Chanukah, because it speaks about making the vessels of the first Temple. True it mentions the extra Menoras that Shlomo made to accompany the Menorah that Moshe made for the Mishkan, but that is only one verse at the end of the Haftora. And it only mentions that he made "five (to go) on the right and five (to go) on the left," and where they were to be placed. However it doesn't mention that they were brought into the Temple or that they were lit, which would make it more in line with the theme of Chanukah. There is even an opinion that the Menoras that Shlomo made weren't lit at all. And even more, there are no other details.

When it comes to the Haftora for the first Shabbos of Chanukah, the prophecy of Zechariah about the Menorah in the second Temple, it's a few verses and it gives details. It's a prophecy specifically about the Menorah and the olive oil, in sync with the Chanukah theme. It turns out that the prophecy of Zechariah is also about the third Temple in the time of Moshiach. 

However our Haftora doesn't seem to have any connection with Chanukah.

The question gets stronger, when you consider that the verses following this Haftora, speaks about how they completed all the work. brought the vessels into the Temple and the Chanukas Beis Hamikdash, the dedication of the Temple, which would be right in line with the story of Chanukah, the rededication of the Temple in the second Temple era, in the time of the Chashmonaim. It's not like they had nothing else to use as the Haftora that they had to use this.

Even more, according to the teaching that "We add in holiness," mentioned above, it would make sense for the Haftora of the first Shabbos of Chanukah to be read on the second Shabbos, because it seems to have more to do with Chanukah. 

Nevertheless the law is that we read this Haftora on the second Shabbos of Chanukah in every community, despite all the objections mentioned above. Therefore we must conclude that this Haftora brings out the theme of Chanukah even more than the Haftora for the first Shabbos of Chanukah. How does it do that?

And what important lesson are we meant to learn from this?

In order to understand this, we first need to understand what Chanukah is all about. It's about turning the darkness into light. First, "The Greeks entered the sanctuary," and "They defiled all of the oil," that was the darkness getting stronger. Then the miracle happened, "They didn't find but one cruise of oil that had the seal of the Kohen Gadol, and it didn't have oil but for one day, and a miracle happened that they lit from it eight days."

It's explained in Chassidus that the miracle is from such a high level, at that level, the darkness doesn't darken, not only does the light brighten the darkness but the darkness itself shines.

That is why they established that we commemorate this miracle with lighting candles, and "the mitzvah is from sunset, until the people finish coming from the market place... until the Tarmudai finish coming." Because the light of the Chanukah candles is about lighting up the darkest place, the market place, where the Tarmudai hang out. The Tarmudai were the lowest of people, they denied Hashem's existence.

In our service to Hashem, it means that we brighten the darkness of the world with "The candle which is the mitzvah and the Torah which is the flame," until we even turn the Tarmudai of existence to light.

In order to understand further, we have to understand why Hashem created this world, and our purpose in the scheme of things.

The Midrash tells us and the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that the reason that Hashem created this world is because "The Blessed One Be He had a desire that we make Him a home in the lowest realms," which is this lowly physical world.

We do this by the study of Torah, the performance of mitzvos and by making every aspect of our lives for Hashem.

The whole of existence including all of the higher realms, and all the spiritual worlds were created just so we can fulfill our purpose. The same is with our holidays, they are meant to help us with making a home for Hashem, every holiday brings out and accomplishes a different aspect of this, and they are meant to give us the strength to accomplish it throughout the year.

Chanukah also brings out this idea. Chanukah is about transforming darkness into light, to transform the Tarmudai, the opposing forces to Hashem, in this lowly physical world, of which there is no lower.

When it comes to making this world into a home for Hashem, there are two parts that seem to be equal. First there is making vessels to receive G-dliness, then there is filling those vessels with G-dliness.

For example, there is turning a horn into a shofar and then there is using it on Rosh Hashanah for the mitzvah of shofar. There is making the parchment and the ink and then there is writing the mezzuza and affixing it to your doorpost.

But in truth they are not equal, because making a vessel is much more difficult than filling the vessels with G-dliness. Especially when it comes to things or people who are indifferent or opposed to G-dliness. The hardest part is getting them to be open to G-dliness, once they are open to G-dliness, doing a mitzvah with them or filling them with G-dliness is easier to do. To make a vessel, you have to break the resistance of the negative forces, and that is the hardest part.

Especially because this lowly physical world was created to cover over and hide G-dliness. Even more, this world is full of darkness and negative forces that fight the work of making this world into a home for Hashem, making it even harder to make vessels. 

And this is brought out by the Haftora, because it speaks about making the vessels, not using them, not even bringing them into the Temple. And the Haftora is telling us that this is the essence of Chanukah, because in order to turn darkness into light, the main thing is to make the vessels. 

Vayakhel and Pekudei speak about making the vessels of the Mishkan and the Mishkan itself, which was meant to be a home for Hashem. And the Haftora is stressing that the main thing is making the vessels, not using them.

Of course using them is important, but it's the easier part, and therefore less significant.

Once the effort is put in, to break through the darkness and make the vessels, then they could be used for their intended purpose, to be filled with G-dliness.

And this is seen in the miracle of Chanukah, first they had to find the cruise of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, which is the vessel, and only then could they have the miracle of the oil burning for eight days.

The Haftora brings this out in several ways.

The first word of the Haftora, "Vayaas," means and he made, stressing the point that the main work to make a home for Hashem, is action, making the vessels.

Why is action most important to make a home for Hashem? Because action is the lowest ability of a person. Even an animal has the ability to do action. Being that this lowly physical realm, is the world of action, it takes action to make a home for Hashem, making vessels for G-dliness.

The second word is Chirom, Chirom's mother was from the tribe of Dan, the lowest tribe. And the Haftora tells us that he made them out of copper, the lowest metal used in the Temple.

It was through action, Chirom and copper, the lowest, of which the vessels were made for the home for Hashem, the Temple.

And then it says, "And Shlomo made all the vessels," referring to the gold vessels. Because even the king of all of Israel, Shlomo, who was from the tribe of Yehuda, the greatest of all the tribes, had to be involved in making vessels. To teach us that no one is exempt from doing the work of making vessels for the light of Hashem.

The same is true about the vessels of the Mishkan, mentioned in Vayakhel and Pekudei. They were made by Betzalel, who was from the tribe of Yehuda, the greatest of all the tribes, and Elihav, who was from the tribe of Dan, the lowest. From the highest to the lowest, everyone should be involved in making vessels for Hashem.

The lesson we are meant to learn from this, is that we all have to make an effort to make a vessel out of a Jew who perhaps is not a vessel yet, because the darkness of the world is covering his or her neshama. And the main thing is to make them into vessels, to be receptive to Hashem, His Torah and Judaism.

Sure we want our brothers and sisters to study Torah and do mitzvos, but that is the easier part, the hardest and most important part is making the vessels. After that the rest is a lot easier.

What does it take to make a vessel? It's done by saying, good morning, good Shabbos and by being accepting of them. By being friendly, loving and caring, you tear down the walls of division and open their hearts and minds to hear and be receptive to Hashem and Torah.

Once they are open to Hashem and Torah, they will want to learn more. However if they don't become a vessel, if they are not receptive, they have no chance for anything else.

Recently in Israel there has been an amazing togetherness between Jewish people from all walks of life. And because of this, so many people are open to Hashem, His Torah and Judaism. It's truly a blessing. Those who are not open to accepting Jewish people who are less observant than them, have no part in this and they should rethink their mode of service to Hashem, because it's not Jewish to be unaccepting of their brothers and sisters. And it's possible that they are pushing them further away from Hashem.

May we merit to see how it was our efforts to make vessels that brought us the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Breaking Through A Dark Place In Your Life

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There are two opinions as to how we should light the Chanukah candles. 

According to Beis Hillel, we light one on the first night and we add an additional candle every night, until the eighth night when we light eight. What is the reason? Because we add in holiness and we don't subtract. 

According to Beis Shamai, we light eight the first night and we subtract one on each of the subsequent nights, until the eighth night when we light one. What is the reason? Because it is like the bulls that were offered in the Temple on Sukkos, on the first day they offered thirteen, and on every subsequent day they offered one less. 

Now we light the Chanukah candles according to Beis Hillel, but when Moshiach comes we will follow the ruling of Beis Shammai. 

My daughter asked this question. 

Why would we light the Chanukah candles according to Beis Shamai when Moshiach comes? Why would we ever light them according to Beis Shamai, isn't it subtracting light? It doesn't make sense! 

The answer. According to Beis Hillel the light of yesterday doesn't exist today, because now that we are in exile, the way we see things is that the light doesn't last. So we have to add every night. 

When Moshiach comes we will see the truth that the light we make in the world is really everlasting. So if we light eight the first night according to Beis Shamai, the second night all the light from the first night is still there, so you don't have to add so many lights to show a greater amount of light, there only has to be seven more the second night.  And we need less and less on the subsequent nights to make a difference. So even Beis Shamai is adding every night. That is why when Moshiach comes we will light the Chanukah candles according to the opinion of Beis Shammai. 

Why all eight the first night? Because in order to break the darkness, you need a tremendous amount of light. Once you break the darkness on the first night, you don't need so much light to continue. Breaking the darkness is the hardest thing, once you do, it's easier from there. 

Doesn't Beis Hillel agree with this? It seems reasonable. Perhaps we can say that Beis Hillel is of the opinion, that even a little bit of light breaks and dispels the darkness. Once there is an opening, it's easy to add more and more light. 

What can we learn from this? 

There are times in a person's life when everything is dark, either for you or someone you know. What can you do to help yourself in this situation, which my wife calls, "The pit"? 

This is what I learned from my wife Dina. 

The pit is a useful place, because every time you are in the pit, you have to learn new coping skills in order to climb out. Sometimes it's going to be a small thing that is going to pull you out of your slump, like Beis Hillel, only a little bit of light breaks the darkness. And other times it's going to take something major to pull you out, like Beis Shamai, it takes a lot of light to break the darkness. Once you have a coping skill, it will remain with you and you will be able to tap into that when going gets tough. 

So the next time you are in the cold and dark pit, you can be strong, take control and look at it as a growth opportunity to learn things that you would never learn if you weren't in the pit. 

When you are in that pit take the time to process emotions in your life that are less than comfortable. Be compassionate to yourself. Life gets difficult and it doesn't do you much good to ignore the logical reactions to your situation. Once you give space to the uncomfortable emotions and let them process, you make room for the joy again. 

That's how you build character and depth of personality. And then you will be equipped to be there for another who is going through a rough patch, because you will truly understand. 

May we all have a happy Chanukah and may Hashem send Moshiach and do away with the pit once and for all. May he come soon. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Lesson In Relationships. Where You Are Matters

A Lesson In Relationships. Where You Are Matters

When you first start to learn Pirkei Avos, questions arise about its location. It's in the order of Nezikin after tractate Sanhedrin, in the middle of the Mishnah.

The first Mishnah of Pirkei Avos begins with the transmission of the oral tradition, which is the basis of the Mishnah, "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly."

If it's trying to prove that the oral tradition is from Sinai, then shouldn't it be at the beginning of the Mishnah? Why is it at the beginning of Pirkei Avos, in the middle of the Mishnah?

The entire Mishnah with the exception of Pirkei Avos deals with the details of mitzvos, so we don't have a question if they are from Sinai, because they are mitzvos.

When it comes to Pirkei Avos there are no laws, no mitzvos, it's ethics and virtues of piety, and being that there are many books on ethics from non Jewish sources, one can think that these ethics are just some thoughts from the Rabbis, and not from Hashem, because it isn't laws. Therefore the first Mishnah of Pirkei Avos establishes that these ethics are also from Sinai, from Hashem, and not just the Rabbi's thoughts.

Why is it after tractate Sanhedrin?

Because Sanhedrin is the laws that pertain to judges and Pirkei Avos tells us how judges should act, and how we should treat judges. So it is apropos that Pirkei Avos is right after Sanhedrin.

This brings us to the fourth and fifth rule of Pirkei Avos.

Rule #4: The order of things matter in Pirkei Avos.

Therefore questions like, "Why is this Mishnah before or after this one?" and "Why are these two sages included in one Mishnah, while usually each sage gets their own Mishnah?" are perfectly valid.

Rule #5 : Everything is up for question, every word, every phrase, and even the order of things is up for question.

This is true in all of the Mishnah as well, as the Talmud picks apart every Mishnah. But there is no Talmud on Pirkei Avos, so it is up to us to do the asking. Many of the questions have been answered by the classic commentaries, some of them have been answered by our great sages throughout our history, and there are some waiting for you to find answers to.

What can we learn from this that the order of things matter?

We all are busy with the responsibilities and hardships of life. But every so often, we have to ask ourselves: Where are we holding in life, in our service to Hashem, and in our relationships? This has to be done often in order that you shouldn't fall behind, especially in your relationship with your spouse and your children, because who is more important than them in your life. And if you put it off, you could be causing the ones you love unnecessary suffering and it will be hard to put the broken pieces back together. And this will cause you untold amount of suffering and you will feel alone, just as your loved ones felt when you were there, but absent.

It is easier to repair your relationship with Hashem than with your spouse or your children. So please don't let it get to that point and if it has gotten there already, do everything in your power to get your relationships back to loving and I believe that it's possible to make it even better than it ever was.

May your relationships be void of a hurt and suffering. Having a good relationship with your spouse and children is a prerequisite for having a good relationship with Hashem. Because the pain and hurt will be too much for you to concentrate on your relationship with Hashem, and if you are the cause of their pain, I don't know if Hashem wants to have a relationship with you. At the same time, it's your, your spouse's and your children's relationship with Hashem that will help you rebuild the relationship.

So take the time every day to think about where you are at and work on your relationships with your spouse, your children and Hashem. What can be better than that.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Every One of Us Is Eternal And Can Change The World

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More reasons for saying Kol Yisrael before Pirkei Avos. 

Another reason we say Kol Yisrael before Pirkei Avos is because it's virtues of piety, and one can think that it doesn't apply to him or her. Therefore we preface Pirkei Avos with the Mishnah of Kol Yisrael, to let us know that each and every one of us could keep the words of Pirkei Avos, and is obligated to keep them. 

This brings us to the third rule of Pirkei Avos. 

Rule #3: Every saying in Pirkei Avos pertains to every single one of us. 

That means that you have to take the time to apply the sayings to your life and your circumstances. And that everyone has a personal way of seeing and understanding the teachings of Pirkei Avos, and that is the preferred method of learning them. It doesn't mean that you should make things up, rather within the common understanding of the teachings and according to the accepted commentaries, find what resonates with you and apply it to your life. 

Another reason. The world to come is the reward for the mitzvos we do. And being that a lot of Pirkei Avos speaks about the greatness of the study of Torah and its preservation, therefore Kol Yisrael is said before Pirkei Avos, to stress that, "It is not the study that is the main thing, rather the action." 

Another reason. Pirkei Avos is a preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuoth. The first preparation has to be in the area of loving your fellow Jew. As our sages say, "Any Torah that doesn't have work with it, will be nullified in the end." And the Baal Shem Tov says that the word "work" here means loving your fellow Jew. A person may think, "Why should I waste my time with this person who isn't so involved, it would be better for me to use the time studying Torah." This is why we say, "Every one of Israel have a portion in the world to come." This world is a false world, we perceive things upside-down, that is why he sees the other person as lower than him. When Moshiach comes and we will inherit the world to come, our perception will be true, and perhaps he will see that the other person is greater than him. 

And when one has success in his work in the mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew, he shouldn't think it's on his strength alone that he had such a tremendous effect on this person, rather it is from Moshe who loved the Jewish people, and he passed it on to Yehoshua, who passed it on to the elders... who passed it on to the leaders of the generations, the Moshe of every generation, until the present time. 

Another reason. Our sages say that the Jewish people and the Torah preceded the world, and the Jewish people preceded the Torah, as "The thought of (the Children of) Israel preceded everything." Therefore, before saying Pirkei Avos, which is a preparation for receiving the Torah, which is eternal, we learn about the eternity of the Jewish people. "All of Israel have a portion in the world to come," the world of the living, which is an eternal reward. And why is that? Because we are, "The branch of His planting," and " the work of His hands." 

And even more, we make this world eternal through our Torah, prayer and acts of kindness, mentioned at the beginning of the first chapter of Pirkei Avos, and justice, truth, and peace, mentioned at the end of the chapter. 

Through our actions and through our love for every Jewish person, we bring Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why do we say Kol Yisrael before Pirkei Avos?

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כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא שֶׁנֶאֱמַר וְעַמֵךְ כּוּלָם צַדִיקִים לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ נֵצֶר מַטָעַי מַעֲשֵׂה יָדַי לְהִתְפָּאֵר

“All of Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is stated [Isaiah 60:21]: ‘And Your people are all Tzaddikim [righteous].’ They shall inherit the land forever. They are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” [Sanhedrin 90a]

Why do we say Kol Yisrael before Pirkei Avos? 

Pirkei Avos has contradicting opposites. On one hand it's teaching us how to be a mentch, meaning that we are at a low state and we have to be taught to be a mentch. On the other hand, it's virtues of piety, beyond the letter of the law, meaning that we are at a higher state and Pirkei Avos is taking us even higher. 

On one hand we say Pirkei Avos between Pesach and Shavuoth, and some say it until Rosh Hashanah, because our bodily desires are stronger in the spring and summer and we need the strength to overcome them. Reciting Pirkei Avos gives us the added strength necessary to overcome our urges. According to this, the reason that we say Pirkei Avos is because of the low state we are at. On the other hand, people who don't have bodily desires also have to say Pirkei Avos. 

This Mishnah explains these dichotomies. 

In this Mishnah, the world to come, refers to the world of the living, when Moshiach will come and after the resurrection of the dead, it will be neshamas in bodies and we will have eternal life. As opposed to Gan Eden, heaven, which is the world of neshamas. This is the reward for doing the mitzvos, which we do mainly with our bodies, physical action, therefore the reward will be for our bodies. The neshama will also enjoy the reward because it was together with the body when the mitzvah was done. That is why we are equal, in that we have a portion in the world to come, because we can all do physical actions equally. And since every Jew does mitzvos, as our sages say, "Even the sinners of Israel are full of mitzvos as a pomegranate (is filled with seeds)," therefore, "All of Israel have a portion in the world to come." 

When it comes to Gan Eden, the world of neshamas, not everyone has a portion. Because it's mainly the reward for the Torah that was studied. When it comes to Torah study, everyone is different, one person has greater abilities than the other. 

It is obvious that the reward will be greater in the world of the living than in Gan Eden, because all of the neshamas in Gan Eden will be resurrected into bodies when Moshiach comes. And if it's a lesser revelation, why would they be punished to get a lower level of revelation of G-dliness, a lesser reward? Therefore we must conclude that the revelation of the time of Moshiach is greater. 

If the revelation of the time of Moshiach is greater than Gan Eden, then why is it that the lesser reward of Gan Eden is for a select few, as it's more difficult to get in, and the greater reward of the time of Moshiach is easier to get, as "All of Israel have a portion in the world to come."? 

On the surface, the reason that we are all equal when it comes to doing mitzvos, is because physical action seems to be the lowest of all our faculties, behind thought and speech, it doesn't take much to do a physical action, one can do the act of a mitzvah without much thought. 

But when you look deeper, you realize that action is the greatest of all, it's the only thing that fulfills Hashem's deepest desire, that we make this world into a home for His deepest essence, the true Him, dwelling openly in this lowly physical world. This by definition, is what the coming of Moshiach is all about, this is the reward, the revelation of Hashem's deepest essence. This is done by doing mitzvos, which are Hashem's will, His essence. And the reason that our mitzvos can accomplish this is because the source of our bodies are from Hashem's essential will, as we say in Yom Tov davening, "You chose us," true choice comes from ones essence, His essence chose our bodies, therefore we can fulfill His essential will, the mitzvos, with our bodies. Every one of us is the "branch of His planting," and "the work of His hands," and because of this, we feel Hashem's will, His purpose, some more some less, and we do what is necessary to fulfill His purpose. When it comes to fulfilling Hashem's purpose, we are all equal. And this is the most important thing, as our sages say, "It's not the study that is the main thing, rather the action." 

Therefore, when our work is done, and the Divine purpose will be completed, the reward will be specifically to neshamas in bodies and it will become clear that not only did Hashem choose our neshamas, but also our bodies. When we finish our work of refining the world, the world will become a home for Hashem, and as it will become clear to us that Hashem also chose our bodies, then we will also understand that the eternal life in the time of Moshiach will be for our bodies as well. 

In light of this explanation, we will understand why Kol Yisrael is said before Pirkei Avos. 

In order to explain how learning and keeping the words of Pirkei Avos - which refines and purifies the body - pertains to every one of Israel, we preface Pirkei Avos with, "All of Israel have a portion in the world to come," meaning the world of the living, neshamas in bodies. Because even the bodies of the Jewish people are the work of Hashem's hands, and only through His handiwork could He "take pride," because we bring His initial and essential desire to fruition. 

Therefore, every one of us has to keep the words of Pirkei Avos, and this is seen in two opposite extremes. 

There isn't a body that can't be refined. Being that it's the work of Hashem's hands, it isn't possible that it can't be refined. And even more, because the body is the work of His hands, not one of us will be left behind, ultimately our bodies will be refined. 

At the same time, there isn't a person that is free from refining his or her body according to their ability. This is the true meaning of, "virtues of piety," to work on one's body, to refine and purify it. Because only through His handiwork could He "take pride." 

What we should take from this is that Hashem takes pride in each and every one of us, and we have the ability to bring Moshiach by refining our place in the world through our mitzvos and actions, and by refining our bodies through the words and the virtues of piety of Pirkei Avos. 

May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach, which will come through our efforts. May he come soon. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Our Challenges Bring Out The Best In Us

Dedicated Anonymously 

This is based on the speech I wrote for the International  Conference of Chabad Rabbis, it was delivered by my thirteen year old son, Shalom, in front of a crowd of 5800. 

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In parshas Toldos, we read how Yitzchak dug wells, and we are taught that this was his soul's purpose, to find the G-dliness within the physical world and uncover it, to find the water, the source of life within the earth. Not to impose G-dliness from above, but to reveal the hidden treasure that was always there. 

This is what the Rebbe wanted from us, to look deep into every Jew and reveal his or her neshama. 

To take this teaching a step further. Not only is this true about the world and every Jew, but it's also true about every situation and every challenge we face. We are meant to find the good and purpose of the challenge, until we don't see it as a challenge, but as wings with which to soar. 

Many of you have been following my story and my struggles. Many of you have sent me messages of encouragement and I can't begin to tell you how it energizes me. Especially the ones that come from you who have your own struggles. It's incredible the love and strength that you are capable of. 

One thing I have learned from my experience, is that there is hardly a person who doesn't have struggles. Whether it be health, money, Shalom bayis, shidduchim, children, or something else. In my case it's open and impossible to hide, so I am on display. But that doesn't mean that your struggles are any less. 

You need to know that whatever you are dealing with, it's directly from Hashem. That means that He wants something from you that can only be realized through your difficulty. It doesn't mean that your mission and purpose has to end, rather that there is something else being asked of you, a new stage of your purpose and mission. You don't have to fight it, rather, you should find a way for your struggle to take you to the next level. 

We are so lucky to have the Rebbe, this is his way of thinking and that's what gives me the strength to go on. 

This is positivity in the face of any challenge, not only to deal with your challenge, or to learn from your challenge, but to use your difficulty to lift you and your family to heights previously unimaginable, and even more, to use your difficulties as a platform to lift others up. Because there is nothing better than lifting the spirit of a Jewish person. 

When I went for the first round of tests, I was given a devastating diagnosis, "You have bulbar ALS." 

I didn't understand what the doctor was saying, so I asked him to explain. He said, "It's very serious, you are going to lose your muscles and you will be paralyzed, it's the most aggressive form of the disease, you have two years to live." As you could imagine, I was shaken to the core. 

When I left the office I was all alone, walking into the empty hallway I broke down in a fit of bitter tears. When I composed myself, I exited the building, and I saw a man falling on the ground having a seizure and I ran to help him. At that moment, I realized that there is still a lot that I can do. 

I resolved right there and then that no matter what the results of any further "tests," I am going to remain positive and find a way to make a difference. I couldn't imagine how high that way of thinking would take me. 

Another thing I learned is, "don't underestimate the power of friendship and community." 

A lot of people hide their struggles, understandably. But when is the time to confide in a friend? When it's impossible to do it alone. 

It's so important to have a friend or a few friends that you talk with on a regular basis. Just the feeling that you are not alone, will help you deal with the challenge. Just knowing that you have someone that you can call, will relieve some of the stress and the pain associated with your challenge. 

We are living in a beautiful time now, the walls of division between the Jewish communities are coming down, the unity is becoming stronger and stronger and we should embrace it. We all have something to contribute and we have to be there for each other. 

I see this every day, as I have visitors from all walks of life. 

When I was diagnosed, the first to come to our aid were the Chabad Rabbis, then the Chabad community, then the Los Angeles Jewish community, and finally Jews from all over. We were falling and you caught us, and we are grateful. At a time that we could have been drowning, you poured out your love to us, and instead of going down, we were on a high. 

Unfortunately, the nature of this exile is that we have challenges, but it's those challenges that brings out the best in the Jewish people. Just like Yitzchak avinu, who revealed the G-dliness in the world, we reveal the G-dliness in the Jewish people, and our challenges reveals the G-dliness within us, our families, our friends, our communities, and the whole Jewish world. 

I give you a Brocha that you shouldn't know of any devastating challenges, pain or suffering. We should be blessed with happy and healthy children and our children should be blessed with good and healthy parents. 

And I bless my wife and children that Hashem should give them a miracle, that I should return to complete health and be able to be the husband and father they need and want. 

Perhaps seeing the power of our challenges is what's going to be the final blow to the exile and usher in the coming of Moshiach, when there won't be any more challenges, pain or suffering, there will be only revealed good. May it happen now.