Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Key To Blessing Is Humility And Respect

Print Version       All Nitzavim and Vayelech Articles
This week's parsha is Nitzavim-Vayelech, Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, and Vayelech is either read together Nitzavim, or on the Shabbos after Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuva. There are therefore many lessons to be found in the parsha pertaining to Rosh Hashanah and the coming year.

In parshas Vayelech Moshe says, "Take this book of the Torah and place it beside the Ark of the covenant of Hashem your G-d."

The Talmud cites two opinions as to where the Torah was actually placed. One says that it was inside the Ark together with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. And the other says that it was on the side of the Ark. But according to both opinions, both the Torah and the Ten Commandments were in the Holy of Holies, the chamber that housed the Ark.

The Holy of Holies was above nature, the place where the Ark stood was miraculous, though the Ark was there, it didn't take up space. The natural dimensions of time and space were suspended in the Holy of Holies. On one hand it was there and it could be measured, and at the same time, it didn't take up space.

The Ten Commandments were engraved in the tablets. When you engrave letters into stone, nothing is added to the stone, as many words as you engrave into the stone, it remains the same size and the same dimensions. Similar to the Holy of Holies and the Ark which were there, they weren't taking up space.

The Ten Commandments were also miraculous, the engraving went all the way through and through the stone, yet the letters final mem and samech, one being a square and the other a circle, in other words, the engraving completely encircled the center of the letter, nevertheless the center of the letter remained in place.

So it seems that the objects in the Holy of Holies had a common theme. They were miraculous and above space and time.

The question is, what was the Torah doing there? With letters written with ink on parchment, the letters took up extra space and there was nothing miraculous about it. What purpose did the Torah fulfill?

The purpose of the Holy of Holies, the Ark and the Ten Commandments, were not to remain hidden. Rather, that their G-dly light spread out to the Temple, to Jerusalem, throughout the land of Israel, affecting all the Jewish people, and ultimately to the whole world affecting the non Jewish people as well.

Being that the Holy of Holies, the Ark and the Ten Commandments were above nature, there had to be a go between, a conduit, to bring their light into the natural world. The Torah served as that conduit. It is the Torah that brings the supernatural G-dly light into our lives, and by us keeping the Torah, we spread that light throughout the world affecting even those that aren't Jewish.

Rosh Hashanah is the Holy of Holies of the year. Our service on Rosh Hashanah goes beyond our understanding. It comes from feeling null before Hashem, because we are in awe of Him. There is a special G-dly light that shines and it affects us with a sense of self sacrifice that goes beyond understanding and above nature.

Although during the year our mode of service doesn't have to be beyond our understanding, and even our self sacrifice during the year is somewhat from our understanding. Nevertheless, in our mundane, during the year, physical state, we need to try to humble ourselves to the point where we are null, just like on Rosh Hashanah. In this way we draw the light of Rosh Hashanah into our every day lives, bringing them above nature as well.

In order to be able to accomplish this, we must prepare, and set the tone to make this possible. How do we accomplish this?

Parshas Nitzavim begins with, "You are standing here today, all of you (kulchem), before Hashem your G-d, your heads, your tribes... from your woodcutters to your water drawers."

This is always read before Rosh Hashanah, because on a deeper level, "You are standing here today... before Hashem your G-d,"  refers to the Great Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah. "Your heads, your tribes... from your woodcutters to your water drawers," refer to the different positions the Jewish people fill.

The Jewish people are compared to one great body. Each of us symbolize a different part of the body. Some of us are heads, others are the body, arms, legs etc. We are all necessary to accomplish the mission, the head leeds, but it can't do anything without the arms and it can't go anywhere without the legs and feet.

The key to our success, is the kulchem, "all of you," that we are united as one, and that we see each other as equally important.

On Rosh Hashanah, because of the greatness of the day and Hashem's overwhelming presence, there is no place for our egos, being that in contrast to Hashem, we are all equally nothing and null.

If you can take the Rosh Hashanah egolessness and apply it all year long, whether you think of yourself as the head or the legs, if you could see yourself as part of the whole, in other words, it is not about you, because you nullify your ego to the point that you don't see yourself as better than the other, but as equally important. You will draw the light of Rosh Hashanah throughout the whole year, and with it comes its blessings of health, nachas and sustenance.

It is so important to treat people with respect, especially those you think are less educated, or perhaps not as well to do. Speaking down to people and arrogance are some of the ugliest traits, and they only divide us. Humility and respect are some of the most beautiful traits, and they unite us. 

When we are united, Hashem's light shines on us and through us, and through us the light shines to the whole world. Through humility and respect for our fellow, we begin to see the value of everyone and how we are not whole without them. This will lift their spirits and unify us, and when we are united, we find joy in our mission. This joy breaks all boundaries, especially the confines of the dark exile, and when it does, Moshiach will be here. May it happen soon.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Drawing G-dliness Into Your Mundane Activities

Print Version     All Ki Savo Articles
This week's parsha, Ki Savo, begins with the mitzvah of bikurim, bringing your first fruits to Hashem.

The first fruits were brought to the Temple, received by the Kohen and placed next to the altar.

When giving it to the Kohen, every person bringing first fruits would declare, "An Aramean was the destroyer of my forefather and he went down to Egypt... and he became a great, mighty and numerous nation there. The Egyptians treated us cruelly... We cried out to Hashem... Hashem heard our voice... And Hashem brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and marvels."

There were other great salvations and miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people. Why are specifically these two events, Yaakov being saved from Lavan (Laban) and the Exodus from Egypt, part of the bikurim declaration?

The giving of the first fruits is to give thanks to Hashem for giving us the land, and so we give from the first and the nicest to Him as a gesture of gratitude. It would make sense that the declaration would be the same, giving thanks to Hashem for the great miracles that brought us to the land, of which we have this great bounty.

Following the Exodus, there were great salvations and miracles, without which, we would have never made it to the promised land. There was the splitting of the sea, the miraculous victories over Amalek, Sichon and Og. During the 40 years in the desert, there were daily miracles that kept us alive, like the manna that fell from above, and the well of Miriam, that was a rock that traveled with the Jewish people, water would come out of the rock, providing for the needs of the nation and their livestock. Why weren't any of these miracles included in the declaration? We certainly would not have come to the land without these miracles.

Perhaps we can say that all of these miracles could be viewed as part of the Exodus from Egypt, because the Exodus wasn't complete until they conquered the land. They are therefore included as part of the Exodus, and don't have to be mentioned separately in the declaration.

However, there is an event that happened before Yaakov's descent to Egypt, that seems that it should be included in the declaration, but it isn't.

When Yaakov and his family were finally free of lavan, they had the confrontation with his brother Eisav. Yaakov was afraid that their lives were in danger because of Eisav's wrath, but the danger was miraculously averted. Why wasn't this included in the declaration?

Perhaps because Eisav's evil intentions never came to fruition, it never went further than intent. But if this is the reason that it isn't included in the declaration, then being saved from Lavan should also not be included, because his evil intentions also didn't come to fruition.

We must conclude that there is something unique about the salvation from Lavan and the Exodus, that is connected with the mitzvah of bikurim. What is the connection?

About the mitzvah of bikurim, the verse says, "And it will be, when you come to the land... and you take possession of it and settle it." Rashi explains that the mitzvah of bikurim begins only after the conquering and the division of the land. In other words, once they took up permanent residence and began enjoying the bounty of the land, then they were obligated to do the mitzvah of bikurim.

There were two other times that we took up permanent residence, but in those cases, we didn't get to enjoy the bounty. The 20 years Yaakov lived by Lavan, and the 210 years in Egypt. Therefore, we mention them in the bikurim declaration, to show how grateful we are to be able to enjoy the bounty, in contrast to the times we couldn't.

On a deeper level, the fruit of the tree refers to the part of the neshama that is in the body. The idea of bringing bikurim, is to strengthen the bond between the neshama and its source above. We do this in two ways. First, when we bring bikurim, the first and the best, we bring ourselves closer. And when we recite the declaration, we draw down the source of the neshama, the bikurim of the neshama, which is the first and the best part of the neshama. That the neshama from above should bond and shine in the neshama below.

This will give us a deeper understanding in the words of the declaration. The two events mentioned, Yaakov by Lavan and the exile in Egypt, both begin with a descent, being drawn down from the highest state of holiness, into the lowest places, Charan, which is called, "charon af shel Makom," the place that angers Hashem, and Egypt. Followed by an ascent, being drawn up to the highest level, and in the case of Egypt, to the point that Hashem revealed Himself to us at Mount Sinai.

The point of drawing down from the highest and holiest into the lowest, is to affect it and make it ready for Hashem to be able to dwell there openly as well. This is the idea of bikurim, to make working the land a holy endeavor as well, by drawing down G-dliness into the mundane work we do. And of course, we will reap the fruits of our labor, turning our mundane efforts into the first and the best for Hashem.

It is not enough to bring ourselves closer to Hashem through our study of Torah and the performance of mitzvahs, but we must also draw G-dliness down into the physical, mundane, daily activities that we do, until they become holy as well.

Ultimately, we will reap the fruits of our labor, we will merit the ultimate revelation, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Making A Parapet

In this week's parsha, Ki Seitzei, we learn the law, that "When you build a new house, you must make a parapet (fence) for your roof, in order that you won't cause bloodshed in your house, by one who falls, falling off of it."

The law of making a parapet applies even when you buy a house that you didn't build, and to an old house as well. So why does the verse say, "When you build a new house?"

Why does the verse call the person who might fall, "one who falls," even though he didn't fall yet? Even more, it is written in the present tense, as if he is presently falling, but he hasn't fallen yet. What kind of person is called, "one who falls?"

The Sifri explains why it says "new," because "from the time it is new, you have to make a parapet." In other words, the obligation to make a parapet begins before you move into the house. The moment it is new to you, whether you built it or bought it, you are obligated to make a parapet. Unlike mezuzah, whose obligation doesn't begin until after you move into the house.

This leaves us with a question. From the words in our verse, "When you build a new house," it seems that the obligation is only for a new house. Why doesn't the verse use terms that indicate, that every house needs a parapet?

The Talmud tells us, that the reason he is called, "one who falls," is because he was already destined to fall.

But you don't have to be the one that makes it happen. Making a parapet, will ensure that it doesn't happen in your house, because when something like that happens in your house, it shines negatively on you. 

Again, this leaves us with a question. The word in our verse that means "one who falls," is hanofel, which doesn't refer to someone who is destined to fall, but rather to someone who is presently falling. Who is the one who is presently falling?

Every verse in the Torah is meant to be understood on many levels. When we look deeper into this verse, we can learn lessons that apply to all of us, even to someone who doesn't own a house.

Our sages say, "A man's home is his wife." "When you build a new house," on a deeper level, refers to beginning married life, which is the time that one is first obligated to remove himself from his spiritual cocoon of yeshiva and involve himself in the physical world, to begin making a living. He is therefore actively falling from the spiritual life into the physical world of making a living.

It is at this time that he has to make a parapet. The idea of a parapet, is to set up a fence to protect someone from falling. The parapet he has to make, is new protections and boundaries that will keep him from falling into the trap of being enticed by the physical, and making it more important than the life of Torah. The parapet also provides separation, so that even when he is involved in the physical, he remains separate and holy.

Our purpose is to infuse the physical with G-dliness, making this physical world into a dwelling place for Hashem.

This work primarily begins with marriage, and his obligatory descent into the physical world. It is a mistake to refrain from getting involved in the physical and locking yourself into a spiritual bubble, because if you do, you are not accomplishing what you are meant to. Hashem put you here specifically to develop your part of the physical world, infusing it with G-dliness.

On another level, when you say "house," it refers to the body, every one of us is a soul, and we move into our home, the body. The purpose is the same, to make this world into a dwelling place for Hashem. it is called a "new house," because for the G-dly soul, the physical world is all new. It is "falling," because for the soul it is a great and constant descent, having to deal with the body's natural yearning for physical pleasures, which is not the interest of the soul. At the same time, the soul is happy to be in her new home, because she knows that through the work of the body, making this world into a dwelling place for Hashem, it will draw down levels of G-dliness, beyond anything she experienced before.

How does this work? When we do our part, making this world into a dwelling for Hashem, we are creating for Him a "new home." Everything we do down here affects the spiritual realms as well. We so to speak create a new home for Hashem above. What is new about it, is that there is an expansion in the spiritual realms allowing for levels of G-dliness that before were beyond the loftiest spiritual realms to enter the spiritual realms. And ultimately, we will  be able to draw these levels of G-dliness into the physical as well.

To be able to do this work, we have to make a parapet. First, by setting boundaries and protections not to falter, and by creating a degree of separation, so you can be in the world and at the same time, separate.

May we be successful in drawing down G-dliness into the physical, making it a home for Hashem. His presence will fill the world openly, and Moshiach will be here. May it happen soon.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The King And The Nassi

Print Version     All Shoftim Articles
In this week's parsha, Shoftim, we are given the mitzvah to appoint a king, "You should surely appoint over yourself a king." The Rashba writes, that "The king is like the community, because the community and all of Israel are dependent on him." Similarly the Midrash Tanchuma says, "The head of the generation is the entire generation. Rashi also says something like this, that "The nassi (the leader, the king) is like the entire generation, because the nassi is everything." The Rambam says about the king, "That his heart is the heart of the entire congregation of Israel."

The king is like the heart of the Jewish people, because just as all of the organs in the body are dependent on the heart, all of Israel are dependent on the king.

It is true that the heart pumps the blood, bringing vital oxygen and nutrients to every organ of the body, but it is the brain that directs the entire body, including the heart. So why is the king called the heart and not the brain of the Jewish people?

In the Torah, when it says the word nassi, depending on the context, it either means the king, or the head of a tribe. In the Mishnah or Talmud, nassi always refers to the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jewish people. And it always uses the conventional word melech, to say king.

By making this differentiation between melech and nassi, our sages are teaching us, that they have different positions and different qualities. And even when a king is called a nassi, it is referring to the nassi qualities found in the king.

What are the differences between a nassi and a melech? The differences are similar to those of the brain and the heart.

A king's job is to take care of the needs of the nation, just as the heart serves the entire body. As king, he doesn't have any purpose other than serving the nation, just as the heart has no other function than to provide the needs of the organs of the body.

Therefore, he is attached to the people in two ways. First, he is involved in the needs of the nation, and second he gets whatever he wants from the people. Getting his wants from the people, also demonstrates the weak position of the king, as he is totally reliant on the people. Similarly the heart serves the needs of the body, and as the Zohar says, "The heart is tender and weak," because it has no function of its own. This is why the king is called the heart of the entire congregation of Israel.

The nassi is the head of the Jewish people, the brain. The nassi's job is to be an impartial arbiter of Torah law, he directs the entire nation in Hashem's ways. Just as the brain directs the entire body. Different than the king, the nassi is not totally reliant on the people. Yes, he gets a salary from the people, but he is getting paid to work, just like any person who holds a public office. Similarly the brain directs the entire body, but it also has a function of its own, to think and impartially scrutinize ideas. It gets nourished from the heart just like any other organ does.

Now we can understand why a king is not called the brain, that is the job of the nassi.

Some of the laws pertaining to the king and the nassi.

  • A nassi may forgo his honor, a king may not. 
  • A king must rise out of respect when the Sanhedrin or Torah scholars enter before him.
  • A king doesn't make laws (other than those necessary for the immediate needs of the nation), but he enforces the laws handed down by the Sanhedrin. 
  • A king isn't given the position of Head of the Sanhedrin.

However, two kings of Israel have both titles, nassi and melech. The first was Moshe, our first redeemer. He was a king, as it says, "And there was a king in Yeshurun (AKA Israel)," which refers to Moshe. He took care of the Jewish nation in the desert, just as a king was meant to. He was also the nassi, head of the Sanhedrin, the primary teacher of Torah to the Jewish people.

The second will be Moshiach, our final redeemer, who will be our king and nassi, he will teach us new insights in Torah that will take us to spiritual heights, beyond anything we could imagine.

In Kabbalistic and Chassidic teaching, the cognitive abilities are connected to the brain and the emotions are connected to the heart.

The brain is above the body, it is not intermingled with the organs of the body. This is because, to be impartial when thinking, you need to be separate or above feelings, if you want to come to the a true conclusion. Because your feelings will skew your thinking. The same is true about a nassi, he is above the nation, he needs to be able to determine the true Torah law, and he can't let his feelings get in the way.

On the other hand, the heart is inside the body, among other organs, because emotions are connected to your feelings. The same is true about a king, he needs to be among the nation, he needs to be able to feel for them, so he can properly serve them.

Each of us is king and nassi over ourselves, our families and our surroundings. it is very important to know when to be a nassi and when to be a king. When you are learning Torah or you have a question in halacha, you need to be the nassi, to follow what is true and right. But when it comes to your welfare and the welfare of your family and friends, you need to be the king. You need to feel for them, and provide for them accordingly. Of course within the boundaries of halacha.

May our efforts to lead a Torah based life, hasten the coming of Moshiach, who will be our king and our nassi. May it happen soon.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Chosen And Sanctified

In this week's parsha, Re'ay, we have verses that speak about the place where the Temple would be built. Speaking about the different offerings which are offered to Hashem it says, "Rather, to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose..."  "And it will be, that the place, that Hashem your G-d will choose to rest His Name..." "But only in the place that Hashem will choose..." What these verses are telling us, is that once Hashem will choose the final resting place of His Name, offerings to Him will only be able to be brought there and nowhere else.

What did they do before Hashem chose the place to rest His Name? Our sages said, "As long as Yerushalayim wasn't chosen, all of the land of Israel was allowed to have altars... As long as the eternal home wasn't chosen, Yerushalayim was able to have the Divine Presence..." This means that before Hashem chose the place for the Temple, anyone could have an altar in his back yard and bring offerings to Hashem whenever he wanted to.

The Rambam tells us that it was well known, that on the place that the Temple was built Avraham, Noach, Kayin and Hevel, and even Adam brought sacrifices. And Adam was created from the earth of the Temple. Then the Rambam adds, that "our sages said, 'Adam was created from the place where he atoned.'" From the Rambam it seems that this was already a holy place before Hashem chose it.

The question is, was this place always holy, or did it become holy when Hashem chose it?

Another question. From our verses that say, "the place that Hashem your G-d will choose," it is clear, that only after Hashem chooses the place, will it become holy. So why does the Rambam tell us the history of the place, that Avraham, Noach, etc. Brought sacrifices there?

To understand this, we first need to understand the difference between when Hashem chooses a place, making it holy, and when people sanctify a place or an object and make it holy.

When we sanctify a place or an object, the holiness is permanent, however, because the place or the object is limited, the holiness is limited to the limitations of the place or the object.

When Hashem chooses a place, the holiness is not limited to the limitations of the place, rather to the One Who is choosing, Hashem, therefore it is unlimited. However the place itself does not become permanently holy without us making it holy. When Hashem moves on, the place doesn't retain the holiness.

Hashem chose other places before the Temple Mount. For example, the Mishkan in Shiloh, that stood for 369 years, and the Mishkan that Moshe erected at Mount Sinai, and later it was erected wherever the cloud that led the Jewish people would stop. These places were all chosen by Hashem, yet when the Divine Presence moved on, they didn't retain their holiness. Why not?

It is only when we have the combination of both, Hashem's choice and our effort to sanctify the place that it becomes the eternal resting place of His Name, the Temple Mount, Mount Moriah in Yerushalayim.

This is why the Rambam tells us that Avraham, Noach, etc. Brought sacrifices. To explain why the Temple Mount became the final and eternal resting place of His Name. It wasn't enough that Hashem chose the place, we also needed Avraham, Noach, etc. To sanctify the place, and the combination of the two made it eternally holy.

What moved Avraham, Noach, Kayin, Hevel, and Adam to bring their sacrifices on Mount Moriah? It was because they knew through prophecy, that in the future Hashem would choose this as the final resting place of His Name. So ultimately it was Hashem's choice in the future that made it the resting place of His Name.

We are left with a question. The Rambam says that Adam was created from the earth of the Temple Mount. If this is the case, it would seem that Hashem already chose this place even before he created Adam. So why does He say, "the place that Hashem your G-d will choose," which means that it will be in the future?

To answer this question, the Rambam quotes the words of our sages, that "Adam was created from the place where he atoned." In other words, the reason Hashem created Adam from the earth of the Temple Mount, was because He knew that in the future, Adam would bring sacrifices there, it was Adam's choice not Hashem's.

Each of us was chosen by Hashem, each of us are a small Temple. Hashem rests His Name on us in the form of a Neshama. But it is up to us to put in the effort to experience what we have. It is the combination of both Hashem's choice and our effort, through Torah study and the performance of mitzvahs, that we experience the eternal holiness of Hashem.

May our efforts in Torah study and the performance of mitzvahs, bring Moshiach, when we will once again experience Hashem's unlimited holiness, in the eternal resting place of His Name, the Third and final Temple, in Yerushalayim, on the Temple Mount, Mount Moriah. The time has come.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Going Beyond The Natural

Print Version      All Eikev Articles
In this week's parsha, Eikev, we have the second paragraph of the shema. In it, Hashem says, "And I will give your land's rain in its time." Rashi explains the words, "And I will give your land's rain," that Hashem is saying to the Jewish people, "You did what was upon you, I will also do what is upon Me." In other words, because we do what Hashem wants, he will do his part, by giving us the rain we need.

Rashi comes to explain difficulties in the simple meaning of the Torah. What is the difficulty in this verse that Rashi is clarifying?

In a previous parsha, Bechukosai, Hashem says, "And I will give their rain, in their time." The question on our verse is, what is the difference between the blessing of rain in Bechukosai and in our parsha? Rashi explains that over here it means, "You did what was upon you, I will also do what is upon Me." In other words, you did just what was asked of you, so I will keep my end of the bargain, and send the natural rain that you need. However in Bechukosai, the blessing is beyond the natural, as we see in the continuation of the blessing, "And the tree of the field will give its fruit," Rashi explains that it is talking about plain trees that don't normally give fruit, in the future they too will give fruit, which is not natural, rather above the natural.

Why is the blessing in Bechukosai greater? Because as Rashi explains on the words, "Im Bechukosai tailaichu, if you will go in my statues," means, that you should toil in Torah. Toil means going beyond your norm, putting in effort that is beyond your nature, so the blessing Hashem gives is also beyond nature.

How does Rashi know that in our parsha the blessing is within nature and not above nature? Because the verse says, "And I will give your land's rain," the rain is the land's, land is within nature. In Bechukosai it says, "And I will give their rain," meaning, the Jewish people's rain, and Jewish people are above nature, so the rain is also above nature.

How does this blessing of rain manifest itself? In our parsha Rashi explains the word "B'ito, in its time," at night, so you won't be bothered. In other words, you won't be bothered by the rain during the day when you are working in the field, but the rain will be the natural amount necessary for the fields to produce its crop. In Bechukosai Rashi explains the word "B'itam, in their time," at the time that it is uncommon for people to go out like Shabbos night (Friday night). Meaning that it will rain one night a week, and with that small amount of rain the fields will yield their full potential, which is beyond the natural.

So the blessing in Bechukosai is greater, because our effort is greater.

We need to strive for the greater blessing, it is not enough for us to get by with what comes natural to us. Hashem expects more from us, to go beyond our nature, to toil in Torah and mitzvahs, to go the extra mile.

In a way, doing just enough, just what is in our nature, is not an accomplishment, it is when we go beyond our nature, that we've accomplished. Hashem wants us to go beyond our nature, and when we do that, He showers us with blessings beyond the natural.

Every day I see this as my wife Dina goes beyond herself for our family and to give to others. I used to do a lot for our family, but now stuck in bed, it has all fallen on her shoulders. It is a daily struggle for her, but she finds a way to do it, through tears and love she supernaturally does it all. I am amazed by her everyday, she is a Jewish mother, a miracle, and my hero.

On top of that, she goes all over giving talks, strengthening people, lifting their spirits, and filling them with emuna and bitachon (belief and trust in Hashem). But what many don't know, is that she has terrible stage fright, but she fights through it, because she knows that this is what Hashem wants from her. I find that amazing and I am in awe of her.

We all have it in us to go beyond ourselves to do what Hashem wants, He created us to do just that, and when we do, we are doing what we are meant to do, and that brings supernatural blessing.

May our efforts and toil, going beyond the natural bring the greatest blessing of all, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.