Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Will Go Out, I Will Pass Through: Hashem Loves Every Jew

Dear Friends, 

This is a second dvar Torah with for this week. To read the first one click on the link. Enjoy! Why Take The Pesach Lamb 4 Days Before Offering It? 

Yitzi
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In parshas Bo, Hashem tells Moshe what he will do, while the Jewish people take part in the first Seder, on the night before the Exodus from Egypt. "I will pass through Egypt on that night, and I will strike down every firstborn... I will see the blood (on your houses) and I will pass over you..." 

However, earlier, when Moshe warned Pharaoh about the plague of the death of the first born, he says, "So says Hashem, 'around midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt. And every firstborn will die.'" 

There are different expressions that Hashem uses in these verses, and they seem to be almost opposites. First Hashem tells Pharaoh, "I will go out in the midst of Egypt," which sounds like He will be involved in doing something. And then He says, "I will pass through Egypt," which means that He will be doing something in passing, without much involvement. 

When Hashem continues to tell about the death of the firstborn, he also seems to be saying opposite things. First He says to Pharaoh, "And every firstborn in Egypt will die." which sounds like it will happen in passing. Then he says to Moshe, "I will strike down every firstborn in Egypt," which sounds like He will be involved in doing it. 

Then Hashem tells Moshe, "I will see the blood and I will pass over you," again He seems to be involved. 

Was Hashem involved or passive? How do we reconcile these verses? What lesson can we take from here with regards to our relationship with other Jewish people? 

On the night of Pesach there were two things happening simultaneously, one Hashem invested Himself into totally, and the other was done in passing. 

The main thing Hashem was doing, was saving the Jewish people from Egypt. He was personally involved in that, as He said, "I will go out in the midst of Egypt," and "I will see the blood and I will pass over you." 

Rashi explains that "I will pass through Egypt," means that it will be in passing, ''like a king who passes through from place to place, and in one pass, in one second, everyone is smitten." From this is understood, that although the next words, "I will strike down every firstborn," sound like Hashem will be personally involved, it actually means that it will happen in passing. So the death of the firstborn was automatic, as Hashem told Pharaoh, "every firstborn will die," just like that, in passing. 

So Hashem went out in the midst of the lowest and most impure of all places, Egypt, to protect and save each and everyone of us. Rashi says, that even if a Jew was in an Egyptian home, Hashem saved him as well. 

We see from here, the great love Hashem has for every one of us, even a Jew that is at the lowest level. On the night before the Exodus, while everyone was with their families celebrating the first Seder, he was hanging out with an Egyptian. Nevertheless, Hashem went into that lowly Egyptian home and protected that Jew as well. 

The lesson for us here, is that we should try to help another Jew physically or spiritually. 

One might ask, "Am I obligated to go out of my religious environment to bring a Jew closer to Hashem? If he comes here I will learn Torah with him, but I don't want to go to him and his environment." 

The message here is that we should emulate Hashem, and go out of our comfort zone to save another Jew physically or spiritually. This is true even for a Jew that is not at all involved, and even if he is in the lowest of places. Of course you should do it with keeping Torah law. 

As a Chabad rabbi, I saw first hand how precious every Jew is. Even though it meant going to a city that had little Jewish infrastructure, it was extremely rewarding. Every neshama is invaluable, and when you reveal the spark of a Jew, you begin to understand why Hashem loves every Jew. Because in truth, there is no lower level Jew, even the one who is in the Egyptians home during the Seder is a good and beautiful Jew. And if you show him love, you will uncover the beauty within, and his neshama will shine bright. 

May our efforts to reach every Jew be successful, and may we see every neshama shine. This will surely lead to the coming of Moshiach, when every Jew will be redeemed. May it happen soon. The time has come. 

Why Take The Pesach Lamb 4 Days Before Offering It?

In parshas Bo we read about the Korban Pesach, the Paschal sacrifice, which was a yearling male lamb or goat. The Korban Pesach in Egypt differed from all later ones, in that it had to be brought into the home 4 days prior, in anticipation of slaughtering it. As Moshe instructed with regards to the Korban Pesach, "Withdraw and take for yourselves sheep for your families and slaughter the Pesach."

Rashi asks: Why was it to be taken four days before its slaughter, something not required in the Passover sacrifice of later generations?

He answers: Rabbi Masia the son of Charash used to say: Behold He [G-d] says: “And I passed by you and saw you, and behold your time was the time of love.” The [time for the fulfillment of the] oath that I swore to Abraham that I would redeem his children has arrived. But they had no mitzvahs in their hands with which to occupy themselves in order that they be redeemed, as it is said: “but you were naked and bare.” So He gave them two mitzvahs, the blood of the Passover and the blood of the circumcision...  Moreover, they were passionately fond of idolatry. [Moshe] said to them, “Withdraw and take for yourselves.” [He meant:] withdraw from idolatry and take for yourselves sheep for the mitzvah.

Rashi's answer explains why we needed the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, however, it doesn't seem to explain why we had to have it 4 days prior to slaughtering it. But being that this is the question Rashi is answering, we must conclude that somehow this does answer the question. So, how does it answer it?

Another question. The second answer that Rashi gives, "They were passionately fond of idolatry..." is not from Rabbi Masia, it is from Rabbi Eliezer Hakapar, who differs with him on this, but Rashi doesn't make mention of his name, he doesn't even use his common lead up, "And there are those that say..." Why not?

In truth, Rashi's purpose in writing his commentary is to explain the simple meaning of the verse, and not to cite where he took his explanation from. It is actually uncommon for him to cite the name of the person who said a given answer. The only time he does so, is when mentioning the name of the person will add clarity to his explanation. So the real question is not why he didn't mention Rabbi Eliezer Hakapar, rather, why does he mention Rabbi Masia the son of Charash?

From the second answer of Rashi, "They were passionately fond of idolatry," we can understand that somehow, the taking of the sheep was necessary to "withdraw from idolatry." However, since the main reason for the Korban Pesach, is as its name suggests, Pesach means to pass over. Because they were to put the blood of the sacrifice on the doorposts and on the lintels of their homes and Hashem would pass over their houses, when He was administering the plague of the death of the first born. Therefore, Rashi first brings the words of Rabbi Masia, to explain that there was another reason for the Korban Pesach, to give the Jewish people a mitzvah to do, so they won't be "naked and bare.”

Rabbi Masia says that they were given two mitzvahs, the Korban Pesach and circumcision. Why did they need two mitzvahs? Why wasn't one enough?

When it comes to mitzvahs, there are two kinds, there are those that are "refraining from bad," and then there is "doing good." Both of these ideals had to be engaged, because even if they did good, as long as they didn't break away from the bad that they were involved in, they wouldn't be able to be redeemed.

The mitzvah of circumcision represented "doing good," as it is a general mitzvah that solidifies the covenant between us and Hashem. And the mitzvah of Korban Pesach represents "refraining from bad," breaking away from the negative things they were into. How does the Korban Pesach represent a break away from bad?

In parshas Vaera we learned that sheep were the false deity of Egypt. And being that the Jewish people were "passionately fond of idolatry," they needed to break away from that. So they were told to take a sheep, the deity of Egypt, and slaughter it. But if they were to take the sheep and slaughter it immediately, one might think that they did it in a moment of passion and that they aren't truly free from idolatry. So they were told to take the sheep 4 days before they were to slaughter it, giving them enough time to think about what they were doing and do it with true reason and intent and not out of passion.

How do we know that it takes 4 days? When Hashem commanded Avraham to bring Yitzchak as an offering, it took three days for Hashem to show him the place. Rashi explains that He did this so that no one should be able to say that Avraham did it in a moment of passion, but he would have time to think about what he is doing and do it out of reason.

From here it is clear that it takes 4 days. Because Avraham set out on the morning after he was commanded to take Yitzchak and offer him up. That day plus the three days until he was shown the place, makes 4 days for him to think about it.

In order for us to understand that Hashem's promise to Avraham was not enough to redeem the Jewish people, but He wanted them also to have mitzvahs, Rashi mentions that this is what "Rabbi Masia the son of Charash used to say." The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Masia's yeshiva was in Rome. While there were other yeshivas in Israel, his was the biggest.

It begs the question., why did he choose to establish his yeshiva in Rome, far away, so that students would have to travel a long distance to join, and from all places, in Rome, the capital of the exile no less? As the Talmud says, "Follow after sages to yeshiva... After Rabbi Masia to Rome." Why didn't he make it in Israel?

Whenever it says, that a sage, "used to say," it means that it was what he lived by. In Rabbi Masia's case, it is that every Jewish person has to have mitzvahs in order to be redeemed. So he established his yeshiva in Rome, so that he can touch even people who are at the level of Rome, "naked and bare" of Torah and mitzvahs, and turn them into yeshiva students.

The lesson to us here, is that one might ask, "What is the point of this prolonged exile? Hasn't it gone on long enough?"

If all that was necessary for the exile to end, was for Hashem to take us out, it would have happened long ago. But Hashem wants more from us, He wants us to have mitzvahs, that we shouldn't be "naked and bare.” And being that when Moshiach comes, '"All of Israel" will be redeemed, we should try our best to reach every Jew, and have him or her do even one mitzvah.

May we be successful in reaching every Jew, doing mitzvahs with them, and may we march together with our heads up high, knowing that we are not "naked and bare," that every one of us has mitzvahs. May it happen soon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

First Blood Then Frogs

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In parshas Vaera we read about the first seven plagues inflicted on Egypt. The purpose of the plagues was not only to punish the Egyptians, but to break their ego and false notions and outlook on G-dliness. The plagues also served as the blows that broke us free from the constraints of Egypt. 

Every story in the Torah is meant to teach us how to serve Hashem better. 

In the Haggadah we read, "In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself, as if he went out of Egypt." Because each of us has a personal Egypt to break free from. Whether it be physical or spiritual constraints, we need to go out of our personal Egypt and we can learn from the plagues how to break out of these constraints. 

There are two types of spiritual constraints. There is when a person finds himself stuck in the physical pleasures of the world, not having any feeling towards holiness and G-dliness. And then there is when someone find himself stagnant in his spiritual growth, because his connection to Hashem is based on his reason and understanding, and therefore, limited. How does one break free from his spiritual Egypt? 

Let us see what we can learn from the first two plagues, blood and frogs. 

In Egypt they worshiped the Nile River, so to break their pride, the first plague hit the waters of the Nile, turning the water into blood. The nature of water, is that it is cold and wet. This was the way of the Egyptians to be cold or apathetic to G-dliness and holiness. It was turned into blood, which is warm and full of life, as it says, "because the blood  is the life force." 

The opposite of holiness is coldness, apathy, because holiness is warm and full of life. As it says in Avos D'rav Nassan, "Ten are called alive," and the first one listed is Hashem, all the others are connected to Him. 

When we are apathetic to G-dliness and holiness, it opens the door to everything that is unholy, and we are stuck in an Egypt. How do we break out of apathy towards holiness? 

On the other hand, Egypt had a great fervor and passion for everything unholy. Meaning that there is also an unholy warmth, when someone has a passion for the physical. 

To cool off their passion, Hashem sent the second plague, frogs. The frogs went everywhere, even in the ovens, and our sages learn from them the idea of self sacrifice. 

You may ask, there were other creatures that came as plagues, there were lice, wild beasts and locust, but they didn't go into the ovens. What is the meaning of the frogs going into the ovens? 

Ovens have fire in them, they symbolize the heat and passion for the physical. Frogs are from the water, cold and wet, but at the same time, they did Hashem's will, to the extent that they went totally against their nature. The cold water creatures went into the fiery ovens and cooled them off. In other words, there is also a holy coldness, when one fosters a coldness towards the physical and the unholy. 

The frogs came to deflate Pharaohs ego, they went into the ovens extinguishing the passion and the false importance of the unholy, that existed in Egypt. 

Holy fervor breaks you free from unholy coldness, and holy coldness breaks you free from passion for the unholy. 

To break free from a spiritual Egypt, one must first take a lesson from the blood and bring life and warmth into holy matters, because the beginning of all kinds of evil comes from coldness. 

It is a mistake to think that just positive action is enough, if you don't bring  warmth and passion into holiness, ultimately you will end up in the unholy. 

This is why the evil inclination tries so hard to cool off your fervor towards holiness, because he knows that trying to get you to do something wrong is futile, but if he could get you to be cold towards holiness, then you will end up doing wrong on your own. 

Just as one needs to bring a warmth and life into holiness, blood, so too, one should foster a coldness towards the unholy, frogs. 

In general, when it comes to doing what Hashem wants, there are two approaches. They are, "refrain from bad," and "doing good." The plague of frogs, coldness towards the unholy, falls in the category of "refraining from bad," and the plague of blood, passion for holiness, falls in the category of "doing good." 

Normally the order is first "refrain from bad," and then "do good." However, here the order is reversed, first blood and then frogs. Why? And what are we meant to learn from this reversal? 

It is true that when it comes to us, refraining from bad comes first. Because we are in the world, so we work from the bottom up. However, when it comes to Hashem, He is coming from the top down. He floods the world with G-dliness, and automatically there is no bad, so the order is reversed, first blood and then frogs. 

Since the Torah tells us this story, that first came the blood and then the frogs, it means that we should take a page from Hashem's play book, doing good first. How does this work? 

Flood your life with warmth and holiness and there won't be room for bad. 

May you and your families be filled with warmth and holiness, and may we break free from our personal Egypt. That will lead to us breaking free from the Egypt we are all suffering from, this dark and bitter exile, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Unity Is The Key To The Redemption

In parshas Shemos we read that Moshe struck down an Egyptian taskmaster that was beating a Jewish slave and hid him in the sand, thinking that nobody knew. The next day he saw two Jews quarreling (Dasan and Aviram), one raised his hand to hit the other. Moshe said to him, "Why do you strike your friend?" The man retorted, "Who appointed you as a leader and judge over us, do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?!" Moshe was afraid, he said, "so the fact is known." 

The Midrash tells us, that Moshe said, "you have lashon hara (evil speech) between you, how are you worthy of redemption?" 

It seems from here, that Moshe felt, that lashon hara alone, was enough to hold off the redemption from Egypt. 

Our sages compare lashon hara to some of the worst sins, from denying G-d's existence, to the big three, idolatry, adultery and murder. 

However, we know that among those that left Egypt, there were idolaters, but that didn't stop the redemption. So we have to understand, what is it about lashon hara, that is so egregious, that it alone could hold up the redemption? 

When it comes to war, we see a similar differentiation. The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us, that "David's generation were all tzadikim (righteous), but because they had informers, they would go out to war and fall (in battle). Achav's generation were idolaters, but because they didn't have informers, they would go down to war and be victorious." What we see from this, is that when it comes to war, unity and peacefulness brings victory. However, we still have to understand, what is it about lashon hara, that holds up the redemption? 

Rashi explains the words, "So the fact is known," from a second Midrash, that Moshe was saying, that now he knows why they are in exile. In other words, not only does lashon hara hold back the redemption, but it is also the reason for the exile. 

In the words of Dasan and Aviram to Moshe there was far worse than lashon hara, they were threatening to inform on him to the Pharaoh, which they did, and informing, in this case, is much worse than plain lashon hara. But from the Midrash and Rashi, it seems that Moshe wasn't as bothered by that, as he was by the lashon hara. Why is lashon hara worse? 

With the redemption from Egypt we became a nation of our own, as it says about the Exodus, that Hashem took for himself "a nation from within (another) nation." The defining factor of a nation is that the people are united, and what unites us as a nation is far greater and more powerful than any other nation, as will be explained. 

The Rambam calls us a nation even before the Exodus, but what he is referring to, is what makes every nation a nation, that they are united with common ideals and purpose. The problem with this is, that when their ideals change or their purpose becomes irrelevant they lose their identity as a people. As he explains, that being the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, whose purpose was to teach the world about G-d, we were "a people that knew G-d," in other words, that was our ideal and our identity as a nation. However, the Rambam continues to say, that in Egypt many were influenced and entrenched in the Egyptian culture. He concludes that "out of Hashem's love for us, and to keep the promise he made to Avraham our forefather. . . Hashem chose Israel as his (nachala) portion. . ." 

From the last words of the Rambam, the difference between the kind of nation we were before the Exodus and after the Exodus becomes clear. In Egypt, we were united under a common ideal, but Hashem took us out of Egypt because He chose us, we became a nation based on something greater than any human ideal, we are united because Hashem chose us to be his nachala. What is a nachala? 

A nachala refers to the portion of land that was given to the Jewish people upon conquering the land after the Exodus. By law, the portion of land that was given to a family, was to stay in the family forever. In other words, when Hashem chose us to be his nachala, it means that we became His nation forever. This uniting factor, being from Hashem is not subject to change. 

True choice is not based on the items being chosen, but on the one who is choosing. If it is based on the items, you will always choose the one you think is better. That is not true choice, that is called being smart. However, when the items are exactly the same, and you choose one, that is true choice. 

When Hashem chooses, it is always true choice, and he chose us as His nation. Which includes all of us, from the most righteous to the least. That is why even idolaters went out of Egypt, because they were also part of the nation that Hashem chose. The only thing is that we had to be united, because if we weren't, then there would be no nation for Hashem to choose. So the only thing that would hold up the redemption is disunity. 

There are several negative aspects of lashon hara. 

The first is the damage it does, as "The sages say, 'lashon hara kills Three. The one spoken about, the listener and the speaker.'"

The second is the bad it brings out in the person who is spoken about, because until it was said, it was hidden. 

These two aspects are destructive and hurtful, but like other sins, they don't breed disunity. 

But there is a third dimension, and that is lashon hara itself. Even if the person speaking has no intention to cause damage, or to tell of the negative aspects of his friend, and even if he doesn't speak out of hate, the mere fact that someone talks badly of another, shows that there is disunity. And as mentioned earlier, when there is disunity, there is no nation for Hashem to choose, and by extension, there is no redemption possible. 

Now we can understand why lashon hara is so bad, and why it bothered Moshe so much, because it itself could hold up the redemption. 

This will help us understand why by the Seder, one of the four sons we speak of, is the wicked son. You may ask, why include the wicked son? The answer is, that without him, we aren't complete, meaning, there is no nation to redeem. 

The unity of the Jewish people, is what caused the redemption from Egypt, and it is the same unity that will bring the future redemption. May it come soon. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Yosef And Levi, How To Succeed In The Exile

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Dear Friends, 
This is the second new Dvar Torah for this week. To see the first one click here.

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In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov passed away, his sons carried him to Israel and buried him in Hebron. Rashi tells us how his casket was carried, three of the tribes on each side, in the same order as they would later camp in the desert. Rashi continues to say, that "Levi didn't carry (Yaakov) because he would later carry the Ark (of the Covenant), and Yosef didn't carry, because he was a king. Menashe and Efraim (carried) in their stead." 

It would seem that even though Yosef was a king, he still should have carried his father, because he is the one who Yaakov made take an oath that, "you will carry me from Egypt." Why was Yosef excluded from bearing Yaakov's casket?

Levi was not to carry it because he was going to carry the Ark. This is problematic, because he himself wouldn't carry the Ark, rather it is referring to his descendants hundreds of years in the future. And actually, when it came to the Exodus, Moshe himself, who was from the tribe of Levi, carried Yosef's bones out of Egypt. Why was Levi excluded from bearing Yaakov's casket? And if there is a good reason for the tribe of Levi not to carry it, why did Moshe make a point to carry Yosef's bones? 

Another question. Rashi explains that "Menashe and Efraim (carried) in their stead." If Yosef and Levi weren't allowed to carry, why did they have to have someone carry in their stead? 

And finally, it makes sense to have Menashe or Efraim carry on behalf of Yosef, because children stand in for their father. But what connection is there between Levi and Yosef's children, that they should be the ones to stand in on his behalf? 

Yaakov's passing allowed for the exile in Egypt, as Rashi tells us that "When Yaakov our patriarch passed... the servitude began." Not that it actually began with his passing, but that it allowed for it, because as long as Yaakov was alive and in Egypt, no exile could exist, because Yaakov was above any exile. Taking Yaakov out of Egypt signaled the start of the Egyptian exile. Both Yosef and Levi could have no part in the commencement of the Egyptian exile, as I will explain. 

About Yosef, the Torah says, "These are the children of Yaakov, Yosef," and it doesn't continue to list the other brothers. It is telling us that Yosef was exactly like Yaakov, above any exile. This is symbolized by the idea of a king that is above it all. That is why the Midrash tells us that "As long as Yosef was alive, they didn't have the burden of Egypt." Because Yosef, like Yaakov was above any exile. 

The Ark had in it the Ten Commandments. Carrying the Ark symbolized carrying the Torah, as it was the tribe of Levi that were the teachers of Torah throughout the Egyptian exile. This began with Levi himself. Being that they took on the burden of Torah, the burden of the exile was removed from them, as the tribe of Levi never was forced into servitude. So in a way they were above the exile as well. Levi himself was completely above the exile, as Rashi says, "Why does it recount the (number of) years of Levi's life?... Because as long as one of the brothers was alive, there was no servitude... And Levi outlived them all." 

Later by the Exodus, taking Yosef's bones out of Egypt, signaled the redemption, the opposite of Yaakov, so it was specifically done by the tribe of Levi, by the head of the tribe, the redeemer himself, Moshe. 

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left with great wealth. The tribe of Levi also came out with great wealth. You may ask, if they weren't enslaved like the rest of the Jewish people, why did they deserve the reward? 

The answer is, that they were also in the exile, although they were not slaves, they provided a necessary and vital service to the Jewish people. 

The purpose of the exile, is not so we can suffer, rather, that we succeed in taking out of it spiritual and physical benefit, accomplishing  for Hashem what he put us in the exile to do. But at times the exile gets so dark and bitter, we could forget what we are here to do and what the goal is. At these times, we need someone who could see the big picture, someone who is not stuck in the mire of the exile, to remind us why we are here and to lift our spirits. In this way, they transform the exile into a meaningful, purposeful and possibly into a positive event. This was the job of the tribe of Levi and they did it well, so they deserved there reward. 

This will help us understand how Menashe and Efraim were in the place of Yosef and Levi. 

Why did Yosef name his first son Menashe? Because "G-d has made me forget all my hardships, and all my father's home." In other words, Yosef realized that with his success in Egypt, it was possible for him to forget his father's home, where he came from and what he was all about. So he named his son Menashe, not to forget. 

This is one of the goals of every Jew in exile, to ensure that he doesn't forget where he comes from and what he is all about. 

And this was the way of Yosef, he set himself up to remember his father's home in every situation, raising him above the exile. So Menashe represented Yosef. 

Why did Yosef name his second son Efraim? Because "G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." This is the second goal of every Jew in exile, to realize that there is meaning in his being in exile and find a way to succeed in his purpose no matter how difficult it is. 

This was the way of Levi, to transform the exile into a meaningful and purposeful event. To succeed in difficult times, to turn the darkness itself into light. So Efraim represented Levi. 

They needed to both be represented, because as mentioned above, Yaakov being taken out of Egypt signaled the start of the exile, and since both of these goals are necessary for the Jewish people in exile, both had to be represented. 

My family has been suffering for years now, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. All of the struggles that come with ALS, not being able to live a normal life. My wife Dina, not having a husband who can do normal husband things. On top of that, there is so much that has fallen on her shoulders because of my illness and because I can't do the things I used to do. My children, not having a father that could hug them, and do the things that a father does for and with his children. Harder than all that is the uncertainty, not knowing, not being able to breathe, the possibility that at any moment there could be a scare that will knock you off your feet, or even worse... How am I to comfort and reassure my wife and children? How can I give them some stability? It is heartbreaking when I think of what they must be going through. It is so difficult to deal with these questions and I will not always succeed, but I have to try. 

Perhaps this teaching can help. If we can recognize that Hashem put us in this dark and difficult situation, maybe we can find meaning in it and it will make it easier. Knowing that there is a bigger picture, we can use our situation to succeed in doing what Hashem wants. Remembering where we come from and who we are, will help us rise above the difficulties. I know that it isn't the perfect answer and it won't fix the problem, but it will help us through it somewhat. 

It also helps to realize, that just as something scary can happen at any moment, something good can happen at any moment and we could have a reason to celebrate. In the blink of an eye, Hashem will send Moshiach to take us out of this dark and bitter exile, and put an end to all the suffering and uncertainty. May he come soon, we all have suffered enough.
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Dedicated to my wife Dina and to my children who are amazing, and don't have it easy. I love you all so much. May Hashem send us a salvation, His salvation is in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Revealing Our Essence

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In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov blessed his children, before he passed away. To Yehuda he said, "Yehuda, your brothers will praise you." Rashi explains, that after Yaakov rebuked Reuven, Shimon and Levi, Yehuda was afraid that he would be rebuked as well and Yaakov understood what he was feeling. So he said, "Yehuda, your brothers will praise you." Meaning, you don't have to be rebuked, on the contrary, you will be praised. 

Every verse in the Torah can be understood on many levels. What deeper meaning can be found in this verse, to help us serve Hashem better? 

We understand from Rashi, that these words to Yehuda, come in conjunction to what came before, Yaakov's words to Reuven, Shimon and Levi. 

Reuven was named by his mother Leah, Reuven comes from the word ra'ah which means seen, as she said, "Hashem has seen my humiliation." Reuven is symbolic of the first paragraph of the Shema, in which we connect with Hashem on a level of sight, as if we see Him. Sight is a very powerful sense, much greater than hearing. When you see something you know that it is true and nobody can talk you out of it, because you saw it. When we are connected to Hashem on the level of sight, we understand Him the greatest way we can, and we connect with Him through love. This is why we say in the first paragraph of the shema, "And you will love Hashem your G-d." 

Shimon comes from the word shama, heard. Leah named him Shimon, "because Hashem heard that I felt hated." Shimon is symbolic of the second paragraph of the Shema, V'haya, in which we connect with Hashem out of fear. It begins, "And it will be, if you will hear," and later it continues, "Beware, lest you be mislead," this is the idea of fear that comes from hearing, a step lower than seeing. 

Levi comes from the word yilaveh, attached or accompanied. As Leah said, "this time my husband will be attached to me." Levi is symbolic of the paragraph after the Shema, that begins with, "Emes v'yatziv..." And after fifteen accolades it continues, "this thing is upon us forever and ever." "This thing" refers to the Torah, that attaches us to Hashem. 

These three steps are the preparation for the Amida, where we are so humbled and so nullified before Hashem, that we can't speak. That is why we begin the Amida with the verse, "Hashem, open my lips and my mouth will tell Your praises," because if we did it right, we wouldn't be able to speak. 

Yehuda comes from the word odeh, which means to thank, praise or admit. As Leah said, "this time I will thank Hashem." To thank, praise or admit, is to recognize the other, and that takes humility. Yehuda is symbolic of the Amida, where we stand before Hashem, and at that moment only He exists, you don't exist, because through the steps of Reuven, Shimon and Levi, Shema, V'haya and Emes v'yatziv, we become totally humbled and we stand before Hashem in total nothingness. 

This state of nothingness before Hashem is the natural state of the neshama, G-dly soul, which is the essence of a Jew. It is just that the animal soul, the body, the physical world and the dark exile, covers up who we are, our essence. But at times we can reveal it, and one of these times is when we reach the Amida. 

Another way that a  Jew can always tap into his essence, is through the "Three things the world stands on, Torah, Avodah (prayer) and doing kindness." 

Reuven is connected to the first paragraph of the Shema, which is about loving Hashem. Loving Hashem is at the core of loving every Jewish person, because the essence of every Jew is the neshama, which is a part of Hashem. This love is the root of all acts of kindness. The first step is Reuven, doing kindness. 

Shimon is connected to the second paragraph of the Shema, which is about fear and awe of Hashem. Avodah is connecting to Hashem through prayer, standing before Him in awe and fear, recognizing how awesome and great He is. The second step is Shimon, Avoda. 

Levi is connected to the paragraph after the Shema, which is about Torah. It is through Torah study that we become "attached" and one with Hashem. The greatest bond we can have with Hashem, is through Torah study. Hashem and His Torah are one, so when you learn Torah and you understand it, you are making Him part of who you are. The third step is Levi, attachment to Hashem through Torah study. 

These three steps bring out our essential selflessness before Hashem, our Yehuda, which is the essence of every Jew, as all of the Jewish people are called Yehuda. 

The verse continues, "your hand will be on the neck of your enemies." Meaning, that when our essence shines the world is affected by us, as our sages say, that "When our voice is the voice of Yaakov, in the houses of prayer and the houses of Torah study, then the hands of Eisav have no power over us." To the contrary, instead of working against us, they help us serve Hashem. 

May our acts of kindness, Torah and Avodah reveal our essence, and effect the world, to the point that our light shines so bright, that Moshiach will come and lead us to our Holy Land. May it happen soon, the time has come. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Yehuda Vs. Yosef

This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
This is written in honor of the redemption of Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, the Rubashkin family, who have been shining examples of faith and belief in G-d, and all of those who worked so hard for so long to finally achieve what we have all been praying for.
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This week's parsha, Vayigash, begins, "And Yehuda approached him (Yosef)." This confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef begins in the parsha and ends in the Haftora, which talks about the uniting of Yosef and Yehuda in the time of Moshiach. Then it says, "And My servant David will reign over them. . . And David My servant will be Nassi over them forever." David, the king from the tribe of Yehuda and the progenitor of Moshiach, is symbolic of both. 

This confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef is deeper and more meaningful than just the story in the parsha. It is two worldviews colliding, and in the end the way of Yehuda reigns supreme. What are these two approaches? 

The Zohar says that Yehuda's approaching Yosef is the same idea as having geula (redemption) near tefila (prayer). To explain. In the morning prayer, just before the amida, we say verses about redemption, that ends with "Blessed are You Hashem, Who redeems Israel." And then we immediately begin the amida, so you have redemption near prayer. 

The problem with the Zohar's comparison, is that it seems to be reversed. You see, in Kabbalistic thought (the Zohar is a book of Kabbalah), Yosef symbolizes redemption and Yehuda symbolizes prayer. In the parsha, Yehuda approaches Yosef, meaning that redemption staying in its place, and prayer comes near to it, showing that redemption is superior. However, in our prayers, we bring redemption near prayer. Meaning that the redemption is there for the prayer, and that prayer is superior. 

Yosef is the complete Tzadik, meaning, that his job is to shine light onto the world and inspire. He affects the world by flooding it with great light from above, motivating the people to be good. The problem is that he doesn't change the world, and as soon as the light is gone, the world reverts to its old self. This is the idea of redemption in the form of a great light from above. 

Yehuda is the king, the main job of the king is to serve the nation, in other words, to deal with the world from the bottom up, motivating the people to change themselves. This kind of change is real and everlasting. This is the idea of prayer, it is serving Hashem from the bottom up. 

What is more important, shining from the top down or the service from the bottom up? The way of Yosef or the way of Yehuda? 

Each of these ideas have its pros. Yehuda's approach generates real and everlasting change, but since it comes from below, it is limited, there is only that high a person can reach on his own. Yosef's approach, on the other hand, coming from above, is unlimited, even though it doesn't effect everlasting change, it can take a person to unlimited heights. When both of these approaches work together, you get everlasting change and unlimited heights. The question is how can they work together? And ultimately, which approach is the main way, and which is there to help the main approach? 

Let's revisit the story of Yosef and his brothers and it will become clear. 

In Yosef's dream, the brothers are in the field, bundling sheaves, this is working in the world from the bottom up. Then they encircled Yosef's sheaf and bowed, this symbolizes that they have gone as far as they can on their own, now they need Yosef to take them to the next level. 

The Yosef approach helps those taking the Yehuda approach to the next level. At the same time, because the work below is very powerful, Yosef gains from it, and he is taken to higher spiritual realms. 

There is another way Yosef helps Yehuda. When the brothers brought Binyamin down to Egypt, Yosef had their bags filled with grain and he had his goblet hidden in Binyamin's bag. This is what brought them back in front of Yosef, for the confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef. Yosef hiding the goblet in Binyamin's bag, is what brought them before Yosef. In other words, Yosef's approach serves another purpose, to motivate from above, to move the person to take the Yehuda approach, so ultimately he can come before Yosef and reach unlimited heights. 

The key to this working, is that it has to be hidden, like Yosef's goblet. In other words, the person can't know that he is being motivated. He has to feel like it is his own effort. 

This is similar to a famous debate in the Talmud, whether Torah study is more important or is doing mitzvahs more important. The Talmud concludes, that "Study is greater, because it brings you to do (the mitzvah)." This is ironic, because it is ultimately saying, that the greatness of Torah study, is that it will cause you to do mitzvahs, that the Torah is there for the mitzvahs. On top of that, when you study Torah to understand how to perform an actual mitzvah, it enhances the Torah study. 

Yosef symbolizes Torah, which is a light shining from the top down. Yehuda symbolizes mitzvahs, raising the world from the bottom up. Ultimately, the Torah, Yosef, is there to cause you to do the mitzvahs, Yehuda. 

When Yehuda approached Yosef, he said, "please let your servant speak words in the ears of my master. . . Because you are like Pharaoh." Meaning, help me with my approach even though you will be lowering yourself to do so, because now you are viceroy, but you will become like Pharaoh, ultimately it will raise you up to a higher level. So by approaching Yosef, he wasn't saying that Yosef is greater, rather, that Yosef is better off helping him facilitate the Yehuda approach. In other words, redemption is there to take prayer to a higher level and Torah study is there to take mitzvahs to a higher level. 

When Moshiach comes we will see the value of mitzvahs over Torah, the value of the work down here over the top down approach, Yehuda over Yosef, as we will all be united under Yehuda, through the king from the House of David, King Moshiach. May he come soon.