Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Bris, The Paradigm Of A Mitzvah

Note to Parents: Please read this before sharing it with your children, there might be some parts that are not for your children's ears. Use your discretion. 

This week's parsha, Lech Lecha, tells us that Avraham had a bris (circumcision) when he was ninety nine years old. Why did he have his bris then? Because that is when Hashem commanded him to do it. 

The question is asked: The Talmud tells us, that Avraham kept the whole Torah, even before it was given. If that is the case, why did he wait for Hashem to command him to do a bris? Why didn't he do it on his own, like he did all the other mitzvahs? 

To understand this, we first have to understand the difference between the mitzvahs that our forefathers kept, before the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and the mitzvahs we do now, after Hashem gave us the Torah. 

The forefathers did the mitzvahs on their own volition, without Hashem commanding them. And while it is very commendable, it doesn't have the strength that comes with a direct commandment from Hashem. Hashem commanding us to do a mitzvah, not only tells us what Hashem wants us to do, but it also gives us the ability to effect, and infuse the physical object, time or place with which the mitzvah is being done, with G-dliness. 

When our forefathers did a mitzvah, it wasn't able to affect the physical, even though they might have used physical objects in the performance of a mitzvah, after they completed the mitzvah, there was no change in the status of the object. The G-dliness didn't permeate the object, it just went back to its original unholy state. 

For example, when Yaakov was working for Lavan, he was going to get paid in sheep. He made a deal with Lavan, that the sheep that would be born with certain markings, would be his payment. Yaakov then went and placed sticks with these markings, in the place where the sheep would mate. And because they would see the markings when they were mating, it would effect some of the lambs being born to have those markings. 

(Note: This teaches us that our thoughts and what we see at the time of conception, surely has an affect on the child.) 

The Zohar tells us, that Yaakov placing those sticks, affected the world, in the same way we do, when we put on Tefillin. However, after he was done, those sticks didn't retain the holiness of the mitzvah. 

At the giving of the Torah, Hashem gave us the ability to infuse the physical with G-dliness and raise its status permanently. So in a way, our mitzvahs are more powerful than those of our forefathers. 

On the other hand, the mitzvahs of our forefathers gives us the ability to do them to begin with. They are the ones who blazed the path that we tread on. As the saying goes, "The acts of our forefathers are a sign for their children." Meaning, that what they did is a sign for what we should do, and it also gives us the strength to do it, because they already did it, it is not a new path that we have to forge. 

In order for them to blaze the path for us, there had to be at least one mitzvah that would be like our mitzvahs, that can infuse a physical object with G-dliness, and that it would remain that way even after the mitzvah is completed. And this one mitzvah, being the same as ours, is what connects their mitzvahs to ours. Even though their mitzvahs only affected the spiritual realms, they had one mitzvah that affected the physical, therefore, they could be the trail blazers, and give us the ability to infuse the physical through our mitzvahs. 

We see the same idea with our prophets. Sometimes, when they received prophecy, Hashem would instruct them to do some physical action. Prophecy is a spiritual thing, why was it necessary to do a physical act? Because, since a prophecy is spiritual, it is possible that it would remain in the spiritual realms, and not be drawn down and affect the physical. By doing a physical act, the prophecy would be connected to the physical, and since it was already connected to the physical, it is certain that it will have its effect on the world. 

The one mitzvah that our forefathers did, that infused the physical with G-dliness, was the mitzvah of bris. The mitzvah of bris does two things. It infuses a physical - perhaps the most physical part of the body - with holiness, and the holiness remains there forever. As it says, "And My bris (covenant) will be in your flesh, for an everlasting bris (covenant)." So this mitzvah is the one where you clearly see the essential idea of mitzvahs, to infuse the physical with G-dliness. 

The mitzvah of bris has two parts to it. The first is a one time deal, the circumcision. The second part of it, is that he should be circumcised, and not uncircumcised. 

That is why the Rambam rules, that if one undoes his circumcision, he goes into the category of "One who rejects the covenant of Avraham our father." Because the bris isn't a one time event, rather it has to stay with him forever. Therefore, if he undoes it, he is rejecting the covenant. 

So we see two things. First, the mitzvah of bris is in the actual person. Unlike other mitzvahs, that while you may use a part of the body to do them, it is not physically changed by them, it just the facilitator of the mitzvah. On the other hand, the mitzvah of bris is in the body itself, and it changes it. 

Second, it is not a one time event, rather it stays with the person his entire life as a continuous mitzvah. 

How do we know that it is continuously a mitzvah? The Talmud tells us, that King David once entered the bath house, and getting ready, he was very bothered that he didn't have a mitzvah with him. However when he saw that he had a bris, he was comforted, because he realized that in fact, he had a mitzvah with him. He wouldn't have been comforted, if it wasn't a mitzvah anymore, so we have to conclude that he saw it as a mitzvah at that time. 

Of course, every mitzvah that you do with a part of the body affects it even after the mitzvah is completed, however that is only a elevation in refinement and holiness, the actual mitzvah doesn't remain. With a bris, on the other hand, the actual mitzvah remains with him, even after the initial act is completed. 

This will help us understand a difficulty Tosafos had on the Talmud, with the laws pertaining to a bris. The law is that a woman is not biblically obligated to have a bris done on her son (even though, it has been accepted by women, that if for some reason, no one else can arrange for a bris, they make sure it happens). The Talmud cites a verse to prove that it is in fact the law. 

Tosafos asks: Why does the Talmud need to cite a verse to prove this point? There is a rule, that women are not obligated to do mitzvahs that are set to a specific time. For example, Tefillin and tzitzit, being that their obligation is that they be worn only during daytime hours, women are not obligated to keep them. The mitzvah of bris has to be done during the daytime, we are not permitted to have a bris at night. It would follow, that a woman wouldn't be obligated to have a bris done to her son. So why the need for a verse? 

According to what was mentioned above, it will make sense. Being that there is an aspect of the mitzvah which is constant, that he should remain circumcised all his life and that he shouldn't be uncircumcised, one might think that a woman would be obligated. Therefore, the Talmud cites a verse to prove that, in fact, it is not the case. 

These special attributes that are found in the mitzvah of bris, that it is a change in the actual person, and that it remains forever, existed before the Torah was given as well. This is the reason that when Avraham wanted his servant, Eliezer, to take an oath, he said to him, "place your hand beneath my thigh," because it was where the only physical object of a mitzvah existed. 

And now we will understand why Avraham waited for Hashem to command him to do a bris, and why he didn't do it on his own, as he did all the rest of the mitzvahs. Because this is the one mitzvah that is similar to the mitzvahs given to us at the giving of the Torah, in that, they are able to permeate the physical with G-dliness. And in order to be able to affect the physical in that way, he needed Hashem's command, because it is only possible with Hashem's command. 

This clearly demonstrates how powerful our mitzvahs are. We have the power to fill the physical world with G-dliness permanently. Hashem gave us this ability when He gave us the Torah, and our forefathers blazed this path for us. So do as many mitzvahs as you can, and do them in the nicest way possible. If you do, you will fill the world with G-dliness, and that will surely bring Moshiach closer. May he come soon. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

We Should Take A Lesson From Avraham

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In this week's parsha, Noach, we are told of two generations, the generation of the flood (Dor Hamabul), in the time of Noach, and the generation of the dispersion (Dor Haflaga), in the time of Avraham, their sins and their punishment. 

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos says, "There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham, to let us know how much patience (Hashem) has, because every generation was continuously angering (to Hashem), until Avraham came and received all their merit." 

If those ten generations were angering to Hashem, what merit did they have for Avraham to receive? 

Also, earlier in the same Mishnah it says, "There were ten generations from Adam until Noach, to let us know how much patience (Hashem) has, because every generation was continuously angering (to Hashem), until He brought upon them the water of the flood." 

Here it doesn't say that Noach received their merit, and it makes sense, because, what merit did they have? But if they did, why wouldn't Noach receive it? And when you contrast the beginning of the Mishnah with the end, Avraham received the merit, while Noach didn't. What was the difference between Avraham and Noach, that Avraham received it, yet Noach didn't? 

To understand this, we first have to understand the difference between the generation of the flood, which included and was the culmination of the ten generations from Adam until Noach, whose punishment was to be obliterated by the flood. and the generation of the dispersion, which included and was the culmination of the ten generations from Noach to Avraham, whose punishment was to be dispersed. 

When looking at their punishments, we see that they are opposites. When it comes to the punishment in this world, the generation of the flood had it worse, they were completely obliterated from the earth, while the generation of the dispersion were merely spread all over the world. On the other hand, when it comes to their punishment in the world to come, the generation of the dispersion has it worse, everyone agrees that they have no portion in the world to come, but with regards to the generation of the flood, there are differing opinions, the Mishnah and one opinion in the Zohar say, that they have no portion in the world to come, however there is another opinion in the Zohar that says, that they do have a portion in the world to come. Why are the punishments so different, they are diametric opposites? 

The punishment has to match the sin. By understanding the sin of the two generations, we will understand why they received the subsequent punishment. 

What was the sin of the generation of the dispersion? Our sages say, "They stretched out their hand against Hashem to have war with Him." Their whole mission in life, was that they shouldn't be dispersed. They said, "let's make for ourselves a name," meaning, that they should exist forever, so they started to build a city and a tower. The purpose of the city is that they should be together. A tower has two purposes, first, that even from the distance it can be seen as a city. Second, that on top of the tower there would be watchmen, to spot an enemy that wants to enter the city. 

So what was their great sin? The problem is that they made this goal their whole life, the purpose of their existence. But they didn't have a higher value, a spiritual reason for their existence, they totally cut G-d out of their lives, and focused only on their physical goal, to make for themselves a name. The problem with only having a physical goal, is that when something is threatening the goal, they will do anything to protect it, even if it means to stoop to a new low, doing things that are horrible, terrible and even unimaginable, irrespective of who gets hurt or what the fallout of their actions is. And for what? Just that they should be remembered in history. However, if they were to have a higher value, a spiritual reason, if their focus was on Hashem, they would not do anything that He doesn't want. 

You would think, that the people who were the survivors of the great flood, would see to it that it wouldn't be repeated. That they would evaluate the situation and the reason that the flood happened, the corruption, the robbery and the lawlessness, and they would realize the importance of having Hashem in their lives. But instead, they cut Hashem totally out of their lives, and focused on a physical shallow goal.  

The one saving grace that they had, was that they were united with love and friendship, as it says, "They were of one language and a singular cause." 

Since their sin was against Hashem, they couldn't have a portion in the world to come. However, since their sin wasn't against each other, there was love and friendship and there was no breakdown of society, there was no reason to obliterate them, so they were dispersed all over the world. In other words, since their sin wasn't in the physical, there was no reason to destroy them in the physical world. 

On the other hand, the generation of the flood's sin was not against Hashem, it was between man and his fellow. There was robbery, corruption and a complete breakdown of society. It couldn't continue on that way. Since their sin was between man and his fellow, in this world, they were obliterated, and since their sin wasn't against Hashem, there is an opinion that they do have a portion in the world to come. 

Of course, the actions that are between a person and Hashem also affect the physical world, because the whole purpose of creation is to fulfill Hashem's will. And the actions that are between a person and his fellow also effect above, because they are mitzvahs of Hashem. Nevertheless, what is between man and his fellow, primarily affects this world, and what is between man and Hashem, primarily affects the world to come. 

Now we will understand what merit the generation of the dispersion had. Since they were loving to each other and there was friendship, there was a lot of good being done, so there was a lot of merit. However, since they were in a battle against Hashem, they couldn't receive that merit. On the other hand, the generation of the flood had no merit to begin with. 

And now we will understand why Avraham received the merit while Noach did not. Avraham's work in this world, was to bring people closer to Hashem, through love and kindness. In doing so, all the merit that was being built up, was now released to him. 

This is similar to when a person who is not following in Hashem's ways, does good. Unfortunately he can't enjoy it, and because his merit is in the world, the negative forces get nourishment from them. However, when he does teshuva, all his merit is released from the negative forces and given to him. 

Why was it given to Avraham? Because he worked to bring the people closer to Hashem. On the other hand, Noach didn't work to bring the people closer to Hashem, therefore, even if there was some merit, he wouldn't have received it. 

What possible merit did the generation of the flood have, that Noach didn't receive? According to the opinion that they do have a portion in the world to come, it is because they did teshuva when the flood waters began to rise, and that is the merit they had. 

Another reason that the generation of the flood had a worse punishment in this world. Is because, when someone does something against his fellow, he is not forgiven until he corrects the wrong and/or asks for forgiveness from the one who he sinned against, and that person forgives him. And being that the generation of the flood didn't obtain forgiveness from the ones that they hurt, they were punished.

You may ask: According to the second opinion in the Zohar, the generation of the flood did teshuva when the flood began, Hashem forgave them and they receive a portion in the world to come. How can Hashem forgive them for sins against people, if they didn't ask them for forgiveness?

There are two things parts to a sin against a fellow. First is the fact that he hurt his fellow, and for that he has to ask him or her for forgiveness personally. Second, when one sins against a fellow, he is also sinning against Hashem. And for the part that is against Hashem, He could forgive him.

So if he tries to obtain forgiveness from the one he hurt and he really means it, and although he tried several times, he won't forgive him. Or in a case, that when he realized that he has done wrong by his fellow, the fellow isn't anywhere that he can ask him for forgiveness, either because he passed away or he can't be found. Then if he asks with a true heart, Hashem will forgive him, but that is only in the spiritual realms, in the physical world it doesn't help.

So perhaps when the flood began, they finally saw the error of their ways, and asked for forgiveness with all of their hearts. It was impossible to find the people they wronged at that time, so Hashem forgave them. But being that in the physical world, they were not forgiven, they were still punished.

The lesson here is, that it is not enough to be righteous for yourself, but it is important to be like our forefather Avraham, and bring our Jewish brothers and sisters closer to Hashem, with love and kindness. And if we do, we will reveal the good that is waiting to be released into the world. And we, together with the ones we bring closer to Hashem, will be able to finish the work of our ancestors, which is also waiting to be completed. Only we, the last generation, can complete what they started, and when we do, we will merit to see the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Jewish Woman Is A True Blessing

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Parshas Bereishis is not only the first parsha of the Torah, it is also the first parsha of the year. Following all the holidays, we leave the sanctity and closeness to Hashem of the holidays, and enter the mundane days of the year. There is a Chassidic tradition to announce after Simchas Torah, "V'Yaakov halach l'darko," which means, "And Yaakov went on his way." "Yaakov" is the Jewish people, the "way" is the continuation of our mission to make this world into a home for Hashem. The holidays provided the rejuvenation and the spiritual fuel needed to accomplish the mission in the dark and physical world. 

There is a Chassidic expression, "The way you set yourself up on Shabbos Bereishis, so goes the whole year." So we can understand, that Shabbos Bereishis is super important to our mission transforming the world, and it is pivotal in taking the energy of the holidays and applying it to our service to Hashem all year round. 

Being that we read parshas Bereishis on this Shabbos, there must be messages here to us, to set the foundation and the tone for a meaningful and productive year. 

In parshas Bereishis we read about the first sin that was committed, eating from the tree of knowledge. 

From the Midrash we know, that the prohibition of eating from the tree of knowledge, was to end after three hours. Daylight is divided into twelve hours, in the ninth hour Hashem commanded Adam not to eat from the tree, and as the twelfth hour on that day, which was Friday, was to come to an end, it would be Shabbos and the prohibition would be over. 

It begs the question: Adam was the holiest and greatest of all men, Hashem Himself formed him. Couldn't he contain himself for three hours? And even though there are reasons given, explaining why he had to eat from the tree and the benefits that we have because of it, the simple fact is that the prohibition was for three hours, and he couldn't resist the temptation. Why not? (It wasn't even chocolate.) 

The one and only purpose of the evil inclination, is to get a person to go against Hashem's will, either by committing a sin or by getting him or her not to do a mitzvah. 

Therefore, the more necessary it is for the mitzvah to get done, whether for the person, for the place or for the time, the more the evil inclination tries to stop it from getting done. 

This is why we find, that sometimes it is a struggle to do the simplest mitzvah, and when you think about it, it doesn't make sense to you, "Why am I struggling with this?" It is because it's so important that you do the mitzvah, that the evil inclination puts in extra effort to make it difficult for you. 

The Talmud has a discussion based on the question, "What (mitzvah) was your father most careful with?" Since every one of us has a mitzvah that we specifically were created to fulfill more than any other. And because it is so important for you to do that mitzvah, the evil inclination makes it hardest for you to do, even if it is the smallest and simplest thing. 

This is how you can figure out what mitzvah is most important for you to do. The thing you struggle with most, that is probably your mitzvah. And it doesn't have to be one of the 613 biblical commandments, it could be a rabbinical enactment or even a tradition, it is all Hashem's will, and it could be the thing that you were sent here to do. 

This is also one of the explanations of the adage of our sages, "Whoever is greater than his fellow, his (evil) inclination is greater." Because he is greater, his mitzvahs are more powerful, therefore, the evil inclination puts up a greater fight. 

Another explanation is, that in order that there should be true free choice, there has to be a balance between the forces of good and the forces of evil. So when a person is given a great soul, great abilities and an important mission, he is given a powerful evil inclination and therefore, greater challenges. 

Now we will understand why Adam couldn't withstand the temptation. Since he was the greatest man to ever live, formed by Hashem, and because his actions would have the greatest impact, effecting all the generations, until the present one, we can only imagine how powerful the evil inclination was, and how much effort he put into getting Adam to stumble. He came in the form of a snake, and simply wouldn't give up until Adam ate from the tree. 

When Hashem wanted to give the Torah to the Jewish people, He said to Moshe, "So shall you say to the house of Yaakov (the women), and speak to the children of Israel (the men)." 

Why were the women to be told first? So that the the situation that happened with Chava, wouldn't repeat itself. She didn't hear the commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge directly from Hashem, and therefore, she was able to make the mistake of telling the snake, that "it shouldn't be touched," which Hashem didn't say, and that led to eating from the tree. Had Chava, who was also formed by Hashem, as it says, "And He built the tzela (from the side of Adam)," been told directly from Hashem not to eat from the tree, she certainly wouldn't have eaten from the tree, and what more, she would have made sure that Adam would not as well. 

Now that Hashem was giving us the Torah, He made sure that the women were first, that way it is certain that it would be kept, and they would use their womanly wisdom, to make sure that their husbands and children do the same. 

So the lesson here is, since we should strive to make our homes into a "small Beis Hamikdash," a place of Torah and mitzvahs, and a place where Hashem will feel at home, therefore, the importance of the Jewish woman, the backbone of the home, can't be stressed enough. If the wife is in, the whole home will be a place where Hashem will feel at home. 

So every husband should put in the effort to connect with his wife with understanding and in a peaceful way and strive to be on the same page, that the home will be a Torah home. 

If you are on the same page, she will surely be a "help" to you. And she will use her womanly wisdom, as the Talmud tells us, "An extra wisdom was given to the woman," to influence the whole home, including the children and the husband, to follow in the ways of Hashem, and the home will certainly be a "small Beis Hamikdash." 

I am blessed to see this in my home. Were it not for my wife Dina, I don't know if I would be half the man I have become. She knows just how to get me to be a better father, to learn more Torah and be a better person. She is always pushing us to be better and to do more. And she simply won't tolerate anything that is inappropriate. A Jewish woman is a true blessing. 

This is also the meaning of the wedding blessing, said under the chupa and at Sheva Brachos. We ask Hashem to make the bride and groom joyous, "as You made joyous, those you formed (Adam and Chava) in Gan Eden, mikedem (back then) ."

Why does it say "mikedem," isn't it obvious that it happened back then?

Rather mikedem refers to the time of Gan Eden - back then, the way they were in the beginning, before they ate from the tree.

If your home will be a small Beis Hamikdash, we will certainly merit to see the third Beis Hamikdash, and experience the Garden of Eden, the way Adam and Chava experienced it, before the sin, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come. 

Dedicated to my wife Dina who is amazing and the reason that I am alive and the reason that I coined the phrase, "womanly wisdom." 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

We Should Strive To Be A Lulav

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It is explained, that everything that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about, Sukkos has as well. The difference between them, is that on the High Holidays, it is in a hidden way and on Sukkos, it is in a revealed way.

For example, the unity of the Jewish people. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, since we connect to the essence of our souls, we are essentially one. When it comes to the essence of our souls, there is no difference between the heads of the Jewish people, and the most unlettered of our folk, the essence is the same, it is actually one. Sukkos, on the other hand, the unity of the Jewish people is revealed. In this unity, the differences of the Jewish people are clearly recognizable, there are heads and common folk, but we are united and we can't do without one another.

This is seen in the mitzvah of taking of the four kinds, the lulav, esrog, Hadassim and aravos. The Midrash tells us, that they represent the four kinds of Jews. The esrog which has both taste and smell, represent those who learn Torah, which has flavor, and do mitzvahs, the aroma of Judaism. The lulov is a frond of the date palm, the date has good flavor, but it has no distinct aroma, it represents those who learn Torah, but are not so much involved in mitzvahs. The hadas is a myrtle, which has a nice fragrance, but not a pleasant taste. It represents those of us who do mitzvahs, but aren't so involved in Torah study. The Arava has no distinctive smell or taste, it represents those of us who are not so involved in Torah or mitzvahs.

The Midrash concludes, "Hashem says, 'let them all be bound together in a bundle and they will atone for each other.'"

One of the differences between the High Holidays and Sukkos, is that on Rosh Hashanah we have the shofar, and on Yom Kippur you have teshuva, and in both of them, you don't recognize the differences amongst the people, everyone is equal. However, on Sukkos the differences are clearly recognizable, yet we are together as one. And what more, we are not complete without all four kinds of Jews, just as in the mitzvah of lulav, you can have the most beautiful esrog, lulav and Hadassim, but if you are missing the aravos, you have nothing, you can't do the mitzvah.

If the esrog represents both Torah and mitzvahs, why do we say the blessing over the lulov? We say, "Al netilas lulav."

The simple reason, is because it is the tallest of the four kinds, so we say the blessing over it. But everything in Torah has layers of meaning to it, we must conclude that there is something about the lulov, that is greater than all of the other of the four. We also know that everything that is in the physical takes its form, because in its spiritual source it is that way. That means that the lulov is not only taller physically, but it has a spiritual advantage over the others as well. What does the lulov have over the rest?

Another question. All of the other items, have the smell or taste or the lack of, on their own, with the exception of the lulov, it is the date that has the flavor, not the frond. Why is the lulov different?

To understand this, we first have to understand the difference between the connection we make with Hashem through doing mitzvahs, and through Torah study. The Zohar calls the mitzvahs, "the limbs of the King," and he says about Torah, that "Torah and Hashem are entirely one."

In a body, the limbs receive life from the nefesh (the life force), and while they automatically respond to the will of the nefesh, you don't have to think "I want to move my hand," for it to move, rather, as soon as you want to move it, it moves, yet the nefesh only gives life to, and controls the limbs, but the limbs are not one with the nefesh.

The same is true about mitzvahs, they are the will of Hashem, and when we do them, we are accepting the yoke of Hashem and connecting to Him, yet by doing mitzvahs, we are not one with Hashem.

However, when one studies Torah with diligence, and grasps a Torah concept in its full length and breadth, since "The Torah and Hashem are entirely one," when you get the concept, you are understanding Hashem's wisdom, which is one with Him, so you are one with Him.

Now we can understand why we say the blessing over the lulov, because the lulov represents those of us who are Torah scholars, of course they also do the mitzvahs, that is an outcome of their Torah study, but their main focus is studying Torah, which makes them one with Hashem. So the lulov is greater than the esrog, and that is why we say the blessing over it.

This will help us understand another thing about the mitzvah of taking the four kinds. The law is that the lulov has to be at least four tefachim, one higher than the Hadassim and aravos, in order that you should be able to shake it.

When the neshama is in heaven, it is called "standing," because although it goes up level after level, it is all part of the program, and it can't leave it, it can't break free to attain a whole new level that is not part of the program. On the other hand, when the neshama is in the physical world, in the body, through doing Torah and mitzvahs, it can break free and attain infinite levels. And this yearning is expressed by the neshama in the physical, by the way we shake (shukkel) when we daven and learn Torah.

The Zohar explains why we shukkel. He says, that a neshama is like a flame of a candle. Just as the flame flickers constantly because it wants to leave the wick and connect to its source, so too, the neshama is constantly yearning to become one with its source, Hashem, and the physical expression of this, is that we shukkel.

And because, as mentioned earlier, the most intimate connection is through Torah study, we shukkel when we learn Torah. One would think that it would be the opposite, Torah study is an intellectual pursuit, it would make sense to be cold and intellectual, and that we would be completely still when studying it. However, since we are connecting with Hashem, Who is infinite, and when we do that, we are moving higher and higher, our neshamas are moved, and so, we shukkel.

This shukkeling, is not only the physical movement we do when studying, but it also the way the study of Torah works, it shukkels, there has to be constant unrest. first, he could never be happy with what he already knows. And if he is studying it correctly, he will always feel like he has only scratched the surface, and yearn to know more. Second, the way Torah is studied, is that when you first learn a part of it, you see it one way, and then when you think about it, you are filled with questions. So you learn it again, and you begin to see it from a different angle, and some of your questions are answered. Then you learn it again and again, every time gaining a new and deeper perspective, and hopefully new questions. When you learn Torah, you are constantly yearning for more.

And now we will understand why we take the lulav, which is the frond of the date palm, and not the date itself that has the flavor. Because, as mentioned above, taking the four kinds together, represents the unity of the Jewish people. In order to have unity, there is the prerequisite of humility and self nullification, if a person has a big ego or is arrogant, he will not be able to unify with others, because there is only him. The one who has to be most humble, is the one who has the highest status, the Torah scholar. The date, which has the flavor, represents the prize, the final product. The lulav is there to protect the fruit, so that it will be able to grow successfully. So the lulov is part of the means, to the date that is the end.

In Torah, having the date would mean that you already know it, that you already have it, that attitude can breed arrogance. On the other hand, the lulov represents working to get the prize, and that you you haven't reached it yet, and that breeds humility.

A Torah scholar has to be the unifier, and therefore, the most humble. He has to be a beacon of leadership, and a living example for the esrog, Hadassim and aravos Jews. And when he is, he will have a tremendous effect on them, and when he shukkels, when he goes the extra mile, he takes the others with him, just as when you shake the lulav, all the rest of the four kinds are shaken as well.

On a deeper level, at different times, we are all a lulav, an etrog, a hadas or an arava. At those special moments that we are at the level of the lulov, we should put in the effort so that it will raise the other parts of you. So when you are studying Torah, doing mitzvahs, and even when you are doing neither, meaning, when you are working, eating, exercising, etc., it is all for Hashem.

This Sukkos, when we shake the lulav, we should see the value of every Jew, but we should strive for those lulav moments, and raise the entirety of ourselves. If we do, we will be a living example for our brothers and sisters, raising them up as well. This way, we will surely merit to enter the ultimate Sukka, the Sukka of David, the Beis Hamikdash, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Maftir Yonah

Dedicated Anonymously 
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The Haftora we read on Yom Kippur afternoon is called Maftir Yonah. It is the longest of all Haftoras, it consists of the entire book of Yona and three verses from the book of Micha. It tells the story of our prophet Yona, who Hashem sent on a mission to Nineveh, to tell them to repent for their bad ways. 

The Jewish people, at the time, were at odds with Yona, disrespecting him and calling him a false prophet. Because twice he foretold of calamities that the Jewish people would experience if they wouldn't do teshuva, and both times they didn't come to pass. However, the rule is, that if a prophet foretells of a future calamity, and it doesn't happen, it does not reflect on his status as a prophet, because Hashem prolongs His patience, and also if the people return to Hashem, like the people of Nineveh did, the calamity would be averted, and the Jewish people were not doing teshuva. Thinking that Nineveh would listen to him and repent, and it would look poorly on the Jewish people, he chose to run away. 

Everybody is familiar with the rest of the story. The ship he was running away on, was experiencing an abnormally rough sea, and at the same time, they were witnessing other ships passing by them in relative calm. They realized that it was from Hashem. They drew lots to see which of them were at fault. The lot pointed at Yona, who told them why this was happening, and they threw him off the boat. A fish swallowed him, and after three days he was spit out of the fish on the shore. He went to Nineveh, told them to repent and they did, and the city was saved. 

Leaving Nineveh, the sun was so hot, Hashem made a kikayon plant grow and Yona took shade under it. Then Hashem sent a worm to kill the kikayon, it couldn't shade him any more, and he began lamenting over the loss of the kikayon. Hashem reprimanded him, because he felt bad for the kikayon, which was no more than a plant, however about the city of Nineveh, which had over a million inhabitants, he was ready to allow them to be destroyed. 

The last few verses from Micha, remind us of Hashem's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, central to Yom Kippur. 

Why is this Haftora read at mincha on Yom Kippur? 

First, like Yona, we can't run from Hashem, and from the mission he wants us to do. Second, it is a story about teshuva, and the power of teshuva, that even the wicked city of Nineveh, who were not Jewish, repented and were forgiven by Hashem. How much more so, if we do teshuva, He will grant us forgiveness. Also, we see that reading it or listening to it, evokes a wanting to do teshuva.. 

Our sages say, "You should know the power of teshuva, come and see from Pharaoh king of Egypt," that after he sinned he did teshuva, "he went and became king in Nineveh... and when Hashem sent for Yona to say prophecy about its destruction, Pharoah heard and he stood up and rend his garments, and he dressed in sack and ashes." As the Haftora tells us. 

It is said by mincha, because mincha on Yom Kippur is a preparation for the holiest prayer of the day, Neila, and because our sages say about the greatness of the mincha prayer, that Eliyahu wasn't answered, but by the mincha prayer. Mincha time on Yom Kippur is also the holiest time, it is called "raava d'raavin," the time of the "ultimate good will" of Hashem, and when it comes to doing teshuva, it's the most opportune time. 

It is our custom to call this Haftora Maftir Yonah. It begs the question: If it is all about teshuva, why don't we call it Haftoras teshuva? But we don't, another Haftora gets that designation, the Haftora of Shabbos Shuva, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It seems so strange and even callous to call the Haftora of the holiest day and the holiest time of that day, Maftir Yonah. There must be something about this name that recalls the holiness and the essence of the day. So why is it called Maftir Yonah? 

The answer that is given for this, is in accordance to what the Zohar says, that Yona is symbolic of the descent of the neshama into the body, from its incredible heights to the lowest place. The Zohar goes on to explain the details of the story of Yona and how they mirror the journey of the neshama. When the neshama is in the body, it has to deal with things that it never had to deal with in the highest of heights from where it came from. It would have to eat and drink and do other things that people have to do, just like animals. For the neshama to get the body to do what Hashem wants, it has to be like Yona, from the word onaa (trickery). The neshama has to use cleverness, involving itself in regular mundane matters, which are completely foreign to her, eating, drinking, working, etc., just so that the body and the animal soul will come along with her and serve Hashem. And that is the purpose of the neshama in the body, to influence it. 

The Haftora says, "And Yona got up and fled away from Hashem, to Tarshish," thinking that outside of Israel, he would stop to receive prophecy. Why do we read the whole book of Yona, the whole beginning of the story is not about teshuva, it is about Yona running away? Because he showed self sacrificed for the Jewish people. The law is, that a prophet is not permitted to quell his prophecy, but as mentioned earlier, he didn't want it to look bad for the Jewish people, because Nineveh would do teshuva, while they refused to. So great was his love for the Jewish people, that he was willing to go against the Torah law, to save them. This is because he understood that the Jewish people are one with Hashem, above Torah and mitzvahs, so he ran. 

The beginning of the Haftora brings out this special connection between the Jewish people and Hashem, and we want to emphasize this for two reasons. First, because emphasizing this connection between us and Hashem, will motivate us to do teshuva, since we would surely want to repair any strain on that relationship. And second, because we want Hashem to accept our teshuva more readily, since we are one with Him. 

The Haftora says, "The water was becoming increasingly turbulent around them... And they picked up Yona and threw him into the sea." 

The Rambam says, "A boat that seems like it's going to break because of its heavy load, and one of them stood up and lightened the load by tossing things into the sea, he is not liable, because the load on it, is like someone chasing after them, to kill them, he did a great mitzvah, because he tossed things and saved them." 

As mentioned above, the story of Yona, is the descent of the neshama into the world, and in this passage of the Rambam, we are taken deeper into the analogy. The neshama descends into the boat which is the body and it navigates through the waters all its life, the purpose is that when it reaches its destination, after a hundred and twenty years, the neshama is at a far higher level than when it first entered the body. 

There is always "a lot of water," meaning, that there are the worries of making a living and the normal responsibilities of life. Sometimes the water is calm and other times it is turbulent. And at times, it is so turbulent, "that it seems like it's going to break because of its heavy load." The load or the burden we carry are Torah and mitzvahs, and the very turbulent waters, is this dark and bitter exile. 

The Rambam says, "One of them stood up and lightened the load by tossing things into the sea." The "One" is Hashem, and when He sent us into the turbulent exile, He saw that we were going to break under the heavy load of Torah and mitzvahs, so He threw much of our load into the sea, not in a negative way, that He threw them out, rather, He placed them in the upper waters, in the heavenly abode, preserving them for us, until the time of Moshiach, when, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem, like the waters cover the sea." 

When gems are thrown into the water, they are not destroyed, rather they are preserved until they are once again found, and at that time, they are more valuable than when they were first thrown in. 

From all the two hundred and forty eight positive mitzvahs, we are only able to keep eighty seven of them in exile. And the ones that we can't do, are some of the greatest and most serious of mitzvahs, the laws of purity and impurity, and all of the laws pertaining to the Temple service, even the Yom Kippur service, done by the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies. 

Why did Hashem lighten our load of Torah and mitzvahs? This is because, as mentioned earlier, the Jewish people are higher than Torah and mitzvahs, meaning, that when it comes to saving the Jewish people, from drowning in the turbulent exile, Hashem tosses the burden and saves the Jewish people. And the Rambam says that He did a "great mitzvah." Because, what point is there to mitzvahs, if there are no Jewish people? And this is similar to the destruction of the Temple, Hashem destroyed His home of wood and stone and saved the Jewish people, because we are higher. 

Another explanation of the boat, is that it refers to Torah and mitzvahs, which protects us and saves us from the very turbulent waters of the exile. It is through keeping Torah and mitzvahs that we are saved, and the same Torah and mitzvahs refine the world and reveal the G-dly essence of all existence. We even have an affect on the nations of the world, as in the story of Yona, all the people of Nineveh, even their king, did teshuva. 

All of our effort to keep Torah and mitzvahs, brings us to our desired destination, the greatest revelation of Hashem, with the coming of Moshiach. As the Haftora says, "And the word of Hashem came to Yona a second time..." Meaning, that he received a higher level of prophecy. 

On the ship that Yona went on, there was a captain, sailors and passengers, yet Yona told them, "This great turbulence has come upon you because of me." This is an important lesson to us, that when there is turmoil in the world, it is "because of me," meaning, for the benefit of the Jewish people. As the Midrash says, "When you see nations antagonizing one another, look for the footsteps of Moshiach." 

We see from this story of teshuva, that even those who are not Jewish, are obligated to do teshuva, not as a mitzvah of its own, like our obligation, but as part of the Seven Mitzvahs of the Children of Noach. They have a mitzvah to negate false deities and only serve Hashem, teshuva is included in that mitzvah. And we see from this story, that we are obligated to have an affect on the nations of the world, the children of Noach, that they should follow in Hashem's ways, namely, the Laws of Noach. 

How did Yona become a prophet? The Talmud Yerushalmi says about Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, "Yona son of Amitai entered into Simchas Beis Hashoeiva and the Divine Inspiration rested upon him." That is why it is called Simchas Beis Hashoeiva (drawing),  "because Divine Inspiration is drawn from there."

Simchas Beis Hashoeiva happened on Sukkos nights in the Temple, in the area of the Women's Gallery. Water would be drawn from the Shiloach spring, and it would be offered on the Temple altar, as a libation. All night the righteous danced, while the other men and the women looked on. There was no greater joy, as our sages say, "Whoever hasn't seen Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, has not seen joy in his life."

There were certainly many great and holy people at the Simchas Beis Hashoeiva. Why does the Talmud Yerushalmi single out Yona, from all the other great people that were at the festivities?

It is because the whole idea of Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, is that we have the power to overcome any obstacle, through the power of joy. And as mentioned above, the story of Yona is about the descent of the neshama into the world, this is telling us that we have the power to overcome any obstacle, and accomplish our mission. Ultimately we will reach our destination.

Telling us about Yona's ability of prophecy, is particularly important, because his abilities continued after the festivities came to an end, and even outside the land of Israel. That means that the prophecy that was drawn at Simchas Beis Hashoeiva in the Temple, continues after the festivities. It continues on in every generation and in all places until the coming of Moshiach.

Yona is the one who teaches us the power of teshuva, even when it comes to other nations and even outside the land of Israel. As the Talmud tells us, that the people of Nineveh were so affected by Yona, they returned stolen objects, even the ones that they had a long time, and were handled in such a way, that they were not obligated to return them by law.

How much more so, we Jewish people, are affected by Yona, his story, his struggles and his love for the Jewish people. That we can repair any blemish in our relationship with Hashem, and through teshuva we attain a level of connection to Hashem, that is far stronger and higher than mitzvahs and Torah without teshuva.

So it is Yona that teaches us about the power of teshuva, and how far and high teshuva can take you. That is why it is called "Maftir Yona."

May Hashem accept our teshuva, and may our teshuva bring us to our desired destination, the ultimate redemption, when we will witness the greatest revelation of Hashem, greater than any prophecy. May it happen now. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Thirteenth Gate

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In this week's parsha, Vayelech, it says that Moshe commanded the people of the tribe of Levi, who carry the Aron, "Take this Torah scroll and place it alongside the (tablets of the Ten Commandments that were in the) Ark of the Covenant." 

The Midrash tells us, that Moshe wrote Thirteen Torahs, one for each of the twelve tribes, and the thirteenth was to be put in to the Ark of the Covenant, that if an issue arises with any of the Torahs, they will be able to check the thirteenth, and clarify the issue. 

Parshas Vayelech is always read either on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, or between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Shaloh Hakadosh tells us that the parsha is connected to the time of year that it is read. That means that Vayelech is connected to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Teshuva. 

What does this idea of the thirteenth Torah have to do with the High Holidays? 

The twelve tribes each had a Torah of their own, this symbolized that every tribe, had their own path in Torah. That is why there are different customs in different areas, and one should follow the law according to the opinion of the Rabbi of his or her city, because both "These and these are the words of the Living G-d." This is because every one of our souls come down a certain path, and we connect through our path. 

This is also true when it comes to our personal relationship with Hashem, our love and fear of Him, every one of us our different. Each of us is at a different level and we have a unique way of connecting to Him. That is the way it is supposed to be. 

These differences are in the details, each community and person has different details that they highlight. However in the general aspects of Judaism we are all the same. 

This is expressed by the idea of a thirteenth Torah, there is a point where we are all the same and included in one Torah, which can never change. The deeper one delves into Torah, especially the esoteric, and into our neshamas essence, the more we are the same and those details become irrelevant. 

The same thing is taught about the different nusachs - prayer systems - they are based on the "thirteen times they would prostrate, which is for the thirteen gates in the third Temple." 

Every tribe has a gate from which to enter, and then there is the thirteenth, all inclusive gate, that everyone can enter. Now that most of us don't know which tribe we are from, we would all enter the thirteenth gate. The nusach that the Arizal made is all inclusive, it is the thirteenth gate, that all of us can go through. 

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe), was the first Rebbe of Chabad. Everything he did was to make things in a way that it will be all inclusive, that any Jewish person could do it that way and it would be good for his or her neshama. 

When the Alter Rebbe made the siddur that Chabad uses, he had sixty nusachs of the siddur in front of him to reference. He winnowed and sifted it out, until it was refined and good for every neshama. 

The same is true for the Shulchan Aruch that he wrote, known as the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and with the chasidus that he wrote, the Tanya and more. He didn't write it specifically for his chasidim, rather that it should be all inclusive, for any neshama. 

Now we can understand why the teaching of the thirteenth Torah, that Moshe had them put into the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, is read this time of year. Everyone comes to shul this time of year, the most observant of the Jewish people to the least. It has to be a time of love and inclusiveness between the Jewish people, we don't have to focus on our differences, we have to look deeper into the essence of who we are, until we see that we are all the same, we all learn from the thirteenth Torah and enter the thirteenth gate. It is this love for each other that is the foundation and the starting point for everything we do this time of year. Because, how can we return to Hashem with teshuva, and how can we ask Hashem to grant us our needs, when we are at odds with his beloved children? 

Through our love for every neshama, we will come closer to Hashem, He will surely grant us all our needs, and we will certainly have a sweet year. 

If we act with love for one another, we will soon merit to enter the thirteenth gate, together with all of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and see the third and final Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

United And As One Grants Us A Good Year

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Parshas Netzavim is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, which is the Shabbos before the month of Tishrei. Every Shabbos that precedes a new month, is called Shabbos Mevarchim, because we bless the new month. The only month that we don't bless, is the month of Tishrei. If we don't bless the month of Tishrei, how is it blessed?

We have a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, handed down by his student, the Maggid of Mezrich, to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe). This is how the Alter Rebbe said it, "The seventh month (Tishrei), which is the first month of the months of the year, Hashem Himself blesses on Shabbos Mevarchim, which is the last Shabbos of the month of Elul, and this gives Israel the power to bless the months, eleven times a year. It is written, 'All of you are standing hayom (today),' hayom refers to Rosh Hashanah, which is the Day of judgment, as it is written, ' And it was hayom (the day)...' and the Targum (Yonasan translates), 'and it was the great day of judgment,' And you are standing - existing and standing, means that we are meritorious in the judgment, and on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, which is the last Shabbos of the month of Elul, we read parshas Atem Netzavim (You are standing), and this is the blessing of Hashem... (He blesses us) with a lot of good, to all of Israel, for the entire year."

commentaries explain the verses, "You are standing... To enter a covenant..." That Moshe entered them in to pact of (arvus) responsibility for one another. As our sages say, "All of Israel are responsible for one another."

When there are two explanations on the same words of a verse, they have to be connected somehow. What is the connection between the Baal Shem Tov's explanation and the commentaries'?

Another question. We find in the Talmud, that although Moshe entered them into the covenant of responsibility for one another, in the desert, it didn't actually take effect, until the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. Why did it have to wait until they entered the land?

In order to understand this, we first have to take a look at the idea of arvus, which I translated responsibility, for lack of a better word. It takes many forms, the simple meaning of it in our context, is that we should help each other keep Torah and mitzvahs, and that we can include another Jew, when we say a Brocha. But for clarity sake, we will take the classic case of an areiv, and that is with a loan.

When someone asks another for a loan, often the lender will ask for someone to guarantee the loan, to take responsibility in the case that the borrower will not have the money to repay the loan. In this case, it makes sense that a more affluent person, takes the guarantor position, being the areiv for the loan. In every case arvus, the one who has more is the areiv, the other way around, just doesn't make sense.

When it comes to being Jewish, keeping the Torah and mitzvahs, one would think, that the one who is more involved in Torah and mitzvahs, would be the areiv, for the one who is less involved. But that is not the case, rather, "All of Israel are responsible for one another." What that means, is that every Jew is the more affluent person, compared to every other, in some aspect of Judaism. It is not enough that we keep Judaism the best way we can, but we should try to see to it, that other Jews do so as well. Because they each have a part of Judaism that we don't, and their part is vital to the completeness of Hashem's Torah. In other words, we are not complete, without the inclusion of every one of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

And that is why, we could be included in a Brocha of the most simple and unlettered person, because in some aspect, he is greater.

How does this unity manifest itself?

The Alter Rebbe, when explaining the verse, "All of you standing here today," he says, that all the Jewish people together are, "One complete person." Just as in a person, there is an advantage of the foot over the head, meaning, that there are some things that the head can't do without the foot, therefore, the head is not complete without the foot. The same is true for the Jewish people, even the simplest Jew has an advantage over the greatest, the "heads" of the Jewish people, and they must rely on them to do their part.

To put it in other words, every Jew has a point where he is the "head."

To explain how the unity of the Jewish people manifest itself, the Alter Rebbe brings the verse, "When the heads (the count) of the nation are gathered and the tribes are united." And he explains, "that everyone is gathered together to be united as one." And he explains that "united" means that "Everyone needs each other," and "as one" means "One complete person."

So there are two things working together. We are united and as one.

United means, that there are separate things or people, that come together in unity, to serve a certain purpose. They could have nothing in common, but for the sake of the common goal, they come together and unify. They are individuals with individuality, each is unique, but they unify to attain their goal.

As one means, that they are in essence one, and that is the true underlying reason for their unity. True, they could help each other out by being united, but that isn't the reason for their unity, just the result.

It seems that being "as one," is a loftier idea than just being "united." Why does the Alter Rebbe have to employ both, "united" and "as one"?

We must conclude, that being individual is important as well. In fact, both are extremely necessary, we have to value our individuality, every one of us has something that the others need to be complete, and at the same time, we are at our core, "One complete person."

In actuality, the Alter Rebbe spends much more time discussing the importance of the individual, because to accomplish our mission in this physical world, the unique contribution of every individual is necessary.

Now we could understand why the covenant of arvus, only took effect when they entered the land. Because that is when the actual mission began. In the desert, they were living a completely spiritual life, they were living in the clouds, quite literally. It was only when they entered the land, into the physical world, when the mission began, to transform this lowly physical world into a home for Hashem.

And we will also understand the connection between the Baal Shem Tov's explanation, that we are "meritorious in the judgment," on "hayom," the day of Rosh Hashanah, and the commentaries ', that they entered into a covenant of arvus.

Because it is through our togetherness, both "united," and "as one," when we don't take into account the level of the other, and when we see every Jew as important and necessary. That Hashem will grant us all a happy and sweet year.