Friday, June 15, 2018

Only A True Leader Knows

Dedicated By Moshe Oratz 
In honor of Rabbi Yitzi and all the inspiration he creates
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In this week's parsha, Korach, we read about the rebellion of Korach and the two hundred and fifty men, against Moshe and Aharon. After all his efforts to make peace with them fell on deaf ears, Moshe was very distressed, he said to Hashem, "don't pay attention to their offering..." Rashi explains these words, "According to the simple meaning, (Moshe said:) the incense that they are offering before you tomorrow, don't pay attention to them. And the Midrash says, '(He said:) I know that they have a portion in the daily communal offerings, let their portion not be accepted favorably before You, let the fire leave it and not consume it.'" 

The words of Rashi are difficult to understand. 

His first answer was that Moshe was asking Hashem not to accept their offering of incense. Why would Moshe even consider for a moment, that Hashem would accept the offering of these wicked people? 

The answer also seems grammatically incorrect. If he is talking about the incense, he should have concluded, "don't pay attention to it." Why does he say, "don't pay attention to them?" This question is so strong, that some go as far as to change the words of Rashi to read, "don't pay attention to it." 

Rashi only brings a second answer, when the first one is lacking. Why was the first answer not enough? 

Rashi changes the words of the Midrash in the second answer. The Midrash says, "I know that they have a portion in that offering." And Rashi changes it to, "daily communal offerings." Why? 

Rashi's way is to be as concise as possible. It begs the question: Why does he bring the first words of the Midrash, "I know..." He could have simply said, "they have a portion in the communal offerings, let their portion not be accepted favorably," and we surely would have understood. Why does he say the extra words, "I know?" 

Another question: In the verse Moshe says, "don't pay attention to their offering..." It seems that it would make more sense to say, "don't accept," or "don't take." Why does he say, "don't pay attention?" 

This statement of Moshe's, "don't pay attention to their offering," came after he tried every which way to make peace with them. 

At first, when they came with their complaint, one could have thought that they were idealistic, they wanted to be the Kohen Gadol, the holiest of holy. Moshe said to them, "This is what you should do. Take for yourselves pans... put fire in them and place incense on them, tomorrow before Hashem, the one who Hashem will choose, he is the holy one." And Rashi explains, "He said to them... we don't have but... one Kohen Gadol, and you two hundred and fifty men are requesting to be the Kohen Gadol, I also want to be (the Kohen Gadol). Here you have a service that is the most cherished of all, which is the incense that is more cherished of all the offerings, and with it is the poison of death, through it Nadav and Avihu were burnt (and died), thus, we were warned through them... Whoever He chooses will come out alive, and you all will be lost." 

In other words, everyone wants to be the Kohen Gadol, but Hashem only wants one. Let's see who He will choose. But if you are not the right one, you will surely die. 

However, after having tried so hard to make peace with them and they refused, he realized that their intentions were not pure, their only interest was in attacking Moshe and Aharon's position that Hashem gave them. This brought him great anguish. 

So he made a request of Hashem. It was obvious to him that Hashem wouldn't accept their offering, because they were wicked, he didn't have to ask for that. He was asking for something more, and that is what Rashi is telling us. 

When he said, "don't pay attention to their offering." Rashi explains that he was saying, "don't pay attention to them," not only their incense. He wanted Hashem to not pay attention to them at all. In other words, they shouldn't be punished like Nadav and Avihu, for bringing the incense, but for their sin and rebellion. If they are going to die, it should not be for a holy thing, but rather for their wickedness. 

Now we can understand why Moshe said, "don't pay attention," rather than, "don't accept," or "don't take." Because he wasn't asking that Hashem not accept their incense, but that He shouldn't pay attention to them, and it should be clear that they're downfall was not because they brought incense, but because they were wicked. 

Now that the first answer is understood, Rashi is left with a dilemma. From the sound of the verse, "Moshe was very distressed, and he said to Hashem 'don't pay attention to their offering,'" it doesn't make sense to say that Moshe was asking just that they should be outed for what they are, because that should be expected. Rather it sounds like Moshe is asking for something more. And that is why Rashi brings the second answer from the Midrash, "I know that they have a portion in the daily communal offerings, let their portion not be accepted favorably." 

With this answer he is stressing, that not only should their attack on the office of the Kohen Gadol be foiled, not only should they be punished for that, but they should also be excluded from the Jewish community. Their portion in the daily communal offerings, should be ignored, "let the fire leave it and not consume it." And this is why Rashi changes the words of the Midrash from "that offering," to "daily communal offerings," because Hashem not accepting their offering of incense should be expected, to say the least. For that, Moshe shouldn't have to ask. Now that he is asking for something of Hashem, it must be for something greater than that, and Rashi explains that he was asking, that they should be excluded from the Jewish community as well. 

Rashi's change in the words of the Midrash, goes according to his opinion in his commentary on the Talmud, that if one doesn't have ownership of a minimum of a pruta (a small coin similar to a penny) in an item, it is not considered his. The incense alone doesn't have enough value, that if you were to divide it, every Jewish person would have a pruta. So they wouldn't have a portion in that anyway. However, the daily communal offerings, refer to the offerings that were brought all year on behalf of all the Jewish people. Everyone gave a half shekel towards them, and a half shekel is surely more than a pruta. You can say, that they have a portion in the communal offerings. 

There is a beautiful lesson about the Jewish people hinted in Rashi's words, "they have a portion in the daily communal offerings." In line with the words of the Arizal, "Holiness doesn't move from its place." Which Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains to mean, "Even after it ascends above, it isn't completely uprooted from its original place and level." 

In general, when something becomes communal it is removed from its individual status completely. When one donated a half shekel towards the communal offerings, he gave it up completely and it became the community's. 

By Rashi saying, "I know that they have a portion in the daily communal offerings," he is telling us, that even though it became community property, it still retained some semblance of the individual. "Even after it ascends above," and becomes communal property, "it isn't completely uprooted from its original place and level," is still is connected to the individual. 

And this is why Rashi says the extra words, "I know." These are the words of Moshe, who was the leader of the Jewish people. And as the leader, only he was in a position to see this dual reality. 

The normal way of seeing things, is that there is a clear divide between the individual, and the community. This is the basis of the divide in world views, and political opinions. There are those who put the community above all else, and then there are are those who champion the plight of the individual. 

It is only Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people, who is in the position of realizing the value of both. Because although he is an individual with personal needs and wants, his life is given to the community. And even though he has to think about the community's best interest, he is also there for each and every individual and thinks about his or her personal physical and spiritual welfare. So only Moshe knows that the individual has a portion in the communal offerings. That's why Rashi adds the words, "I know." 

Parshas Korach is often read in the week of Gimmel Tammuz, the third of Tammuz, the day that Yehoshua stopped the sun in Givon, allowing the Jewish people to be victorious and conquer the land. 

It is the day that the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was freed from Russian prison. He was arrested for his work, spreading and strengthening Judaism in the former Soviet Union. He was responsible for saving Jewish life in Russia and strengthening Judaism in Europe, the United States and around the world, when he came out of Russia. 

And finally, it is the yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who established a network of emissaries, to strengthen Judaism worldwide. You can find a Chabad House in every corner of the world, inspiring an unprecedented revival of Jewish life. 

The common denominator, is that they were true Jewish leaders, seeing the value of both the community and the individual. 

I am a Chassid of the Rebbe, and have the honor of being his emissary. I saw how he gave himself completely to the Jewish community, and at the same time, he cared for the welfare of every individual Jew. And he didn't take into account the religious level of the individual, he was there for every single Jew. 

He demanded the same from his emissaries and of his chassidim, to do what is best for the community and at the same time, be ready to pull up your sleeves and help an individual Jew. 

  • This is an attitude that everyone can embrace, and there is no doubt that this approach will change the world, strengthen Judaism, and bring Moshiach ever closer. May he come soon. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

We Are Hashem's Partner In Creation

This article is dedicated to all fathers in honor of Father's Day
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The name of a parsha symbolizes and encapsulates the central theme of the parsha. This week's parsha is traditionally called "Shelach." We have a rule, that "Tradition of Israel is Torah." Meaning, that the traditions of Israel have the weight of Torah, and sometimes it is taken into consideration when making a Torah ruling. So the name of our parsha, Shelach, is Torah and we must take a lesson from it. 

What is the lesson we are meant to learn from the name Shelach? And how does this name encapsulate the theme of our parsha? 

The word Shelach, means to send, it is the beginning of the story of the spies who were sent by Moshe, to spy out the land. It seems to be a story about what happened. How can it be symbolic of the parsha? Especially when the parsha ends with the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is symbolic of all of the mitzvahs, as it says, "And you will see it (the tzitzis) and you will remember all the mitzvahs of Hashem." How can a story of the past, be connected and symbolic of all of the mitzvahs that we are obligated to do forever? In other words, what is the eternal lesson from this story, that must be applied to every mitzvah? 

Another question. The story of the spies begins, "And Hashem spoke to Moshe to say (laimor). Send for yourself..." And Rashi explains, "If you think so. I am not commanding you, if you want to - send." In other words, this statement, "Send for yourself," is only to Moshe. When it says laimor, it usually means that Moshe should say it to the Jewish people. What is the message here for all of the Jewish people? 

To understand this, first we have to understand, what was the sin of the spies? Moshe told them to inspect the land, when they returned, they reported on what they saw. So what was their sin? 

Moshe sent them to figure out which would be the best way to conquer the land. He didn't have a question whether or not they would conquer it. Hashem said that He would give us the land, so it was a sure thing. But there is a rule that we try not to rely on miracles, or at least, try to do things in a natural way, with the least amount of miracles possible. The spies were to scout the best route to capture the land, with the least amount of miracles necessary. However, when they gave their report, they came to the conclusion, that "We can't go up to the nation, because it is stronger than us." That was the sin, Hashem clearly said that He is giving us the land, they were sent to find the best way, but they said and came to the conclusion, that we can't conquer it. It was not a question whether or not we would conquer it, but how we would conquer it. 

This is the first lesson from Shlach, with regard to every mitzvah. We have to realize that it is Hashem Who gave us the mitzvahs, that means that there isn't a question if we can do them, we only have to "spy out" or figure out the best way to do them. 

You may ask, what about a person like me, who is paralyzed and locked in a body that is unable to do mitzvahs? Or, what about a person who is held captive, like in the Russian gulags of past, unable to do mitzvahs, because they were not allowed to have the things necessary to do the mitzvahs? In those cases, even with total self sacrifice, one would be unable to do mitzvahs. 

In that case, Hashem clearly doesn't want him to do the mitzvah. It is like a mitzvah that can only be done by a woman, like counting the days before mikva, it is not applicable to men. And the mitzvah of circumcision, that is not applicable to women. The same is true for a person who is in one of the aforementioned situations. The mitzvahs that he can't do, are not applicable to him. 

The Torah speaks about normal circumstances, and in normal circumstances, a Jew has to see himself as able, he shouldn't convince himself otherwise. 

The second lesson here that applies to every mitzvah, is that aside for the specific intent that we should have with every mitzvah, we should also have in mind when we perform it, that we are doing it, because it's what Hashem wants. And that is what we say in the blessing before mitzvahs, "That He sanctified us with His commandments, and He commanded us..." 

Now we can understand why the parsha that has the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is symbolic of all of the mitzvahs, is called Shelach. Because the message of Shelach, pertains and is a prerequisite for every mitzvah. 

Shelach, is Moshe sending the spies in preparation of entering the Holy Land. The idea of the Holy Land, is that the physical place is infused with holiness. And that is what happens when we do a mitzvah, we infuse the physical object that is used in the performance of the mitzvah, with holiness. In a way, we are making a bunch of little Israels, we are making the physical holy. 

This is said specifically to Moshe, because we each have a little bit of Moshe inside of us, and it is this little bit of Moshe, that gives us the strength to accomplish the fusion of mundane and holy, the G-dly and the physical, heaven and earth. 

This is perhaps what laimor means here. The message of Shelach pertains to each and every one of us, therefore, it should be conveyed to the Jewish people. And it is this message of Shelach, that is the theme of our parsha. 

However, we are left with a question. If the message of Shelach is so important and fundamental to all of our mitzvahs, why did Hashem make it dependant on the person's choice, as it says, "Send for yourself," meaning, "If you think so. I am not commanding you, if you want to - send?" Why didn't He make it a required prerequisite? 

The whole point of our Torah and mitzvahs is to draw G-dliness into the physical, as the Midrash explains the unique thing that was changed with the giving of the Torah, is that now, "Above can descend below, and below can ascend above." 

Above descending below is understood as Hashem being drawn into creation. But how does below ascend above? 

The norm is, that Hashem is the giver and we are the receiver. We receive our whole existence from Him, and if he would stop giving, if He would stop creating us, we would cease to exist. 

For us to ascend above, would mean, that we too, so to speak, become givers like Hashem. Like our sages say, "We become Hashem's partner in creation." And like the Talmud tells about a famous debate between the sages, that a voice came from heaven saying that rabbi Eliezer was right, and the sages responded, "Torah is not in the heavens." Hashem then said, "My children were victorious over Me, My children were victorious over Me." Meaning that we are in the"above" position, we have the power to affect and give to Torah. 

The words "My children were victorious over Me," shows the partnership between Hashem and the Jewish people, because in a real partnership, sometimes one partner's opinion wins, and at times, the other partner's opinion wins. 

To accomplish that we should be in the "above" position, that we will be able to give to creation, Hashem made it our choice. Because if He would have made the message of Shelach an obligation, then by definition, we would be in the receiving position, and not in the above position. Because we would be doing His commandment, making us the receivers, and there is no way of getting out of that position. 

By making it our choice, Hashem put us in the above position. And being that the message of Shelach, is for all mitzvahs, we have the ability to affect every mitzvah and all of creation. We ascend above. 

May we merit to be the partners Hashem wants, and effect the world to the point that it becomes a true home for Him. This will usher in the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Manna, Bread From The Heavens

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The parshas of Behaalosecha and Beshalach, tell about the manna that fell in the desert, and sustained the Jewish people for forty years. 

The Talmud asks, "It is written, 'And when the dew came down upon the camp at night, the manna came down upon it.' (Indicating that the manna fell inside the camp.) And it is written, 'And they went out and collected.' (Indicating that the manna fell outside the camp.) And it is written, 'They walked and collected.' (Indicating that the manna was far from the camp.) How (are all three) possible?" 

The Talmud explains that the three verses are talking about three different groups of people. "For the righteous, it came down at the door of their homes (in the camp), average people 'went out (of the camp) and collected,' the wicked 'walked (far from the camp) and collected.'" 

The Talmud also explains the three different terms used by the Torah for the manna, "bread," "baked goods," and "ground (in a mill)," in the same manner. For the righteous, it was ready to eat, like bread, the average person had to bake it, and the wicked had to start by grinding it into flour. 

Manna is called, "bread from the heavens," or "grain of the heavens." And the blessing said before eating manna is, "hamotzi lechem min hashamayim," Who takes bread out of the heavens, or "hanosain lechem min hashamayim," Who gives bread from the heavens. 

The difference between bread from the earth and bread from the heavens, is that bread from the earth requires a tremendous amount of preparation. It starts with plowing, sowing, and all that is done in the field, then you have to wait for it to grow. Then it has to be cut, gathered, threshed, winnowed and ground in a mill, etc. etc. By the time you have a loaf of bread, much time and energy was expended. And after all that, it is not pure nourishment, part of it the body takes and the rest becomes waste. The bread from the heavens, on the other hand, depending on who you were, had little to no preparation and it was pure nourishment, there was no waste. 

This bread from the heavens nourished all the Jewish people, whether they were righteous, average or wicked. Even the wicked had the experience of pure nourishment without waste. That means that even when it became part of the body, the manna remained in its pure state. The manna, therefore, had an effect on the person who consumed it. As our sages say, "The Torah was not given to expound, but to those who ate the manna," because the manna affected us, and made us into the people right for the task. The manna affected every Jew, as each of us has a part in the Torah and a unique way of understanding it, righteous, average and wicked alike. 

The manna didn't have an immediate effect on the person, they didn't instantly do teshuva when they ate it, the wicked remained that way even after they ate it. That is why they still had to walk far from the camp to collect it, and they still had to grind it. That is also why, during the forty years that they ate the manna, some still did things that angered Hashem, as He said, "And they tested Me these ten times." Nevertheless, it certainly had some effect on them, and eventually, when they did do teshuva, it was certain that eating the manna had a part in their return to Hashem. 

This will help us clear up another oddity we find about the manna. It is said in the name of Rav Saadia Gaon, that if we find ourselves in a distant place and we don't know which parsha to read, we should read the parsha of the manna. And some say, that the reason for this, is that the parsha of the manna was said by Hashem on Shabbos. 

There are many parshas that were said on Shabbos, including the Ten Commandments, which represents the whole Torah. Why should we specifically read about the manna? 

As mentioned earlier, even though the manna reached the lowest levels, even the wicked ate it, it remained in its pure state. First it fell from heaven to earth, then it was consumed by all kinds of people, righteous, average and wicked, and throughout all the levels, it remained the same. 

Shabbos has the same quality, it is a very high and holy thing that comes down to the lowest levels, but it remains the same in all levels of existence. 

About Shabbos, the Torah says, "The heaven and the earth and all its components were completed (Vayechulu)." The word Vayechulu has an alternate translation, from the word kilyon, to go out of oneself from ecstasy, but in regards to Shabbos, it would mean to be raised up to a high spiritual level, because it didn't go out of itself, it remained the same. The verse would thus read, "The heaven and the earth and all its components were raised." And this happens every Shabbos, the whole world is raised in ecstacy, to a very high spiritual level, the level of Shabbos. 

That is why, on Shabbos, not only is it a mitzvah to eat and drink, but it a mitzvah to have pleasure from it. The actual pleasure it is a mitzvah. 

During the week, we have to eat so that we could survive and do the things we are required to do. There is no requirement to have pleasure, as worldly pleasures makes one coarse. But on Shabbos, not only does pleasure not make one coarse, on the contrary, the pleasure is a holy thing, it is a mitzvah. 

Since the light of Shabbos permeates all of existence, we have a rule, that even a completely wicked person doesn't lie on Shabbos. It doesn't mean that he does teshuva on Shabbos, rather he remains the same person, with all of his failings, however, the light of Shabbos has such a profound effect on him, that he doesn't lie. 

Now we can understand why we read the parsha of the manna. Because both Shabbos and the manna have the unique quality, that they affect all levels of existence, and yet, their holiness remains the same. So the parsha of the manna, brings to the fore, the essence of Shabbos. 

On the other hand, the other parshas, including the Ten Commandments, although they are very lofty, they don't bring out the essence of the day. 

Everything in the world, is reflected in Torah. The two types of bread, bread from the heavens and bread from the earth, are found in the study of Torah. Torah is called bread, it nourishes our essence. 

Bread from the earth, is the study of the revealed parts of Torah. It is with great toil and effort that we acquire the knowledge of the revealed Torah. And even when we understand a part of it well, it is fraught with arguments and opinions. 

Bread from the heavens, is the inner or hidden part of the Torah, "In which there is no question... and no argument." 

It is a mistake to think, that just because it is called "bread from the heavens," it is not for every Jew. On the contrary, just like the manna, the inner Torah is for every Jew, no matter where he is at spiritually. And if you teach a person who is not yet following the ways of Hashem, it will, with time, surely move him to get on the path. 

Thank G-d, as Moshiach comes closer, the opposition against teaching the inner Torah has ended. And now, there is hardly a Torah class, or a rabbi's sermon, without some inner Torah flavoring sprinkled within, specifically the teachings of the great chasidic masters. It is a blessing that we can embrace and study all levels of the Torah. 

But that is only in the Torah institutions and synagogues. What about the unaffiliated, or the unlettered? Should we teach them too? These teachings are pure, they permeate all levels, and effect the person being taught to become closer to Hashem. So why not?  

The evil inclination is clever. Now that there is no longer an opposition to chassidus, he has found a new argument. "They are not ready for it yet." However, like every argument of the evil inclination, this one is false as well. Because there is truly no reason to refrain from teaching these beautiful, meaningful and pure lessons to every single Jew. 

I have personally been teaching these teachings since I became a rabbi, and I have not found a Jew who is not ready for it, or who hasn't become closer to Hashem from learning it. 

Even more. The whole purpose of the evil inclination, is for us to strengthen ourselves against him, and do what Hashem wants. And when he sees that all his efforts to get you to do wrong, just made you stronger, he will realize that it wasn't worth it, and he will stop to bother you with his foolish arguments. 

May we bring every Jew closer to Hashem by teaching them both the revealed and inner Torah. This will surely bring Moshiach closer, especially the teachings of the inner Torah, chasidic teaching. As the soul of Moshiach said to the Baal Shem Tov, that he will come, "When your wellsprings (meaning chassidus) will spread out." May he come soon.

In honor of Rabbi Shlomo and Tovi Bistritsky and Rabbi Choni and Frumi Marozov, who married off their children this week. May you only have nachas from the new couple, and may you celebrate many more simchas. And in honor of the new couple Rabbi Mendy and Mirel Bistritsky, may your new marriage be a binyan aday ad. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Making The Desert Into A Home

Parshas Nasso begins with the count of the children of Gershon and Merari from the tribe of Levi, who would be hauling the coverings, curtains, posts and panels of the Mishkan and its courtyard, when the Jewish people traveled in the desert. It comes after the count of the children of Kehos, who carried the vessels of the Mishkan, which is written about at the end of the previous parsha, Bamidbar.

Everything in Torah is eternal, but these counts seem to be only pertaining to the time that they were in the desert. Why does the Torah tell us about this, which seems to be irrelevant today? Being that the Torah writes this, it must also be eternal and it must be relevant to every one of us. What is the eternal message here for every single Jew?

Levi had three boys, Gershon, Kehos and Merari, in that order, but when they were counted, Kehos was counted first. Why?

To understand this, we first have to answer a more general question. Why did Hashem have the Jewish people stay in the desert for forty years? It is true that they were punished not to enter the Holy Land for forty years because of the fiasco with the spies who gave a bad report, turning the hearts of the people against the land. But that only explains why they didn't enter the land. Why not take them to another country for forty years? Why did they have to be "in the great and awesome desert with snakes, serpents and scorpions, and thirst, for there is no water?"

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains, "The reason for their travels in the desert with the Mishkan and its vessels, was to subdue the power the negative forces leach (off holiness) , because their ability to leech (off holiness) stems specifically from the desert." And even more, through subduing the ability of the negative forces to leach from holiness, "They drawed the revelation of G-dliness."

You see, there is a constant spiritual battle between the negative forces and the forces of good. But the negative forces don't get their nourishment directly from Hashem, rather, in a indirect way, they leach what they can from us. They find openings, due to our weaknesses and failings, and that becomes their nourishment. Our travels in the desert, greatly hampered their ability to leech off holiness, therefore, weakening them for all time. Being that we weakened them, we made more room for G-dliness. So the forty years we spent in the desert, laid the groundwork and gave us the spiritual upper hand in our mission as Jews. There is still a battle, but it is vastly easier than it would have been, without our accomplishments traveling in the desert.

Every spiritual accomplishment surfaces in the physical. That is why, wherever we traveled in the desert, the clouds of glory that protected us, killed the snakes, serpents and scorpions, the Mishkan was set up, and the well of Miriam gushed forth water, making the desert bloom with all kinds of greenery and trees. In other words, wherever we went ceased to be desert, ceased to be negative. So for the Jewish people, there was really no desert, because their travels made the desert civilized.

The ability to do all this came from the tribe of Levi, and specifically from those who dismantled, carried and erected the Mishkan and its vessels. What gave them the power to effect their surroundings so drastically? It was the count at the end of parshas Bamidbar and the beginning of parshas Nasso that raise them above and separated them, so that they weren't affected by the negative, rather, they affected the negative and turned it into positive, they made the desert habitable.

This idea of making the desert into a home is applicable to every person and in every generation.

When a person thinks about his life, he comes to the realization that he is flawed, because no one is perfect, everyone has failings of some sort. In other words, he and his surroundings is not habitable for Hashem, and even if it is, it is not a permanent home for Him. This can be disheartening and even depressing, and bring a person to run away from his purpose and mission that Hashem gave him.

This is where this lesson comes in, telling us that we are traveling in a desert and our job is to make our personal desert bloom. Just as in the desert, the Jewish people only traveled on Hashem's word, we too only travel on His word. In every situation that we find ourselves, it is Hashem Who specifically put us there and we have the ability to turn it in to an oasis for Hashem.

Everyone of us can be like a Levi, as the Rambam says, "Not just the tribe of Levi, but anyone... who will give of himself... to separate himself and stand before Hashem to serve Him... Hashem will be his portion and his inheritance... just as the Kohanim and the Leviim merited to have."

In other words, anyone who puts himself to the task of, "teaching His virtuous ways and His righteous laws to many," will be given the strength and prestige from above, he will be raised higher and higher, he will reach the level of the children of Gershon, and then the level of the children of Kehos, the highest level of the tribe of Levi. And through this, he will be able to effect his place in the world, and make it into a home for Hashem.

There is another lesson here. One might look back at his bleak past and think to himself, "The way I acted in the past was negative, I've been acting that way so long. How am I going to change now?" Thinking this way, he can give up hope of ever becoming a better person, or a follower of Hashem's ways.

To him the Torah says, that the children of Gershon, Kehos and Merari, first began their service at the age of thirty, notwithstanding their previous life, and they were able to reach the highest levels, they started to carry the Mishkan and turned the desert into an oasis. Same is true for us, we don't have to dwell on the past, it is never too late to begin, and if we make the effort, we can reach the highest levels, we will be given the strength to rid ourselves of any negativities or bad habits and addictions, and make ourselves and our surroundings into a beautiful home for Hashem.

How does one go about doing this? There are two parts to this effort, "refraining from doing bad," and "doing good." When you want to make a home fit for a king, first you have to clean out the junk and then you can bring in the furnishings and make it beautiful. The same is true when you want to make yourself and your surroundings into a home for Hashem, first you have to "refrain from bad," stop the negative actions, and then you have to start "doing good," doing what Hashem wants.

These two, "refraining from bad," and "doing good," are hinted in the names of the sons of Levi. Gershon is from the word gerush, which means to divorce, and Merari is from the word mar, which means bitter. Together they mean to separate from the bad or "refrain from bad." Kehos is from the word yikhas, which means to gather, which is doing something positive or "doing good."

Gershon was born before Kehos, because the order is first "refrain from bad," and then "do good." However, when it comes to counting them, which counting raises the status of the things being counted, Kehos was first, to show that "doing good" is more important. If you think about it, even though refraining from bad is very difficult and of course, nothing bad is being done, but it doesn't accomplish anything positive. Its whole purpose is to create a wholesome environment, so you can "do good."

This idea is also brought out in the work they did. Gershon and Merari carried the parts that made the house of the Mishkan, just as a home provides protection. It symbolizes "refraining from bad," protecting yourself from negative actions. Kehos carried the vessels of the Mishkan, the vessels are what all the services in the Mishkan were done with. The house is there to protect and create the perfect environment for the people living in it, so they can do positive action with the vessels, and that is what makes it a home.

May we merit to see our deserts become a everlasting home for Hashem, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Dedicated in honor of my son Mendel, who celebrated his birthday this week, may Hashem give you an amazing year, Mommy and I are so proud of you. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Completion Of Our Mission That Began At Sinai

The Haftora for the second day of Shavuoth is from our prophet Habakkuk. He says a prayer, and tells of many great miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people, starting with the giving of the Torah. He is pained by the suffering of the prolonged exile, and finally has a vision of the final redemption, and he is filled with joy. 

The simple reason for reading this Haftora is because it mentions the giving of the Torah, but there has to be more. 

This Haftora is only read outside of Israel, where we have a second day of Shavuoth. The reason for this extra day is not the same as the extra days added to Pesach and Sukkos, they were added because of a doubt when the holiday was. Because in the times that we would sanctify the new month according to the testimony of two witnesses that saw the new moon, the community outside of Israel wouldn't know until a while later. So the rabbis Instituted an extra day, just in case the new month began the next day. Shavuoth, on the other hand, is not because of a doubt, it always falls on the fiftieth day of the Omer. Rather, the extra day is because the rabbis wanted that all the holidays have the same laws. So while the other holidays have an extra day, because maybe, that is the actual holiday, on Shavuoth, the Jewish people add an additional day of their own will, and take a day that is undoubtedly mundane and make it holy. 

This is in fact the essence of the day and it captures the essence of Shavuoth as well. 

Shavuoth is the day we received the Torah, it is the day our mission began. It is the day that Hashem gave us the ability to do our mission. The Midrash says, that before the giving of the Torah, above and below, spiritual and physical, didn't mix. At the giving of the Torah all that changed, as it says, "And Hashem descended on Mount Sinai." Now there is the ability to mesh G-dliness with the physical, to make this world into a dwelling place for Hashem. We do this by learning Torah, doing mitzvahs and using the most mundane parts of our lives to serve Hashem. Our mission began at the giving of the Torah, and it ends with the coming of Moshiach. 

Habakkuk was given a vision of future of the Jewish people. He saw all of our suffering in exile, and he couldn't take it. He pleaded with Hashem, and he outright demanded on behalf of the Jewish people. But when he saw the time of Moshiach, he understood and was happy. That is why he said this prayer, to ask forgiveness for the harsh words he spoke. 

In his prayer, he begins telling of the giving of the Torah, then he goes through many of the good things Hashem did for the Jewish people, then he tells of the exile, he alludes to the difficult war of Gog and Magog, that will happen right before the coming of Moshiach, and finally, he rejoices with his coming.  

In other words, he is telling us that what Hashem does is good, and even if we don't see it that way, because of the harsh exile, he knows the truth, because he saw the future redemption, and it is all worth it. Just as he rejoiced, so will we. 

On the second day of Shavuoth, the day that we turn from mundane to holy, we received the Torah, with which we make the world into a dwelling for Hashem, mundane to holy, and we read the Haftora about the completion of our mission, the coming of Moshiach, when the world will be a home for Hashem, the whole world will go from mundane to holy. And that is the connection between the second day of Shavuoth and the Haftora. 

At the beginning of his prayer, Habakkuk says, "I heard your message and I was afraid." This verse is quoted by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Zohar, and this passage of the Zohar is part of the Tikkun Leil Shavuoth, that we read as we stay awake on the first night of Shavuoth. "Rabbi Shimon rejoiced and said, '"I heard your message and I was afraid," at that time it was appropriate to have fear, but in our case it all depends on love.'" Being that we read this in the synagogue on the second day of Shavuoth, means that it applies to us. Why does Rabbi Shimon say, that "In our case it all depends on love?" 

Habakkuk said that he heard and he was afraid. Hearing is not like seeing, hearing implies distance and less understanding than seeing, therefore it is associated with fear. Seeing, on the other hand, implies closeness and deep understanding, hence it is associated with love. 

We see this differentiation when it comes to studying Torah. The written Torah is associated with fear, as it says in Maseches Sofrim, "A face of fear for reading (Torah)." Why fear? Because it is distant, there is a lack of understanding, as we see, that even if one is just reading the words of the written Torah, even if he doesn't understand what he is saying, he is obligated to recite the blessing for learning Torah. On the other hand, learning Talmud, the oral Torah, is associated with love, because it must be understood. 

Habakkuk heard and felt distant, therefore, he was filled with fear. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was close to Hashem, and his experience was of seeing, as he said, "I see now what no man has seen since the day that Moshe went up a second time on Mount Sinai." 

Each of us stood at Mount Sinai, saw the great event and the greatest levels of G-dliness. Therefore we are close and our experience is one of love as well.  

He continues his prayer and he talks about the power of the Aron, the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments and according to some, the Torah that Moshe wrote. The Ark symbolized the Torah. He concludes that part, "The ways of the world are His." 

The Talmud concludes with a teaching on these words of Habakkuk, and it is recited in our morning prayer. "It was taught in the school of Eliyahu, 'Whoever learns (Torah) laws every day, it is certain that he is (going to receive a portion in) the world to come, as it says, "The ways (halichos) of the world are his," don't say halichos (ways), but halachos (laws).'" Why specifically laws? Why not the study of Torah in general? 

The general study of Torah has many opinions. There are 70 ways of understanding the Torah, or 600,000 ways. But there is a point where there is no division, and total unity of Hashem's will in Torah. This place has only one opinion, Hashem's essential will. This is not expressed by the general study of Torah, which has many opinions. This essential oneness of Hashem, beyond any division, is expressed in halacha, where we have one bottom line that we follow. Since it is the study of laws that brings the essential will of Hashem into the world and into practice, it guarantees one a place in the world to come. 

Even more, through studying halachos, "the ways of the world" become "his." He becomes a master over worldly matters. 

Habakkuk then speaks of the exile, "For the fig tree will not blossom, and there won't be food growth on the vines..." 

Then he became happy with the realization that Hashem will help us. "Yet, I will rejoice in Hashem, I will be joyful in the G-d of my salvation." 

What is he so joyous about? He continues, "G-d Hashem will be my army, He will make my feet as a deers, and He will lead me on high places, to the Choirmaster with my songs."

"G-d Hashem will be my army," meaning, Hashem gives us the strength to be victorious over the exile and bring Moshiach. 

"He will make my feet as a deers." Why does he refer to feet? Because he is talking about the end of the exile, which is called, "ikvisa d'mishicha," the footsteps of Moshiach, when the way we serve Hashem is not so much like the head, with deep understanding, rather similar to the feet, that will go and do things that the head will never do. The feet symbolize serving Hashem through self sacrifice, which is the calling of the last generation before the coming of Moshiach, our generation. They will be like a deer's feet, which can go far with ease. Meaning, that Hashem will give us the strength to win this war and end the exile, with ease. 

"And He will lead me on high places," meaning, that we will be lifted to the highest levels, when Moshiach comes. 

"To the Choirmaster (lamnatzeach)." Lamnatzeach could also mean, "to the victor," which in this case will be Hashem and the Jewish people. "With my songs," is our song, as we will break out in song, as it says about the coming of Moshiach, "And there we will sing a new song." 

May we merit to rejoice, just as Habakkuk did, with the coming of Moshiach. May it happen soon. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Active Involvement

In memory of 
Mendy Klein OBM
who passed away this week. He was an amazing person and a great Baal Tzedaka. Dina and I will miss you. May his family be consoled. 
Print      Behar       Bechukosai
In parshas Behar, the Torah says, that when giving a loan to a fellow Jew, one shouldn't charge interest, and it concludes, "I Am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt... to be for you as G-d."

The Sifra explains, "From here, (our sages) said, 'Whoever accepts the yoke of (not taking) interest, accepts the yoke of Heaven, and whoever removes the yoke (and takes) interest, removes the yoke of Heaven... for anyone who admits to the mitzvah of (not taking) interest, admits to the Exodus from Egypt, and anyone who denies (and takes) interest, denies the Exodus from Egypt.'"

What is it about the mitzvah of (not taking) interest, that it is specifically connected to accepting the yoke of Heaven, and the Exodus from Egypt?

Rashi explains the connection between taking interest and the Exodus from Egypt. That just as by the Exodus, Hashem differentiated between a firstborn and a non-firstborn, so too, He knows when someone lends his own money with interest, claiming that the money belongs to a non-Jew.

The difficulty we remain with, is that Rashi's explanation is only on a specific circumstance, that he claims that the money belongs to a non-Jew. However, from the Sifra it seems that taking interest, in any situation, is a denial of the Exodus. How is the general idea of charging interest a denial of the Exodus?

It is also strange to equate the taking of interest to throwing off one's yoke of Heaven, instead, it seems to be more of a lack of trust in Hashem. He is afraid that if he doesn't invest all of his money, he won't have enough. On the other hand, one who lends money to another Jew without any gain, displays a great trust in Hashem, because he is showing that he is certain that Hashem will take care of him, even without that money invested. Why does taking interest equate with throwing off one's yoke of Heaven?

Accepting the yoke of Heaven expresses itself mostly in the performance of mitzvahs. Why do you do a mitzvah? Because Hashem said so. That is the simple definition of accepting the yoke of Heaven. When you do a mitzvah this way, Hashem participates in your mitzvah. That is one of the reasons why we say in the blessing before a mitzvah, "He sanctified us with His commandments," and not "the commandments," they are His, because He does them. How does this work?

There are two ways. First, there is when Hashem does the mitzvah before us, as our sages say, "What He does, He tells Yisrael to do." Then there is when Hashem does a mitzvah as a result of a Jew doing a mitzvah, as our sages say, "Whoever reads the Torah, Hashem reads and responds opposite him." The same is true about every mitzvah.

The fact that we effect above, doesn't mean that we are in some way comparable to Hashem, of course we are not, as nothing is. So why do we effect above? It is only that Hashem wanted it to be that way, so it is. But we have to ask: Why does Hashem want our service to Him, to have an effect above?

To understand this, we first have to answer a more general question. Why does Hashem want us to serve Him at all? One of the reasons Hashem created the world, is "In order to do good to his creations," because it is "His nature to do good." If so, why doesn't He just fill our needs without our service to Him, from the top down, according to his nature?

Because of His nature to do good, He would want us to feel good about what we receive from Him, to feel like we earned it, no one feels satisfied with a hand out. When you get something that is not earned, it is called "bread of shame." Hashem has us serve Him, so that we earn what we receive from Him.

Now that we understand why Hashem has us serve Him, we will also understand why our service effects above. When we do work, we only feel good about it, when it is meaningful, when it actually accomplishes something. If someone were to give you meaningless busy work, a boondoggle, in order to give you a paycheck, it doesn't feel good either. It is still bread of shame, because you know that it is a hand out. Hashem made our service make a real difference above, so that it would be truly satisfying and meaningful.

Another reason that Hashem had our service make a real difference, is because work that accomplishes nothing is not satisfying.

There was a landowner that loved the motion of a sickle being swung in the field. So he hired a peasant to swing his sickle in his room for the same pay he would receive in the field. After a short while, the peasant quit, saying, "I don't see any accomplishment."

Therefore, Hashem set things up in a way, that our service effects above. This makes our service more enjoyable and gratifying. It also helps us overcome the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, knowing how much our service to Hashem accomplishes, we are strengthened and are able to win the battle.

Now that we know how we affect the world with each particular mitzvah that we do, there is also the general concept of how we effect above, symbolized by the mitzvah of (not taking) interest.

What is interest? It is making a profit off money that you once had, now it is in the borrowers possession, but you are still making money on it. You are not involved at all, but you are taking the profit. It is different than an investor who risks his capital, and gains and loses with the success of the venture. When one takes interest, he is not involved.

Hashem treats us, as we treat others. If we give loans with interest, meaning, that we are not involved, Hashem in turn, will not participate in our mitzvahs, which is what happens when we accept the yoke of Heaven. Now that one charged interest, he threw off the yoke of Heaven, and Hashem doesn't participate in his mitzvahs.

This will help us understand the connection between taking interest, and the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus represents becoming free of all restraints. When we accept the yoke of Heaven, Hashem becomes our partner in our service. When you have Hashem as your partner, you are freed of all restraints, you are free from your Egypts.

This is a lesson for us. It is not enough what you have done in the past. Even if you established great ongoing things. You have to be an active participant in the world in your relationships, and in the good things you have established already. You shouldn't think, "I have already done my work, teaching others to run the Torah institutions and the chesed organizations, I will now be involved in my own growth and my own pursuits, and I will enjoy the residual income of my past involvement in spreading Torah and doing kindness." In a small way, this is akin to taking interest. Rather, one should continue to be involved, and the reward for this, is Hashem will be his partner, his life will be filled with blessing and he will be freed of all restraints.

In the merit of our involvement in spreading Torah and doing kindness, we will surely break free from the restraints of this exile, and hasten the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Jewish Beauty

Photo by Inga Barsky
Dear friends, 

Dina and I are so grateful to Hashem that our daughter Fruma is engaged to Levi Karp. Here is what I wrote in honor of their engagement. The dvar Torah is in regular font, and the personal message to the new couple is in italics. 


Baruch Hashem, I am here to see my daughter Fruma get engaged, and to a wonderful bochur, from a wonderful family. 

Mazal Tov to the Karps and the Glicks, and to the Hurwitzes and Berkowitzes, Baruch Hashem, this is a match made in heaven. And now, if there was someone in Lubavitch that you weren't related to yet, you can be certain that you are now. 

You are getting engaged in the week of Behar-Bechukosai. 

You may ask, what does Behar-Bechukosai have to do with shidduchim?

The last Mishnah of maseches Taanis, talks about shidduchim. It tells about Tu B'Av, when the eligible girls of Yerushalayim would dress in white and dance in the Vineyards. They would say to the boys, "Bochur, lift up your eyes and see, what will you choose for yourself? Don't look at beauty, look at family. Charm is false and beauty is futile, a woman who is G-d-fearing is to be praised."

The Rebbe asks, "Was it possible, that every maiden in Yerushalayim came from a good family, that she would be able to say, look at my family?"

The question becomes stronger, when you see what the Talmud says next. It brings a beraisa that details what exactly the young ladies said. The pretty ones said, "look at beauty." The ones with yichus said, "look at family." The homely ones said, "take your pick for the sake of heaven."

The beraisa seems to be contradicting the Mishnah, the Mishnah seems to put everyone in one boat, "look at family," but the beraisa says that they said details. Also, it seems very vain and shallow of the pretty ones, to say, "look at beauty." Is that a Jewish value? And how does it fit with the wholesome message of the Mishnah, that "Charm is false and beauty is futile?"

There are two approaches when it comes to viewing the qualities of a person. You can take a general view of a person, or you can look at the details.

In the general view, you see a Jewish girl, a daughter of our matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, who inherited their beautiful qualities. Even though they might be hidden at the moment, you know that they are there, and that eventually they will surely surface. The Mishnah is talking about this general view, that is why it says, "Lift up your eyes and see," because he is taking a general view. And when it says, "Charm is false and beauty is futile," it is referring to shallow beauty and shallow Charm.

The beraisa is talking about a detailed view, after he already has seen the general view. The girls of Yerushalayim are talking about meaningful Jewish virtues. Why is she beautiful, because she took the beautiful inheritance that she got from Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, and made them her own. Therefore, she is truly beautiful on the inside, and when you are beautiful on the inside, it comes out on the outside, that is Jewish beauty worth mentioning. That is not false and not futile.

In other words, if you accept the gifts that are your inheritance and make them your own, then the details have value. Real beauty and real family in the light of Torah, in the light of Yiddishkeit, and Chassidus. However, if you only have the details without making the inheritance your own, it is empty beauty, false and futile.

This brings us to Behar-Bechukosai. Behar is a mountain, tall, strong and beautiful, it is the details. Bechukosai is our essence, our inheritance, the Torah. If you make the Bechukosai, the Torah your own, then the Behar, the details are of value. But if you only have the Behar, the details, it is a pretty rock, with no Yiddishe taam and no Jewish value.

We are blessed to have Fruma and Levi, who have it all. They know where they come from, the Karps the Glicks the Hurwitzes and the Berkowitzes, who have amazing virtues, they are honest, kind, giving, talented, strong, learned, smart and chassidish, to name a few. And you both are internalizing them. It is wonderful to see such an amazing couple coming together, just keep it up. Make Hashem proud, and the Rebbe proud, and you will certainly make us and all klal Yisrael proud. 

And to my Fruma, you come from a long line of great, smart, kind, and strong women, who made a difference. I see that in you. Take a lesson from your mother and from Levi's mother, who are both truly beautiful because they internalized it. And since they are beautiful on the inside, they are beautiful on the outside as well. 

You have it in you to be like them and even better. 

Mazal Tov! Mazal Tov!