Thursday, May 25, 2017

We Are Hashem's Bride

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The Haftora for parshas Bamidbar is from the book of Hoshea (Hosea), it is a prophecy about the time of Moshiach. It begins by telling us that when Moshiach comes, we will be so many, that we will be uncountable and that the two kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael will unite under one king. Then it tells us how we have strayed, worshipping other deities, thinking that they will provide our needs. How we will be punished for straying from Hashem, yet in the end we will come to our senses, return to Hashem and we will realize that everything we ever had was really from Him. Then Hashem will renew His bond with us and we will be connected forever.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Bamidbar speaks about counting the Jewish people, and it tells how the Jewish camp was organized in the desert, united around the Mishkan. Similarly the Haftora begins with the count of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes and says that we will unite under one king.

However, that is all covered in the first two verses of the Haftora. How does the rest of the Haftora connect?

Bamidbar is always read before Shavuoth, so there is a connection between the time of the year and the parsha. As we will soon see, the whole Haftora connects to Shavuoth.

The Haftora begins, "And the number of the Children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea which can neither be measured nor counted, and it will be, that in the place that it was said to them, 'you are not My nation,' will be said to them, 'children of the Living G-d.'"

There is a question that is asked on this verse. It starts off with "And the number of the Children of Israel will be," as if they could be counted as a finite number, and it continues to say that they "can neither be measured nor counted," which means infinite. How can they be both finite and infinite?

Another question. Why does it say that "in the place" that it was said to them, you are not My nation, will be said to them, children of the Living G-d? The words "in the place" seem  to mean "instead," so why say, "in the place?"

Hashem is infinite and the world is finite, but being that everything is from Him, and He is infinite, we must conclude that everything is really infinite, only that in order to have a functioning world, Hashem covered himself so that the world appears finite.

In Jewish law when a person covers his head with his hand, it is not considered covered, because his hand is part of him.

So when Hashem covers His infinite Self, in order that the world will appear finite, it is as if he is covering Himself with a part of Himself, which is not really a cover at all. This means that even what appears to us as finite is really infinite.

The next verse says, "The Children of Yehuda and the Children of Yisrael will gather together and they will appoint for themselves (Moshiach as their) one head and they will go up from the land (to Israel), for great is the day of Yizrael." The meaning of this verse is clear, that we will unite as one under Moshiach and return to our Holy Land. But what is "the day of Yizrael?" And how does it connect to the theme of the Haftora?

This is the lesson we learn from these verses. We are infinite in finite, a Neshama in a body, and our job is to reveal the infinite in the finite. How do we do this? By doing mitzvahs. Even though mitzvahs seem finite, as there are 613 biblical and 7 rabbinical mitzvahs, and each one is connected to a physical object, time, place and there are exact laws of how to perform them, but being that they are Hashem's will, they are in essence truly infinite. A mitzvah is Hashem planting His infinite Self into the finite physical object and when we perform the mitzvah we are revealing the infinite in the finite.

Now we can understand, how on one hand we are finite and on the other we are infinite, because the essence of a Jew, is to reveal the infinite in the finite.

Now the words, "in the place," begin to make sense. Because in the same exact place, this physical world, that we were perceived as "not My nation," meaning finite, we will be seen as "the children of the Living G-d," which is infinite.

The words, "great is the day of Yizrael," also become clear. Yizrael is made up of two words, Yizra E-L, which means Hashem planted. When Moshiach comes we will clearly see how Hashem planted Himself into creation, infinite into finite. The day will be great, meaning that there won't be anymore darkness, everything will be clear. We will see the infinite in the finite, the light hidden in the darkness. We will see how all the pain, suffering and the darkness of the exile, was actually a great light in disguise, and how our efforts in overcoming the difficulties were the actual acts that brought Moshiach.

It all began with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. When Hashem Himself descended on the mountain, infinite into, finite to give us the Torah. It was the first time infinite and finite were experienced as one and it was teaching us the purpose of our mission, to reveal G-dliness down here in the physical world, the infinite in the finite.

The Haftora continues to tell us, how we strayed like an unfaithful wife, hoping to gain from our relationships with other countries and from false deities, instead of putting our trust, and faith in Hashem. It describes how we will return to Him and recognize that He is the only One we could truly rely on, and that everything we ever had was actually from Him. All this is meant to bring us to the part of the Haftora, where Hashem accepts us and renews His bond with us.

The Haftora concludes with Hashem telling us, "I will betroth you (Li) to Me forever, and I will betroth you (Li) to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion. And I will betroth you (Li) to Me with belief, and you will know Hashem." Why doesn't it just say that I will betroth you to Me forever with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion and belief? Why is it divided into three statements? Why does He say "Li, to Me?" Isn't that obvious from the words, "I will betroth you?"

There are two parts to a Jewish marriage ceremony, the betrothal and the chupa. In the betrothal, the groom gives the bride the ring and by her acceptance she becomes his betrothed, no one else can have her hand in marriage. Then you have the chupa and the blessings that go with it, the consummation of the marriage, and they begin to live as husband and wife. Although we do them together nowadays, that wasn't always the case. The common custom in days gone by was to have the betrothal, and about a year later the chupa. The year in between was like an engagement period, she was already considered married, except that they weren't living together.

In the Haftora narrative, Hashem is the groom and we, the Jewish people, are the bride. This betrothal was at the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, and it will be a completed marriage when Moshiach comes. The words, "I will betroth you," are written in the singular, similar to the Ten Commandments which were said in the singular. When Hashem said, "I Am the Lord your G-d," every one felt that Hashem was speaking to him or her personally. The same is true here, Hashem is betrothing each of us personally.

There is a rule that whenever Hashem says Li, it means that it will never change. So our betrothed status is everlasting, nothing can change it. You may ask, but when Moshiach comes, the marriage will be complete, in other words, we will not be betrothed anymore, so how can you say that it won't change?

There is something special about the engagement or betrothal period, the way the groom treats his bride is extra endearing and precious. The verses are saying that even after the completion of the marriage, Hashem will continue to treat us in the special way, usually reserved for the engagement period.

What is the reason he wants to betroth us? For this there are three reasons, based on the three statements of betrothal. "I will betroth you to Me (leolam) forever," refers to one who has a deep understanding of Hashem, and is able to connect at the highest levels.

However, not everybody can reach this level, this is where "I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion," comes to play. These are connecting to Hashem on an emotional level and through actions, like giving tzedaka, correcting bad traits, doing acts of kindness and compassion.

Then there are those that are emotionally and monetarily poor. They have nothing to give. For them Hashem says, "I will betroth you to Me with belief," Emuna. Every Jew believes, we are "believers the children of believers," as we have seen that even Jews that were not observant, have sacrificed themselves rather than break their connection with Hashem.

Now, at the end of the exile, the main way to connect to Hashem is through Emuna, belief. About Moshe it says, "And the man, Moshe was the humblest of any person that was on the face of the earth." Why was he so humbled? Because he saw our generation, the generation that would bring Moshiach, how void of understanding or even emotional connection we will be, yet our Emuna would be so strong. This humbled him.

Our great Emuna is a key to bringing Moshiach. May we merit to experience the last words of the Haftora, "and you will know Hashem," the completion of our marriage, when we will see the infinite in the finite, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Dedicated to my wonderful daughter Mussie who is celebrating her Bas mitzvah this week. May Hashem be with you always and may your smile keep shining lighting up the world around you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Strength Trust Hope And Healing

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The Haftora for parshas Bechukosai (and Behar-Bechukosai when they are together), is from the book of Yirmyahu. In it you will find a prayer, prophecy, words of rebuke and warning about not putting our trust in Hashem and not keeping the sabbatical years. But you also find words of hope, trust in Hashem, and healing.

The connection to our parsha(s), is that Bechukosai (and Behar-Bechukosai) speaks of the sabbatical year, that we can trust that Hashem will provide for us in the years that our fields lay fallow. Blessing will be showered upon us for trusting in Hashem and keeping the sabbatical years, and punishment for not keeping them.

The Haftora begins with Yirmyahu saying, "Hashem is my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in times of trouble."  The opening words of the Haftora, in essence, is the central message of the Haftora. Hashem is always there for us, especially in times of trouble, all we need to do, is trust in Him.

Of course the consequences for not trusting in Hashem is clearly defined in the Haftora. When we put our trust in people or in ourselves, thinking that it is my abilities and strength that will take care of me, and we forget that everything we have and will have is from Hashem, we will inevitably fail.

The Haftora describes this with the words, "Cursed is the man (gever), who puts his trust in man (adam), relying on (mortal) flesh for strength, and turns his heart away from Hashem." The basic meaning of the verse is understood, that putting our trust in man is futile. But why does the verse use two different names, gever and adam, to say "man?" 

Gever refers to physical and emotional strength of man. Adam refers to the intelligent and spiritual makeup of man.

The verse is telling us a deeper message here. When someone thinks that his gever, his emotional strength, comes from his "adam," his intellect and because he has a great soul. It becomes a slippery slope. Eventually he will be "relying on flesh for strength," meaning, that he will convince himself that his emotional strength comes because he has a highly refined body. He thinks so highly of his body and soul, that he doesn't think that he needs to work on himself. He becomes locked in his ego, and he "turns his heart away from Hashem."

This teaches us that even one who is learned and at a high spiritual level has to continue working on himself to get closer to Hashem.

When he thinks that he has reached the top and he doesn't have to work on himself anymore, he is locking himself away from Hashem, and he is alone by his own doing.

The Haftora continues, "Blessed is the man who puts his trust in Hashem, and Hashem will be his trustee. And he will be like a tree planted by the water, who sends its roots into the rivulet, it is not affected when the heat comes and its leaves remain green, it doesn't worry in a year of famine, and it doesn't stop producing fruit."

The contrast here is clear, putting our trust in Hashem and recognizing that it is all from Him, is a path to continuous growth and blessing in our lives.

The Haftora continues to say that it is silly to think, "who will know" where my trust is? Hashem knows! Or to be dishonest, because it will be found out, you will lose the dishonest gain and "you will be (exposed) as a scoundrel."

Now the Haftora concludes, "Hashem is Israel's hope, all who abandon You will be ashamed, those who turn away from Me will be inscribed into the earth, because they abandoned the source of living waters, Havaya (Hashem). Heal me and I will heal, save me and I will be saved, because You are my praise."

Why does it call our connection with Hashem, the source of living waters? How does the second verse about healing and saving fit in? Why the double expression, heal me and I will heal, save me and I will be saved? How do the words "because you are  my praise" fit in this verse?

We have to realize that Hashem is our hope, and when we forget that, it is separating ourselves from the source of living waters, which is a spiritual illness. That is where the second verse comes in, it is explaining the process of healing this spiritual illness through Teshuva.

First, we have to understand what the illness is and then it can be healed. The illness is understood through the metaphor of "abandoning the source of living waters."

Living waters is another name for a natural spring of fresh water. Spring water goes through three stages after it comes out of its source. The first stage is flowing down the stream or river to the sea. In this stage the water is revealed. In the second stage the water flows underground in various channels making its way to the spring. In this stage the water is hidden. The final stage is when it breaks out of the ground, again revealed. These three stages signify the stages of Hashem's creative energy coming into the world, from his name Havaya, the source.

The first kind of existence is in the spiritual realm know in Kabbalistic teaching as the world of Briya (Creation). Being that it is the first step of creation ex nihilo (from nothing to something), it is full of G-dliness, therefore, the existence isn't a complete existence. The angels of the world of Briya, called Serafim, are angels of great wisdom. Since they experience their source, Havaya, they are totally nullified in His presence. They therefore say, "Holy holy holy Havaya of hosts." They also understand that our part is the most important, as we fill the world with G-dliness by learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. And so they say, "the whole Earth is full of His glory." Since Briya is filled with G-dliness, the experience in that world is a revealed one, just like the river going to the sea.

The second realm is the world of Yetzira (Formation). In this world the existence is a total existence, it doesn't experience Havaya, because it is creating something from something. Its source is totally hidden, therefore the experience in the world of Yetzira is hidden.

The final realm is where we are, the world of Assiya (Action). As mentioned earlier, our job is to reveal G-dliness down here through learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. The revelation that we can accomplish is far greater than the world of Briya, because mitzvahs are rooted in a higher place, in the source itself, prior to Briya, in Hashem's essence. So the experience in Assiya, is of the essence of Havaya breaking out and being revealed in the world.

By studying Torah and doing mitzvahs, we are not only drawing living waters, but we are drawing from the source of living waters, Hashem's essence prior to existence. And we fill the world with this great revelation, greater than any angel could.

When a Jewish person has fallen to a spiritual low, where he is not learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, he has abandoned the source of living waters. He is spiritually ill.

How does he become healed?  Hashem takes the first step, "Heal me Hashem," an inspiration from above. Now that he is inspired, his job is to do Teshuva from his own effort, "and I will heal." And in this way he reconnects with the source.

How far will this connection go? That is where the praise comes in. Praise is an amazing thing. When you praise someone, you bring out strengths and abilities in that person, that are hidden inside, that he never knew he had. Praise is even more powerful, it could bring new strengths and abilities which are beyond the person being praised. By praising Hashem, we are able to draw G-dliness from a place beyond our abilities. Not only do we reconnect, but we connect deeper than we could have imagined.

Writing this article was very meaningful to me, because it is about Hashem being our strength and refuge, and it is about trust, hope in Hashem and healing. Somehow, writing about these things strengthens these ideas in me and I am grateful.

By putting our hope and trust in Hashem, He becomes our strength, our refuge, and the One we can rely on. We bring blessing in our lives and spiritual healing, which brings physical healing beyond anything we could imagine.

May we all find the strength to weather this exile and overcome every challenge, knowing that Hashem is always with us. And may we merit the coming of Moshiach soon. The time has come.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Giving The First To Hashem

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The Haftora for parshas Emor, is prophecy from our prophet Yechezkel about the Third Temple. It tells us who will be the Kohanim and laws pertaining to the Kohanim, from how their hair should be cut, to whom they could marry. They need to be pillars of the community, teaching laws of purity and impurity, and settling disputes. They don't receive a portion of the land, their portion is the great honor of serving Hashem in the Temple, which is reserved for them and no one else. It tells us that everything that we consecrate to Hashem, goes to the Kohanim. It continues to say, that we should give Hashem our first fruits and the first of our dough, the mitzvah of challah, which is given to the Kohanim, and that it will bring blessing to the home. It closes by saying that the Kohanim should be careful not to eat from a neveila, which is an animal that died without kosher slaughter, or from a treifa, an animal that wouldn't have lived through the year.

The connection to our parsha, is that parshas Emor begins with many of these laws pertaining to the Kohanim, Including the last one about not eating from neveila or a treifa. Emor concludes with the holidays, and even though they are not discussed in the Haftora, they are mentioned in the laws of the Kohanim.

The Haftora begins with, "And the Kohanim the Leviim." Why are the Kohanim called Leviim? Who will serve as the Kohanim in the Third Temple? "

The simple explanation, is that it means, the Kohanim which are from the tribe of Levi.

The Arizal says that today's leviim will become Kohanim when Moshiach comes. However this brings up some questions. In the Yom Tov Mussaf prayer, we say about Moshiach's times, "The Kohanim will return to their services, and the Leviim to their singing and music playing." On top of that, the Rambam tells us that the Torah won't change when Moshiach comes. So how could the Leviim become Kohanim?

The answer is, that the souls of leviim will be born to Kohanim. You may ask, "If they are born to Kohanim, then they are not Leviim anyway, so what is the meaning of the Leviim becoming Kohanim?

To understand this, you first have to understand the difference between the nature of the Kohen and his soul, and a Levi and his soul.

The nature of a Kohen is to be a "man of kindness," to be giving. The idea of his Temple service, was to draw down G-dliness to the people. They could do this because their souls came from the attribute of water. Just as the nature of water is to go down from the highest to the lowest place and give its sustenance, so was the job of a Kohen, to draw G-dliness from above to the world below, filling the people with love and awe of Hashem. On the other hand, the nature of a Levi is one of yearning to go higher. Their service was singing and playing music, which created a yearning in others to want to get closer to Hashem. Their souls are from the attribute of fire, always rising, yearning to go up and become one with its source.

The difference between these two types of service, is that when you draw G-dliness down to the people, you inspire them, and for the moment they experience a closeness to Hashem. However when the inspiration wears off, nothing has changed, the people go back to their old selves. On the other hand, when you create a yearning in the people from below, to want to get closer to Hashem, you are creating a yearning in them to really change who they are. This kind of change is everlasting.

Right now, the job of a Kohen is to draw G-dliness down to the people, but when Moshiach comes, that won't be necessary, because the world will be full of G-dliness. The job of the Kohen will become to create a yearning in the people to become even closer to Hashem. Being that it is not in their nature to do that, Hashem will give them souls of Leviim, souls of fire, so it will become their nature.

There is one more opinion of who will be the Kohanim. Originally the first born son of every family, was meant to be a Kohen. But because they took part in the sin of the golden calf, it was taken away from them, and given to the tribe of Levi. When Moshiach comes, there will no longer be any trace of the sin of the golden calf left in the world. That will once again create an opening for first borns to become Kohanim. But didn't we say that the Kohanim will continue to be Kohanim? How could the first borns become the Kohanim?

At first the Kohanim and Leviim will be serving in the Temple as will be expected with no change to the normal order of things. However, after a while this question will arise, and will have to be dealt with.

About the Kohanim, Hashem says, "They will draw near to Me to serve Me, and they will stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood." Each of us is considered a small Temple, and we are the Kohen of our Temple. What are we meant to learn from offering fat and blood? When a sacrifice was brought, first the blood was sprinkled and then the fat was offered, why is the order here reversed, first fat and then blood?

Aside for being a Temple and a Kohen, we are meant to offer ourselves to Hashem. The main parts of any offering was the blood and the fat. Blood is the life force of a person, bringing vital oxygen and nutrients to every organ of the body. It represents one's passion and vibrance, and the necessities of life. Fat represents pleasure, and the things we do, not out of necessity, but because we want to.

To be an offering to Hashem, you don't have to give up your entire existence, rather, you only have to give your blood and fat. Meaning, to put your passion and energy and have pleasure in what Hashem wants, into your Judaism. Another explanation, is to put passion into your obligations to Hashem, which is Torah and mitzvahs. And even when it comes to other things that are not obligations, you can do them for Hashem as well. For example, you could eat, do business, exercise, etc., for the pleasure they will afford you, or you can do them because they will help you serve Hashem better. That is giving your fat to Hashem.

Fat is mentioned first, because if your pleasure is for Hashem, then it is certain that everything else is for Him. Since your actions will automatically follow your desires.

After the Haftora tells the laws pertaining to the Kohanim, it turns to us and says, "All first fruits of every kind, and every kind of Teruma from all the Teruma that you (are required to) give will go to the Kohanim, and you should give the first portion of your dough to the Kohen, so that blessing will rest upon your home."

This teaches us that the first of everything should go to Hashem. Not only the first fruits, and the first part of your dough, but even other things, like the first hours of your day, should be given to Hashem through prayer and Torah study. And the first years of a child's life should be given to Hashem, by giving him or her a Jewish education. When you give the first to Hashem, you ensure that He is the focus of your life, that causes Hashem to be with you, and where Hashem is, that is where the blessing is.

And all this is symbolized by the mitzvah of challah, separating a piece of dough for Hashem. Dough, which becomes bread, is symbolic of sustenance and wealth. It is also what we eat, nurturing not only the physical body, but our spiritual makeup as well. The spiritual can only be nourished by something holy. By doing the mitzvah of challah we make our bread holy, in turn it nourishes us physically and spiritually, bringing us closer to Hashem.

This mitzvah is done primarily by Jewish women. It was given to them, because they are the ones who bring blessing to their homes and they are the ones who nourish the bodies and the souls of their families.

By giving Hashem our first, our passion, our pleasure, and especially through the mitzvah of challah, we will merit to become a "Kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation." And we will soon see the Kohanim serving in the Third Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Supporting The Fallen

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The Haftora for parshas Acharei (and Acharei-Kedoshim when they are together) is prophecy from our prophet Amos.

Hashem says that we are to Him like the children of Cush, Ethiopia, and how he took us out of Egypt. Then He speaks of the destruction of the sinful kingdom, meaning the kingdom of Efraim, the Ten Northern Tribes, but He promises, that He will not wipe out the house of Yaakov. This is Hashem's guarantee that we will always remain as the Jewish people, through the exile. He continues to say that He will spread us among all the nations, but we will remain Jewish, "just as a pebble shakes back and fourth in a sieve, but does not fall to the ground." Meaning, though we will bounce around the whole world, we will retain our connection to Hashem.

Now the Haftora starts to speak of what it will be like when the redemption will come. The two Jewish kingdoms will be united under the rebuilt monarchy of David, as it once was. The nations that wished to destroy us, will instead serve us. There will be an abundance of food. Our destroyed cities will be rebuilt, and we will inhabit them and never be uprooted ever again.

The connection to parshas Acharei (and Acharei-Kedoshim when they are together), is that the parsha(s) tell us, that if we will act in the sinful and debase manner of the Egyptians or the Canaanite nations that were in Israel before us, we will be spit out of the land, into exile. Similarly the Haftora tells us that because of our sins, Hashem will spread us among all the nations.

Most of the Haftora is complementary towards the Jewish people and about the redemption. The same is true about the parshas.

Acharei tells us about the service of Yom Kippur, which was done in the holiest place, on the holiest day, and by the holiest person, the Kohen Gadol. It is a day of atonement and forgiveness, bringing us closer to Hashem. The laws found in this parsha, are to retain this level of holiness and closeness.

Kedoshim, is all about us being holy, we are meant to be a holy and distinguished nation. However, parshas Kedoshim takes a different approach, telling us laws of honesty, respect, purity and decency as a way of being holy and getting closer to Hashem.

Acharei speaks to a Tzadik who is at the level of Yom Kippur. Kedoshim is speaking to us who think, "I am not a Tzadik, what do you expect of me?" Kedoshim is saying that there is holiness to be found in honesty, respect, purity and decency. The fact that most years Acharei and Kedoshim are read together is to teach us that these two paths to Hashem are actually one. If you start with honesty, respect, purity and decency, you will eventually reach the holiness of Yom Kippur.

Why does Hashem say that we are to Him like the children of Cush, Ethiopia? The first time this term is used is in the Torah, about Moshe's wife Tzipora it says, "The Cushite woman that he married ." Rashi explains that she wasn't from Ethiopia, rather it was a term used to say that she was very beautiful.

In our verse Rashi explains it in a negative context. Hashem is explaining why he will  be punishing the Ten Northern Tribes. It is a reference to a verse in Yirmyahu, "Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard its spots? So will you be able to improve." Meaning, that even if you say that you will repent, it won't be believed.

Others explain it in a positive light, that Hashem is explaining why He made us His nation upon the Exodus from Egypt, mentioned later in the verse. Ethiopians are known to be very loyal, so too, we will serve Hashem for eternity. Even more, because of the color of their skin, Ethiopians stand out. So too, we will always stand out as Hashem's people, no matter where we are. Being that we weren't afraid to stand out, and we didn't intermarry throughout our 210 years in Egypt, when the time for the Exodus came, we were clearly recognized as the Jewish people, Hashem's nation.

The Haftora turns to the subject of Moshiach. Hashem says, "On that day, I will erect David's fallen sukka." What is David's fallen sukka?

The simple meaning is that the kingdom of David will be reestablished.

The Talmud tells us that Moshiach is called "bar Nafli," the son of the nofel, fallen. A nofel is a child that dies before turning the age of one month. Why is Moshiach called "bar Nafli?" because David, who is the father of Moshiach, was supposed to die after three hours of life. However, Hashem showed Adam all the people who would come from him. When he saw that David would only live three hours, he gave up 70 years of his own life to David. Nofel, fallen, is hinted to in the words, "David's fallen sukka."

On a deeper level, David's fallen sukka refers to us, the Jewish people, who from the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, until the end of the First Temple era, had a close and open relationship with Hashem. It was a face to face relationship, meaning, that we experienced Hashem openly. But now we have fallen into exile, where we don't experience a face to face relationship with Hashem, it is only with great effort that we feel anything at all.

On an even deeper level, it refers to the Shechina, which went with us into exile. Meaning that instead of the Shechina affecting us from above, inspiring us, as it did before the exile. Now the Shechina is found in the most physical things, and it is up to us to uncover the G-dliness through our Torah and mitzvahs.

And now at the end of the exile, the main way to release the Shechina and ourselves from the exile, is through the mitzvah of tzedaka of which our great sages said, "Israel will be redeemed only through tzedaka." Even though our sages equated tzedaka with Torah study, it was at a time when we had the great sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud, but our Torah study today is not at the level that can equal the mitzvah of tzedaka. And being that now we are at the end and the darkest part of the exile, the Shechina is found in the absolute lowest realms of the physical world, the only way to access it is through physical action, physical mitzvahs, and mainly the mitzvah of tzedaka.

The prayer of Ashrei that we recite three times a day, has verses that begin with every letter of the Hebrew Alef Bet, except for the letter Nun. This is because Nun stands for nofelim, the fallen. However if you look closely, you will find that it is included in the next verse, which begins with the next letter, samach. "Somech Hashem l'chol ha'nofelim," "Hashem supports all of the fallen." Instead of having a verse about how we have fallen, we have a verse of how Hashem supports us when we are down. Because especially in the darkness of exile, when we feel so down and lost, Hashem is holding us and supporting us.

May our efforts, especially in doing the mitzvah of tzedaka, bring the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach, when we will merit to see the prophecies of this Haftora come true. May it happen soon.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sudden Redemption

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The Haftora for parshas Metzorah, and Tazria - Metzorah when they are together, is from the book of Melachim Beis (II Kings), and is part of a string of miracles done by our prophet Elisha.

The setting of the Haftora is that Ben Hadad, the king of Aram, gathered his whole army and laid siege around the city of Shomron (Samaria), the Capital of the Northern Tribes. Aram didn't allow food into the city, and the people were starving. King Achav wanted to kill Elisha, because he was certain that Elisha could do something about the situation, by praying to Hashem, and he wasn't. When he came to Elisha, the prophet told him, that by this time tomorrow, a se'ah of flour will sell for a shekel, and two se'ahs of barley will sell for a shekel. The kings officer scoffed at the words of Elisha, "Even if Hashem made windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?" The prophet told him, "You will see it with your eyes, but you will not eat of it.

In the Haftora of parshas Tazria, we read about how Elisha miraculously cured Naaman, the commander of Aram's army, from Tzaraas, a skin ailment. Elisha refused to take any payment, but his servant Gaychazi chased after Naaman and took his money. Elisha told Gaychazi, that because of what he did, he would now be afflicted with Naaman's Tzaraas.

The Haftora opens with four Metzorahs (a Metzorah, is someone afflicted with Tzaraas), they were Gaychazi and his three sons. 

The four Metzorahs were outside the city, because a Metzorah is not permitted to go into the city. They reasoned, there is no food in the city, so there's no use going there, and staying here is futile because we will starve to death. Let's go to Aram's camp, maybe there we could get something to eat. When they came to the camp, it was deserted. Hashem made a miracle, they heard sounds of a great army descending upon them, and they panicked. Aram left everything behind and fled.

This was an opportunity for Gaychazi to do Teshuva, by not taking Aram's loot for himself as he took Naaman's money earlier. At first he made a move for the money, but then he came to his senses. 

The Metzorahs went and notified the guards at the city's gate, who notified the king. The king had some riders check it out and when they confirmed that it was true, the people went out and found so much food in the camp, that a se'ah of flour sold for a shekel, and two se'ahs of barley sold for a shekel, just as Elisha said.

The king's officer who scoffed at the words of Elisha, was appointed to stand by the city's gate. In their haste the officer was trampled by the people who were rushing to get food, and he died. He saw the food but couldn't eat from it, just as Elisha said.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Metzorah, and Tazria - Metzorah speak about the Metzorah. The Haftora tells the story of the four Metzorahs. And the comparison teaches us, that even in the case of a Metzorah, there is good to be found and accomplished.

The theme of the Haftora is the miraculous sudden change from darkness and captivity to light and redemption. And this is a lesson to us, that Moshiach will also come suddenly and miraculously.

Most years Tazria and Metzorah are read together, and when they are, this Haftora is read. Metzorah speaks about the purification process of the Metzorah, which could be seen as a redemption. It also tells us, that when Tzaraas afflicted a house, the effected area had to be knocked down. Rashi tells us, that the Emorites hid their valuables in the walls of their homes, and when we conquered them, Hashem put Tzaraas on the walls that had treasures hidden in them. When the walls were demolished, the hidden treasures would be revealed. This can be seen as a redemption as well. 

However, Tazria speaks about pregnancy and birth, and then it goes into the details of diagnosis of a Metzorah. We must conclude that somehow Tazria is also about redemption. How is this possible?

In the Talmud there is a discussion about Moshiach. The rabbis say that he is the Metzorah of the House of Rebbe. Here we see another connection between a Metzorah and Moshiach.

As mentioned above, Tazria speaks about pregnancy and birth. This exile is compared to a pregnancy, the suffering we endure is the pain associated with pregnancy. Now, at the end of the exile, it has become unbearable, this is the pain of labor. But soon Moshiach will come, like a baby that is born, we realize that it was all worth it. Redemption.

Tazria means to plant. That is what the exile is about. Our hard work, pain and suffering during the exile, is what brings the redemption, when we will reap the fruits of our labor.

The same is true about Tzaraas. Of course Tzaraas is a horrible affliction, which was brought on by speaking badly of another. But getting Tzaraas was not the end, rather it was the beginning of a process of becoming a better person. He would be sent out of the city, and sit alone, which gave him time to think about what he did and work on himself to become a new person. When he was healed, it too was the birth of a new person, and a redemption.

We each have our own ailments to break free from. Working on ourselves to become better is like planting seeds and the reward for your hard work is a personal redemption.

May our efforts to better ourselves, especially in our service to Hashem, by adding in Torah and mitzvahs, bring the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Serve Hashem With Joy

Dancing at Sam and Rebecca Liebermans' wedding.
- Photo by Zalmy Berkowitz
Dear friends,
This is last week's dvar Torah. Unfortunately I was unable to finish it before Shabbos. With Hashem's help, this week's will be out Thursday.
The Haftora for parshas Shemini, tells of how King David had the Aron, the Holy Ark, brought to Yerushalayim. On the way, Uzza, who was walking alongside the wagon that was carrying the Aron, noticed that the oxen pulling it had slipped. He reached for the Aron, worried that it would fall off the wagon, and Hashem took his life, because he should have trusted that Hashem's Aron wouldn't fall.

David stopped the procession, continuing it three months later. This time the Aron was carried, as David realized that putting the Aron on a wagon was a mistake and not allowed. As the Aron proceeded, David danced and leaped before Hashem. His wife Michal, King Shaul's daughter, saw what he was doing and was displeased, thinking that it would cause him to lose the respect of the people.

Chabad and Sefardic communities conclude with the Aron being settled in Yerushalayim, and the celebration that took place. Ashkenazic communities continue with Michal's remarks to David, his response to her, and how David wanted to build the Beis Hamikdash, but Hashem refused this request.

The connection to the parsha is that parshas Shemini speaks of the two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, who died during the inauguration of the Mishkan, making a holy judgment error, just as Uzza did, accompanying the Aron to Yerushalayim.

The Haftora tells us that when the Aron was being carried to the City of David, another name for Yerushalayim, that "David danced joyfully with all his strength before Hashem, and David was dressed in a linen apron." When he entered the City of David it says, "King David leaped and danced joyfully before Hashem." Outside the City of David, it says that he danced joyfully, and he wore a linen apron. Inside the City of David, it says that he leaped as well, and it doesn't make mention of his apron. Why the differences? And what is the meaning of the linen apron?

Later, when Michal rebuked him for his actions, he responded, "Before Hashem, Who chose me over your
father... I would lower myself even further..." Why did he have to say that Hashem chose him over her father?

The Rambam tells us that this apron was different than the Kohen Gadol's Ephod, which was made out of six different threads, gold, turquoise wool, purple wool, red wool, linen and goat hair. This one was made out of just linen. He continues to explain, that the linen apron was worn by the Bnei Haneviim, who were prophets, and by those who were worthy to have the Divine Presence shine on them. It showed that they reached the level of a Kohen Gadol.

The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us, that Nov, which was a city of Kohanim, had 85 Kohanim that wore the linen apron, they weren't Kohanim Gedolim as there can only be one Kohen Gadol, but they were worthy of being one.

One of the ways a prophet readied himself for prophecy, was by sitting alone in meditation, which was usually done outside the city. So it makes sense that when he was still outside the city, he would be wearing the linen apron.

It also makes sense now, why it says that outside the city, "David danced joyfully with all his strength." Because the Divine Presence only rests on someone when he is joyful.

This will also explain why outside the city he only danced, but inside the city he leaped and danced. Because outside the city he danced for a reason, to receive prophecy. Whenever thinking is involved, it curbs the joy. However, when he entered the City of David, his joy was for Hashem, without any personal reason or personal gain in mind, so his joy was unbridled, hence he leaped and Danced.

This will help us understand David's answer to Michal. According to the Talmud Michal was a very holy woman, she even put on Tefillin.  We must conclude that she meant well, and of course, if you think about it, dancing and leaping may very well cause a king to lose some respect.

This is what David was telling Michal. The reason why Hashem took the rulership away from your father, is because he followed his reasoning, which although it was noble, it was not what Hashem wanted. As we saw with Amalek, although Hashem wanted all Amalek's cattle wiped out, Shaul allowed the best of the cattle to live, to offer them as sacrifices to Hashem.

David, on the other hand, did what Hashem wanted, accepting the Divine yoke, despite what he thought. That is why Hashem made him king, humbling himself before Hashem, was the key to his rulership. Therefore he leaped and danced joyfully, beyond reason.

The Rambam brings the verse, "King David leaped and danced joyfully," as proof that every Jewish person should serve Hashem with great joy. In other words, this verse is a lesson to each of us, that the way of David over the way of Shaul is preferred. For Hashem we have to go beyond our understanding, and one of the ways to break out and get beyond ourselves, is through joy.

And as David concludes saying to Michal, that because of this, "I will be (even more) honored," by the people. Same is true for us, when we serve Hashem, beyond our understanding and with joy, we gain the respect of those around us.

It is true that David was not able to build the Beis Hamikdash, not because he wasn't worthy, but rather because he fought many wars. Yet although he didn't build it, it bears his name, because he was the one who made it possible.

He is also granted, as Hashem said, "Your house and your sovereignty will remain before you forever, your throne will be firmly established forever."

May we merit to see the Third Temple, with the coming of Moshiach, heir to the throne of King David. May it happen soon.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Speak To The Dry Bones

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The Haftora for Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach, is a prophecy from the book of Yechezkel. Hashem took him to a Valley that was full of Dry Bones. He saw how Hashem brought them to life again. This Hashem explained was a message to the Jewish people, that though they feel like dry bones, hopeless and cut off, nevertheless Hashem will revive them out of their graves, in the time of Moshiach.

Why do we read this on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach? Rav Hai Gaon testified, that we have an oral tradition, that the resurrection of the dead will occur in the month of Nissan. But this only explains why it should be read in Nissan. Why read it on Pesach? The people will be resurrected with the dew of Torah, and being that we start praying for dew on Pesach, it is befitting for us to read about the resurrection as well. So now we have a reason to read it on Pesach. But why on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach? The regular Pesach readings are connected to the day they are read on and they are annually recurring themes. The resurrection of the dead, is connected to Nissan and Pesach, however, it will be a one time event, and is therefore not a recurring theme. Being that we don't have Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach every year, it is therefore also non-recurring, making it the perfect time to read this Haftora.

In the Haftora, Yechezkel says, "The hand of Hashem was upon me..., and He placed me in a valley, and it was full of bones, and he passed me over them, around and around, and behold there were very many on the face of the valley, and behold they were very dry." Hashem tells Yechezkel, "Son of man..., prophesy to the bones, and say to them, 'dry bones, listen to the word of Hashem.'"

There is an amazing lesson to be learned from here with regards to spreading the teachings of Torah.

Some mistakenly think about Jewish people who are not involved, that they shouldn't put any energy into trying to teach them Torah, and perhaps even avoid them altogether, because of some rabbi who called them "dry bones."

Dry bones is a euphemism for someone who is void of Torah. In most cases it was out of their control, as they grew up in a home where no Torah or Judaism was taught to them.

Torah is our lifeline, it is compared to water, just as a fish can live without water, so to, a Jew can't live without Torah.

Some have a hard time teaching Torah to such a person. They ask, "When have our ancestors done this? Why should we start a new tradition that was not done in the past? Is this even acceptable? They have no connection to it. Let them first get involved, and when they are somewhat connected, I will start to teach them.

The answer to these questions are found in these verses.

Hashem says to Yechezkel speak to the dry bones, not just dry, but "very dry." And say to them, "listen to the word of Hashem." Who were these dry bones from? Rashi tells us that it was 30,000 from the tribe of Efraim, who left Egypt 30 years before the Exodus, and the Philistines slaughtered them. By leaving early, before Hashem wanted them to, they were going against His Will. It is to these very dry, and going against Hashem's Will kind of people, that Hashem says, to say to them, "listen to the word of Hashem."

One may think, I will find one such person, and concentrate my efforts on him, that way it will be most effective. To this the verse says that there were "very many" dry bones. In other words, focus on many, not just a few.

Now you might ask, "Okay, if they come my way, I will be glad to teach them, but do I have to go out of my way to reach them?" To this the Haftora says that Hashem took Yechezkel into a "valley," a low place. Meaning not only going out to reach them, but even to a place that is void of Torah.

The Haftora now tells us that this strategy will work, as Yechezkel continues, "And I looked, and behold there were sinews upon them..., and then flesh..., and skin covered over them... And the spirit entered them, and they came to life, a very very great multitude." By going about it this way, you will be effective, they will come back to Torah, and not only a few, but a very very great multitude.

The Haftora continues with Hashem telling Yechezkel, that what he just saw is a message to the Jewish people who are saying, "Our bones are dried out, our hope is lost, we are cut off." These are three expressions of hopelessness, each getting progressively worse.

"Our bones are dried out," refers to someone who realizes that he has been living a life void of Torah. Nevertheless he knows that he can always return to Hashem, even after a lifetime without Torah.

"Our hope is lost," refers to someone who thinks that after so many years, "how am I going to change?" This is worse, because he doesn't see the possibility of returning to Hashem. But even in his case, because he still lives among other Jewish people, through their love for another Jew, they will surely have an affect on him, and he will also return.

"We are cut off," refers to the person who has left the Jewish community and because of that, there isn't anyone to have an affect on him. Still, Hashem will find a way to awaken in him an urge to return.

Whatever the case may be, Hashem says, "Behold I will open your graves, and I will take you out of your graves, My nation, and I will bring you to the land of Israel... I will put My spirit in you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your land, and you will know, that I Hashem have spoken and have acted." May it happen soon, the time has come.

Here is what my wife Dina said and wrote about the dry bones. It so meaningful and true. I added it, so you can gain from her wisdom and perspective. 

I often wonder what we will be like when Moshiach comes. I imagine we will be a bunch of dried bones, broken and cracked. Pushed to the brink from all of the challenges we have, and so tired of being brave on the outside when we are so wounded and scared on the inside.

But it's to this very pile of bones that we need to speak. To prophesize about the future and remind us of the good yet to come. To allow our tears to dampen the dryness and to revive our spirit of hope. Sometimes the most vulnerable thing we can do is to open our hearts and minds to hope, despite the reality in front of us.

Be brave and be hopeful. Be honest and be open to the pain and tears of others. We need the tears to dampen our dryness and awaken our bones. The gates of tears are waiting. Let us not focus on how the bones are dressed or which synagogue these bones pray at. We are all so similar. We have the same pains and the same hopes and dreams for ourselves and for our families. We want the same future for our grandchildren, and we can help each other.