Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Power Of Chana's Prayer

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the Haftora about Chana, a barren woman, who was blessed with a son, our prophet Shmuel.

There are several reasons this Haftora is read on Rosh Hashanah. First, because of its similarity to the Torah reading, where our matriarch Sarah, also a barren woman, was blessed with a son, our patriarch Yitzchak. However, we remain with a question. Why do we read about women whose fate were changed, to finally be blessed with children?

Second, Chana's prayer to have a child, was (according to many) on Rosh Hashanah, and Eli, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, who blessed Chana, that her prayer will be fulfilled, was appointed to be Shofet, leader of the Jewish people, on that very day, Rosh Hashanah.

What message are we meant to take from the story of Chana for Rosh Hashanah?

Looking at the Haftora, it is clear that the prayer of Chana is central to the theme of Rosh Hashanah, a day of prayer and requesting needs for the year.

However, thinking of the holiness of the day, we must ask, "Why would we be asking for our selfish needs and wants on such a holy day? Shouldn't we be focusing on Hashem, and what He wants?"

The question becomes even stronger when you think about the essential theme of Rosh Hashanah, asking Hashem to be our king for the next year. When coronating a king, a key aspect is the nation's humility, self nullification and subservience to the king. It hardly seems time to be requesting things. To be thinking about yourself is the opposite of humility, self nullification and subservience to the king. If so, why do we ask for our needs on Rosh Hashanah?

We must conclude, that the requests we make on Rosh Hashanah are not selfish at all, rather part of our service to our King. When we coronate Hashem as our King, we are accepting His mission as well. Asking for what we need, to accomplish His mission, is not selfish at all. It is only for His sake that we ask for them.

On a deeper level, the Baal Shem Tov explains, that each of us has a part of the world that we are meant to refine, so that it is ready for Hashem's presence. Our Neshamas are attracted to those objects and the places it has been charged with refining. This is why our bodies crave those things and those places.

Asking for the things you want, is asking for what your neshama wants and your neshama is part of Hashem. So in actuality, you are asking for what Hashem, our King wants.

We see this in the Haftora. Chana was pleading for her deepest desire, to have a child. Seeing how she was praying, Eli asked her, "How long will you be drunk?" meaning how long will you be drunk in prayer? Is it appropriate to stand here, before Hashem, on this holy day, and be asking for your personal desires?

To this she responded, "I am pouring out my soul before Hashem." Meaning, this is not my selfish desire, this is my souls desire.

Eli accepted this answer and replied, "Go in peace and God of Israel will give you the request you asked for." In other words, he agreed with Chana's mode of prayer, asking for the souls desires.

The Talmud tells us, "Rav Hamnuna said, 'Several major laws can be derived from these verses of Chana."

What is unique about Chana's prayer that we choose to learn these "major laws," specifically from her?

In general, our prayers are divided into two categories. There are daily prayers, where we pray for our regular needs, and then there are prayers in a time of crisis, when praying to end a drought, for a sick person, or to have a baby.

The difference between the two could be understood by looking at the difference between a Bracha, a blessing and a Tefilla, a prayer.

A Bracha draws down already existing blessing, that for one reason or another is being held back. The Bracha removes the blockage, allowing your blessing to flow freely to you.

However, sometimes, what we are asking for is not in our cards, and we entreat to Hashem, to create a new will, and to grant us something that was not meant to be. This is Tefilla, in which we use the words, "May it be Your will."

Daily prayers, like a Bracha, are to draw down the blessing that is already coming to us. Crisis prayers, like Tefilla, are trying to create, so to speak, a new will in Hashem.

Within crisis prayers, there are two categories. First, there is asking for a bad decree to be annulled. For example, when it is decreed from above, that there be no rain. Asking to annul the decree, is asking for a new will, but not for a change in the nature that Hashem imbued in creation. Asking for a sick person to be healed, is the same.

But the most powerful from of prayer, is when, what is being asked for, goes completely against nature. Like a barren woman asking to have a child, when naturally it is not possible.

What Chana was asking for, was a change in Hashem's creation. Even more, she asked that Hashem give her "seed of men," which Rashi explains, to mean that the child be holy and righteous. Which not only goes against nature, but possibly against the Torah's system, that, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, aside for fear of Heaven." Yet, so powerful was her prayer, that Hashem changed nature and bent the rules, so to speak, and gave her the child she asked for, our holy and righteous prophet Shmuel.

Now we can understand, why major laws of prayer are learned specifically from Chana and why we read about barren women, whose fate were changed, to be blessed with children on Rosh Hashanah.

The prayer of Chana represents the most powerful type of prayer, one that creates a new will in Hashem.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for creating new will. It is when we coronate our King. How do we do this? Through prayer we generate a new will in Hashem, to be our King for another year. And that as our King, He grant us all, even if it is not in our cards, a happy and sweet year.

Major laws of prayer that are learned from Chana:
1. That one should focus his / her heart in prayer.
2. To form the words with ones lips.
3. It is forbidden to raise ones voice in prayer. (Like during the Amida)
4. It is forbidden to pray when drunk.

After Shmuel, Chana had four more children.

Dedicated to Jewish women praying for Hashem to grant their deepest desire, to have children of their own. May Hashem grant you what you are asking for.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hastening The Redemption

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl

This week we read the sixth Haftora of consoling. It tells us what it will be like when Moshiach comes and how special we are. Hidden in the words of the Haftora, is the secret to bringing Moshiach sooner.

The Haftora begins, "Arise, shine, for your light has come." The Baal Shem Tov explains that this verse is talking to Jewish spiritual leaders who set aside their own growth in Torah and mitzvas, in order to give to the community. Because in truth, if they focused on their own spiritual growth instead of the community's, they would attain far greater spiritual heights.

To them the verse says, "Arise, shine, for your light has come." Hashem is saying, don't be afraid that you are losing out, give your light to the community, "for your light has come," you are not losing out. You will receive the light that you are sacrificing.

Same is true for any person who helps another spiritually, to get closer to Hashem, and for that matter, physically, through acts of kindness, should realize that he is not losing out. He too will get his.

When we show love to each other and help each other spiritually or physically, we bring Moshiach sooner.

Now the Haftora tells us how the nations of the world and their kings, will serve us and bring us all kinds of gifts. How they will recognize Hashem and honor Him.

The Haftora continues to tell us, that we won't need the sun or the moon, because Hashem will be our everlasting light, "and you will have completed your days of mourning." Why does the verse say "completed," it should have used the word "ended?" "Completed," refers to completing our missions. Every Jewish person has mitzvahs to do, and when we complete our mitzvahs, the world will be ready for Moshiach. Every extra mitzvah we do brings Moshiach sooner.

Hashem now says, "Your people are all righteous. they will inherit the land forever, they are the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, in which I will glory." This verse tells us two things about how Hashem feels about us. First, we will inherit the land forever, because we are all righteous, meaning, we all did the mitzvahs we had to do. Even more than that, he loves us because we are the branch of His plantings and the work of His hands. Meaning, that he loves us, not only for our accomplishments, but just because of who we are.

When you build something, you choose the materials and the design. However when you plant something, you have no control over how it will turn out. By saying, " the branch of my planting," Hashem is saying, that He loves us each for the unique person we have become.

Hashem also glorifies himself through the Jewish people, because we are His representatives in this world. When we act in accordance to his laws, everyone recognizes that we are Hashem's people, and He is glorified.

How do we know that our work can hasten the redemption? We learn it from the last words of the Haftora, regarding this prophecy of redemption "in its time, I will hasten it." if it's in its time, it is not hastened, and if it is hastened, it is before it's time. What then is the meaning of these words? The answer is, if we are not worthy, it will come in its time. However, if we are worthy, because of our mitzvahs, kindness, love for each other, etc., it will be hastened.

There is no doubt that with all we have done and all we have been through, that we are more than worthy. May Hashem hasten the coming of Moshiach and may we experience the prophecy of this Haftora. May it happen soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What It Will Be Like

This is the second dvar Torah for this week. Please be sure to see the other one as well. Here is the link  Fusion of Gemstones

This week's Haftora is read twice during the year. Once with parshas Noach (Noah) and again as the fifth Haftora of consoling, with parshas Ki Seitzei.

The Haftora has a double theme. First, that when Moshiach comes, things will be so good, that we will forget the hardships of the exile. Second, that the redemption will be final, never to be followed by another exile.

The Haftora begins, "Sing, barren one, who hasn't given birth." Who is the barren one?

The simple explanation is that Hashem is talking to the city of Jerusalem, which feels like a barren woman, who hasn't given birth. Because she is desolate during this long exile. Hashem tells her to sing, as now that Moshiach is here, her streets are once again filled with her children, the Jewish people, she doesn't feel barren any more.

On a deeper level, Hashem is talking to the Jewish person who claims that the Jewish people are barren and have not given birth to him. Meaning, he has totally disassociated himself from the Jewish nation. Hashem is saying, that even he will sing the "Shir Chadash," the New Song, the song we will sing when Moshiach comes.

The revelation will be so great that we will break out in song, just as we did at the splitting of the sea. Every Jewish person will be included, even the "barren" one, who is in the darkest place. The revelation and transformation will be so great, that he too will break out in song.

The exile will then seem as a fleeting dream as the Haftora says, "For a brief moment I forsook you." And as it says in Tehilim, when Hashem returns the exiles of Zion, "Hayinu k'cholmim, we will have been as dreamers." like a dream it feels real, but when you wake up it fades away. This will be because, as the verse continues, "with great compassion I will gather you." The next verse continues, "With a little wrath, I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness, I will have compassion on you... "

What is clear from these verses, is that when Moshiach comes, it will be so good, that the exile will feel like a brief moment.

Now the Haftora says, "Like the waters of Noach, this is to me, just as I swore to never again cover the earth with the waters of Noach, so have I sworn not to be wrathful with you and not to rebuke you (ever again)." This verse is self explanatory, except that Hashem calls the flood "the waters of Noach." Why? Because the word Noach is like the word nachas, indicating that it is positive, because it changed the world for good. The same is true about this exile. When Moshiach comes, we will see how everything we went through in this exile, directly made the world ready for Moshiach. We will see the positive in it all.

The Haftora finishes, that when Moshiach comes "... My kindness will never depart from you, and my covenant of peace will never falter...

Like bookends, this Haftora is read before and after the holidays, which sets the tone for the whole year. Because bringing Moshiach is at the core of our mission as the Jewish people. Like beacons of light, it is read at the beginning and end of the year, to remind us that though our work is difficult and the exile is dark, what we are accomplishing is tremendous and our reward is even greater.

Perhaps it is your effort, your mitzvah, that will finally tip the scale and bring Moshiach.

May he come soon. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fusion of Gemstones

This Shabbos we will be reading a double Haftora. The one for Ki Seitzei and we will be adding to it the Haftora of Re'ei. With Hashem's help, I will be writing two dvar Torahs. Here is the first, enjoy!
The third Haftora of consoling is usually read with parshas Re'ei. However, when Rosh Chodesh falls on that Shabbos, it is pushed off and read together with the fifth Haftora of consoling, which is read with parshas Ki Seitzei, because in the book of Isaiah, it follows directly after that Haftora.

In either case, it is read in conjunction with the month of Elul, either the Shabbos before, when we bless the month of Elul, or a couple of weeks later, during the month of Elul. Therefore, there must be a lesson here for the month of Elul, in preparation for the High Holidays. What is the lesson?

Elul, is an acronym for the verse in Song of Songs, Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li, I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me. First, I am to my beloved, and that causes that my beloved is to me. Meaning, that through our effort to come closer to Hashem during the month of Elul, we awaken in Hashem the response, that he comes closer to us. The difference, is that because we are limited, our effort, closeness and love are limited, however, when Hashem, in turn, bestows his love on us, it is unlimited.

The idea is explained through a parable. Before the king enters the city, the people of the city go out to receive him in the field. At that time, everyone is permitted to go out and meet him. He receives everyone with a beautiful countenance and he smiles to all. As he goes to the city, they all follow him. However, when he comes to his palace no one enters unless granted permission, which is only granted to the elite of the nation and a special few others.

During the month of Elul, our King, Hashem, is in the field, He is accessible to all. He receives everyone with a beautiful countenance and he smiles to all, meaning, that He is responding in kind to our gesture, with acceptance. This is because Hashem's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are shining bright and He grants forgiveness from a place of love. All you have to do, is to go out into the field, to make an effort to come closer. Your simple act of Teshuva (repentance) during this month brings you so close to Hashem. However, once Rosh Hashanah comes, the King is in his palace, access to Hashem is limited. The awe and fear of His majesty is upon us and we respond in kind, accepting His kingship and doing Teshuva from a place of awe.

In Elul, even though our effort to get closer to Hashem is limited, as we are limited, it is so precious to Hashem, that he showers us with infinite love from above.

This brings us to our Haftora. In the second verse of the Haftora, Hashem says, that when Moshiach comes, "I will make your windows from kadkod (a kind of gemstone)."

What kind of gemstone is a kadkod?

The Talmud tells us (Baba Basra 75a), "Rabbi Shmuel son of Nachmeini said, 'it is a dispute between two angels in heaven, Michael and Gavriel... one says it is a shoham and the other says it is a yashfei. Hashem says to them, "let it be kidayn u'kidayn, like this one and like that one (together)."'" Kadkod is a play on the words kidayn kidayn.

Now that we know that kadkod means shoham and yashfei together, we need to know, what is a shoham and what is a yashfei? In other words, what exactly are these two angels arguing about?

There are precious stones that produce their own light from within. Then there are others that if you cut and polish them well, they will reflect light in the most beautiful way. The shoham gives its own light, while the yashfei reflects light.

The debate between the angels, is about the reward we will receive when Moshiach will come. One says yashfei, it will be based on our work, effort and accomplishments. Just like a yashfei reflects light, based on how well it is polished. The other says shoham, which gives its own light. Meaning, that the reward will not be based on our accomplishments, rather, it will be Hashem's infinite revelation as a gift from above. Hashem says that we will get both, the reward for our efforts, and He will also bestow upon us his infinite revelation as a gift.

This is what the month of Elul is all about. We get both, the reward for our efforts to come closer to Hashem, through Teshuva (repentance), Tefila (prayer) and Tzedaka (charity), and He in turn bestows upon us his infinite love, acceptance and closeness, beyond anything we could have achieved on our own.

Now is the most opportune time to get close to Hashem. The King is in the field. Seize the day, put more effort into your Jewish expression, especially Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

May our efforts bring pleasure to Hashem, may He grant us a happy and sweet new year and may we merit to receive the biggest smile of all, saying, your work is done, Moshiach is here! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My Mother's Perspective

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl

This week's Haftora is the fourth Haftora of consoling. First, Nachamu Nachamu, the consoling through prophets, but that is not enough, we want the real thing, and so now Hashem himself is doing the consoling.

The Haftora begins, "It is I, it is I, Who consoles you." The Midrash on this verse says, "It is the way of a father to be compassionate..., and it is the way of a mother to console..., Hashem says, 'I will do (both) that of the father and that of the mother.'" In other words, the double expression of "It is I, it is I," means, that Hashem will be compassionate and He will also console us.

What is the difference between compassion (rachamim), and consoling (nechama)? How will these two be expressed when Moshiach will come?

Both compassion and consoling are dealing with a painful situation. The difference is, that compassion is dealing with the pain, fixing the problem so that it ceases to exist. With consoling, the issue remains, however, you are comforted, finding a way to cope with the pain.

The same is when Moshiach will come. First, there will be consoling, as we will intellectually understand that the suffering wasn't in vain. But then the revelation will increase, bringing the resurrection of the dead, and we won't need consoling anymore. For starters, we will be reunited with our loved ones, and even more, we will begin to see the world from Hashem's perspective. We will see how everything we went through was good. In other words, the pain and suffering will not only cease to exist, it will be as if it was never there to begin with.

This is the difference between our perspective, seeing things from below, and Hashem's perspective, seeing things from above. From above everything is perfect, from below things can be perceived as flawed. For example, gazing out at a beautiful expanse, you are taken by the breathtaking scene, it is perfect and you don't want to leave. However, when you take a walk through the beautiful expanse, you begin to see flaws.

Now, if you think about it, these flaws are part of what makes the expanse so beautiful. Then, perhaps they are not flaws at all, just perceived flaws, which are truly perfection.

When Moshiach comes we will see how everything is truly perfect. But you don't have to wait for Moshiach to come to take on this perspective. The more you learn about Hashem, the more you become in tune with His view of things. This is why great Tzadikim remain happy through poverty and suffering. They are so aligned with Hashem, they don't perceive the bad at all, from their perspective everything is perfect.

We too can take advantage of this way of thinking. When going through a difficult time, when Hashem hands you difficulties, you could see it as flaws and bad, or you can choose to see it from Hashem's perspective, that this too is perfect and good.

This is a lesson I learned from my mother. Growing up with my older brother Shalom, a special needs boy, she never treated him as anything less than perfect. It was not easy and is still not easy, but she sees him as the gift from Hashem that he is, and understands that Hashem wanted her to mother him, in the way that only she can.

May Hashem send Moshiach already, we are ready for the consoling, the compassion and the perfection. May it happen soon.

Dedicated to my beautiful and wonderful mother, who's birthday was this week. May she be blessed with many happy years to come.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Heaven And Earth

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl

This Shabbos we read a special Haftora for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which starts "So says Hashem, 'The heavens is My throne, and the earth is My footstool."

Yishayahu, in his final chapter, brings us the words of Hashem, where He uses heaven and earth as a metaphor. What is the meaning of this metaphor?

Heaven is the Torah, Hashem's wisdom, which is infinite, and no matter how much you learn it and how well you grasp it, there is always more and deeper you can go. It is compared to a throne, because when a king sits on his throne he is lowered and closer to the earth. This is  G-dliness  being drawn down through our Torah study.

Earth is the mitzvahs, which are done with physical objects. When it comes to doing mitzvas, we are equals, no matter how great your intellect is, we do them the same. It is compared to a footstool, because a footstool raises the kings feet off the earth. When you do a mitzvah, you are taking a physical object and using it for a holy purpose, in effect, you are raising its status, infusing it with holiness, bringing it closer to Hashem.

This is the key to bringing Moshiach, and this is our purpose. To draw G-dliness down into the physical, through the study of Torah and by uplifting the physical world to Hashem through the performance of mitzvahs. When our work is done, the physical world will be so open to G-dliness, that Hashem's presence will fill the world, and we will experience His glory in the physical. This is what Moshiach's coming is all about.

Being that the whole world will see and feel Hashem's presence, and they will recognize Hashem as the one and only true G-d, and that we are his treasure. This will cause all the joy and happiness the Haftora tells about. The people of the world will bring their Jews " as a gift to Hashem... with joyous songs... To Yerushalayim."

This is also the connection to Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. Like Torah, Shabbos is from above, Hashem decided when Shabbos is and we draw down its holiness according to our ability. On the other hand, Rosh Chodesh, like mitzvahs, is sanctified by us, through the Sanhedrin. We uplift the day into a state of holiness, bringing it up to Hashem. 

The Haftora now tells us Hashem will make a new heaven and a new earth. What are these about?

This refers to new levels of closeness to Hashem that will be achievable. Not that we will be far in any way. Rather, Hashem being infinite, there is always deeper levels of closeness to achieve. Even for a person who has reached the level of, "Heavens is My throne, and the earth is My footstool," meaning, that they have been doing Torah and mitzvas at the highest level. They will find a new level to achieve. The old level will pale in comparison to the new level. 

Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh will also be new, as the Haftora says "Every new moon and every Shabbos all flesh will come to prostrate before Me, says Hashem." This is something that wasn't done during the first and second Temple eras, but when Moshiach will come, we will go up to a new Beis Hamikdash, every Rosh Chodesh and every Shabbos.

New heaven, new earth, new Shabbos, new Rosh Chodesh and new Beis Hamikdash. May it happen soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

We Want Hashem And Nothing Less

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl

This week's Haftora is the second Haftora of consoling. It begins "And Zion said, 'Hashem has forsaken me...'" It follows last week's Haftora, Nachamu Nachamu, the doubled consoling. It seems strange that after a doubled consoling, Zion should be saying, "Hashem has forsaken me."

Being that our great sages set up the Haftoras this way, we must conclude that there is something happening here. Why is it, that after a doubled consoling, we are left feeling alone?

Let me explain.

Sometimes you can feel alone even when you are with the one you love, especially when they are acting distant.

After the doubled consoling of last week, we, as the Jewish people begin to realize our self worth, that we are Hashem's beloved and that we are one with Him. If so, the question arises, why is Hashem sending His prophets to console us? Why does He not console us Himself? This is now taken as a rejection, therefore we feel alone.

How great is the position of a Jew? Why is the consoling of prophets not enough?

In Pirkei Avos, we read, "know before Whom you will have to give a judgment and a reckoning."  Normally you first give a reckoning and that is followed by a judgment. Why is the order here reversed, first the judgment followed by the reckoning?

To understand this let's take a look at another saying in Pirkei Avos, "and payment is exacted from the person, with his knowledge and without his knowledge." The Baal Shem Tov explains, that because our Neshama is actually a part of Hashem, the Heavenly Court has no power over a Jewish person. In order to pass judgment on a Jewish person, they put before him, during his lifetime, a scenario of someone committing the same transgression that he committed. When he sees this, he passes judgment, thereby passing judgment on himself. It is with his knowledge, because he is the one who is passing judgment. It is without his knowledge, because he doesn't realize that he is judging himself.

When he comes before the Heavenly Court,  he has already passed judgment on this scenario, so the judgment comes first. All that is left to do is the reckoning, to show that his case is the same as the scenario, that he himself judged.

What we understand from all this, is that only a Jew can pass judgment on himself. Not an angel nor the Heavenly Court has any power over him. So be careful to, "Judge others favorably," as you may be judging yourself.

This is also true in the physical world, no one has power over us. It is we who give power to others over us. As the verse in our Haftora says "...those who destroy you and those who lay waste to you, will come out of you."

This is what a Jew is all about, we have the power to change the world, but the world has no power over us. The only power anyone has over us, is what we give them. This is because, our Neshamas are a part of Hashem that makes us one with Hashem. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov, "When you are grasping on to a part, you are actually grasping the whole thing." Every one of us is a part of Hashem.

Knowing how special we are, we realize that we deserve more. Although we were in a dark situation and a doubled consoling through prophets pulled us out, now, as we begin to experience our intrinsic bond with Hashem, consoling through prophets, just won't cut it. We want the real thing, Hashem Himself and nothing less. When we don't, we feel alone.

Ultimately we will get what we are asking for, as we see in the last verse of the Haftora, "For Hashem will console Zion..."

May we soon experience Hashem's consoling, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.