Friday, September 25, 2015

Are You a Hammer or a Nail?

What is the value of another Jew?

Sukkos is a time of unity, comradery, and brotherly love. We sit together in the Sukkah, we dance together every night at Simchas Beis Hashoeva and with the Torah on Simchas Torah, we eat delicious food and sing songs. We of course daven together and bring together the Arba Minim, the Four Kinds, the Lulav, Esrog, Haddasim and Aravot.

The taking together of the Arba Minim is a biblical commandment "And you should take for yourselves, a beautiful fruit of the tree (Esrog), a date palm frond (Lulav), a sprig that has a thick woody stem (Haddasim) and willows of the brook (Aravos)."

Our sages have attributed symbolism to this Mitzvah, specifically with regards to unity of the Jewish people.

Torah knowledge is the flavor of Judaism and doing Mitzvahs is the fragrance. As far as fragrance and flavor is concerned, there are four Kinds of Jews.

First there is the Lulav. An unopen date palm frond, leaves united together, straight and tall. The dates that grow on the date palm are flavorful but do not have a distinct smell. This is the one we say the blessing on "Al Netilas Lulav." It symbolizes our Torah scholars, who's main occupation is studying Torah, the flavor of Judaism, just as dates have flavor. True, they too, do many Mitzvahs, but their main involvement is in Torah study, and are recognized for that. Tall beacons of light we look to for guidance and leadership.

The Esrog. A citron, pretty, fragrant and flavorful. The Esrog stays on the tree year round, uniting the seasons. This symbolizes the very well rounded Jew who studies Torah regularly and fulfills Mitzvahs with joy and love.

Haddasim. Myrtles, who's stem is woody and thick and who's leaves smell so good. Its leaves are clustered in united groups of three, with the top of the leaves of the bottom cluster covering the bottom of the leaves of the higher cluster. Haddasim are symbolic of those of us who love doing Mitzvahs and strengthen all the Jews around them, with their Mitzvahs and kindness. They learn Torah as well, but much less, they are busy "doing."

Aravos. Willows of the brook, commonly have redish stems, with clusters of two leaves up its stems. They grow bunched together, united and in abundance. They have neither taste nor distinct smell. Aravos are symbolic of those of us who's involvement in Torah and Mitzvahs are minimal.

Which of these Four Kinds is most important? Seems to be the Lulav, symbolic of Torah scholars. If the Lulav is the top tier, why does the verse mention it second, after the Esrog?

Would you rather be a hammer or a nail?

On one hand, a nail is useless with out a hammer. However, together they build something sturdy. With the hammer's influence, the nail is guided into its rightful place and the nail will continue to serve its purpose, long after the hammer is gone, holding the piece together.

Without the nail the hammer would be miserably locked up in its tool box, accomplishing nothing. With nails it can build many wonderful things.

In the end a hammer is useless without a nail and vice versa.

This is true for the Four Kinds. Remove any one of the four and you have only three, and they are useless, no Mitzvah can be done with three.

(Interesting note: Only Aravos have any Jewish religious use on their own. On our third most holy day, Hoshana Rabba, we use five Aravos at the culmination of the service. During the Sukkos holiday the the alter in the Temple was decorated with long Aravos.)

When the Torah speaks of the daughters of Tzelafchad, it mentions them out of order, to symbolize that they were equally great.

Same for the Four Kinds, the Torah changes the order, to teach us they are equal in value.

Same is for every Jew. Every one of us is necessary, we each have a unique part in the Jewish mission. The mission is incomplete without every Jews contribution. So the Torah scholar needs the well rounded Jew and the lay person and they all need the less observant Jew.

The value of every Jew is infinite. It is time to embrace every Jew. The Lulav, Esrog the Haddasim and especially the Aravos. When we are united we complete each other. When we are united in brotherly love, Hashem is overjoyed, our unity, to Him, is irresistible. Therefore, our unity is what will bring Moshiach. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Listen And You Will Hear

In this week's Parsha, Haazinu, there is so much depth, so much meaning. Everyone should learn it and find personal meaning. You will find, that it talks to you.

There is one verse that I keep going back to and is for me a source of strength and meaning.

The Jewish people suffering by the hands of their enemies. All their efforts putting faith in others, turns out to be false hope. Hashem says "See now, that it is I, I, and there is no deity on par with Me, I kill and I bring to life, I strike and I heal, and no one can deliver from My hand."

What about this verse gives me strength and meaning?

When I was diagnosed with ALS, there were two possible roads to travel. I could have been prey to a "why me?" attitude, fallen in to depression and been miserable. Instead, knowing that this is from Hashem, makes me think "if Hashem put me in this predicament, there must be a good reason. How could I serve His purpose from my situation? What can be done from my position now, that could not be accomplished, when I was well?"

True I can't do many of the things I once could, but with what I do have, I have found a ways to make a difference. The things I love to do most, to teach and lift others up, I'm still doing. The method changed, before I would speak, now I write (never dreamed I would become a writer). It seems that because of my predicament, the words are more effective.

The problem with "why me?" is that your focus is on "me," the ultimate false deity. To this Hashem says "See it is I" who put you here, Hashem tailor made your scenario. Therefore, find your mission and strengths specifically from your situation. You don't have to be challenge with suffering to learn this lesson, you need only be alive, because "I kill and I  bring to life," it is Hashem that chooses for you to be alive, recognizing this, is the beginning of meaning in your life. However if you are suffering, know that "I strike and I heal." Again this is from Hashem, there is purpose in your struggle that can only be realized through your struggle. Find a way to turn your pain in to positive, your struggle in to strength.

With all that said, we've struggled and suffered enough, it is time for Moshiach to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

With Togetherness

In this week's parsha, Vayelech, we have the Mitzvah of Hakhel. "Assemble the nation, the men the women, the children... In order that they hear and in order that they learn and fear Hashem..., and will be careful to do all the words of this Torah."

The Mitzvah of Hakhel happened during the Sukkos holiday following a Shmitah, Sabbatical, year. All the Jewish people would assemble. The king, standing on a podium built for the occasion, would read selections from the book of Devarim, including the Shema, for all to hear.

While most Mitzvahs are stated without the reason, here the Torah elaborates and lists the reasons. In order that they hear, learn, fear Hashem and keep the Torah.

What can we learn from the fact that the reasons are listed? What lesson can we take from here, for family life?

The Mitzvah of Hakhel was done at the Temple and lead by the king, both of which we don't have today. Do we see this Mitzvah as unobservable today?

While most Mitzvahs connected to the Temple are not done today, Hakhel is unique, that at least parts of it can. This is because the reasons for this Mitzvah are part of the Mitzvah. True we have no king, true we have no Temple, but the reasons, "in order that they listen, learn, fear and do," can still be implemented.

How is the Hakhel done today? Any time this year, gather your family or friends or community. The goal is to strengthen their feeling towards Hashem and the Torah.

The prerequisite is that you are "assembled," meaning all of you are in a state of togetherness, with brotherly love. "Togetherness" sets the mood and opens the heart to hear words of meaning and chizuk (strengthening), "in order that they hear..."

When I started to lose my ability to speak, it made me aware of the power of speech. I had to decide what is truly worth saying. Now, unable to speak, I dream of what I would tell them, if I could.

Words are powerful, when used correctly they can lift up a spirit, when abused, they can destroy.

Our children and spouses ache for our recognition and love. Especially during the holidays, when we spend so much time together. With so much to do, Mitzvahs, Davening, cooking, cleaning etc., they could be ignored, or worse mistreated, in our need to have things perfect.

You first need to see them as "most important." Don't be so religious that your family will suffer. Don't shove Yiddishkiet at them. Rather, bring them close with love and kindness.

They value your words and remember them. Your actions are equally, if not, more important. Create a loving atmosphere, focus your attention on them. Listen to what they have to share with you. They want you to know them, and to be proud of them.

When you have set a loving atmosphere, then you can tell them about how Hashem has chosen us to be His. Their ears and their hearts will be open to hear and to learn, to fear Hashem and to keep His Torah.

If I could talk, I would tell my kids how much I love them and how proud I am of them. How lucky we  are to be Hashem's children, and the Rebbe's soldiers.

I would tell them to be kind and to use their talents and gifts to serve Hashem and to lift others up.

I would tell them to smile a lot and be positive. There is nothing better than helping or making another Jew happy, even if it means taking a loss.

I would tell my daughters how pretty they look in their Yom Tov outfits. I would tell my boys to tuck their shirt in.

What would I tell my wife? Now, that is none of your business.

Consider making a Hakhel get together with your family and friends. Create an atmosphere of togetherness, speak to their hearts with love and kindness. Most important, make your spouse and children feel "most important."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Mother's Tears

Dear friends,

I wrote this letter to Dina, after a long and difficult year. She thought that I should publish it because it is a letter/dvar Torah. Perhaps other women will draw strength from it as well.

Have a happy and sweet year!

Dear Dina my heart of gold,

This year has been difficult, your tears didn't go unnoticed. I'm sure the tears I saw, were only the tip of the ice burg. How many were shared with your pillow, how many were written in to your blog and how many have you held back.

Who can understand the heart of a Jewish mother? It is like you have a sixth sense, only Jewish women have it. It is a closeness to Hashem, as if you can sense His sadness as well. Sometimes you sense His joy.

This is talked about in the last mishnah in Taanisץ  That on Yom Kippur, the girls would go dancing in the vineyards, just like Tu B'Av. What was special about those times? They are times of forgiveness of sins, and the girls could sense Hashem's joy, which caused them to well with joy, this caused them to go out and dance.

Now, if women can sense Hashem's joy, it would follow that they sense His sadness as well. And so you cry even more.

I think the deepest crying is for the children. I think this is why you identify so strongly with the Haftora of the second day of Rosh Hashana. Rochel is  crying for her children and there is nothing to console her. It just seems endless, with no reprieve in sight. So much work, so much selfless giving and giving, with no gain no reward.

The Haftora continues. Hashem says, you can stop crying, there is reward for your work. There is hope, the children will return to their borders. Moshiach is coming and it's your work, your tears, your love and your joy that brought him.

Your suffering is not in vain. You will see the fruits of your hard work and you will be honored. I don't know why Hashem chose us, but he did. We, like Rochel, won't give up and we won't let him down.

In this week's parsha we read the words from Moshe to Yehoshua "chazak v'ematz", be strong and courageous. Perhaps it is our bitachon, simcha and emunah that will bring an end to this dark galus.

I am with you,

Your Yosef Yitzchak

Friday, September 11, 2015

Only We Can

Rosh Hashana marks the day Adam and Chava were created, it is the birthday of humanity. The mission of mankind began 5776 years ago, on this day. Therefore it is, by definition, the New Year for humanity.

Our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov took on the mission and when Hashem took us out of Egypt, the mission became ours.

What is unique about us, that enables us to accomplish Hashem's purpose? Couldn't the angels do it?

Hashem wants that this physical world be transformed in to a place that his presence could dwell openly. He created this world unfinished and put us on it, just to transform it. We are his greatest masterpiece, we are different from all other creations. With out us the world is a fish tank, void of any meaning, with the sole purpose of being observed.

An angel is spiritual, holy ad powerful but lacks freedom of choice. The physical world is not his domain. Hashem sends angels on all kinds of missions but not being physical, precludes them from transforming the physical.

We, on the other hand, are a fusion of soul and body. We have a physical body that is drawn to earthly pleasures and a Neshama, G-dly soul, which is drawn to everything G-dly and holy. While our body is part of the world, the Neshama, being a part of Hashem, trancends all physical and spiritual realms. Being part of Hashem it has the creative ability to transform this unfinished world.

Every time we do a Mitzvah we infuse the physical object/s used in performance of the  Mitzvah with holiness. Every time you say words of Torah or prayer, you are transforming the place, infusing it with holiness. When you do every day things with the intention to serve Hashem, for example, if you work to support your family, so that you can bring them up in the ways of our Torah. Everything connected to your work becomes infused with holiness. Every aspect of life becomes a holy endeavor.

With time the world is transformed in to a dwelling fit for Hashem. At that time our work finishing creation will be done and Moshiach will come.

May he come soon.


About the Year 5776

The year 5776 is the longest possible year. It is a leap year, which adds 30 days. The months of Cheshvon and Kislev are the only months that can have either 29 or 30 days, this year they both have 30. Making this year 385 days.

5776 is a Hakhel year. The year following a sabbatical year, all Jews, men, women and children would gather at the Temple in Jerusalem. The king would read from the Torah, for all to hear. It is a custom, to make get-togethers during this year, at which every one participates in Torah (this can be done by having  one person say a Torah teaching, while participants listen), Avoda, prayer, an Gemilas Chasadim, charity. Strengthening the bonds between Jews and our commitment to Hashem. Consider hosting a Hakhel party/gathering at your home or arranging a large Hakhel event for the whole community.

May you have a happy and sweet year!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Soul Sync

This week's parsha, Nitzavim, is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashana. There are so many things about this parsha that connect to Rosh Hashana. Nitzavim speaks of our commitment to Hashem, His Torah and Mitzvahs. It teaches about Teshuva, repentance, and tells of our return to Hashem in this dark exile. How Hashem will gather us from the farthest places. It is clearly talking about us and our time, as we sit on the threshold of Moshiach's coming.

Being that the parsha speaks about Teshuva as the prelude to the in-gathering of the exiles, and being that we want it to happen already, lets talk about Teshuva.

Teshuva means "return to Hashem". On a basic level this means, to regret your way, ask for forgiveness and get back on Hashem's path.

For a person who has broken trust and wants to once again be trusted, being remorseful and saying "I'm sorry" is not enough. He needs to reach higher, find a greater level of character and prove himself worthy.

However Teshuva could be so much more. Even the holiest of people can tap in to the power of Teshuva.

The verse says "and you will return until Hashem your G-D".

What does "until" mean? When you say return, it implies, going back to a place or situation you were in before. What place are we speaking of here?

This takes us to a whole new level of Teshuva, to a place where we are in perfect harmony with Hashem.

Each of us have a Neshama, a piece of Hashem inside of us. It is our essence. Over time we could become so involved in the physical, mundane world that our Neshama gets forgotten. Even Mitzvahs could be done out of habit, void of meaning.

Teshuva is connecting to your G-dly essence, your Neshama. It is a journey to your core, every step you take inward, brings clarity. You see how you are one with Hashem, and that He loves you because you are part of Him. When you connect at this level, the lower levels of Teshuva are automatic. How could you remain the same after connecting so deeply? Regret, remorse and bitterness over your previous state will overtake you, and you become closer to Hashem.

Being that our Neshama is infinite, there is always deeper/higher levels to connect to. Through Teshuva even a Tzadik can find new levels of G-dlyness to connect to.

Your essence it already there, your Neshama has always been at the highest level. You now have to "return until Hashem" return to where your Neshama is one with Hashem. Since Hashem is infinite so is our journey, giving us the ability to get ever closer.

Suffering also brings you closer to Hashem. We have suffered enough. Perhaps Hashem wants our closeness to come from our own initiative.

Being a father and a husband, I love my family to no end, like any father and husband would, and still, there is great pleasure when the love and closeness from my family, is from their own initiative.

In preparation for Rosh Hashana, let us take the initiative a get closer to Hashem. May He, with his fatherly love, send Moshiach and gather the exiles and bring us home.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Heart to Understand

In this week's parsha, Ki Savo, Moshe says to the Jewish people, "Hashem didn't give you a heart to understand... Until this day."

Usually we connect the brain with understanding and the heart to emotions. However, here it says "a heart to understand". What is the connection between the heart and understanding that we speak of here?

The answer could be found by looking at the Hebrew word used here, Daas (daat/דעת), which we translate as understanding.

Just because someone it smart, doesn't stop him from doing immature or stupid things. Watch a smart child play in the mud wearing his nicest clothes or a genius implode over a trivial matter.

This is because he lacks Daas.

What is daas? Daas is the ability to take your smarts and apply it to your emotional make up. It is the bridge between the mind and heart. This takes time and effort.

For the Jewish people in the desert it took forty years to develop this level of understanding, where their heart and mind beat to the same Jewish drum.

This process can be accomplish by every one of us, through time and effort. Every day we become more in sync, every Torah lesson we apply to ourselves, we become more in tune with Hashem.

The same is true for our relationships. First you get to know each other. But with time and effort the relationship gets deeper and you begin to sense your others way of seeing things. Until there comes a time that you are so in sync, that you don't have to think about it, you just know.

This is "a heart to understand".  When your emotions, and subsequently your actions, are in sync with your mind, specifically with your Torah knowledge.