Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rise Above: Shine a Little Light

This week's parsha is called Shmini, the "Eighth," which refers to the day after the seven days of training the Kohanim, priests, had before the inauguration of the Mishkan. Until the eighth day, Hashem's presence did not fill the Mishkan, the G-dly fire didn't descend onto the altar.

What is it about the "Eighth"  that makes all the difference?

In nature we find seven to be common. You have seven days of the week, seven years to our agricultural cycle. Kabbala teaches that there are seven building blocks of creation, which is six emotional attributes and the the seventh, malchut, which amplifies these attributes, and they are directly connected to the six days of the week, and Shabbos.

We also find that music has seven notes. A through G. We even are told that King David had a lear that had seven strings.

All these sevens are meant to bring to the "Eighth."

What is the "Eighth?"

The "Eighth" is our true essence, it is our ability to transcend nature and connect with the part of ourselves that is above nature, our neshama, our soul. The neshama is a part of Hashem, and when we rise above nature we feel our essential bond with Him.

The seven days of training, brought them to the Eighth day, on which Hashem's presence reentered the Jewish community. This is because we once again found our way above our physical selves and revealed our oneness with Hashem.

We work all week for Shabbos and if we utilize Shabbos correctly it will bring us to the next level.

Music has the ability to move us. Music is the language of the soul. The right music will uplift you and bring you closer to Hashem.

Several years ago, while going through a rough patch, I wrote a song asking Hashem to shine a little light and brighten, what felt like a darkness that I could not overcome. Then I realized that there is no darkness that cannot be overcome. All I needed to do is dig deep inside and find the light inside me, my beautiful neshama, and let it shine on myself and others. Writing the song uplifted me.

Once again, my family and I found ourselves in a dark situation, Hashem gifted me with ALS. Every day seemed worse than the one before, as I was getting weaker each day. Then my daughter Fruma found the song, which I recorded on a cell phone. Once again it was there to lift me up.

When my friend Chaim Marcus heard the song, he felt that the world should hear it. Gathering some of the greatest talent he produced this song, and he spared nothing to make sure it is perfect, and it is. We are so thankful to all of those who put their talents and their hearts into this project. Without you it would still be just a little light.

It lifted me up, I hope the song lifts you up as well. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Getting Out of Your Head

In this week's parsha, Tzav, the Torah speaks of several different sacrifices that were offered in the Temple. There is one offering that is more special than all the rest, the Korban Toda, the thanksgiving offering. What is unique about this offering, is that, while other personal offerings, such as sin and guilt  sacrifices will cease to be offered when Moshiach comes, the thanksgiving is the only personal offering that will not.

What is unique about the Toda, that makes it everlasting?

Moshiach, will usher in an era, when Godliness will permeate our lives openly. Sinning, death, sickness etc., will cease to exist. With no sinning the sin offering becomes obsolete, and the same with guilt offerings.

The Toda, on the other hand, will continue. Toda means thanks, however, taking a deeper look at the word, we find that its root is the same as Modeh, to admit which is a validation of the other. And in a way, that is what giving thanks is all about recognizing the other.

In a way, you can say, that when Moshiach comes, we will finally get out of our heads. We will have no problems, no pain, and no suffering to focus on. When you think about yourself there is no room for joy or anyone else, as your problems take over your every thought. However if you could find a way to focus on others, you will feel joy, a taste of Moshiach.

This is why the the Toda will go on. We will recognize Hashem's hand in our success, good health, safety and nachas.

I love when I get visitors, because when I am alone, I start thinking about myself, and like everyone else, I have things that bother me, that is totally out of my control. When I get visitors, my focus is all about them. The same is true when I write these Dvar Torahs, it makes me focus on others, and it gets me out of thinking about myself.

It is my hope that Moshiach will come soon, and all suffering and pain will end.

Today is Purim. How does this connect to Purim?

The essence of Purim is about getting out of yourself. The mitzvahs of Purim, get you out of thinking about yourself. First, sending gifts of food to a friend, then by giving gifts of money to the poor, and finally, by having a meal, where getting drunk is mandatory. It is all about getting out of yourself, by transcending yourself you come to a place where there are no problems, and joy begins. We should have Purim more often.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Change Yourself Change The World

In this week's parsha, Vayikra, we read how if a person transgressed against Hashem, by being dishonest to another person. "When he realizes that he sinned and that he is guilty," first he must correct the wrong and only after can he go through the process to receive atonement.

Here one person is being dishonest to another, why does the Torah call it a transgression against Hashem? What does "when he realizes that he sinned" mean, doesn't he know that he is being dishonest?

When two make a business deal without a contract and without witnesses, and one is dishonest and swindles his partner. He feels confident doing so because no one else was there. But in truth there was a third one there, Hashem! His dishonesty is not only against his friend, but, even more, it is a denial of Hashem's existence.

There is a deeper level of dishonesty, being dishonest with yourself. This is when you knowingly underestimate your potential. You know what abilities Hashem has given you. Are you using all your abilities? Are you maximizing your potential? You have the ability to make a difference, to change the world for the better. Hashem has given you these gifts just for this purpose. And not using them for this, is an affront to Hashem.

Dishonesty finds its roots in selfishness. Not being able to see anyone but yourself. When everything is about "me," it is impossible to use your potential for Hashem, because your abilities are busy satisfying your selfishness. Whether your dishonesty is against a friend or yourself, it is very difficult to correct the situation, because being selfish means I am right. Being selfish means I deserve it, everyone owes me, me me me.

The only way out of this situation, is for the person to realize on his own, to acknowledge that he sinned, and to admit his guilt. Only then can he begin to make amends, first to his friends, and then to Hashem.

For many of us, it is so difficult to admit that "I was wrong." On the other hand doing so and apologizing is freeing and endearing. When one partner is selfish there is no relationship. When you make room for the other to exist, the relationship begins, first with the other, and then with Hashem.

We are now at the end of this dark exile which was brought on because of senseless hatred for one another. This hatred is also routed in selfishness. If we can find a way to overcome selfishness and make room for another and recognize Hashem. Then we will be well on our way to friendship, closeness to Hashem, filling our potential and bringing Moshiach.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Getting To Know You

In this week's parsha, Pekudei, we read about how the artisans made the clothing of the Kohanim, and several vessels of the Mishkan. After every item was completed, it says, that they made it, "as Hashem commanded Moshe." Moshe was so impressed by this, that he blessed them.

Later in the parsha it tells how Moshe erected the Mishkan and placed all its vessels. Again, after every job done, it says that he did it "as Hashem commanded Moshe."

Why is it so important for the Torah to repeat this over and over again?

Artists and craftsmen have a creative spark in them. They have their way of seeing things and that influences the outcome of their work. It takes a special kind of person, who can listen to a another person, and create the others vision, completely ignoring his / her inner creative spark. It is truly difficult to do what another asks, the way they want you to do it. The fact is, "I know better." And because of this, it is amazing that by the Mishkan, every step of the way was done "as Hashem commanded Moshe." Therefore Moshe feels that they should be blessed.

How were they able to do it? 

In the case of the Mishkan, the artisans took it to a whole new level. It was not them ignoring their creative spark, rather they were so in tune with Hashem, that their creative spark was totally in line with Hashem's will. When you are one with Hashem, you find it easier to do what He wants.

The book of Shemos ends with this story, and tells us that when the Mishkan, that these artisans built, was completed, Hashem's presence filled it.

We all too are blessed with our own disposition, nature and creative spark. We all have our own way of thinking. "Everyone else is wrong and I am right."  When things are not the way I think they should be. The world becomes a dark place.

The ego has taken over and there is no room for anything or anyone else. When your ego takes over, you are alone, because your ego leaves no space for anyone else.

When you bring humility in to the picture, you find value in others. When you begin to see and feel the other's way of thinking, you open the door to friendship, closeness, love and oneness.

The same is true when it comes to our relationship with Hashem. We all have ideas of what Hashem wants of us. However, through studying Torah, especially the esoteric, and Chasidic teachings, we get to know Hashem in a more intimate way. Slowly we transform and align ourselves with Him and His will becomes our will.

This Shabbos is my 44th birthday, and I find that life has gotten difficult. I wonder why Hashem put me in this situation. While it is difficult for me, it is by far harder on my wife Dina who has taken over all my responsibilities on top of her own. It is hard to understand why Hashem does these things. The only thing I can do is trust that He knows what He is doing.

Realizing that all that we go through is from Hashem, is also part of getting to know Him.

It is my hope, that soon we will merit to see Hashem's presence fill our actions, our Temple and our lives. May we come to see how our difficulties accomplished the transformation that brings Moshiach.

Until then, be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Without Guilt

In this week's parsha, Vayakhel, we read about the participation of all the Jewish people, men and women, in donating to and construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

After the sin of the golden calf, Hashem's presence left the Jewish camp. The Mishkan was meant to be a dwelling place for Hashem's presence, so that It be among us once again. Hashem's command to build the Mishkan, was a clear indication that He forgave us.

Later we had various Mishkans in Israel and finally the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.

Now that we have neither Mishkan nor Temple, how do we merit Hashem's presence in our midst? The Torah tells us that women brought more than the men. But the fact is, that they were not involved in the sin of the golden calf. Why were they so driven to be involved?

Today, one of the ways to do the mitzvah of building a Mishkan is by making our home a dwelling place for Hashem. Each and every one of us can be involved. Men by keeping Torah study and prayer times, women by keeping a kosher home, and children by getting a Torah education. Being that the mother is the backbone of the Jewish home, and she naturally understands the value of having Hashem's presence blessing her home, she sets out to design and manage her home in a way that it will create an environment for Hashem's presence.

Her family is mostly influenced by her, her attitude, her insistence on Jewish atmosphere and her ability to move her husband and children in the right direction. Because she knows intuitively that the future of Judaism rests in her hands.

Although the men gave to and were involved in the construction of the Mishkan, their involvement didn't reach the level and enthusiasm that the women displayed. This is for two reasons. First, while the men were obligated to give, the women were not. The men gave from a sense of obligation, the women gave from their hearts. Second, when giving, the men felt the guilt of sin golden calf, the women felt their connection to Hashem and yearned for His presence and closeness.

Every man, woman and child, can now give of themselves from a place of love and closeness. In this way, every family can make their home into a Mishkan. In this merit, Hashem will surely send Moshiach. May it happen soon.
Dedicated to Devora Schochet, in honor of her birthday. May Hashem always be with you. And may we merit either a cure to ALS, or a miracle. Ben keep strong.