Thursday, July 28, 2016

From A Place of Darkness The Most Is Accomplished

This week's parsha, Pinchas, has two possible Haftoras.

Because we are in The Three Weeks, the darkest and saddest time on the Jewish calendar, when both our Temples were destroyed, and unimaginable suffering and tragedy befell our people, the Haftora we read, is more connected to the time, than the parsha.

This week's Haftora starts off telling us Yirmyahu's (Jeremiah's) lineage. "These are the  words of Yirmyahu son of Chilkiyahu of the Kohanim." It continues to tell us how he became a prophet. Hashem tells Yirmyahu "Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you, and before you emerged from the womb, I appointed you to be a prophet..." Yirmyahu says to Hashem "I don't know how to speak, for I am a youth." Hashem says, "Don't say 'I am a youth,' for wherever I will send you, you will go, and whatever I will command you, you will speak. Don't be afraid of them, for I Am with you to protect you..." "See I have appointed you today, over nations and over kingdoms, to uproot, to crush...,  to build and to plant."

Then, Hashem gives him the prophecy of the the devastation of Yehuda and tells Yirmyahu to warn the Jewish people.

The Haftora ends on a positive note. How Hashem remembers that we followed him in to the desert, trusting in Him. The idea being, that if we return to Hashem and His Torah, He will accept us with open arms.

The theme of the Haftora is supposed to be connected to the destructive nature of the time of the year. The prophecy of devastation and even Hashem remembering our goodness makes sense. But how does Yirmyahu's lineage and how he became a prophet, fit the theme of The Three Weeks?

It all starts to become clear when we take a closer look at who Yirmyahu was and the time he lived in.

Yirmyahu lived in a time of great darkness, when the Jewish people were at a spiritual low. He himself was taunted regularly because of his pedigree, as his great grandmother was Rachav a gentile woman who converted. It didn't matter that she was a great woman who helped the Jewish people in the conquest of the Holy Land. Yirmyahu had all the cards stacked against him, and yet, he effected change from his dark situation, which is the only true and everlasting change.

We've had many great prophets and leaders. Some effected the world from a place of light, like Moshe, with great miracles and revelation, with so much light, the Jewish people were taken by the greatness of the moment, of course they were good. But when the revelation ceased, they made a golden calf, the light effected them, but did not change them. However, Pinchas, like Yirmyahu, was coming from a place of darkness. He was also taunted because of his pedigree, as his mother was Yisro's (Jethro's) daughter, and was living at a low and dark time. But his actions caused the Jewish people to repent and change themselves. This kind of change is real and everlasting. Therefore his reward was an everlasting one, that he and all his descendants will be Kohanim.

It is from a place of darkness, that the Haftora opens up. First by his pedigree being exalted as Yirmyahu from the Kohanim, and then by telling us how he became a prophet.

The Three Weeks is the time of darkness, symbolic of our dark exile. Hashem is telling us how to approach times of darkness, and how specifically we, in this darkness, can bring true, everlasting change and light to the world.

The first thing you have to know is that you are worthy. You may think "who am I to make a difference, the whole world looks down at me?" To this Hashem answers, you are from Kohanim, you are holy and worthy.

The next thing is that we were hand picked by Hashem for this task. "Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you..."

Don't say "I am a youth," without the wherewithal to withstand the world's negative effects. You can do it, "Don't be afraid..., for I am with you."

This is the purpose of the exile, Hashem has spread us all over the world, he has appointed us "over nations and over kingdoms," to have a positive effect on our surroundings.

This is the message of The Three Weeks, that specifically from the darkness, we are able to do the most good.

Hashem wants us to effect the physical world, and our bodies, to serve him as well. One that says, "let me stay in my cocoon of light, of Torah and spirituality, and not deal with the physical," is making a mistake. It is the effect on the physical world and our physical nature, that Hashem wants most, and it is why Hashem put us in a physical world, to develop the world, from the bottom up, to be a dwelling place for Hashem's presence. Which is the everlasting reward we all yearn for, and will be experienced with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How To Bring Protection And Redemption

Dear friends,

This week, Parshas Balak, I am extremely grateful to Hashem, as it marks the beginning of my third cycle of Dvar Torahs. I am grateful for being able to do it, and to all of you who read them. I am grateful for my wife Dina, who supports me and constantly pushes me to learn more and write these Dvar Torahs. I am grateful to add to your Shabbos table and Torah groups. I am grateful to be alive and to be making a difference. I am honored that you read it, by all the positive feedback and by your encouragement to continue.

Thank you,

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Hurwitz, AKA Yitzi 
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In this week's parsha, Balak, we read how Balak and Balam schemed to curse the Jewish people. Hashem protected them, not allowing Balam to curse the Jews, instead, he blessed them. Balam goes on to prophecy the coming of Moshiach. It ends off on a low note, of indecency, and immodesty.

I am amazed by the brilliance of our sages to choose Haftoras, which encapsulate the theme of the parsha to a tee. Reading the Haftora, helps us understand the theme of the parsha.

At first glance, the Haftora mentions "Please remember what Balak king of Moab advised, and what Balam answered him..." But this is mentioned only as part of a larger picture, so it can't be the reason that this Haftora was chosen.

What are the essential themes of this parsha that the Haftora brings out? What specifically is this parsha, which has no mitzvahs, and Haftora asking us to do?

In the Haftora Micah prophecies about things that will happen with the coming of Moshiach. Then, he brings the complaint Hashem has to the Jewish people. "What have I done for you... I brought you up from Egypt... from a house of slavery I redeemed you... I sent before you Moshe, Aaron and Miriam... remember please what Balak advised and what Balam answered him... So you can know the righteous acts of Hashem..." And concludes with Micah saying Hashem doesn't care for grandiose gestures, rather, "He has told you... what is good and what Hashem demands of you, only, to do justice, to love loving-kindness and to walk modestly with Hashem."

The Haftora and parsha have two themes, gifts, which are intertwined, and the key to receive both.

First, that Hashem saves and protects us from those who wish to harm us. He took us out of Egypt, he saved us from Balak and Balam.

The second is, that Moshiach is coming.

They are intertwined because the coming of Moshiach is the final redemption, protection and salvation of the Jewish people. Being that Hashem's presence will be open to all, evil will cease to exist. Hence, salvation, redemption and protection will be unnecessary.

The key is found at the end of the parsha and Haftora.

In the parsha we see that it was our failure to keep our laws and modesty, that caused us to lose our protection.

The Haftora says this in a positive way. It gives us three rules to follow.

Do justice. Which means to keep Hashem's laws, mitzvahs, etc.

Love loving-kindness. In Torah language, love is not a feeling, it is an act. Here it means to do acts of loving-kindness.

To walk modestly with Hashem, which means to be aware of Hashem's presence. When you are aware of Hashem's presence, it is more than belief. Your relationship with Hashem has reached a point, where you know He is there, He is real to you. This changes the way you do things. The way you talk, act, dress and even think, become more refined, because Hashem is part of your reality.

These three things, are who we are, it is the definition of being Jewish. When we get away from our essential selves, we lose our protection, because Hashem wants to protect us, not someone else we are acting like.

Becoming who we are meant to be, taking on these three things, keeping Hashem's laws, doing acts of loving-kindness and making Hashem part of our reality, is the key to bringing Moshiach as prophesied in our parsha. May he come soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why is Israel Still One Parsha Ahead?

Why is Israel on a different parsha track then the rest of the world? Since Pesach they have been one parsha ahead. This means that if you are traveling to Israel, you will miss a parsha.

It all started on Pesach, being that outside the Holy Land we are obligated to celebrate an eighth day, when in Israel Pesach is seven days. When the eighth day falls on Shabbos, in Israel that Shabbos is not Pesach anymore, so they read the next parsha. Out of Israel, it is still Pesach, and the Torah reading is on the holiday theme. It is only the next week that the next parsha is read. And so the parsha in Israel is one week ahead.

This goes on for about four months, until the parshas of Matot and Maasei are combined outside of Israel while in Israel they remain separated, and we are back on the same track.

Between Pesach and Matot Maasei there are, depending on the year, three or four double parshas. Which could put us on the same track as early as the Shabbos following Pesach. So, why do we wait until Matot Maasei, about four months later?

The first thing to understand is that the schedule of the parshas was established outside of the land of Israel. At a time, when in Israel, the Jewish community was small and less educated, and they would read the Torah completing it over a three year cycle.

Later, when Israel, once again became a center of Torah, it adopted the system from outside the Land. Every few years, because of the extra Shabbos, Israel is forced to go on to a different track, while outside of Israel, they remain on the regular track.

We remain with one question. Why were these parshas, outside the Land, set up this way?

The answer is, that when setting up the parsha system, they wanted that parshas Pinchas should, whenever possible, be read during the Three Weeks, between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av). Which is the saddest time on the Jewish calendar. Pinchas has the holiday sacrifice readings, which is joyous, and sweetens the harshness of the time.

They also established, that parshas Bechukosai, which has the curses, be read before Shavuoth, with at least one parsha, usually parshas Bamidbar, buffering between the curses and Shavuoth. This can cause the tracks to align earlier.

When Moshiach comes, The Three Weeks will become a happy time, and parshas Pinchas will be unnecessary to sweeten the time. Perhaps then we will be able to align the tracks earlier, which won't matter much, because we will all be living in Israel.

(All of the information above, was gleaned from questions I posed to rabbis who visited me. As I am limited to the books that I have on my eye gaze computer. Therefore, I request, that if you have more information on the subject, or if there are inaccuracies in what I wrote, please share it in the comments section below.)
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Thank you Mendy Bortunk and DH for your incites.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What We Are Made Of

In this week's parsha, Chukas, we read about the passing of Miriam, and the well of Miriam drying up. We read how the Jewish people were thirsty, Moshe hit the rock and water came out once again. We were so close to the Holy Land, but couldn't get in, Edom wouldn't allow us passage through their land. Then, Aaron's passing, the second war against Amalek, and finally we were forced to turn back and take the long way around the land of Edom.

Disheartened, they turned against Hashem and Moshe, "Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the desert..." Hashem sent snakes which bit them, and many died. Realizing that they were wrong, they asked for forgiveness, and that Moshe pray for them, which he did immediately. Hashem told Moshe to make a copper snake and put it on a staff. Anyone bitten, would look at the snake and live. This is followed by miracles and victories.

Even though life was getting more and more difficult for them, the expectation was that we remain loyal to Hashem and to Moshe.

Why is so much expected from us? Why did Moshe forgive them so quickly? What is the the idea of looking at the snake, that saved them?

The first lesson found here, is that we are different and special. We are The Chosen People for a reason, because Hashem sees the amazing qualities we have over all other nations of the world. The world sees that we are special as well, and they expect us to keep to higher standards. This is why when a Jew does something wrong, it is a bigger deal than when a non Jew does the same act. When our faith is tested over and over again, through struggles, suffering and letdowns, we have it in us to remain strong in our faith and belief. We know that Hashem is in control and that He knows what He is doing. We understand that every setback is really a stepping stone to something much better. We need to rise above in every situation, and when we don't, we let down Hashem, the world and worst of all ourselves.

The second lesson is that when we realize that we are wrong, we ask for forgiveness. And when we are asked for forgiveness sincerely, we should forgive immediately.

The copper snake was placed on a staff, so that you had to look up to it, and so, you were looking up to our Father in heaven. This is the key to being the special people we are, is that we are connected to Hashem and we realize that everything is from Him. When we realize that, the miracles and victories begin.

This parsha is the story of of our lives, the struggles, the suffering, the miracles and the victories. The main thing is to keep our focus on Hashem.

It is now over three years since my diagnosis and these ideas are some of the things that keep me going. First, I realize that I am not being punished, rather I have been placed in a unique position so I can accomplish the unique mission I have been charged with. Second, I have made it my way to ask forgiveness when I am wrong, or when I do something hurtful. It is hard, but it has saved me from heartache and aggravation and it has made life more pleasant for me and the people in my life. Third, and most important, recognizing that Hashem is in control, I don't have to obsess over what I am going through, He knows what He is doing, it is all from Him, and as long as the focus is on Hashem life is meaningful.

With all this said, it is time for Moshiach to come and for the suffering to end. May he come soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

How Far Must Our Love Go

In this week's parsha, Korach, we read about the rebellion of Korach and his cohorts Dasan and Aviram. At one point, Hashem commanded Moshe "Speak to the congregation saying, 'withdraw from the dwellings of Korach, Dasan and Aviram.'" Then it says "And Moshe arose and went to Dasan and Aviram, and all the elders of Israel followed him." It continues, "And he spoke to the congregation..."

The Torah doesn't say anything extra. Why then does it say that Moshe arose, and that all the elders followed him? It could have just said that Moshe went to Dasan and Aviram. What moved the elders to follow him?

Rashi explains, "And Moshe arose" because he thought that Dasan and Aviram would show him respect, but they didn't.

This was already after Hashem gave the command to separate from Korach, Dasan and Aviram. At this point their fate was, so to speak, sealed. It was beyond the point of reconciliation and repentance. For that matter, going to talk to them, would be going against Hashem's command, to separate from them. And even more, Moshe was on a mission from Hashem to warn the people to separate themselves from Korach, Dasan and Aviram, it would be highly inappropriate for him to do anything before completing his mission.

Even though Dasan and Aviram's fate was sealed, and even though they acted brazenly against Moshe and were instigators of the rebellion, still Moshe, out of his great love for every Jew, sought to find a way to save Dasan and Aviram from their looming fate.

He couldn't go talk to them nor do anything that would interfere with his mission. This is why Moshe arose, meaning, he used his position and stature, as king and leader of the Jewish people in the hope that it would affect Dasan and Aviram to at least show respect, saving them from being swallowed by the earth.

This is also why the elders followed him, because Moshe was acting in the capacity of the king, and where the king goes, so do the elders. This added to the prestige of the event, but unfortunately it still didn't have the desired affect on the conspirators.

If Moshe found love in his heart to try and find ways to save these evil people, how much more so must we find ways to include Jewish people who are less knowledgeable in Torah, especially when it is no fault of their own.

We have many brothers and sisters who were not granted a proper Jewish education, for what ever reason. We must take a page of Moshe's play book and Moshe's love, and seek to find ways to include these Jews as well into the life of Torah which is an everlasting life.

More than anything else, it is our love of every Jew, that is the key to bringing Moshiach, which all Jews will experience together. May he come soon.