Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hashem Is Carrying Us

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl

This week we read the seventh Haftora of consoling. It is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. It is always read with parshas Netzavim and sometimes Netzavim-Vayelech, when they are read together.

What is the connection between this Haftora and Rosh Hashanah? What message is there to be found here for the new year?

Just as there is a hint to Rosh Hashanah in the first verse of the parsha, so too is there a hint to Rosh Hashanah in the first verse of the Haftora.

The parsha begins, "You are all standing here today before Hashem your G-d." The day we all stand before G-d in judgment is Rosh Hashanah.

The Haftora begins, "I will rejoice in Hashem, my soul will exult in my G-d." "I will rejoice," is an open joy, referring to Sukkos, where the central theme is joy, and the holiday is called  "Time of our joy." "my soul will exult," is an inner joy, hidden in the soul, referring to Rosh Hashanah, where there is joy, because it is a holiday, because of the special mitzvah of the day, shofar, and because of what Rosh Hashanah represents and accomplishes, the crowning of Hashem as our King for another year, a new G-dly energy coming into the world and Hashem inscribing us, in the book of life, for a happy and sweet year. But this joy is hidden in the awe and solemnity of the Day of Judgment. As it says, "v'gilu b'riada, they will exult trembling."

Why is the order reversed, first the open joy of Sukkos, and then the hidden joy of Rosh Hashanah, doesn't Rosh Hashanah come first?

Perhaps there is an open joy that preceeds Rosh Hashanah. Whenever a mitzvah is done, it is accompanied with joy, the joy of a mitzvah. Even more, there is also joy preceeding the mitzvah, in anticipation of doing the mitzvah. With Rosh Hashanah, on its way, and the anticipation of all the things that causes the hidden joy, brings an open joy before Rosh Hashanah. Especially as brought by the Tur, that being that the Jewish people are certain that they will be meritorious in judgment on the Day of Judgment, they dress in white, take haircuts, etc. Meaning, that this preparation is because of the joy which comes before the holiday.

Just as the first verse tells us about hidden joy, the last verse also tells us about something hidden. Looking at the exile, Isaiah says, "In all their troubles, He was troubled," meaning, that Hashem is with us through all our difficulties, suffering, etc., albeit in a hidden way.

The Haftora ends, "and He bore them and He carried them all the days of yore." Meaning that during the exile Hashem is not only with us, but He is also carrying us through it all.

For some reason, Hashem puts us through so many difficulties, we all suffer in this exile. I choose to think that our suffering somehow, accomplishes great things. When we think back at the hardships, we realize, that Hashem was with us all the time, carrying us through it all.

Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year. Like the head controls the whole body, so does Rosh Hashanah effect the whole year. If we come in to Rosh Hashanah, with the knowledge, that Hashem is always with us, it will not only help us throughout the year, but when faced with challenges, we will allow Hashem to take care of things. We will realize that Hashem is there to carry us through it and we could rely on Him.

Working on this Dvar Torah, I was having a hard time with the idea of Hashem being with us through difficulties, because it is my nature, that everything is fine. I just felt that I wasn't relating to people and the concept of suffering. Needless to say, I was stuck.

Then Hashem sent me the explanation. A wonderful woman sent my wife and I an email, expressing what she was going through, and everything became crystal clear.

Here is what she wrote. I am sharing it with her permission.

The View From Down Here

I gaze up at the open endless sky.
More like search for the end of the darkness.
From way down here.
At the bottom.
The very deepest depth.
This abyss.

I have been here many times before.
It's almost comfortable.
Each time, feeling less alien to me.
Less lonely.
Less scary.
Not because I'm in a good place.
But this space leaves me no choice.
I must take in my surroundings,
Press onward.  
Freezing in fear - no longer an option.

I have been here so many times before, that I almost don't know how to cope with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Planted firmly, yet still not set. 

But this time is different.
I'm less in a panic.
Less in fear.
Less consciously aware of how difficult MY life is.

Hashem has helped me.
The only way I can explain it.

Asked "how can you survive like this?"

My answer? "Hashem helps me".
This is truly the only explanation.

This Rosh Hashana when I cry to Hashem for a year living above ground, I will be thanking Hashem for holding my hand and holding my head up for me. After all, if it weren't for Hashems attention to me and His silent guidance,  I'd be laying on the cold floor of that dark abyss drowning in my own salt filled heavy tears.


May Hashem bless you all with a happy and sweet year, and may Hashem send Moshiach and do away with suffering. May he come soon.

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.

For the second day of Rosh Hashanah - Rachel's Sacrifice  

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

Download Printable Version

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.