Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Purpose Of Creation

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The Haftora for parshas Bereishis is from the book of Yishayahu (Isaiah). Sefardic and Chabad custom is to conclude at the end of chapter 22, Ashkenazic custom is to continue on to chapter 23. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a unique personal custom, that his father-in-law, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, instructed him to follow, but not as a rule for the community. That in a regular year, he would conclude at the end of chapter 22 and in a Jewish Leap Year, he would continue on to chapter 23. (I don't know the reason for this. If anyone does, please share it in the comments section below.) I will be using both chapters as the basis of this Dvar Torah.

There are several reasons we read this Haftora on Shabbos Bereishis.

First, because it starts with, "So says the Almighty G-d, Who created Heavens . . . Who laid out the earth. . ."  Which is similar to our parsha, that speaks of the creation of the heavens and the earth. However, if this were the only reason, we would stop after the first verse. There has to be more.

We must look deeper. The Haftora shares with us the reason for creation. The Haftora is all about Moshiach, it speaks about learning Torah, doing mitzvas, "Hashem wants . . ., him to make Torah great and to strengthen it." It speaks about the Jewish people, how the world will realize that we were right, and Hashem's disappointment with us for not doing our job well. But He also tells us that he is always with us, through all the hardships, and he says, "You are My witnesses. . . My servant I have chosen."

What is the connection between all these things, creation, Moshiach, Torah, mitzvahs and the Jewish people?

The reason why Hashem created this world, is because, He has a divine desire, to dwell in this world openly, and that we make that possible through our efforts. This is what the Jewish mission is all about. We were not just chosen because of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, rather, we are part of Hashem's plan, from the very beginning. Hashem created an unfinished world, and made us His partners in creation, to complete it, of our own free will.

Hashem gave us special Neshamas, that are actually a part of Him. These Neshamas are what enables us to bring out the potential hidden in creation.

He gave us Torah and mitzvas, with which to accomplish this mission. Every mitzvah is done with physical objects, time or place. When you do a mitzvah, you transform the physical into holy. Even when doing every day activities, like working, eating, exercising, etc., if you are doing them, to support your life of Torah, they too become holy and transformative actions.

When our work is done, the purpose of creation will be realized, the world will be an open dwelling for Hashem, and by definition, Moshiach will be here.

Now you can see that everything has purpose and how it all fits together. The world, the Torah, and the Jewish people, are parts of a puzzle, which together, complete Hashem's desire, the coming of Moshiach.

This is why we read this on Shabbos Bereishis, because as we start the Torah from the beginning, its purpose must be made clear.

May we soon see the prophecies in this Haftora come true. May we witness the culmination of our transformative work, Hashem's open revelation, with the coming of Moshiach. May it happen soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Dedication Of A Beis Hamikdash

On Shmini Atzeres, in the diaspora, the Haftora we read, tells us how the First Beis Hamikdash was dedicated by Shlomo Hamelech (king Solomon). It was a two week festival which included Yom Kippur (that year, they didn't fast on Yom Kippur, Shlomo Hamelech, being a prophet, commanded them not to. A prophet cannot cancel a mitzvah, but can suspend a mitzvah as a one time occasion.)

The Haftora tells us the beautiful blessing that Shlomo Hamelech gave the Jewish people. Thousands of sacrifices were brought, the altar wasn't big enough, so Shlomo Hamelech consecrated the entire area in front of the Heichal (the area around the altar) to offer the sacrifices.

Why do we read this Haftora on Shmini Atzeres?

One reason, is that the Haftora says, "On the eighth day he sent the nation," Shmini Atzeres is the eighth day.

Another reason, the Zohar tells us, that every day of Sukkos, we are visited by the Ushpizin, special spiritual guests. The first day Avraham, then Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David. It would follow that on Shmini Atzeres, the Ushpizin would be Shlomo, therefore we read of his crowning achievement, the completion of the Beis Hamikdash.

The verse continues, "they blessed the king and went to their tents happy and good-hearted over all the good Hashem did for His servant David and his nation Yisrael." Shmini Atzeres is the end of the holidays, it is when we take all the blessings from all the holidays and bring it home. To take the energy from the holidays and apply it to the year. This is yet another message in the Haftora, and perhaps the most important and practical ideas found there in. After you build the Beis Hamikdash, take it home with you, allow the holiness to be part of your daily lives.

May Hashem give us the ultimate blessing, the third and final Beis Hamikdash, and may we stand together with all the Ushpizin to dedicate it. May it happen soon.

Dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Mendel Brickman, a friend who was a source of strength and inspiration to me. He was regal like a king and holy like a Beis Hamikdash. May his family be consoled, and may his memory go on. He will be missed by all.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The War That Will End All Wars

On Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the Haftora is from Yechezkel (Ezekiel), and about the war of Gog and Magog, which will be the prelude to the coming of Moshiach. It is followed by Yechezkel's vision of the Third Temple. (Note: There is a Chasidic tradition, that this war may not need to occur, being that this exile has been so prolonged).

In the Haftora, Gog, king of Magog, together with his allies, which is understood to mean the whole world (this is hinted in the numerical value of the words Gog u'Magog, which equal 70. 70, is the amount of nations originally counted in the Torah, therefore, it represents the nations of the world), will converge on Yerushalayim.

The Haftora now describes what Hashem will do to Gog, Magog, his allies, and the lands that support the war. There will be an earthquake, fires, and much more. The armies that will converge on Israel will be so vast, that its weapons will provide fuel for seven years, and it will take seven months to bury all their dead.

After this war, hatred towards the Jewish people will cease, as all their opponents will be gone. It will be the war that will end all wars and everyone will accept Hashem as their G-d.

The question is, why do we read this Haftora on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos?

One connection, is its similarity to the Torah reading. On Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos, we read about the making of the second set of tablets, which signifies, Hashem's acceptance of the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf. Which can be seen as a new era of greatness and closeness between Hashem and the Jewish people. Our Haftora also speaks of the acceptance of the Jewish people following this dark exile, which was brought on us, as we say in the holiday prayers, "because of our sins." The difference between then and now, is that the acceptance after the golden calf, was followed by an exile. However when Moshiach comes, the acceptance will be complete, not to be followed by another exile.

Another connection, is that according to many, the war of Gog and Magog will happen during the month of Tishrei. But why read it on Sukkos? Because in the Haftora of the first day of Sukkos, it speaks of the same war and mentions that the gentiles will have to keep the holiday of Sukkos. Another reason, is that our Haftora tells about the transformation of the nations of the world and on Sukkos 70 sacrifices were brought for the nations of the world.

However, I feel, that the main reason is because Sukkos is the holiday of the harvest, when we gather all the produce we toiled so hard for. On a spiritual level, we start to gather in the spiritual benefits of our efforts throughout the month of Elul, the High Holidays and the Ten Days of Teshuva. After the war of Gog and Magog, we will reap the benefits of our toil in this dark exile, and we will be forever together with Hashem.

We are left with a question. I understand the connection between the Haftora and Sukkos, but why read it on Shabbos Chol Hamoed, why not read it on the first day of Sukkos? Because the message of the Haftora, while being connected to Sukkos, it is not an annually recurring theme of the holiday. Being that Shabbos Chol Hamoed doesn't occur every year, for example, when the first day of Sukkos is Shabbos, there is no Shabbos Chol Hamoed, therefore it is the perfect time to have a message that connects to the holiday but is not recurring.

This Haftora is about the coming of Moshiach, which we don't need to be recurring, we just need it to happen once. With or without a war, may he come soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

His Name Will Be One

On the first day of Sukkos we read the last chapter of Zachariah, because it mentions that when Moshiach comes, after the great war of Gog and Magog, the remainder of gentiles in the world, will be obligated to celebrate the holiday of Sukkos. It makes a lot of sense that they should celebrate Sukkos, because during Sukkos, seventy sacrifices were brought for the nations of the world.

The Haftora opens with a description of the war, at first, half the city will go into exile.  But then, Hashem will do the fighting, and He will take care of business.

The Haftora then says, "On that day His feet will stand on Mount Olives." What is the meaning of this metaphor, of feet standing on Mount Olives?

One explanation is that it refers to Moshiach, that he will stand on Mount Olives and teach the nations of the world about Hashem.

Another explanation is that olive oil is symbolic of intelligence, as our sages tell us, that the residence of Tekoa were known to be wise, because of their  consumption of olive oil. Olives, the source of olive oil, being the source of the intellect,  and Mount Olives being the place where the source of intellect comes from. So Mount Olives is symbolic of serving Hashem based on our understanding. Feet symbolize accepting His will with unquestioning faith. In other words, serving Hashem not based on understanding, but rather an acceptance of the Heavenly yoke.

In our verse, the feet are standing on Mount Olives. Meaning, that the service of Hashem through unquestioning faith, is above or greater than the service based on intellect.

One would think, that serving Hashem through intellect, would be greater and more meaningful than blind faith. What puts unquestioning faith above intellect? 

When serving Hashem through your understanding, it may seem more meaningful to you, but it is limited to your intellectual capacity, which is small compared to the infinite levels that could be attained. However, serving Hashem through accepting His will, not being based on understanding, is unlimited, and therefore, what it can accomplish is unlimited.

Our generation, the generation that will bring Moshiach, main service, is through unquestioning faith, and it is this mode of service, being unlimited, that will draw down Hashem's unlimited revelation, and by definition, the era of Moshiach.

Now you see how these two definition are really one. It is us who bring Moshiach through our unquestioning faith, and that is why, Moshiach will be able to stand on Mount Olives and teach the nations of the world about Hashem.

This idea is also seen later in the Haftora. The famous verse we say several times a day. That when Moshiach comes, "Hashem will be King over the entire earth, on that day Hashem will be one and His Name will be one.

When Moshiach comes the whole world will recognize Hashem. But what does it mean, that His Name will be one?

Hashem's Name is made up of four letters, Yud, Hey, Vav and Hey. The first two letters, Yud and Hey, also known as the Holy One Blessed Be He, is Hashem's presence which surrounds the world. This presence, if revealed, would be too much for existence to handle. The last two letters, Vav and Hey, are the Shechina, Hashem's presence which fills the world, and fills every part of existence according to its needs. Through our service and performance of mitzvahs, we draw down the surrounding presence, and raise up the filling presence, and the goal is to unite the them as one. When we do, Moshiach will be here, His Name will be one, both the first and second halves of His Name will have the higher level of holiness, and the world will be prepared to handle this great revelation.

This is the meaning of the line we say at the beginning of the morning prayers. That we are doing this, "For the purpose of uniting the Holy One Blessed Be He and His Shechina. To unite Yud Hey and Vav Hey, with a complete unification... "

The greats of past generations served Hashem through intellect, but it is we who will bring Moshiach through our amazing unquestioning faith. May he come soon.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Great Light Which Comes Out Of The Darkness

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl

The Song of David is read as the Haftora twice during the year. Once with parshas Hazinu (when it falls between Yom Kippur and Sukkos), because it is similar to Moshe's song of Hazinu, and again on the Shvii Shel Pesach the seventh day of Pesach, when we read Az Yashir, the song we sung at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds.

When we read Az Yashir during the year, we read the Song of Devorah, because at the splitting of the sea, the women were more joyous than the men. While the men sang, the women sang with dances and tambourines. Therefore we sing the song of a woman, the Song of Devorah.

Why then do we read the Song of David on Shvii Shel Pesach? Because on Shvii Shel Pesach, the light of Moshiach shines bright, as the day has redemptive qualities to it. That is why, it was on this day, when the Jewish people went through the Sea of Reeds, finally being freed from the Egyptians. Being that David Hamelech is the father of Moshiach, we read his song.

The Song of David, is recorded twice in the Tannach, once in Shmuel Beis (Samuel II), and again, with variations, in Tehilim (Psalms). For the Haftora, the one from Shmuel Beis is read.

David Hamelech sang this song, in gratitude to Hashem, Who saved him from his enemies and from king Shaul. It is written in the Tannach twice, because there are many lessons to be learned from it with regards to our personal salvation from dark and difficult situations and challenges. I will just mention a few.

The Haftora tells us, that Hashem, "surrounded Himself with a canopy of darkness, from clouds of water, bound together..." This is said, not in a negative way, but rather, in a positive way. What is positive about Hashem being in the darkness?

First, it is the darkness that defines the light. Second, darkness and difficulties bring out light in two ways. When a person is faced with a challenge, it brings out the will in him, to overcome and break through the darkness. By overcoming the darkness, the light is greater than it would have been without the difficulty.

However, there is much more that can be achieved with this darkness. Sometimes the darkness is so great, that it is insurmountable. When this happens, there is only one strategy left to implement, to turn the darkness into light. By taking the difficulty and finding a way to use it for good, you realize that the darkness was not darkness at all. This is called, the great light which comes out of the darkness. It is when difficulty itself becomes the light. This light is greatest of all, because when you achieve that, not only does it push the darkness away, but it ceases to exist, like it never existed, you realize that it was truly great light in disguise, and now you revealed it.

This message is found later in the Haftora as well. David Hamelech says, "You are my lamp, Hashem, and Hashem lights my darkness." A lamp dispels darkness, but the darkness still exists, it is just overcome. "Hashem lights my darkness," is when the revelation of Hashem is so great, that the darkness ceases to exist.

How did David Hamelech achieve these great salvations? He says that Hashem, "makes my legs straight like a doe's." Rashi explains that a female deer's legs are straighter than the male's. What does a doe's legs have to do with our Haftora?

A dear prances freely and could go far on its legs. This symbolizes, that we are capable of doing a lot. Straight legs symbolizes, acceptance of Hashem's will without question, just as legs do the bidding of the head, taking it from place to place, without question. He speaks of a female deer, because women, being closer to Hashem, are more likely to do what He wants without question. As we see by the sin of the golden calf, the women refused to get involved. David Hamelech is saying, that because he had the unquestioning faith, that women naturally have, he merited these great salvations. As the verse continues, "He stands me on high places." Meaning, that when we act this way, Hashem doesn't just save us, but He puts us above any possibility of strife, challenges, darkness, difficulties, pain, suffering, etc.

May we merit this already, as we have all done Hashem's bidding and suffered for it. It is time for Moshiach to come. May he come soon.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Teshuva Beyond Teshuva

This week the Haftora begins with the words Shuva Yisrael, therefore, we call this Shabbos, Shabbos Shuva. Some call it Shabbos Teshuva, because it is in The Ten Days of Teshuva.

The Haftora begins, "Return Yisrael until Havaya Elokecha, (Hashem your G-d) for you have stumbled because of your sins. Take with you words and return to Hashem..."

Why are we reading this now after the teshuva of the month of Elul, and after The Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, on which we were certainly forgiven and granted a good year, and especially with the shofar blowing, which symbolizes Hashem's acceptance of us, as He becomes our King for another year? What does it mean, that we should return, "until" Hashem your G-d, shouldn't it say, "to" Hashem your G-d? Why is it that after the first verse says "return until Hashem," the second verse says "Take with you words and return to Hashem," what is the second verse adding to the first?

Another question. The terms used in these verses seem off. Throughout the books of the prophets, there are two names that are used to mean the Jewish people, Yaakov and Yisrael. Yaakov, the lower name, refers to the Jewish people when they are not so perfect. The name Yaakov, is from the word akaiv, which means a heel, suggesting a lower level. Yisrael, the higher name, refers to the Jewish people when they are righteous. The name Yisrael, is made up of the words li rosh, which means I have a head, head suggests a higher level. Here in our verse, Hoshea, refers to us as Yisrael, the higher name and tells us to return to Hashem. If we are Yisrael, we are already close to Hashem, why do we need to return? And if we are Yisrael, how do the words, "for you have stumbled because of your sins," make sense, what kind of sins does righteous Yisrael have? On the other hand, if we do need to return, why does he call us Yisrael?

While there are many answers to these questions, I will try to answer them in the context of the time we are in, The Ten Days of Teshuva.

It is true, when Shabbos Shuva comes around, we are already forgiven for our sins, we are at the level of Yisrael. However, here we are talking about a higher level of teshuva.

The most basic teshuva, is to correct blemishes in our relationship with Hashem that were caused by committing sins, specifically, breaking one of the 365 negative Commandments. This is fixing the physical infractions, as mitzvahs are all done with the physical. This is what the teshuva of the month of Elul, and Rosh Hashanah accomplishes.

A higher level of teshuva, is on a spiritual and intellectual level. Once the faults have been corrected, we are at the level of Yisrael. However, Hashem wants us to come closer, a relationship that is just about not doing anything wrong, is not much of a relationship. He wants us to know Him, through the study of Torah, and spiritually get closer through learning and meditating on the esoteric teachings of the Torah. This is the meaning of, "until Hashem your G-d," until you see Havaya as Elokecha.

Every name of Hashem has different meaning and purpose. The name Havaya is the life force of all existence, spiritual and physical. However, it is so holy, that the physical world would cease to exist if exposed to its revelation. The name Elokim, which Elokecha is the same, allows the physical world to exist, by acting as a shield which filters the energy from the name Havaya making the physical world possible, and it seems, as if, it is the strength and the life force of existence.

This is why the Torah starts with, "In the beginning, Elokim created the heavens and the earth." Because it is the name Elokim that makes creation possible.

To return until Havaya Elokecha, is to get to such a spiritual closeness to Hashem, that the creative energy of Havaya becomes revealed to you, and you begin to see Havaya as your life force. This revelation can only be attained through reaching a point where you cease to exist. In other words, it is all about Hashem.

This is why we proclaim at the closing of Yom Kippur, Havaya hu ho'Elokim. Because at that point we attain the higher level of teshuva.

Now you can understand why it says "for you have stumbled because of your sins." Because for someone who is at that high level of spirituality and doesn't reach for the deeper connection, where Havaya is Elokecha, it is akin to a sin.

During The High Holidays we are inspired and attain this spiritual high. Once you reach this high level, it is easy to fall back once the inspiration is gone. This is what the second verse adds, "Take with you words and return to Hashem." it is not enough to reach the high level, but you have to be able to retain it after the inspiration is gone. What this verse is asking of us, is to internalize the spiritual level attained so you can take it with you once the excitement is gone.

We see this idea later in the Haftora, "for the paths of Hashem are straight, the righteous will walk in them, and the wicked will stumble in them." A path is meant to take you to a place, the goal is the place not the path. The inspiration and excitement are the path to the goal, to be one with Hashem. When we use the inspiration to get close to Hashem we remain close when the inspiration is gone. However, when we make the inspiration and excitement the goal we stumble, because naturally inspiration and excitement dissipate, and when it does, the connection is lost.

May we experience this high level of teshuva, and become one with Hashem. May we come to a time when seeing Havaya in Elokim, seeing Havaya in creation is the norm, which will happen with the coming of Moshiach. As the verse says about the time of Moshiach, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Havaya, like the water covers the sea. May it happen soon.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rachel's Sacrifice

The Haftora for the second day of Rosh Hashanah is all about the redemption. How we will return, how wonderful it will be, why we will merit redemption, and how much Hashem loves us.

At the core of its message, is repentance and ultimate sacrifice, that is its connection to Rosh Hashanah.

The Haftora opens with Hashem saying that He found favor in us when we were in the desert, and he lead us to rest in Israel. How we will return there, how wonderful things will be, and that we will return as a vast assembly.

In what merit will we return? In the merit of teshuva, returning to Hashem through prayer and supplication. As the verse says, "They will come weeping, with supplications I will lead them." The power of our teshuva, will bring an end to this exile, and it is teshuva that is central to the High Holidays, as the Ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, are called The Ten Days of Teshuva.

Hashem now addresses the world, and tells them that He will redeem us and that they won't be able to take advantage of us any more. Then Hashem says the most amazing thing, He says, "I will turn their mourning into joy." He doesn't say that He will end our mourning, rather, He will turn our mourning into joy. This means that the actual suffering and pain of the exile will be transformed into joy. The more the suffering in exile, the greater the joy when Moshiach comes.

The Haftora continues, "So says Hashem, 'a voice is heard on high, bitter weeping, Rachel is crying for her children...'" Her cries are so powerful, that Hashem gives in to her, He tells her that she doesn't have to cry any more, "your children will return to their boarder."

it is certain, that our patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and our other matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka and Leah are crying for us as well. Why are only Rachel's cries heard? Why is she able to break through, while the others could not?

It is because of her great sacrifice. What was her sacrifice?

Many of you know the story. When Yaakov and Rachel were to be married, Yaakov suspected that the unscrupulous Lavan, his future father in law, would put his older daughter, Leah, under the vail. So he and Rachel prepared a secret signal for her to show, so that he would know that it was really her. When Lavan made the switch, Rachel realized how embarrassed Leah would be if she was found out, so she gave her the secret signal. By giving her the signal, she sacrificed everything. First she gave away the man she loved, second, had she married him that day, she would have possibly been his only wife and the mother of all the tribes. She also gave up the ability to be with Yaakov, which was not only a physical sacrifice, but a spiritual loss as well, because Yaakov was such a holy man.

By giving the signal to her sister, she gave up everything and she didn't hold back the signal from her because of jealousy. This is her argument to Hashem, this is what she is crying for her children. If I, a mere mortal, was not jealous of my sister, and gave her the secret signal, then Hashem, who doesn't have jealousy, because He is way beyond that, should not be jealous that the Jewish people served false gods. And with this cry, she accomplishes what no one else could, that her children will return to their boarder.

Then, as He does throughout the Haftora, Hashem uses Efraim to mean the Jewish people. Why? First, because he was the main tribe of Yosef, who was the first Jew forced into exile. Second, because Efraim was born in exile, in Egypt, before the Jewish people came down there. Third, because the tribe of Efraim was the leader of the ten northern tribes, who were sent into exile first, during the First Temple era.

Hashem says, "Isn't Efraim my beloved son? Isn't he a precious child?... I surely will have compassion on him, says G-d." This beloved verse, is part of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, it is always said in a beautiful melodic tune, and the congregation usually joins in. In this verse Hashem describes his love and affection for us, and that when He thinks of us, He is moved.

Hashem loves us so much, and he will have compassion and redeem us. The message here for Rosh Hashanah, is that through teshuva and true sacrifice we can bring Moshiach.

With all this said, we have all sacrificed enough already. May Hashem show His love for us, and send Moshiach right away. 

Have a happy and sweet year.

In honor of my wife Dina, whose daily sacrifices for me and the family is what keeps us together and strong. I don't know what we would do without her.

For the first day of Rosh Hashanah - The Power Of Chana's Prayer