Thursday, December 29, 2016

We Are Branches Of A Golden Menorah

Print Version  
This week's Haftora is read twice during the year. On the first Shabbos of Chanukah, and again with parshas Bahaloscha.

The obvious reason for reading this haftorah is because it speaks of a golden menorah and the Kohen Gadol. Chanukah we had the miracle with the lights of the menorah and finding the oil with the Kohen Gadol's unbroken seal, and parshas Bahaloscha begins with Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, being instructed with regards to lighting the menorah.

This Haftora is prophecy from our prophet Zachariah, at the end of the Persian exile, just before we returned to Israel, to build the Second Temple. But it is clearly also referring to us, at the end of this final exile, soon to be building the third and last Temple. In this article, I will mostly touch on how it pertains to our time.

The Haftora begins, "Sing and rejoice daughter of Zion, behold I will come and dwell in your midst." The Jewish people here are called " daughter of Zion," and told to rejoice. The Haftora continues with two prophecies, first about Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol, and then about the golden menorah.

Why are we called daughter of Zion? And why do we begin the Haftora here, and not with the prophecy of the golden menorah, which is the subject of Bahaloscha and Chanukah?

The key to understanding this, is the time in which Zachariah had this prophecy, during the exile, a time of darkness.

The Jewish people are called Zion, but only prior to the exile. During the exile we are at sub-Zion level, referred to as the daughter of Zion. However, it is specifically when we are at the daughter of Zion level, that we can bring the most light into the world. This is the whole idea of lighting the menorah, to shine the light of Hashem throughout the world.

When the Jewish people are referred to in the feminine, we are called either daughter, sister or mother. We are called Daughter, when we do mitzvahs, and we are in the mode of Hashem's servants, accepting the yoke He burdens us with. We are called Sister, when we study Torah, and we create, so to speak, a kinship with Hashem, getting to know Him. We are called Mother, when we daven, like a mother that has an influence on her children, when we daven, we so to speak, affect Hashem, awakening his compassion, kindness, etc.

While being in the mother or sister mode sounds more meaningful, they can only draw Hashem's light according to the ability of the one davening or learning. However, in the daughter mode, the person is nullified, with Hashem's yoke being thrust upon him, and the light of Hashem that enters the world is according to Hashem's ability which is infinite. So the greatest amount of light shines when we are called daughter of Zion.

Why Zion, why not daughter of Israel? Zion also refers to Tzadikim, daughter of Zion, refers to those who connect themselves to Tzadikim, especially the Tzadik of the generation. Because they draw G-dly revelation to the Jewish people, especially to those who are connected to them. This makes it possible to serve Hashem with joy, even when doing mitzvahs out of obligation. And perhaps another reason this generates true joy, is because the Tzadik unites us, and working in unity, our egos are nullified and we are united in cause. This togetherness creates a momentum and a joy that is so powerful. This is the meaning of " Sing and rejoice daughter of Zion," that this joy of unity and the nullification of the self to Hashem's will, fills the world with such a great light that, "Behold I will come and dwell in your midst." In other words. Moshiach will come.

Why are we able to affect the world to bring Moshiach, while our holy ancestors were not?

Because we are the generation before Moshiach, of whom Moshe Rabeinu was amazed. What is so special about us?

To answer this question, we need to look further into the Haftora. Hashem shows Zachariah a vision. Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol is standing before the angel of Hashem, and to his right is the Soton ready to accuse him. Hashem said to the Soton, "Hashem will rebuke you Soton, Hashem, who chooses Yerushalayim, will reprimand you." In other words, how dare you accuse Yehoshua, "is he not a firebrand rescued from fire." Nebuchadnezzar had Yehoshua thrown into the fire, but because he was so holy he was protected by Hashem. Hashem is saying here, isn't that enough proof of his holiness?

The Rebbe explained about this generation, that we too are a firebrand rescued from fire, especially after the Holocaust. Moshe was amazed by us and who wouldn't be, after all we have been through, we are still doing what Hashem wants and with all our hearts. Even one mitzvah done today by a non observant Jew is an exceptional act and special to Hashem. Therefore we are amazing and our service to Hashem is on a whole new level of holiness than that of previous generations. And just as Yehoshua Kohen Gadol merited to see the building of the second Beis Hamikdash, so to, we will merit to see the building of the third and final Beis Hamikdash.

Now we can see how the prophecy of the golden menorah fits in. The menorah was made of one solid piece of gold and had seven branches. The seven branches symbolize seven types of Jews, each who serve Hashem from the spiritual nature of his soul, one out of love, another out of fear, etc. The common denominator, is that we all give light.

Why was it made of one solid piece of gold? To show, that although there are different paths, ultimately we are one. This unity, love for our fellow Jew, is the key to our success. When we are together our light shines brightest, and we have the greatest affect on the world. Therefore, loving our fellow Jew is the key to bringing Moshiach.

The menorah in Zachariah's prophecy had two olive trees on either side of it, and the olives were being automatically processed into oil. The oil was dripping into a bowl above the menorah and from the bowl there were pipes feeding the lamps of the menorah.

Why olives? Because though olives are bitter, from them comes the oil that produces light. This is a lesson about the exile. Although it is bitter, out of it we produce the greatest light. This idea is called, the great light that comes out of the darkness.

Why was the oil self producing and automatically feeding the lamps of the menorah? The Haftora answers the question. Hashem says, "Not with might, nor by power, but by My spirit." When the time for Moshiach comes, we won't have to fight battles, or exert strength in any way. The whole world will accept Hashem's dominion and Moshiach's leadership. It will be effortless, because Hashem will do it all.

May we sing and rejoice together with the coming of Moshiach, knowing that it is our efforts that filled the world with the light of Hashem, and transformed the exile into redemption. May it happen soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Lion's Roar

Print Version
In the Haftora for parshas Vayeishev, our prophet Amos, delivers Hashem's words of rebuke to the ten northern tribes, the kingdom of Yisrael. He chastises them for their corruption of those in power over the common folk and for not listening to the prophets.

The connection to the parsha, is that the Haftora speaks of the sale of a Tzadik for silver and a poor man for a pair of shoes. Which resembles the sale of Yosef as a slave to Egypt, spoken about in our parsha. It also speaks about corrupt judges taking falsely charging innocent people, for their personal benefit. Yosef, full of integrity, did not take advantage of his position, but was thrown into jail on false charges. His strength of character, merited him to become the viceroy of Egypt. Then the Haftora continues with the truth of prophecy, and that it is directly from Hashem, this alludes to Yosef's dreams and his ability to interpret dreams, which was clearly prophecy from Hashem. And finally, the Haftora mentions the exodus from Egypt, which was the end of an exile, that began with Yosef being sold to Egypt.

The Haftora begins with Hashem saying that He could forgive us "for three" sins, (idol worship, inappropriate relations and murder), "but for four" (the perversion of justice in the judicial system), he "will not forgive." This verse speaks for itself, to Hashem, taking advantage of people, who you have power over, is the worst thing. Hashem is ready to forgive the most heinous crimes, but not this one.

Hashem goes on to say, that after all He has done for us, He brought us up out of Egypt, He fought wars for us. He gave us prophets and teachers, but those in power silenced them. Then they used their authority to take from the powerless and use for their own pleasures. He goes on to say what will be the consequences for these deplorable actions.

Then Hashem says, "I only loved you, from all the families of the earth, that is why I punish you for all your transgressions." This love of Hashem to us, is from his essence, where he is one with us, beyond any reason, therefore it is an essential bond that cannot be broken. And precisely because of this great love, our actions matter to Hashem, that is why he punishes us for our wrong doing.

Then the Haftora continues with rhetorical statements, that demonstrate that the consequences, are a direct result of our actions. These verses have alternative meanings, I will touch on a few.

"Do two walk together, without it being arranged?" The word for a farbrengen (gathering) in Hebrew is hisvadus. It comes from the word noadu (arranged) in this verse. The idea is that when two or more Jews come together in unity, it is very powerful, especially to strengthen each other with regards to keeping Torah and mitzvahs, and with their connection with Hashem. This verse is also telling us, that when we meet another Jew, we shouldn't take it for granted, thinking that it is by chance that you met. Rather Hashem arranged for you to meet and therefore, you must use the opportunity to help each other, learn something from each other, or see what you can do together to help another.

"Does a lion roar in the forest, if he has no prey?" The lion's roar, represents the greatest expression of its strength. On a spiritual level, this refers to when we are as strong as a lion and we overcome our evil inclination, which then becomes our prey. The excitement felt inside is amazing, because Hashem has so much pleasure and pride in us, causing His light shine on and in us.

"If a shofar is sounded in a city, can the inhabitants fail to be terrified?" The simple meaning of this verse is, that a shofar was sounded when enemies were converging on a city, which was terrifying. Alternatively, this refers to sounding the shofar in the month of Elul. That the sound of the shofar reaches the core of every Jew, even those that seem distant and cold to Judaism are affected by the sound of the shofar. In this verse, no reference is made of the one blowing, because no matter who is doing the blowing, the sound that enters us is from Hashem. This is the reason why it is so effective.

"When a lion roars, who does not fear?" In Hebrew, lion is Aryeh, and if you rearrange the letters, you get yirah, which means fear. The Shaloh Hakadosh tells us, that Aryeh is an acronym for Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshana Rabba. The fear and awe of Hashem is upon us at those times, because He is close. The Yakult Shimoni tells us, that Aryeh refers to the month of Menachem Av, because its Mazal is the lion. So Hashem is close then as well, which is reason to praise Hashem and be joyous on Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, even more than other Rosh Chodeshes.

It is in the merit of honesty, strength of character and integrity, especially from those in positions of power, and the belief in the words of our great prophets, that we will hear Hashem sounding The Great Shofar of Freedom, announcing that Moshiach here. May he come soon.

Monday, December 26, 2016

It's All About Hashem

Print Version
The way that our parshas are set up, we always read about Yosef on Chanukah. And being that everything in Torah is exact, even what our great sages enacted, we must ask:

What does Yosef have to do with Chanukah? What lesson can we take from Yosef and Chanukah, to help us deal with difficult times?

In the story of Chanukah, there were miraculous victories. Strong in the hands of the week, many in the hands of few, etc. But when the Talmud tells us what Chanukah is all about, it tells us only about the miracle of finding the pure oil and that it burned for eight days. When Chanukah was established as a holiday, only one mitzvah was ordained, to light the lamps of the menorah.

Why is there no mention of the great victories? And why isn't there a mitzvah to have a meal like on Purim?

The question is, what do you choose to focus on? In the story of Chanukah, the Greeks did not want to hurt us, they didn't want to fight with us. What they wanted is to put ourselves before Hashem. The only mitzvahs they took issue with, were the ones that we have no reason for, other than, because Hashem said so. In other words, be Jewish because you enjoy it, not because Hashem wants you to.

We went to war to put Hashem first, which in essence, is what being a Yid is all about. To focus on the war or on a meal, would take away from the message of Chanukah. The most spiritual thing we have in this physical world is light, and lighting the menorah sets our focus on the spiritual and Hashem. It is all about Hashem.

This now brings us to Yosef. Despised by his brothers, sold into slavery, and thrown into jail on false charges. An orphan, alone, in a foreign land. Yet you don't get the feeling that Yosef was depressed or down at all. He seems positive, able to rise above and succeed in every situation.

How was Yosef able to stay positive?

Yosef's paradigm was the key to his positive outlook. Yosef saw himself as part of Hashem's plan, he saw every situation as part of the plan. When you perceive the world from this perspective, every difficulty, hardship and challenge is nothing more than part of Hashem's plan and therefore positive. To Yosef, it was all about Hashem.

Our perspective is the key to our happiness. When we only see ourselves, we are stuck with the difficulties the pain, the hurt, the anguish, the suffering, etc. However, when it is about Hashem, and you see everything as part of Hashem's plan, every situation is seen as an opportunity. The crazier and stranger the situation, the more meaning could be found in it. Instead of being knocked down by the difficulty, you are uplifted.

We are happiest and strongest when we are the way Yiddin are meant to be, focused on Hashem.

This idea has kept me positive as well. Ever since I was diagnosed with ALS, I felt that I was chosen by Hashem for a special mission, to strengthen and lift the spirits of Yiddin. Though I daven every day to be healed, as long as I am in this predicament, I will use it to do what Hashem wants.

Through making our lives about Hashem, we will merit the end of all the difficulties and darkness. Like Yosef who became the viceroy of Egypt, we too will be on the top. Like the miracles of Chanukah, we will have the ultimate miracle, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rivka Part II: Mother Of Israel

Print Version 
In parshas Toldos, we read about Rivka's difficulty becoming pregnant, her pregnancy, birthing twins, her effort to make sure that her good son, Yaakov, got Yitzchak's blessings, her involvement in saving Yaakov from the hands of Eisav and finally, her hand in Yaakov's shidduch.
After their marriage, Yitzchak and Rivka waited ten years, to try to have children because she was too young. Then they tried and prayed regularly to conceive. After ten years of trying they realized that Rivka was barren. They knew that Yitzchak was able to have children because Hashem told Avraham that "It is through Yitzchak that you will have progeny." So they intensified their prayers, he would stand on one side of the room and pray, and she would stand on the other side of the room and pray.

Hashem answered, and she became pregnant.

Now the Torah tells us what she was experiencing during her pregnancy. "The children were struggling in her belly." You could imagine what she was thinking. She was unaware that she was carrying twins and she was experiencing the strangest thing. When she would pass a house of idol worship, she would feel a crazy struggling, and when she passed the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver, again she felt the struggling, what craziness. She said, "If so" much is the pain of pregnancy, "why did I" pray for this.

She had questions. What was the meaning of this? What should she expect in the future? She wanted to enquire of Hashem, so she went to Shem, son of Noach, who would be able to convey Hashem's message.

Hashem's message to her was, " Two nations are in your belly and two powers will diverge from within you, the upper hand will pass from one power to the other, and the older one will serve the younger."

Why didn't Rivka consult with her husband Yitzchak or her father-in-law Avraham? Surely they were able to receive Hashem's words, and they were closer. It is also natural for a wife to talk to her husband first. So why did Rivka go out of her way and travel to Shem to get her answers?

For starters, it is quite possible, that she first ask Yitzchak and Avraham, and when they couldn't answer her she went to Shem. It would make sense that Hashem would withhold this information from them, because finding out that one of Rivka's babies was going to be wicked, would have brought them unnecessary anguish. As we learn later, that Hashem took Avraham from this world five years early, so that he wouldn't see Eisav turn bad.

On the other hand, there was a good reason for her not to speak to Yitzchak about it, because she herself didn't want to give him unnecessary anguish. After all his prayers, she finally became pregnant and now she was questioning the whole thing because of what she was going through. She didn't want to burden him with this.

This would also be true for Avraham, because he went through this roller-coaster ride before. First him and Sarah couldn't have children, then Hashem gave them Yitzchak, and said, "It is through Yitzchak that you will have progeny." Then Hashem tells Avraham to bring him up as a offering, etc. Now the same kind of turmoil was happening again. First she could get pregnant, then Hashem answered Yitzchak's prayers and now, with all the pain she was going through, causing her to question the whole thing. Rivka didn't want to put him or Yitzchak through that again and have them question Hashem's ways. So she decided to go to Shem.

Rivka carried to term, and gave birth to twins. The first to be delivered was born hairy and ruddy, they called him Eisav, from the word assu, which means complete, because he was hairy like an adult. Then the second came out holding on to Eisav's heel, and Hashem named him Yaakov. Rivka was 23 years old when she gave birth to them.

When they grew up, Eisav became a hunter and with his clever tongue, he would say things, to make Yitzchak think that he was pious. Yaakov, on the other hand, was the real deal, holy and pious. Yitzchak loved Eisav, while Rivka, seeing right through Eisav's roos, loved Yaakov.

Why could Rivka see Eisav for what he was, while Yitzchak could not?

It is common for men to be oblivious to the obvious, while it is the nature of women to be down to earth.

Yitzchak was in a state of holiness, in which he saw everything according to their source, in the spiritual realms. It was Rivka, who was able to ground Yitzchak and see the world for what it was. Yitzchak saw Eisav as he was in his source, which was beautiful.

There was a famine, and Yitzchak and Rivka moved to Grar. The people asked about Rivka, Yitzchak said that she was his sister, because he was afraid that they would kill him over her. You see, they were religious about not being with a married woman, but they had no problem with murder. Now, if they kill him, she wouldn't be married any more. Why was he afraid of this? Here the Torah tells us for the second time, that she was beautiful.

Now the Torah tells us that Avimelech the king of Grar was looking out the window of his palace and saw Yitzchak gladdening Rivka, they were being intimate, and he realized that they were husband and wife.

The Torah doesn't tell us of a private moment, of any of the other matriarchs. It could have just said, that Avimelech found out that they were married. Why tell us about this intimate moment?

Yitzchak, as his name tells us, symbolizes the joy that is generated above, when we serve Hashem. Rivka, is the ability to actualize that joy, through effecting and refining the physical and uplifting it to be a dwelling place for Hashem. This joy can only be generated by transforming the physical, and only by us. This is why Torah and mitzvas are all about the physical world. Angels, for example, cannot generate this joy, because they do not have the physical worldly existence and tendencies that we have. They have no parents to honor, they haven't the urge to steal, to be jealous, etc., and they can't affect the essence of the physical, to infuse it with G-dliness. This is symbolized by Rivka, who name means three or four animals harnessed together, and when they are united, they are so powerful. Meaning, that Rivka is the ability to affect the physical, through creatively unifying the elements of existence, transforming them into a useful and powerful force to accomplish Hashem's will.

Yitzchak and Rivka together, symbolize our essential purpose in this world. And the king watching from the window, is Hashem taking pride and joy in us, doing his will.  

When Eisav was 40 years old, he married two Hittite women, who did everything to make Yitzchak and Rivka miserable.

Now we read, that Yitzchak wanted to give Eisav his blessing and the lengths Rivka went, to make sure that Yaakov got them instead.

Yitzchak's eyesight was going, he was 123 years old, five years before the age his mother passed away. He asked Eisav to trap some game, and to make him delicacies, so that he can bless him. Rivka overheard the conversation.

While Eisav was out hunting, she told Yaakov her plan to have Yaakov impersonate Eisav, so that he would get the blessings. Yaakov was afraid, that if Yitzchak catches on, he might curses him instead. Rivka responded the way any Jewish mother would, she said, "Let your curse be upon me, my son..." This is the natural self sacrifice a Jewish mother has for her children.

She prepared two goats, the way Yitzchak liked them. She covered Yaakov's arms and neck with the goat's fur, to simulate Eisav's hairy skin. She dressed him in Eisav's prized garments, which were with her for safekeeping, because Eisav didn't trust his wives. She then sent Yaakov to get the blessings, which he got.

Why didn't Rivka talk to Yitzchak and have him give the blessings to Yaakov? Wouldn't Yitzchak have listened to her? Was there an issue with their marriage, that they couldn't talk to each other?

Certainly Rivka could have spoken to Yitzchak, they had a great marriage. However, Rivka was not just thinking about Yaakov, she was thinking about each and every one of us, Yaakov's children. Most of Yaakov's descendants would be like him, but it is possible that some will be like Eisav. By sending Yaakov dressed as Eisav, she ensured that Yitzchak gave the blessings even to a Eisav-like Yaakov, so that every descendant of Yaakov's will inherit the blessings, even the ones that do not act like him.

When Eisav found out that Yaakov got the blessings, he thought to himself, that soon his father will die, and after that, he will kill him. Rivka was told through prophecy, of Eisav's ill intentions. She called Yaakov and advised him flee to her brother Lavan in Charan, until things blow over and he is out of harm’s way.

She then told Yitzchak, that the Hittite girls disgust her and that if Yaakov should marry one, "why should I go on living." This motivated Yitzchak to advise Yaakov to take a wife from the daughters of Lavan. Which he did.

Here we see the greatness of Rivka over Yitzchak. First, she made sure that Yaakov and all his descendants got the blessings. Then, she made certain that Yaakov could enjoy the blessings, by saving him from Eisav and by impressing upon Yitzchak the importance of having Yaakov marry well, so that he would have children who would become the Jewish people.

These are the strengths of every Jewish woman, daughters of Sarah, Rivka Rachel and Leah. First, they bring blessing to their families. Second, they make sure that the blessings are actualized and enjoyed by their families, by making her home into a edifice of Jewishness. And finally, they ensure that it continues on, by impressing upon their daughters to build Jewish homes, and that they be the backbone of their home.

In the spirit of Hashem's words to Avraham, " Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice," Yitzchak listened to Rivka. So to, every Jewish woman could have a tremendous effect on their husbands, strengthening the Jewishness of the home.

This will bring the ultimate blessing, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Rivka Part I: A Rose Among Thorns  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Our Work Is Complete

Print Version
The Haftora for parshas Vayishlach is the entire book of Ovadia (Obadiah), which is the only book of the Tanach that has just one chapter.

The Haftora tells of the terrible fate awaiting Edom, which are Eisav's children, when Moshiach comes.

Eisav who we call Edom, was the father of many nations including Amalek and Rome. They deserve this punishment for several reasons. First, not only did they  stand by idly when their brother Yaakov's children were attacked and exiled during the first Temple era, but they pillaged, rejoiced in the destruction of Jerusalem and they blocked the way, so that the Jewish refugees had no route to escape, causing the death of countless Jewish people. Then attacking Israel themselves approximately 500 years later, with extreme hatred and brutality, sending us into the current exile, the Exile of Edom, which we have been in for close to 2000 years.

Who is Edom today? Our sages tell us, that the nations of the world are all mixed up. However, it is a culture and an attitude which is clearly discernible. Over the years, we have suffered by the hands of Edom, in many European countries.

The attributes of Eisav. Eisav would deceive his father, pretending to be observant, but he was far from it. Eisav is compared to a pig. A kosher animal has two kosher signs, they ruminate and have cloven hooves. A pig is the only animal that has cloven hooves, but does not ruminate. Yet, when it sits, it sticks its feet out in front of him in deceit, as if to say, look at me, I have cloven hooves, I am kosher.

A second attribute of Eisav is his coldness towards G-dliness in general. This is something that we see today, as we experience a barrage of godless laws being passed all over the world, in the name of progress. Where G-d is being erased from everywhere possible, and where all sense of morality and decency is being wiped out. We also see how the good people of the world are being treated badly, while governments bend backwards to make evil regimes happy.

Eisav is called Edom because Edom means red, which was the color of the lentil soup he sold his first born right for. This also shows his callousness towards Hashem's values, shaming the first born right.

The connection to the parsha is obvious. The parsha speaks of the confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav's angel, Yaakov and Eisav and Eisav's departure from Canaan to Mount Seir. The Haftora continues with Eisav's future and tragic end.

Ovadia was chosen to convey this prophecy, because he was an Edomite who converted to Judaism. As the expression goes, "From the forest itself comes the handle of the ax." In other words, that which destroys the forest, comes from the forest itself. Here to Ovadia who came from Edom, says the prophecy of Edom's destruction. Another reason is because unlike Eisav, Ovadia stayed holy even though he was constantly in the presence of two wicked people, King Achav and his evil wife Ezevel (Jezebel), while Eisav, who grew up in the presence of two holy people, Yitzchak and Rivka, turned foul.

Ovadia merited to be a prophet, because he saved 100 prophets, hiding them from the wicked Ezevel, and borrowing money to sustain them.

The Haftora begins with the words "Chazon Ovadia." Chazon means the vision, which hints to the verse which tells us, that when Moshiach comes, "Mibsari echezeh Eloka," from my flesh I will envision G-dliness. That we will see the G-dliness in the physical. Ovadia means, to serve Hashem. This teaches us, that to bring Moshiach, we need to serve Hashem the way Ovadia did, with action and self sacrifice. Ovadia hid and sustained Hashem's prophets, when they were being hunted down and killed by Ezevel. The story continues, that Ovadia met Eliyahu Hanavi, who is the one who will herald the coming of Moshiach.

Same is true for us, that if we serve Hashem with action and self sacrifice, especially to support Torah institutions, especially for young children, who like the prophets, ensure the future of Judaism. Then, we will merit to meet Eliyahu Hanavi, as he heralds the actual coming of Moshiach.

The Haftora continues, Hashem says to Edom, "If you lift yourself as high an eagle, and if you place your nest between the stars, I will bring you down from there.... " The Midrash tells us, that when Yaakov had the dream of the ladder, he saw the exiles climbing up the ladder. First Egypt went up and came down, then Babelonia followed by Persia, but when Edom started up the ladder, he just kept on going up and up, and wasn't turning to come down. Yaakov understood that every exile has a purpose, but each came to an end, why then is the exile of Edom taking so long? To this Hashem answered, that even if Edom lifts itself as high as an eagle, even if Edom thinks that it is untouchable, I will bring them down, and the exile will come to an end. In other words, we will complete the purpose of this exile, and Moshiach will come.

The difference between this exile and the previous exiles, is that the previous exiles were in one basic local. However, in this exile the Jewish people have been spread to every corner of the world, and we built Jewish communities and Torah institutions in those places, accomplishing the Jewish mission, to turn the world into a dwelling place for Hashem. This is symbolized by the verse, "The exiled army of the Children of Israel with the Canaanites until Tzorfas (France)..." Why France? Because France symbolizes the lowest of the low in morality and coldness towards G-dliness, and when France is transformed, our work will be done. This has taken a long time, and our work is done, as we are witness to the explosion of Judaism in France.

So why hasn't Moshiach come? I don't have a good answer to this question, because it doesn't make sense. Perhaps there is something more that Hashem wants, maybe our trust and belief in His purpose, the reality of the coming of Moshiach. We can make it real to us by learning about it and its laws, making Moshiach part of our daily lives.

Through our efforts to make Moshiach real, and being that our work is complete, we will soon experience the two stages of Moshiach, mentioned in the final verse of the Haftora. "And the saviors will go up onto Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Eisav," which refers to the first stage, a stage of judgment, where like the words of a judge, the world will be obligated to follow the judgment of Moshiach. Then the final stage will come, when, "Hashem will be King." When everyone will recognize Hashem as their King, out of love. May it happen soon.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Rivka Part I: A Rose Among Thorns

Print Version
In parshas Chayei Sarah, we meet our matriarch Rivka. The Torah tells us more about Rivka than about any of our other matriarchs. It tells us in detail, how she got engaged to Yitzchak, what her pregnancy was like, how she made sure that her good son, Yaakov, got Yitzchak's blessings and how she protected him. It tells us of many miracles that she was accustomed to and more.

Being that the Torah tells us so much about Rivka, we must conclude that there is much to be learned from her. Especially for Jewish mothers and girls and with regards to the nature and power of Jewish women.

What are the amazing qualities and miracles attributed to Rivka that are found in our parsha? What lessons are we meant to take from Rivka? What does Rivka teach us about the power of the Jewish woman?

According to Rashi, when we meet Rivka, she is three years old and quite mature for her age. She is a rose among thorns, as her family were idol worshippers, yet she remained pure and holy.

The first miracle that happened for her, is that when Avraham sent Eliezer to Aram Naharayim to seek out Rivka, the trip should have taken seventeen days, instead, Hashem shortened the way and he arrived the same day he left.

Why the need for this miracle? A rose has thorns to protect it while it blooms, but once it has already bloomed, it needs to be harvested and then the thorns become a hazard. The same is true about Rivka. That day she became three, when the education of a Jewish child begins. Until then, being among her family, didn't affect her negatively. However, now that she had reached the age of education, it was necessary to remove her from among the thorns.

The Torah tells us that Eliezer asked Hashem for a sign to know who was the right girl for Yitzchak. He would stand by the spring when the maidens would go out to draw water. He would ask one for a drink. Now, if she says, "Drink, and I will also give water to your camels," Then he will know that he has the right girl.

Even before he finished talking to Hashem, his attention was drawn by Rivka, of whom the Torah tells us here, that she was very beautiful, coming with her pitcher to draw water.

Here we are told of a second miracle. Eliezer was watching and he noticed, that as Rivka approached the spring, the water level rose up, making it easier for her to fill her pitcher. This miracle is attributed to her purity, innocence and righteousness.

Excitedly, he ran towards her and asked her for a drink. She responded, "Drink...,  and I will also draw for your camels."

He wondered if she was the right one. When she finished watering the camels, he asked her, "Whose daughter are you?" To his amazement, she was Avraham and Sarah's great niece and she invited him to stay at her parents home. This told him that hospitality was a part of her upbringing and she would fit right in.

When her family heard Eliezer recount these miraculous events, they readily agreed to the match. But Besuel, Rivka's father had second thoughts and wanted to interfere and stop the engagement. Before he could do so, Hashem sent an angel, which killed him.

The next morning, Eliezer wanted to take his leave with Rivka. Her brother Lavan and her mother protested, as it is a tradition for girls to have a year to prepare themselves for the wedding, "Let the girl remain with us for a year..." However, Eliezer was adamant, he insisted on taking her with him immediately. When they saw that he wasn't going to adhere to common custom, they began to question his whole story, which was the reason they readily agreed to the match without even asking her opinion. They felt that it was out of their power to refuse, being that Hashem's hand was moving the events. But because of this new turn of events, they reneged on the original deal.

They said, "Let's call the girl and ask her opinion." Rashi tells us, that from here we learn, that a woman cannot be engaged to someone without her consent. Since Rashi uses the word "woman" here, teaches us, that although Rivka was only three years old, she was mature like a woman, when it came to her well-being. Obviously her family thought so as well, as they respected her opinion.

Rivka chose to go with Eliezer and the match was settled. They blessed her with the blessing that we now commonly bless brides with at their wedding, "May you grow to thousands of myriads!

On their return, Rivka saw Yitzchak in the field, she was so taken by his holiness, she nearly fell off the camel she was on. We see from here that she had an innate ability to sense holiness.

Eliezer recounted to Yitzchak, the miraculous events of his trip. Then Yitzchak brought her into his mother Sarah's tent. Rashi explains that she was just like his mother Sarah. Meaning, that when Sarah was alive, there were three miracles that would regularly accur and when she died they stopped. When Rivka came, they resumed.

First, the candles that she lit on Erev Shabbos, burned until the next Erev Shabbos. Second, there was a blessing in her dough, meaning that even a small amount of her bread satisfied hunger. Third, that a cloud hovered above her tent.

Seems that the order should be reversed. First, when she came into the tent, Yitzchak would have seen the cloud hovering above the tent. Then he would have experienced her bread and finally, it easier take an entire week for him to know that her Shabbos candles would burn all week. Why does Rashi reverse the order?

In the next parsha we learn that our forefathers kept all the mitzvahs, even the rabbinically ordained precepts. The law is, that if there isn't a woman to light the Shabbos candles, then a man should light them. This being the case, it would make sense, that from when Sarah passed away, three years earlier, that Avraham would have been lighting candles. And when Avraham was away, Yitzchak would have lit them. So why did Rivka, who was not married, and not even obligated to light them, as she wasn't yet Bas Mitzvah, make a point to light Shabbos candles? And why don't we hear of Avraham's and Yitzchak's candles burning all week?

From here we learn the value of Shabbos candles lit by women, even unmarried women, and even before Bas Mitzvah. That they bring light and blessing into the home all week. Even if you can't see the physical candles burning, there is a spiritual light that burns all week an account of mother's and girls lighting candles.

When young children say words of Torah there a purity to them, that make them very powerful. Same is true, when a young girl lights a Shabbos candle. It is so pure and holy, and it fills the home and the world with spiritual light.

It is more powerful than that of any man, because just as a man can build a or buy a house, but it takes a woman to turn it into a home. This is because of Hashem imbued women with the ability to effect the home beyond what any man can do. The same is true, when it comes to effecting the home spiritually, through lighting Shabbos candles.

Now we can understand why Rashi reversed the order. Because the first one of the three done by a girl, is lighting Shabbos candles, which like Rivka, starts at the age of three. This then brings her to the next blessing. That as she gets older and she starts doing things around the home, symbolized by making dough and bread, that the work of her hands are blessed. And these bring to the third blessing, which comes with marriage, when she makes her own home, bringing to it a cloud of the Shechina, the Divine Presence itself, through keeping the laws of family purity.

It all begins with lighting Shabbos candles, bringing G-dly light into the home all week long. Every daughter of Sarah and Rivka, has it in her to do the same. This great power of Jewish women, is a gift and an inheritance from their mothers all the way back to Sarah and Rivka.

It is also this light that brings the light of Moshiach. Therefore, it is so important for every Jewish woman and girl, from the age of three, to light Shabbos candles.

May the light of the Shabbos candles, fill your home and the world with Hashem's Presence, and usher in the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Rivka Part II: Mother Of Israel  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Dove Always Finds Its Way Home

In the Haftora for parshas Vayeitzei, Hashem rebukes the ten northern tribes, AKA Efraim (The tribe who ruled the northern tribes), for wavering on repenting to Hashem. He rebukes them for worshipping idols, for their crooked business dealings, claiming in arrogance that Hashem is unaware of their actions, and for being deceitful. However, ultimately, Hashem won't let them succeed. This is all alluding to Lavan the Aramean, Yaakov's uncle, who in our parsha, swindled him every which way, yet with all his trickery and cunning, Hashem doesn't allow him to succeed.

The Haftora speaks of Yaakov's descent to Charan and how he worked to get his wives, which are mentioned in our parsha.

Sprinkled throughout the Haftora, is the exodus from Egypt, allusions to our future redemption and assurances that if we follow on Hashem's path, trusting in Him, keeping the Torah and mitzvas, etc., then he will help us succeed. Similarly, in the parsha, Yaakov, with Hashem's help, succeeds in Charan coming out with great wealth and a beautiful family.

What lessons are hidden in our Haftora? What are we meant to take away from the Haftora and the parsha?

The story of Yaakov going down to Charan, is the story of the Jewish people going into exile, and the future redemption. On a deeper level, it is the mission of the neshama coming into the body.

There are two types of exile. First, there is an exile of plenty, where we are free and lack nothing. However, because of this abundance, we follow our desires, falling lower and lower. When this happens, our holy Jewish energy, which is meant to nourish the good and holy forces in the world, end up feeding and energizing the negative forces. This is symbolized by the country of Ashur, in which we enjoyed relative freedom.

Then there is the exile of suffering, in which we feel stuck, unable to get out and do the simplest of things. Because of the suffering and oppression, our thoughts and abilities become constricted and obstructed. In other words we are stuck in our tzores. This is symbolized by the country of Mitzrayim (Egypt), which means constraints, and where we were in servitude.

To this the Haftora says, that when Moshiach comes, "He will roar like a lion... They will hurry like a bird from Egypt, and like a dove from Ashur, I will settle them in their homes, says Hashem." What is the lion's roar? That is the sound of the shofar Hashem will sound when Moshiach comes. Why does He use the metaphor of a bird and a dove? Because no matter how far they stray from their nest, they always find their way back home. The same is true about the Jewish people, no matter which kind of exile, or how far we stray, we will find our way back home.

Now the Haftora says, "Like a merchant who has deceitful scales in his hand." This is the neshama, who when it was above, was filled with silver and gold, which means love and awe of Hashem. But like a merchant who spends all his silver and gold, just so he can make a profit. So to, the neshama is willing to give up everything, descend to this lowly world, enter the body and does everything to effect the body, just for the gain it will attain through the mitzvahs that the body will do. This is the meaning of the verse in Tehilim, " To me, the Torah of your lips, is better, than thousands of gold and silver." That the Torah uttered by the lips, down in this physical world, is more valuable to the neshama, then all the love and awe it experienced while it was still in heaven.

This is a testament to how precious and valuable even the smallest mitzvah we do is to our Neshamas and by extension, Hashem.

May we each get closer to Hashem, through teshuva and may our precious mitzvahs finally tip the scales and usher in the redemption. May it happen soon.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Be A Yid

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
Print version
The Haftora for parshas Toldos is the beginning of the book of Malachi. It is a prophecy of rebuke to the Jewish people, however, when you take a closer look, you find the deep love and connection we have with Hashem.

The connection to our parsha, is that the parsha speaks of the differences and struggles between Yaakov and Eisav, yet we can see that Yaakov is Hashem's chosen one. This is alluded to in our Haftora.

The Haftora begins with Hashem's words to the Jewish people. "I have loved you, says Hashem, and if you ask, 'How have You shown Your love for us?' This is Hashem's response: 'Was not Eisav a brother to Yaakov? Yet I loved Yaakov. And I hated Eisav...'"

What is the meaning of these verses? What is this love Hashem is referring to? Would we truly be brazen enough to ask, "How have You shown Your love for us?" First Hashem says that we are equals, "Was not Eisav a brother to Yaakov?" Then He says that He loves us and hates them. What is the deeper meaning in these words? If He loves us so much, why is He rebuking us? And finally, what is Hashem's wish for us?

Malachi prophesied at the beginning of the second Temple era, which for most part, we were under the rule of a foreign power. It is also the last book of the Tanach. So it seems to reason, that Malachi is talking to us in the exile.

When Hashem says, "I have loved you," it is referring to a time when His love to us was clearly visible. The exodus from Egypt, giving us the Torah, giving us the beautiful and bountiful Holy Land, and the First Temple era, when we were privy to open miracles. But now in the darkness of the exile, we ask Hashem, "How have You shown Your love for us?" Because we don't see it openly.

This is also a message to us, that we have to ask, if not demand, Hashem's open and revealed love, that He send Moshiach and put an end to this dark exile. It is not out of brazenness, but rather because it is mitzvah to ask Hashem for our needs, and what greater need do we have? Even The Men of The Great Assembly, who also lived at the beginning of the Second Temple era, saw it this way. As we see in the way they set up the Amida prayer, which is full of requests for Moshiach and the Moshiach era.

Now Hashem says, "Was not Eisav a brother to Yaakov? Yet I loved Yaakov. And I hated Eisav..." Hashem is saying, that I chose to love you from the beginning. Like we say in the holiday prayers, "You have chosen us from all the nations, You loved us and You wanted us."

There are two ways to understand choice.

When two things are similar but one has something about it that you like more, you choose the one that you like more. This is not true choice, because it is not your will that moves you to choose one over the other, but rather, it is an intellectual decision, as one is more appealing.

Then there is true choice. When two things are exactly the same, and you choose one over the other, it is your will, your essence, that is choosing, which is beyond your intellect.

Hashem is telling us how he chose us. From Hashem's essential perspective, Eisav and Yaakov are brothers, they are the same, everything is equal. But He chose to love us, meaning, His will, His Essence chose us and therefore, we are one with His Essence, one with Hashem.

Now the rebuke begins to make sense. You only rebuke someone who you care about, because when you care about someone, how they act matters to you.

In our case, Hashem is saying, I chose you over Eisav, therefore you are special, you are one with me. How then could you act like Eisav, unabashed, callus and deceptive?

Hashem loves us and expects more from us because we are His Essence.

Which brings us to the end of the Haftora, where Hashem tells us how he wants us to be. Speaking to the Kohanim, which we are, "A kingdom of Kohanim." Hashem says, "For the lips of the Kohen must guard knowledge, they will seek instruction from his mouth, because he is an angel of the Lord of Hosts."

Hashem wants us to be like angels. But if we never met an angel, how should we know how to act like one? Rather this refers to the attributes of a Jew. A Jew is bashful, has compassion and does kindness. Hashem is saying, "Be a Yid!"

May Hashem fulfill our deepest desire and show us His open love once again, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.