Friday, December 29, 2017

Yosef And Levi, How To Succeed In The Exile

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Dear Friends, 
This is the second new Dvar Torah for this week. To see the first one click here.

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In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov passed away, his sons carried him to Israel and buried him in Hebron. Rashi tells us how his casket was carried, three of the tribes on each side, in the same order as they would later camp in the desert. Rashi continues to say, that "Levi didn't carry (Yaakov) because he would later carry the Ark (of the Covenant), and Yosef didn't carry, because he was a king. Menashe and Efraim (carried) in their stead." 

It would seem that even though Yosef was a king, he still should have carried his father, because he is the one who Yaakov made take an oath that, "you will carry me from Egypt." Why was Yosef excluded from bearing Yaakov's casket?

Levi was not to carry it because he was going to carry the Ark. This is problematic, because he himself wouldn't carry the Ark, rather it is referring to his descendants hundreds of years in the future. And actually, when it came to the Exodus, Moshe himself, who was from the tribe of Levi, carried Yosef's bones out of Egypt. Why was Levi excluded from bearing Yaakov's casket? And if there is a good reason for the tribe of Levi not to carry it, why did Moshe make a point to carry Yosef's bones? 

Another question. Rashi explains that "Menashe and Efraim (carried) in their stead." If Yosef and Levi weren't allowed to carry, why did they have to have someone carry in their stead? 

And finally, it makes sense to have Menashe or Efraim carry on behalf of Yosef, because children stand in for their father. But what connection is there between Levi and Yosef's children, that they should be the ones to stand in on his behalf? 

Yaakov's passing allowed for the exile in Egypt, as Rashi tells us that "When Yaakov our patriarch passed... the servitude began." Not that it actually began with his passing, but that it allowed for it, because as long as Yaakov was alive and in Egypt, no exile could exist, because Yaakov was above any exile. Taking Yaakov out of Egypt signaled the start of the Egyptian exile. Both Yosef and Levi could have no part in the commencement of the Egyptian exile, as I will explain. 

About Yosef, the Torah says, "These are the children of Yaakov, Yosef," and it doesn't continue to list the other brothers. It is telling us that Yosef was exactly like Yaakov, above any exile. This is symbolized by the idea of a king that is above it all. That is why the Midrash tells us that "As long as Yosef was alive, they didn't have the burden of Egypt." Because Yosef, like Yaakov was above any exile. 

The Ark had in it the Ten Commandments. Carrying the Ark symbolized carrying the Torah, as it was the tribe of Levi that were the teachers of Torah throughout the Egyptian exile. This began with Levi himself. Being that they took on the burden of Torah, the burden of the exile was removed from them, as the tribe of Levi never was forced into servitude. So in a way they were above the exile as well. Levi himself was completely above the exile, as Rashi says, "Why does it recount the (number of) years of Levi's life?... Because as long as one of the brothers was alive, there was no servitude... And Levi outlived them all." 

Later by the Exodus, taking Yosef's bones out of Egypt, signaled the redemption, the opposite of Yaakov, so it was specifically done by the tribe of Levi, by the head of the tribe, the redeemer himself, Moshe. 

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left with great wealth. The tribe of Levi also came out with great wealth. You may ask, if they weren't enslaved like the rest of the Jewish people, why did they deserve the reward? 

The answer is, that they were also in the exile, although they were not slaves, they provided a necessary and vital service to the Jewish people. 

The purpose of the exile, is not so we can suffer, rather, that we succeed in taking out of it spiritual and physical benefit, accomplishing  for Hashem what he put us in the exile to do. But at times the exile gets so dark and bitter, we could forget what we are here to do and what the goal is. At these times, we need someone who could see the big picture, someone who is not stuck in the mire of the exile, to remind us why we are here and to lift our spirits. In this way, they transform the exile into a meaningful, purposeful and possibly into a positive event. This was the job of the tribe of Levi and they did it well, so they deserved there reward. 

This will help us understand how Menashe and Efraim were in the place of Yosef and Levi. 

Why did Yosef name his first son Menashe? Because "G-d has made me forget all my hardships, and all my father's home." In other words, Yosef realized that with his success in Egypt, it was possible for him to forget his father's home, where he came from and what he was all about. So he named his son Menashe, not to forget. 

This is one of the goals of every Jew in exile, to ensure that he doesn't forget where he comes from and what he is all about. 

And this was the way of Yosef, he set himself up to remember his father's home in every situation, raising him above the exile. So Menashe represented Yosef. 

Why did Yosef name his second son Efraim? Because "G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." This is the second goal of every Jew in exile, to realize that there is meaning in his being in exile and find a way to succeed in his purpose no matter how difficult it is. 

This was the way of Levi, to transform the exile into a meaningful and purposeful event. To succeed in difficult times, to turn the darkness itself into light. So Efraim represented Levi. 

They needed to both be represented, because as mentioned above, Yaakov being taken out of Egypt signaled the start of the exile, and since both of these goals are necessary for the Jewish people in exile, both had to be represented. 

My family has been suffering for years now, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. All of the struggles that come with ALS, not being able to live a normal life. My wife Dina, not having a husband who can do normal husband things. On top of that, there is so much that has fallen on her shoulders because of my illness and because I can't do the things I used to do. My children, not having a father that could hug them, and do the things that a father does for and with his children. Harder than all that is the uncertainty, not knowing, not being able to breathe, the possibility that at any moment there could be a scare that will knock you off your feet, or even worse... How am I to comfort and reassure my wife and children? How can I give them some stability? It is heartbreaking when I think of what they must be going through. It is so difficult to deal with these questions and I will not always succeed, but I have to try. 

Perhaps this teaching can help. If we can recognize that Hashem put us in this dark and difficult situation, maybe we can find meaning in it and it will make it easier. Knowing that there is a bigger picture, we can use our situation to succeed in doing what Hashem wants. Remembering where we come from and who we are, will help us rise above the difficulties. I know that it isn't the perfect answer and it won't fix the problem, but it will help us through it somewhat. 

It also helps to realize, that just as something scary can happen at any moment, something good can happen at any moment and we could have a reason to celebrate. In the blink of an eye, Hashem will send Moshiach to take us out of this dark and bitter exile, and put an end to all the suffering and uncertainty. May he come soon, we all have suffered enough.

Dedicated to my wife Dina and to my children who are amazing, and don't have it easy. I love you all so much. May Hashem send us a salvation, His salvation is in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Revealing Our Essence

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In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov blessed his children, before he passed away. To Yehuda he said, "Yehuda, your brothers will praise you." Rashi explains, that after Yaakov rebuked Reuven, Shimon and Levi, Yehuda was afraid that he would be rebuked as well and Yaakov understood what he was feeling. So he said, "Yehuda, your brothers will praise you." Meaning, you don't have to be rebuked, on the contrary, you will be praised. 

Every verse in the Torah can be understood on many levels. What deeper meaning can be found in this verse, to help us serve Hashem better? 

We understand from Rashi, that these words to Yehuda, come in conjunction to what came before, Yaakov's words to Reuven, Shimon and Levi. 

Reuven was named by his mother Leah, Reuven comes from the word ra'ah which means seen, as she said, "Hashem has seen my humiliation." Reuven is symbolic of the first paragraph of the Shema, in which we connect with Hashem on a level of sight, as if we see Him. Sight is a very powerful sense, much greater than hearing. When you see something you know that it is true and nobody can talk you out of it, because you saw it. When we are connected to Hashem on the level of sight, we understand Him the greatest way we can, and we connect with Him through love. This is why we say in the first paragraph of the shema, "And you will love Hashem your G-d." 

Shimon comes from the word shama, heard. Leah named him Shimon, "because Hashem heard that I felt hated." Shimon is symbolic of the second paragraph of the Shema, V'haya, in which we connect with Hashem out of fear. It begins, "And it will be, if you will hear," and later it continues, "Beware, lest you be mislead," this is the idea of fear that comes from hearing, a step lower than seeing. 

Levi comes from the word yilaveh, attached or accompanied. As Leah said, "this time my husband will be attached to me." Levi is symbolic of the paragraph after the Shema, that begins with, "Emes v'yatziv..." And after fifteen accolades it continues, "this thing is upon us forever and ever." "This thing" refers to the Torah, that attaches us to Hashem. 

These three steps are the preparation for the Amida, where we are so humbled and so nullified before Hashem, that we can't speak. That is why we begin the Amida with the verse, "Hashem, open my lips and my mouth will tell Your praises," because if we did it right, we wouldn't be able to speak. 

Yehuda comes from the word odeh, which means to thank, praise or admit. As Leah said, "this time I will thank Hashem." To thank, praise or admit, is to recognize the other, and that takes humility. Yehuda is symbolic of the Amida, where we stand before Hashem, and at that moment only He exists, you don't exist, because through the steps of Reuven, Shimon and Levi, Shema, V'haya and Emes v'yatziv, we become totally humbled and we stand before Hashem in total nothingness. 

This state of nothingness before Hashem is the natural state of the neshama, G-dly soul, which is the essence of a Jew. It is just that the animal soul, the body, the physical world and the dark exile, covers up who we are, our essence. But at times we can reveal it, and one of these times is when we reach the Amida. 

Another way that a  Jew can always tap into his essence, is through the "Three things the world stands on, Torah, Avodah (prayer) and doing kindness." 

Reuven is connected to the first paragraph of the Shema, which is about loving Hashem. Loving Hashem is at the core of loving every Jewish person, because the essence of every Jew is the neshama, which is a part of Hashem. This love is the root of all acts of kindness. The first step is Reuven, doing kindness. 

Shimon is connected to the second paragraph of the Shema, which is about fear and awe of Hashem. Avodah is connecting to Hashem through prayer, standing before Him in awe and fear, recognizing how awesome and great He is. The second step is Shimon, Avoda. 

Levi is connected to the paragraph after the Shema, which is about Torah. It is through Torah study that we become "attached" and one with Hashem. The greatest bond we can have with Hashem, is through Torah study. Hashem and His Torah are one, so when you learn Torah and you understand it, you are making Him part of who you are. The third step is Levi, attachment to Hashem through Torah study. 

These three steps bring out our essential selflessness before Hashem, our Yehuda, which is the essence of every Jew, as all of the Jewish people are called Yehuda. 

The verse continues, "your hand will be on the neck of your enemies." Meaning, that when our essence shines the world is affected by us, as our sages say, that "When our voice is the voice of Yaakov, in the houses of prayer and the houses of Torah study, then the hands of Eisav have no power over us." To the contrary, instead of working against us, they help us serve Hashem. 

May our acts of kindness, Torah and Avodah reveal our essence, and effect the world, to the point that our light shines so bright, that Moshiach will come and lead us to our Holy Land. May it happen soon, the time has come. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Yehuda Vs. Yosef

This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
This is written in honor of the redemption of Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, the Rubashkin family, who have been shining examples of faith and belief in G-d, and all of those who worked so hard for so long to finally achieve what we have all been praying for.
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This week's parsha, Vayigash, begins, "And Yehuda approached him (Yosef)." This confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef begins in the parsha and ends in the Haftora, which talks about the uniting of Yosef and Yehuda in the time of Moshiach. Then it says, "And My servant David will reign over them. . . And David My servant will be Nassi over them forever." David, the king from the tribe of Yehuda and the progenitor of Moshiach, is symbolic of both. 

This confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef is deeper and more meaningful than just the story in the parsha. It is two worldviews colliding, and in the end the way of Yehuda reigns supreme. What are these two approaches? 

The Zohar says that Yehuda's approaching Yosef is the same idea as having geula (redemption) near tefila (prayer). To explain. In the morning prayer, just before the amida, we say verses about redemption, that ends with "Blessed are You Hashem, Who redeems Israel." And then we immediately begin the amida, so you have redemption near prayer. 

The problem with the Zohar's comparison, is that it seems to be reversed. You see, in Kabbalistic thought (the Zohar is a book of Kabbalah), Yosef symbolizes redemption and Yehuda symbolizes prayer. In the parsha, Yehuda approaches Yosef, meaning that redemption staying in its place, and prayer comes near to it, showing that redemption is superior. However, in our prayers, we bring redemption near prayer. Meaning that the redemption is there for the prayer, and that prayer is superior. 

Yosef is the complete Tzadik, meaning, that his job is to shine light onto the world and inspire. He affects the world by flooding it with great light from above, motivating the people to be good. The problem is that he doesn't change the world, and as soon as the light is gone, the world reverts to its old self. This is the idea of redemption in the form of a great light from above. 

Yehuda is the king, the main job of the king is to serve the nation, in other words, to deal with the world from the bottom up, motivating the people to change themselves. This kind of change is real and everlasting. This is the idea of prayer, it is serving Hashem from the bottom up. 

What is more important, shining from the top down or the service from the bottom up? The way of Yosef or the way of Yehuda? 

Each of these ideas have its pros. Yehuda's approach generates real and everlasting change, but since it comes from below, it is limited, there is only that high a person can reach on his own. Yosef's approach, on the other hand, coming from above, is unlimited, even though it doesn't effect everlasting change, it can take a person to unlimited heights. When both of these approaches work together, you get everlasting change and unlimited heights. The question is how can they work together? And ultimately, which approach is the main way, and which is there to help the main approach? 

Let's revisit the story of Yosef and his brothers and it will become clear. 

In Yosef's dream, the brothers are in the field, bundling sheaves, this is working in the world from the bottom up. Then they encircled Yosef's sheaf and bowed, this symbolizes that they have gone as far as they can on their own, now they need Yosef to take them to the next level. 

The Yosef approach helps those taking the Yehuda approach to the next level. At the same time, because the work below is very powerful, Yosef gains from it, and he is taken to higher spiritual realms. 

There is another way Yosef helps Yehuda. When the brothers brought Binyamin down to Egypt, Yosef had their bags filled with grain and he had his goblet hidden in Binyamin's bag. This is what brought them back in front of Yosef, for the confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef. Yosef hiding the goblet in Binyamin's bag, is what brought them before Yosef. In other words, Yosef's approach serves another purpose, to motivate from above, to move the person to take the Yehuda approach, so ultimately he can come before Yosef and reach unlimited heights. 

The key to this working, is that it has to be hidden, like Yosef's goblet. In other words, the person can't know that he is being motivated. He has to feel like it is his own effort. 

This is similar to a famous debate in the Talmud, whether Torah study is more important or is doing mitzvahs more important. The Talmud concludes, that "Study is greater, because it brings you to do (the mitzvah)." This is ironic, because it is ultimately saying, that the greatness of Torah study, is that it will cause you to do mitzvahs, that the Torah is there for the mitzvahs. On top of that, when you study Torah to understand how to perform an actual mitzvah, it enhances the Torah study. 

Yosef symbolizes Torah, which is a light shining from the top down. Yehuda symbolizes mitzvahs, raising the world from the bottom up. Ultimately, the Torah, Yosef, is there to cause you to do the mitzvahs, Yehuda. 

When Yehuda approached Yosef, he said, "please let your servant speak words in the ears of my master. . . Because you are like Pharaoh." Meaning, help me with my approach even though you will be lowering yourself to do so, because now you are viceroy, but you will become like Pharaoh, ultimately it will raise you up to a higher level. So by approaching Yosef, he wasn't saying that Yosef is greater, rather, that Yosef is better off helping him facilitate the Yehuda approach. In other words, redemption is there to take prayer to a higher level and Torah study is there to take mitzvahs to a higher level. 

When Moshiach comes we will see the value of mitzvahs over Torah, the value of the work down here over the top down approach, Yehuda over Yosef, as we will all be united under Yehuda, through the king from the House of David, King Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

To Make The Darkness Itself Shine

ThisThis Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
 By Chanala Rubenfeld
In honor of Avi Rubenfeld on the occasion of his anniversary
And in honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz who is the model and the epitome of the Rebbe's shliach, in his selflessness and dedication to the cause that the Rebbe has charged us with. Turning one of the greatest challenges a human can face into a powerful tool to spread Hashem's wisdom.
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The Talmud tells us about the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, "The House of Shamai says, 'the first day you light 8, from here and on continue to subtract (1 light each day).' The House of Hillel says, ' the first day you light 1, from here and on continue to add (1 light each day).' The House of Shamai's reason, is that it is like the bulls of the holiday (of Sukkos, on the first day 13 bulls were offered, on the second 12, and so on). The House of Hillel's reason, is that you go up in holiness and not down."

What do the lights of Chanukah have to do with the bulls of Sukkos, that we should learn one from the other? The question becomes stronger, when you realize that if it were not for a secondary reason, that we go up in holiness and not down, the House of Hillel would agree to the House of Shamai, that it is because of the bulls of Sukkos. What does Sukkos have to do with Chanukah?

Some would like to answer, that it is because both Sukkos and Chanukah are 8 day holidays, so we learn one from the other. If this is the case, we have to understand, what is the significance of an 8 day holiday?

The holiday of Chanukah was established because of the miracle that happened with the menorah in the Temple, that had 7 lights. So why do we have 8 lights and 8 days?

It seems strange that they compare the lights of the menorah to offerings brought on the altar. For starters they were two different vessels, and while the altar was out in the courtyard, the menorah was in a holier place, the Heichal (AKA the Holies), this tells us that the menorah was in a way holier. Even more, when Aaron was commanded to light the menorah, Hashem told him, "your's (the kindling of the menorah) is greater than their's (the offerings that the Nessiim brought for the altar). In other words, the kindling of the menorah was greater than offerings brought on the altar. What is the meaning of comparing the lights of Chanukah to the bulls of Sukkos?

And finally, the Talmud tells us that the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles begins at sunset. However, the menorah in the Temple was lit an hour and a quarter before sunset (at plag hamincha). If the Chanukah menorah is lit to commemorate the lighting of the menorah in the Temple, why don't we light it an hour and a quarter before sunset? Why do we specifically light it at sunset?

The main point of Chanukah candles is to light up the darkness. Because the miracle of Chanukah came after the darkness of the Greeks, who defiled the Temple, and when they did so, they specifically made a point to defile every bottle of oil that was there, by breaking the seal of the Kohen Gadol that ensured its purity. They didn't break the bottles or pour out the oil, they merely broke the seals. Because they did this, we realize that it was more important to the Greeks to defile the oil than to defile the Temple. What was their intention?

The Greeks didn't want to destroy us physically, they wanted to sever our connection to Hashem. They had no problem with us keeping Judaism, but do it because you want to, not because Hashem wants you to. the oil was symbolic of all that. The whole idea of purity and impurity, is something that doesn't make sense, there is no logic behind it, other than that Hashem said so. And that is what the Greeks couldn't deal with, and sought to destroy. Of course once they started to make decrees, it snowballed into a outright war on Judaism.

This is why the miracle of finding the jug of oil still sealed with the Kohen Gadol's seal was so significant, because it meant that there is a part of us that is always connected to Hashem, and that connection can never be severed.

Each of us has a neshama, a G-dly soul, it is an actual piece of G-d inside of us. This neshama has 5 parts, the highest part is called yechida, this part of the neshama is one with Hashem. Not the way Hashem relates to the world, but much higher, the essence of Hashem, beyond existence. This part of the neshama, can not be touched by negative influences, just the opposite, when we tap into that part of the neshama, we effect the world around us in the most amazing way, lighting the darkness of the world, not that our light dispels the darkness, but that the darkness itself begins to shine.

And this is symbolized by the number 8. As it is known in the teachings of Kabballa and Chassidus, that 7 is the number that represents existence, while the number 8 is beyond existence.

Now we can understand why Chanukah is 8 days, and the Chanukah menorah has 8 lights. Because Chanukah is about our connection to Hashem beyond existence, making the darkness itself shine.

Sukkos is also 8 days, because it also connects to Hashem beyond existence, and this is specifically seen in the bulls of Sukkos. On the first 7 days of Sukkos, we brought 70 bulls representing the 70 nations of the world. This is effecting the world naturally, by shining our light upon them, we dispel the darkness. This means that they don't bother us, and they allow us to do what Hashem wants us to do. On the eighth day we brought 1 bull, representing our singular essential bond with Hashem, beyond existence, the yechida. By revealing our essence, we effect the world by making the darkness itself into light, meaning, that the nations of the world become a help to us.

It is 7 and 1, 7in the world and 1 more going beyond existence.

This is why on Sukkos we spend 7 days in the Sukka and on the 8th day, there is no mitzvah to be in the Sukka. Because for 7 days, surrounded by the Sukka, we are surrounded by a great G-dly energy, but we can't internalize it. On the eighth day is when we connect to our yechida, above existence, and therefore we are able to internalize this great G-dly energy, so we don't need to be surrounded by the Sukka anymore.

And this is why we light the Chanukah menorah at sunset. Because its purpose is to light up the darkness. Until what extent? The Talmud tells us that the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles is until people finish coming from the market place, until the Tarmudai finish coming from the market place. The Tarmudai were the lowest of people, they went against the kingdom of heaven, (as their name suggests, tarmud in Hebrew has the same letters as the word moredes, treason). Even the lowest people are effected by the lights of the menorah, to the extent that they become entirely good and with Hashem.

May the light of our Chanukah menorah turn the darkness of the exile to light in a way that the darkness itself begins to shine, and usher in the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Yosef's Dreams

This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
By Mendy and Ita Klein
In honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, for the continued inspiration you provide for us all 

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In this week's parsha, Vayeshev, Yosef has two dreams, and he shares them with his brothers. In the first dream, "We were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, when my sheaf stood up and remained upright, then your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf and prostrated themselves before it." In the second dream, "The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves before me."

The dreams seem to be conveying the same message. Why does the Torah tell us both dreams if they are the same? The major difference between them, is that the second dream has the addition of the sun and the moon, representing Yaakov and Bilha. Meaning, not only would the 11 brothers bow to Yosef, but Yaakov and Bilha as well. This point didn't need a second dream, it could have been all included in one dream.

In parshas Mikeitz, Pharoah has two dreams, in the first cows came out of the river, and in the second, there were ears of grain growing from a stalk. They seem the same as well. However, when Yosef interprets the dreams, he explains why the dream is repeated, because "G-d is hurrying to carry it out." But by Yosef's dreams there is no such explanation.

We must conclude that there is something new in the second dream. What are the lessons found in these dreams?

Yosef's dreams are a lesson to us, on how to serve Hashem.

The first lessons are found in the differences between Yosef's and Pharaoh's dreams.

Pharoah first dreams about cows and then about grain. In Torah all physical existence is divided into 4 categories. The lowest is domem, inanimate objects, like rocks and sand. Above that is tzomeach, the vegetative domain, things that grow, like trees, grass, vegetables and grain. Above that is chai, living things, like animals. And the highest of the four is medaber, those who have conversation, people.

Both of Pharaoh's dreams happen on earth. The first was about cows, animals, and second went down a notch, about grain, vegetation. It is the way of the impure to go down to lower and lower levels.

Yosef's first dream was on earth, his second was up in the celestial sphere. Reminiscent of Yaakov's dream, where "the ladder was on the ground and its top reached the heavens." Because a Jew must always seek to go higher and beyond the level that he was on.

The two dreams convey the same idea, but one is on earth symbolizing the physical, and the other in the celestial sphere symbolizing the spiritual. Meaning, that we should make the physical and spiritual the same. How do we do this? By filling our physical lives with so much spiritual, that our physical becomes like spiritual.

In Pharaoh's dreams, he is not doing anything. In Yosef's first dream, he and his brothers were working in the field. Because holiness can only be attained through work and effort. There is no free lunch, no bread of shame. Only after the work, do they reach the higher levels in his second dream.

Now that we understand the general aspects of the dreams, let's take a look at some of the details.

In Yosef's first dream the are on earth, in the field, symbolizing chaos and fragmentation, as it says, "Eisav was a man of the field," Eisav was the epitome of chaos and this world is a place of chaos and fragmentation. Every stalk in the field is separate, coming out of its own personal spot of earth.

Our job is to make bundles out of the separate stalks, to make unity of the fragmentation. Meaning, the G-dly soul comes down into the body and animal soul. The nature of the body and the animal soul is to go their own way, following any base pleasure that suits them at the moment, in other words, chaos and fragmentation. Our job is to unite them to follow Hashem's will.

The next thing that happens, is that they bow to Yosef. Yosef is the Tzadik of the generation, like the head that controls the entire body. Our obligation is to bow to the Tzadik, meaning, to take direction from him and to follow his lead.

The problem is that after all this work. We still find ourselves in the field, in the physical. We need to attain a spiritual state. Not to go out of the physical, but to make our physical spiritual. That is the meaning of the second dream. The second dream is up in the celestial sphere, when we reach a high spiritual state.

One might think, "I have reached such a high spiritual state, do I still need to follow the Tzadik?" The answer is that "The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves before me," before Yosef the Tzadik. Even the person who has attained the highest levels of spirituality, has to follow the direction of the Tzadik.

This work of uniting the fragments and a making our physical into spiritual is not as difficult as you might think. For starters, each of us are called "children of kings," and sometimes we are called "kings," meaning that just like a king and a prince are not required to do work, even the smallest amount of effort they do is considered tremendous. Even more, the Talmud tells us "if you will toil you will find." it doesn't say that "you will succeed," rather, that "you will find." When you say "you will find," it means that you get something unexpected, because when we put in the effort, Hashem gives us much more than the effort we put in. So our little effort goes a long way.

We can all do this with a little bit of effort, and if we do, we will be well along the way to bringing Moshiach. May he come soon.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Yaakov's Staff Of Selflessness

Dear Friends,

This is in honor of Yud Tes Kislev. With Hashem's help, I hope to have another one for Shabbos.

In parshas Vayishlach, Yaakov heard that Eisav was coming towards him with 400 armed men, intending to destroy him. Yaakov was afraid of what Eisav might do, so he divided everything he had into two camps, thinking that if Eisav attacks one, the other will be able to be saved. He then turn to Hashem in prayer, asking Hashem to save him from Eisav.

In parshas Vayeitzei, Yaakov had a dream, in which Hashem told him that He would be with him and protect him. Why did he feel that Hashem wouldn't protect him now? Yaakov answers the question in his prayer, he says, "(Katonti) I (my merits) have become diminished, because of all of the acts of kindness and trustworthiness you have done for your servant, (ki b'makli) for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps." Yaakov was afraid that with all Hashem has already done for him, he used up his merit, and therefore, perhaps he lost his protection.

Yaakov mentions two events in this verse, as reasons that he felt, used up his merit. First, "(ki b'makli) for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," and second, "now I have become two camps." The second one, "now I have become two camps," is clearly understood to mean, that he attained great wealth. But our sages give two explanations as to what, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," means.

The first explanation, cited by Rashi, is that Yaakov was saying how poor he was when he first crossed the Jordan 20 years earlier, on his way down to Charan. This explanation brings out the meaning of the second half of the verse, because in contrast to his poverty the last time he crossed the Jordan, you can understand the tremendous kindness Hashem showed him by giving him this great wealth.

The Midrash gives a second explanation. That, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," means that on his way down to Charan, he stuck his staff into the Jordan and it split for him to cross on dry land. According to this explanation, the verse is mentioning two unrelated kindnesses that happened to Yaakov, the splitting of the Jordan and his great wealth.

Whenever there are different explanations on a word, verse or concept in the Torah, there has to be a common thread that they share. The problem here is that they are opposites, the first is a negative, that he was poor, and the second is positive, that Hashem split the Jordan for him. What could possibly be the common link between the two?

The 19th of Kislev always falls in the week before or after Shabbos Parshas Vayishlach, and is celebrated around the world as the Rosh Hashanah of chassidus. One of the reasons for this holiday, is that on this day, the Alter Rebbe, the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch Harav), was released from prison. He was incarcerated on false charges regarding his book, the Tanya, which is known as the written Torah of chassidic thought. His imprisonment was seen as a referendum on the teachings of chassidus, and especially the book of Tanya. It was understood, that a battle was taking place above, over whether or not these teachings should be allowed to be spread and taught openly. When the Rebbe was freed, it was an indication that the war above was over and the side for allowing them to be taught was victorious.

After he was freed, he penned a letter to the community, starting with the word katonti. In it he writes, "Yaakov felt very very small in his own eyes, because of the many kindnesses, '(ki b'makli) for with my Staff . . .'" He ends with "ki b'makli" and he doesn't continue with the rest of the verse.

This is difficult to understand, because "ki b'makli, for with my staff," doesn't point to any kindness that Hashem did for Yaakov. If he wanted to cite the kindnesses he was referring to, it would make sense to write the latter part of the verse, "I have crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps." Or at the very least, add one more word, "avarti, I have crossed," then it would of at least hinted to Hashem splitting the Jordan for him.

We have to conclude, within the words, "ki b'makli," is found Hashem's kindness to Yaakov, and explaining this, will also help us understand the connection between the two explanations of, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan."

The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch), brings the words of the Shaloh Hakadosh, who says that the letters of the words, "ki b'makli," make up the first letters of the words, "Baruch kvod Hashem mimkomo," "Lishuascha kivisi Hashem." ("Blessed is Hashem's honor from His place," "For Your salvation I hope Hashem.") The Tzemach Tzedek continues to explain, that this is similar to what is found in Torah Ohr (also by the Alter Rebbe) on the verse, "You do justice and tzedakah in Yaakov," that there has to be both justice and tzedakah, and these are the same as, "Blessed is Hashem's honor from His place," and " For Your salvation I hope Hashem."

To explain. There are two ways our relationship with Hashem could manifest itself. For someone who is righteous, he could ask Hashem for his needs out of justice, meaning, he has rightfully earned it, and because of that, he can outright ask for it. These people connect to Hashem at the highest levels, symbolized by the verse, "Blessed is Hashem's honor from His place." Then there are those of us that are not at that level, when we ask of Hashem, we are like asking for tzedakah, because perhaps we don't exactly deserve it. This is symbolized by the verse, "For Your salvation I hope Hashem." Because we don't think we deserve it, we ask for it as a salvation.

Seemingly, justice and tzedakah are opposites, either you are asking for tzedakah or demanding justice. How can you have both together?

The answer is that there is a third level, the level of Yaakov, where both justice and tzedakah are employed simultaneously. He certainly deserves it, but because of his great humility, he sees himself as undeserving, and asks for his needs as a tzedakah. This is the greatest and truest nullification of one's ego, and draws Hashem's kindness from the highest place, "from His place."

Now we can understand how the two seemingly opposite explanations on the words, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," connect. Because Yaakov embodied both of these ideas simultaneously. He deserved great miracles, such as the splitting of the Jordan, and at the same time he was humble as a poor person having only a staff would be. And specifically because his ego was so nullified, that he merited such a great kindness from Hashem.

Being that each and every one of us are the children of Yaakov, we inherited from him these virtues, to have justice and tzedakah simultaneously. And because we are considered "children of Kings," even the lightest work is considered hard labor, and because we have all put in at least that much effort, we are all deserving, and we are all able to ask for our needs out right, out of justice. This means that we have a tremendous opportunity, if we can nullify our egos before Hashem, we will draw down the greatest blessings of nachas, good health and abundance, and especially the blessing of all blessings, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Are Physical Possessions Good Or Bad?

 This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
By Mendy and Ita Klein
In honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, for the continued inspiration you provide for us all 

To Dedicate a Dvar Torah Click Here
In this week's parsha, Vayishlach, Yaakov sends angels to his brother Esav. Part of the message they were to tell him was, "I sojourned (garti) with Lavan." Rashi gives two explanations on the word garti. First, that it is like the word ger, which means stranger, because the whole time he lived by Lavan he was like a stranger. Second, that Yaakov was hinting to Esav, that during his sojourn with Lavan, he kept the 613 mitzvahs, as the numerical value of the word garti is 613.

What is the connection between the homiletical explanation, that Yaakov kept the 613 mitzvahs, with the simple meaning of the verse, that he sojourned at Lavan? Why was it important for Yaakov to let Esav know that he kept the 613 mitzvahs? And finally, what lesson are we meant to learn from this?

Yaakov's descent to Charan, where he lived with Lavan, is the descent of the neshama into the world, and on a broader perspective, the descent of the Jewish people into exile. Your neshama descends to accomplish a mission, to refine your body and the world around you into a dwelling for Hashem. When you do this, you have completed your part of the mission. When we complete our missions collectively, Hashem will dwell openly in this world, and Moshiach will be here.

Yaakov is teaching us the correct approach to succeed in our mission.

Rashi's first explanation, is that garti comes from ger, a stranger. When you are home, everything has to be just right, but when you are traveling on the way, things don't have to be perfect, you make due with what is available, because it is not so important.

Lavan and Esav symbolize physical needs, wants, and pleasures. The question is, are you at home by Lavan, meaning, are your physical needs, wants and pleasures most important, or are you a stranger traveling through Lavan's place, meaning, that the spiritual is most important and the physical is not so important?

Yaakov was saying that he was like a stranger traveling through Lavan's place. The physical was not so important to him, his focus was on the spiritual. Therefore, he was successful in his mission.

To prove that he was successful, Yaakov says, "I acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep..." This seems to contradict what was said before, that the physical was not important to Yaakov. Was it important or not?

There are different approaches you can have to the world. One approach is that the physical is all that is important, and success is measured by how many things you have. This is Lavan and Esav's approach.

A second approach is that only the spiritual is important. In this approach all physical gains are shunned.

Then there is Yaakov's approach. When you make the spiritual most important, but you recognize that everything in the world has a spiritual purpose. In other words, the physical becomes important for the spiritual reason it exists. So the physical isn't bad at all, it just has to be harnessed and used for its G-dly purpose. When it is just physical, it is negative, but when it is viewed through spiritual lenses, it is positive.

This will help us understand a strange thing that the Midrash says. On the verse, "I acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep..." The Midrash says that the word "donkey," refers to King Moshiach, as it says about Moshiach, that he will be "A pauper, riding on a donkey." How does this fit in with what Yaakov was saying?

Because Yaakov was saying that he did his part to bring Moshiach.

In order for Moshiach to come we have to make this world into a dwelling place for Hashem, we have to take ownership of it and refine it. This is done through Torah and mitzvahs and by using your possessions to serve Hashem. Conveying that he kept the 613 mitzvahs, Yaakov was saying that he did this work.

From this perspective, the more you acquire doing your mission, meaning, the more of the physical world you refine, the more successful you become. And that is what Yaakov is telling Esav, "see how much I accomplished, I have acquired the spiritual essence of all these things, now they are realizing their G-dly purpose. I have done my part to bring Moshiach."

By sending these messages, Yaakov was hinting to Esav that "I have completed my mission despite all the difficulties of living in exile, with Lavan. Did you do the same?"

The angels returned to Yaakov with the answer, "we came to your brother to Esav." You were hoping that he would be like a brother, that he would be the same as you, but he is still Esav, he still only sees the physical world as important, he has not done his part.

The lesson here is for everyone, at every time and in every place, no matter the situation. A Jew must do his best to refine himself and his part of the world, making it into a home for Hashem, and readying it for the redemption. This is true even if the world around him doesn't seem to be going in the same direction, and others don't seem to be doing their part, and maybe they are even acting as a Lavan or an Esav. Don't think that it is a waste, because you are bringing the redemption closer, and being that the world is holding in a balance, perhaps it is your effort that will tip the scale and usher in the redemption. This is how powerful the effort of a single individual can be.

The key to accomplishing your part, is making the spiritual most important, and allowing the physical to follow, using it for its G-dly purpose.

May our efforts to make this world into a home for Hashem succeed, and usher in the coming of Moshiach. May it happen soon. The time has come.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Making This World Into A Home For Hashem

Dear Friends,

This post is in honor of the 9th of Kislev, which marks the birth and passing of the second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch, and the 10th of Kislev on which he was released from prison, incarcerated for his work to strengthen Judaism in Czarist Russia.

This date is close to my heart, because it is the date that Dina and I got engaged.

In parshas Vayeitzei, we read about Yaakov's descent to Charan. On his way he stopped at Mount Moriah, had the dream with the angels going up and down the ladder, in which Hashem blessed him, and he prayed to Hashem.

Everything the Torah tells us about our forefathers, are meant to be a lesson to us, especially in our service to Hashem. Let us examine some of the details of this story and see how it pertains to us.

When he came to the mountain, the sun had set. "And he took from the stones of the place and put it around his head, and he lay down in that place." The Torah didn't have to tell us about how he gathered the stones and put them around his head, so what are we meant to learn from it? If you look at the literal translation of the words, it says that "he put it around his head." first it was several stones, now it is one stone, what are we to derive from this detail?

Now he lays down. It is interesting to note, that the Midrash tells us that before Yaakov's descent to Charan, he spent 14 years studying Torah in the academy of Ever. It says that the whole time he was there, he didn't once lay down to sleep. This was the first time that he lay down. What are we to take from this point?

After having his dream and recognizing that Hashem's Presence was there, he woke up in the morning and set up the stone that was under his head as a monument. Later, in his prayer, he says, "And this stone that I set as a monument will be a house for Hashem." What is the idea of a stone being a house for Hashem?

Yaakov says a prayer in the form of an oath, "If Hashem will be with me, and will protect me on this journey that I am undertaking, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear. And if I will return to my father's home in peace (b'shalom), then Hashem (Havaya) will be to me as G-d (Elokim)." The simple meaning of this prayer is understood. What spiritual symbolism is to be found in this prayer?

Yaakov says, "And if I will return to my father's home in peace." When you use the word "return," it means to go back to where you started from. In our parsha, it says that he left from Be'er Sheva, not from his father's home. Shouldn't he say, "And if I return to Be'er Sheva?" Why does he say, "to my father's home?" It is not enough that he return, but he asked to return "b'shalom, in peace." What is the idea of returning in peace?

And finally, Yaakov says, "Hashem will be to me as G-d." What other option is there? Wouldn't Hashem be his G-d even if he didn't return in peace?

On a spiritual level, Yaakov's descent from Be'er Sheva to Charan is the descent of the neshama into the world. And this story teaches us the purpose, the mission and the goal of the neshama's descent, and on a broader perspective, the purpose, mission and goal of the Jewish people in this world.

The mission of the soul is to transform the body and its place in the world into a dwelling place for Hashem. It leaves Be'er Sheva, its holy abode above, and makes its way to this lowly world. Just as in Yaakov's dream, before leaving the heavens, Hashem blesses it and reassures it that He will always be with it and protect it. In other words, Hashem strengthens each of us and fortifies us with what is necessary to accomplish our mission.

Yaakov took stones, symbolizing the lowest physical, inanimate and fragmented existence and he united them into a single entity, that is why they are first called "stones" and then called "It." Then he tells Hashem, that he will make the stone into a home for Hashem. Meaning, that he will turn even the lowest level of existence into a home for Hashem.

How does one do this? Yaakov says, "If you will give me bread to eat," bread is symbolic of Torah, which nourishes the soul. "And clothing to wear," clothing is symbolic of mitzvahs. In Kabballa mitzvahs are called the garments of the soul, because unlike Torah that permeates ones mind and heart, mitzvahs are Hashem's will, which is beyond our ability to understand, therefore it doesn't permeate the mind and heart, instead they remain outside of you, and surround you like garments. Also, just like different garments allow you to be in different environments, it is Torah and mitzvahs you do in this world that serve as garments of the soul in heaven, and allow the soul to enjoy Hashem's radiance. It is through these Torah and mitzvahs that we refine ourselves and the world around us.

However, rocks are symbolic of even a lower level of existence. Not the things that involve Torah and mitzvahs, but the mundane basics and even the pleasures of life, eating, drinking, work, exercise, vacation, etc. they can be done for Hashem and made into a home for Him as well. This is the greatest possible transformation that one could achieve, that even his mundane activities, his "rocks," become a home for Hashem. Not that it becomes spiritual, rather it remains a rock, and that rock becomes a home for Hashem as it is.

This idea is stressed by Yaakov laying down. The head symbolizes the highest level, G-dliness, and the feet the lowest, the most mundane. Normally the head is above and the feet are below, but when you lay down you put them on the same level, symbolizing drawing G-dliness into the mundane.

Not only does Yaakov teach us this lesson, but it is hinted in his name. In Hebrew, the name Yaakov could be divided into the letter yud, which symbolizes Hashem, and the word aikev, a heel, the lowest part of a person's body. When you bring them together, you have Yaakov, drawing G-dliness into the lowest places.

After the soul does its mission it returns above, but it doesn't return to the same place it came from, rather because of its work down here it attains a much higher level. That is the idea of, "and I will return to my father's home." Not just to Be'er Sheva where he came from, but to a much greater place, to his father's home.

This is also the story of our nation going down into exile. We are here to do a mission, to make this world, as it is, into a dwelling place for Hashem. When we complete the mission, we won't return to our previous state, but much higher, infinitely higher, when we will see Hashem in everything, as it says, "That the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem like the waters cover the sea."

Yaakov asked to return "b'shalom, in peace (or whole)." Rashi explains that it means that he shouldn't be influenced by Lavan. In other words, when there are obstacles, enemies or negative influences, one can be adversely effected by them, leaving him less than whole. Contending with your body, its natural tendencies, and the world around you, making them into a home for Hashem, can be a great struggle. We ask to succeed without being effected by them. This is similar to what King David said, "Redeem my soul in peace (b'shalom)," because many wanted to do him harm and he fought many wars. He was not only asking to be saved, but that he not be adversely effected by them.

However, there is another meaning of "b'shalom." When you have such a powerful effect on your adversaries that instead of working against you, they become a help to you. Meaning, that the body and the world around you become transformed until they are totally in sync with Hashem's will. This will clearly be the case when Moshiach comes.

Now we can understand why Yaakov says, "Hashem (Havaya) will be to me as G-d (Elokim)." Because although the life force of existence is from the name Havaya, the G-dly energy  that comes from the name Havaya is too much for the physical world to handle. The name Elokim makes existence possible by transforming the Havaya energy so that we could exist. That is why in the story of creation the name Elokim is used, "In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth." Because it is the name Elokim that allows for existence. So the norm for us is that Elokim is to us as G-d (Elokim), because we don't experience the name Havaya, it is in our world, but it is beyond our ability to connect with.

However, through refining ourselves and our place in the world we can attain a higher level, in which we can sence Havaya in everything, to the point that we see Havaya as G-d (Elokim). When Moshiach comes, this will be the norm, as we will see Havaya in everything, as it says, "That the world will be filled with the knowledge of Havaya as the waters cover the sea."

May our efforts to refine ourselves and the world around us be successful and may we merit to see Havaya in everything soon with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Transforming Bad Into Good

This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
By Mendy and Ita Klein
In honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, for the continued inspiration you provide for us all 

To Dedicate a Dvar Torah Click Here

This week's parsha, Vayaytzei, begins, "And Yaakov went out of Be'er Shava, and he went to Charan."

The Midrash tells us that he left "Be'er Sheva, meaning, Be'era shel shavua, the well of the oath," in order that Avimelech (king of the Philistines) won't be able to ask him to take the same oath his parents took, and cause his children's joy to wait 7 generations.

Both Avraham and Yitzchak made peace agreements with Avimelech, in the form of an oath. The Midrash tells us that the consequence of those oaths, was that the Jewish people's entry into the land of Israel was pushed off for 7 generations. Avraham's oath pushed it off until the generation of Moshe, and Yitzchak's oath added another generation, until Yehoshua, who conquered the land, and was the 7th generation from Yitzchak.

It seems that Avraham and Yitzchak weren't afraid to take an oath and make a peace agreement with Avimelech, even though it would push off the entry into the land. We see no effort on their part to avoid Avimelech like Yaakov did. Why was only Yaakov afraid to take an oath of peace with Avimelech?

On the other hand, if our forefathers knew that taking this oath would push off the entry into the land by 7 generations, why weren't Avraham and Yitzchak weary of taking it?

In order to understand this, we need to take a look at the difference between the style of service to Hashem of Avraham and Yitzchak as opposed to that of Yaakov.

Our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, service to Hashem was on the highest level possible, they were like a chariot to Hashem. Just as a chariot has no will of its own, and only goes where its driver wants it to go, same was with our forefathers, they were so in sync with Hashem, that their will was totally His, and they did what He wanted automatically. But there were differences in the way they effected the world around them.

Avraham and Yitzchak's approach to the bad and evil around them, was to avoid it, or to arrange that it wouldn't bother them, so they could serve Hashem in peace. That is why they made a treaty with Avimelech.

When you make a peace agreement with another, it doesn't change who they are or what they stand for. All it does, is put temporarily halt to negative actions against each other. In other words, for the time being, I won't bother you, and you won't bother me. But Avimelech remained the same immoral Philistine that he always was. Because of this style of service, Avraham and Yitzchak didn't change the nations they lived in, the Cannanites remained the same immoral Cannanites, and the Hittites remained the same immoral Hittites. True, they didn't bother Avraham and Yitzchak, and they even respected them, but they weren't changed. Because of this style of service, Avraham was able to have a Yishmael and Yitzchak was able to have an Esav, they didn't have the influence to change them to good, because their way was to negate bad and evil, and not to transform it to good.

Yaakov, on the other hand, worked on transforming the bad around him into good, he didn't make peace with it, he refined it until it was good on its own. That is why he couldn't make peace with Avimelech, because that would ensure that he wouldn't change. And that is why all of his children followed in his footsteps, because he would have that effect and influence on them, as his way was to transform everything to good.

This is why he left the Holy Land to go to Charan, the lowest of places, as Rashi tells us, that it was "charon af shel Makom, the place that angered Hashem." Because he wanted to refine it, and he did over the 20 years that he was there.

So why weren't Avraham and Yitzchak weary of making peace with Avimelech, if it was going to push off the entry into the land of Israel by seven generations?

It wasn't that the oath they took itself pushed off the entry into the land. Rather, as long as the bad remained, it pushed off the entry. Being that their mode of service didn't transform the bad into good anyway, it didn't matter if they took the oath or not, it would have still pushed off the entry into the land by 7 generations.

It is Yaakov's mode of service that made us who we are, we are even called by his name, the Children of Israel (Yaakov's other name was Yisrael, Israel), because it his mode of service that we are meant to follow. Our purpose is to make this lowly world into a dwelling place for Hashem, and we do this by refining ourselves and the world around us, through Torah and mitzvahs, and by using everything in our life in the service of Hashem.

Hashem has put us in the darkest place and the darkest time, the last moments of the exile. This is the ultimate Charan, the lowest of the low, and we have the power to transform it. When the lowest is transformed into good, into a dwelling for Hashem, our work will be complete, and Moshiach will come.

May our efforts in refining the world through Torah and mitzvahs be fruitful, and put an end to the suffering and pain of this dark and bitter exile once and for all. The time has come.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Power Of Yitzchak's Blessings

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In this week's parsha, Toldos, Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, "May G-d (haElokim) give you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land, and abundance of grain and wine."

Most of the blessings given to Avraham and Yitzchak are given with the name Havaya (yud, hay, vav and hay). Most blessings in general, including the Kohen's blessing is with the name Havaya, so when a different name is used, in our case, Elokim, we have to ask: Why?

Every name of Hashem represents a different expression of His energy in the world. For example, the name Havaya represents chesed, kindness, it is an unbridled flow of His creative energy that makes existence possible. However, being that it is unbridled, it is too much, and in order to make existence actually work, the name Elokim, which represents gevurah, strength, discernment and discipline is necessary. It acts as a converter, translating the Havaya energy so that the world can exist as we know it. It doesn't restrict it, it just makes it user friendly. This is why in the story of creation the name Elokim is used, "In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth." Because it is the name Elokim that allows for existence.

But at the same time, the energy that we receive from gevurah is greater than that from chesed. Because chesed, kindness, is cool and calm, and therefore limited, however, gevurah, strength, is hot and passionate, and therefore unlimited. 

Now it begins to make sense, why these great blessings are given only by Yitzchak, and not by Avraham and Yaakov, because Yitzchak's attribute was gevurah. We also find that right after Avraham died, Hashem blessed Yitzchak with the name Elokim, as it says, "And it was after Avraham died, and Elokim blessed Yitzchak his son." This is the first time we have the name Elokim connected to a blessing and it is specifically for Yitzchak. Before Avraham died, the blessings were according to his attribute and his mode of service, chesed, through the name Havaya. Once Avraham died, the blessings started to come in accordance with Yitzchak's attribute and his mode of service, gevurah, hence the name Elokim.

The blessings that Yitzchak gave Yaakov, "May Elokim give you from the dew of the heavens. . ." are greater than the blessing that Hashem gave Yitzchak, "And Elokim blessed Yitzchak his son." How do we know this?

Rashi tells us that Avraham was afraid to bless Yitzchak, because he saw that Esav was coming from him. So he said, "let the Master of blessings come and bless who is good in His eyes," And Hashem came and blessed Yitzchak. From this story it is understood that had Avraham blessed Yitzchak, his blessing would automatically transfer to his children, including Esav. It therefore stands to reason, that the blessing that Hashem gave Yitzchak, transferred to his children, so that both Yaakov and Esav had this blessing automatically.

We read in our parsha of the lengths Yaakov went to, doing things that were against his nature, just to secure Yitzchak's blessings. If he already had Hashem's blessing, why did Yaakov want Yitzchak's blessings so badly? The answer is obvious, that Yitzchak's blessings were much more than the ones he already had.

We also read in the parsha, that Yitzchak wanted to give his blessings to Esav. Why? Didn't he know that Esav was trouble? Of course he did, but he saw in Esav great potential, because the source of Esav was from a very high spiritual realm, and he felt that if only he got the blessings, perhaps they would bring out his great potential.

We are taught, that although Esav had great potential, the blessings would have been wasted on him. Either they would have gone to waste, being swallowed by his boorish nature, or they would have been too much for him to handle, and they would have destroyed him.

Ultimately, it was Yaakov that got the blessings, and that is good, because it is only through Yaakov, that Esav could be refined, attain his true potential and receive the blessings.

We are Yaakov's descendants, and we have been given the ability to have an amazing effect on the world around us, Esav's descendants, we could bring out their great potential. In this way, they also receive the blessings.

What gives us the ability to have such a profound effect on the world? It is because we have Yitzchak's powerful blessings from the name Elokim, and this is what it means when it says, "through him (Avraham) the nations of the world will be blessed." That we, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, will finish the mission that they started, change the world for good and bring Moshiach.

May we all enjoy the simple meaning of Yitzchak's blessings, "May G-d give you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land, and abundance of grain and wine." Together with every other blessing, including nachas, good health and abundance. And especially the greatest blessing, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
In honor of my brothers, the Shluchim of the Rebbe, who are having the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim (Kinus Hashluchim) this week. May you have amazing success in your shlichus, nachas from your children, and good health.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

When The Moon Disappears

This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
By Mendy and Ita Klein
In honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, for the continued inspiration you provide for us all 

To Dedicate a Dvar Torah Click Here

This week we read a special Haftora for Erev Rosh Chodesh (the day before Rosh Chodesh), called Machor Chodesh. When Shabbos falls on Erev Rosh Chodesh, we read this Haftora instead of the Haftora connected to the parsha.

The Haftora tells us that King Shaul's son, Yonasan, felt that David's life was in danger. So he devised a plan to find out if his father really wanted to kill him. "Yonasan said (to David), 'Machor Chodesh (tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh), and you will be remembered because your seat will be empty.'" He told David to hide for three days in a certain place where there was a travelers marker stone. In three days he would go there with a young boy and have his bow and arrow, to practice. He would shoot three arrows, and send the boy to collect them. If he calls to the boy and says, "they are to the side," then it safe to return. If he says, "they are further," then David's life is in danger.

Over Rosh Chodesh it became clear that Shaul wanted to kill David.

Yonasan went to the place with the boy and his bow and arrows. He shot three arrows, and called out to the boy, "they are further." After the boy collected the arrows, Yonasan sent him back to the city and David came out of hiding. "They kissed each other and wept with one another, until David became great (weeping even more than Yonasan)." Yonasan reiterated his pledge of everlasting friendship and they parted ways.

Before explaining this Haftora, we must first explain why we read this Haftora altogether? Answering this question, will bring clarity to all the symbolism found in this Haftora.

The rule is that the Haftora has to be similar to the parsha, and at least similar to the end of the Torah reading or connected to the time. Most of the time, when we have a special Haftora that is read instead of the weekly parsha's Haftora, we have a special maftir as well, and the Haftora is connected to the maftir. On Shabbos Machor Chodesh there is no special maftir, so why do we read this Haftora?

An even greater question is, what kind of holiday is Machor Chodesh, the day before Rosh Chodesh, that it should have a special Haftora and usurp the regular Haftora? We don't find any other day before a holiday to have a special Haftora. For example, there is no Machor Pesach or Machor Shavuoth (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos can't fall on Sunday). Why does Erev Rosh Chodesh have a special Haftora?

Reading this Haftora itself doesn't make sense. Aside for the fact that the story in the Haftora begins on Erev Rosh Chodesh, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with Erev Rosh Chodesh. It hardly makes sense that a Haftora be set, based on two words in the first verse, "Machor Chodesh," when the rest of the Haftora has nothing to do with it.

There must be something very special about Erev Rosh Chodesh, and the Haftora must be highlighting that exact point. What is so special about Erev Rosh Chodesh?

Rosh Chodesh is when the new moon appears. Before the new moon appears, it first has to completely disappear. The birth of the new moon brings with it a new light, a new spiritual energy, but in order for the new energy to enter the world, there has to be the total nullification of the self, the moon has to totally disappear. It is the actual nullification of the self, that brings the new spiritual energy into the world.

This idea is symbolized by the words, "you will be remembered because your seat will be empty." "Because your seat will be empty," meaning, because of your self nullification, that is why "you will be remembered," meaning, you will cause something positive to happen.

The Talmud tells us that "Jews count by the moon," "Jews are similar to the moon," and "in the future, they will be renewed like her (the moon)." Just as the new energy enters the world through the total nullification of the self, so too, through our total self nullification and self sacrifice to do Hashem's will, an amazing light is brought into the world, as I will explain.

Our purpose is to make this lowly limited physical world into a dwelling place for Hashem. The way we do this, is through refining ourselves and our place in the world so Hashem will be able to dwell in it openly. This is done by using everything to serve Hashem, either for Torah and mitzvahs, or to help you serve Hashem in some way. And this takes work, especially on one's self, first by forcing your ego to do what Hashem wants, and then through transforming the ego, to the point that it wants to do what Hashem wants. This is hard work, and the nullification of the self. This process brings amazing levels of G-dly light into the world, and it is specifically the nullification of the self to Hashem, that causes the light to come.

The work of refining ourselves and the world around us, is symbolized by the bow and arrow. Just as with a bow and arrow, the more you pull back on the bowstring, the further the arrow will go, the same thing applies to our work. The deeper into ourselves we go and the lower the place in the world we refine, the greater the light that enters the world.

When we complete this process, Hashem will dwell openly in this world, which means that Moshiach will be here.

This dark and bitter exile that we are in, is like the day before Rosh Chodesh. Slowly as the day goes on, the light of the moon gets smaller and smaller until it completely disappears. It is then that the new light comes. It is specifically our efforts in the darkest part of the exile that causes the light of Moshiach to enter the world.

At the end, at the darkest time we do the ultimate refinement through teshuva, as the Rambam says, "In the end, Yisrael will do teshuva at the end of their exile and they will immediately be redeemed." Teshuva means coming closer to Hashem, and everyone can do teshuva. For some it means correcting their ways, but there is a higher level of teshuva, where even someone who doesn't have to correct his ways comes closer to Hashem. He is not satisfied with his current level, as no one should be satisfied, and should always want to get closer to Hashem. Through this higher level of teshuva, he breaks free from his current state and reaches a higher level.

This is symbolized by the first words of the Haftora, "And Yonasan said (to David)." Yonasan symbolizes the Tzadik, and David the Baal Teshuva. It is the service of the Tzadikim that enable Baal Teshuvas to start their teshuva, but they ultimately reach the level of the Tzadik, as we see in the Haftora, "They kissed each other and wept with one another." This means that at that moment they were equals. However, teshuva will take you even higher, that is why the verse continues, "until David became great." Because through teshuva you can reach higher than the level of a Tzadik. So great is the power of teshuva, that the Zohar tells us about Moshiach, that "he is coming to bring Tzadikim to do teshuva." That when Moshiach comes, Tzadikim will harness the power of teshuva and soar to incredible heights, because Hashem is infinite, and there is always higher levels to attain.

Erev Rosh Chodesh is symbolic of our essential purpose and mission. And the day of Shabbos accentuates it even more, because on Shabbos we are raised above creation, and we sense our essence.

With all this said, it becomes clear that Erev Rosh Chodesh is of great importance to us, it therefore deserves to have a Haftora of its own, and even take the place of the parsha's Haftora.

May our efforts to complete our mission and our teshuva, flood the world with the light of Hashem, and usher in the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Making Your Life Your's

This Dvar Torah Is Dedicated 
By Mendy and Ita Klein
In honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, for the continued inspiration you provide for us all
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This week's parsha, Chayei Sarah, begins, "And Sarah's lifetime was 127 years, the years of Sarah's life."

The question is asked: If it already said, "And Sarah's lifetime was 127 years," why does it add, "the years of Sarah's life?"

Another question: Why does the Torah tell us how long Sarah lived, as opposed to the other matriarchs, whose years aren't told to us? The Zohar says, that because she went down and came up from Egypt, she merited to have an exalted state of living. Which means that her life now was filled with a very high spiritual state as a gift from above. He concludes that "her life was her's," meaning, that she was master over every aspect of her life, and even more, not only did she received the gift of an exalted state of living, but she internalized it, and mastered that as well.

The Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneerson of Lubavitch) explains the words of the Zohar, that the first part of the verse, "And Sarah's lifetime was 127 years," means that she merited to have an exalted state of living, and the second half of the verse, "the years of Sarah's life," comes to teach us that her life was her's.

Rashi explains that the extra words, "the years of Sarah's life," comes to teach us that her years were all equally good, which means free of sin. How do we reconcile Rashi's interpretation with the words of the Zohar, that "her life was her's?"

We have a rule, that what our patriarchs and matriarchs did, is a lesson to us, their children, as to what we should do. If the Torah tells us extra words, "the years of Sarah's life," which mean equally good, free of sin, it means that we should also have equally good years. How can this be a life lesson for us to follow? A lesson can be applied to the present and the future, but not the past. If someone had committed sins in the past, how can his years be equally good, free of sin?

This is where teshuva comes in. There is a kind of teshuva that could correct the past as well, as if no sin was ever committed, when someone does teshuva out of love.

What is teshuva from love? There are different reasons a person does teshuva. Sometimes it is done out of fear, either because he is afraid of punishment or he feels that he will not get what he needs from Hashem if he doesn't correct his ways. Then there is the person who wants to get closer to Hashem. He yearns from the depth of his heart and thirsts for a relationship with Hashem, only to get closer and closer. Doing teshuva from this approach is called teshuva from love.

Being that it is possible to change the past, it is possible to follow Sarah's lead and have all your years equally good. In other words, a Jew has total control over his life, even his past , if he wants to. And when he does, it becomes his life just like Sarah's life was her's.

How does changing the past work?

On a basic level, because he realizes that he sinned, he is full of remorse, and he feels cut off. Therefore, he becomes bitter over his lowly situation and that pushes him to do teshuva. Now, because it is the sin that motivated him to do teshuva, repair the bond, and come closer to Hashem than he was before the sin, it is the actual sin that brought him closer. Superficially it is a sin with all its trappings, but through his teshuva he reveals a hidden good from within the sin, and that takes the place of the sin.

On a deeper level, teshuva from love is so powerful, that it reaches a place that is beyond the creation of time. Time is also a creation and there are spiritual realms before or beyond the existence of time. At the moment of teshuva you are beyond time, and there is no past, present or future, therefore, it is as if you are transported to before the sin and it is corrected.

Not only do we learn this lesson from Sarah, but because she was at such a high level, and she was able to internalized it, and take ownership of every aspect of her life, it means that we could as well. Because Sarah is our mother, and it is in our genes to be like her. Therefore, we have the ability to have all our years equally good and that our lives be ours, just like her.

You might think, "I am not holy enough or special enough to be able to do teshuva from love." It is a mistake to think that way, every Jew is holy and special, and can do teshuva from love. It is not the easy route, it will take work, learning about Hashem, understanding why He created the world, and why He created you. But when you begin to understand, your love for Hashem will start to burn inside you, and with time and effort, the fire will grow and lead you to teshuva from love.

If you follow these steps, you will begin to see Judaism differently. Instead of it feeling as a burden you are responsible for, you will begin to have a passion for it and do it with joy. And joy is the key to breaking all boundaries and reaching the greatest heights. You will even do your teshuva with joy, passion and love, and you will become the master over your life, past, present and future, just like Sarah our mother.

May our efforts to get closer to Hashem, bring us to "serve Hashem with joy." This joy will break all boundaries, especially the constraints of this dark and bitter exile, and usher in the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

If you want to learn about Hashem,  I suggest learning the book of Tanya as a starting point.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Power Of Our Mitzvahs

This Dvar Torah is Dedicated
By Moshe Gaerman
לע״נ באשע ליבא ע״ה בת אברהם
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In this week's parsha, Vayeira, Hashem sent an angel to destroy Sodom and Amora (Gomora). He said, "Should I conceal from Avraham what I am about to do? Seeing that Avraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and through him all the nations of the world will be blessed. For I cherish him, because he will instruct his children and his household after him and they will keep Hashem's way (literally path) to do righteousness and Justice . . ."

Why does Hashem use the terms "conceal" and "path?" The word hamechaseh, which means to cover up or to conceal is not the usual word used in this context. Therefore we must ask, why is it being used? The word derech means a path. Why is following Hashem's way called a path?

The verse says that Hashem cherishes Avraham, "because he will instruct his children and his household after him and they will keep Hashem's way to do righteousness and Justice . . ." What about everything Avraham did until that point? Wasn't he tested over and over again? Didn't he work on teaching people about Hashem? Shouldn't Hashem cherish him for those things?

It seems to be saying that Hashem cherishes Avraham because of us, being that in the future, we will do the mitzvahs. And because of that He is revealing what is concealed.

To understand this, allow me to take you to a deeper place.

The word derech is a way or a path. A path connects two places and allows travel between the two. One place can be a great city and the other can be a small village. They could have nothing in common, yet they are connected. Even more than that, travel goes both ways, someone from the great big city can travel on the path to the small town, and he can return on the same path to the great big city.

In our verse, the words "he will instruct his children," refer to Torah, "and they will keep Hashem's way," refers to the Mitzvahs. The next words seem superfluous, "to do righteousness and Justice," which again means to do the mitzvahs. What do we learn from the extra words?

Though Hashem is beyond the world and there is nothing in common between this lowly limited world and the unlimited infinite Hashem. Nevertheless, Hashem created a pathway for us to connect with Him. First through Torah, drawing from His infinite light down into our limited lives, and then through doing mitzvahs we reach up and connect with even higher levels than where Torah comes from. Because Torah is Hashem's wisdom and mitzvahs are Hashem's will, and will is higher than wisdom.

This is how we make the world into a home for Hashem, not by destroying the lowly physical state and turning it in to spiritual, rather it remains the same world, but we make it ready to receive His presence through our Torah and mitzvahs.

All this is with regards to the part of Hashem that is, so to speak, related to the world. But there are higher parts, that are beyond any connection to the world, they are referred to as "concealed." Hashem is saying that He will reveal these as well. How do we tap into these higher levels?

That is where "to do righteousness and Justice" come in. There are two levels in doing mitzvahs. The first is an outcome of Torah, we draw down G-dliness through the study of Torah, we do the mitzvahs as an outcome of understanding the Torah, thereby reaching even higher levels.

Then there is the greatness of mitzvahs on their own, and not as it relates to Torah study. The power of our mitzvahs will be recognized when Moshiach comes, and it is our mitzvahs that reveals and connects us to the concealed levels of G-dliness.

This is what Hashem cherishes about Avraham, that we, his descendants, will do the mitzvahs, Hashem's will, and therefore He reveals what is concealed.

Even though the power of our mitzvahs will only be revealed when Moshiach comes, meaning, that we will see the power of our actions. Nevertheless, although we don't see it now, it accomplishes the same thing, and we have the power to tap into the concealed levels of G-dliness.

Our mitzvahs are so powerful and Hashem cherishes each and every one of us, because of our commitment to doing them.

Knowing this, we should try to add to the mitzvahs we do, and do them with more enthusiasm. Perhaps it will be your mitzvah that will tip the scale and usher in the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Call To Every Jew

This Dvar Torah is Dedicated
By Irving Bauman, in memory of his father Horav Moshe Aron Bauman ZL 
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In the first verse of this week's parsha, Lech Lecha, Hashem commanded Avraham, "Lech Lecha, go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." Hashem continues to tell Avraham that, "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great." This is the first command to the first Jew, therefore, there must be a message here for every Jewish person, for all time. What is the message?

There are two approaches to understanding this verse. The first is that it is referring to the journey of the soul, a descent from above to below. The soul is asked to leave its home in the highest spiritual realms, and make the descent into the lowest possible realm, the physical world. But it is here that it affects the most change and accomplishes its purpose, and the effect is so powerful, that it brings Hashem's blessing and becomes great. Meaning, that the soul is uplifted to higher spiritual realms, beyond where it was before its descent.

In this way of understanding the verse, we are given a glimpse of our purpose, the goal of every Jew, to make this world into a better place, the way Hashem wants it. A place where Hashem could call home.

The second approach is more in line with the simple meaning of the verse. It refers to the ascent from below to above we must make every day from the lowly and mundane, from "your land, your birthplace, and your father's house," which in the context of the verse, refers to a place and an atmosphere of idol worship, " to the land that I will show you," the land of Israel, a place of holiness.

This is especially poignant now after the holidays, when we are thrusted into the mundane, which in chasidic teaching is called, "V'Yaakov halach l'darko, and Yaakov went on his way," meaning that every "Yaakov," every Jew, goes on his  way after the holidays, doing his mission to transform his part of the world into a dwelling place for Hashem.

The name Yaakov is used here, which comes from the word eikev, a heel, which is the lowest part of a person's body, because we can even transform the lowest part of ourselves to do Hashem's will. When the heel is transformed and moves in the ways of Hashem, it takes the rest of the body with it.

We see this on Simchas Torah, the end of the holidays, when we celebrate through dancing with the soles of our feet, and they make the body and head dance as well. This is the same message, and a preparation for the rest of the year, that if you can get the lowest part of you to serve Hashem, then all of yourself will serve Hashem. And if you can transform the lowest part of the world into a dwelling place for Hashem, then you transform the whole world. Because when you lift something from the bottom, you lift the whole thing.

It is through Torah, mitzvahs and living the life of a Jew that transforms this world, and we have the power to do it, we inherited it from our forefather Avraham. It is through this work that we complete Hashem's command to Avraham, "Lech Lecha."

Although these two explanations are opposites, the first a descent, and the second an ascent, they are both explanations of the same verse, and therefore simultaneously true. And we have to take both messages at the same time. That we have descended to effect this world, and we should try to change it from the bottom up.

So "Lech Lecha," is a call to every Jewish person, to do all you can to complete the mission and make this world into a home for Hashem. It is through both of these approaches working simultaneously that we create an environment that the highest levels of G-dliness, even the levels that are beyond the world, to enter the world and become part of our lives.

This is the key to the blessings found in our parsha, and the path to the ultimate blessing, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.