Friday, February 24, 2017

Repairing Our Temple

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This week we add a special Torah reading, Parshas Shekalim. The Haftora for parshas Shekalim, tells of the triumph over idol worship and repairing the Temple.

The connection to the parsha is that the half shekels were given as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf, which is the triumph over idol worship. And in the Haftora it mentions that the shekalim collected would be used to repair the Temple.

The Haftora begins with an account of the aftermath of Yehoyada the Kohen Gadol's revolt against the wicked Asalya.

Asalya was the daughter of Ahab and Jezzabel, rulers of the Ten Northern Tribes. She was married to Yehoram, heir to the throne of Yehuda, in order to form an alliance between the Northern Tribes and Yehuda. Evil like her mother, Asalya introduced Ba'al worship into the Kingdom of Yehuda, and stopped much of the services of the Holy Temple. This continued throughout Yehoram's reign and into the first year of his son Achazia's reign, when they were murdered by Yehu, king of the Northern Tribes. Asalya then had all of the royal family executed and established herself as Queen. However, Achazia had a baby son Yehoash, who was secretly saved by Yehosheva, Asalya's sister, and hidden in the Holy Temple for six years.

After Yehoyada's revolt, they destroyed the house of Ba'al and restored the Temple service to its former glory.

Now that Asalya was dead, Yehoash was paraded to the palace and installed upon the throne. He was 7 years old when he became king, he reigned for forty years, and the Haftora tells us that his mother's name was Tzivya. He went in Hashem's ways all his days, and followed the guidance of Yehoyada the Kohen Gadol.

King Yehoash noticed that the Temple needed repairs. He said to the Kohanim that they could take the money that came into the Temple for themselves, but they would have to pay for the repairs. However, several years passed and he realized that the repairs had not been done. He called the Kohanim, and asked them, "Why are you not repairing the bedek habayis (the cracks of the House)?"

Now he took personal oversight of repairing the Temple. The Haftora continues with an account of how the money was collected, counted, and spent, on architects, carpenters, masons, wood, stone and more.

The reading of Haftoras was established at a time when the ruling power over Jews, did not allow them to read the Torah in the synagogues. In other words, a time of exile. This means, that the Haftoras are meant to speak to us, and convey a message for our time, the exile.

The Haftoras main message is about Bedek habayis, checking to find the cracks and flaws that have set in over time, and repairing them.

Now that we don't have our Temple, how do we do bedek habayis? The idea of bedek habayis only makes sense in regards to the first and second Temples, which were built by man. Whereas, Rashi tells us, that the Temple we now are waiting for, is already "Built..., and will be revealed and come down from the heavens..." It is the work of Hashem's hands, perfect, and not subject to cracks or falling in to disrepair. And what more, it will descend with the coming of Moshiach, when our service to Hashem will be at the highest level. What kind of bedek habayis will there possibly be in the time of Moshiach?

The Third Temple, will come down with out our work and effort, like a gift. When you get something without effort, it is referred to as "Bread of shame." What part will we do to earn our Temple every day, after the coming of Moshiach?

It is a mistake to think that when Moshiach comes, that we won't need effort and derive satisfaction from our daily accomplishments, our service won't end, rather it will take a different form. In exile, our service of bedek habayis is finding the physical and spiritual flaws of our actions, sins, transgressions, etc., and work on fixing them. When Moshiach comes, there will be no more sins and flaws, our service will be to reach for and attain higher and higher levels of G-dly revelation. Our bedek habayis will be, searching our state, too see if there is something more that we could do, to make our way to a higher level. There is always a higher level to attain.

Now that we will have effort after Moshiach comes, the Third Temple, and the revelations received will not be bread of shame, but rather, earned.

May we merit to witness the Third Temple descend from heaven, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon

Thursday, February 23, 2017

1 + 1 = A Holy One

Audio Version By Rabbi Sholem Perl
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This week we read and extra Torah reading, Shekalim. Every Jewish male was required to giv e a silver half holy shekel coin which went for the communal offerings.

A holy shekel was 20 gera. A half of a holy shekel was 10 gera, which is the value of a regular, not holy, shekel. So, a half holy shekel is a regular shekel.

Why a half shekel? And if a half holy shekel is a regular shekel, why not say shekel?

It is similar to what the Maggid of Mezrich explains about the trumpets that Hashem commanded Moshe to make. He said, "Make for yourself two chatzotzros (trumpets)." The word chatzotzros could be divided into chatzi tzuros, which means half forms.  "Two chatzotzros," means that Hashem and the Jewish people, are, so to speak, two half forms, that together complete each other. Same too, every Jew is like a half and become whole through connecting with other half shekels, other Jewish people.

How does this work?

Hashem created us in His image. Kabbalistic teaching explains, that just as Hashem has 10 G-dly attributes, we too have these 10 attributes. And just as Hashem connects to the world with both masculine and feminine aspects, as sometimes He is called Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Blessed One Be He (masculine). Other times, as Shechina, the Divine Presence (written in the feminine). So too, we are divided into two genders, each with a unique purpose.

Our great sages tell us, that when "Ten (Jewish people) eat together, the Shechina shines." They are not davening or learning, all they are doing is eating and the Shechina "shines!" Why?

In some way, because we have a Neshama, which is a part of Hashem, we each carry the Shechina with us. Now, when ten of us are together, the Shechina shines, regardless of what we are doing. I can just imagine, that adding davening and learning Torah to the gathering can take the Shechina from a shine to a great bright light.

When a Jew connects with Hashem, you have both halfs of the form, each half is a whole on its own, each is 10, a whole shekel, but together, they become a holy shekel.

The same is true for Jewish people. Each one of us are perfect on our own, but we are only half of a holy shekel, we need another to be whole. The mitzvah of loving your fellow, makes you whole. Hashem likes to be where there is love and unity amongst friends.

This, of course, is also the case for couples. When you are together in a loving relationship,  you are two halfs that become one whole. In order for that to happen, you have to see your partner, not as a half, but as a whole. And then the two shekels, become one holy shekel. When this happens, Hashem wants to take part in your relationship, if you bring Hashem in, you take your relationship to a whole new level.

Hashem wants us to connect with him, however, He wants us to love each other first.

May Hashem bless us with good and strong relationships, with our friends, spouses, and ultimately with Him. Our unity and love will surely beget us the ultimate and open relationship with Hashem that we yearn for, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Dedicated to my wife, Dina Hurwitz, my other half shekel, who has been a rock throughout my difficult battle with ALS.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Special We Are

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The Haftora for parshas Yisro, is Yishayahu's vision of the spiritual realm, know in Chasidic and Kabbalistic teaching, as the world of Briya.

The connection to our parsha, is that our parsha speaks of the giving of The Ten Commandments, when the Jewish people experienced a similar vision and perhaps even greater.

Every name of Hashem has a different level of holiness and is connected to a different spiritual realm. The greater the name, the higher the realm.

In the Haftora, Yishayahu sees Hashem, here referred to with the name Adnai (Ado-nai), sitting on a throne, and the angels, called Serafim, are praising Hashem. Serafim are the angels of the world of Briya, and the name of Hashem they experience there, is Adnai (which is a lower name than the Tetragrammaton, that we don't pronounce, but say Adnai instead).

He sees the "Serafim standing above Him."  Meaning, that they are standing above the level of Adnai. If these angels are from the world of Briya, how can they be above Adnai, when that is the name they are privy to, shouldn't they be with Him?

These angels know, that there is a higher level of Hashem to be experienced and they yearn for that. Therefore they are above, as the Baal Shem Tov's says, "In the place where a person's will is, that is where he is." Since the Serafim want to be above, they are.

Although we are talking about angels, the Baal Shem Tov's teaching is about a person. A person's thoughts are very powerful, even when he is physically in one place, in his thoughts, he can be somewhere else, and just like the angels, he is really there.

We see this in Jewish law as well. On Shabbos, one may walk 2000 cubits (approximately 3000 feet) out of his city. If he wants to go further, he can make an eiruv techumim, in which he puts food at the 2000 cubit mark, making this spot his official residence. Now he can go another 2000 cubits from that point. Though he will physically spend Shabbos in his real home, in the city, nevertheless, since in his thoughts he is at his eiruv, he is considered there.

The implications of this idea are tremendous. First, our thoughts are real, and thinking about someone, affects that person. This is why I appreciate it so much, when people tell me that they are thinking of me. Just like when you look at water, you see your reflection. So to the thoughts and feelings you have for another are reflected back at you by him. So your positive thoughts make a difference.

To take it a step further. Every Jewish person, in his essence, wants to be with Hashem. Even if a Jew is totally lost from his faith, deep within the recesses of his soul, he wants to be with Hashem and do His will. This means, that a Jew is always with Hashem, and therefore you must never give up on him, no matter how far you think he is.

The Haftora continues. Yishayahu heard the angels call to one another to pray, and they said together, "Holy holy holy is the G-d of hosts, the whole Earth is full of His glory." This is a verse we say several times a day, in our prayers. What is the meaning of this verse to us? Why say holy three times? What is the meaning of the earth is full of His glory, shouldn't they say that the Heavens are full of His glory?

The Midrash tells us, that it is like a parable of countrymen who made their King three crowns. What did he do with them? He put one on his head, and the other two on his children's heads. So too, every day the Heavenly hosts put before Hashem three holys, saying, "Holy holy holy." What does He do with them? He puts one on his head and two on the Jewish people.

What does each holy represent? The are connected to the words in the Shema, "With all your heart, with all your soul and with all your means." The first one is on Hashem's head. It is the recognition, that there is something higher. It is connected to the heart, which yearns to reach and connect to higher levels of Hashem. The second and third are on our heads. It is our ability to draw G-dliness down and make the physical holy, through studying Torah and doing mitzvahs. The study of Torah is connected to the soul, being the spiritual part of our service to Hashem. The mitzvahs are connected to our means, being the physical part of our service to Hashem.

The angels recognize, that our Torah study and mitzvahs down here, are most important, and that it draws Hashem's glory into the physical. This is why they say, "The whole Earth is full of His glory."

on another level, since Hashem chose us from all of existence and gave us neshamos, which are a part of Him. Therefore, we one with Him, we are His representation in this world, we are His glory.

Now that we are aware of how special every Jew is, we can understand the continuation of the Haftora. Yishayahu realized, that he saw a very holy sight, and said, "Woe is to me! For I am lost, because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a nation of unclean lips." He was later punished, for speaking disparagingly about the Jewish people. Because the leader of the Jewish people, should know the value of a Jew, and never speak badly of one, let alone the whole nation. This is written in the Tanach, as a lesson to us, not to speak badly of another Jew.

To make the point, Hashem sends him on a mission to the Jewish people. As if to say, "Even if they don't seem to be the way you think they should, never give up on them, because the value of every Jew is immeasurable."

This is why Hashem chose to take us out of Egypt, and gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. Because we are that special.

It is because of this, that we are able to make such a big difference in the world, and accomplish the mission that we were chosen for, to fill the whole world with Hashem's glory. Which we will witness with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Greatness Of Jewish Women

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The Haftora for parshas Beshalach, Shabbos Shira, is about our Shofetes Devora Hanavia (our leader/judge Devora the prophetess).

She summoned her general Barak, to wage war against the mighty Canaanite general Sisera and his army. Barack insisted that Devora go with him to battle, which she agreed to do, but she told him that he wouldn't be credited with the victory, rather a woman would have that honor.

They went to war and completely destroyed the Canaanite army, but Sisera got away. He ran to the tent of Chever the Kenite, thinking that he would be safe there, being that there was a good relationship between him and the Canaanite king. Chever's wife was Yael, a courageous woman. She hid him in her tent, giving him a false sense of security. He asked for some water, and she gave him milk, which made him sleepy. As he slept, she took a tent peg and a hammer and drove the peg into his temple and he died.

Yael is the woman who was credited for the victory, as she put an end to Sisera and an end to the Canaanites.

Devora sang a song to commemorate the victory, and there was peace for forty years. 

The connection to our parsha is that the parsha tells of the splitting of the sea, when we were finally free from the Egyptians, and the song we sang on that momentous occasion.

The Song by the Sea was sung by both the men and the women, why is the Haftora about women, and about a song of a woman, Devora?

When we look at the parsha. We see that there was a difference between the way the men sang and the way the women sang. All the men did was sing, however, when the women sang, it says, "And all the women went out... with tambourines and dances." Why was there more joy by the women than by the men, not only did they sing, but they had tambourines and danced as well? And why did they have tambourines?

"According to the pain, so is the reward." So to, according to the suffering, so is the joy that follows, when the suffering is gone. All the Jewish people suffered in Egypt, but the women suffered more. Seeing their newborn babies being thrown into the Nile, was worse than the hard labor the men suffered. Although it affected the men as well, what happens to a baby has more of an affect on a mother.

Now that they were finally free of Pharaoh, the joy was so great, not only did they sing, but they danced and played their tambourines as well. And because the women's joy was greater, we read the Song of Devora, a woman.

Our great sages tell us, that "In the merit of righteous women our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt, and in the merit of righteous women we will be redeemed in the future." The parsha and the haftorah highlight three women, Miriam, Devora and Yael, because we can learn from them, about the righteousness of women. The parsha also mentions "all the women," Because there is a lesson to be learned from them as well.

When it mentions Miriam, the Torah calls her "Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister." Why not Moshe's sister? Because it is referring to the time before Moshe was born. The name Miriam comes from the word mar, which means bitter, since she was born around the time that the bitter servitude began. As a little girl, she witnessed Pharaoh's evil decree, that "Every boy that is born should be thrown in the river."  She prophesied, that her parents would give birth to the savior of the Jewish people. She had complete trust in Hashem, that this prophecy would come true. And when Moshe was put in a basket, in the river, the Torah tells us, that she "stood at a distance to see what would become of him." And she continued to wait for the next eighty years, knowing that it would surely come to pass. She suffered bitterly and felt the suffering of her people. And now as they crossed the sea, and they were free at last, she witnessed with great joy as her prophecy had come true.

From Miriam we learn of the great trust righteous women have in Hashem. This is also seen in all the Jewish women of the time, as they prepared tambourines, trusting that Hashem would redeem them. These are the tambourines they took with them, as they left Egypt, into the desert, trusting that they were in Hashem's hands, soon to be free.

We know that the women suffered terribly as their babies were being thrown into the Nile. There is a lot of symbolism here. The Nile was Egypt's god, it was the river that sustained them. In other words, they worshipped making a living. We, on the other hand, serve Hashem, and know that our sustenance comes from Him. More than not, most children spend more time with their mother than their father, this means that the mother's influence, is so important. Some make the grave mistake of throwing their children into the river of making a living, to the sacrifice of a proper Jewish education. Because the culture demands it, and because "what will my friends say?" However, the strong Jewish mother puts Hashem first, knowing that our sustenance is from Hashem. She saves her children from the Nile, and makes sure to give her babies the best Torah education, so that they will grow up in Hashem's way. This is the greatest nachas a parent could have.

The Haftora calls Devora the wife of Lapidus, the word Lapid means a flame, because she would make the wicks for the Mishkan in Shiloh. Her wicks would light up the Mishkan, and from there the light would spread to the whole world.

This is the calling of all Jewish women, to fill their own Mishkans, their homes, with the light of Shabbos candles, which has a profound impact on her family. It is symbolic of the atmosphere, which she sets in her home, as she has an effect on her husband and her children, making her home a dwelling place for Hashem and His blessings.

Devora would judge the people sitting under a date palm. Why? Because a date palm's fronds are high up on the tree and don't really give shade. She did this out of modesty, not to be alone with other men, as she judged and advised them. In Devorah's song, she blesses Yael, to be "Blessed among the women of the tent." Which refers to our matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, who were known for their modesty. The tent also refers to the home, which means her commitment to her spouse.

I am amazed by the greatness of Jewish women, especially because I can see that they sense and feel the pain of the exile, more than us men do. When I see how much my wife Dina endures, with such grace. Despite everything, she takes the time to be there and lift the spirits of others, I am at a loss of words. Jewish women are simply amazing.

These noble traits of Jewish women, is what brought the redemption from Egypt, and these same traits will bring the future redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Dedicated to my wife Dina, a truly great woman, in honor of our 21st anniversary, which is this Shabbos, Tu B'Shvat.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Do Not Fear, I Am With You

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The Haftora for parshas Bo, is Yirmyahu's prophecy of the destruction of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. This is followed by a vision of hope and reassurance, that the Jewish people will return to their homeland.

The connection to our parsha is clear. Parshas Bo tells us of the destruction of Egypt by Hashem, through the final three plagues. Followed by the exodus from Egypt, which was the beginning of the travels, that brought the Jewish people to the Holy Land, Israel.

The Haftora begins with a detailed description of the devastation of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar and his army, who will come from the north. So vast will his army be, that they will be more than a swarm of locust. It describes how the Egyptians would waiver out of fear, and flea. Even Pharaoh will be afraid, he will talk big, but when the time comes, he too will waiver. Egypt will be deserted for a time, and then its dispersed will return.

The Jewish people will see the Egyptians returning to their homeland, and wonder, when will they be returning to their homeland? The prophecy continues with a reassurance, that they too will return to their homeland. "Do not fear My servant Yaakov, do not be dismayed Yisrael, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your descendants from the land of their captivity. Yaakov shall return, and be at rest and at ease, and none shall make them afraid. Do not fear My servant Yaakov..., because I Am with you..."

In this verse, the Jewish people are referred to as Yaakov and Yisrael. It is also the custom of many to say or sing "Do not fear my servant Yaakov," after Shabbos. What is the difference between Yaakov and Yisrael? Why is the custom to specifically use the name Yaakov after Shabbos? And finally, why is Yaakov called "My servant?"

The Talmud tells us, that after Hashem changed Avram's name to Avraham, we are not permitted to call him Avram anymore. As the verse says, "Your name will no longer be called Avram." However, even though the verse says the same with regards to the name Yaakov, "Your name will no longer be called Yaakov," we are permitted to call him Yaakov, because after his name was changed to Yisrael, the Torah continues to use the name Yaakov.

The question is, why continue to use Yaakov, when the name Yisrael is a greater name?

The difference between Yaakov and Yisrael is, that the name Yaakov refers to us when we need to contend with the physical world and outsmart the evil inclination, in order to use the physical for G-dliness. Yaakov is called, "My servant," as this work is pleasureless, like the work of a servant, and like a servant, Yaakov doesn't feel a closeness to Hashem. This is because, as the name suggests, Yaakov comes from the word akeiv, a heel, referring to the lower part of the neshama, that can be concealed by the body and the physical world.

Yisrael refers to us when we are above the physical and we are called Hashem's son, "Yisrael is My first born son," as we feel close to Hashem. Instead of the evil inclination and the physical being a hindrance to our service to Hashem, it becomes a helper. As the name Yisrael is, "Because you struggled with angels and with men and you prevailed." Meaning, that he has overcome the opposing angels and the scoffers, to the point, where not only do they not hurt, but rather, they help. This is because, the letters of the name Yisrael, make the anagram, li rosh, which means, I have a head. The head refers to the higher part of the neshama, that nothing has the power to conceal.

This is also the meaning of the verse from parshas Balak, that we say on Rosh Hashanah, "A sin was not observed in Yaakov, and toil was not seen in Yisrael." Yaakov doesn't have any sins, because he has the ability to overcome every challenge through toil. Yisrael, on the other hand, doesn't have to toil, because he is above it all.

In a general sense, this is the difference between a Tzadik and the average Jew. The Tzadik is at the level of Yisrael, he has no struggle, because he has totally changed his evil inclination into good. However, the average Jew is like Yaakov, he struggles, but he overcomes.

On another level, we see that the average Jew has both Yaakov and Yisrael. It is the difference between the weekdays and Shabbos. During the weekdays, when he must contend with the physical and his evil inclination, to overcome and transform them into holiness, he takes on the role of Yaakov. However, when Shabbos comes, even the physical becomes holy, as we see, that eating food on Shabbos is holy, sleeping on Shabbos is holy, etc., that is when he takes on the role of Yisrael.

This is true for a Tzadik as well, albeit in a more subtle way. As understood from the fact, that he was still called Yaakov, even after he earned the name Yisrael. This is because even a Tzadik must be Yaakov at times.

Now you can understand the custom to say after Shabbos "Do not fear My servant Yaakov." Why Yaakov? Because we are coming from Shabbos, when we are Yisrael, where everything is holy and there is no struggle, and entering the weekdays as Yaakov, with darkness, struggles, and hardships, and that is scary. Why shouldn't we be afraid? Hashem says, "Because I Am with you." This also means, that Hashem specifically puts us in this situation, and helps us accomplish what he wants most, that we turn this dark world into a place where Hashem could reside openly. So when Hashem says, "Do not fear My servant Yaakov," He give us the strength to persevere and succeed.

In fact, there is really nothing to fear, as we are certain that ultimately we will be victorious. Because at our core we have a Neshama, which is a part of Hashem, and just as no one can rule over Hashem, so to, no one has power over us. As we see from the last words of the Haftora, "I will not make an end of you..., and I will not wipe you out." while others may be wiped out, we will always remain, because we have an essential connection to Hashem which can never be erased. On top of that, we have a guarantee, that "Not one of us will be cast away." And that "All of Yisrael will have a portion in the world to come."

Knowing this will fill us with joy, and the joy will help us succeed even quicker.

One time, my wife Dina came into the room and noticed that I was smiling. She asked me, "Why are you smiling?" I explained that growing up, we were always taught about being happy and having trust and belief in Hashem, especially in times of darkness and difficulty. But I didn't know how I would react when put to the test. Now that Hashem has given me ALS, He put me in the darkest of places, and I handled it well, that makes me happy. So now I know, and somehow knowing makes things easier.

May we merit to win our final victory, which will usher in the coming of Moshiach, when it will be like Shabbos the whole time. May it happen soon.