Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Seeing The Divine In The Physical

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The Haftora for the first day of Shavuoth is Yechezkel's  vision of the Divine Chariot, of which we are told, that at the Giving of the Torah, every Jewish person experienced the Divine Chariot similar to that of Yechezkel.

Even though this is true, it seems to be a side note, the main event was that Hashem spoke to us face to face and gave us the Torah, so, why do we read this Haftora? During the year when we read the Ten Commandments in parshas Yisro, we read the Divine Chariot of Yishayahu, which is less detailed and more focused on Hashem, which seems to be more in sync with the idea of the Giving of the Torah, experiencing Hashem. Why don't we read that Haftora on Shavuoth?

In general, we are forbidden to teach about the Divine Chariot, even in a small group, because of its holy and esoteric nature, but here it is being read for the whole community. Why?

We must conclude that there is something unique about the Divine Chariot of Yechezkel that fits the theme of Shavuoth and the reading of the Giving of the Torah, and that there is a lesson that each of us can take from the Divine Chariot, without exposing its deep secrets.

The Talmud says that the difference between the Divine Chariot of Yishayahu and the Divine Chariot of Yechezkel, is the difference between the experience between someone who lives in a big city, compared to someone from a small town. When the king comes with his whole entourage, the city dwellers don't get all excited by the fancy carriages, the uniforms and the royal display, because they see it all the time. His only excitement is in seeing the king himself. On the other hand, when the small townsfolk see the entourage, being that they never experienced such a display, every detail is exciting. They get lost in the fancy carriages and uniforms and the king is but the center of the whole experience.

In actuality there visions were the same, the difference was how they expressed what they saw.

Yishayahu is like the big city dweller, being accustomed to the spiritual realms, he doesn't get excited about the details, his only excitement is in seeing Hashem. Yechezkel, like a small townsfolk was not accustomed to the spiritual realms, for him every detail was exciting.

The difference between the two visions, is that in Yishayahu's, the focus is Hashem, and in Yechezkel's the focus is the details, from which Hashem's greatness is experienced.

From Yechezkel's words we understand that his vision was a likeness of the higher realms, as he constantly uses the word "likeness." Whereas Yishayahu just says what he saw, as the higher realms were open to him.

Now we can understand why we read Yechezkel's vision of the Divine Chariot. The main idea of the Giving of the Torah, was that Hashem descended on Mount Sinai. It was the connecting of the higher and lower realms. Even though they were always connected, the connection was hidden and inaccessible. Everything down here in the physical world is a reflection of what exists in the higher realms. And everything down here has its source in the higher realms. Before the Torah was given, we couldn't understand the higher realms from what we experience below. When Hashem descended on Mount Sinai to give us the Torah, all that changed. Now we can understand the higher realms from what we see in the physical world. Through our efforts, service to Hashem and doing mitzvahs we reveal and see the source in everything, and we draw G-dliness from above into this physical world.

We don't see it directly, we only can understand it indirectly like Yechezkel's vision of the Divine Chariot, where he only saw a likeness, from which he understood the higher realms.

Even though not everyone is allowed to learn the details and the secrets of the Divine Chariot, this general idea, that through our efforts we can reveal this connection, can be understood by all and does not infringe on its esoteric properties.

This will also explain why the Haftora skips one and a half chapters and concludes with, "And the spirit carried me and I heard a great mighty sound behind me, 'Blessed is the Glory of Hashem from its place.'"

In the morning prayer, before reciting the Shema, we say, "And the Ofanim and holy Chayos rise up with a great mighty sound towards the Serafim, facing them they praise and say, 'Blessed is the Glory of Hashem from its place.'"

Serafim, Ofanim and holy Chayos are different types of angels. Why do the Ofanim and holy Chayos make so much noise when they say their prayer? Why do they say, "from its place?" Why don't the Serafim make noise?

When we recognize that reality is different from our perception, we are amazed with wonder, and this creates a great excitement. This is what the Ofanim experience when they recognize that Hashem is creating everything. Because from their perception the world is real, but when the realize that it is really Hashem that is the force that is making everything exist, they get excited and that is the cause of the "great mighty sound."

They say, "from its place," because they don't see Hashem, they understand Him through their reality, and although it's very exciting, it is still distant.

The Serafim are from a higher realm, they are not excited because they see Hashem, it is nothing new to them.

This is also why by the Giving of the Torah there were "sounds and Lightning." It wasn't to frighten us, because hearing hearing Hashem speak is frightening enough. Rather, it was the excitement of the new idea and ability entering the world, that we can bring heaven and earth together and draw G-dliness down into the physical world.

This all began at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and when our work is done, the world will be full of G-dliness and Moshiach will come.

May we merit to finish the work our ancestors started and witness the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

We Are Hashem's Bride

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The Haftora for parshas Bamidbar is from the book of Hoshea (Hosea), it is a prophecy about the time of Moshiach. It begins by telling us that when Moshiach comes, we will be so many, that we will be uncountable and that the two kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael will unite under one king. Then it tells us how we have strayed, worshipping other deities, thinking that they will provide our needs. How we will be punished for straying from Hashem, yet in the end we will come to our senses, return to Hashem and we will realize that everything we ever had was really from Him. Then Hashem will renew His bond with us and we will be connected forever.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Bamidbar speaks about counting the Jewish people, and it tells how the Jewish camp was organized in the desert, united around the Mishkan. Similarly the Haftora begins with the count of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes and says that we will unite under one king.

However, that is all covered in the first two verses of the Haftora. How does the rest of the Haftora connect?

Bamidbar is always read before Shavuoth, so there is a connection between the time of the year and the parsha. As we will soon see, the whole Haftora connects to Shavuoth.

The Haftora begins, "And the number of the Children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea which can neither be measured nor counted, and it will be, that in the place that it was said to them, 'you are not My nation,' will be said to them, 'children of the Living G-d.'"

There is a question that is asked on this verse. It starts off with "And the number of the Children of Israel will be," as if they could be counted as a finite number, and it continues to say that they "can neither be measured nor counted," which means infinite. How can they be both finite and infinite?

Another question. Why does it say that "in the place" that it was said to them, you are not My nation, will be said to them, children of the Living G-d? The words "in the place" seem  to mean "instead," so why say, "in the place?"

Hashem is infinite and the world is finite, but being that everything is from Him, and He is infinite, we must conclude that everything is really infinite, only that in order to have a functioning world, Hashem covered himself so that the world appears finite.

In Jewish law when a person covers his head with his hand, it is not considered covered, because his hand is part of him.

So when Hashem covers His infinite Self, in order that the world will appear finite, it is as if he is covering Himself with a part of Himself, which is not really a cover at all. This means that even what appears to us as finite is really infinite.

The next verse says, "The Children of Yehuda and the Children of Yisrael will gather together and they will appoint for themselves (Moshiach as their) one head and they will go up from the land (to Israel), for great is the day of Yizrael." The meaning of this verse is clear, that we will unite as one under Moshiach and return to our Holy Land. But what is "the day of Yizrael?" And how does it connect to the theme of the Haftora?

This is the lesson we learn from these verses. We are infinite in finite, a Neshama in a body, and our job is to reveal the infinite in the finite. How do we do this? By doing mitzvahs. Even though mitzvahs seem finite, as there are 613 biblical and 7 rabbinical mitzvahs, and each one is connected to a physical object, time, place and there are exact laws of how to perform them, but being that they are Hashem's will, they are in essence truly infinite. A mitzvah is Hashem planting His infinite Self into the finite physical object and when we perform the mitzvah we are revealing the infinite in the finite.

Now we can understand, how on one hand we are finite and on the other we are infinite, because the essence of a Jew, is to reveal the infinite in the finite.

Now the words, "in the place," begin to make sense. Because in the same exact place, this physical world, that we were perceived as "not My nation," meaning finite, we will be seen as "the children of the Living G-d," which is infinite.

The words, "great is the day of Yizrael," also become clear. Yizrael is made up of two words, Yizra E-L, which means Hashem planted. When Moshiach comes we will clearly see how Hashem planted Himself into creation, infinite into finite. The day will be great, meaning that there won't be anymore darkness, everything will be clear. We will see the infinite in the finite, the light hidden in the darkness. We will see how all the pain, suffering and the darkness of the exile, was actually a great light in disguise, and how our efforts in overcoming the difficulties were the actual acts that brought Moshiach.

It all began with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. When Hashem Himself descended on the mountain, infinite into, finite to give us the Torah. It was the first time infinite and finite were experienced as one and it was teaching us the purpose of our mission, to reveal G-dliness down here in the physical world, the infinite in the finite.

The Haftora continues to tell us, how we strayed like an unfaithful wife, hoping to gain from our relationships with other countries and from false deities, instead of putting our trust, and faith in Hashem. It describes how we will return to Him and recognize that He is the only One we could truly rely on, and that everything we ever had was actually from Him. All this is meant to bring us to the part of the Haftora, where Hashem accepts us and renews His bond with us.

The Haftora concludes with Hashem telling us, "I will betroth you (Li) to Me forever, and I will betroth you (Li) to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion. And I will betroth you (Li) to Me with belief, and you will know Hashem." Why doesn't it just say that I will betroth you to Me forever with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion and belief? Why is it divided into three statements? Why does He say "Li, to Me?" Isn't that obvious from the words, "I will betroth you?"

There are two parts to a Jewish marriage ceremony, the betrothal and the chupa. In the betrothal, the groom gives the bride the ring and by her acceptance she becomes his betrothed, no one else can have her hand in marriage. Then you have the chupa and the blessings that go with it, the consummation of the marriage, and they begin to live as husband and wife. Although we do them together nowadays, that wasn't always the case. The common custom in days gone by was to have the betrothal, and about a year later the chupa. The year in between was like an engagement period, she was already considered married, except that they weren't living together.

In the Haftora narrative, Hashem is the groom and we, the Jewish people, are the bride. This betrothal was at the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, and it will be a completed marriage when Moshiach comes. The words, "I will betroth you," are written in the singular, similar to the Ten Commandments which were said in the singular. When Hashem said, "I Am the Lord your G-d," every one felt that Hashem was speaking to him or her personally. The same is true here, Hashem is betrothing each of us personally.

There is a rule that whenever Hashem says Li, it means that it will never change. So our betrothed status is everlasting, nothing can change it. You may ask, but when Moshiach comes, the marriage will be complete, in other words, we will not be betrothed anymore, so how can you say that it won't change?

There is something special about the engagement or betrothal period, the way the groom treats his bride is extra endearing and precious. The verses are saying that even after the completion of the marriage, Hashem will continue to treat us in the special way, usually reserved for the engagement period.

What is the reason he wants to betroth us? For this there are three reasons, based on the three statements of betrothal. "I will betroth you to Me (leolam) forever," refers to one who has a deep understanding of Hashem, and is able to connect at the highest levels.

However, not everybody can reach this level, this is where "I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion," comes to play. These are connecting to Hashem on an emotional level and through actions, like giving tzedaka, correcting bad traits, doing acts of kindness and compassion.

Then there are those that are emotionally and monetarily poor. They have nothing to give. For them Hashem says, "I will betroth you to Me with belief," Emuna. Every Jew believes, we are "believers the children of believers," as we have seen that even Jews that were not observant, have sacrificed themselves rather than break their connection with Hashem.

Now, at the end of the exile, the main way to connect to Hashem is through Emuna, belief. About Moshe it says, "And the man, Moshe was the humblest of any person that was on the face of the earth." Why was he so humbled? Because he saw our generation, the generation that would bring Moshiach, how void of understanding or even emotional connection we will be, yet our Emuna would be so strong. This humbled him.

Our great Emuna is a key to bringing Moshiach. May we merit to experience the last words of the Haftora, "and you will know Hashem," the completion of our marriage, when we will see the infinite in the finite, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Dedicated to my wonderful daughter Mussie who is celebrating her Bas mitzvah this week. May Hashem be with you always and may your smile keep shining lighting up the world around you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Strength Trust Hope And Healing

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The Haftora for parshas Bechukosai (and Behar-Bechukosai when they are together), is from the book of Yirmyahu. In it you will find a prayer, prophecy, words of rebuke and warning about not putting our trust in Hashem and not keeping the sabbatical years. But you also find words of hope, trust in Hashem, and healing.

The connection to our parsha(s), is that Bechukosai (and Behar-Bechukosai) speaks of the sabbatical year, that we can trust that Hashem will provide for us in the years that our fields lay fallow. Blessing will be showered upon us for trusting in Hashem and keeping the sabbatical years, and punishment for not keeping them.

The Haftora begins with Yirmyahu saying, "Hashem is my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in times of trouble."  The opening words of the Haftora, in essence, is the central message of the Haftora. Hashem is always there for us, especially in times of trouble, all we need to do, is trust in Him.

Of course the consequences for not trusting in Hashem is clearly defined in the Haftora. When we put our trust in people or in ourselves, thinking that it is my abilities and strength that will take care of me, and we forget that everything we have and will have is from Hashem, we will inevitably fail.

The Haftora describes this with the words, "Cursed is the man (gever), who puts his trust in man (adam), relying on (mortal) flesh for strength, and turns his heart away from Hashem." The basic meaning of the verse is understood, that putting our trust in man is futile. But why does the verse use two different names, gever and adam, to say "man?" 

Gever refers to physical and emotional strength of man. Adam refers to the intelligent and spiritual makeup of man.

The verse is telling us a deeper message here. When someone thinks that his gever, his emotional strength, comes from his "adam," his intellect and because he has a great soul. It becomes a slippery slope. Eventually he will be "relying on flesh for strength," meaning, that he will convince himself that his emotional strength comes because he has a highly refined body. He thinks so highly of his body and soul, that he doesn't think that he needs to work on himself. He becomes locked in his ego, and he "turns his heart away from Hashem."

This teaches us that even one who is learned and at a high spiritual level has to continue working on himself to get closer to Hashem.

When he thinks that he has reached the top and he doesn't have to work on himself anymore, he is locking himself away from Hashem, and he is alone by his own doing.

The Haftora continues, "Blessed is the man who puts his trust in Hashem, and Hashem will be his trustee. And he will be like a tree planted by the water, who sends its roots into the rivulet, it is not affected when the heat comes and its leaves remain green, it doesn't worry in a year of famine, and it doesn't stop producing fruit."

The contrast here is clear, putting our trust in Hashem and recognizing that it is all from Him, is a path to continuous growth and blessing in our lives.

The Haftora continues to say that it is silly to think, "who will know" where my trust is? Hashem knows! Or to be dishonest, because it will be found out, you will lose the dishonest gain and "you will be (exposed) as a scoundrel."

Now the Haftora concludes, "Hashem is Israel's hope, all who abandon You will be ashamed, those who turn away from Me will be inscribed into the earth, because they abandoned the source of living waters, Havaya (Hashem). Heal me and I will heal, save me and I will be saved, because You are my praise."

Why does it call our connection with Hashem, the source of living waters? How does the second verse about healing and saving fit in? Why the double expression, heal me and I will heal, save me and I will be saved? How do the words "because you are  my praise" fit in this verse?

We have to realize that Hashem is our hope, and when we forget that, it is separating ourselves from the source of living waters, which is a spiritual illness. That is where the second verse comes in, it is explaining the process of healing this spiritual illness through Teshuva.

First, we have to understand what the illness is and then it can be healed. The illness is understood through the metaphor of "abandoning the source of living waters."

Living waters is another name for a natural spring of fresh water. Spring water goes through three stages after it comes out of its source. The first stage is flowing down the stream or river to the sea. In this stage the water is revealed. In the second stage the water flows underground in various channels making its way to the spring. In this stage the water is hidden. The final stage is when it breaks out of the ground, again revealed. These three stages signify the stages of Hashem's creative energy coming into the world, from his name Havaya, the source.

The first kind of existence is in the spiritual realm know in Kabbalistic teaching as the world of Briya (Creation). Being that it is the first step of creation ex nihilo (from nothing to something), it is full of G-dliness, therefore, the existence isn't a complete existence. The angels of the world of Briya, called Serafim, are angels of great wisdom. Since they experience their source, Havaya, they are totally nullified in His presence. They therefore say, "Holy holy holy Havaya of hosts." They also understand that our part is the most important, as we fill the world with G-dliness by learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. And so they say, "the whole Earth is full of His glory." Since Briya is filled with G-dliness, the experience in that world is a revealed one, just like the river going to the sea.

The second realm is the world of Yetzira (Formation). In this world the existence is a total existence, it doesn't experience Havaya, because it is creating something from something. Its source is totally hidden, therefore the experience in the world of Yetzira is hidden.

The final realm is where we are, the world of Assiya (Action). As mentioned earlier, our job is to reveal G-dliness down here through learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. The revelation that we can accomplish is far greater than the world of Briya, because mitzvahs are rooted in a higher place, in the source itself, prior to Briya, in Hashem's essence. So the experience in Assiya, is of the essence of Havaya breaking out and being revealed in the world.

By studying Torah and doing mitzvahs, we are not only drawing living waters, but we are drawing from the source of living waters, Hashem's essence prior to existence. And we fill the world with this great revelation, greater than any angel could.

When a Jewish person has fallen to a spiritual low, where he is not learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, he has abandoned the source of living waters. He is spiritually ill.

How does he become healed?  Hashem takes the first step, "Heal me Hashem," an inspiration from above. Now that he is inspired, his job is to do Teshuva from his own effort, "and I will heal." And in this way he reconnects with the source.

How far will this connection go? That is where the praise comes in. Praise is an amazing thing. When you praise someone, you bring out strengths and abilities in that person, that are hidden inside, that he never knew he had. Praise is even more powerful, it could bring new strengths and abilities which are beyond the person being praised. By praising Hashem, we are able to draw G-dliness from a place beyond our abilities. Not only do we reconnect, but we connect deeper than we could have imagined.

Writing this article was very meaningful to me, because it is about Hashem being our strength and refuge, and it is about trust, hope in Hashem and healing. Somehow, writing about these things strengthens these ideas in me and I am grateful.

By putting our hope and trust in Hashem, He becomes our strength, our refuge, and the One we can rely on. We bring blessing in our lives and spiritual healing, which brings physical healing beyond anything we could imagine.

May we all find the strength to weather this exile and overcome every challenge, knowing that Hashem is always with us. And may we merit the coming of Moshiach soon. The time has come.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Giving The First To Hashem

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The Haftora for parshas Emor, is prophecy from our prophet Yechezkel about the Third Temple. It tells us who will be the Kohanim and laws pertaining to the Kohanim, from how their hair should be cut, to whom they could marry. They need to be pillars of the community, teaching laws of purity and impurity, and settling disputes. They don't receive a portion of the land, their portion is the great honor of serving Hashem in the Temple, which is reserved for them and no one else. It tells us that everything that we consecrate to Hashem, goes to the Kohanim. It continues to say, that we should give Hashem our first fruits and the first of our dough, the mitzvah of challah, which is given to the Kohanim, and that it will bring blessing to the home. It closes by saying that the Kohanim should be careful not to eat from a neveila, which is an animal that died without kosher slaughter, or from a treifa, an animal that wouldn't have lived through the year.

The connection to our parsha, is that parshas Emor begins with many of these laws pertaining to the Kohanim, Including the last one about not eating from neveila or a treifa. Emor concludes with the holidays, and even though they are not discussed in the Haftora, they are mentioned in the laws of the Kohanim.

The Haftora begins with, "And the Kohanim the Leviim." Why are the Kohanim called Leviim? Who will serve as the Kohanim in the Third Temple? "

The simple explanation, is that it means, the Kohanim which are from the tribe of Levi.

The Arizal says that today's leviim will become Kohanim when Moshiach comes. However this brings up some questions. In the Yom Tov Mussaf prayer, we say about Moshiach's times, "The Kohanim will return to their services, and the Leviim to their singing and music playing." On top of that, the Rambam tells us that the Torah won't change when Moshiach comes. So how could the Leviim become Kohanim?

The answer is, that the souls of leviim will be born to Kohanim. You may ask, "If they are born to Kohanim, then they are not Leviim anyway, so what is the meaning of the Leviim becoming Kohanim?

To understand this, you first have to understand the difference between the nature of the Kohen and his soul, and a Levi and his soul.

The nature of a Kohen is to be a "man of kindness," to be giving. The idea of his Temple service, was to draw down G-dliness to the people. They could do this because their souls came from the attribute of water. Just as the nature of water is to go down from the highest to the lowest place and give its sustenance, so was the job of a Kohen, to draw G-dliness from above to the world below, filling the people with love and awe of Hashem. On the other hand, the nature of a Levi is one of yearning to go higher. Their service was singing and playing music, which created a yearning in others to want to get closer to Hashem. Their souls are from the attribute of fire, always rising, yearning to go up and become one with its source.

The difference between these two types of service, is that when you draw G-dliness down to the people, you inspire them, and for the moment they experience a closeness to Hashem. However when the inspiration wears off, nothing has changed, the people go back to their old selves. On the other hand, when you create a yearning in the people from below, to want to get closer to Hashem, you are creating a yearning in them to really change who they are. This kind of change is everlasting.

Right now, the job of a Kohen is to draw G-dliness down to the people, but when Moshiach comes, that won't be necessary, because the world will be full of G-dliness. The job of the Kohen will become to create a yearning in the people to become even closer to Hashem. Being that it is not in their nature to do that, Hashem will give them souls of Leviim, souls of fire, so it will become their nature.

There is one more opinion of who will be the Kohanim. Originally the first born son of every family, was meant to be a Kohen. But because they took part in the sin of the golden calf, it was taken away from them, and given to the tribe of Levi. When Moshiach comes, there will no longer be any trace of the sin of the golden calf left in the world. That will once again create an opening for first borns to become Kohanim. But didn't we say that the Kohanim will continue to be Kohanim? How could the first borns become the Kohanim?

At first the Kohanim and Leviim will be serving in the Temple as will be expected with no change to the normal order of things. However, after a while this question will arise, and will have to be dealt with.

About the Kohanim, Hashem says, "They will draw near to Me to serve Me, and they will stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood." Each of us is considered a small Temple, and we are the Kohen of our Temple. What are we meant to learn from offering fat and blood? When a sacrifice was brought, first the blood was sprinkled and then the fat was offered, why is the order here reversed, first fat and then blood?

Aside for being a Temple and a Kohen, we are meant to offer ourselves to Hashem. The main parts of any offering was the blood and the fat. Blood is the life force of a person, bringing vital oxygen and nutrients to every organ of the body. It represents one's passion and vibrance, and the necessities of life. Fat represents pleasure, and the things we do, not out of necessity, but because we want to.

To be an offering to Hashem, you don't have to give up your entire existence, rather, you only have to give your blood and fat. Meaning, to put your passion and energy and have pleasure in what Hashem wants, into your Judaism. Another explanation, is to put passion into your obligations to Hashem, which is Torah and mitzvahs. And even when it comes to other things that are not obligations, you can do them for Hashem as well. For example, you could eat, do business, exercise, etc., for the pleasure they will afford you, or you can do them because they will help you serve Hashem better. That is giving your fat to Hashem.

Fat is mentioned first, because if your pleasure is for Hashem, then it is certain that everything else is for Him. Since your actions will automatically follow your desires.

After the Haftora tells the laws pertaining to the Kohanim, it turns to us and says, "All first fruits of every kind, and every kind of Teruma from all the Teruma that you (are required to) give will go to the Kohanim, and you should give the first portion of your dough to the Kohen, so that blessing will rest upon your home."

This teaches us that the first of everything should go to Hashem. Not only the first fruits, and the first part of your dough, but even other things, like the first hours of your day, should be given to Hashem through prayer and Torah study. And the first years of a child's life should be given to Hashem, by giving him or her a Jewish education. When you give the first to Hashem, you ensure that He is the focus of your life, that causes Hashem to be with you, and where Hashem is, that is where the blessing is.

And all this is symbolized by the mitzvah of challah, separating a piece of dough for Hashem. Dough, which becomes bread, is symbolic of sustenance and wealth. It is also what we eat, nurturing not only the physical body, but our spiritual makeup as well. The spiritual can only be nourished by something holy. By doing the mitzvah of challah we make our bread holy, in turn it nourishes us physically and spiritually, bringing us closer to Hashem.

This mitzvah is done primarily by Jewish women. It was given to them, because they are the ones who bring blessing to their homes and they are the ones who nourish the bodies and the souls of their families.

By giving Hashem our first, our passion, our pleasure, and especially through the mitzvah of challah, we will merit to become a "Kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation." And we will soon see the Kohanim serving in the Third Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Supporting The Fallen

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The Haftora for parshas Acharei (and Acharei-Kedoshim when they are together) is prophecy from our prophet Amos.

Hashem says that we are to Him like the children of Cush, Ethiopia, and how he took us out of Egypt. Then He speaks of the destruction of the sinful kingdom, meaning the kingdom of Efraim, the Ten Northern Tribes, but He promises, that He will not wipe out the house of Yaakov. This is Hashem's guarantee that we will always remain as the Jewish people, through the exile. He continues to say that He will spread us among all the nations, but we will remain Jewish, "just as a pebble shakes back and fourth in a sieve, but does not fall to the ground." Meaning, though we will bounce around the whole world, we will retain our connection to Hashem.

Now the Haftora starts to speak of what it will be like when the redemption will come. The two Jewish kingdoms will be united under the rebuilt monarchy of David, as it once was. The nations that wished to destroy us, will instead serve us. There will be an abundance of food. Our destroyed cities will be rebuilt, and we will inhabit them and never be uprooted ever again.

The connection to parshas Acharei (and Acharei-Kedoshim when they are together), is that the parsha(s) tell us, that if we will act in the sinful and debase manner of the Egyptians or the Canaanite nations that were in Israel before us, we will be spit out of the land, into exile. Similarly the Haftora tells us that because of our sins, Hashem will spread us among all the nations.

Most of the Haftora is complementary towards the Jewish people and about the redemption. The same is true about the parshas.

Acharei tells us about the service of Yom Kippur, which was done in the holiest place, on the holiest day, and by the holiest person, the Kohen Gadol. It is a day of atonement and forgiveness, bringing us closer to Hashem. The laws found in this parsha, are to retain this level of holiness and closeness.

Kedoshim, is all about us being holy, we are meant to be a holy and distinguished nation. However, parshas Kedoshim takes a different approach, telling us laws of honesty, respect, purity and decency as a way of being holy and getting closer to Hashem.

Acharei speaks to a Tzadik who is at the level of Yom Kippur. Kedoshim is speaking to us who think, "I am not a Tzadik, what do you expect of me?" Kedoshim is saying that there is holiness to be found in honesty, respect, purity and decency. The fact that most years Acharei and Kedoshim are read together is to teach us that these two paths to Hashem are actually one. If you start with honesty, respect, purity and decency, you will eventually reach the holiness of Yom Kippur.

Why does Hashem say that we are to Him like the children of Cush, Ethiopia? The first time this term is used is in the Torah, about Moshe's wife Tzipora it says, "The Cushite woman that he married ." Rashi explains that she wasn't from Ethiopia, rather it was a term used to say that she was very beautiful.

In our verse Rashi explains it in a negative context. Hashem is explaining why he will  be punishing the Ten Northern Tribes. It is a reference to a verse in Yirmyahu, "Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard its spots? So will you be able to improve." Meaning, that even if you say that you will repent, it won't be believed.

Others explain it in a positive light, that Hashem is explaining why He made us His nation upon the Exodus from Egypt, mentioned later in the verse. Ethiopians are known to be very loyal, so too, we will serve Hashem for eternity. Even more, because of the color of their skin, Ethiopians stand out. So too, we will always stand out as Hashem's people, no matter where we are. Being that we weren't afraid to stand out, and we didn't intermarry throughout our 210 years in Egypt, when the time for the Exodus came, we were clearly recognized as the Jewish people, Hashem's nation.

The Haftora turns to the subject of Moshiach. Hashem says, "On that day, I will erect David's fallen sukka." What is David's fallen sukka?

The simple meaning is that the kingdom of David will be reestablished.

The Talmud tells us that Moshiach is called "bar Nafli," the son of the nofel, fallen. A nofel is a child that dies before turning the age of one month. Why is Moshiach called "bar Nafli?" because David, who is the father of Moshiach, was supposed to die after three hours of life. However, Hashem showed Adam all the people who would come from him. When he saw that David would only live three hours, he gave up 70 years of his own life to David. Nofel, fallen, is hinted to in the words, "David's fallen sukka."

On a deeper level, David's fallen sukka refers to us, the Jewish people, who from the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, until the end of the First Temple era, had a close and open relationship with Hashem. It was a face to face relationship, meaning, that we experienced Hashem openly. But now we have fallen into exile, where we don't experience a face to face relationship with Hashem, it is only with great effort that we feel anything at all.

On an even deeper level, it refers to the Shechina, which went with us into exile. Meaning that instead of the Shechina affecting us from above, inspiring us, as it did before the exile. Now the Shechina is found in the most physical things, and it is up to us to uncover the G-dliness through our Torah and mitzvahs.

And now at the end of the exile, the main way to release the Shechina and ourselves from the exile, is through the mitzvah of tzedaka of which our great sages said, "Israel will be redeemed only through tzedaka." Even though our sages equated tzedaka with Torah study, it was at a time when we had the great sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud, but our Torah study today is not at the level that can equal the mitzvah of tzedaka. And being that now we are at the end and the darkest part of the exile, the Shechina is found in the absolute lowest realms of the physical world, the only way to access it is through physical action, physical mitzvahs, and mainly the mitzvah of tzedaka.

The prayer of Ashrei that we recite three times a day, has verses that begin with every letter of the Hebrew Alef Bet, except for the letter Nun. This is because Nun stands for nofelim, the fallen. However if you look closely, you will find that it is included in the next verse, which begins with the next letter, samach. "Somech Hashem l'chol ha'nofelim," "Hashem supports all of the fallen." Instead of having a verse about how we have fallen, we have a verse of how Hashem supports us when we are down. Because especially in the darkness of exile, when we feel so down and lost, Hashem is holding us and supporting us.

May our efforts, especially in doing the mitzvah of tzedaka, bring the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach, when we will merit to see the prophecies of this Haftora come true. May it happen soon.