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.

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