Friday, June 30, 2017

Jewish Leaders

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The Haftora for parshas Chukas is from the book of Shoftim (Judges). It tells the story of how Yiftach (Jephthah) became Judge, and won a battle against Amon.

Yiftach was the son of Gilad, however his mother was a harlot. His half brothers from Gilad's wife drove Yiftach out, they said to him, "You will not inherit in our father's house because you are the son of another woman." He ran away from his brothers and settled in the land of Tov, empty people gathered around him and would go out with him, like a gang.

A while later Amon went to war against Israel. The leaders of Gilad went to Yiftach and asked him to become the chief and lead Israel in battle against Amon. After some discussion he agreed on the condition that they appoint him leader first, which they agreed to.

After appointing him as the leader, he sent a message to the king of Amon, asking why are you waging war against us? He responded, because we want our land that you captured when you came up from Egypt.

Yiftach sent back a message, with the information found in this week's parsha, explaining that when we came up from Egypt, we went around Edom, Moav (Moab) and Amon, because they wouldn't grant us passage through their lands. The land we captured was the land of Amori who waged war against us, and Hashem gave them into our hands. Why hasn't anyone made this claim before in the past 300 years? He concluded with a strong warning, that "Hashem the Judge will judge today between the Children of Israel and the Children of Amon."

The king of Amon did not pay heed to Yiftach's words. The spirit of Hashem was upon Yiftach and he went to war against Amon. He took an oath that if he would be victorious, he would offer as a sacrifice, the first thing that would come out of his house to greet him. He had a massive victory, and Amon was now under Israel's rulership.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Chukas tells of how we went around Edom, Moav and Amon, which was mentioned in the message from Yiftach to the king of Amon. It also tells about the amazing victories over Sichon and Og, similar to the great victory over Amon. There are more similarities, when Moshe sent messengers to Edom it says, "And Moshe sent messengers," and when he sent messengers to Sichon it says, "And Israel sent messengers," when it was Moshe who actually sent them. Rashi explains that this is similar to the verse in the Haftora, when Yiftach sent messengers to the king of Amon it says "And Israel sent messengers," teaching us that Moshe is Israel and Israel is Moshe. Because the Nassi (the leader) of the generation is like the whole generation, because the Nassi is everything. Similarly, Yiftach is Israel and Israel is Yiftach. Also in the parsha the Jewish people took an oath similar to that of Yiftach.

The Talmud tells us, that "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation." What does this mean? There is no comparison between the two. Shmuel was a holy and righteous man, Yiftach was not. Shmuel was learned in Torah, Yiftach was not. Rather it is telling us that the leaders we have are appointed by Hashem, and we are obligated to accord them with the same respect. Also it is a mitzvah to follow the laws set by the court of the time. And though Yiftach's court was not at the level of Shmuel's, we were still obligated to follow its rulings.

The Haftora stops before the end of the chapter, where it tells us the tragic story of what became of Yiftach's oath. When Yiftach came home from his victory, his daughter came out to greet him dancing with a tambourine, she was his only child, and she was the first to come forth from his house. He realized his grave mistake and rend his garments. He told her of the oath he had taken. She was a smart girl, and she brought proof that one is not permitted to sacrifice a human. He didn't want to hear. She brought proof that he wasn't obligated to keep this kind of oath, again, he wouldn't accept her arguments. She asked him for two months, she said, "I will go down onto the mountains," which meant that she was going to go to the Sanhedrin, and show them that she is a pure maiden, perhaps they would annul the vow. In fact she was right, he was not obligated to keep his oath, at most he would have to bring a sacrifice in her stead, but he was ignorant, proud and stubborn, and wouldn't hear from it.

What happened to her? There are two opinions. Some say that he actually killed her, and that every year the Jewish maidens would lament her fate for four days. Other say that he built her a home where she was secluded for the rest of her life, and she never married. According to this opinion, four days a year the Jewish maidens would visit her and talk with her words of comfort over her tragic situation.

The Kohen Gadol at the time was Pinchas, he could of annulled Yiftach's oath, but their pride got in the way. Pinchas said, "he needs me, and I should go to him? (He should come to me)." And Yiftach said, "I am the Chief of Israel, and I should go to Pinchas? (He should come to me), between the two of them, the girl was lost. They were both punished for this, wherever Yiftach went, limbs would fall off his body and would be buried there, and Pinchas lost his Divine inspiration.

This is not included in the Haftora, because it has no connection to the parsha. I included it because Yiftach's oath is mentioned in the Haftora, and because it is interesting.

Yiftach was the judge for six years.

What are some of the lessons from the Haftora?

First, that Hashem doesn't always give us the holiest person as our leader. Rather, He give us the leader that we need and perhaps deserve.

Second, that anyone who wants to do Hashem's will, could have the spirit of Hashem with him, even a person like Yiftach.

Third, although Yiftach was a boorish man, we see from his words and actions that he believed in Hashem. Perhaps the leadership in Israel today, should learn from him how to stand up against the enemies of Israel, with truth and without fear, knowing that Hashem is with them.

From the story of his daughter we learn not to make vows lightly and not to let pride get in the way of better judgment.

May we merit to have great and holy leaders, and may we have true peace and the entirety of our land, with the greatest leader of all, Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ideal Jewish King

This week read a special Haftora for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which I already wrote on (see link). The Haftora I wrote about is for this week's parsha, Korach. Please enjoy.
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The Haftora for parshas Korach is from the book of Shmuel Alef (I Samuel). It tells of how Shmuel established King Shaul as the sovereign over the Jewish people. This was the second time Shmuel did this, the first time was a small event in Mitzpa, as Shaul's sovereignty wasn't widely accepted. But now after proving himself, by winning a battle against the Amorites, the whole nation rallied around him. The second event establishing Shaul as king in Gilgal, was celebrated with great festivity and joy.

With the nation gathered in Gilgal, Shmuel talked to the Jewish people. First he established his innocence, as a leader who never took anything from the people. He said, "Whose ox have I taken? And whose donkey have I taken? Have I robbed anyone? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I taken payment that caused me to hide my eyes (from his wrongdoing)?" The people answered that he hasn't done any of those things. Then he reminded them of how much Hashem did for them, and reprimanded them for asking for a king, when Hashem is their King. He continued to say that as long as they stay true to Hashem, they will live happily with their king. He then warned them not to turn away from Hashem, and what will happen if they do. He then demonstrated that point by asking Hashem to make it rain, being the time of harvest, it would damage all of the crops. It began to pour, they asked Shmuel to pray for the rain to stop. He told them not to fear, just remember not to turn away from Hashem. The point was made, that their lives are in Hashem's hands, and they realized that asking for a king was the wrong thing to do. He then concluded by reminding them not to turn away from Hashem, and that no matter what, Hashem will not abandon them.

How does this connect to our parsha? The simple answer is that in the parsha Moshe said a statement of innocence, "not a donkey have I taken from a single one of them, and I haven't harmed a single one of them." Similar to what Shmuel said in the Haftora, "Whose ox have I taken? And whose donkey have I taken?..." The problem with this explanation is that it's only a detail. How do the themes of the Haftora and the parsha sync?

Perhaps we could say that when the Jewish people asked Shmuel for a king over them, rather than having him continue as their leader, it was a form of rebellion, akin to the rebellion of Korach in our parsha. The problem with this explanation is that it is really not the same, because appointing a king over the Jewish people is a mitzvah, as it says, "You shall appoint over yourself a king." What then is the theme of the parsha that the Haftora highlights?

There is a famous question asked about this. When the Jewish people asked for a king, Shmuel was unhappy. Hashem was unhappy as well, He said to Shmuel, "For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from reigning over them." Yet He commanded Shmuel to go ahead with it. Now, if it's a mitzvah to appoint a king, why are they upset? And if they are upset, why did Hashem tell Shmuel to appoint a king?

There are two possible reasons for appointing a king. The first is for basic law and order, like any nation that has a king or other governing body. As it says in Pirkei Avos, "If not for the fear (of the king) one man would swallow the other alive." Even though people should know better, their nature is to want things, which causes them to go against what is right. Having a king and a government is a deterrent for such behavior.

However in an ideal Jewish community, the people are G-d fearing, and that is their deterrent, Hashem is their King. In that case, appointing a king is for a different reason. It is because of the greatness of the king, that he is head and shoulders above the nation spiritually, and he can help us reach higher levels of closeness to Hashem than we could attain on our own. The ideal Jewish king is not the great warrior, or someone who could wield his power over the people, rather he is a giant of spiritual holiness. Why is he so great? Because not only is he a spiritual giant, and a Torah scholar of the highest caliber, he is so humble and feels so nullified before Hashem, that Hashem clearly comes through and expresses Himself through him. He is at such a high level, beyond anything even learned G-d fearing Jews could reach on their own. In the Torah the king is often called the Nassi, which like the word nasso, means to raise, because the job of the king is to raise the people higher. One such person was Moshe, and another will be Moshiach. A person who is at this level, has no interest in power or being the king, his greatness is a natural part of him and he has no need to control people. It is us, who recognize that he is beyond anything we could attain, and we request of him to be our king.

When they asked Shmuel for a king, they didn't ask for the kind of king that will bring them closer to Hashem. They asked for a king "like all the nations," a law and order king, and this was upsetting, because it meant that they didn't feel that Hashem was their King, there was a lack of fear of Hashem. It was a rejection of Hashem. This is what Shmuel meant when he said, "And you said to me, 'no, rather a king should rule over us,' but Hashem your G-d is your King."

If Hashem was unhappy with the request, why did He give them the king they were asking for?

Now that the Jewish people asked for a king "like all the nations," it was a clear demonstration of how low they had fallen. There was no time to waste, they really needed a king to guide them, to show them the right way to live. Once they have accepted upon themselves a leader to show them the right way, with time they will become G-d fearing, and then they will be able to have the higher level of king, who will bring them to new heights and to a deeper connection with Hashem.

Now that we don't have a king, who fills that much needed position? Our sages tell us, "Who is the king? The rabbis." They serve as our guides. In Pirkei Avos it says, "make for yourself a rabbi," These are the words of Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Prachya, who was the Nassi in his time. He was of the opinion that every Jewish person, even the most knowledgeable, like himself, should have a rabbi to guide him.

This is a call to every Jewish person, to find for themselves a rabbi, for some it means a guide in everyday matters, for others it means a guide to higher spiritual growth. If one says, "I will be my own rabbi, I don't need a rabbi for guidance," that is a lack of fear of Hashem. No matter how learned you are, you should have a rabbi.

It doesn't mean a rabbi in the rabbinical sense, rather someone who you respect and you feel that he can guide you in the ways of Torah and spirituality.

Perhaps this is how the Haftora brings out the theme of the parsha. Korach and his cohorts came before Moshe and Aaron with a complaint, "The entire congregation is all holy, and Hashem is in their midst, so why do you raise yourselves above Hashem's community ." In other words, do we need you to or anyone else to guide us, we are G-d fearing isn't that enough. And in truth, that is when Jewish people need a guide to take them to heights they could not reach on their own. That is a from of rejection of Hashem, because, why wouldn't you want a king, a Moshe that will bring you ever closer to Hashem? The Haftora stresses the point that we should not reject Hashem, Korach and his cohorts rejected Hashem on a deeper level, because being that they were at a higher level they should have known better.

May we merit to see Moshiach become our king, the one who will take us to the greatest heights, and the deepest levels of closeness to Hashem. May it happen soon.
Dedicated to the Rebbe, whose yartziet is this week. He was the leader who saw the potential in every person and raised us to a higher level.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Change Your Garments And You Will Change Who You Are

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The Haftora for parshas Shelach tells about the spies Yehoshua (Joshua) sent to Yericho (Jericho), to do espionage in the land of Canaan.

Yehoshua sent two spies to Yericho, they came to the home of a woman who was a zona named Rachav. Rashi explains that the word zona here means an innkeeper who sold food, like the word mazon (others translate the word literally as a prostitute). They were spotted entering her home, and the king sent messengers to get them. Rachav hid them on the roof and told the messengers that the two men had left. She suggested that they go after them, which they did immediately, thereby saving the lives of the two spies. She told them, "I know that Hashem has given the land to you, and that the dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land have melted away because of you." She asked them to spare her family when they invade, and they gave her their word. As a sign, they told her to put a red string in her window and everyone in her home will be spared. She lowered them down a rope out her window which was built into the city's wall and suggested that they hide in the mountains for three days, until the search party returns. They took her advice and hid for three days. They then returned to Yehoshua and informed him of their findings.

The connection to the parsha is that parshas Shelach tells about the men Moshe sent to check out Canaan.

However, this brings up some questions, the Haftora is meant to resemble the parsha, but the Haftora is very different and in some ways completely the opposite of the parsha.

First, the story of the twelve men that Moshe sent, ends to the detriment of the Jewish people, the entire generation was punished to die in the desert, not to enter the Holy Land. Whereas only good came out of Yehoshua's spies.

Second, Hashem didn't command Moshe to send his men, He said, "Send for yourself men." In other words, if you want to send them, go ahead. As far as Hashem was concerned it was unnecessary. However, it is obvious that Yehoshua was commanded by Hashem to send the spies, because he lived through the fiasco with Moshe's spies, he certainly wouldn't have risked repeating that, unless he had a direct command from Hashem to send spies.

Third by Moshe's spies Hashem says, "Send for yourself men and they should inspect the land of Canaan." They are called "men," and they are told to "inspect" the land, not to spy or search out the land, as spies. Whereas Yehoshua's spies were called "men who were spies." it says that word got to the king that two men came "to search out the land," and it says that the king sent messengers to Rachav to capture the men, because "they came to search out the entire land."

Fourth, Moshe sent 12 men, while Yehoshua only sent two.

Fifth, whereas Yehoshua's spies were sent in total secrecy as is the normal way in espionage, Moshe's spies were not a secret at all. Actually it was known by all the Jewish people that each tribe had a representative in the group. When they toured Canaan, they made no effort to conceal themselves, they even traveled as a conspicuous group, they didn't split up and secretly check out the different regions of the land.

Sixth, Moshe's men went all over Israel, while Yehoshua's spies went only to Yericho, and in Yericho itself, only to the home of Rachav.

With all these inconsistencies,  it is clear that the Haftora is different than the parsha. So why do we read this Haftora with parshas Shelach?

Another question. Every story in the Tanach has an eternal lesson for us. What is the lesson from the stories of the spies?

There are two reasons to send people to check out a country before invading it. One reason is to seek out the best way of invading it, by finding its weak points, scouting passageways for entry and escape, and to gather information about the people they will be fighting, their abilities, demeanor, etc.

The other reason is not tactical, but rather to see how good the land is. What are its natural resources and positive qualities? This information is needed to boost the morale of the people who will be invading.

In Moshe's case, Hashem was leading them and He was going to deliver Canaan into their hands. Tactical espionage wasn't necessary because they knew that they were going to win. Moshe wanted to send his spies so that the people would hear how good the land was and that would generate a great joy amongst the nation to want to go up to the land. For this reason it was done openly and every tribe needed to have a representative, because they had to hear from their own leader how good it was. Therefore all twelve men had to tour the whole country, to see that it was all good, because at that point in time the tribes didn't know where in the land they would be settling. They weren't really spies at all, it wasn't a mission to seek out the best way of capturing the land, it was more of a tour of the land, to see the qualities of the land Hashem was giving us.

Even though ultimately the spies scared the people and weakened their resolve to go up and capture the land, they did accomplish the mission of telling them how good the land was. Even though they were punished not to enter the land, they had heard how good it was, and that stayed with them.

Yehoshua didn't need to get the people excited about the land, Moshe's spies already accomplished that. His spies were sent to gather information, so it was done in total secrecy and only two people were sent to be as inconspicuous as possible. Because even though Hashem would be with them, it wasn't the same as in the time of Moshe, they would have to fight real battles, it wouldn't be handed to them. When they came to Rachav, she provided them with all the information they needed, that the Canaanites were afraid and their morale was down. It was unnecessary for them to continue.

Although the stories don't parallel each other, Yehoshua's spies were the continuation and the completion of Moshe's spies. The ultimate goal of both, was to conquer the land. The first group got the Jewish people excited about the land, and the second got the information that lead to the conquering of the land.

Rashi tells us that the two spies that went to Yericho, were Calev and Pinchas. Calev together with Yehoshua were from the original group of spies that Moshe sent. Calev didn't join the 10 spies who gave a bad report, Yehoshua knew that he could be trusted. Being the leader of the tribe of Yehuda, he represented all 12 tribes.

The question is, why did he send Pinchas? Pinchas was a Kohen from the tribe of Levi, which wasn't counted as one of the 12 tribes, they also didn't go into battle and they didn't receive a portion of the land. They were given over to serve Hashem, and to teach and guide the Jewish people in the ways of Hashem, spiritual pursuits, that was their lot.

Yehoshua was thinking long term. Although right now Levi wasn't going to receive a portion in the land, in the future, when Moshiach comes they will. The Talmud says, "In the future the land of Israel will be divided into 13 tribes," Levi will also have a part of the land. This is because, as the Rambam says, "In those days there will be more knowledge, wisdom and truth," so much so, that "there will be no involvement in the whole world, but to know Hashem..., as it says, 'The world will be full of the knowledge of Hashem, just as the water covers the sea.'" So the tribe of Levi won't be busy teaching and guiding, having land won't take away from their holy work, therefore they will also have a part of the land. This is why Pinchas, from the tribe of Levi was included.

We are left with one question. What is the eternal message for us in the stories of the spies?

To answer this question, please let me take you to a deeper place.

We each have a Neshama (a G-dly soul), which comes into our bodies, and into our animal souls, similar to the spies coming into the land of Canaan. The ultimate goal is to conquer the land and make it holy, to turn it into Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, we are meant to affect the body and the animal soul which naturally crave the pleasures of the world, and make them holy, to do Hashem's will.

There are two ways to do this, symbolized by the two sets of spies. In Moshe's time, the Jewish people were at a very high level, they were Tzadikim. Their job was to inspect the entire land and the seven nations that lived there. The seven nations symbolize the seven emotional attributes that we each have. The idea here is to inspect one's emotional makeup and if need be, change his attributes to align with Hashem's will. The problem is that the average person doesn't have control over his emotions and certainly doesn't have the ability to change them, because they are who he is, and it takes incredible power to make that kind of change. A Tzadik has that power, but most of us are not at that level, how can we make our bodies holy?

That is where Yehoshua's spies come in. In Yehoshua's time, they weren't at the level of Tzadikim. They only went to Yericho, which is the entryway to the land of Israel, change the Yericho and eventually you conquer the entire land. Yericho is like the word rayach, an aroma, in Kabbalistic teaching aroma refers to the garments of the soul, just as your aroma surrounds you, so do your garments surround you. You may not be able to change your emotional makeup of your animal soul, but you have the power to change its garments. Just as a garment is an expression of who you are, the garments of the soul, is how it expresses itself. The soul has three ways to express itself, thought, speech and action. Speech and action are easier to control than your thoughts, but you can always choose to think about something else. Change the garments and eventually, with Hashem's help, you will be able to change your emotional makeup as well.

Rachav changed and became a great woman, she converted, married Yehoshua and 8 of her descendants were prophets, Neriah, Baruch, Sheraiah, Machseiah, Yirmyahu, Chilkia, Chanamel and Shalum, they were all Kohanim, Chulda the prophetess was her descendant as well. She is named as one of the four most beautiful women who ever lived, together with Sarah, Avigayil, and Esther.

May we merit the completion of our Holy Land,  when Hashem will add the land of three more nations, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
Dedicated to the memory of Bubby Friedman, who passed away this week. I grew up across the street from her. She was a special woman who brought up an amazing family of Shluchim and Shluchos, great singers, and good and kind people. I know how much she was loved, may the entire extended Friedman family be consoled. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

We Are Branches Of A Golden Menorah

This one is on the Haftora for parshas Bahaloscha. I am working on a new one, but it is not ready yet. Please enjoy.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Birth Of A Superhero

Dear friends,

Here is the article for last week, parshas Nasso. With Shavuoth in middle of last week, it was impossible for me to finish it. I hope you enjoy it.


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The Haftora for parshas Nasso, is from the book of Shoftim (Judges). It is the story of how Shimshon (Samson) was born.

The connection to our parsha, is that parshas Nasso tells us the laws of the Nazir, one who took upon himself to abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, or coming in contact with anything impure for a period of time, usually a month. Similarly, in the Haftora, Shimshon's parents are instructed that he is to be a Nazir all his life. There is also a connection to Shavuoth, which always falls in the week preceding or following parshas Nasso, as we will soon see.

Shimshon's mother, who according to the Talmud was called Tzlalponis, was the wife of Manoach from the tribe of Dan. She was barren, she never had children. An angel in the form of a man appeared to her and told her that she would have a son. He instructed her that during her pregnancy she shouldn't drink wine or eat anything impure. From here we learn that what a woman consumes during pregnancy, affects the growing baby in her womb. It is therefore customary for Jewish women to be extra careful to keep to high standards while pregnant, to ensure that her baby has a holy spiritual advantage.

He instructed her with regards to the upbringing of the baby, that he be a Nazir from the time he is in her belly.

When she told Manoach what happened, he prayed to Hashem that He send the angelic man again. Hashem granted his wish. When Tzlalponis was out in the field, the angel appeared to her again and she ran to get her husband.

Manoach asked the man, "Now your words will come true, what rules should be followed with the lad?" The angel answered, "Be careful of everything I said to your wife."

The Rambam tells us that Shimshon was not a complete Nazir.

There are three kinds of Nazirs. The typical Nazir takes an oath to be a Nazir to Hashem for a set amount of time, usually a month. He is not permitted to consume anything that came from the grapevine, cut his hair, eat anything impure, or become impure by coming in contact with a dead person. After the Nazir's time is up he brings certain sacrifices, cuts his hair and that ends his Nazirite status.

Then there is a Nazir for life, like our prophet Shmuel, who has to keep all the laws of the Nazir, except that he can cut his hair when it becomes too heavy, which is understood to mean after 12 months. To cut his hair, he brings the Nazir sacrifices and cuts his hair. At this time he can ask for his Nazirite oath to be annulled, which would end his Nazirite status, if he doesn't, he continues as a Nazir.

Then there is a Nazir like Shimshon, who was a Nazir from the womb. He was different than the other kinds of Nazirs, in that he could never cut his hair, nor ask for annulment, but he is permitted to become impure by coming in contact with a dead person, which Shimshon did. This is what the Rambam means by an incomplete Nazir, that he was allowed to become impure by coming in contact with a dead person.

In the last Mishnah of the tractate Nazir, it derives that the Shmuel was a Nazir from Shimshon, from the similar wording in the verses pertaining to them. Then the Talmud on the Mishnah debates, what is superior, to say a blessing or to respond amen, affirming one's inclusion in the blessing? Then it concludes with a famous teaching, "Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina, 'The students of the sages add peace in the world...'"

What could possibly be the connection between Shimshon and Shmuel being Nazirs and the Talmudic debate and teaching that follow?

The Rambam says that Shimshon never took the Nazirite oath. And because we learn that Shmuel was a Nazir from Shimshon, presumably Shmuel didn't either take the oath.

If they didn't take the oath, how did they become Nazirs?

Shmuel's mother, Chana, was the one who made an oath to Hashem, but the rule is that when a mother promises that her child will be a Nazir, it is not legally binding. In the case of Shimshon, it was the angel that said that he will be a Nazir, and that is certainly not binding. An angel has no say in the matters of a Jewish person's life.

Although these oaths were not binding, they were enough to start them off being a Nazir in practice, as Chana and Tzlalponis brought them up as Nazirs, based on Chana's oath and the words of the angel. However, it was only when they they reached the age of thirteen, the age of adulthood, and they continued the practice of being a Nazir on their own, that affirmed the statements of Chana and the angel, making them binding.

Now we can understand how the debate about the blessing fits in. What is greater the one who says it or the one who affirms? Was Chana's and the angel's statements greater, or was Shmuel's and Shimshon's affirmation greater? In this case we see that the affirmation is greater.

The same is true for Rabbi Elazar's teaching. Why does he refer to the students of the sages? Why not the sages themselves? Because by the students following in the ways of the sages, they are affirming, which, like we explained earlier, is greater.

The Haftora continues with Manoach asking the man to stay and eat, "I will prepare a goat for you." The angel refused, saying, "I will not eat your food." Manoach didn't know that it was an angel. He asked, "What is your name, so when your words come to be, we will honor you." The angel responded, "it is a secret." Manoach then offered the goat as a sacrifice to Hashem, and the angel wondrously produced a fire while Manoach and Tzlalponis looked on. As the flame rose upward to heaven the angel went up in the flame, while they looked on. They then fell on their faces, realizing finally that the man was actually an angel of Hashem.

Seeing all this Manoach said to his wife, "We are going to die, because we saw G-d."

Tzlalponis responded, "If Hashem wanted to kill us, He wouldn't have accepted from our hand a burnt-offering, and He wouldn't have shown us all these things, and at this time He would not let us hear (things) like these."

The first two things that Tzlalponis said to calm her husband's fears make sense, however the third brings up questions.

First she said, that "if Hashem wanted to kill us, He wouldn't have accepted from our hand a burnt-offering." Being that Hashem accepted their offering, and in a miraculous way, as the angel wondrously produced a fire, it clearly means that Hashem doesn't want them to die, rather to live.

Her second response came to answer Manoach's fear that seeing Hashem will cause them to die. She said, "He wouldn't have shown us all these things." Meaning, that it was Hashem Who chose to show Himself to us, we didn't go and seek to gaze inappropriately. Hashem can do anything, He could choose that a physical body should see him and live.

What is difficult to understand is her third proof, "He wouldn't have let us hear (things) like these." Once she brought a proof from seeing Hashem, which is superior to hearing Him, what does hearing add? If with seeing Hashem they will live, surely after hearing Him they will live. On top of that, Manoach only was afraid because he saw Hashem, he didn't seem concerned about hearing Him, so how does her answer allay his fears?

We must conclude that there is a type of hearing that is superior to seeing, and that is what she was referring to.

Because we live in a physical world is natural to see the physical, in other words, the physical is real to us. On the other hand, G-dliness is only heard, meaning that we could understand it, but it is vague, it doesn't have the same real impression as the physical world that we can see.

When we received the Torah at Mount Sinai it says, that we "saw the sounds." The Midrash tells us, that according to Rabbi Akiva, we saw what was heard and we heard what was seen. In other words, G-dliness which is usually heard, and does not feel so real to us, was seen, it felt real. Because of this, their perception of the physical world changed, now the heard the G-dliness in the physical. Seeing G-dliness is amazing, but experiencing G-dliness in the physical is by far greater.

Manoach and Tzlalponis had an experience similar to the giving of the Torah. And her third response should be understood like this. "At this time," after this amazing experience, if He wanted us to die, "He would not let us hear (things) like these,"He wouldn't continue to have us experience the G-dliness in everything.

The Haftora concludes with Shimshon being born and that the spirit of Hashem would come to him, meaning, that he would receive prophecy.

We aren't told much about Tzlalponis, her name isn't even mentioned in the Tanach, but from the Haftora we gather that she was a great woman. The angel appeared to her twice, the second time when she was in the field. Why does it have to tell us where she was? What difference does it make to know that she was in the field? Being in the field, in Tanach is code for davening. It is telling us that she was a davener and close to Hashem. From her answers to Manoach, we understand that she was wise. And finally, she gave birth to the mighty Shimshon, who was a prophet, a Tzadik, he was one of the Judges and lead the Jewish people for 22 years. The Talmud records her name together with the names of Avraham and David's mothers who were special women. Why are their names not recorded in the Tanach? Perhaps because the essence of who they were was total selflessness, providing for their babies, Avraham, David and Shimshon to become the first Jew, the quintessential king, who is the father of Moshiach and the one who was given miraculous strength to singlehandedly save the Jewish people from the Philistines. It was not about them, to show that, their names aren't mentioned. The name Tzlalponis could be divided into two words, tzlal, which means clear, and ponis, which means facing towards. Because I have gained much respect for her preparing this article, I would venture to say that it means, that she was clear of sin and that she faced Hashem, meaning, that her focus in her life was Hashem.

About Manoach we know very little. From the Haftora we know that he was from the tribe of Dan, that Hashem answered his prayers, he had the good trait of giving thanks (hakaras hatov), he was extremely G-d fearing, and he had a great wife.

Just as we read in this Haftora how Hashem provided the one who could save the Jewish people, may he once again send the one who could redeem us from this dark exile, Moshiach. The time has come.

Dedicated to my son Mendel who is celebrating his birthday this week. May you have a Shnas hatslacha, and be a source of nachas to Hashem, the Rebbe, your teachers, your parents, and especially to yourself.