Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Key To Blessing Is Humility And Respect

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This week's parsha is Nitzavim-Vayelech, Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, and Vayelech is either read together Nitzavim, or on the Shabbos after Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuva. There are therefore many lessons to be found in the parsha pertaining to Rosh Hashanah and the coming year.

In parshas Vayelech Moshe says, "Take this book of the Torah and place it beside the Ark of the covenant of Hashem your G-d."

The Talmud cites two opinions as to where the Torah was actually placed. One says that it was inside the Ark together with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. And the other says that it was on the side of the Ark. But according to both opinions, both the Torah and the Ten Commandments were in the Holy of Holies, the chamber that housed the Ark.

The Holy of Holies was above nature, the place where the Ark stood was miraculous, though the Ark was there, it didn't take up space. The natural dimensions of time and space were suspended in the Holy of Holies. On one hand it was there and it could be measured, and at the same time, it didn't take up space.

The Ten Commandments were engraved in the tablets. When you engrave letters into stone, nothing is added to the stone, as many words as you engrave into the stone, it remains the same size and the same dimensions. Similar to the Holy of Holies and the Ark which were there, they weren't taking up space.

The Ten Commandments were also miraculous, the engraving went all the way through and through the stone, yet the letters final mem and samech, one being a square and the other a circle, in other words, the engraving completely encircled the center of the letter, nevertheless the center of the letter remained in place.

So it seems that the objects in the Holy of Holies had a common theme. They were miraculous and above space and time.

The question is, what was the Torah doing there? With letters written with ink on parchment, the letters took up extra space and there was nothing miraculous about it. What purpose did the Torah fulfill?

The purpose of the Holy of Holies, the Ark and the Ten Commandments, were not to remain hidden. Rather, that their G-dly light spread out to the Temple, to Jerusalem, throughout the land of Israel, affecting all the Jewish people, and ultimately to the whole world affecting the non Jewish people as well.

Being that the Holy of Holies, the Ark and the Ten Commandments were above nature, there had to be a go between, a conduit, to bring their light into the natural world. The Torah served as that conduit. It is the Torah that brings the supernatural G-dly light into our lives, and by us keeping the Torah, we spread that light throughout the world affecting even those that aren't Jewish.

Rosh Hashanah is the Holy of Holies of the year. Our service on Rosh Hashanah goes beyond our understanding. It comes from feeling null before Hashem, because we are in awe of Him. There is a special G-dly light that shines and it affects us with a sense of self sacrifice that goes beyond understanding and above nature.

Although during the year our mode of service doesn't have to be beyond our understanding, and even our self sacrifice during the year is somewhat from our understanding. Nevertheless, in our mundane, during the year, physical state, we need to try to humble ourselves to the point where we are null, just like on Rosh Hashanah. In this way we draw the light of Rosh Hashanah into our every day lives, bringing them above nature as well.

In order to be able to accomplish this, we must prepare, and set the tone to make this possible. How do we accomplish this?

Parshas Nitzavim begins with, "You are standing here today, all of you (kulchem), before Hashem your G-d, your heads, your tribes... from your woodcutters to your water drawers."

This is always read before Rosh Hashanah, because on a deeper level, "You are standing here today... before Hashem your G-d,"  refers to the Great Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah. "Your heads, your tribes... from your woodcutters to your water drawers," refer to the different positions the Jewish people fill.

The Jewish people are compared to one great body. Each of us symbolize a different part of the body. Some of us are heads, others are the body, arms, legs etc. We are all necessary to accomplish the mission, the head leeds, but it can't do anything without the arms and it can't go anywhere without the legs and feet.

The key to our success, is the kulchem, "all of you," that we are united as one, and that we see each other as equally important.

On Rosh Hashanah, because of the greatness of the day and Hashem's overwhelming presence, there is no place for our egos, being that in contrast to Hashem, we are all equally nothing and null.

If you can take the Rosh Hashanah egolessness and apply it all year long, whether you think of yourself as the head or the legs, if you could see yourself as part of the whole, in other words, it is not about you, because you nullify your ego to the point that you don't see yourself as better than the other, but as equally important. You will draw the light of Rosh Hashanah throughout the whole year, and with it comes its blessings of health, nachas and sustenance.

It is so important to treat people with respect, especially those you think are less educated, or perhaps not as well to do. Speaking down to people and arrogance are some of the ugliest traits, and they only divide us. Humility and respect are some of the most beautiful traits, and they unite us. 

When we are united, Hashem's light shines on us and through us, and through us the light shines to the whole world. Through humility and respect for our fellow, we begin to see the value of everyone and how we are not whole without them. This will lift their spirits and unify us, and when we are united, we find joy in our mission. This joy breaks all boundaries, especially the confines of the dark exile, and when it does, Moshiach will be here. May it happen soon.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Drawing G-dliness Into Your Mundane Activities

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This week's parsha, Ki Savo, begins with the mitzvah of bikurim, bringing your first fruits to Hashem.

The first fruits were brought to the Temple, received by the Kohen and placed next to the altar.

When giving it to the Kohen, every person bringing first fruits would declare, "An Aramean was the destroyer of my forefather and he went down to Egypt... and he became a great, mighty and numerous nation there. The Egyptians treated us cruelly... We cried out to Hashem... Hashem heard our voice... And Hashem brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and marvels."

There were other great salvations and miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people. Why are specifically these two events, Yaakov being saved from Lavan (Laban) and the Exodus from Egypt, part of the bikurim declaration?

The giving of the first fruits is to give thanks to Hashem for giving us the land, and so we give from the first and the nicest to Him as a gesture of gratitude. It would make sense that the declaration would be the same, giving thanks to Hashem for the great miracles that brought us to the land, of which we have this great bounty.

Following the Exodus, there were great salvations and miracles, without which, we would have never made it to the promised land. There was the splitting of the sea, the miraculous victories over Amalek, Sichon and Og. During the 40 years in the desert, there were daily miracles that kept us alive, like the manna that fell from above, and the well of Miriam, that was a rock that traveled with the Jewish people, water would come out of the rock, providing for the needs of the nation and their livestock. Why weren't any of these miracles included in the declaration? We certainly would not have come to the land without these miracles.

Perhaps we can say that all of these miracles could be viewed as part of the Exodus from Egypt, because the Exodus wasn't complete until they conquered the land. They are therefore included as part of the Exodus, and don't have to be mentioned separately in the declaration.

However, there is an event that happened before Yaakov's descent to Egypt, that seems that it should be included in the declaration, but it isn't.

When Yaakov and his family were finally free of lavan, they had the confrontation with his brother Eisav. Yaakov was afraid that their lives were in danger because of Eisav's wrath, but the danger was miraculously averted. Why wasn't this included in the declaration?

Perhaps because Eisav's evil intentions never came to fruition, it never went further than intent. But if this is the reason that it isn't included in the declaration, then being saved from Lavan should also not be included, because his evil intentions also didn't come to fruition.

We must conclude that there is something unique about the salvation from Lavan and the Exodus, that is connected with the mitzvah of bikurim. What is the connection?

About the mitzvah of bikurim, the verse says, "And it will be, when you come to the land... and you take possession of it and settle it." Rashi explains that the mitzvah of bikurim begins only after the conquering and the division of the land. In other words, once they took up permanent residence and began enjoying the bounty of the land, then they were obligated to do the mitzvah of bikurim.

There were two other times that we took up permanent residence, but in those cases, we didn't get to enjoy the bounty. The 20 years Yaakov lived by Lavan, and the 210 years in Egypt. Therefore, we mention them in the bikurim declaration, to show how grateful we are to be able to enjoy the bounty, in contrast to the times we couldn't.

On a deeper level, the fruit of the tree refers to the part of the neshama that is in the body. The idea of bringing bikurim, is to strengthen the bond between the neshama and its source above. We do this in two ways. First, when we bring bikurim, the first and the best, we bring ourselves closer. And when we recite the declaration, we draw down the source of the neshama, the bikurim of the neshama, which is the first and the best part of the neshama. That the neshama from above should bond and shine in the neshama below.

This will give us a deeper understanding in the words of the declaration. The two events mentioned, Yaakov by Lavan and the exile in Egypt, both begin with a descent, being drawn down from the highest state of holiness, into the lowest places, Charan, which is called, "charon af shel Makom," the place that angers Hashem, and Egypt. Followed by an ascent, being drawn up to the highest level, and in the case of Egypt, to the point that Hashem revealed Himself to us at Mount Sinai.

The point of drawing down from the highest and holiest into the lowest, is to affect it and make it ready for Hashem to be able to dwell there openly as well. This is the idea of bikurim, to make working the land a holy endeavor as well, by drawing down G-dliness into the mundane work we do. And of course, we will reap the fruits of our labor, turning our mundane efforts into the first and the best for Hashem.

It is not enough to bring ourselves closer to Hashem through our study of Torah and the performance of mitzvahs, but we must also draw G-dliness down into the physical, mundane, daily activities that we do, until they become holy as well.

Ultimately, we will reap the fruits of our labor, we will merit the ultimate revelation, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Making A Parapet

In this week's parsha, Ki Seitzei, we learn the law, that "When you build a new house, you must make a parapet (fence) for your roof, in order that you won't cause bloodshed in your house, by one who falls, falling off of it."

The law of making a parapet applies even when you buy a house that you didn't build, and to an old house as well. So why does the verse say, "When you build a new house?"

Why does the verse call the person who might fall, "one who falls," even though he didn't fall yet? Even more, it is written in the present tense, as if he is presently falling, but he hasn't fallen yet. What kind of person is called, "one who falls?"

The Sifri explains why it says "new," because "from the time it is new, you have to make a parapet." In other words, the obligation to make a parapet begins before you move into the house. The moment it is new to you, whether you built it or bought it, you are obligated to make a parapet. Unlike mezuzah, whose obligation doesn't begin until after you move into the house.

This leaves us with a question. From the words in our verse, "When you build a new house," it seems that the obligation is only for a new house. Why doesn't the verse use terms that indicate, that every house needs a parapet?

The Talmud tells us, that the reason he is called, "one who falls," is because he was already destined to fall.

But you don't have to be the one that makes it happen. Making a parapet, will ensure that it doesn't happen in your house, because when something like that happens in your house, it shines negatively on you. 

Again, this leaves us with a question. The word in our verse that means "one who falls," is hanofel, which doesn't refer to someone who is destined to fall, but rather to someone who is presently falling. Who is the one who is presently falling?

Every verse in the Torah is meant to be understood on many levels. When we look deeper into this verse, we can learn lessons that apply to all of us, even to someone who doesn't own a house.

Our sages say, "A man's home is his wife." "When you build a new house," on a deeper level, refers to beginning married life, which is the time that one is first obligated to remove himself from his spiritual cocoon of yeshiva and involve himself in the physical world, to begin making a living. He is therefore actively falling from the spiritual life into the physical world of making a living.

It is at this time that he has to make a parapet. The idea of a parapet, is to set up a fence to protect someone from falling. The parapet he has to make, is new protections and boundaries that will keep him from falling into the trap of being enticed by the physical, and making it more important than the life of Torah. The parapet also provides separation, so that even when he is involved in the physical, he remains separate and holy.

Our purpose is to infuse the physical with G-dliness, making this physical world into a dwelling place for Hashem.

This work primarily begins with marriage, and his obligatory descent into the physical world. It is a mistake to refrain from getting involved in the physical and locking yourself into a spiritual bubble, because if you do, you are not accomplishing what you are meant to. Hashem put you here specifically to develop your part of the physical world, infusing it with G-dliness.

On another level, when you say "house," it refers to the body, every one of us is a soul, and we move into our home, the body. The purpose is the same, to make this world into a dwelling place for Hashem. it is called a "new house," because for the G-dly soul, the physical world is all new. It is "falling," because for the soul it is a great and constant descent, having to deal with the body's natural yearning for physical pleasures, which is not the interest of the soul. At the same time, the soul is happy to be in her new home, because she knows that through the work of the body, making this world into a dwelling place for Hashem, it will draw down levels of G-dliness, beyond anything she experienced before.

How does this work? When we do our part, making this world into a dwelling for Hashem, we are creating for Him a "new home." Everything we do down here affects the spiritual realms as well. We so to speak create a new home for Hashem above. What is new about it, is that there is an expansion in the spiritual realms allowing for levels of G-dliness that before were beyond the loftiest spiritual realms to enter the spiritual realms. And ultimately, we will  be able to draw these levels of G-dliness into the physical as well.

To be able to do this work, we have to make a parapet. First, by setting boundaries and protections not to falter, and by creating a degree of separation, so you can be in the world and at the same time, separate.

May we be successful in drawing down G-dliness into the physical, making it a home for Hashem. His presence will fill the world openly, and Moshiach will be here. May it happen soon.