Thursday, December 28, 2017

Revealing Our Essence

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In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov blessed his children, before he passed away. To Yehuda he said, "Yehuda, your brothers will praise you." Rashi explains, that after Yaakov rebuked Reuven, Shimon and Levi, Yehuda was afraid that he would be rebuked as well and Yaakov understood what he was feeling. So he said, "Yehuda, your brothers will praise you." Meaning, you don't have to be rebuked, on the contrary, you will be praised. 

Every verse in the Torah can be understood on many levels. What deeper meaning can be found in this verse, to help us serve Hashem better? 

We understand from Rashi, that these words to Yehuda, come in conjunction to what came before, Yaakov's words to Reuven, Shimon and Levi. 

Reuven was named by his mother Leah, Reuven comes from the word ra'ah which means seen, as she said, "Hashem has seen my humiliation." Reuven is symbolic of the first paragraph of the Shema, in which we connect with Hashem on a level of sight, as if we see Him. Sight is a very powerful sense, much greater than hearing. When you see something you know that it is true and nobody can talk you out of it, because you saw it. When we are connected to Hashem on the level of sight, we understand Him the greatest way we can, and we connect with Him through love. This is why we say in the first paragraph of the shema, "And you will love Hashem your G-d." 

Shimon comes from the word shama, heard. Leah named him Shimon, "because Hashem heard that I felt hated." Shimon is symbolic of the second paragraph of the Shema, V'haya, in which we connect with Hashem out of fear. It begins, "And it will be, if you will hear," and later it continues, "Beware, lest you be mislead," this is the idea of fear that comes from hearing, a step lower than seeing. 

Levi comes from the word yilaveh, attached or accompanied. As Leah said, "this time my husband will be attached to me." Levi is symbolic of the paragraph after the Shema, that begins with, "Emes v'yatziv..." And after fifteen accolades it continues, "this thing is upon us forever and ever." "This thing" refers to the Torah, that attaches us to Hashem. 

These three steps are the preparation for the Amida, where we are so humbled and so nullified before Hashem, that we can't speak. That is why we begin the Amida with the verse, "Hashem, open my lips and my mouth will tell Your praises," because if we did it right, we wouldn't be able to speak. 

Yehuda comes from the word odeh, which means to thank, praise or admit. As Leah said, "this time I will thank Hashem." To thank, praise or admit, is to recognize the other, and that takes humility. Yehuda is symbolic of the Amida, where we stand before Hashem, and at that moment only He exists, you don't exist, because through the steps of Reuven, Shimon and Levi, Shema, V'haya and Emes v'yatziv, we become totally humbled and we stand before Hashem in total nothingness. 

This state of nothingness before Hashem is the natural state of the neshama, G-dly soul, which is the essence of a Jew. It is just that the animal soul, the body, the physical world and the dark exile, covers up who we are, our essence. But at times we can reveal it, and one of these times is when we reach the Amida. 

Another way that a  Jew can always tap into his essence, is through the "Three things the world stands on, Torah, Avodah (prayer) and doing kindness." 

Reuven is connected to the first paragraph of the Shema, which is about loving Hashem. Loving Hashem is at the core of loving every Jewish person, because the essence of every Jew is the neshama, which is a part of Hashem. This love is the root of all acts of kindness. The first step is Reuven, doing kindness. 

Shimon is connected to the second paragraph of the Shema, which is about fear and awe of Hashem. Avodah is connecting to Hashem through prayer, standing before Him in awe and fear, recognizing how awesome and great He is. The second step is Shimon, Avoda. 

Levi is connected to the paragraph after the Shema, which is about Torah. It is through Torah study that we become "attached" and one with Hashem. The greatest bond we can have with Hashem, is through Torah study. Hashem and His Torah are one, so when you learn Torah and you understand it, you are making Him part of who you are. The third step is Levi, attachment to Hashem through Torah study. 

These three steps bring out our essential selflessness before Hashem, our Yehuda, which is the essence of every Jew, as all of the Jewish people are called Yehuda. 

The verse continues, "your hand will be on the neck of your enemies." Meaning, that when our essence shines the world is affected by us, as our sages say, that "When our voice is the voice of Yaakov, in the houses of prayer and the houses of Torah study, then the hands of Eisav have no power over us." To the contrary, instead of working against us, they help us serve Hashem. 

May our acts of kindness, Torah and Avodah reveal our essence, and effect the world, to the point that our light shines so bright, that Moshiach will come and lead us to our Holy Land. May it happen soon, the time has come.