Sunday, March 25, 2018

Three Matzahs & Four Cups Of Wine

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Our sages established, that we drink 4 cups of wine at the Seder, for the 4 expressions of redemption that Hashem commanded Moshe to convey to the Jewish people, at the beginning of parshas Vaera, "I will take you out... I will save you... I will redeem you... And I will take you (to Myself as a nation)..." 

If these 4 expressions of redemption are so significant, that they should be symbolized by the Seder, why not have 4 matzahs which are a biblical commandment, as the Mishnah tells us, that the reason we have matzah, is "because our parents were redeemed from Egypt," as opposed to 4 cups of wine that are only a rabbinical enactment? 

Why do we need 3 matzahs? The simple reason is, that 2 whole matzahs are for hamotzi, just like on every Yom Tov we make the blessing of hamotzi on 2 whole challahs or matzahs, and an extra broken piece of matzah, poor man's bread, to recite the Haggadah over. 

However, being that everything in Torah is perfect and we know that the reason we have matzah, is "because our parents were redeemed from Egypt," the 3 matzahs must represent redemption as well. 

With this understanding, we can conclude that there are two aspects of redemption, one is connected to the number 3 and is represented by matzah, and the other is connected to the number 4 and is represented by wine. 

What are these two aspects of redemption? And why are they represented by wine and matzah? 

We are told, that the Jewish people had sunken to such a low in Egypt, that if they would have stayed a moment longer, they would have been totally lost, with no chance of redemption. It was only that Hashem pulled us out in the nick of time. In other words, it wasn't on our merits or through our efforts that we were redeemed, rather it was a one sided redemption, Hashem did it himself. 

This is what the Exodus was all about, being redeemed by Hashem himself, without our effort. Being that it was from Him, and we had no involvement, we have no pleasure in it. This is represented by matzah, which doesn't have much flavor, it is poor man's bread, symbolizing that we were poor in understanding and poor spiritually. We have 3 matzahs, representing the first 3 expressions of redemption, "I will take you out... I will save you... And I will redeem you..." These are all one sided, they are all from Hashem himself without our involvement. Being that these 3 actually happened at the Exodus, they are represented by matzah, a biblical commandment. 

The fourth, "And I will take you to Myself as a nation," didn't reach completion until we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, after 50 days of working on ourselves to be worthy of receiving Hashem's Torah. Being that it came about through our effort and on our merit, we have pleasure in it, therefore it is represented by wine that has flavor. Because it only reached completion 50 days after the Exodus, it is not totally connected to Pesach, and therefore, only a rabbinical enactment. 

So you have 3 that is given, and the fourth that is developed by the recipient. This will help us understand a few other things. 

This is one of the reasons that we have 3 fathers and 4 mothers. In producing a child, the part of the father is to give, but the mother takes what she received, and with her body's effort, she develops it into a complete baby. Being that 3 represents giving, there are 3 fathers, and since 4 represents taking and developing through our own effort, there are 4 mothers. 

The same thing is with Torah. The written Torah, which is called, "The mussar (discipline) of your father," because it is given to us completely by Hashem, we have no input. It is similar to redemption from above, symbolized by matzah a biblical commandment. 

However, the oral Torah, the Mishnah, Talmud, etc. is called, "The Torah of your mother," because our great rabbis develop and complete its details, showing the importance of personal involvement in the Torah. This is similar to redemption through our effort, symbolized by wine, a rabbinical enactment. 

You may ask, the fourth is only one, so why do we have 4 cups of wine? 

Because through our effort, we reveal that the essence and the purpose of the first three is for the fourth, so our effort begets all 4. Hence 4 cups of wine. 

May we soon merit to see the final redemption, which we deserve and earned. The time has come. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tzav & Shabbos Hagadol The Connection

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The Shaloh Hakadosh tells us that the parsha of the week is connected to the time of year that it is read. In a regular year (not a leap year), it is very common that Tzav falls on Shabbos Hagadol, the Shabbos right before Pesach. What is the connection between Tzav and Shabbos Haggadol?

What is Shabbos Hagadol?  Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in the Shulchan Aruch Harav says, "We call the Shabbos before Pesach Shabbos Hagadol, because a great (gadol) miracle happened on it. Because the Pesach (lamb) was taken on the 10th of the month (of Nissan)... That day was Shabbos... And when (the Children of) Israel took their Pesach (lambs) on that Shabbos, the first borns of Egypt gathered near (the Children of) Israel, and asked them, why are they doing so? They responded, that this is a Pesach offering to Hashem, because He will slay the firstborns of Egypt. The firstborns went to their fathers and to Pharaoh, to beseech that they send Israel, and they didn't want to. The firstborns made war with them and killed many of them, this is the meaning of the verse, 'To hit Egypt with their firstborns.'  They established to remember this miracle in all generations on Shabbos and called it Shabbos Hagadol. Why didn't they establish (the remembrance of this miracle) on the tenth of the month, whether it fell on Shabbos or during the week, like they established all of the holidays? Because on the 10th of Nissan Miriam passed away and they established it as a fast day when it falls during the week..."

So we call it Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos, because a great miracle happened. What was so great about the miracle, that we should remember it in every generation? This miracle didn't really help the Jewish people, even after they had their war, the Jewish people were still stuck in Egypt. It wasn't until the death of the firstborn, that they were able to go free. So it doesn't seem to have helped them at all.

Miriam passed away 39 years after the miracle of Shabbos Hagadol. Why was the fast that was established on the day of her passing, able to push off the remembrance of the miracle, to Shabbos?

There were many miracles that happened for the Jewish people over the generations, as we say in the Haggadah, "In every generation they stand up to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands." In those miracles, either the enemy was destroyed or they were subdued.

What made this miracle great was that it came from the Egyptians themselves, and not only that, it came from their firstborns, the strength and vigor of Egypt. They themselves went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded that Israel be released, and the even went to war against their own for this. The darkness itself became the light, our enemies became our advocates.

To take it a step further, a miracle is a change in nature. But in this case even the nature of Torah was changed. In the Torah system, there are things that are holy, and there are things that are neutral, but with some work we can elevate them to holiness. For example, food. Food is generally neutral, but if you recite a blessing over it and use the energy that the food gives you, to serve Hashem, that food is elevated to holiness.

Then there are things that are intrinsically unholy, and we can't make them holy, all we are meant to do with them, is avoid them. For example, non kosher food, there is no way to elevate it.

The Egyptians fell into the unholy and can't elevate category, and here they were transformed to do Hashem's will.

This is a truly great miracle, beyond any other. Therefore it is called great, hence the name Shabbos Hagadol.

This will help us understand the connection between Shabbos Hagadol and Miriam's passing.

Rashi asks, "Why is the passing of Miriam near the teaching of the Parah Adumah (the Red Heifer)? To tell you, that just as the Parah Adumah atones, so too, the passing of Tzadikim atones." Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that this means that "they accomplish salvations in the midst of the land, by atoning for the sin of the generation, even for those done intentionally, low and depraved."

Just as the miracle of Shabbos Hagadol changed the unholy and what can't be elevated, to do what Hashem wants, so too, the passing of Miriam atoned for low and depraved sins that can't become holy. And true atonement means that the actual sin becomes a merit, the darkness itself becomes light.

Now we understand why the remembrance of the miracle could be pushed off to another day, in this case, Shabbos.

It is similar to when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, the law is that we don't blow the shofar, because an ignorant person may want to hear the shofar and mistakenly carry it to the person who knows how. By carrying in a public place, he would be breaking the Shabbos. To protect him from breaking the Shabbos, we all don't hear the shofar.

You may ask, why should we all miss out on the great mitzvah of shofar, because of a few ignorant people? The answer is, that we don't exactly miss out on the mitzvah, because what is spiritually accomplished by blowing the shofar, gets accomplished by the day of Shabbos itself.

The same is true about Miriam's passing. Being that the essence of the great miracle, was that the darkness itself became light, and that is also what the passing of Miriam represents, it is not truly pushed off. The essential idea is accomplished by commemorating Miriam's passing.

At the end of parshas Tzav, it tells about the seven days of milu'im, a time of training for Aaron and his sons in the Mishkan service. Why was it called milu'im? Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains, that it comes from the word miluy, which means full and complete. About the time of Moshiach it says, "That the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun." That which was lacking in the moon, will be filled (it will give its own light). A similar thing happened spiritually, when the Mishkan was set up during that week, the spiritual attribute of malchus was raised up.

To explain. The moon doesn't give its own light, it reflects the light it receives from the sun, but when Moshiach comes, its status will be raised and it will give its own light. Same thing applies to the spiritual attribute of malchus. Right now it has nothing of its own to give, it only reflects what it receives from the other attributes, however when Moshiach comes it will be raised and have what to give on its own. And what Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi is saying, is that in a small way, this happened when the Mishkan was set up.

In other words, that which is normally dark and doesn't give its own light, the moon and malchus, will begin to give their own light. The darkness itself becomes light.

This idea is seen in the name of the parsha, Tzav. In the Talmud it says, that whenever it says Tzav, it is referring to idol worship. At the same time, the Torahs Kohanim tells us about the word Tzav, that it means, "alacrity (to fulfill Hashem's will), now and for generations, even if it means taking a loss." And Tzav (96) has the numerical value of the two names of Hashem, E-l (31) and Adnai (65) combined. What is dark is itself giving light.

We can accomplish turning the darkness itself into light through teshuva. When we do teshuva, our worst sins become merits. The darkness itself becomes light.

The common denominator between Shabbos Hagadol, Miriam's passing and parshas Tzav, is that the darkness itself becomes light.

May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach soon, when we will see how the darkness and the suffering of the exile, itself will become light. The time has come.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How To Make Pesach Easier

With Pesach on the way, some are filled with dread and overwhelmed with the monumental task that lies ahead called making Pesach. Because most of the preparation is shopping, cleaning and cooking, it is common that the brunt of the work falls on the wife and she shouldn't have to enter Pesach exhausted and feeling used. While it is hard work and some stress is expected, try to make it as least stressful as possible, so you can have a happy home and a happy Pesach.

If the wife is the high energy, creative, organized type, the husband should move out of her way, make sure that she has what she needs and count his blessings.

This article will give some tips on how to make preparing for Pesach and Pesach itself less stressful and more enjoyable for the whole family. Though it will focus on families with young children, you will find ideas in this article for everybody, just take whatever you think will be helpful for you.

Make a Plan and Follow It

Write up a plan and make it as detailed as possible. It should cover, readying the house for Pesach, minhagim (traditions) you will keep, the Seder, meals, Chol Hamoed outings. Based on your plan, you will know what to shop for, clothes, kitchenware, and food.

When you plan, plan on making things as easy as possible. Eliminate everything that is unnecessary, and search for the easiest way to do things. The clearer and more detailed your plan is, the easier it will make your Pesach.

Once you create your plan, you can use it from year to year, but you will probably have to review it and make some changes.

The only thing is that you follow through on your plan.

Preparing the House

Make a checklist for every room. For example.

Bedroom 1
  • Closet
  • Dresser
  • Desk
  • Bed
  • Floor

Do the same for every bedroom, hallway, bathroom, family room, living room, dining room, dinette, kitchen and so on.

Whoever is doing the task, should check it when it is done. You can even add a second checkbox to each task, for you to check, that it is satisfactory.

The next thing is to assign the work to whoever will be responsible for it. Hired help, father, mother and children if they are capable.

Hiring Help

You should hire help according to what you could afford. The more the better. But at least for the hardest tasks, like cleaning the refrigerator, the oven (if you don't have self clean), the stove top, etc.

The Children

It is okay to have your children help, but it is not okay to turn them into slaves or to make them miserable. They have been learning about cleaning for Pesach in school, now they can do it as well. Give them each a sheet of paper with their tasks for that day, explain how you want it done, and they should check the boxes when they complete each task. You can inspect their work when they are done, and check your box. You can even offer a treat as an incentive, for when their work is complete. Their task sheet should be right next to yours in a central location, like the kitchen table, so it is a family thing and they will see you and the other children filling their tasks as well. If it is a lot, split it into two or three days, and have a separate sheet and treat for every day.

Try to Make Things Easier

Be clever and remember that Pesach is just 8 or 7 days, you don't have to have things perfect and you can live without some things.

Here are some ideas of things we do or don't do in our home, to make life easier.

  1. We used disposable goods and plasticware wherever and whenever we could. This makes clean up a breeze.
  2. We don't empty our kitchen, we seal the pantry the cabinets (except for under the sink) and the drawers with tape and sell it with the chametz. We bought a chef rack with wheels to be our temporary pantry and cabinets, and a few plastic bins to hold potatoes, onions, nuts etc. After Pesach, all of our Pesachware are boxed, put on the rack, rolled away and stored until next year.
  3. We don't make Pesach cakes or other things like that, it is not worth the hassle. We have fruits, melons, nuts and chocolate instead. It is healthier and no one misses the cake. The same is for anything else that is to much work, unnecessary or doesn't really enhance the meal.
  4. We cover the counters with plastic drop cloth. It is cheap and goes into the garbage after Yom Tov. We have a few large floor tiles (different colors for milk and meat) on top of the plastic to put hot pots and pans on.

I am sure you will come up with your own clever ideas to make life easier. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.


Sit together with your spouse and discuss how you will celebrate Pesach, and which minhagim you will keep. You might want to be strict about some things, but you have to be practical, taking into account your whole family and their needs. For example, you may not want to buy processed foods, but if you have little children, you might want to buy some lady fingers for snacks and chocolates for treats. Another example, some have a tradition not to use cutlery that fell on the floor for the rest of Yom Tov, but if you have little children, you will find, that very quickly, you will have nothing to eat with. So you will have to decide if you are going to be able to keep that one.

If you have a tradition that will make everyone miserable, you don't have to keep it. For example, if you have a certain food that you ate at your parents Seder, that is a hassle to make or no one but you likes, either don't have it or make it yourself. You will find, that your family will create their own special traditions.

Plan Your Meals

Create a menu for the whole Pesach, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Also, think about the outings, and what you will eat on them. Once you have this information, you will know what food items you have to buy.

Chol Hamoed

Chol Hamoed is part of Yom Tov and there are specific laws that pertain to it. It is not totally like a weekday, and our sages say strong words about those who disrespect Chol Hamoed. It is a good idea to sit down with the children that are old enough (9) and review the laws of Chol Hamoed from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. You will find that your children will take it seriously, because you made it important.

Chol Hamoed Outings

Your children expect to go on outings on Chol Hamoed. There is nothing more frustrating for the kids than waiting for you to get your act together. So plan your outings before Pesach.

The outings should be according to your means, and consider doing an outing with family or friends, it doesn't have to be expensive. It can be a trip to a park or a nature hike.


It is proper to get new clothes for the family for Pesach. And if you can afford it, jewelry for the wife and girls.

Take the menu that you created and based on that, make a shopping list for food, drinks and kitchenware. Fruits and vegetables should be enough to last until sometime on Chol Hamoed, you can get fresh fruits and vegetables during Chol Hamoed.

We are blessed to live in a time, that most things can be ordered from the comfort of your home. So order whatever you can, and have it delivered.

Preparing for the First Days of Yom Tov

Most of the food preparation, is going to be for the Seder. Some of my fondest memories growing up, was of the family preparing for the Seder. We had the music playing in the kitchen, and all of us had something to do. Everything can be done on the two days before Pesach, but mostly on Erev Pesach. You can use the same method as cleaning the house, where they can check a box when they are done.

Plan the Seder

If you have a family with kids under bar and bas mitzvah, you want them to be able to participate in the Seder. But if your Seder goes to the wee  hours of the morning, you are going to lose them. They are most important by the Seder, and you should plan the Seder around them.

Here are a few things that will make this possible.

  1. Have the kids take a nap for a few hours on Erev Pesach.
  2. Get rid of wasted time.
    1. Have the table set and ready to start the Seder before they come home from shul, so that right when they get home the Seder could begin, immediately. Everything needed up until the meal should be on the table, or be ready to be brought out on a moments notice.
    2. Someone should be in charge of running the Seder, keeping it flowing. There is no need to rush, just keep it flowing.
    3. Someone should be in charge of bringing things to the table when they are needed.
  3. Dvar Torahs
The Seder is not the time to start searching for something to share at the Seder. Don't come to the Seder with 10 different Haggadahs, hoping to find something to share. Prepare everything you are going to say a few days before Pesach, and come to the Seder with a plain Haggadah, with no commentary. If you don't have time to prepare, here are some ready made Seder Dvar Torahs.
  1. The children have been preparing for the Seder in school, and surely have something to say. You might want to make rules, such as, 1 or 2 dvar Torahs per person until the meal, and another during the meal. You keep the rule as well. This will force you to say what is most important.

After Pesach

When Yom Tov is over, and you are packing up the Pesach things, take inventory of everything you have and make a note of all the things you thought would make your next Pesach better. Attach the list to the outside of your Pesach goods, so that you will have it when you start planning your next Pesach.

Have a wonderful Pesach!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Power of An Adam

The parsha of Vayikra begins, "And He called to Moshe, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, to say. Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, adam, a man (or woman) from among you that will bring an offering to Hashem, from animals..."

There are many questions that can be asked on these verses, this article will touch on a few.

This is the beginning of the laws of sacrificial offerings to Hashem. Rashi tells us, that before every time Hashem spoke to Moshe, He first called him, as a sign that He cherished him. However, it is only mentioned that He called him here, by the laws of offerings. Why?

According to the Midrash, this was the first time that Moshe was called to the Tent of Meeting since it was first put up and the glory of Hashem filled it. Perhaps that is why it mentions that Hashem called him, because it was the first time. But this brings up the question: Why was the first laws taught from the Tent of Meeting, the laws of offerings?

Being that these are the first, we must conclude, that it is most important. Even the Talmud calls the book of Vayikra, the book that focuses on the laws of offerings, "Hachamur Sheb'sforim," the most important of the books. Also, since it is the third book of the five books of the Torah, the middle of the Torah, shows of its great significance.

More questions. The first word of the first verse, "Vayikra, and he called," is written in the Torah with a small Alef. What is the significance of this?

The second verse says, "adam, a man from among you that will bring an offering." Why doesn't it just say, "If you bring an offering?" We would certainly know that it is referring to a person. What is the significance of saying that it is an adam who is bringing it?

The Zohar says, "We, Israel have the merit that Hashem calls us adam, as it says, 'adam, a man from among you that will bring.' What is the reason He calls us adam? Because it is written, 'And you who are attached to Hashem your G-d...'" Now we can understand why our verse specifically says "adam," because it is the adam part of us, our attachment to Hashem, that makes it possible for us to bring sacrificial offerings, as will be explained.

The Midrash says, that the reason Hashem commanded the Jewish people to bring offerings, is because they are attached to Him, this is the meaning of the verse, "Just as a belt is attached to the hips of a person..."

Although they both speak of attachment to Hashem, they are talking about two different kinds of attachment. The Midrash is talking about an attachment like a belt, that although it is attached, it is not truly one with you. This is called the attachment of vessels, something could completely fill the vessel, but its not truly attached. The Zohar, on the other hand, speaks of an essential attachment, in which we are one with Hashem. This is called the attachment of lights, where the source of light and the light coming from it are one.

They are referring to different aspects of sacrificial offerings. The Midrash is referring to the sacrifice itself, which is brought to sustain the world, as the Talmud Yerushalmi says, "Because through the sacrifices, the rules (of the nature) of the world are sustained." But what gives us the ability to bring offerings that will sustain existence? It is the fact that we are essentially one with Hashem and therefore, higher than the world. Because we are higher than the world, we can have an effect on its existence.

How does bringing a sacrificial offering sustain the world? In Kabbalistic teaching, the whole world is divided into four biological kingdoms. There is domem, inanimate objects, like rocks, sand and water. Tzomeach, vegetation. Chai, living creatures. And medaber, people who have conversation. In sacrificial offerings all were represented. The inanimate object was the salt that accompanied every offering. Vegetation, was the wood that burned on the altar, where it was offered. Also, offerings were generally accompanied by wine libations, cakes made of flour and sometimes oil, all of which are from vegetation. The living creature was the animal that was offered. And then there was the person who brought the offering. By all parts of the world being represented in the offering, and being raised to Hashem, the whole world is energized.

It  is specifically the adam part of us that is one with Hashem. There are four names for man in Hebrew, adam, ish, enosh and gever. Adam is the highest name, it is the G-dly part of us, as it says, "And Hashem created the adam in His image..." It is the part of us that is one with Hashem and therefore, higher than existence, hence it can effect existence. This is why the verse specifically says "adam," because it is the adam part of us that could bring a sacrifice and sustain the world.

This differentiation between lights and vessels is found by Torah and mitzvahs as well, doing mitzvahs attaches us to Hashem like vessels and the study of Torah, like lights . Prayer is a mitzvah, the daily prayers were established in the place of the actual sacrifices, they sustain existence. But it is the study of Torah that gives us the ability to bring prayers that can effect the world.

Now we can understand why the first transmission from Hashem to Moshe via the Tent of Meeting was the teaching of the sacrificial offerings. The main purpose of the Tent of Meeting was the transmission of the Torah, and the main purpose of the Torah is brought about through the sacrifices. The purpose of Torah is to effect the world around us, making it into a home for Hashem. And sacrifices do this in two ways. First, the offering itself, taking a mundane animal and by offering it up to Hashem, it becomes holy. That is how we make the world into a home for Hashem, by taking the mundane physical world and turning it into a holy place. The second way, is as mentioned above, through the sacrifices we effect the whole world.

Although the Torah is Hashem's wisdom and it seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that it has anything to do with this mundane physical world, that is only true about the Torah itself. But when you consider the source of the Torah, Hashem's infinite essence, that has no bounds, not even that it can't be connected to the physical world, and that He desires to have a dwelling in this lowly limited physical world, and that this is the true essence of the Torah as well, then every mundane physical part of existence becomes significant and essentially connected with the Torah.

How do we draw Hashem's unlimited essence into the world? In other words, how is it possible for us to be an adam, reveal our essential oneness with Hashem's essence, and effect the world in the way of sacrificial offerings? It is only through selflessness and humility, by us being naught, we allow Hashem's unlimited essence to come through. This is learned from the first word of the parsha, "Vayikra, and He called." Why doesn't it say, "And Hashem called?" It just says, "And He called," we know that it is Hashem Who is calling Moshe, why does it avoid calling Him by His Name? Because here His infinite essence, beyond any name and beyond any description, called to Moshe.

Why was he able to draw this great level of G-dliness into the world? Because of his selflessness and humility, which is symbolized by the small Alef in the word Vayikra.

We all have a little bit of Moshe in us, and that comes with the ability to be selfless and humble. If we tap into that, we too can draw Hashem's unlimited essence into the world and make the mundane holy.

Through our collective effort, we will make this world into a home for Hashem's unlimited essence and usher in the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. The time has come.

Dedicated to my daughter Chava who is celebrating her birthday this week, I love you and I am proud of you. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Most Is Accomplished In Our Struggles

Print Version    All Parah     All Vayakhel      All Pekudei
At the end of parshas Pekudei, and for that matter, the whole book of Shemos, it tells us how Moshe erected the Mishkan, and that Hashem's Presence filled it. "The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting since the cloud had rested on it, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan." It continues and concludes with these three verses, "Whenever the cloud rose from above the Mishkan, the Children of Israel would embark on all their journeys. And if the cloud did not rise, they did not travel until the day it rose. For the cloud of Hashem was above the Mishkan by day and fire would be there by night, to the eyes of the entire House of Israel, at all their journeys." 

The last three verses seem out of place. We just finished reading all about the completion and the erecting of the Mishkan, and how the Divine Presence filled it. And all of a sudden, it concludes with some rules of journeys. As the Midrash tells us about these verses, "This is the story of the journeys." How does it fit in with the flow of the parsha? 

The question becomes stronger, when you read the Midrash on the next verse, the first verse of the book of Vayikra. It says that the first verse of Vayikra, "And Hashem called to Moshe," comes in continuation of what it says in Pekudei, "Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting since the cloud had rested on it, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan." He couldn't enter, so Hashem called him and then he was able to enter. So Vayikra comes in continuation of the verses of the Divine Presence filling the Mishkan, and these three verses clearly seem to be a break between the two. 

Now that we know that Pekudei and Vayikra are connected, with these three verses in between, we have to ask: How do these verses connect to the themes of parshas Pekudei and Vayikra? 

Being that they are the last verses of the book of Shemos, they must encapsulate the theme of the book of Shemos. And since the Midrash says that the end of Shemos is connected to the beginning of Vayikra, these verses must also connect to the theme of the book of Vayikra. How do they connect to the themes of both of these books? 

The book of Vayikra speaks mainly about the different offerings brought in the Mishkan, it is even referred to as Sefer Hakarbanos, the Book of Offerings. One might think that the connection between the two books, is that Shemos tells of the building of the Mishkan, and Vayikra speaks of the offerings brought in the Mishkan. But since the last verses of Shemos tells of the Divine Presence filling the Mishkan, and the Midrash says that this is the connection to Vayikra, we must conclude that the idea of Offerings is more connected to the Divine Presence filling the Mishkan, than to the Mishkan itself. And to take it a step further, being that the final three verses speak about the journeys, and specifically, how the cloud of Hashem's Presence rose away from the Mishkan when they journeyed, we can infer, that the connection is even greater when the Divine Presence is away from the Mishkan, than when it fills it, as will be explained. 

The book of Shemos begins with parshas Shemos, and ends with parshas Pekudei. Both of the names of these parshas indicate some sort of counting. Rashi on the word "Shemos" explains, that even though Hashem counted the children of Israel when they were alive, He counts them again here, because He cherishes them. So Shemos is about counting the Jewish people. 

Pekudei means the tally, it speaks of the tally of the donations to the Mishkan, and what they were used for in the construction of the Mishkan. So the book of Shemos begins with the counting of the Jewish people, and ends with the counting of the Mishkan. 

The theme of the book of Shemos, is the redemption from Egypt. It is strange that it is preoccupied with numbers, because in a way numbers are the opposite of redemption. When you could count something it shows that it is limited. Redemption on the other hand, is breaking out of all limitations. It seems to be limited and unlimited at the same time. 

In the parsha of Shemos itself you have limited and unlimited together. First it counts the number of people who came down to Egypt, then it says, "And the Children of Israel were fertile and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land was filled with them." They had a birth rate that was far beyond the natural. 

Parshas Pekudei also has limited and unlimited together. First it tallies all the details of the Mishkan, then it says that the glory of Hashem filled it, to the point that even Moshe, the greatest of men couldn't enter it. Because the Divine Presence is infinite. 

How do we reconcile having limited and unlimited at the same time? It seems impossible. 

The explanation. Although we are meant to reach for and connect to the infinite, which is the idea of redemption, to go beyond the limitations of the world, that doesn't have to come at the expense of the world's limitations. Rather, there has to be the unification of the infinite and the finite. 

We see this in the Mishkan itself. The infinite Presence of Hashem filled the limited Mishkan and its vessels. 

Since the ultimate purpose is, that "Hashem desired to have a dwelling for Himself below." There has to be two things simultaneously, first, a "dwelling," a home for His infinite essence, and second, that it should be "below," in this limited lowly world. 

We, the Jewish people, are the home for Hashem. Because He "specifically wants to live and dwell in the souls of the Children of Israel." And we are the perfect place for Hashem to feel at home, because, as the Zohar says, "Israel and Hashem are One." We are the ultimate dwelling for Hashem, not the world. It is only that it has to be "below," in this world. Through our interaction with the world, we make it into a vessel for Hashem, and the more we refine the world, the clearer it becomes that He is everything, and the physical world is just a facade. The clearer that becomes, the more the oneness of Hashem and the Jewish people is revealed. When this essential connection is totally revealed, the home is complete. 

While the book of Bereishis tells us about the creation and the settling of the world, the book of Shemos tells of how the Children of Israel became a nation and that Hashem gave us His Torah to fulfill His will, and make a home for Him. This idea is seen in the building of the Mishkan, which was a revealed home for Hashem's Presence. 

But the Mishkan itself didn't show how we can transform the mundane physical world into something holy, it merely was a place for the Divine Presence to be. It was the offerings in the book of Vayikra, that was taking a mundane physical animal and making it into a holy offering for Hashem. And this is what draws the infinite Presence of Hashem into the world. 

That is how the parshas of Pekudei and Vayikra, and the books of Shemos and Vayikra connect to the verses of the Divine Presence filling the Mishkan. Because the whole purpose of the Jewish people, the Torah, the Mishkan and the offerings, were to make a dwelling for Hashem, so that Hashem's essence could dwell openly in the world. 

When is our ability to do this the greatest? That is where the last three verses about the journeys come in. It is specifically when the Divine Presence raises away, and we are forced to journey, that our work is most powerful. And Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi said that the journeys in the desert hint to the journeys in exile. Just as in the desert, they only journeyed on Hashem's command, now too, the place you find yourself, is directly by His command. And when you do what Hashem wants you to do in times of journeys, when it is dark and Hashem is hidden, then, when you reach the place of rest, when Hashem descends and is seen once again, it is a far greater revelation than before the journey began. 

This is a lesson to each and every one of us in exile, and in our personal exiles that we go through. You have to know, that Hashem specifically put you in your situation, and you have a mission to accomplish there. The darker the situation, the more you can accomplish, turning the world into a home for Hashem. 

This idea keeps me positive in my difficult situation, suffering with ALS. I know that Hashem specifically put me in this darkness, and therefore, I am doing everything I can to make a difference in my journey. I could have never imagined the impact I would have in the world, lying in bed unable to move, and how my wife Dina would change the lives of so many with her talks, filling them with strength and hope. But we see and we are grateful for the amazing amount of good being done on behalf of our family. In this tremendous darkness we are going through, the most is being accomplished. 

May our personal journeys come to an end, and may the journey of the Jewish people through this dark and bitter exile finally come to an end. And we will merit to see that it was our work in this great darkness that revealed that we and Hashem are one, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 
Dedicated to Rabbi Shlomo and Tovi Bistritsky and Rabbi Shimon and Chaya Posner, who are marrying off their children this week. And to the chosson and kallah, Mendel Posner and Chana Bistritsky, it should be a binyan aday ad, and Hashem's Presence should fill your home. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Taking A Stand For Truth

The Haftora for parshas Ki Sisa tells of the confrontation between our prophet Eliyahu, the prophet of Hashem, and the 450 prophets of Baal. 

The Jewish people, were at an all time Low. Queen Ezevel (Jezebel), of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who introduced Baal worship to the northern ten tribes, set out to kill all the prophets of Hashem. She was successful in killing all, aside for a hundred, who Ovadia (Obadiah) had hidden in two caves and provided food and water for them, and Eliyahu, who eluded capture. 

Eliyahu appeared before King Achav (Ahab), the king of the Northern Kingdom, who blamed Eliyahu for the famine that gripped the region, because he knew that Eliyahu had the ability to end it. Eliyahu told Achav that it was because he turned away from Hashem, and worshipped the Ba'als, that was the cause of the famine. Then he told him, that if he wants the famine to end, he should summon all of Israel to Mount Carmel, together with the prophets of Baal. 

They all assembled at Mount Carmel, and Eliyahu spoke to the people of Israel, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If Hashem is G-d, then follow Him, and if it is Ba'al, then follow him." The people didn't know what to say. 

Then Eliyahu proposed a challenge to lay to rest any doubt, as to what was the one true G-d. He said, "I alone am left as a prophet of Hashem, and the prophets of Baal are 450 men." Then he laid down the rules of the contest. Each side would be given a bull to offer to their deity, it would be prepared, and placed on the wood, but no fire would be put to them. "You will call on the name of your gods and I will call on the name of Hashem. The G-d Who answers with fire, He is G-d." The people agreed. 

Eliyahu said that they should go first, because they were the majority. They chose a bull, prepared it and put it on the wood on their altar. They called in the name of the Ba'al from the morning until the afternoon and "there was no sound and there was no answer." They jumped around their altar, but it was to no avail. 

At noon, Eliyahu started to ridicule them, "cry louder... Maybe he is walking, or deep in thought, or on a journey. Or maybe he is sleeping." They cried louder and they cut themselves until they were gushing blood, but "There was no sound, there was no answer, and there was no listener." 

Eliyahu said to the people, "come near to me," so they would know that there was no trickery involved in what he is doing. He took twelve stones, one for each tribe of Israel and built them into an altar for Hashem, and he dug a ditch around it. He prepared his bull, arranged the wood and put the bull on to it. He told the people to pour water over the bull and the wood, again and again, until the whole ditch was filled with water. 

It was at the time that the mincha offering was brought in the Temple, and Eliyahu called out to Hashem, "... Answer me Hashem answer me, and this people will know that You Hashem are G-d..." The fire of Hashem descended and consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the earth and the water that was in the ditch. When the people saw this, they fell on their faces and said, "Hashem is G-d, Hashem is G-d." 

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Ki Sisa tells about the sin of the golden calf, and the forgiveness the Jewish people received from Hashem through the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and the giving of the half shekel, getting back in good stead with Hashem. Also in the parsha the Jewish people sinned with a calf, and in the Haftora, it was through two bulls (grown up calves) that they were put back on the right path. 

There are many lessons to be learned from this Haftora, I will touch on a few. 

Eliyahu asked the people, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If Hashem is G-d, then follow Him, and if it is Ba'al, then follow him." 

Why didn't he ask: when are you going to stop serving Ba'al, a false idol, and start serving Hashem? Isn't idol worship one of the worst things a Jew can do? Yes, but in some ways, wavering between two opinions is worse than idol worship, as will be explained. 

How does it happen, that Jews, who are "believers the children of believers," could serve idols? 

How is it that anyone served idols? The Rambam explains that it was because the flow of energy that comes from above, comes through the stars and constellations. So they began to honor the celestial bodies, hoping to get something from them. But this is silly, because the celestial bodies have no say in the matter, they are but a tool that Hashem uses to do his bidding. It would be like asking a hammer to drive in a nail, it is not the hammer, but rather the person holding it, that has the power to make that decision. 

In other words, they wanted something, and thought that the celestial bodies could give it to them, so they started to serve them. They had no emotional or meaningful connection to the celestial bodies, it was just that they wanted to get something from them. It is like someone who becomes your friend because he wants something from you, there is no real relationship there. 

This is the essence of idol worship, serving something for a possible gain. 

This is also why a Jew was tempted into idol worship, not that he had any meaningful connection to it, but a hope for a personal gain. 

What is wavering between two opinions? There are two kinds. 

First, there is the person who is not sure, he is in doubt as to what is right to serve, so he serves both. 

The second, is the person who really doesn't care who he serves, he just wants the gain, and whoever he thinks could give him what he wants at that moment, he will serve. 

There are three ways that waivering is worse than idol worship. 

First, it is much more difficult to repent and return to Hashem, because being that he still serves Hashem, he doesn't see the wrong clearly and he doesn't feel cut off, so he doesn't repent. In contrast, someone who just serves idols, when he recognizes that Hashem is the only true G-d, he will immediately realize how wrong he was, and repent with all of his heart. 

Second, when someone believes in and serves idols, although he is committing a grave sin, he at least has a general belief in spirituality. It may be wrong, but he wants to serve who he thinks is god. So when he finds out that Hashem is the only true G-d, he will drop what is false, and embrace what is true. In contrast, the one who is wavering, lacks spiritual conviction, if not cold to the whole idea altogether. It is very hard for a person who thinks this way to find his way to Hashem. 

The third problem, is the effect on others. Someone who wants to follow the Torah, will not learn from someone who is a clear idol worshipper. But the waiverer has a facade of someone who follows the Torah. Therefore, others will learn from him and be lead astray. 

Even though idol worship is not an issue today, there are those who worship money, honor, power, fame, etc. It is the same idea as idol worship, it is all for a selfish personal gain. Wavering in this case, is when someone who acts in the light of Torah most of the time, will drop his observance for a period of time, for a personal gain. And this is terrible because of the same three reasons mentioned above. 

Even the waverer could repent and come close to Hashem, but it takes intense teshuva, a sincere search for the truth and an embracing of extreme clarity. Like the Children of Israel on Mount Carmel, where they came to an extreme clarity and proclaimed, "Hashem is G-d! Hashem is G-d!" 

The Midrash tells us, that the bull that was to be offered to Baal didn't want to go. He said to Eliyahu, "Me and my friend came out of one belly... He will go up to the portion of the Holy One Blessed Be He and the name of the Holy One Blessed Be He will be sanctified through him, and I will go up to the portion of Baal, to anger my creator." Eliyahu responded to the bull, "Just as the name of the Holy One Blessed Be He will be sanctified through this one that is with me, so will it be sanctified through you."

from Eliyahu's words, "just as... So too," it seems that the sanctification of Hashem's name of both bulls are equal. But the one that Eliyahu brought up for Hashem, had an open miracle, everyone saw how a fire of Hashem consumed it, and it made them see the truth of Hashem. On the other hand, the bull that was brought for Baal, merely showed that Baal was false. how can they be equal?

The answer is that through what Eliyahu did on Mount Carmel, causing all of the Jewish people to return to Hashem, the oneness of Hashem was revealed as they all proclaimed, "Hashem is G-d! Hashem is G-d!" And when the oneness of Hashem is revealed, the true G-dly purpose of everything in creation is revealed. Meaning, that everything in the world has a G-dly purpose, even the things that we perceive as negative or bad, and when you begin to understand that it is all from Hashem, you realize that underneath the facade of bad is really Hashem's will and purpose, you recognize the good hidden in it. So the oneness of Hashem is in everything, good, bad, etc. Here the essential oneness of Hashem was brought out through the bull that was brought for Baal. And this revelation is equal, no matter where it is revealed, so both bulls equally sanctified the name of Hashem.

This is a lesson to us. Some may think, "I only want to deal with the bull for Hashem, only with the people who clearly serve Hashem, but I don't want to have anything to do with the bull for Baal, those who don't serve Hashem." And in truth, the oneness of Hashem is in them as well, and if you invest your time and heart into that person who may be far from the Torah path, even though it takes you away from your own growth in Torah, you will uncover the oneness of Hashem in that person, and he will return to Hashem. When that happens, all that you perceived as negative in that person, becomes merit, because when someone does teshuva his transgressions turn to merits.

This work, of investing time and effort into someone who is far from Torah is very important and comes before your own growth in Torah. As we read that first the bull for Baal was offered and only after, the bull for Hashem.

May we strengthen our resolve in our service to Hashem, and recognize his true oneness. And through our work with others, we will help them to also recognize the oneness of Hashem. This will surely bring us to hear Eliyahu herald the coming of Moshiach, when all will see that, "Hashem is G-d! Hashem is G-d!" May it happen soon. 

Dedicated in memory of Rivka Farkash OBM, who passed on this week. And in honor of the Farkash family. May you truly be consoled. Especially Dudy who was so close with Riki, I love you my brother.