Friday, August 31, 2018

Break Out While Remaining In

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High Holidays
In this week's parsha, Ki Savo, we have the command, "V'halachta b'drachav, and you should go in His ways." The Rambam counts this as one of the 613 mitzvahs, and he explains the mitzvah as follows, "to emulate Hashem according to your ability." In other words, we should act as Hashem acts, as the Rambam brings the words of our sages, "Just as Hashem is called Beneficent, so should you be beneficent, just as Hashem is called Compassionate, so should you be compassionate, just as Hashem is called Pious, so should you be pious." 

The Rambam sets out the guidelines as to what is to go in the count of mitzvahs, and he explains, that a general statement such as, "You should keep My statutes," and "You should be holy," are not tallied in the count of mitzvahs, because they are general ideas that apply to all mitzvahs, and they do not have a specific idea that separates them from other mitzvahs. 

So a mitzvah needs specifics, in order to be a mitzvah of its own. The mitzvah of, "You should go in His ways," sounds like a general idea that should applied to everything, and not a specific idea of its own. Why is it included in the count of mitzvahs? 

We must conclude that there is a specific detail that separates it from other mitzvahs. What is that detail? In other words, what exactly is the mitzvah of, "You should go in His ways"? 

The mitzvah, "You should go in His ways," is that when you do a mitzvah, "you should go." Going means that you are not in the same place where you started. It is possible to do a mitzvah, and remain the exact same person that you were before the mitzvah. "You should go," means that you should you do mitzvahs in a way that you are changed because of them. It should take you out of your present state, and lift you higher, on to a new spiritual plane. 

And how does one do a mitzvah in a way that it will actually change him? By doing the mitzvah, because it is "His ways," Hashem's ways. He does it to "emulate Hashem," and because of that, it has a very powerful effect on him, it changes him, he "goes" to another plane. 

You may ask: Isn't a mitzvah alone enough to change a person? It is true, whenever you do a mitzvah, it has an affect on you, even if you do it in the least meaningful way, but it is not going to move you out of your present state, and lift you to an entire new level. 

There is a verse, "I have made you travelers amongst these who are standing." It is explained, that even though angels and soul up in heaven can see G-dliness, they are called "standing," because they are in their place, and they can't go to a entire new plane. The souls do go higher and higher, but even so, they remain in the same basic program, not able to break out of it completely and go to a different plane, therefore they are called "standing." Us, on the other hand, Neshamas in a body, have the ability to go completely out of our present state, and reach a new plane. This is an infinite leap out of his present boundaries of spirituality. This is possible because he does the mitzvah in a "beyond boundaries" kind of way. Then he is a "traveler." And we can do this over and over again. 

This brings up a few questions. We, as all creations in this world, are limited beings. How can a limited being break out of its limitations? And even if we could, how do we do it while still retaining our status as limited beings? 

That is why it says that you should go "in His ways," because when you do it this way, you are connecting with Hashem, and because He is infinite and the ultimate enigma, conflicting opposites can exist within Him. Therefore, us limited beings, by connecting with Him, are able to have conflicting opposites as well. We can remain limited and at the same time, be infinite. 

This sounds nice, but at the end of the day, it is not really us that is doing it, but Hashem. We are just connecting to Him and He is doing the rest. However, what Hashem really wants, is that every elevation should come through our work. This elevation should also come through our own efforts, otherwise it is a handout from above. When we don't earn things through our own efforts, and it is given to us, it is called "bread of shame." How is it possible for us to do it ourselves? 

This is how it works. Every Jewish person has a neshama, a G-dly soul, which is "truly a part of Hashem." That means that the essence of our souls are infinite, and beyond any boundaries of existence. When we do a mitzvah, by tapping into the essence of our souls, we have the ability, on our own to completely break out of our present level, and go to an entirely new spiritual plane. 

How does one perform a mitzvah through tapping into his or her neshama? When you do a mitzvah through simple faith and self sacrifice, which means that it's not about you, rather, you are breaking out of yourself and tapping into your neshama. To put it in simple terms, you are doing the mitzvah with your neshama. This is how we can break all boundaries and "go in His ways," through our own efforts, and not have "bread of shame." 

That explains how it is that we are able to touch the infinite and break out. How is it possible, that we can do it while remaining limited beings?

The true source of the body's life is from the G-dly soul, but that source is hidden, because it comes through the animal soul to the body. Our job is to reveal the true source of the body's life, so that it is apparent that our actions come from the G-dly soul. Just as the person who wants to move a part of his body, it happens automatically, so too, he can reveal the G-dly soul as his true source of life, that his body automatically does the bidding of the G-dly soul. That is the way the body can "go in His ways," and remain as itself. So that the limited body reveals its source, the infinite soul.

The G-dly enigma, where conflicting opposites can exist within one, was seen in the Temple. In the Holy of Holies there stood the Ark of the Covenant, and while you could measure it, it was 1.5 cubits wide by 2.5 cubits long, but when you measured the space between it and the walls of the Holy of Holies, it didn't take up any room. The other place where it exists, is inside every Jew, as he or she is made up of a body and an animal soul that are limited, and a G-dly soul that is infinite, "it is truly a part of Hashem."

The truth is, that the whole world is from the G-dly source, but it is hidden. Our job is to reveal the G-dly essence of all of existence. And we can do it, because we have this enigma, a G-dly soul in a body, first we have to reveal our neshama, and then we reveal the G-dly essence of all existence.

However, not everyone is capable of getting their body to do the bidding of the G-dly soul automatically. How can every one of us tap into our neshamas?

To make this possible, there is an earlier commandment, "you should attach yourself to Him." The Rambam brings the words of the Sifri to explain this, "Attach yourself to the sages and to their students." These sages that the Rambam and the Sifri are talking about, are people who are completely nullified to Hashem, and because of that, G-dliness shines through them. When you attach yourself to them you are connected to the essence of Hashem, and your neshama is revealed.

The command of, "You should attach yourself to Him," is a general rule, and when you do the mitzvah of, "You should go in His ways," after the prerequisite of, "You should attach yourself to Him," it is a winning combination, and in this way everyone of us can "go" out of his present state and reach a new plane. This, of course, is all in conjunction with doing mitzvahs, because mitzvahs require action, and "action is most important.

Let us take our mitzvahs to the next level, by doing them in a truly transformative way, with our neshama, and break out of our current state, "going" in His ways. This will surely break us out of our present state of exile, and into the state of redemption. May it happen now. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

What Is Behind L'Dovid Hashem Ori?

Dear Friends, 

With thanks to Hashem. This Dvar Torah marks the 250th article that I have published. I am so grateful to be able to be a part of your lives and to teach Torah. Thank you for all your encouragement, your support and your love. I am especially grateful for my wife Dina and for my wonderful children who support me and are the reason I live. 



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This week's parsha, Ki Seitzei, is always read during the month of Elul, it begins, "When you will go out to war on your enemies." Why does it say, "on your enemies," shouldn't it say, "against your enemies"? On a deeper level, this enemy is the evil inclination, who tries so hard to get us to sin. And part of the way we are victorious over him, is by knowing that we are above him, and that is the meaning of "on" your enemies. Knowing that we are above, gives us the upper hand. This is one of the lessons we learn from L'Dovid Hashem Ori. 

From the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hoshana Raba, it is our tradition to add the 27th chapter of Tehillim, L'Dovid Hashem Ori, to both shachris and mincha. It has a special connection to the month of Elul, as we say it on every day of Elul. 

Why do we say L'Dovid Hashem Ori? 

The tradition to say this chapter stems from a Kabbalistic reason, brought by the Panim Yafos and Reb Shabsi Rashkover who lived just after the time of the Arizal. Because it has Hashem's name thirteen times, for the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. 

One of the reasons brought for saying it at shachris and mincha, is because of the two Tamid sacrifices that were offered daily, one in the morning, shachris time, and the other in the afternoon, mincha time, and our sages say, "The two daily (Tmidim) atoned, that there be no sins." And L'Dovid Hashem Ori, is meant to motivate us to do teshuva, and put us above the evil inclination, which strengthens us, not to sin in the first place. 

The first verse of L'Dovid Hashem Ori is, "Of David. Hashem is my light and my salvation; from whom shall I fear? Hashem is the stronghold in my life; from whom shall I be frightened?" 

Why is Hashem's name repeated twice? Why does it say first,"from who shall I fear?" and then,"from whom shall I be frightened?" it seems repetitive? Why doesn't it just simply say, "Hashem is my light, my salvation and the stronghold in my life; from whom shall I fear?" There must be something more going on in this verse, one name of Hashem that removes fear and another that removes fright. And they are so unique, that David has to repeat it twice. What is the difference between fear and fright? And what is causing the fear and fright? 

Finally, is there a connection between this first verse and the month of Elul? 

To understand this, let us take a look at another verse in this chapter. "One I ask of Hashem, it I request, to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of Hashem, and to visit His Temple (every morning)." 

The Midrash says, "Hashem said to David, 'first you say, "One I ask... to dwell in the house of Hashem," and after that, you ask for several requests, "to see the pleasantness of Hashem, and to visit His Temple..."' David replied, 'I learned it from you. First You only come to me with one (request), as it says, "And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you, only to fear Hashem..." And then you open with many mitzvahs, as it says, "to go in all His ways, and to cleave to Him...'" 

This is difficult to understand, because David's reply doesn't appear to answer the question, it just deflects it back at Hashem. A very Jewish response, but it's not an answer. 

The Maggid of Mezritch explains, that "to dwell in the house of Hashem," is the general request, and "to see the pleasantness of Hashem, and to visit His Temple," are details that branch from that general request. Same with Hashem, "to fear Hashem," is the general request, and "to go in all His ways, and to cleave to Him," are details that branch from it. 

This seems simple enough, that the request has details. Why does David need to learn it from Hashem? It is clear that we are missing something. What is David asking for? What is the difficulty with his request, that Hashem challenges him? And what is his answer, that "I learned it from You."? 

If you look closely at David's request, it all becomes clear. He says, "One I ask of Hashem," he is asking to be connected to the oneness of Hashem, and that it be permanent, "to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life." This oneness of Hashem, is His essence which is not subject to details, it is unique in its oneness that there is no division. If that is the case, how is it that David is dividing it into details? David answers, that it is not my own idea, I learned it from You. I normally would not do this, but I see from You, that there is a possibility of asking for details in this matter and there is value to be gained from the details. 

How does he learn it from Hashem? It says, "And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you? Only to fear Hashem." And then it continues, "to go in all His ways, and to cleave to Him..." 

Love of Hashem, is subject to vary according to the person doing the loving and to where he is at spiritually, because love is based on a person's feelings. Fear, on the other hand, is based on humility and self nullification, even the most basic level of fear is predicated on one's humility and self nullification. In other words, it is not based on the person's feelings, rather, on the absence of the self. It is not based on the person, but on Hashem, Who is infinite. Therefore, it connects with the essence and oneness of Hashem, beyond any division and details. Yet He gives details. 

How can Hashem's essence that is beyond division have details? It really doesn't divide, rather it is a cause and effect. It works in two ways. First, when you connect to the essence of Hashem, it causes you to fulfill those details. Second, doing those details will cause you to connect to the essence of Hashem. Since you are connecting to Hashem's essence beyond division, you are above the evil inclination. 

Now that we understand that there is a higher thing, and from it comes the details, we could conclude that being in middle of the chapter, this verse must be details of what comes before it. Namely, "Hashem is my light and my salvation... Hashem is the stronghold in my life." In other words, there are three levels here, and these three levels are the way we serve Hashem in the month of Elul. 

Because the darkness of the world covers up G-dliness, it is possible at times, "to forget the truth," of Hashem. It is also possible to forget that we are special, and separate from other nations. 

When the month of Elul comes, we are first reminded that, "Hashem is my light and my salvation... Hashem is the stronghold in my life." This is the recognition that you are always connected with Hashem. 

However, this may not be enough, in fact, we see that it is possible to be fully aware of this connection, and still sin. This is because this person has a powerful evil inclination, which pushes him to follow his desires. And even as he fails, he is aware that it is straining his relationship with Hashem. Because recognition is not always enough. 

That is where the second step comes to play. "One I ask of Hashem, it I request, to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life." That he should awaken in himself a strong will, so that his "One" and only desire is to dwell in the house of Hashem "all the days of my life," in a permanent way. 

But with all this, it is still possible to fail, because although he is passionately inspired, passion and inspiration could fade. Therefore, he has to put it into action, which is the third step, "to see the pleasantness of Hashem," learning Torah, especially the esoteric that tells of Hashem's ways, "and to visit His Temple every morning," doing more mitzvahs, especially adding in prayer, which is in the place of the Temple service. 

In the first step, the recognition that we are always one with Hashem, there are two levels. One is, "Hashem is my light and my salvation," and the other is, "Hashem is the stronghold in my life." 

These two, are the first and second time Hashem's name is mentioned in the chapter, symbolizing the first two words of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, "Hashem Hashem." Why does it say Hashem's name twice? Rashi tells us, "One before he sins, and one after he sinned and he will return." The same can be applied in our verse, as will be explained. 

A person sins for one of two reasons. Either the evil inclination convinces him that the sin is really not a sin, and perhaps, it is even a mitzvah, or he knows that it is a sin, but he is not strong enough to overcome his evil inclination. 

This is where the first part of the verse comes to play. For the person who doesn't have the clarity if it is a sin or not, you have, "Hashem is my light," meaning, that Hashem gives him the clarity to see that it is actually a sin. And for the person who can't overcome his evil inclination, you have, "And my salvation," Hashem saves him, by giving him the wherewithal to overcome. This is all before he sins, Hashem helps him not sin to begin with. 

Then there is a higher level. When a person has already succumbed, and he needs to do teshuva. That is where the second part of the verse comes to play. "Hashem is the stronghold in my life." Hashem gives him the strength and the fortitude to do teshuva, which is higher than Torah and mitzvahs. Even after he sins, Hashem is with him. And he attains a higher level, where "Hashem is the stronghold in my life." 

Now we could understand why David has to say Hashem's name twice. Because they are two distinct scenarios, and two different levels of Hashem's mercy. 

And we will also understand how this verse relates to the month of Elul, and why it uses the two terms, fear and frightened. 

Fear, is of something in the distance, fright, is for something that is near. 

When the month of Elul comes, he is reminded of his connection with Hashem. Right away the evil inclination steps in and tries to bring him down. He argues, "It is true that you are connected to Hashem, but you live in a dark world, and you have an evil inclination that is really good at what he does. It is a lost cause, anyway you won't be able to maintain the connection." What he is really saying, is that you should fear a negative possibility in the distant future. 

That is where the first part of the verse comes in, before any details. "Hashem is my light and my salvation," Hashem is always connected to you, and therefore, "from whom shall I fear?" 

But he doesn't give up so easily, the evil inclination comes up with another argument, "The connection to Hashem will only help you from now on, but you have sins already, you are anyway already lost" (G-d forbid). He is saying, that although you don't have to fear future sin, you already have sins, and they are close, you should be frightened of them, because, you can't get away from them. 

This is where the second part of the verse comes in, telling you that "Hashem is the stronghold in my life," He gives you the strength and the fortitude to do teshuva, so "from whom shall I be frightened?" 

These words of strength, are even for a person who is in a good place spiritually, and even a Tzadik. One shouldn't think that a new year is just a calendar event. Rather it is a sign of growth in life and spirituality. You can't remain stagnant, you have to be constantly growing in Torah and mitzvahs, in spirituality and in metchlichkite (decency). Today has to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow has to be better than today. This is yet another meaning to the words, "Hashem is the stronghold in my life," not only does He give us the strength and fortitude to do teshuva, but He also is a part of our lives, and gives us the strength and fortitude to continue to grow every day. 

May we take strength from L'Dovid Hashem Ori, may it strengthen us to overcome the evil inclination, drive us to do teshuva and grow every day. May Hashem grant us all a happy and sweet year. With the coming of Moshiach, the sweetest. May he come soon. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

You Have To Be A Mentch

This week's parsha, Shoftim, tells us that we are not allowed to cut down fruit bearing trees, "for the Adam (man) is the tree of the field." The Sifri says, "This teaches us that the life of a person, is only from the tree." This is difficult to understand, because surely the life of a person is sustained by other foods that don't grow on trees as well. Why does it say specifically trees? 

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains the verse, "Bread feeds the heart of man." That bread satisfies a person more than meat. 

Why does food satisfy a person? And why is bread more satisfying than meat? 

He explains that everything in the world is divided into four kingdoms, the lowest is domem, inanimate objects, like rocks, sand and water, all metals and minerals. Above that is tzomeach, things that grow, like plants and trees. Above that is chai, living things like animals and fish. And the highest is medaber, people who have conversation, which means that they think about things and discuss them. 

The rule is that the higher a thing is in its spiritual source, the lower it falls down here into the physical world. So although chai and tzomeach are lower than us in the physical, in their source they are higher. And of course, the source of tzomeach is higher than chai. 

Being higher in their source, means that when we eat them, we connect to their source, and that is why they are satisfying, because they are higher. Since plants are from a higher source than animals, we are more satisfied from bread, which is from wheat, a plant, than from meat. 

If you will ask: What about domem, inanimate objects? I would surmise, that they are more important than plants to our existence, like water and salt, without which, we could not survive. Yet with the exception of water which we drink, we don't make a meal of domem, and we certainly don't eat them. They are added to a meal, and that is how we connect to their source. But being that we don't eat them as a meal, they are not part of the discussion. 

Now that we know that tzomeach is most satisfying, being that the most prominent of all plants are trees, it makes sense that the Sifri says, that "the life of a person, is only from the tree." Trees are symbolic of all that grows, all tzomeach. 

The Talmud says, "What is the meaning of the verse, 'for the Adam (man) is the tree of the field,' is then a man a tree of the field? Rather, because it says (about fruit-bearing trees), 'for from it you will eat and you should not cut it down,' and it says (about non-fruit-bearing trees), 'It you could destroy and cut down.' How does this work? If he is a proper talmid chacham (Torah scholar), you should eat (learn) from him, and you shouldn't cut him down, if not, destroy him and cut him down (turn away from him)." 

What is a "proper" talmid chacham? One whose Torah effects his actions, he doesn't only study, he has a refined character due to his study. 

From this is understood, that not only does a person get fed from a tree, but the actual person is like a tree. The Talmud asks, in what way? And answers, that in a certain way, a person is like a tree. 

This brings up a few questions. 

Why does the Talmud ask, "Is then a man a tree of the field?" There are many ways a person is compared to a tree, even the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos compares a man to a tree. It seems from the Talmud's question, that the whole of the person is like a tree. However, the answer it gives, is that in one more detail a man is like a tree. In which way is this answer, more the whole of the person, than all the other comparisons? 

The answer of the Talmud just focuses on a talmid chacham, which is only one segment of the population. But from the Talmud's question, "Is then a man a tree of the field?" It seems that it is referring to every person. How does the answer explain, how every person is like a tree? 

And finally, is there a connection between the Sifri's answer and the Talmud's? 

A person is called a "small world." Meaning, that everything that is found in the world, is also found in a person in some way. Just as the world is divided into domem, tzomeach, chai and medaber, a person is as well. 

In a person, tzomeach, refers to his or her emotional makeup, which grows as he or she matures, and it is always growing. 

The main distinction between medaber, people, and everything else, is that we have intellect, the ability to think about things. And that is the question of the Talmud, "Is then a man a tree of the field?" In other words, is this what a person is all about, a tree, tzomeach, his emotional makeup? Isn't a person about his or her cognitive abilities? 

The question becomes stronger, when you think about the word used to say "man" in our verse. In Hebrew there are four ways to say man, adam, ish, enosh and gever. Adam refers to the intellect of a person, while ish refers to his emotional makeup. So the Talmud's question becomes, "Is then an adam a tree of the field?" Is that what an adam is all about, his emotional makeup, I thought that adam refers to his intellect? 

The Talmud answers, that the whole point of one's intellect, is that it affects his emotions, so that they become in line with his intellect. Then he has reached the pinnacle of an adam. There is no point in the intellect, if doesn't affect the way the person acts. If he is a genius, but not a mentch, he missed the point and he has not reached the pinnacle of an adam. 

About knowing Hashem it says, "And you should know today, and you should bring it to your heart." In other words, the whole point of "you should understand today," is that "you should bring it to your heart," the seat of the emotions. Knowing is not enough, it has to change you as a person. 

The Talmud uses a parable to explain this, if he is a "proper" talmid chacham, it is not enough to be a talmid chacham, to have the knowledge, but he has to be proper, his knowledge has to affect him as a person, if not, turn away from him. 

This parable clearly describes the whole of the person, that your intellect has to affect your emotional makeup. Then you're a mentch, an adam. 

The "small world" is similar to the "big world." Just as in the big world, although tzomeach looks lower, and it needs us to raise it up. However, once we eat it, we are affected by its source, which is higher. So too, in the small world, emotions seem lower than intellect, however, in its source, emotions are higher. Once we raise our emotions through our intellect, then the source of the emotions affect our intellect, raising it ever higher. 

Although there are many ways that a person is like a tree, this particular parable defines the essence of every man, that his intellect has to effect his emotions. 

This is also the connection between the Sifri and the Talmud. The answer is the same, ultimately tzomeach is most effective, the Sifri is explaining how it is in the big world, and the Talmud is explaining how it is in the small world, the person. 

Let's go a bit deeper.

Since being a person is defined as having intellect, our small world is found in our intellect, that means that our intellect itself has all four parts, domem tzomeach, chai and medaber within intellect. The ish of the intellect, is the lower part of the intellect, that has an affect on the emotions, and the adam of the intellect, is the essence of intellect, higher than any connection to the emotions.

The Talmud's question is, "Is then an adam a tree of the field?" It is true that the intellect has to have an affect on the emotions, but does it have to be the essence, the adam of the intellect, that affect the emotions? Wouldn't it be enough for the lower part of the intellect, the ish, to have an affect on the emotions?

The Talmud answers, that if it doesn't have fruit, you can cut it down. This doesn't only refer to the branches of the tree that have the fruit, but also to the trunk and the roots of the tree that don't have any fruit growing from them. You could ask, why would you cut down the trunk, just because its branches don't produce any fruit? But that is a silly question. Obviously, in order for the branches to have fruit, there must be the trunk and the roots. The fact that there is no fruits growing on the branches, is because the roots and the trunk are also not doing their job, so you can cut them down.

The same is true about the essence or the adam of the intellect. Although it doesn't affect the emotions directly, its purpose is ultimately for the emotions, and if it doesn't affect the emotions, it is not fulfilling its main purpose.

You may ask : Why is it not enough for the lower part of the intellect to work on the emotions? What do I gain by using the higher part of the intellect to influence the emotions?

First, since the lower part of the intellect has an affect on the emotions, it is likely to be affected by the emotions as well. If for some reason the heart is in a dark and cold place, blocking all of the emotions, it could as well block the light of the intellect. If that happens, the lower part of the intellect will not be able to have any effect on the emotions. On the other hand, the adam of the intellect, is above the emotions, and can't be affected by them. Therefore, it will always be able to have an affect on the emotions.

Second, even if the lower part of the intellect is not affected by the emotions and is able to work on them and refine them, it won't be able to change them completely, they will remain in their nature, just more refined. This is because the lower part of the intellect is not above the emotions, it can only work with what they already are, moving them into a positive direction. On the other hand, the adam of the intellect, is above the emotions, and therefore it can always affect them, and even change their nature completely. This is actually the main purpose of the essence of the intellect, to change the nature of the emotions.

May we have a strong influence on our emotional makeup, that they become in line with our intellect, then we will be trees that can be eaten from. This will help us have a good influence our surroundings, which will help us bring Moshiach closer. May he come soon. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You Have To Flee To Elul

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This week's parsha, R'ei, is always read on the Shabbos before the month of Elul, or on Rosh Chodesh Elul itself. 

Our sages say that the word Elul is an acronym for, "Ina l'yado v'samti l'cha," which is from a verse that talks about one who killed inadvertently, Hashem "caused it to come to his hand, and I will give to you" a place to flee to. 

The law is, if a person kills someone inadvertently, he has to flee to the safety of a sanctuary city, lest he be killed by the "avenger of blood," which means a relative of the one who was killed. He goes there, first to await trial, and then if he is found to have killed inadvertently, he is exiled to the city of refuge until the Kohen Gadol passes away. The exile atones for his inadvertent killing, because "exile is an atonement." 

The words in the verse that make the acronym Elul, is not the part about inadvertently killing, but rather, the part of the verse that speaks of his merit, Hashem "caused it to come to his hand," and the part about his atonement, "And I will give you" a place to flee to. 

These cities of refuge, were wherever the Jewish people were, in the desert (during the forty years they were there), in Israel, and across the Jordan, which was considered outside of Israel. 

The general function of a city of refuge, is to save the body of the person who killed someone inadvertently. But what about his soul? How does his soul get atonement? The sin is a grave one, it's true that it was inadvertent, but he took a life, and the rule is, that one must atone for an inadvertent sin as well. 

Why must one atone for an inadvertent sin? Because how does a Jew come to sin at all, when it goes against his nature? A Jew by the nature of his soul and even his body, wouldn't sin. Therefore, he would never put himself in a situation that he would come to sin, he would naturally run away from it. Just as a person wouldn't jump into a fire by mistake, because it's totally against his nature. That is why, "No sin will be caused for the righteous," as Rashi explains, "No sin will chance before him inadvertently." Because it is totally against our nature. 

Why then does he sin? It is only because his animal soul is overpowering him, blocking the G-dly soul and his natural instincts. The animal soul schleps him to do all kinds of things that the animal is attracted to. And since he allowed his animal soul to gain power over him, and perhaps he even feeds the beast with his bad habits, he is liable and needs atonement. 

The atonement for both body and soul is through the city of refuge, which is exile, and "exile is an atonement." 

The city of refuge also helps someone who murdered intentionally. As our sages say, "Both the inadvertent and the intentional (killer) first go to the city of refuge." The intentional murderer is protected from the "avenger of blood," until he is called to trial. And most likely, he will be found innocent, as it is known, that if they would sentence someone to death once in seven years, the Sanhedrin would be called, a murderous court. 

However, until he would be taken to trial, he would have time to do teshuva. 

When it comes to teshuva, there is an advantage now in the exile over the time of the Temple. In Temple times, even if a person would do teshuva, he would still get the punishment. 

The Noda B'Yehuda explains, that teshuva is in the heart, however we can only judge according to what we can see. Being that there is no way to see what is in his heart, we are obligated to follow through with the punishment. 

But that was then. However since forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin stopped hearing capital cases. The only way for those cases to come to justice, is through divine judgment, meaning that he receives the punishment of death from above. And since Hashem knows what is in his heart, teshuva helps. 

This acronym of Elul is telling us, that this month is a city of refuge in time, and we should use it well, through taking an account of the past and doing teshuva for all of our sins. In a sense, every sin is akin to spilling blood. because with every sin, one takes life away from his G-dly soul, from Hashem, and gives it to the animal soul, to the evil inclination. 

The month of Elul is the city of refuge, one should flee there and exile himself there. Meaning, he should separate himself from his sinful ways, from his desires, his bad tendencies and his wrong conclusions, and flee to the month of Elul and live there, meaning, that he resolves to settle there and to live in the way of the month of Elul, taking an account of his life and doing teshuva. Then "exile is an atonement." 

This will atone, not only for the inadvertent sins, but also for the intentional ones. 

And even if he is not yet able to do teshuva from love, which "turns sins into merits," at least he can do teshuva from fear. And it doesn't matter what inspires him to do teshuva, whether it's the month of Elul, the upcoming High Holidays or the broken relationship between him and Hashem. Every sin constitutes a blemish in that relationship, and if he will think about this, how his relationship with Hashem is broken, it will surely bring him to do teshuva from fear, which "turns intentional sins into (the category of) unintentional."  

This doesn't mean that he has to suffer, by torturing himself or fasting, on the contrary, a person who has to be in a city of refuge, is not required to torture himself or fast, rather the exile itself is the atonement. 

In the city of refuge, they provide for him everything that he was accustomed to having. As the verse says, "And he should live - we do things that give him life." This is why, "A student who is exiled, we exile his teacher with him," because, even though his teacher is far beyond him in knowledge and understanding, he nevertheless "gives him life," which means, that he will motivate him to do teshuva, and mend his relationship with Hashem, the source of life. 

Fleeing to the city of refuge, Elul, saves him from the "avenger of blood." Who is the avenger of blood? It is the Satan, who is the evil inclination, who seduces the person to sin in the first place, he lodges the complaint, he is the prosecutor, and he is the angel of death. 

What is the Satan's complaint? "So and so killed the soul, he killed the G-dly soul that is in him, he is spilling the blood of the Holy One and giving it to the empty one." 

How can he save himself? He should flee to the city of refuge, and there he will be protected from the avenger of blood, until the day of judgment, Rosh Hashanah. And even if his sin was intentional, he has the ability to do teshuva before the day of judgment. 

Hashem is saying to the Jewish people, "I Am giving you twenty nine, thirty days, if you will use this time to rid yourselves of your bad habits and tendencies, that you were doing until now, 'and flee there,' if you will flee into the ways and tendencies of Elul, in order to remain there. Then you will be able to repair everything that was not right, from the beginning until now, and you will automatically be saved from the avenger of blood and all who wish to press charges against you. And through doing teshuva, first teshuva out of fear, which turns them into unintentional (sins), and then teshuva out of love, which turns them into merits, you will be inscribed and sealed in the book of Tzadikim, for a good and sweet year."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

What Is The Value Of A Mitzvah?

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This week's parsha, Eikev, begins, "V'haya eikev tishmeun," which means, "And it will be, (eikev) because you will listen." Then it lists a bunch of blessings that we will get for listening. 

The word used to say "because," is "eikev," which is not the normal word used to say this, in fact, it is not a common word to use at all. It is obvious that the Torah is trying to hint something by using this strange word. What is it trying to tell us? 

Rashi explains, that the word eikev could also mean a heel, and he says that the words in the verse mean, "If you will keep the less important mitzvahs, that get trampled by a person's heel." The source of his explanation is from the Midrash, which says, "Less important mitzvahs that people aren't careful with, rather, they cast them under their heels." 

The words of Rashi are clear, he talks about mitzvahs that are trampled on, which is what a heel does, it steps on things. However, we have to understand the words of the Midrash, because if someone casts away a mitzvah, he is throwing it away, what is the difference if it is under his heel or not? What is the Midrash trying to tell us by adding that it is under the heels? 

The Midrash continues to say, that this is the meaning of what King David said, "Why should I fear in days of misfortune? The iniquity of (akeivai) my heels surround me." David was saying that he wasn't afraid "of the strict mitzvahs of the Torah," rather, "of the less important mitzvahs, perhaps I didn't keep one of them... because it was less important, and you said to be careful with a lenient mitzvah as (you would) with a strict one." 

Surely David kept all the mitzvahs, even the lenient ones, the Midrash actually continues to say so, bringing David's words, "Also Your servant was careful with them, (eikev) because in observing them, there is much reward." So what does he mean by saying that he is afraid because of his inobservance of the less important mitzvahs? 

The Midrash is not talking about a person who thinks that you shouldn't keep the less important mitzvahs at all, on the contrary, he thinks that you should keep them, and for the most part, he does. It is just that he "casts them under the heels," meaning, he pushes them off later and later, until after the heel, meaning, that they come at the very end. 

He has a very good reason for doing this. He argues, "first I have to make sure that the head is in order, meaning, the strict mitzvahs, then the less strict mitzvahs, after I am done with them, if I have time, I will take care of the heel, the less important mitzvahs, and perhaps after that I will do the extras that beautify a mitzvah, or go beyond what is expected according to the letter of the law. There is an order that one should follow, and that is what I am doing." 

He argues, "What do you expect from me, I'm not ready for it yet, let me do the basics, the biggies, and after I am used to them, I will think about the small stuff." 

He even comes up with a clever anecdote, "You say that a Jew has to love another Jew, even if he has never met him before, I am having a hard enough time with the ones I know. It is like someone who is not wearing a shirt, but he has a tie around his neck." 

Sounds logical, however, if you want to have the blessings in our parsha, the Midrash tells us that we have to keep the heel mitzvahs, and David was afraid of not keeping these mitzvahs well enough. It seems that these mitzvahs are super important, but they are called lenient, or less important mitzvahs. How are we to make sense of this? 

There are two ways to approach mitzvahs. You can come from a position of understanding, in this approach, there is an order to the mitzvahs, some are stricter than others. Then there is doing what Hashem wants, from a position of accepting his yoke, to do the mitzvahs, "because He commanded us," and because when you do a mitzvah, you are connecting to the essence of Hashem. As it is explained, mitzvah is related to the word tzavsa, which means a connection. Every time you do a mitzvah, you are connecting with Hashem's essence. From this approach, it doesn't matter which mitzvah you are doing, every mitzvah is Hashem's will, every mitzvah connects you to His essence equally. 

The question is: Which one of these approaches are more in line with Jewish values? The parsha, the Midrash and King David are telling you, that you should keep the heel mitzvahs, as you would keep the head mitzvahs, they are all the same. And if we follow this approach, we receive the amazing blessings found in our parsha. 

This is a general idea in Judaism. Belief and faith must come before understanding. When we stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, we said, "We will do and we will listen." Doing Hashem's will and connecting with His essence is first and most important. Understanding is also important, but it's second. 

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, once hired a teacher for his children. This teacher was of the opinion, that children shouldn't be told stories of wonders and miracles until they were older and already had a firm knowledge in Torah. When his father, the Rebbe Rashab, who was the Rebbe at the time, found out the teacher's opinion, he was quickly sent on his way. Because it is the stories of wonders and miracles that imbue the children with belief and faith in Hashem. In other words, belief has to come before understanding. 

The evil inclination is clever and he always comes up with a strategy, and this one is a good one. He tells you to do everything, but use your intellect, and follow the order of things. But that is because he is the evil inclination, and he doesn't want you to connect with Hashem's essence. 

And this is why we receive the blessings if we take this approach. Because when we serve Hashem from our understanding, measured and calculated, then He grants our needs in a measured and calculated way, which is not what we want. However, when we serve Hashem beyond our understanding, when we accept the yoke of Heaven and do the mitzvahs because it is His will and because we want to connect with Him, then he gives us uncalculated blessings, infinite and beyond understanding. 

How do you balance between beyond understanding and order? Beyond understanding doesn't have to mean chaos, rather, when you have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, don't start to make calculations, big or small, biblical or rabbinical, whether it is an enactment from the Men of the Great Assembly at the beginning of the second Temple era, the generations that followed or even from the last generation, it is all Hashem's will, so do it with your whole heart. We also should not convince ourselves of doing things that Hashem doesn't want, under some logical pretext, to have a personal gain. Hashem's will should be our goal and what we strive for. 

If we act with belief and faith in Hashem, the way he wants us to, He will surely bestow His infinite blessings upon us, and He will give us the ultimate blessing that we long and hope for, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.