Thursday, November 29, 2018

Scandal Or Sacred?

In parshas Vayeshev we read about Yosef being in Egypt, how he became a slave to Potiphar and that he was so successful, that Potifar put him in charge of his entire estate. The Torah tells us about Yosef, that he was "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance." Rashi explains, that this means that he started to curl his hair. In other words, once he became in charge of Potiphar's estate, he started to indulge in delicacies and pay attention to what he looked like. And because of this, Potiphar's wife began to take a particular interest in him. This led to him being thrown into prison. And even in prison, the Torah tells us about Yosef, that "whatever he did, Hashem made successful." 

Every story in the Torah is meant to be a lesson to us, especially in our service to Hashem. 

What are some of the lessons hidden in this story? 

This article will focus on two details of the story. First, that Yosef was "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance." Second, that Potiphar's wife began to take an interest in him. And in both of these, how Hashem made him successful. 

Yosef's Beauty 

When Yosef was born, his mother, Rachel, named him Yosef, as if to say, "Yosef Hashem li ben acheir," which is translated, "Hashem should add to me another son." Alternatively, there is a Chasidic teaching that translates it, Yosef should make for Me (Hashem) a son out of an acheir (a foreigner). Meaning, that his main purpose was to bring people who didn't know Hashem, into a relationship with Him. 

What was the key to his success in this area? That he was, "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance." That he was beautiful in all areas, both in keeping the positive and negative commandments. It is explained, that "build" refers to the positive commandments and "appearance" refers to the negative commandments. 

His success with other people, was because of his own character, that his own self was in order, he was "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance." He was perfect in all areas, positive and negative commandments. 

The lesson to us from this point of the story of Yosef, is that we are all obligated to have an affect on the people we come in contact with, having a positive influence on them, to come closer to Hashem. In order to do this, we first have to get ourselves in order. First work on correcting yourself and then have an influence on others. 

This doesn't mean that you have to be perfect in order to have an influence on others. If that were the case, then very few people would be able to influence others, and it is certain that Hashem wants us to bring our brothers and sisters closer to Him. 

However, one should at least be working on bettering himself, to become the way Hashem wants. If not, he will not be able to affect another positively, because people are intuitive and they can sense when someone is not genuine. And this can have the opposite effect, G-d forbid, taking him or her further away from Hashem. 

In other words, working on yourself is not only a personal endeavor, but it also has its effect on your surroundings and acquaintances. Therefore, working on yourself takes on a whole new significance, by working on yourself, you positively influence the world around you. And if you don't work on yourself, it is not just hurting you, but the world around you as well. 

Potiphar's Wife 

Our sages tell us that "Potiphar's wife's intentions were for the sake of Heaven." She saw through astrology that she was supposed to have children through him, but it was really meant to be with her daughter, Osnas, who Yosef later married. 

We see from this story, that it is possible that something that is totally inappropriate, or even sinful to the extreme, is for the sake of Heaven. 

The Alter Rebbe says in Tanya, that if a Jew is davening, and a heathen starts to bother him, not only should it not bother him, but it should motivate him and strengthen him to pray more intensely, and from the depths of his heart. 

If the whole purpose was to get him to pray more intensely, then why send a person to bother him? Why not send someone who will inspire him? 

The truth is that everything that is in the world has its source in G-dliness, so everything's meant to add holiness, it is just that when it comes down here, in this lowly physical world, it comes through an unholy interface, and it gets transformed into a negative action. He senses because of his G-dly source that he has to add in holiness, so he wants to do something, but it comes out the wrong way. When you have this understanding, you will realize that he is really there to add in holiness. 

This is true for anything that stands in the way of our service to Hashem. It might seem on the outside that it is in the way, but in its essence it is there to help you. 

And when you see the truth, that "nothing bad comes down from above," then you are strengthened and nothing will be in the way of your service to Hashem. 

When you ascribe to this truth with all of your heart, you will have the truth on your side, and nothing stands in the way of truth. Then, not only will they not be a hindrance to you, but they will become a help. 

Now there are two approaches to this. First of all when you are faced with one of these situations, you can fight it with all you have, with every fiber in your being. Or you can take this approach, which is more gheshmaak, you can see it for what it is, it is there to help you. And without any fight at all, you will be lifted higher and higher in holiness. 

My wife Dina is always wondering how I can be so positive having ALS, not being able to do anything, locked inside my body. "Maybe he just doesn't get it." 

first of all, I too have my moments of frustration, not that often, but I have them. Second, I know with all my heart that Hashem has a reason for putting me in this position, and it is a positive reason, so I try my best to make a difference. Third, my wife is always right, I don't get it. That is my nature, and it has served me well. I think the best of people, and many times when someone was trying to stick it to me, my nature is that I let it go right over my head. It turns out that it is disarming, and they usually end up being friends, sometimes good friends. 

If we work on ourselves, and we start to see the world as good and there to help us, we will surely be successful in our personal service to Hashem, and we will have a tremendous effect on the people and the world around us. We will uncover the G-dliness that is the essence of everything, and they will help us serve Hashem. And that by definition is the time of Moshiach, when the G-dly essence of every part of existence will be revealed, and therefore, "the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem like the waters cover the sea." May it happen soon. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Going Undercover For Hashem

In this week's parsha, Vayishlach, Yaakov is given the name Yisrael, "Your name will no longer be called Yaakov, but Yisrael will be your name."

On this verse the Talmud says, that whoever calls Avraham Avram, is going against the command, "Your name will no longer be called Avram." The Talmud asks, if so, one who calls Yisrael Yaakov, should be going against the command, "Your name will no longer be called Yaakov," why then are we allowed to call Yisrael Yaakov? The Talmud answers, that with Avraham, the Torah no longer calls him Avram, but in Yisrael's case, the Torah continues to call him Yaakov. Therefore, we could continue to call him Yaakov.

It is interesting to note that when we speak of him, we mostly call him Yaakov.

The Talmud gives us a good answer, however, we must ask, why the Torah continues to call him Yaakov?

It is explained, that Yaakov and Yisrael represent two modes of service to Hashem that every Jew has to do. This is why Yisrael is still called Yaakov, because sometimes we need to be Yaakov and other times we need to be Yisrael.

Yaakov represents getting Yitzchak's blessings through deception and trickery. Yisrael represents getting Yitzchak's blessings outright, and with our heads held up high.

Yitzchak's blessings were physical blessings, "from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land." But in order to get them, Rivka and Yaakov went to great lengths to plan a whole undercover operation, to get what was rightfully his. There was a disguise, Yaakov put fur on his arms to feel like his brother Eisav, there was a costume, he put on Eisav's favorite clothes that he took from Nimrod after he killed him. Then Yaakov carefully chose his words to convince his father that he was Eisav.

What is our approach to the physical needs and corporal wants?

The true purpose of the physical, is to reveal and extract the G-dliness that is hidden in the physical object or place. In order to do that, we must use the object or place for a G-dly purpose. Either a mitzvah or in some way for Hashem. For example, you can eat, sleep, exercise, etc., to be healthy, for your own selfish reasons, or you can do it, so that you are healthy to serve Hashem.

This story teaches us that in order to be able to affect the physical, we have to go undercover, and use some tactics to uncover the G-dliness that is hidden in the physical. First you seem to want these things in order to have the pleasure that comes along with them, and because of that, the evil inclination is willing to go along with you. But you have a hidden agenda that only comes through at the end of the undercover operation, that it is really for Hashem. Like the name Yaakov, which is related to the word akava, trickery, we trick the evil inclination to go along with us.

This is one of the ideas of a farbrengen. The evil inclination is willing to go to the farbrengen, because there is food, but once there, the farbrenger talks to the people about getting closer to Hashem.

Then there is the name Yisrael, which is our service to Hashem in an open way, without trickery, and hiding. Like on Shabbos, when eating itself is a mitzvah. There is no need for a deception, every bite is a mitzvah, even enjoying it is a mitzvah. Like the name Yisrael, which is related to the word sherara, to rule, we can do Hashem's wishes outright.

May we be both like Yisrael and like Yaakov, when the time calls for it. This way, we will surely merit to see the coming of Moshiach, when it will be "the day (time) that is totally Shabbos,"  and like the name Yisrael, we will be able to serve Hashem openly, and with our heads held up high. May he come soon. The time has come.

With Hashem's help, I plan to add to this. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

It Is All About Our Struggles

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This week's parsha, Vayeitzei, is all about our forefather Yaakov and his descent to Charan. 

Yaakov is considered "The chosen of our forefathers," because the greatness and the holiness of other forefathers didn't reach all their children, "Avraham - Yishmael came out of him," "Yitzchak - Eisav came out of him." On the other hand, Yaakov's greatness and holiness reached all of his children. 

Because he is the "chosen of our forefathers," we have to learn more from him than from any other of our forefathers. That is why the Torah tells us so much about him and his struggles. 

This is the meaning of the passage of the Talmud, "The beauty of Yaakov was similar to the beauty of Adam." That his life has a similar impact on our lives as the life of Adam, just as Adam was the father of all of humanity and his actions affect each and every one of us. As we know, that there were certain people who were so holy and free of sin, that the only reason they died, was because of Adam's sin, eating from the tree of knowledge, which brought death to the world. So too, Yaakov is the father of all of the Jewish people, and all of his actions affect us. 

From this is understood, that all of the details of Yaakov's life that the Torah tells us, is a lesson for every Jew, even more so than Avraham and Yitzchak. 

What are some of the things we learn from Yaakov? 

In parshas Vayeitzei, it tells us how Yaakov left Israel and descended to Charan. Before leaving Israel, it says, "And he met the place," which was Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Then it tells us how he had to deal with the sly Lavan, got married, and built a beautiful family, the fathers of the tribes, all of them righteous. And finally, it tells us that upon his return to Israel, "The angels of Hashem met him." 

Israel is symbolic of our spiritual cocoon, the place of Torah. Charan is the physical world with all its struggles, as Rashi says about Charan, that it is "Charon af shel Makom baolam (the place that angers Hashem in the world)." Lavan is symbolic of the corrupt notions of society, the pressure to follow the pack to make a buck even though it might not be so honest, and the pressure to conform to the ways of the world, although it might not be the Torah way. 

Our job is to leave our Israel, our spiritual cocoon, and go down to Charan, into the hustle bustle of the world, business, shopping and even leisure, and to stand up to Lavan, to follow the Torah way. If we do this, we reveal the true G-dly essence of the world. 

When we act this way, Hashem makes us successful, as it says about Yaakov, "And the man became exceedingly prosperous." We have success with our children, just as Yaakov did, and we merit that angels greet us, just as they did Yaakov. 

The Zohar says, that when Yaakov left Israel, before he went down to Charan, it says, "And he met the place," which means that he had to search for the place, and he finally came to the place of G-dliness. However, after he completed his work in Charan, after his mission was done, it says, "And the angels of Hashem met him," they came searching for him. The Midrash says that there were 600,000 angels and it brings a second opinion, that it was 1,200,000. But the Zohar tells us that Hashem Himself came to meet Yaakov. 

That is a lesson from the general overview of Yaakov's descent to Charan. Now we will take a look at some of the details, and we will see what made his life in the lowest place so successful.

The Midrash tells us, on the words, "and he laid down in that place," which was Mount Moriah, and had the dream of the angels going up and down the ladder, before he went down to Charan, "here he laid down to sleep, but the fourteen years that he was hidden in the house of Ever, he didn't lie down to sleep."

Before he went down to Charan, Yaakov hid in the yeshiva of Ever, studying Torah for fourteen years.

Another opinion in the Midrash, is that "The twenty years he was in the house of Lavan, he didn't lie down to sleep."

The question is: It makes sense that he didn't lie down to sleep in the yeshiva of Ever, being a diligent student of the Torah, a lofty spiritual pursuit, but why didn't he lie down to sleep in the house of Lavan?

Yaakov understood that he was in Charan by Lavan for a reason. He was there to release the sparks of G-dliness hidden there. In the lowest places lie hidden the greatest sparks of G-dliness. But being in the lowest place, and with the most conniving person, Lavan, he had to remain alert and make sure that everything was according to Hashem's wishes. This way, he would surely succeed in his mission.

Lavan had the complaint we struggle with to this very day, and "you are an old Jew, from the old country and the old ways, if you want to be religious, fine. But your children are growing up in a modern world, why do you want to ruin them, with the old ways of integrity, honesty, and to follow in the ways of Hashem? How will that help them get ahead in the rat race?"

Lavan said, "The daughters are mine, and the sons are mine." You could be the way you want, but the children are going to follow my corrupt notions.

Lavan continued, "The sheep are mine." Sheep were the main business of the time. He was saying, "if you want to make a living in this world, you have to be dishonest like me. How do you expect to make a living, following the rules of the Torah?"

This is why he didn't lie down for twenty years, because his mission was to follow the ways of Hashem, despite Lavan and his corruption, thereby revealing and releasing the G-dly sparks that were there, and making sure that his children remained his and the sheep remained his, meaning, according to the Torah.

The Midrash asks, "What was he saying," all the time he was in the house of Lavan? The Midrash answers, that he was saying the fifteen psalms that begin with, "Shir hamaalos, a song of ascent," Another opinion, is that he was saying the whole book of Psalms.

What is the meaning of this question, "What was he saying?" It is asking, what kept him going? What gave him the strength to accomplish his mission?

And it answers, that he recognized that without Hashem's help, he wasn't going to accomplish his mission. It was his humility and self nullification to Hashem, that would be his biggest strength.

And this is the lesson to us from Yaakov. That in order for us to succeed, we need two things. First, before we go down to our personal Charan, we have to ensconce ourselves in a environment of Torah and Teffilla, like a yeshiva. And second, that when we are in our Charan, only our hands should be doing the work, our hearts and minds should be with Hashem, saying words of Torah, Tehilim, Mishnah, Tanya, etc. To be given over to Hashem with all of our hearts, and He will surely help us complete our missions.

This is true for our daily descent to Charan, into our jobs, into the daily grind. We should begin the day with a foundation of Torah and Teffilla, first davening and then Torah study. And when our hearts and minds are filled with a strong connection to Hashem and a sense of purpose, we are ready to take on the Charan we are given. Of course, while we are involved in our work, we should recite Tehilim, Mishnah, Tanya, etc. Recognizing that it is Hashem, Who gives us the strength to accomplish the mission.

We should be like Yaakov, doing our mission in the physical world with truth, with courage and with all our strength, to uncover the G-dliness that is truly there. We shouldn't be afraid to open our home to the those we deem less observant, because you can uncover the neshama in him or her, and let the G-dliness shine openly in them too. And when we do, Hashem with all the angels will come and greet us, on our way into Israel, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Jew Is Not Bound By The Rules Of Nature

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Parshas Toldos begins, "And these are the children of Yitzchak son of Avraham, Avraham fathered Yitzchak." If it already says, "Yitzchak son of Avraham," why does it repeat, "Avraham fathered Yitzchak."? The Torah doesn't use extra words, but this seems extra.

There are many answers to this question, the Talmud, the Midrash, Chassidus and the Zohar each give answers to this question.

The Talmud's explanation, is that the mockers of the generation didn't believe that Avraham fathered Yitzchak, because he was already with Sarah for so many years and they didn't have children. And being that she had been recently abducted by Avimelech the king of the philistines, they were saying that Avimelech was the father.

What did Hashem do? He made Yitzchak look exactly like Avraham, to the point that everyone of the generation said, "Avraham fathered Yitzchak, Avraham fathered Yitzchak." Hence the extra words.

The Midrash says, that Yitzchak crowned himself with Avraham and Avraham crowned himself with Yitzchak. Meaning, that Yitzchak took pride in the fact that Avraham was his father and Avraham took pride in the fact that Yitzchak was his son. Therefore, it says it in both directions, "Yitzchak son of Avraham, Avraham fathered Yitzchak."

The Chassidic explanation, is that Avraham's attribute was chesed, loving-kindness, he symbolizes the love of Hashem, Yitzchak's attribute was gevurah, strength, he symbolizes the fear of Hashem.

When it comes to love and fear of Hashem there are two levels of each.

First there is the lower fear (yira tataa). In this way of thinking, one is afraid to go against Hashem's will, because he doesn't want to be punished. He serves Hashem, because he is afraid that if he doesn't, Hashem won't fulfill his needs or wants. Or perhaps a loftier ideal, that he is afraid that his spiritual connection with Hashem will be severed.

Then there is the higher fear (yira ilaa). He is so in awe of Hashem, that he wouldn't do anything against his will.

Then there is minor love (ahava zuta). This love is because he hopes to gain out of his love for Hashem, to be in good favor with Him. Or perhaps a loftier ideal, he wants to have a connection with Hashem.

Then there is the greater love (ahava raba). He loves Hashem, "without the intention to receive a reward."

In the lower level of fear and love, it is more about him. In the higher fear and love, it is only about Hashem.

Since "The actions of our forefathers are a sign for their children," the Torah brings two Avrahams, symbolizing the two levels of love, and two Yitzchaks, symbolizing the two levels of fear. The order of our service to Hashem, is first the more basic level of love or fear and then the higher levels. As our sages say, "A person should learn Torah not for its own sake (i. e. for selfish reasons), because through learning it not for its own sake, he will come to learn it for its own sake (i. e. because Hashem wants him to)." The same is when it comes to love and fear of Hashem, first comes the lower levels, and only after that, comes the higher levels. And the order follows the names in the verse, "Yitzchak son of Avraham, Avraham fathered Yitzchak," first lower fear, then minor love, followed by great love, and finally higher fear.

The lesson here for every one of us is, that we should serve Hashem through both love and fear, the way of Avraham and Yitzchak. However, that is not natural, the nature of people is to be either one way or the other. Similarly, one is either a introvert or an extrovert, but not both. For someone who is an introvert, to act as an extrovert is hard work, and vice versa. And that is what Hashem wants from us, to put in the work. It is easy to follow our natures, what is the big deal for a loving person, to be loving, it takes effort to also have fear of Hashem, and for someone who is naturally, disciplined and serious, fear of Hashem is easy, for him being loving takes effort. And our job is to make the effort to serve Hashem through both love and fear.

Then there is the Zohar's explanation. Avraham represents the neshama. Yitzchak represents the pleasure that the neshama will receive in the world to come (the time of Moshiach).

The Zohar explains, that "Yitzchak son of Avraham," is the reward of the neshama in the world to come. And how does it earn that reward, that pleasure? Through its work in this world, serving Hashem, working with the body, doing Torah and mitzvahs. In other words, the neshama creates its reward, or "Avraham fathered Yitzchak."

Whenever there are different explanations on the same words in the Torah, they must be connected in some way. How are these four explanations connected?

Every story in the Torah and every Torah teaching, is a lesson for us in our daily lives. The Chassidic explanation has a lesson, that we should serve Hashem through both love and fear. The Zohar's explanation, has a lesson, that through our effort in this world, we generate the reward in the world to come. But what can be the lesson from the Talmud's explanation, that Yitzchak looked like Avraham? And what can be the lesson from the Midrash's explanation, that Yitzchak crowned himself with Avraham and Avraham crowned himself with Yitzchak?

Both the Talmud and the Midrash are telling us of things that are beyond nature.

The Talmud tells us that Hashem made it clear that Yitzchak was Avraham's son, by making them look exactly alike. Avraham couldn't have children naturally, and spiritually it was not in his cards either. As we know, that the astrologers of the time, and Avraham himself saw it in the stars, that he would not have children.

That's why at the bris bein habesarim (the covenant between the parts) it says, "And He took him outside." It was clear that the event was outdoors, if so what does it mean that Hashem took Avraham outside? Our sages say, that Hashem said, "go out of your astrology," He took Avraham out of the natural order of the world, and now he would be able to have children, regardless of nature and despite his astrological forecast.

The explanation of the Midrash says that, "Yitzchak crowned himself with Avraham and Avraham crowned himself with Yitzchak." It uses the word "crowned," a crown is something that is above and adds to the person wearing it. In other words Avraham felt that Yitzchak in a way, was above him, and added to who he was.

The natural order of things, is that as the generations progress, the later generation is lower spiritually than the one that preceded it. As our sages say, "If the first ones were the children of angels, then we are the children of people..." So it would make sense that Yitzchak would be lower than Avraham spiritually. If that is the case, why would Avraham crown himself with Yitzchak? What the Midrash is saying, is that the Jewish people are not subject to nature, not even the nature of spirituality. They are entirely above the physical and spiritual world. That is why Avraham crowned himself with Yitzchak, because Yitzchak was in a way, greater.

So the lesson to us from the Talmud and Midrash, is that we are higher than the world, no one has a say in the life of a Jew, unless he or she gives them power.

The mockers of the generation come with blistering words, they say, "maybe you can transcend in the spiritual realms, but in the physical realm, you have to play by the rules, you have to go through the Avimelech, the king, the one who is in charge of the physical." In other words, "you are bound by nature."

What did Hashem do? He made Yitzchak look exactly like Avraham, proving that Avraham could have children, and that a Jew is not bound by the rules of nature.

Now we will understand how the explanations of the Talmud, Midrash, Chassidus and Zohar are connected.

The Talmud is the most revealed part of the Torah, it tells us that we are not bound to the physical nature of the world. Even Avraham, who according to nature, shouldn't be able to have children, Yitzchak looked exactly like him, that proving that if we want to be, we are above nature.

The Midrash, which is the bridge between the revealed Torah and the esoteric, tells us that we are higher than the spiritual system that Hashem set in the world. Even though Yitzchak was born later, Avraham crowned himself with Yitzchak. This is true for every Jewish person, as King Shlomo said, "The crown of the elders is their grandchildren." We do not have to conform to the spiritual system of the world, we are above.

Chassidus, which comes to teach you how to serve Hashem tells us how we can achieve this level and transcend the natural order of the world. It tells us to have love and fear at the same time, which are diametric opposites. It is normally an impossibility, it is only possible in our service to Hashem. And when we put in the effort to serve Hashem with both love and fear, the opposite of the natural emotions of love and fear, which are mutually exclusive, then Hashem bestows upon us from above, the ability to transcend the physical and spiritual nature of the world.

The Zohar, which is the esoteric part of the Torah, tells us what things will be like when Moshiach comes. Therefore, it tells us the reward for our physical service to Hashem. That if we transform the world into a home for Hashem, by serving Hashem in a transcendent way, in accordance with the first three explanations, we will surely merit the reward, the Divine pleasure that our souls will enjoy in the world to come, meaning, the time of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hashem Had Other Plans

Dear Friends,

This week was very trying for me, because I wasn't feeling well, to the point where I couldn't write an article for Shabbos. I prepared for it, but Hashem had other plans. I still hope to write it, but it won't be ready for Shabbos.

This week was a hard week for the Jewish people. My heart is with the Jews of Pittsburgh, whose loved ones died sanctifying Hashem's name, for being Jewish. Hashem should avenge their blood, or better yet, send Moshiach, and bring an end to this exile once and for all.

This week's parsha is called Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. However the parsha doesn't tell us at all about Sarah's life. It speaks about Yitzchak and Rivka, the successors of Sarah.

This teaches us that the life of a person is measured by his or her legacy. Even after she passed away, she remained alive in Yitzchak and Rivka. And she remains alive in every single one of us.

Whenever a tragedy like the one in Pittsburgh happens, we have to strengthen our Judaism. They were only murdered for being Jewish, and for no other reason. We can make them alive, by making their deaths matter. If we strengthen our Judaism, doing more mitzvahs, and more Torah study, we will bring life to their deaths, and they will be remembered as the ones who strengthen Judaism, and they will be alive through us.

May we strengthen our Judaism to the point where we tip the scale, and bring Moshiach once and for all.

My heart is also with my brothers, the emissaries of the Rebbe, who are on the front lines, strengthening Judaism all over the globe, who are in New York, at the International Conference of Shluchim. I wish I could be there with you, and in a way, I feel like I am with you.

Good Shabbos,