Friday, January 11, 2019

At Midnight Hashem's Love For Us Is Revealed

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Part 1: At Midnight Hashem's Love For Us Is Revealed 

When Moshe told Pharaoh, Hashem's words about the plague of the death of the first born, he changed the words of Hashem. Hashem said, that it would happen "At midnight," meaning, at exactly midnight, but Moshe changed it, he said, "At around midnight," just in case Pharaoh's astrologers' times would be off, they wouldn't be able to claim that Hashem's time for midnight is wrong. 

Either way, we see that when it came to foretelling about the death of the firstborn, Hashem wanted Moshe to tell Pharaoh the time it would happen "midnight." 

At the foretelling of the other plagues, we don't see that the exact time was important. Why didn't he just say that it would happen during the night? Why was it so important to say that it would happen at midnight? 

Another difference between the first nine plagues and the death of the firstborn, was that by the first nine, there was no need for the Jewish people to take any precautions to protect them from the plagues, they were simply not affected by them. However, by the death of the firstborn, they had to take two precautions, first, that "you should not go out... from the opening of your house until morning," second, they had to put the blood of their circumcisions and of their Pesach sacrifice "on the two doorposts and on the lintel" of their homes. 

Why was this plague different, that they had to take precautions? The Talmud and the Midrash tell us, "when permission is given to the destroyer, he doesn't differentiate between the righteous and the wicked." And because of that, a Jew could have been also smitten in the plague. Why did the "destroyer" have free reign by the death of the firstborn, but not at the first nine plagues? Why did they have to take specifically these two precautions?  

One of the differences between the first nine, and the death of the firstborn, was that the first nine plagues were very specific, blood, frogs, lice, etc., there was nothing for the destroyer to do that you could call "permission" to destroy. However, by the death of the firstborn, the goal was to kill them in any way possible, that is free reign. So the Jewish people had to take precautions. 

Another difference between them. The first nine plagues weren't to punish or destroy the Egyptians, their purpose was to make Hashem known to them, as Hashem said, "with this they will know..." "In order that they will know..." etc., " that I Am Hashem." Being that the Jewish people already knew Hashem, there was no need for them to have the plagues. On the other hand, the death of the firstborn was meant to punish the Egyptians, to kill them, and not to let them know that "I Am Hashem." And being that the Jewish people fell to the lowest levels in Egypt, the destroyer had a good  argument, "What is the difference between these and these?" "These are Idol worshippers, and these are..." What is the difference between the Jews and the Egyptians, that I should not go after the Jews as well? Therefore, they had to take precautions. 

Even though the plague of the firstborn was done by Hashem Himself, as He said, "And I will pass over... And I will smite every firstborn... I Am Hashem," and our sages explain it to mean, as we say in the Haggadah, "I and not an angel... I am He and no other." However, the Zohar tells us, that the destroyer was there as well, and he was able to instigate, therefore there was the need for precautions. 

Outdoors in Egypt, there was no protection, the destroyer had free reign, no differentiation would be recognized. The only option was to stay indoors. 

Indoors, being that Hashem made a separation between the Jewish people and Egypt, as He said, "And I will pass over you," so the houses of the Jewish people provided a differentiation that the destroyer had to heed, the blood on the doorposts and lintels, provided the sign for the destroyer that the house was off limits. 

However, there is still a question that has to be clarified. Being that the destroyer had a valid argument, "What is the difference between these and these?" Why were the Jews protected from the plague of the firstborn? 

The plague of the firstborn came from the essence of Hashem, which is higher than the world, beyond both the physical and spiritual realms. Therefore it was at midnight, as it is known in Kabbalah, the first half of the night is gevurah, strength, as it gets darker and darker, and the second half of the night is chesed, loving-kindness, as it gets lighter and lighter. 

Chesed and gevurah are diametric opposites, and naturally it is impossible for these opposites to come together, like magnets of opposite polarities. The only way for them to come together, is through something outside of them bringing them together. The thing that brings them together is midnight, which is a fleeting moment, and nobody can know that exact moment, only Hashem, the creator of the world, can know it. So midnight is above existence and that is why it can bring the two halves of the night, chesed and gevurah together. 

This essence of Hashem is not bound by the nature of existence. In other words, the destroyer's argument, "What is the difference between these and these," doesn't stand. As Hashem says, "Isn't Eisav Yaakov's brother?" Meaning, aren't they equal? But He continues, "I love Yaakov and I hate Eisav,"  because in Hashem's essence above existence, He has chosen to love us over every other nation. And since the death of the firstborn was at midnight, above existence, where we are chosen and loved by Hashem, the destroyer couldn't touch us. 

This was the message that Hashem wanted Moshe to convey to Pharoah. "Even though you think that we are the same, and the, plague should really hurt the Jewish people as well, it will not, because it is happening at midnight, above existence and above the natural order of things, therefore, while the Egyptians will be affected by the plague, the Jewish people will not." 

During the plague of the firstborn, the essential love that Hashem has for the Jewish people shined bright. 

The rule is, that any revelation of G-dliness, can only be brought down through our efforts. Even an essential truth that permeates all of existence, like the love of Hashem for the Jewish people, though it is always there, it is hidden until we do a physical act to reveal it. 

To reveal the essence of Hashem, higher than the world, we did two things that showed self sacrifice beyond our understanding and beyond our nature. 

First was circumcision, that is done when a baby is eight days old, before he understands what is being done. And when Moshe told the Jewish people, that they would have to do a circumcision, they did it without hesitation, showing their great belief in Hashem. 

The second was the Pesach sacrifice, which was a lamb, a deity of Egypt. They had to take it into their homes four days early, so that the Egyptians would see and ask about it. The Jewish people would have to say that they were going to slaughter it, and sacrifice it to Hashem. Then they did it, they sacrificed the deity of Egypt before their very eyes. That took tremendous self sacrifice, it was beyond understanding, and showed their great belief in Hashem. 

Our sages sometimes say, "In the merit of their belief, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt." And other times they say, "In the merit of the blood of the circumcision and the blood of the Pesach sacrifice, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt." How could they both be true? Because they are one and the same, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt because of their belief in Hashem, and how did they show it, through their circumcisions and Pesach sacrifices. 

Now we will understand why they had to specifically put the blood of their circumcisions and of their Pesach sacrifices on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. Because these brought out the essential love that Hashem has for us, higher than the world. 

It was our faith and belief in Hashem that goes beyond our understanding, that merited our redemption from Egypt. And in the merit of our faith and belief in Hashem, we will soon see the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Part 2: Midnight. Beyond Existence Into Existence 

The Midrash tells us two opinions of how the plague hit at midnight. One opinion is that, "the Creator divided (the night)," and the other opinion is that, "the Knower of times and hours, He divided (the night)."

What is the difference between these two opinions?

The Radvaz explains, that "The Creator divided (the night)," means that Hashem split the night in two and there was a pause in time, in the orbital cycle of the world, as long as the plague was going on. And "The Knower of times and hours, He divided (the night)," means that Hashem calculated the exact moment of midnight, and everything happened at precisely that moment.

What is the difference if you hold one way or the other?

If you say that there was a pause in time, that means that in order for the plague of the firstborn to happen, existence had to cease for the duration of the plague. Meaning that since the plague was beyond existence, there had to be a pause in existence when it occurred. If you say that it happened at the precise strike of midnight, then although it was coming from a place that is beyond existence, the miracle happened within existence, existence didn't have to stop. Like the miracle of Purim, it happened within nature.

When there are two opinions in a matter, we say, "These and these are the words of the Living G-d," meaning that both are true. When it comes to a law, we have to follow one opinion, but when it comes to a story, we have to try to figure out how both are possible to be true at the same time.

How did it happen at the same time? It happened in nature, but at the same time, it was noticeable that it was beyond existence. In other words, beyond existence was existing within existence.

This makes sense, because this initiated the actual Exodus from Egypt, whose main point was to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, and begin our mission as the Jewish people. The Midrash tells us that what happened at the giving of the Torah, was that, "What is above could now go below," in other words, we as the Jewish people, through living a Torah life, draw G-dliness from above, and even beyond existence into the lowest physical parts of existence.

This is also the theme of the two mitzvahs, circumcision and the Pesach sacrifice.

Circumcision is doing a mitzvah with the lowest part of the body. Showing that we can and should draw G-dliness into the most corporal parts of the body. The most sublime into the most mundane.

The Pesach sacrifice takes it a step further. The lamb represents your possessions and your place in the world. The lamb is outside of you. This means, not only do we have to infuse our bodies with G-dliness, but our possessions and the world around us as well.

The Pesach sacrifice differed from all other sacrifices, in that all other sacrifices, the fact that parts were eaten, wasn't integral to the sacrifice, it was an aside. On the other hand, the Pesach sacrifice, its whole purpose was to be eaten, which is one of the most animalistic things we do. This again shows how we take the mundane physical and infuse it with G-dliness. 

How amazing are we, the Jewish people. We have an inborn faith and belief in Hashem. His essence above existence has chosen us and loves us. Most of all, it is our actions, Torah, mitzvahs, kindness, prayers, and daily mundane activities, done for Hashem's sake, that shows our faith in Him and draws the greatest levels of G-dliness, even His deepest essence beyond existence, into the lowest physical places of existence. This is our mission, to draw G-dliness into the world, until the highest levels of G-dliness feels at home in our bodies, our homes, and the world around us.

When we complete our mission, Hashem will feel totally at home in this world, in other words, this world will be a home for Hashem, no more will He be hidden, rather, we will experience Hashem in everything. This by definition is the time of Moshiach which we are waiting for. Just as in the story of the Exodus, we will once again, experience Hashem's essential love for us openly, and He will redeem us, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

When You Can't Bare To See The Suffering

Parshas Vaera begins with Hashem's response to Moshe's question, "Why have You made things worse for this nation (the Jewish people)?" In other words, Hashem sent Moshe on a mission to Egypt to begin the redemption, and things only got worse. How is it possible for Hashem's mission to make things worse for the Jewish people? Hashem, Who is all good, is sending Moshe, who is all good, on a mission to start the redemption, which is supposed to be a good thing, and it only became worse for the Jewish people. How is that possible? 

Hashem responds, "I Am Hashem. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov..." 

Our sages say that this was a rebuke to Moshe, that Hashem was saying that the forefathers were tested over and over again, and they didn't ask Me "why?" They just accepted My will and they didn't question. You, on the other hand... 

We have to understand, why, in fact, did Moshe ask, "Why have You made things worse for this nation?" Moshe was at a higher level than the forefathers, he was the one who received the Torah directly from Hashem. He was the seventh in line from Avraham, and our sages say, "all sevenths are favorites." So how could Moshe, who was so great, be questioning Hashem? 

Also, if Hashem wanted to extol the virtues of the forefathers, why does He call Yaakov by his lower name Yaakov, instead of his greater name Yisrael? 

And finally, every story in the Torah is meant to be a lesson to every one of us. It seems from here, that we are meant to choose between our forefathers and Moshe our teacher, and that we should choose the way of our forefathers over Moshe. How could it be that we are meant to choose between our forefathers and Moshe? How can it be, that we are not meant to choose the way of Moshe, rather the ways of our forefathers? 

To understand this, we first have to understand the difference between the service to Hashem of our forefathers and Moshe. 

Moshe's served Hashem through chochma, wisdom, as he was the teacher of Torah to the Jewish people. Torah is the greatest wisdom that exists, it can only be understood with the mind, therefore, it was given through Moshe, whose way was through wisdom. 

The forefathers service to Hashem was through their emotions. Avraham's emotion was chesed, loving-kindness, his service to Hashem was through love. Yitzchak's emotion was gevurah, strength and discipline, his service to Hashem was through fear and awe. Yaakov's emotion was tiferes, beauty, which is the ability to know when to apply chesed and when to apply gevurah, it is a mix of the two. Beauty is a blend of features, sharp and soft. His service to Hashem was through love and fear. 

Of course the forefathers also had wisdom, they studied Torah, and Moshe had emotions, as we see in the story of the Egyptian taskmaster beating the Jew, and the two Jews fighting, it really bothered him, and he sprung into action. However the main thrust of their service to Hashem, was for the forefathers, through their emotions, and for Moshe, through his intellect. 

Since Moshe served Hashem through wisdom, and Hashem's actions posed a question that bothered him, he couldn't continue until his question was answered. That was the way he served Hashem. 

The forefathers, on the other hand, served Hashem through their emotions, they felt what Hashem wanted and they did it, questions of why Hashem did something, didn't stand in their way of them serving Hashem. 

One of the differences between emotions and wisdom, is that emotions are a direct cause to an action, you feel like doing something and you do it. On the other hand, wisdom, doesn't cause direct action, it really doesn't have an effect on one's actions at all, only when the wisdom is applied to the emotions, does it result in an action through the emotions. That is why you see very smart people who are in the clouds unaware of reality, and other smart people that do the stupidest things, because their wisdom is aloof and detached. 

When Hashem said to Moshe, "I Am Hashem. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov..." He was telling Moshe, that with the redemption, a new mode of service is needed, and it will include the path of our forefathers as well as the path of Moshe, wisdom and emotions. 

The main reason for the Exodus, was to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Midrash tells us that what happened at the giving of the Torah, was that, "What is above could now go below, and what is below could now go above." Before the giving of the Torah, spiritual and physical didn't mix, G-dliness remained above, meaning separate, it wasn't able to permeate the physical. With the giving of the Torah, all that changed, now the spiritual can permeate the physical and that is the main service of the Jewish people, to infuse the physical with G-dliness through using the physical for Torah and mitzvahs, and to serve Hashem. 

This was also true when it came to emotions and wisdom. "What is above could now go below," meaning that wisdom, which resides in the brain, above, has to permeate the emotions, which reside in the heart, below. And it works the opposite way as well, "What is below could now go above," that wisdom should be affected by the emotions, and accept the will of Hashem without question. 

Hashem is not asking of us to choose our forefathers over Moshe, rather, to mesh the two, and serve Hashem through both wisdom and emotions. 

Now we will understand why Hashem uses the name Yaakov here. Yaakov is the name that represents permeating the physical world with G-dliness. Yaakov could be divided into yud eikev, yud stands for Hashem, above, and eikev, which means a heel, the lowest part of a person, meaning, that the lowest place should be permeated with G-dliness, the emotions should be affected by wisdom. 

The lesson here for us is that it is not enough to serve Hashem through our nature, rather the business man should set times to study Torah, below should come above, and the scholar has to be involved with the needs of the layman, above should go below. 

We see that Moshe took upon himself this way of life, although he was the greatest in wisdom, he was involved in the day to day lives of the Jewish people. He brought his intellect into his emotions and into action. He did exactly what Hashem was telling him in this parsha. 

This is often our challenge, and this is my challenge as well. How do we reconcile our sense of right and wrong with Hashem's ways? We all are trying to do our best, and we all suffer beyond what makes sense to us. Why do we need to suffer so much? On one hand, we have to accept Hashem's ways, on the other hand, we need to learn from Moshe, to ask and demand, that things should get better for us and the entire Jewish nation once and for all. 

I am certain that Hashem put me in this position for a reason, and I accept His will, but at the same time, I see how much my wife and children are suffering and I am suffering too. I can't bare to see it, so I ask and pray that the suffering stop. 

We each have our mission to infuse the physical world with G-dliness, however, we must also feel the pain of our brothers and sisters, and ask, pray and even demand, that Hashem send Moshiach and bring an end to this exile, and our suffering once and for all. May it happen soon. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Struggles in Struggles

The past few weeks has been trying for me. 

You know that I suffer from ALS, I am not able to move most of my body, and I can't talk. What I can do is smile and move my eyes. With my eyes, I am able to control a computer that reads my eye movements. With my eyes, I communicate with my family and I write Torah articles, I am also able to text and email. 

My joys in life are my wife and children, lifting the spirits of others and teaching Torah through my articles. 

Over the past few weeks, I couldn't get my eyes to focus on the letters I wanted to write. I don't know if it was psychological or physical, but my eyes weren't cooperating. Writing one word took as long as five minutes. I can't even begin to tell you how frustrating it was. 

I tried everything from relaxing to praying. Not being able to write to my wife and children, I felt useless as a husband and father. Not being able to write Torah articles, I felt useless and irrelevant. I felt like I was in jail. My thoughts were, "what possible purpose could I have, if I can't communicate?" 

That is where having a good wife comes in. My wife Dina said to me, "It is obvious that Hashem wants something else of you and that writing is not the only way, or perhaps less writing, but more meaningful writing, from the heart, is what Hashem wants from you. On Shabbos, when you don't use the eye gaze computer, you are still there and relevant. Maybe you should think of it like Shabbos, even if you can only see and look at people, that is meaningful to us." 

"If you are alive, it means that you are relevant to Hashem, and that you make a difference." 

She also organized a farbrengen in my honor, where people took on good resolutions in Torah and mitzvahs, in kindness and in living life in the ways of Hashem. And people around the world have also made resolutions, said prayers and sent me well wishes. 

You don't know how powerful your Torah, mitzvahs, kindness, prayers and resolutions are, and I am grateful for every one of them. I am also grateful to all of you who prayed for me at holy sites. 

So far, I have not gone wrong listening to Dina's advice, she lifted me up, helped me reframe my situation and brought meaning back to my life. 

Thank you for all the love you've all sent my way.