Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Reward for Keeping, Enjoying and Honoring Shabbos

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On Shabbos, Before reciting the morning kiddush we say verses  from Isaiah, "If you will restrain your foot because it is Shabbos, from doing your desires on My holy day, and you will declare Shabbos as a (time of) pleasure, a holy day of honor for Hashem, and you will honor it by not carrying out your (regular) activities, not pursuing your desired (labors), and not speaking about (financial) things. Then you will find pleasure with Hashem, and I will raise you on the high places of the earth, and you will enjoy the heritage of Yaakov, your father, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken."

The Rambam says, "Anyone who keeps Shabbos according to its laws, and honors it and finds pleasure in it to the best of his ability, it has been clearly handed down, that his reward will be in this world, in addition to what is hidden away for him in the world to come, as it says, 'Then you will find pleasure with Hashem...'"

The Rambam is explaining the simple meaning of the verses. "If you will restrain your foot because it is Shabbos, from doing your desires on My holy day," means keeping the laws of Shabbos. "And you will declare Shabbos as a (time of) pleasure..." This is finding pleasure in Shabbos. "And you will honor it by not carrying out your (regular) activities..." This refers to honoring the Shabbos. 

"Then you will find pleasure with Hashem, and I will raise you on the high places of the earth, and you will enjoy the heritage of Yaakov your father." The Rambam explains that his reward will be in this world, in addition to what is hidden away for him in the world to come. In other words, Shabbos is special, in that its reward is threefold. 

First, the regular reward, which the Rambam explains elsewhere that the reward for mitzvahs is in the world to come, which is basking in the light of Hashem. This is "enjoying the heritage of Yaakov." On top of that, we will enjoy the light of Hashem in this world as well, that is why he says, "in addition to what is hidden away for him in the world to come," because it is the same kind of reward, but in this world. This reward is unique to keeping Shabbos, and is learned from the words, "Then you will find pleasure with Hashem." 

Then there is a physical reward, this reward is different from the other rewards in two ways. First, it is not "the reward," it is just that because you are doing the mitzvahs, Hashem gives you your needs, so you can continue to do what Hashem wants without difficulty. Second, it is a limited reward, while the others are unlimited. 

Being limited, there could be various levels of comfort rewarded. So the verse says, "I will raise you on the high places of the earth." That the reward will be the best of the earth. 

Why does Shabbos have such a great reward, greater than any other mitzvah? 

Just before the Rambam says the reward for keeping Shabbos, he says, "Both Shabbos and idol worship are equal to all the other mitzvahs of the Torah, and Shabbos is the sign between us and the Holy One Blessed Be He..." Idol worship is a denial of the essential underpinnings and sanctity of the Jewish people. By comparing Shabbos to idol worship, he is saying that Shabbos is different from the other mitzvahs. While all the other mitzvahs add to our holiness, not doing them does not constitute a denial of the essential underpinnings and sanctity of the Jewish people. Shabbos, on the other hand, is an essential part of who we are, keeping Shabbos is therefore, upholding the essential underpinnings and sanctity of the Jewish people. 

Shabbos is the time when our unity with Hashem shines bright, it is therefore a taste of the world to come, when we will experience Hashem's essence which we are one with. This is the pleasure of Shabbos, a taste of Hashem's essence. 

May we soon merit to experience the time that is called, "The day that is entirely Shabbos," the time of Moshiach, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Challah and Salt

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Why do we call the bread we eat on Shabbat Challah? 

It gets its name from the mitzvah of separating challah. When making dough, it is a mitzvah to separate a piece of it for Hashem. In Temple times, we would give it to a Kohen, but now we burn it. This mitzvah is a statement, bread is symbolic of our sustenance, by separating challah we recognize that the sustenance we have is from Hashem. 

This mitzvah is done in the home as well as in bakeries. 

Although this mitzvah is for both men and women, it has become near and dear to women. They use the time of separating challah to pray, pouring out their tender hearts to Hashem. 

To learn more about the mitzvah of separating challah goto

Why do we braid them? 

I don't know. But I would guess that women who wanted to make Shabbat special and beautiful started this custom. If anyone knows the reason for this, please comment below. 

Why do we have two challahs? And why do we cover them? 

As mentioned before, bread is symbolic of our sustenance. During the forty years that the Jewish people were in the desert, their sustenance came in the form of manna from heaven, and it was clear that their sustenance was from Hashem. On Shabbat the manna would not fall, instead, on Friday enough would fall for them to collect a double portion, for Friday and Shabbat. We have two challahs, to remember the double portion we received in the desert. 

When the manna would fall, it would be packaged between two layers of dew, one below it and one above it. To commemorate that, we have two covers, one below the challah, which is the tablecloth, and the other above it, traditionally a beautiful challah cover that makes the table look beautiful. 

Another reason we cover the challah, has to do with the order of blessings before eating food. The normal order is that when you have a meal with bread and wine, the blessing over the bread goes first, only after that, do we say the blessing over wine. However, by the Shabbat meal, we are obligated to make Kiddush, which is to sanctify the day of Shabbat over a cup of wine. This has to be done at the beginning of the meal, before anything else. In order that the bread does not feel bad that it is being put into second place, we have it covered during Kiddush, so it doesn't see that we are saying the blessing over the wine first. 

This is a lesson in sensitivity. If we have to be careful with the feelings of things like challah, which doesn't have feelings, how much more so, do we have to be careful not to hurt the feelings of others. 

Why do we have salt at the Shabbat table? 

The closest thing that we have to an altar, is the table we eat at. The food we eat can be offered to Hashem. 

How does this work? If we use the energy of the food we eat to do what Hashem wants, that food is an offering to Him. 

This doesn't necessarily mean prayer, Torah study, and mitzvahs, but everything that Hashem wants from us, including being a mentch, honest, kind, giving, as well as Torah, prayer and mitzvahs. 

If we have it in mind when we are eating it is even better. And of course when we give an offering to Hashem, we would do it like he wants, meaning, first that it is kosher food, and that we say the blessings before and after we eat it. 

On Shabbat, eating food is a mitzvah in itself, because it is a mitzvah to take pleasure in the Shabbat. One of the ways to take pleasure in the Shabbat is by having good food. 

The altar in the Temple always had salt on it, and every offering was brought with salt. To commemorate that we have salt on our Shabbat table, our altar. 

It is our tradition to dip the challah into the salt after we say the blessing over it, except for during the time of the holidays from Rosh Hashanah until Hoshana Raba, during which time we dip the challah into honey, so that we are granted a sweet year. Rosh Hashanah is when the books are opened, and on Hoshana Raba the final books are sealed. Even though we don't dip our challah into salt at that time, it is still a tradition to have the salt at the table. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Tree of Knowledge and Kiddush

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Adam and Chava were in the Garden of Eden, and they were totally naked, but they were not embarrassed. After they ate from the tree of knowledge, they recognized that they were naked, and they were ashamed. 

What was the difference between before they ate from the tree and after? In other words, why weren't they embarrassed before they ate from the tree? 

Before they ate from the tree, their awareness was of Hashem, and their thought process was, if Hashem wants it, it is good, if He doesn't want it, it is bad. 

Eating from the tree was doing what they wanted, all of a sudden it was about them and not about Hashem. So they became aware of themselves, and they were ashamed, because now they recognized that they were naked. 

The more you think about yourself, the more selfish you are. Naked is the word for thinking about yourself and the more one thinks about oneself, the more Hashem is out of the picture, and the more naked he is. 

The Torah calls the snake, who in the story of Adam and Chava, was the evil inclination, "the most naked," because he was the most selfish. It was only about him, Hashem wasn't in the picture, at all. 
Adam and Chava were created on the sixth day and the seventh was Shabbos. The prohibition to eat from the tree was only on the sixth day, once Shabbat came they were allowed to eat from the tree. In other words, self awareness isn't bad in and of itself. It is just that it has to be within Hashem's framework. There is Hashem, and I am part of his world, and we are here for His purpose. And that is not selfish. 

The main thing is to make Hashem first in your life, that is the cure for the blemish caused by the first sin. 

What kind of tree was the Tree of Knowledge? 

There are many opinions. One is that it was a grapevine, and the fruit were grapes. Adam was supposed to make wine from the grapes and say kiddush over it. 

What is kiddush? We are meant to sanctify Shabbat as it comes in and as it goes out. What does it mean to sanctify? It means to separate between holy and mundane, as Shabbat comes in we make kiddush, and as it goes out we make havdala. And we do this over a cup of wine. 

The best wine to use is red sweet wine, if you can't make it on sweet wine, the next best thing is red wine, then white wine, if you are not allowed to have alcohol then you can make it on grape juice. What if you don't have wine or grape juice? Then you can make it over challah. 

What do we say in kiddush? 

"That He sanctified us with His mitzvot," that He separated us to do His mission, the reason that He created this world. 

"And He wanted us," literally, "He willed us," His will is the essence of Hashem that comes into the world on Shabbat. Which means that He chose our neshamot, true choice that comes from the will of Hashem, He wants us. This is revealed on Shabbat, we are truly one with His essence. 

"And His holy Shabbat with love and will He gave us as an inheritance," meaning that we alone were given the Shabbat, it comes from His love and will. 

"A remembrance to the creation of the world," meaning that it is the reason that the world was created. So we could be united with Him, which is the ultimate goal of the world, to bring Mashiach, which Shabbat is a taste of, a reminder of our goal. 

It was the "first to be called holy," meaning that it is so important to Hashem, after all, it is the reason He created the world. 

"A remembrance to the exodus from Egypt," that is the reason that He took us out of Egypt, to take on His mission, to turn this world into a home for Hashem, that by definition is the time of Mashiach, which Shabbat is a taste of. 

"For You chose us and You made us holy from all of the nations, and Your holy Shabbat with love and will You gave us as an inheritance," now this is said in the first person, because it is personal and we have a close relationship with Him. 

Now we can understand why Shabbat is so important to us, because it is the essence of who we are, our relationship with Hashem, and our mission. 

May we keep the Shabbat, and in this merit, may we merit the coming of Mashiach. The time has come. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Shalom Aleichem & Aishet Chayil

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On Friday night, upon returning home from the synagogue, we say or sing Shalom Aleichem. We say it to the angels who accompany us on the way home from synagogue. The order of the hymn is...

Shalom Aleichem - peace on to you. 

Boachem lishalom - come in peace. 

Borchuni lishalom - bless me with peace. 

Tzeitchem lishalom - go in peace. 

1) If the second stanza, "come in peace," is talking to the Shabbat angels. Who is the first stanza referring to, when it says, "peace on to you?" 

Answer: During the week, we have angels as well, and on Friday night there is a changing of the guards. The weekday angels depart, and we bid them, "peace on to you." And the Shabbat angels that remain with us, we welcome with, "come in peace." 

This is similar to the story of Yaakov's (Jacob's) ladder, there were angels going up and down the Ladder. If the angels come from the heavens, shouldn't it say that they were going down and up? Rashi explains that there was a changing of the guards, the angels from the Holy Land that were escorting Yaakov, they can't go out of the Holy Land, therefore they were going up the ladder, up to heaven and the angels of outside the Holy Land were coming down the ladder to accompany him the rest of the way. 

Shabbat is a holy place in time and those angels are designated and accompany us only on Shabbat. 

2) In the final stanza, we send the angels away, "go in peace." Why do we send them away? 

Answer: The Friday night meal is private time between Hashem and the Jewish people, like the intimate time between a husband and wife, Hashem is the husband and the Jewish people are the wife. Being that it is private between us and Hashem, we send the angels away. 

Kabbalistic teaching teaches all about this private moment, and how the angels want to see it, because it is a level of holiness that they are never privy to. 

To explain. We have a Neshama that is truly a part of Hashem, not the part of Him that is in the world, not even in the spiritual realms, but the essence of Hashem. On Shabbat His essence comes into the world, and spends time with us. On Shabbat we are given an extra Neshama, but it's not really an extra Neshama, but more Neshama the essence of our Neshama is revealed, the part that is one with Hashem's essence. And this is what happens on Shabbat, the essence of our Neshamas, and Hashem's essence are seen for what they are, truly one, and the angels are just aching to see that, but it is private, so we send them away. 

As with any special time between a husband and a wife, the more thought and preparation you put into it, the more meaningful it will be. Now we can understand why preparing for Shabbat is so important, and why we dress in our finest and have a candle light dinner with the most delicious foods.

This is also one of the reasons we chant Eishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor - aside for singing it to our wonderful wives - because on one level, it refers to the "wife," the Jewish people. 

Shabbat is a taste of the time of Mashiach, which is called, "The day that is totally Shabbat." May he come already. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Time and Other Tidbits

Dear friends, 

I'm working on a series that gives you tidbits of Torah. I am working on an article on Yaakov, but it is not ready yet. Please enjoy this article on Time and Other Tidbits. 


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Time and Other Tidbits 

1. Is G-d spiritual or physical? 

Neither. G-d created both the spiritual and the physical, as it says, "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:1. 

2. The sun is not what makes days, rather it what lets us know when it's day, as there were three days of creation before the celestial bodies were created, they were created on the fourth day. Days existed before the sun. 

What marked evening and morning on the first three days? (Avi Haberfeld) 

In the spiritual realms, there are 24 shifts of angels, each one praises Hashem a different hour. There are 12 that are for the 12 configurations you can make out of the 4 letters of the name Adnai (pronounced Ado-nai, in Hebrew it has 4 letters), and 12 that are for the 12 configurations you can make out of the 4 letters of the name Havaya (the Tetragrammaton, the 4 letter name of Hashem that we don't pronounce, made up of the Hebrew letters yud, hay, vov and hay). One of the 12 configurations represents evening, and the other morning. 

It is interesting to note, that long before the clock was invented, the Jewish people divided their day into 24 hours, 12 for evening and 12 for morning. Of course depending on the time of year, the evening hours get longer in the winter and shorter in the summer, and the opposite for morning hours. This is the way we calculate halachic times. The spiritual reason for this is the 24 shifts of the angels. 

If you remember the Torah story, where Jacob was wrestling with the angel, he asked Jacob to allow him to go. Why did he want to go? Because it was his shift to praise Hashem. 

So Hashem set the sun to the same schedule as he did the angels. 

According to the Ohr Hachaim, everything was created on the first day, and the angels were created on the second day so that no one would say that the angels had a part in the creation. How did the 24 hours work before the angels had their shifts? 

The system of 24 hours, 12 evening and 12 morning,  could have begun on the first day before the angels were created, and after they were created, they were put on that schedule. In other words, there was already a system of evening and morning in the spiritual realms. And even though everything was created on the first day, the sun and the other celestial bodies didn't go into effect until the fourth day. 

3. What was the first thing to against G-d's will? 

It was the earth. On the third day of creation, G-d said, " let the earth sprout... Fruity trees bearing fruit..." Genesis 1:11. But when the earth brought forth trees, it says, " The earth gave forth... Trees bearing fruit..." Genesis 1:12. The wood of the trees were also supposed to taste like fruit, but the earth went against G-d's will and didn't make the actual trees fruity. Later, the first man, Adam, was created from the earth and that is where humanity got the nature to go against Hashem's will. 


I hope you enjoy these Torah tidbits, next week I will start a series explaining the Shabbat dinner and the symbolism it holds. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Yitzchak and The Akeida

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Our forefather Yitzchak was born when Avraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90. Yitzchak was the first to have a bris at eight days old. When Yitzchak was going to be weaned, Avraham made a big party, being that Avraham was so famous, many important people came to the event. 

To prove that he was their son, Hashem did two things. First, He made Yitzchak look exactly like his father Avraham. Second, He gave Sarah the ability to nurse Yitzchak, while the other women that attended the party lost their ability to nurse their babies, and Sarah nursed them as well. This was a clear indication that Yitzchak was in fact their child, and it was not a hoax. 

How old was Yitzchak at the Akeida (the binding of Yitzchak on the altar as a sacrifice)?         

Many picture a young boy, but in fact he was 37 years old. How do we know this? Because when Sarah heard that Avraham was sacrificing Yitzchak, it was too much for her to bear, and she passed away. She died at the age of 127, and Yitzchak was born when she was 90. 127 - 90 = 37, he was 37 years old. This means that he was in fact a willing participant. 

This was the ultimate test for Avraham. Everything was hanging on this one child, everything that Avraham worked for, everything was going to continue, because of Yitzchak, it would be passed down through him. The Jewish people would come to be because of Yitzchak, and now Hashem was asking him to do the unthinkable, to do what goes against every fiber of his being, to sacrifice his beloved son. 

He went to do what Hashem asked of him and Yitzchak knowing that it was from Hashem, went along. 

To make sure that Avraham wasn't doing it out of a moment of passion, Hashem made it take him three days to get there, which gave him enough time to think about what he was going to do. 

After three days he saw the location, Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. At that time, it was called Salem (Shalem) named so by Shem son of Noah, AKA Malkitzedek (righteous king) king of Shalem. After the Akeida when Hashem showed Avraham a ram to offer instead of Yitzchak, Avraham named the place Hashem Yireh (Jereh), a prayer meaning, "Hashem should see" to it that this place will become the place of the Temple. When you put both names together, you get Yerushalem, Jerusalem. We call it Yrrushalayim. Another meaning of Yerushalem, Shalom is one of the names of Hashem, it is a name that we are allowed to say, and yirah  means fear, together they make, "fear of Hashem," that we should be G-d fearing. 

In the end Yitzchak was not killed and we, his children, the Jewish people are here to continue the work of Avraham and Yitzchak in the world. 

What is that work? To transform this physical world into a home for Hashem, a place where He will feel at home. 

How do we do it? Through the study of Torah we transform the air and atmosphere around us and through the performance of mitzvos which are mostly done with our physical body, we transform our bodies, the object that we are doing the mitzvah with and the place where you are doing the mitzvah. 

The preparation you do for a mitzvah also transforms the world into a home for Hashem. The money, work, effort and toil. The objects and the place you use in the preparation for a mitzvah also transform this world into a home for Hashem. 

Even more. Everyday mundane activities could transform. For example, If you work to support your family to bring them up in the Torah way, if you shop and cook meals to feed your family to bring them up in the way of Torah or if you eat, sleep, exercise and even vacation in order to maintain a healthy body to be able to serve Hashem, the activity and all that is connected to it is transformed, and they also become holy endeavors. This way your whole life can be meaningful and impactful. 

And when our work is done transforming this world into a home for Hashem, Moshiach will come. In fact that is the definition of Moshiach, when Hashem will fill the whole world openly. May it happen soon. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Avraham and Sarah

Dear friends, 

this year I would like to do something different. I am going to write interesting tidbits on the parsha of the week. This week, I will be sending out three blog posts, because I missed Bereishis and Noah, and I want them to be in order. 



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Avraham was born 300 years after the flood, he was the 10th generation from Noah. Noah lived 350 years  after the flood, so it is certain that Avraham saw him. He actually studied at his yeshiva (Torah Academy), later known as the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, the son and great grandson of Noah. 

When Avraham was born, it was a time of Idol worship. The city he was born in, was ruled by Nimrod, the ruler of most of civilization. Nimrod was the first ruler of people after the flood, he was a very powerful leader and he was black. Idol worship was a way of controlling the minds of the people, only free thinkers believed in Hashem and they were scoffed at and persecuted. Nimrod saw believers of Hashem as a threat to his power and he would deal with them harshly. 

Avraham's father was Terach, an important man, and he had an Idol business. 

When Avraham was born, Nimrod's astrologers advised him to have the baby killed, because he was going to be a threat to his rule. Terach switched another baby in place of Avraham and his mother hid him in a cave. 

When Avraham was 3 years old, he recognized that Idol worship was silly, and he went on a search for G-d and came to the conclusion that He couldn't be anything in the world, He had to be greater than the world. 

When he got older, he went to study in the yeshiva of Noah, Shem and Ever. When he was forty he returned to Babel and started to teach about Hashem. He was treading a dangerous path. Everything came to a head with one story. 

Avraham's father, Terach, asked him to watch his business, the Idols. When his father left, he took an ax and smashed all the Idols except for the largest one and he placed the ax in the largest one's hand. When his father returned, he asked Avraham, "what happened?" Avraham told him that he brought some food for the Idols and they started to fight over the food. The big one took the ax, smashed all of the other Idols and took the food for himself. 

His father was fuming, "You know that Idols can't do anything, you did this." Avraham replied, "if Idols can't do anything, why do you serve them?" It was a clear demonstration of the fallacy of Idol worship. Word spread quickly and Nimrod had Avraham thrown into a blazing furnace. Hashem made a miracle and the inside of the furnace turned into a garden for him. When he was taken out of the furnace, his brother Haran proclaimed his belief in Hashem, and Nimrod had Haran thrown into the furnace, and he burned to death. 

Haran had two daughters Milka and Yiska. Avraham married Yiska, who was also called Sarai, and Hashem later changed her name to Sarah. 

Sarah or Sarai, means a minister, Yiska, or in English, Jessica, comes from the word nesicha, which means a princess. Sarah was extremely beautiful, graceful and dignified, like a minister and a princess. (interesting to note that Sarah Jessica is a common name) 

She kept the laws of purity, mikva, and because of that, there was always a cloud of Hashem's presence hovering above her tent. She kept the mitzvah of challah, and her bread was blessed because of it. Only a little bit of it filled you up and satisfied you (like lembas). And she kept the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles and a miracle would occur, they would continue to burn all week, until it was time to light them again. 

These Mitzvos are really special to Jewish women, who are all daughters of Sarah, our mother.