Thursday, July 20, 2017

Why We Immerse Vessels

In this week's parsha, Matos, we read about the victory over Median. Then we are taught the laws of how to purge vessels (kashering), which is to purge them of any non kosher foods that have been cooked or baked in them, and the law of submerging vessels (toiveling), which is to submerse them in a mikvah or into a body of water suitable for submersion. This was relevant to the war against Median, because in the booty from the war, there were many vessels, and if they wanted to use them for food, the vessels would need purging and submersion.

The Ramban asks, why weren't the laws of purging vessels taught earlier, after the wars against Sichon and Og, mentioned in parshas Chukas? There were definitely vessels in the booty captured in those wars.

The Ramban answers, that because the lands of Sichon and Og is part of the land given by Hashem to the Jewish people, all of the booty was permissible to them, even things that are normally forbidden... And our sages say, "dry meat from pigs were permitted to them," but Median was not theirs, they didn't take their land... Therefore their vessels were considered forbidden.

That is why these laws were taught here, because now they became relevant.

There is a question on this Ramban. Why does he only ask about purging vessels? The same question could be asked about purifying vessels. How come it wasn't taught earlier by the wars against Sichon and Og?

Purging is to remove the physical forbidden flavor that was absorbed into the walls of the vessel. Submersion is for removing spiritual impurities from the vessel. In the wars against Sichon and Og things that were usually forbidden were permitted. But when it comes to submersion, any vessel used for food, that transfers from a gentile's possession to a jew's, needs submersion before he can use it, even if it is brand new. It would make sense to say, that the vessels from the wars against Sichon and Og, needed submersion. So why wasn't the law of submerging vessels taught by Sichon and Og?

To understand this, we need to understand why a vessel we get from a gentile needs submersion, even if it is brand new.

Rashi explains about submerging vessels, that the simple explanation is, that submersion is to remove spiritual impurities. And he continues to explain that Elazar told the Jewish people, that vessels need purging to remove the forbidden flavor that was absorbed into them and submersion to remove the spiritual impurities. Then he says, "Our Rabbis learned from here, that even to make them ready for use, from being impermissible (issur), they need submersion." The sages use the term issur, which doesn't refer to impurity, but rather to something that is not kosher. But isn't that what purging is for? How does submersion help take the vessel from a state of not kosher to kosher?

When a vessel is in a gentile's possession, even if it is brand new, it has the possibility to be used for issur, not kosher. Even if he doesn't use it, it is considered in a state of issur, because it has the possibility to be used for not kosher. When a Jewish person takes possession of the vessel, it doesn't have the possibility to be used for issur any more. To take it out of its previous state of issur, it needs submersion.

Now we can understand why the Ramban doesn't ask, Why weren't the laws of purging vessels taught earlier, after the wars against Sichon and Og? Because the answer is the same. Being that the concept of issur was suspended in those wars, that even "dry meat from pigs were permitted to them," nothing was in a state of issur, therefore nothing had to be submersed.

This will also clarify some other ideas.

When we sell our chametz before Pesach, it is sold to a gentile. If a vessel is among the items being sold, then after Pesach, when the chametz is bought back from the gentile, the vessel doesn't need submersion. Why not? Doesn't his purchase put the vessel in a state of issur?

The answer is, that it does not. Being that the sale is done with the intention to buy it back after Pesach, it doesn't enter a state of issur. Even though he can potentially come and take it, the reality is that he doesn't. It is therefore extremely unlikely, if not impossible that he will come to use it. Also, according to many, the sale is a kind of trick, nevertheless, it works for not having chametz on Pesach. So it doesn't need submersion.

On Shavuoth we have a custom to eat dishes made with dairy products, milk, cheese, butter, etc. One of the reasons for this tradition, is because on Shavuoth we received the Torah and became obligated to keep the laws of ritual slaughter (shechita), and only one who is obligated to keep these laws can do them. So none of their meat was kosher to eat. They couldn't slaughter new meat because according to all opinions, it was Shabbos and on Shabbos we are not permitted to slaughter. But they didn't have these issues with dairy, so they ate dairy.

It is certain that the dishes they ate were prepared in vessels. Before the giving of the Torah, they were not obligated to separate milk and meat, so they would need to be purged. And even if they had vessels that are normally used only for dairy, it would seem that they would need submersion before they could use them, because they had the possibility to be used for issur. If so, how were they able to use their vessels?

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they knew that the purpose was to receive the Torah. Therefore they already started to keep some of the laws. One of the laws they kept, was separating milk and meat. Being that this was the case, their vessels were not in a possible state of issur before the giving of the Torah. Therefore they didn't need submersion.

So it seems that there are two reasons for submerging vessels, to purify them from spiritual impurities, and to change their status from forbidden to permissible.

Every mitzvah we do is precious to Hashem. Some may seem more important than others. For example, we can easily understand purging vessels, it makes sense, it is even scientific, but it is harder to wrap our heads around the mitzvah of submerging vessels, which is more spiritual in nature and we don't see the change in the vessel. Perhaps when Moshiach comes, and our spiritual awareness is heightened, we will see and understand the spiritual.

For now we do them just because it is what Hashem wants, and that to Him, is most precious of all.

May the merit of the mitzvahs we do tip the scale and usher in the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Making The Torah Yours

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In this week's parsha, Pinchas, we read about the laws of inheritance of the land of Israel.

The daughters of Tzelafchad brought their case before Moshe. They were five women who were very learned in Torah, and they had no brothers. In the laws of inheritance, when there are brothers and sisters, the land goes only to the brothers, and they support their sisters, so they benefit from their father's estate. When they get married, they are supported by their husband, so they benefit from his estate.

The outcome is that land doesn't shift from tribe to tribe, keeping the tribe's territory intact. For example, if a daughter of the tribe of Menashe were to inherit her father's land, and then marry a man from the tribe of Efraim, that land would shift and become the territory of Efraim.

The question that the daughters of Tzelafchad had was, what if a man only has daughters, who inherits his land?

There are two possible answers. Either it goes to the closest male relative, or to the daughters. In Tzelafchad's case, if it goes to the closest male relative, it will get swallowed into his estate, and not be identified as Tzelafchad's land. And that is what his daughters wanted, that a part of the land of Israel should carry their father's name.

Rashi tells us, that Moshe forgot the law. Not that he didn't yet receive the law from Hashem, but rather, that he knew it and forgot it. One of the reasons brought by Rashi for this memory lapse, is that Hashem wanted that this law "be written by their hands," meaning, in the daughters of Tzelafchad's merit.

There was one other time that Rashi tells us that Moshe forgot the law, in last week's parsha, by the story of Zimri. When he took a Midianite princess to have relations with her. Moshe forgot the law, that if a Jew has carnal relations with a non Jewish woman, zealots may take action against him.

Why would Hashem make it that Moshe, the teacher of the Jewish people, should forget specifically these two laws? It is obvious that it was necessary for him to forget them, and that there is a positive gain and outcome from his lapse of memory in these laws. If not, what was the purpose of telling us these stories. So what is the positive outcome of this event?

Another question. Why is so much prominence given to the daughters of Tzelafchad? They are mentioned by name three times in the Torah.

In both of these stories, Moshe would not have been believed to say what the law was, because he was personally involved. By forgetting the law, it had to be transmitted in a different way, or it had to be retransmitted by Hashem to Moshe, to give it the strength and validity of every other mitzvah that Moshe taught.

In the case of Zimri, he wanted to be with a Midianite woman, and being that Moshe's wife was Tzipora, Yisro's daughter, a Midianite, he was too involved to give the ruling. Because of this, the Torah law had to be transmitted through a different person, Pinchas.

In the case that the daughters of Tzelafchad brought, Moshe wasn't originally involved, but they dragged him in. They said that their father wasn't part of Korach's rebellion against Moshe. Which although it seems like a minor thing, it would be enough to weaken the ruling. By forgetting the law, he had to go to Hashem to receive it again and that was enough to give it the full strength of Torah.

The daughters of Tzelafchad are mentioned three times in the Torah, each time it says their names, Machla, Tirtza, Chagla, Milka and Noah, specifically connected to the laws of inheritance. This is because of their self sacrifice and total investment into these laws. Their father died in one of the first years after the Exodus, so some of them were born yet in Egypt and their case was brought in the fortieth year after the Exodus. They all refrained from getting married until their case would be heard, because once they would be married, their case would not be so strong, because they would be connected to their husband's land. This was a major sacrifice on their part, now they were around forty. They also delved into the subject with all their being, making it theirs, hence they merited to have it "written by their hands," in their honor.

This is a lesson to each of us, that if we put our effort into Torah study and do it with self sacrifice and not for a personal gain, like the daughters of Tzelafchad. Then the Torah becomes ours, and as if it was written in our honor. This is true for any sacrifice that is done for Hashem and His Torah, it makes it yours and in your merit.

May the merit of our sacrifices for Hashem and His Torah stand up for us, and storm the gates of heaven, asking that Moshiach should come already. The time has come.

Friday, July 7, 2017

How To Respond To A Nudnik

Dear friends,
With this article, I begin the forth cycle of Dvar Torahs. Please forgive the lateness, as my computer was giving me trouble. Enjoy!
Yitzi

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At the end of this week's parsha, Balak, we have the story of Zimri who was the Nassi (the leader) of the tribe of Shimon, who together with others, were tempted into having relationships with Midianite women. The Midianites put their daughters up to doing it, even the king of Midian, Tzur, sent his own daughter, the princess Kozbi, to take part in the scheme.

What was the point of this scheme? As the Jewish people made their way to the Holy Land, all the nations were afraid to engage them in battle. Not because the Jewish people had a powerful army, they certainly did not, but because they realized that Hashem was with them and was granting them miraculous victories over very mighty nations. They searched for a way to get us to do something that will put us at odds with Hashem. They reasoned that our close connection to Hashem, was because of our holiness and purity, and they were right. How can they get us to betray Hashem and defile ourselves? Their answer was this ploy, and to some extent, it worked.

The story continues that Zimri took Kozbi to be with him, and Pinchas killed them, saving the Jewish people.

The Midrash tells us that Zimri brought Kozbi before Moshe and asked him, "Is she allowed or forbidden? And if you say she is forbidden, then who permitted the daughter of Yisro (a Midianite) to you? The law was hidden from him (from Moshe)." Which law did he forget? The Midrash continues that Pinchas "saw what (Zimri) was doing and he remembered the law..., that one who does a carnal act with a non Jewish woman, zealots may take action against him."

Why was Moshe allowed to marry Tzipora, Yisro's daughter? And why didn't Moshe answer Zimri, and explain how it was different?

Moshe married Tzipora before the receiving the Torah, and standing at Mount Sinai we all became Jewish together including Tzipora. So she was definitely permitted to him.

However during the inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe played the role of Kohen, and according to some opinions, this put him in the status of Kohen for the rest of his life. A Kohen has to keep to a higher standard, he is not allowed to marry a convert, someone who was previously from a different nation. So it seems like Zimri had a good question.

The rule is that a Kohen can marry a widow, a Kohen Gadol cannot, but if he married a widow before becoming a Kohen Gadol, they are permitted to remain together, because when they got married they were allowed to marry.

The same could be said for Moshe, when he and Tzipora married, because it was permitted, now that he was a Kohen, they could stay together.

The Talmud tells us that the law of Jewish marriage was given to us while we were still in Egypt. Therefore, after the giving of the Torah, there was no need to redo marriages.

So according to all opinions Moshe's marriage to Tzipora before the giving of the Torah was valid and held the weight of the Torah. So why didn't he explain this to Zimri? Zimri wanted to blatantly take a non Jewish woman, and he knew that it was clearly forbidden.

There is a rule that a sage that teaches Jewish law, who is asked about a law when he is in a similar situation, is not supposed to respond, because he is not believed to say, "so has the oral tradition been transmitted to me," in this case. It is like a judge that recuses himself from a case because he has a stake in the outcome of the case.

This is one reason that Moshe wouldn't respond.

Another reason is a practical one. When a person asks a question sincerely, you should try to give him or her the answer. However, sometimes a person asks a question insincerely, and he doesn't really want your answer. He just wants to do what he wants, and engaging him in this discussion, will only bring you down to his level. In this case, Zimri clearly knew the law, he didn't really care for an answer.

The same is true when the evil inclination tries to engage you to do something wrong. He is insincere, and he doesn't have your best interest in mind. Don't even entertain the thought, he is a nudnik, don't let him bring you down to his level. Instead drag him with you to do something that Hashem wants, like learning Torah or some other mitzvah.

I remember when I first went out to be a rabbi, when I started giving classes. Young and naive, I would engage every nudnik and try to answer their questions. It would leave me feeling empty and like I wasted my time. So I took a new approach. When I would be asked that kind of question, I would say, "good question," and then I would invite them to learn. Most of the time, they would enjoy the Torah study, and forget about their question. As it turned out, they weren't nudniks at all, and many became life long friends.

May we have the strength to persevere and overcome the evil inclination and get closer to Hashem. And may we soon merit to see the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Jewish Leaders

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The Haftora for parshas Chukas is from the book of Shoftim (Judges). It tells the story of how Yiftach (Jephthah) became Judge, and won a battle against Amon.

Yiftach was the son of Gilad, however his mother was a harlot. His half brothers from Gilad's wife drove Yiftach out, they said to him, "You will not inherit in our father's house because you are the son of another woman." He ran away from his brothers and settled in the land of Tov, empty people gathered around him and would go out with him, like a gang.

A while later Amon went to war against Israel. The leaders of Gilad went to Yiftach and asked him to become the chief and lead Israel in battle against Amon. After some discussion he agreed on the condition that they appoint him leader first, which they agreed to.

After appointing him as the leader, he sent a message to the king of Amon, asking why are you waging war against us? He responded, because we want our land that you captured when you came up from Egypt.

Yiftach sent back a message, with the information found in this week's parsha, explaining that when we came up from Egypt, we went around Edom, Moav (Moab) and Amon, because they wouldn't grant us passage through their lands. The land we captured was the land of Amori who waged war against us, and Hashem gave them into our hands. Why hasn't anyone made this claim before in the past 300 years? He concluded with a strong warning, that "Hashem the Judge will judge today between the Children of Israel and the Children of Amon."

The king of Amon did not pay heed to Yiftach's words. The spirit of Hashem was upon Yiftach and he went to war against Amon. He took an oath that if he would be victorious, he would offer as a sacrifice, the first thing that would come out of his house to greet him. He had a massive victory, and Amon was now under Israel's rulership.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Chukas tells of how we went around Edom, Moav and Amon, which was mentioned in the message from Yiftach to the king of Amon. It also tells about the amazing victories over Sichon and Og, similar to the great victory over Amon. There are more similarities, when Moshe sent messengers to Edom it says, "And Moshe sent messengers," and when he sent messengers to Sichon it says, "And Israel sent messengers," when it was Moshe who actually sent them. Rashi explains that this is similar to the verse in the Haftora, when Yiftach sent messengers to the king of Amon it says "And Israel sent messengers," teaching us that Moshe is Israel and Israel is Moshe. Because the Nassi (the leader) of the generation is like the whole generation, because the Nassi is everything. Similarly, Yiftach is Israel and Israel is Yiftach. Also in the parsha the Jewish people took an oath similar to that of Yiftach.

The Talmud tells us, that "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation." What does this mean? There is no comparison between the two. Shmuel was a holy and righteous man, Yiftach was not. Shmuel was learned in Torah, Yiftach was not. Rather it is telling us that the leaders we have are appointed by Hashem, and we are obligated to accord them with the same respect. Also it is a mitzvah to follow the laws set by the court of the time. And though Yiftach's court was not at the level of Shmuel's, we were still obligated to follow its rulings.

The Haftora stops before the end of the chapter, where it tells us the tragic story of what became of Yiftach's oath. When Yiftach came home from his victory, his daughter came out to greet him dancing with a tambourine, she was his only child, and she was the first to come forth from his house. He realized his grave mistake and rend his garments. He told her of the oath he had taken. She was a smart girl, and she brought proof that one is not permitted to sacrifice a human. He didn't want to hear. She brought proof that he wasn't obligated to keep this kind of oath, again, he wouldn't accept her arguments. She asked him for two months, she said, "I will go down onto the mountains," which meant that she was going to go to the Sanhedrin, and show them that she is a pure maiden, perhaps they would annul the vow. In fact she was right, he was not obligated to keep his oath, at most he would have to bring a sacrifice in her stead, but he was ignorant, proud and stubborn, and wouldn't hear from it.

What happened to her? There are two opinions. Some say that he actually killed her, and that every year the Jewish maidens would lament her fate for four days. Other say that he built her a home where she was secluded for the rest of her life, and she never married. According to this opinion, four days a year the Jewish maidens would visit her and talk with her words of comfort over her tragic situation.

The Kohen Gadol at the time was Pinchas, he could of annulled Yiftach's oath, but their pride got in the way. Pinchas said, "he needs me, and I should go to him? (He should come to me)." And Yiftach said, "I am the Chief of Israel, and I should go to Pinchas? (He should come to me), between the two of them, the girl was lost. They were both punished for this, wherever Yiftach went, limbs would fall off his body and would be buried there, and Pinchas lost his Divine inspiration.

This is not included in the Haftora, because it has no connection to the parsha. I included it because Yiftach's oath is mentioned in the Haftora, and because it is interesting.

Yiftach was the judge for six years.

What are some of the lessons from the Haftora?

First, that Hashem doesn't always give us the holiest person as our leader. Rather, He give us the leader that we need and perhaps deserve.

Second, that anyone who wants to do Hashem's will, could have the spirit of Hashem with him, even a person like Yiftach.

Third, although Yiftach was a boorish man, we see from his words and actions that he believed in Hashem. Perhaps the leadership in Israel today, should learn from him how to stand up against the enemies of Israel, with truth and without fear, knowing that Hashem is with them.

From the story of his daughter we learn not to make vows lightly and not to let pride get in the way of better judgment.

May we merit to have great and holy leaders, and may we have true peace and the entirety of our land, with the greatest leader of all, Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ideal Jewish King

This week read a special Haftora for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which I already wrote on (see link). The Haftora I wrote about is for this week's parsha, Korach. Please enjoy.
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The Haftora for parshas Korach is from the book of Shmuel Alef (I Samuel). It tells of how Shmuel established King Shaul as the sovereign over the Jewish people. This was the second time Shmuel did this, the first time was a small event in Mitzpa, as Shaul's sovereignty wasn't widely accepted. But now after proving himself, by winning a battle against the Amorites, the whole nation rallied around him. The second event establishing Shaul as king in Gilgal, was celebrated with great festivity and joy.

With the nation gathered in Gilgal, Shmuel talked to the Jewish people. First he established his innocence, as a leader who never took anything from the people. He said, "Whose ox have I taken? And whose donkey have I taken? Have I robbed anyone? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I taken payment that caused me to hide my eyes (from his wrongdoing)?" The people answered that he hasn't done any of those things. Then he reminded them of how much Hashem did for them, and reprimanded them for asking for a king, when Hashem is their King. He continued to say that as long as they stay true to Hashem, they will live happily with their king. He then warned them not to turn away from Hashem, and what will happen if they do. He then demonstrated that point by asking Hashem to make it rain, being the time of harvest, it would damage all of the crops. It began to pour, they asked Shmuel to pray for the rain to stop. He told them not to fear, just remember not to turn away from Hashem. The point was made, that their lives are in Hashem's hands, and they realized that asking for a king was the wrong thing to do. He then concluded by reminding them not to turn away from Hashem, and that no matter what, Hashem will not abandon them.

How does this connect to our parsha? The simple answer is that in the parsha Moshe said a statement of innocence, "not a donkey have I taken from a single one of them, and I haven't harmed a single one of them." Similar to what Shmuel said in the Haftora, "Whose ox have I taken? And whose donkey have I taken?..." The problem with this explanation is that it's only a detail. How do the themes of the Haftora and the parsha sync?

Perhaps we could say that when the Jewish people asked Shmuel for a king over them, rather than having him continue as their leader, it was a form of rebellion, akin to the rebellion of Korach in our parsha. The problem with this explanation is that it is really not the same, because appointing a king over the Jewish people is a mitzvah, as it says, "You shall appoint over yourself a king." What then is the theme of the parsha that the Haftora highlights?

There is a famous question asked about this. When the Jewish people asked for a king, Shmuel was unhappy. Hashem was unhappy as well, He said to Shmuel, "For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from reigning over them." Yet He commanded Shmuel to go ahead with it. Now, if it's a mitzvah to appoint a king, why are they upset? And if they are upset, why did Hashem tell Shmuel to appoint a king?

There are two possible reasons for appointing a king. The first is for basic law and order, like any nation that has a king or other governing body. As it says in Pirkei Avos, "If not for the fear (of the king) one man would swallow the other alive." Even though people should know better, their nature is to want things, which causes them to go against what is right. Having a king and a government is a deterrent for such behavior.

However in an ideal Jewish community, the people are G-d fearing, and that is their deterrent, Hashem is their King. In that case, appointing a king is for a different reason. It is because of the greatness of the king, that he is head and shoulders above the nation spiritually, and he can help us reach higher levels of closeness to Hashem than we could attain on our own. The ideal Jewish king is not the great warrior, or someone who could wield his power over the people, rather he is a giant of spiritual holiness. Why is he so great? Because not only is he a spiritual giant, and a Torah scholar of the highest caliber, he is so humble and feels so nullified before Hashem, that Hashem clearly comes through and expresses Himself through him. He is at such a high level, beyond anything even learned G-d fearing Jews could reach on their own. In the Torah the king is often called the Nassi, which like the word nasso, means to raise, because the job of the king is to raise the people higher. One such person was Moshe, and another will be Moshiach. A person who is at this level, has no interest in power or being the king, his greatness is a natural part of him and he has no need to control people. It is us, who recognize that he is beyond anything we could attain, and we request of him to be our king.

When they asked Shmuel for a king, they didn't ask for the kind of king that will bring them closer to Hashem. They asked for a king "like all the nations," a law and order king, and this was upsetting, because it meant that they didn't feel that Hashem was their King, there was a lack of fear of Hashem. It was a rejection of Hashem. This is what Shmuel meant when he said, "And you said to me, 'no, rather a king should rule over us,' but Hashem your G-d is your King."

If Hashem was unhappy with the request, why did He give them the king they were asking for?

Now that the Jewish people asked for a king "like all the nations," it was a clear demonstration of how low they had fallen. There was no time to waste, they really needed a king to guide them, to show them the right way to live. Once they have accepted upon themselves a leader to show them the right way, with time they will become G-d fearing, and then they will be able to have the higher level of king, who will bring them to new heights and to a deeper connection with Hashem.

Now that we don't have a king, who fills that much needed position? Our sages tell us, "Who is the king? The rabbis." They serve as our guides. In Pirkei Avos it says, "make for yourself a rabbi," These are the words of Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Prachya, who was the Nassi in his time. He was of the opinion that every Jewish person, even the most knowledgeable, like himself, should have a rabbi to guide him.

This is a call to every Jewish person, to find for themselves a rabbi, for some it means a guide in everyday matters, for others it means a guide to higher spiritual growth. If one says, "I will be my own rabbi, I don't need a rabbi for guidance," that is a lack of fear of Hashem. No matter how learned you are, you should have a rabbi.

It doesn't mean a rabbi in the rabbinical sense, rather someone who you respect and you feel that he can guide you in the ways of Torah and spirituality.

Perhaps this is how the Haftora brings out the theme of the parsha. Korach and his cohorts came before Moshe and Aaron with a complaint, "The entire congregation is all holy, and Hashem is in their midst, so why do you raise yourselves above Hashem's community ." In other words, do we need you to or anyone else to guide us, we are G-d fearing isn't that enough. And in truth, that is when Jewish people need a guide to take them to heights they could not reach on their own. That is a from of rejection of Hashem, because, why wouldn't you want a king, a Moshe that will bring you ever closer to Hashem? The Haftora stresses the point that we should not reject Hashem, Korach and his cohorts rejected Hashem on a deeper level, because being that they were at a higher level they should have known better.

May we merit to see Moshiach become our king, the one who will take us to the greatest heights, and the deepest levels of closeness to Hashem. May it happen soon.
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Dedicated to the Rebbe, whose yartziet is this week. He was the leader who saw the potential in every person and raised us to a higher level.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Change Your Garments And You Will Change Who You Are

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The Haftora for parshas Shelach tells about the spies Yehoshua (Joshua) sent to Yericho (Jericho), to do espionage in the land of Canaan.

Yehoshua sent two spies to Yericho, they came to the home of a woman who was a zona named Rachav. Rashi explains that the word zona here means an innkeeper who sold food, like the word mazon (others translate the word literally as a prostitute). They were spotted entering her home, and the king sent messengers to get them. Rachav hid them on the roof and told the messengers that the two men had left. She suggested that they go after them, which they did immediately, thereby saving the lives of the two spies. She told them, "I know that Hashem has given the land to you, and that the dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land have melted away because of you." She asked them to spare her family when they invade, and they gave her their word. As a sign, they told her to put a red string in her window and everyone in her home will be spared. She lowered them down a rope out her window which was built into the city's wall and suggested that they hide in the mountains for three days, until the search party returns. They took her advice and hid for three days. They then returned to Yehoshua and informed him of their findings.

The connection to the parsha is that parshas Shelach tells about the men Moshe sent to check out Canaan.

However, this brings up some questions, the Haftora is meant to resemble the parsha, but the Haftora is very different and in some ways completely the opposite of the parsha.

First, the story of the twelve men that Moshe sent, ends to the detriment of the Jewish people, the entire generation was punished to die in the desert, not to enter the Holy Land. Whereas only good came out of Yehoshua's spies.

Second, Hashem didn't command Moshe to send his men, He said, "Send for yourself men." In other words, if you want to send them, go ahead. As far as Hashem was concerned it was unnecessary. However, it is obvious that Yehoshua was commanded by Hashem to send the spies, because he lived through the fiasco with Moshe's spies, he certainly wouldn't have risked repeating that, unless he had a direct command from Hashem to send spies.

Third by Moshe's spies Hashem says, "Send for yourself men and they should inspect the land of Canaan." They are called "men," and they are told to "inspect" the land, not to spy or search out the land, as spies. Whereas Yehoshua's spies were called "men who were spies." it says that word got to the king that two men came "to search out the land," and it says that the king sent messengers to Rachav to capture the men, because "they came to search out the entire land."

Fourth, Moshe sent 12 men, while Yehoshua only sent two.

Fifth, whereas Yehoshua's spies were sent in total secrecy as is the normal way in espionage, Moshe's spies were not a secret at all. Actually it was known by all the Jewish people that each tribe had a representative in the group. When they toured Canaan, they made no effort to conceal themselves, they even traveled as a conspicuous group, they didn't split up and secretly check out the different regions of the land.

Sixth, Moshe's men went all over Israel, while Yehoshua's spies went only to Yericho, and in Yericho itself, only to the home of Rachav.

With all these inconsistencies,  it is clear that the Haftora is different than the parsha. So why do we read this Haftora with parshas Shelach?

Another question. Every story in the Tanach has an eternal lesson for us. What is the lesson from the stories of the spies?

There are two reasons to send people to check out a country before invading it. One reason is to seek out the best way of invading it, by finding its weak points, scouting passageways for entry and escape, and to gather information about the people they will be fighting, their abilities, demeanor, etc.

The other reason is not tactical, but rather to see how good the land is. What are its natural resources and positive qualities? This information is needed to boost the morale of the people who will be invading.

In Moshe's case, Hashem was leading them and He was going to deliver Canaan into their hands. Tactical espionage wasn't necessary because they knew that they were going to win. Moshe wanted to send his spies so that the people would hear how good the land was and that would generate a great joy amongst the nation to want to go up to the land. For this reason it was done openly and every tribe needed to have a representative, because they had to hear from their own leader how good it was. Therefore all twelve men had to tour the whole country, to see that it was all good, because at that point in time the tribes didn't know where in the land they would be settling. They weren't really spies at all, it wasn't a mission to seek out the best way of capturing the land, it was more of a tour of the land, to see the qualities of the land Hashem was giving us.

Even though ultimately the spies scared the people and weakened their resolve to go up and capture the land, they did accomplish the mission of telling them how good the land was. Even though they were punished not to enter the land, they had heard how good it was, and that stayed with them.

Yehoshua didn't need to get the people excited about the land, Moshe's spies already accomplished that. His spies were sent to gather information, so it was done in total secrecy and only two people were sent to be as inconspicuous as possible. Because even though Hashem would be with them, it wasn't the same as in the time of Moshe, they would have to fight real battles, it wouldn't be handed to them. When they came to Rachav, she provided them with all the information they needed, that the Canaanites were afraid and their morale was down. It was unnecessary for them to continue.

Although the stories don't parallel each other, Yehoshua's spies were the continuation and the completion of Moshe's spies. The ultimate goal of both, was to conquer the land. The first group got the Jewish people excited about the land, and the second got the information that lead to the conquering of the land.

Rashi tells us that the two spies that went to Yericho, were Calev and Pinchas. Calev together with Yehoshua were from the original group of spies that Moshe sent. Calev didn't join the 10 spies who gave a bad report, Yehoshua knew that he could be trusted. Being the leader of the tribe of Yehuda, he represented all 12 tribes.

The question is, why did he send Pinchas? Pinchas was a Kohen from the tribe of Levi, which wasn't counted as one of the 12 tribes, they also didn't go into battle and they didn't receive a portion of the land. They were given over to serve Hashem, and to teach and guide the Jewish people in the ways of Hashem, spiritual pursuits, that was their lot.

Yehoshua was thinking long term. Although right now Levi wasn't going to receive a portion in the land, in the future, when Moshiach comes they will. The Talmud says, "In the future the land of Israel will be divided into 13 tribes," Levi will also have a part of the land. This is because, as the Rambam says, "In those days there will be more knowledge, wisdom and truth," so much so, that "there will be no involvement in the whole world, but to know Hashem..., as it says, 'The world will be full of the knowledge of Hashem, just as the water covers the sea.'" So the tribe of Levi won't be busy teaching and guiding, having land won't take away from their holy work, therefore they will also have a part of the land. This is why Pinchas, from the tribe of Levi was included.

We are left with one question. What is the eternal message for us in the stories of the spies?

To answer this question, please let me take you to a deeper place.

We each have a Neshama (a G-dly soul), which comes into our bodies, and into our animal souls, similar to the spies coming into the land of Canaan. The ultimate goal is to conquer the land and make it holy, to turn it into Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, we are meant to affect the body and the animal soul which naturally crave the pleasures of the world, and make them holy, to do Hashem's will.

There are two ways to do this, symbolized by the two sets of spies. In Moshe's time, the Jewish people were at a very high level, they were Tzadikim. Their job was to inspect the entire land and the seven nations that lived there. The seven nations symbolize the seven emotional attributes that we each have. The idea here is to inspect one's emotional makeup and if need be, change his attributes to align with Hashem's will. The problem is that the average person doesn't have control over his emotions and certainly doesn't have the ability to change them, because they are who he is, and it takes incredible power to make that kind of change. A Tzadik has that power, but most of us are not at that level, how can we make our bodies holy?

That is where Yehoshua's spies come in. In Yehoshua's time, they weren't at the level of Tzadikim. They only went to Yericho, which is the entryway to the land of Israel, change the Yericho and eventually you conquer the entire land. Yericho is like the word rayach, an aroma, in Kabbalistic teaching aroma refers to the garments of the soul, just as your aroma surrounds you, so do your garments surround you. You may not be able to change your emotional makeup of your animal soul, but you have the power to change its garments. Just as a garment is an expression of who you are, the garments of the soul, is how it expresses itself. The soul has three ways to express itself, thought, speech and action. Speech and action are easier to control than your thoughts, but you can always choose to think about something else. Change the garments and eventually, with Hashem's help, you will be able to change your emotional makeup as well.

Rachav changed and became a great woman, she converted, married Yehoshua and 8 of her descendants were prophets, Neriah, Baruch, Sheraiah, Machseiah, Yirmyahu, Chilkia, Chanamel and Shalum, they were all Kohanim, Chulda the prophetess was her descendant as well. She is named as one of the four most beautiful women who ever lived, together with Sarah, Avigayil, and Esther.

May we merit the completion of our Holy Land,  when Hashem will add the land of three more nations, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
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Dedicated to the memory of Bubby Friedman, who passed away this week. I grew up across the street from her. She was a special woman who brought up an amazing family of Shluchim and Shluchos, great singers, and good and kind people. I know how much she was loved, may the entire extended Friedman family be consoled. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

We Are Branches Of A Golden Menorah

This one is on the Haftora for parshas Bahaloscha. I am working on a new one, but it is not ready yet. Please enjoy.  

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This week's Haftora is read twice during the year. On the first Shabbos of Chanukah, and again with parshas Bahaloscha.

The obvious reason for reading this Haftorah is because it speaks of a golden menorah and the Kohen Gadol. Chanukah we had the miracle with the lights of the menorah and finding the oil with the Kohen Gadol's unbroken seal, and parshas Bahaloscha begins with Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, being instructed with regards to lighting the menorah.

This Haftora is prophecy from our prophet Zachariah, at the end of the Persian exile, just before we returned to Israel, to build the Second Temple. But it is clearly also referring to us, at the end of this final exile, soon to be building the third and last Temple. In this article, I will mostly touch on how it pertains to our time.

The Haftora begins, "Sing and rejoice daughter of Zion, behold I will come and dwell in your midst." The Jewish people here are called " daughter of Zion," and told to rejoice. The Haftora continues with two prophecies, first about Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol, and then about the golden menorah.

Why are we called daughter of Zion? And why do we begin the Haftora here, and not with the prophecy of the golden menorah, which is the subject of Bahaloscha and Chanukah?

The key to understanding this, is the time in which Zachariah had this prophecy, during the exile, a time of darkness.

The Jewish people are called Zion, but only prior to the exile. During the exile we are at sub-Zion level, referred to as the daughter of Zion. However, it is specifically when we are at the daughter of Zion level, that we can bring the most light into the world. This is the whole idea of lighting the menorah, to shine the light of Hashem throughout the world.

When the Jewish people are referred to in the feminine, we are called either daughter, sister or mother. We are called Daughter, when we do mitzvahs, and we are in the mode of Hashem's servants, accepting the yoke He burdens us with. We are called Sister, when we study Torah, and we create, so to speak, a kinship with Hashem, getting to know Him. We are called Mother, when we daven, like a mother that has an influence on her children, when we daven, we so to speak, affect Hashem, awakening his compassion, kindness, etc.

While being in the mother or sister mode sounds more meaningful, they can only draw Hashem's light according to the ability of the one davening or learning. However, in the daughter mode, the person is nullified, with Hashem's yoke being thrust upon him, and the light of Hashem that enters the world is according to Hashem's ability which is infinite. So the greatest amount of light shines when we are called daughter of Zion.

Why Zion, why not daughter of Israel? Zion also refers to Tzadikim, daughter of Zion, refers to those who connect themselves to Tzadikim, especially the Tzadik of the generation. Because they draw G-dly revelation to the Jewish people, especially to those who are connected to them. This makes it possible to serve Hashem with joy, even when doing mitzvahs out of obligation. And perhaps another reason this generates true joy, is because the Tzadik unites us, and working in unity, our egos are nullified and we are united in cause. This togetherness creates a momentum and a joy that is so powerful. This is the meaning of " Sing and rejoice daughter of Zion," that this joy of unity and the nullification of the self to Hashem's will, fills the world with such a great light that, "Behold I will come and dwell in your midst." In other words. Moshiach will come.

Why are we able to affect the world to bring Moshiach, while our holy ancestors were not?

Because we are the generation before Moshiach, of whom Moshe Rabeinu was amazed. What is so special about us?

To answer this question, we need to look further into the Haftora. Hashem shows Zachariah a vision. Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol is standing before the angel of Hashem, and to his right is the Soton ready to accuse him. Hashem said to the Soton, "Hashem will rebuke you Soton, Hashem, who chooses Yerushalayim, will reprimand you." In other words, how dare you accuse Yehoshua, "is he not a firebrand rescued from fire." Nebuchadnezzar had Yehoshua thrown into the fire, but because he was so holy he was protected by Hashem. Hashem is saying here, isn't that enough proof of his holiness?

The Rebbe explained about this generation, that we too are a firebrand rescued from fire, especially after the Holocaust. Moshe was amazed by us and who wouldn't be, after all we have been through, we are still doing what Hashem wants and with all our hearts. Even one mitzvah done today by a non observant Jew is an exceptional act and special to Hashem. Therefore we are amazing and our service to Hashem is on a whole new level of holiness than that of previous generations. And just as Yehoshua Kohen Gadol merited to see the building of the second Beis Hamikdash, so to, we will merit to see the building of the third and final Beis Hamikdash.

Now we can see how the prophecy of the golden menorah fits in. The menorah was made of one solid piece of gold and had seven branches. The seven branches symbolize seven types of Jews, each who serve Hashem from the spiritual nature of his soul, one out of love, another out of fear, etc. The common denominator, is that we all give light.

Why was it made of one solid piece of gold? To show, that although there are different paths, ultimately we are one. This unity, love for our fellow Jew, is the key to our success. When we are together our light shines brightest, and we have the greatest affect on the world. Therefore, loving our fellow Jew is the key to bringing Moshiach.

The menorah in Zachariah's prophecy had two olive trees on either side of it, and the olives were being automatically processed into oil. The oil was dripping into a bowl above the menorah and from the bowl there were pipes feeding the lamps of the menorah.

Why olives? Because though olives are bitter, from them comes the oil that produces light. This is a lesson about the exile. Although it is bitter, out of it we produce the greatest light. This idea is called, the great light that comes out of the darkness.

Why was the oil self producing and automatically feeding the lamps of the menorah? The Haftora answers the question. Hashem says, "Not with might, nor by power, but by My spirit." When the time for Moshiach comes, we won't have to fight battles, or exert strength in any way. The whole world will accept Hashem's dominion and Moshiach's leadership. It will be effortless, because Hashem will do it all.

May we sing and rejoice together with the coming of Moshiach, knowing that it is our efforts that filled the world with the light of Hashem, and transformed the exile into redemption. May it happen soon.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Birth Of A Superhero

Dear friends,

Here is the article for last week, parshas Nasso. With Shavuoth in middle of last week, it was impossible for me to finish it. I hope you enjoy it.

Yitzi
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The Haftora for parshas Nasso, is from the book of Shoftim (Judges). It is the story of how Shimshon (Samson) was born.

The connection to our parsha, is that parshas Nasso tells us the laws of the Nazir, one who took upon himself to abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, or coming in contact with anything impure for a period of time, usually a month. Similarly, in the Haftora, Shimshon's parents are instructed that he is to be a Nazir all his life. There is also a connection to Shavuoth, which always falls in the week preceding or following parshas Nasso, as we will soon see.

Shimshon's mother, who according to the Talmud was called Tzlalponis, was the wife of Manoach from the tribe of Dan. She was barren, she never had children. An angel in the form of a man appeared to her and told her that she would have a son. He instructed her that during her pregnancy she shouldn't drink wine or eat anything impure. From here we learn that what a woman consumes during pregnancy, affects the growing baby in her womb. It is therefore customary for Jewish women to be extra careful to keep to high standards while pregnant, to ensure that her baby has a holy spiritual advantage.

He instructed her with regards to the upbringing of the baby, that he be a Nazir from the time he is in her belly.

When she told Manoach what happened, he prayed to Hashem that He send the angelic man again. Hashem granted his wish. When Tzlalponis was out in the field, the angel appeared to her again and she ran to get her husband.

Manoach asked the man, "Now your words will come true, what rules should be followed with the lad?" The angel answered, "Be careful of everything I said to your wife."

The Rambam tells us that Shimshon was not a complete Nazir.

There are three kinds of Nazirs. The typical Nazir takes an oath to be a Nazir to Hashem for a set amount of time, usually a month. He is not permitted to consume anything that came from the grapevine, cut his hair, eat anything impure, or become impure by coming in contact with a dead person. After the Nazir's time is up he brings certain sacrifices, cuts his hair and that ends his Nazirite status.

Then there is a Nazir for life, like our prophet Shmuel, who has to keep all the laws of the Nazir, except that he can cut his hair when it becomes too heavy, which is understood to mean after 12 months. To cut his hair, he brings the Nazir sacrifices and cuts his hair. At this time he can ask for his Nazirite oath to be annulled, which would end his Nazirite status, if he doesn't, he continues as a Nazir.

Then there is a Nazir like Shimshon, who was a Nazir from the womb. He was different than the other kinds of Nazirs, in that he could never cut his hair, nor ask for annulment, but he is permitted to become impure by coming in contact with a dead person, which Shimshon did. This is what the Rambam means by an incomplete Nazir, that he was allowed to become impure by coming in contact with a dead person.

In the last Mishnah of the tractate Nazir, it derives that the Shmuel was a Nazir from Shimshon, from the similar wording in the verses pertaining to them. Then the Talmud on the Mishnah debates, what is superior, to say a blessing or to respond amen, affirming one's inclusion in the blessing? Then it concludes with a famous teaching, "Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina, 'The students of the sages add peace in the world...'"

What could possibly be the connection between Shimshon and Shmuel being Nazirs and the Talmudic debate and teaching that follow?

The Rambam says that Shimshon never took the Nazirite oath. And because we learn that Shmuel was a Nazir from Shimshon, presumably Shmuel didn't either take the oath.

If they didn't take the oath, how did they become Nazirs?

Shmuel's mother, Chana, was the one who made an oath to Hashem, but the rule is that when a mother promises that her child will be a Nazir, it is not legally binding. In the case of Shimshon, it was the angel that said that he will be a Nazir, and that is certainly not binding. An angel has no say in the matters of a Jewish person's life.

Although these oaths were not binding, they were enough to start them off being a Nazir in practice, as Chana and Tzlalponis brought them up as Nazirs, based on Chana's oath and the words of the angel. However, it was only when they they reached the age of thirteen, the age of adulthood, and they continued the practice of being a Nazir on their own, that affirmed the statements of Chana and the angel, making them binding.

Now we can understand how the debate about the blessing fits in. What is greater the one who says it or the one who affirms? Was Chana's and the angel's statements greater, or was Shmuel's and Shimshon's affirmation greater? In this case we see that the affirmation is greater.

The same is true for Rabbi Elazar's teaching. Why does he refer to the students of the sages? Why not the sages themselves? Because by the students following in the ways of the sages, they are affirming, which, like we explained earlier, is greater.

The Haftora continues with Manoach asking the man to stay and eat, "I will prepare a goat for you." The angel refused, saying, "I will not eat your food." Manoach didn't know that it was an angel. He asked, "What is your name, so when your words come to be, we will honor you." The angel responded, "it is a secret." Manoach then offered the goat as a sacrifice to Hashem, and the angel wondrously produced a fire while Manoach and Tzlalponis looked on. As the flame rose upward to heaven the angel went up in the flame, while they looked on. They then fell on their faces, realizing finally that the man was actually an angel of Hashem.

Seeing all this Manoach said to his wife, "We are going to die, because we saw G-d."

Tzlalponis responded, "If Hashem wanted to kill us, He wouldn't have accepted from our hand a burnt-offering, and He wouldn't have shown us all these things, and at this time He would not let us hear (things) like these."

The first two things that Tzlalponis said to calm her husband's fears make sense, however the third brings up questions.

First she said, that "if Hashem wanted to kill us, He wouldn't have accepted from our hand a burnt-offering." Being that Hashem accepted their offering, and in a miraculous way, as the angel wondrously produced a fire, it clearly means that Hashem doesn't want them to die, rather to live.

Her second response came to answer Manoach's fear that seeing Hashem will cause them to die. She said, "He wouldn't have shown us all these things." Meaning, that it was Hashem Who chose to show Himself to us, we didn't go and seek to gaze inappropriately. Hashem can do anything, He could choose that a physical body should see him and live.

What is difficult to understand is her third proof, "He wouldn't have let us hear (things) like these." Once she brought a proof from seeing Hashem, which is superior to hearing Him, what does hearing add? If with seeing Hashem they will live, surely after hearing Him they will live. On top of that, Manoach only was afraid because he saw Hashem, he didn't seem concerned about hearing Him, so how does her answer allay his fears?

We must conclude that there is a type of hearing that is superior to seeing, and that is what she was referring to.

Because we live in a physical world is natural to see the physical, in other words, the physical is real to us. On the other hand, G-dliness is only heard, meaning that we could understand it, but it is vague, it doesn't have the same real impression as the physical world that we can see.

When we received the Torah at Mount Sinai it says, that we "saw the sounds." The Midrash tells us, that according to Rabbi Akiva, we saw what was heard and we heard what was seen. In other words, G-dliness which is usually heard, and does not feel so real to us, was seen, it felt real. Because of this, their perception of the physical world changed, now the heard the G-dliness in the physical. Seeing G-dliness is amazing, but experiencing G-dliness in the physical is by far greater.

Manoach and Tzlalponis had an experience similar to the giving of the Torah. And her third response should be understood like this. "At this time," after this amazing experience, if He wanted us to die, "He would not let us hear (things) like these,"He wouldn't continue to have us experience the G-dliness in everything.

The Haftora concludes with Shimshon being born and that the spirit of Hashem would come to him, meaning, that he would receive prophecy.

We aren't told much about Tzlalponis, her name isn't even mentioned in the Tanach, but from the Haftora we gather that she was a great woman. The angel appeared to her twice, the second time when she was in the field. Why does it have to tell us where she was? What difference does it make to know that she was in the field? Being in the field, in Tanach is code for davening. It is telling us that she was a davener and close to Hashem. From her answers to Manoach, we understand that she was wise. And finally, she gave birth to the mighty Shimshon, who was a prophet, a Tzadik, he was one of the Judges and lead the Jewish people for 22 years. The Talmud records her name together with the names of Avraham and David's mothers who were special women. Why are their names not recorded in the Tanach? Perhaps because the essence of who they were was total selflessness, providing for their babies, Avraham, David and Shimshon to become the first Jew, the quintessential king, who is the father of Moshiach and the one who was given miraculous strength to singlehandedly save the Jewish people from the Philistines. It was not about them, to show that, their names aren't mentioned. The name Tzlalponis could be divided into two words, tzlal, which means clear, and ponis, which means facing towards. Because I have gained much respect for her preparing this article, I would venture to say that it means, that she was clear of sin and that she faced Hashem, meaning, that her focus in her life was Hashem.

About Manoach we know very little. From the Haftora we know that he was from the tribe of Dan, that Hashem answered his prayers, he had the good trait of giving thanks (hakaras hatov), he was extremely G-d fearing, and he had a great wife.

Just as we read in this Haftora how Hashem provided the one who could save the Jewish people, may he once again send the one who could redeem us from this dark exile, Moshiach. The time has come.
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Dedicated to my son Mendel who is celebrating his birthday this week. May you have a Shnas hatslacha, and be a source of nachas to Hashem, the Rebbe, your teachers, your parents, and especially to yourself. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Seeing The Divine In The Physical

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The Haftora for the first day of Shavuoth is Yechezkel's  vision of the Divine Chariot, of which we are told, that at the Giving of the Torah, every Jewish person experienced the Divine Chariot similar to that of Yechezkel.

Even though this is true, it seems to be a side note, the main event was that Hashem spoke to us face to face and gave us the Torah, so, why do we read this Haftora? During the year when we read the Ten Commandments in parshas Yisro, we read the Divine Chariot of Yishayahu, which is less detailed and more focused on Hashem, which seems to be more in sync with the idea of the Giving of the Torah, experiencing Hashem. Why don't we read that Haftora on Shavuoth?

In general, we are forbidden to teach about the Divine Chariot, even in a small group, because of its holy and esoteric nature, but here it is being read for the whole community. Why?

We must conclude that there is something unique about the Divine Chariot of Yechezkel that fits the theme of Shavuoth and the reading of the Giving of the Torah, and that there is a lesson that each of us can take from the Divine Chariot, without exposing its deep secrets.

The Talmud says that the difference between the Divine Chariot of Yishayahu and the Divine Chariot of Yechezkel, is the difference between the experience between someone who lives in a big city, compared to someone from a small town. When the king comes with his whole entourage, the city dwellers don't get all excited by the fancy carriages, the uniforms and the royal display, because they see it all the time. His only excitement is in seeing the king himself. On the other hand, when the small townsfolk see the entourage, being that they never experienced such a display, every detail is exciting. They get lost in the fancy carriages and uniforms and the king is but the center of the whole experience.

In actuality there visions were the same, the difference was how they expressed what they saw.

Yishayahu is like the big city dweller, being accustomed to the spiritual realms, he doesn't get excited about the details, his only excitement is in seeing Hashem. Yechezkel, like a small townsfolk was not accustomed to the spiritual realms, for him every detail was exciting.

The difference between the two visions, is that in Yishayahu's, the focus is Hashem, and in Yechezkel's the focus is the details, from which Hashem's greatness is experienced.

From Yechezkel's words we understand that his vision was a likeness of the higher realms, as he constantly uses the word "likeness." Whereas Yishayahu just says what he saw, as the higher realms were open to him.

Now we can understand why we read Yechezkel's vision of the Divine Chariot. The main idea of the Giving of the Torah, was that Hashem descended on Mount Sinai. It was the connecting of the higher and lower realms. Even though they were always connected, the connection was hidden and inaccessible. Everything down here in the physical world is a reflection of what exists in the higher realms. And everything down here has its source in the higher realms. Before the Torah was given, we couldn't understand the higher realms from what we experience below. When Hashem descended on Mount Sinai to give us the Torah, all that changed. Now we can understand the higher realms from what we see in the physical world. Through our efforts, service to Hashem and doing mitzvahs we reveal and see the source in everything, and we draw G-dliness from above into this physical world.

We don't see it directly, we only can understand it indirectly like Yechezkel's vision of the Divine Chariot, where he only saw a likeness, from which he understood the higher realms.

Even though not everyone is allowed to learn the details and the secrets of the Divine Chariot, this general idea, that through our efforts we can reveal this connection, can be understood by all and does not infringe on its esoteric properties.

This will also explain why the Haftora skips one and a half chapters and concludes with, "And the spirit carried me and I heard a great mighty sound behind me, 'Blessed is the Glory of Hashem from its place.'"

In the morning prayer, before reciting the Shema, we say, "And the Ofanim and holy Chayos rise up with a great mighty sound towards the Serafim, facing them they praise and say, 'Blessed is the Glory of Hashem from its place.'"

Serafim, Ofanim and holy Chayos are different types of angels. Why do the Ofanim and holy Chayos make so much noise when they say their prayer? Why do they say, "from its place?" Why don't the Serafim make noise?

When we recognize that reality is different from our perception, we are amazed with wonder, and this creates a great excitement. This is what the Ofanim experience when they recognize that Hashem is creating everything. Because from their perception the world is real, but when the realize that it is really Hashem that is the force that is making everything exist, they get excited and that is the cause of the "great mighty sound."

They say, "from its place," because they don't see Hashem, they understand Him through their reality, and although it's very exciting, it is still distant.

The Serafim are from a higher realm, they are not excited because they see Hashem, it is nothing new to them.

This is also why by the Giving of the Torah there were "sounds and Lightning." It wasn't to frighten us, because hearing hearing Hashem speak is frightening enough. Rather, it was the excitement of the new idea and ability entering the world, that we can bring heaven and earth together and draw G-dliness down into the physical world.

This all began at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and when our work is done, the world will be full of G-dliness and Moshiach will come.

May we merit to finish the work our ancestors started and witness the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

We Are Hashem's Bride

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The Haftora for parshas Bamidbar is from the book of Hoshea (Hosea), it is a prophecy about the time of Moshiach. It begins by telling us that when Moshiach comes, we will be so many, that we will be uncountable and that the two kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael will unite under one king. Then it tells us how we have strayed, worshipping other deities, thinking that they will provide our needs. How we will be punished for straying from Hashem, yet in the end we will come to our senses, return to Hashem and we will realize that everything we ever had was really from Him. Then Hashem will renew His bond with us and we will be connected forever.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Bamidbar speaks about counting the Jewish people, and it tells how the Jewish camp was organized in the desert, united around the Mishkan. Similarly the Haftora begins with the count of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes and says that we will unite under one king.

However, that is all covered in the first two verses of the Haftora. How does the rest of the Haftora connect?

Bamidbar is always read before Shavuoth, so there is a connection between the time of the year and the parsha. As we will soon see, the whole Haftora connects to Shavuoth.

The Haftora begins, "And the number of the Children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea which can neither be measured nor counted, and it will be, that in the place that it was said to them, 'you are not My nation,' will be said to them, 'children of the Living G-d.'"

There is a question that is asked on this verse. It starts off with "And the number of the Children of Israel will be," as if they could be counted as a finite number, and it continues to say that they "can neither be measured nor counted," which means infinite. How can they be both finite and infinite?

Another question. Why does it say that "in the place" that it was said to them, you are not My nation, will be said to them, children of the Living G-d? The words "in the place" seem  to mean "instead," so why say, "in the place?"

Hashem is infinite and the world is finite, but being that everything is from Him, and He is infinite, we must conclude that everything is really infinite, only that in order to have a functioning world, Hashem covered himself so that the world appears finite.

In Jewish law when a person covers his head with his hand, it is not considered covered, because his hand is part of him.

So when Hashem covers His infinite Self, in order that the world will appear finite, it is as if he is covering Himself with a part of Himself, which is not really a cover at all. This means that even what appears to us as finite is really infinite.

The next verse says, "The Children of Yehuda and the Children of Yisrael will gather together and they will appoint for themselves (Moshiach as their) one head and they will go up from the land (to Israel), for great is the day of Yizrael." The meaning of this verse is clear, that we will unite as one under Moshiach and return to our Holy Land. But what is "the day of Yizrael?" And how does it connect to the theme of the Haftora?

This is the lesson we learn from these verses. We are infinite in finite, a Neshama in a body, and our job is to reveal the infinite in the finite. How do we do this? By doing mitzvahs. Even though mitzvahs seem finite, as there are 613 biblical and 7 rabbinical mitzvahs, and each one is connected to a physical object, time, place and there are exact laws of how to perform them, but being that they are Hashem's will, they are in essence truly infinite. A mitzvah is Hashem planting His infinite Self into the finite physical object and when we perform the mitzvah we are revealing the infinite in the finite.

Now we can understand, how on one hand we are finite and on the other we are infinite, because the essence of a Jew, is to reveal the infinite in the finite.

Now the words, "in the place," begin to make sense. Because in the same exact place, this physical world, that we were perceived as "not My nation," meaning finite, we will be seen as "the children of the Living G-d," which is infinite.

The words, "great is the day of Yizrael," also become clear. Yizrael is made up of two words, Yizra E-L, which means Hashem planted. When Moshiach comes we will clearly see how Hashem planted Himself into creation, infinite into finite. The day will be great, meaning that there won't be anymore darkness, everything will be clear. We will see the infinite in the finite, the light hidden in the darkness. We will see how all the pain, suffering and the darkness of the exile, was actually a great light in disguise, and how our efforts in overcoming the difficulties were the actual acts that brought Moshiach.

It all began with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. When Hashem Himself descended on the mountain, infinite into, finite to give us the Torah. It was the first time infinite and finite were experienced as one and it was teaching us the purpose of our mission, to reveal G-dliness down here in the physical world, the infinite in the finite.

The Haftora continues to tell us, how we strayed like an unfaithful wife, hoping to gain from our relationships with other countries and from false deities, instead of putting our trust, and faith in Hashem. It describes how we will return to Him and recognize that He is the only One we could truly rely on, and that everything we ever had was actually from Him. All this is meant to bring us to the part of the Haftora, where Hashem accepts us and renews His bond with us.

The Haftora concludes with Hashem telling us, "I will betroth you (Li) to Me forever, and I will betroth you (Li) to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion. And I will betroth you (Li) to Me with belief, and you will know Hashem." Why doesn't it just say that I will betroth you to Me forever with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion and belief? Why is it divided into three statements? Why does He say "Li, to Me?" Isn't that obvious from the words, "I will betroth you?"

There are two parts to a Jewish marriage ceremony, the betrothal and the chupa. In the betrothal, the groom gives the bride the ring and by her acceptance she becomes his betrothed, no one else can have her hand in marriage. Then you have the chupa and the blessings that go with it, the consummation of the marriage, and they begin to live as husband and wife. Although we do them together nowadays, that wasn't always the case. The common custom in days gone by was to have the betrothal, and about a year later the chupa. The year in between was like an engagement period, she was already considered married, except that they weren't living together.

In the Haftora narrative, Hashem is the groom and we, the Jewish people, are the bride. This betrothal was at the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, and it will be a completed marriage when Moshiach comes. The words, "I will betroth you," are written in the singular, similar to the Ten Commandments which were said in the singular. When Hashem said, "I Am the Lord your G-d," every one felt that Hashem was speaking to him or her personally. The same is true here, Hashem is betrothing each of us personally.

There is a rule that whenever Hashem says Li, it means that it will never change. So our betrothed status is everlasting, nothing can change it. You may ask, but when Moshiach comes, the marriage will be complete, in other words, we will not be betrothed anymore, so how can you say that it won't change?

There is something special about the engagement or betrothal period, the way the groom treats his bride is extra endearing and precious. The verses are saying that even after the completion of the marriage, Hashem will continue to treat us in the special way, usually reserved for the engagement period.

What is the reason he wants to betroth us? For this there are three reasons, based on the three statements of betrothal. "I will betroth you to Me (leolam) forever," refers to one who has a deep understanding of Hashem, and is able to connect at the highest levels.

However, not everybody can reach this level, this is where "I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion," comes to play. These are connecting to Hashem on an emotional level and through actions, like giving tzedaka, correcting bad traits, doing acts of kindness and compassion.

Then there are those that are emotionally and monetarily poor. They have nothing to give. For them Hashem says, "I will betroth you to Me with belief," Emuna. Every Jew believes, we are "believers the children of believers," as we have seen that even Jews that were not observant, have sacrificed themselves rather than break their connection with Hashem.

Now, at the end of the exile, the main way to connect to Hashem is through Emuna, belief. About Moshe it says, "And the man, Moshe was the humblest of any person that was on the face of the earth." Why was he so humbled? Because he saw our generation, the generation that would bring Moshiach, how void of understanding or even emotional connection we will be, yet our Emuna would be so strong. This humbled him.

Our great Emuna is a key to bringing Moshiach. May we merit to experience the last words of the Haftora, "and you will know Hashem," the completion of our marriage, when we will see the infinite in the finite, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
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Dedicated to my wonderful daughter Mussie who is celebrating her Bas mitzvah this week. May Hashem be with you always and may your smile keep shining lighting up the world around you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Strength Trust Hope And Healing

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The Haftora for parshas Bechukosai (and Behar-Bechukosai when they are together), is from the book of Yirmyahu. In it you will find a prayer, prophecy, words of rebuke and warning about not putting our trust in Hashem and not keeping the sabbatical years. But you also find words of hope, trust in Hashem, and healing.

The connection to our parsha(s), is that Bechukosai (and Behar-Bechukosai) speaks of the sabbatical year, that we can trust that Hashem will provide for us in the years that our fields lay fallow. Blessing will be showered upon us for trusting in Hashem and keeping the sabbatical years, and punishment for not keeping them.

The Haftora begins with Yirmyahu saying, "Hashem is my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in times of trouble."  The opening words of the Haftora, in essence, is the central message of the Haftora. Hashem is always there for us, especially in times of trouble, all we need to do, is trust in Him.

Of course the consequences for not trusting in Hashem is clearly defined in the Haftora. When we put our trust in people or in ourselves, thinking that it is my abilities and strength that will take care of me, and we forget that everything we have and will have is from Hashem, we will inevitably fail.

The Haftora describes this with the words, "Cursed is the man (gever), who puts his trust in man (adam), relying on (mortal) flesh for strength, and turns his heart away from Hashem." The basic meaning of the verse is understood, that putting our trust in man is futile. But why does the verse use two different names, gever and adam, to say "man?" 

Gever refers to physical and emotional strength of man. Adam refers to the intelligent and spiritual makeup of man.

The verse is telling us a deeper message here. When someone thinks that his gever, his emotional strength, comes from his "adam," his intellect and because he has a great soul. It becomes a slippery slope. Eventually he will be "relying on flesh for strength," meaning, that he will convince himself that his emotional strength comes because he has a highly refined body. He thinks so highly of his body and soul, that he doesn't think that he needs to work on himself. He becomes locked in his ego, and he "turns his heart away from Hashem."

This teaches us that even one who is learned and at a high spiritual level has to continue working on himself to get closer to Hashem.

When he thinks that he has reached the top and he doesn't have to work on himself anymore, he is locking himself away from Hashem, and he is alone by his own doing.

The Haftora continues, "Blessed is the man who puts his trust in Hashem, and Hashem will be his trustee. And he will be like a tree planted by the water, who sends its roots into the rivulet, it is not affected when the heat comes and its leaves remain green, it doesn't worry in a year of famine, and it doesn't stop producing fruit."

The contrast here is clear, putting our trust in Hashem and recognizing that it is all from Him, is a path to continuous growth and blessing in our lives.

The Haftora continues to say that it is silly to think, "who will know" where my trust is? Hashem knows! Or to be dishonest, because it will be found out, you will lose the dishonest gain and "you will be (exposed) as a scoundrel."

Now the Haftora concludes, "Hashem is Israel's hope, all who abandon You will be ashamed, those who turn away from Me will be inscribed into the earth, because they abandoned the source of living waters, Havaya (Hashem). Heal me and I will heal, save me and I will be saved, because You are my praise."

Why does it call our connection with Hashem, the source of living waters? How does the second verse about healing and saving fit in? Why the double expression, heal me and I will heal, save me and I will be saved? How do the words "because you are  my praise" fit in this verse?

We have to realize that Hashem is our hope, and when we forget that, it is separating ourselves from the source of living waters, which is a spiritual illness. That is where the second verse comes in, it is explaining the process of healing this spiritual illness through Teshuva.

First, we have to understand what the illness is and then it can be healed. The illness is understood through the metaphor of "abandoning the source of living waters."

Living waters is another name for a natural spring of fresh water. Spring water goes through three stages after it comes out of its source. The first stage is flowing down the stream or river to the sea. In this stage the water is revealed. In the second stage the water flows underground in various channels making its way to the spring. In this stage the water is hidden. The final stage is when it breaks out of the ground, again revealed. These three stages signify the stages of Hashem's creative energy coming into the world, from his name Havaya, the source.

The first kind of existence is in the spiritual realm know in Kabbalistic teaching as the world of Briya (Creation). Being that it is the first step of creation ex nihilo (from nothing to something), it is full of G-dliness, therefore, the existence isn't a complete existence. The angels of the world of Briya, called Serafim, are angels of great wisdom. Since they experience their source, Havaya, they are totally nullified in His presence. They therefore say, "Holy holy holy Havaya of hosts." They also understand that our part is the most important, as we fill the world with G-dliness by learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. And so they say, "the whole Earth is full of His glory." Since Briya is filled with G-dliness, the experience in that world is a revealed one, just like the river going to the sea.

The second realm is the world of Yetzira (Formation). In this world the existence is a total existence, it doesn't experience Havaya, because it is creating something from something. Its source is totally hidden, therefore the experience in the world of Yetzira is hidden.

The final realm is where we are, the world of Assiya (Action). As mentioned earlier, our job is to reveal G-dliness down here through learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. The revelation that we can accomplish is far greater than the world of Briya, because mitzvahs are rooted in a higher place, in the source itself, prior to Briya, in Hashem's essence. So the experience in Assiya, is of the essence of Havaya breaking out and being revealed in the world.

By studying Torah and doing mitzvahs, we are not only drawing living waters, but we are drawing from the source of living waters, Hashem's essence prior to existence. And we fill the world with this great revelation, greater than any angel could.

When a Jewish person has fallen to a spiritual low, where he is not learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, he has abandoned the source of living waters. He is spiritually ill.

How does he become healed?  Hashem takes the first step, "Heal me Hashem," an inspiration from above. Now that he is inspired, his job is to do Teshuva from his own effort, "and I will heal." And in this way he reconnects with the source.

How far will this connection go? That is where the praise comes in. Praise is an amazing thing. When you praise someone, you bring out strengths and abilities in that person, that are hidden inside, that he never knew he had. Praise is even more powerful, it could bring new strengths and abilities which are beyond the person being praised. By praising Hashem, we are able to draw G-dliness from a place beyond our abilities. Not only do we reconnect, but we connect deeper than we could have imagined.

Writing this article was very meaningful to me, because it is about Hashem being our strength and refuge, and it is about trust, hope in Hashem and healing. Somehow, writing about these things strengthens these ideas in me and I am grateful.

By putting our hope and trust in Hashem, He becomes our strength, our refuge, and the One we can rely on. We bring blessing in our lives and spiritual healing, which brings physical healing beyond anything we could imagine.

May we all find the strength to weather this exile and overcome every challenge, knowing that Hashem is always with us. And may we merit the coming of Moshiach soon. The time has come.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Giving The First To Hashem

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The Haftora for parshas Emor, is prophecy from our prophet Yechezkel about the Third Temple. It tells us who will be the Kohanim and laws pertaining to the Kohanim, from how their hair should be cut, to whom they could marry. They need to be pillars of the community, teaching laws of purity and impurity, and settling disputes. They don't receive a portion of the land, their portion is the great honor of serving Hashem in the Temple, which is reserved for them and no one else. It tells us that everything that we consecrate to Hashem, goes to the Kohanim. It continues to say, that we should give Hashem our first fruits and the first of our dough, the mitzvah of challah, which is given to the Kohanim, and that it will bring blessing to the home. It closes by saying that the Kohanim should be careful not to eat from a neveila, which is an animal that died without kosher slaughter, or from a treifa, an animal that wouldn't have lived through the year.

The connection to our parsha, is that parshas Emor begins with many of these laws pertaining to the Kohanim, Including the last one about not eating from neveila or a treifa. Emor concludes with the holidays, and even though they are not discussed in the Haftora, they are mentioned in the laws of the Kohanim.

The Haftora begins with, "And the Kohanim the Leviim." Why are the Kohanim called Leviim? Who will serve as the Kohanim in the Third Temple? "

The simple explanation, is that it means, the Kohanim which are from the tribe of Levi.

The Arizal says that today's leviim will become Kohanim when Moshiach comes. However this brings up some questions. In the Yom Tov Mussaf prayer, we say about Moshiach's times, "The Kohanim will return to their services, and the Leviim to their singing and music playing." On top of that, the Rambam tells us that the Torah won't change when Moshiach comes. So how could the Leviim become Kohanim?

The answer is, that the souls of leviim will be born to Kohanim. You may ask, "If they are born to Kohanim, then they are not Leviim anyway, so what is the meaning of the Leviim becoming Kohanim?

To understand this, you first have to understand the difference between the nature of the Kohen and his soul, and a Levi and his soul.

The nature of a Kohen is to be a "man of kindness," to be giving. The idea of his Temple service, was to draw down G-dliness to the people. They could do this because their souls came from the attribute of water. Just as the nature of water is to go down from the highest to the lowest place and give its sustenance, so was the job of a Kohen, to draw G-dliness from above to the world below, filling the people with love and awe of Hashem. On the other hand, the nature of a Levi is one of yearning to go higher. Their service was singing and playing music, which created a yearning in others to want to get closer to Hashem. Their souls are from the attribute of fire, always rising, yearning to go up and become one with its source.

The difference between these two types of service, is that when you draw G-dliness down to the people, you inspire them, and for the moment they experience a closeness to Hashem. However when the inspiration wears off, nothing has changed, the people go back to their old selves. On the other hand, when you create a yearning in the people from below, to want to get closer to Hashem, you are creating a yearning in them to really change who they are. This kind of change is everlasting.

Right now, the job of a Kohen is to draw G-dliness down to the people, but when Moshiach comes, that won't be necessary, because the world will be full of G-dliness. The job of the Kohen will become to create a yearning in the people to become even closer to Hashem. Being that it is not in their nature to do that, Hashem will give them souls of Leviim, souls of fire, so it will become their nature.

There is one more opinion of who will be the Kohanim. Originally the first born son of every family, was meant to be a Kohen. But because they took part in the sin of the golden calf, it was taken away from them, and given to the tribe of Levi. When Moshiach comes, there will no longer be any trace of the sin of the golden calf left in the world. That will once again create an opening for first borns to become Kohanim. But didn't we say that the Kohanim will continue to be Kohanim? How could the first borns become the Kohanim?

At first the Kohanim and Leviim will be serving in the Temple as will be expected with no change to the normal order of things. However, after a while this question will arise, and will have to be dealt with.

About the Kohanim, Hashem says, "They will draw near to Me to serve Me, and they will stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood." Each of us is considered a small Temple, and we are the Kohen of our Temple. What are we meant to learn from offering fat and blood? When a sacrifice was brought, first the blood was sprinkled and then the fat was offered, why is the order here reversed, first fat and then blood?

Aside for being a Temple and a Kohen, we are meant to offer ourselves to Hashem. The main parts of any offering was the blood and the fat. Blood is the life force of a person, bringing vital oxygen and nutrients to every organ of the body. It represents one's passion and vibrance, and the necessities of life. Fat represents pleasure, and the things we do, not out of necessity, but because we want to.

To be an offering to Hashem, you don't have to give up your entire existence, rather, you only have to give your blood and fat. Meaning, to put your passion and energy and have pleasure in what Hashem wants, into your Judaism. Another explanation, is to put passion into your obligations to Hashem, which is Torah and mitzvahs. And even when it comes to other things that are not obligations, you can do them for Hashem as well. For example, you could eat, do business, exercise, etc., for the pleasure they will afford you, or you can do them because they will help you serve Hashem better. That is giving your fat to Hashem.

Fat is mentioned first, because if your pleasure is for Hashem, then it is certain that everything else is for Him. Since your actions will automatically follow your desires.

After the Haftora tells the laws pertaining to the Kohanim, it turns to us and says, "All first fruits of every kind, and every kind of Teruma from all the Teruma that you (are required to) give will go to the Kohanim, and you should give the first portion of your dough to the Kohen, so that blessing will rest upon your home."

This teaches us that the first of everything should go to Hashem. Not only the first fruits, and the first part of your dough, but even other things, like the first hours of your day, should be given to Hashem through prayer and Torah study. And the first years of a child's life should be given to Hashem, by giving him or her a Jewish education. When you give the first to Hashem, you ensure that He is the focus of your life, that causes Hashem to be with you, and where Hashem is, that is where the blessing is.

And all this is symbolized by the mitzvah of challah, separating a piece of dough for Hashem. Dough, which becomes bread, is symbolic of sustenance and wealth. It is also what we eat, nurturing not only the physical body, but our spiritual makeup as well. The spiritual can only be nourished by something holy. By doing the mitzvah of challah we make our bread holy, in turn it nourishes us physically and spiritually, bringing us closer to Hashem.

This mitzvah is done primarily by Jewish women. It was given to them, because they are the ones who bring blessing to their homes and they are the ones who nourish the bodies and the souls of their families.

By giving Hashem our first, our passion, our pleasure, and especially through the mitzvah of challah, we will merit to become a "Kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation." And we will soon see the Kohanim serving in the Third Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.