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.