Wake Up and Smell the Bacon

It was my first visit back to my parents’ house since I became frum. Over a year had passed, a year without the king-size bed in their guest room, without central heating, without 24/7 access to a fully stocked fridge and cupboard. My mother had, most graciously, stocked up on every kind of O-U foodstuff she could find on the supermarket shelves.

My father, on the other hand, hadn’t spoken to me for half a year.

I felt some trepidation, leaving the womb of yeshiva for the spiritual wilderness of Palm Springs, CA and a secular home. I hardly felt competent to survive without my rabbeim at arm’s reach and without a local makolet that stocked only glatt-kosher food. I had no notion what I would do if a question came up on Shabbos that wasn’t addressed in my English translation of Shemirath Shabbath. I wasn’t even certain how to manage lighting my oil menorah for Chanukah — I had never used anything other than 30 minute candles.

But what I really wasn’t ready for was the first real evidence of how much I had changed.

I woke up my first morning back, not contemplating the luxury of my overlarge bed, but rather with mild bewilderment as my first conscious thought formed around the question, “What is that horrible smell?” It permeated my room, suggesting something dead and rancid, and it seemed incongruous with the obsessive cleanliness that dominated every corner of my mother’s house.

I don’t remember whether I finally identified the odor on my own, or whether I actually had to go out and investigate. But I do remember the source.

Bacon. A whole pound of bacon sizzling in the oven.

Let me explain. Before becoming frum, there was no food in the world that I enjoyed more than bacon. I could eat as much of it as anyone could cook up and serve me. Forget the eggs. Skip the flapjacks. Pass on the toast. Nothing else was worth eating if bacon was on the menu.

So that first morning back my father had started cooking, hoping that powerful aroma of cured pig flesh would penetrate my sinuses and my psyche, vanquishing the religious fanaticism that had taken hold of his once-sensible son.

It’s not remarkable that Dad’s plan didn’t work. Anyone who exchanges a year’s commitment to Torah for a whiff of bacon was never really committed to begin with. What is so remarkable is that an aroma that had previously aroused my senses like the fragrance of Gan Eden now turned my stomach before I even recognized what it was.

This, I realized, is the power of Torah. The power to transform us, to change who we are so that even our temptations change. I would later hear my Rosh Yeshiva say many times that, more than anything else, our yeitzer hara shows us where we are up to in the world. The desires that tempt us at one point in our development later hold no attraction for us because we are no longer the people we once were. As we become more spiritually refined, so too do our physical and material impulses adapt to challenge us on our new level.

I often wonder if, as ba’alei tshuva, we sell ourselves short, waxing nostalgic over the days when we were “free” to do as we pleased, or setting too modest goals because we think it unreasonable to expect more from ourselves. What a pity if we don’t appreciate how much we have changed, and how we can continue changing and growing with every day and week and year.

First published Jun 14, 2006

Losing Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was supposed to remain a lifeline with my Before Teshuva world. At first, I stubbornly held on to New Year’s, defiantly rationalizing that we live by the secular calendar, too. But in truth, I’d long been uncomfortable with the idea that we kept our dates by their relation to the death of the Christian deity. (That’s pretty weird for a supposedly secular country.) Halloween was no great loss with the introduction of Purim. And, on Fourth of July, I usually serve my family something sweet and patriotically decorated and take the kids to a quiet spot to watch fireworks.

Then I lost Thanksgiving.

Rabbeim have poskened that Thanksgiving has non-Jewish roots. Someone unhelpfully provided us with a pamphlet spelling out the problem. And since no one in the kids’ yeshivas does it, and, more importantly, I’ve lost my rebellious spirit in the realization that no matter how much I bristle, the frum way is usually best, after all…we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either.

And now I feel a loss on that late November Thursday. I miss the politically uncorrect Pilgrims, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Milchig.

Originally Posted in Beyond BT’s first month on December 2005

Parsha Chayei Sarah – Your Billionaire Opportunity

וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; (these were) the years of the life of Sarah.

The Midrash brings a related incident:
רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא הָיָה יוֹשֵׁב וְדוֹרֵשׁ וְהַצִּבּוּר מִתְנַמְנֵם בִּקֵּשׁ לְעוֹרְרָן אָמַר מָה רָאֲתָה אֶסְתֵּר שֶׁתִּמְלֹךְ עַל שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה מְדִינָה, אֶלָּא תָּבוֹא אֶסְתֵּר שֶׁהָיְתָה בַּת בִּתָּהּ שֶׁל שָׂרָה שֶׁחָיְתָה מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים וָשֶׁבַע וְתִמְלֹךְ עַל מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים וְשֶׁבַע מְדִינוֹת.
Rabbi Akiva was sitting and teaching, and those assembled there were dozing off. To arouse them, he asked: How could Esther rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces? It was fitting that Esther, a grandchild of Sarah who lived to one hundred and twenty seven would rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces.

Why did Rabbi Akiva choose to use this particular point to arouse his students from their slumbering? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that all of Sarah’s years were lived to the fullest and that for each of those years, her ancestor, Esther, merited an entire province, totalling 127 provinces. Breaking it down even further, the Chidushei HaRim says that for every day of her life that she lived fully, Sarah merited a city for Esther and for every hour of her life that she lived fully, she merited a town. Rabbi Akiva was pointing out the eternal value of every single moment. If his students appreciated this, Rabbi Akiva was teaching, they would arouse themselves and focus on every minute and every second of their learning.

Rabbi Akiva’s lesson, as expounded by the Chiddushei HaRim, has astounding impact when we apply it to shmiras halashon. Throughout the day, we are invariably faced with several situations that test the way we guard our speech. And every one of the moments is an opportunity to create unfathomable reward. The Midrash says:
שֶׁעַל כָּל רֶגַע וְרֶגַע שֶׁאָדָם חוֹסֵם פִּיו, זוֹכֶה לָאוֹר הַגָּנוּז, שֶׁאֵין כָּל מַלְאָךְ וּבְרִיָּה יָכוֹל לְשַׁעֵר
That for every moment in which a person closes his mouth, he merits the “hidden light” (a spiritual reward) that even the angels and other celestial beings cannot comprehend. The Gra, in Alim LeTerufah points out:
רְאֵה שֶׁלֹּא נִזְכַּר בַּמִּדְרָשׁ חֹדֶשׁ אוֹ שָׁבוּעַ אוֹ יוֹם אוֹ שָׁעָה, רַק רֶגַע
Notice that the Midrash did not say (that he held his tongue for) a month or a week or a day or an hour– just a moment. Every single moment that we choose to properly use our speech, we receive incalculable reward.

In 1984, it was estimated that the average person speaks approximately 860,000,000 words in their lifetime. With the understanding that this estimate was published years before the internet was launched and before email and texting became commonplace, it’s fair to assume that the average person now “speaks” close to a billion words in his lifetime. There are a billion opportunities to merit the greatest reward. That’s a jackpot much greater than the Powerball.

The Takeaway
Esther was rewarded with 127 provinces as a reward for her “Grandmother” Sarah’s 127 years of taking full advantage of every mitzvah opportunity. The Midrash teaches us that the spiritual reward for refraining from improper speech is so great that even the malachim cannot comprehend it. We have nearly a billion opportunities to earn that reward.

This Week
Create a reminder for yourself to be careful with your speech and place it on your cell phone. This can be a pasuk that you tape to your phone, a screen saver, or even just a small sticker that will remind you to be careful about your speech when you use your phone.
___________________________
Shmirah Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Our Akeidas Yitzchok

And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Avraham, and He said to him, “Avraham,” and he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchok, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.” (Breishis 22:1-2)

Is it too irreverent to ask about the current and daily relevance of Akeidas Yizchok? There it is in our Siddur to be read every day. What is it telling the “you” and “me” of the world? Sure Avraham Avinu, without question, passed the supreme test of history. That was the height of the heights and yet we find ourselves now as amateur climbers at the base of a tall mountain, gazing with awe in search of a peak at the peak which is shrouded in mysterious cloud cover. How does that loftiest of all accomplishments translate to our ordinary struggles?

A fellow I was learning with, Larry, once told me that he feared that if he didn’t do something dramatic his boys, Jonathan and David, would graduate in a few years from his house without his having ever known them. Until now when he would try to ask them about school they would answer in the shortest way “OK” or “AHA” and he felt he had only the smallest window into their world. What happened to him at work was even less important to them. They would only speak to him sincerely if they were asking for 5$ or a ride. He felt more like a banker or a cabby than a parent.

I strongly suggested he turn Friday night into Shabbos, even though he was not yet a complete Shomer Shabbos- a keeper of the Shabbos. Buy the boys’ favorite foods. Get some grape juice and some fluffy raisin Challos. Arrange your schedule to be home from work on time and have your wife light a couple of candles. Bless the boys in a formal way and require that everyone attend.

Prepare with your wife some stories or lessons that deal with issues or ideals you wish to address. Read from a book each week and play games with them. The hardest and steepest challenge will be not to answer the holy telephone. Let the message machine do its job.

Within a few months Larry was already glowing with joy. The boys were eating up not just the tasty food but the quality of family time and relationship they were building during this time. A while later one of the boys asked if he could go on an overnight Friday night to a friend. The mother rightly told him “no” because this is their special family time.

The next week Larry came home excited with hockey tickets for a Stanley Cup play-off final that somebody in the office had given him. It was for Friday night. He wife looked at him and said, “If you go there on our Friday Night then I will never be able to say “no” to the boys when they might make a similar request.”

With the courage of Avraham at Akeidas Yitzchok, Larry courageously and wisely obeyed his wife and “sending forth his hand” -forfeited those treasured tickets. He missed the Stanley Cup Play-Off Game that year but he kept his family together over many years. He reports to me how close they have grown as a family unit because of their tenacious loyalty to that sacred appointment.

A 7th grade boy was once begging me to find out how he could get a custom filter fitted for his Smart Phone. On his own he went to a designated location where some volunteer tech guys could adjust his phone and remove temptation from his reach. It was heroic and perhaps on his level not less than Avraham Avinu giving up his beloved son.

Taking a bold step in the right direction, curbing a debilitating habit, giving up on what we love for something greater is a not just a mini-replica, it’s our Akeidas Yitzchok!

Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves

Many years ago, Rabbi Ben Tzion Kokis, formerly the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach of Monsey wrote an article titled Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves.

Here is an excerpt. Please read the whole article below.

This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a baal teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average baal/baalas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgment is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.

Here is the whole article:

1/4/07
The gemora tells us a revealing event which took place in the early stages of Rebbe Akiva’s growth. “Rebbe Akiva said: ‘At the beginning of my study, I once chanced upon a “mais mitzva” (abandoned corpse) by the roadside. I strained for four parsaos to bring the body to a cemetery. When I came to my teachers and told them, they said to me, “Akiva! Every step you took was like spilling innocent blood, because a mais mitzva should be buried in the place where the body lies.” At that time, I resolved never to leave my teachers’ side.”

This reaction of Rebbe Akiva to his well-intentioned error is probably familiar to all of us, but especially to the ba’al teshuva. How often the halacha runs counter to what our intuistion would have dictated, and how easy it is to make an assumption about the right way to do things, only to discover that the halacha says otherwise.

This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a ba’al teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average ba’al/ba’alas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgement is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.

Even questions which would seem to call for a purely subjective evaluation are not left up to the inclinations and preferences of the individual. Defining beauty, for instance, becomes a complex proposition when a lulav or esrog is concerned; the Torah’s requirement of “hadar” is not left up to one’s aesthetic instincts. On occasion, the opposite is true: the esrog which you may consider “pretty” may be barely kosher by the Halacha’s standards, while the real “m’hudar” could be less than dazzling in everyday terms. The more one becomes conditioned to the world of halacha, it would seem, the less valid individual preferences become.

Succeeding in this transition is a milestone in one’s integration of Torah, and perhaps could even be viewed as the watershed event in the whole process of teshuva. However, this success is often accompanied by the seeds of a serious problem, which, if not acknowledged and dealt with, can have a negative effect on one’s entire life. There are areas in life in which it is absolutely crucial that one be very much in touch with his own feelings, and those feelings must be taken seriously. Too often the ability to trust one’s own instincts is a casualty of the transition of teshuva, with the result that even in personal issues the healthy input of internal judgement is not part of the decision-making process.

Consider the (true) story of S—-, a woman in her early thirties whom this writer had occasion to meet. She is a highly intelligent, strong-minded person, who was very proud of her skills and accomplishments as a special-ed teacher. She had taught successfully in an inner-city public school, a fact which spoke volumes about the strength of character which lay beneath her otherwise mild demeanor. She was also the mother of an infant, and had been recently divorced, after a marriage of …less than a month. S—–described how her advisors had urged her to marry a particular young man, also a ba’al teshuva, although she had very little feeling for him as a person. Several years her junior, he was a nice enough person, but just did not have the character and maturity which a woman like S—- expected from a husband.

After a tense few weeks, it became clear to their advisors that there really was no hope for the marriage, and a divorce was arranged. What I found astonishing was not the divorce; rather, the decision to get married in the first place was incomprehensible. How could such an intelligent and independent woman have allowed herself to enter a lifelong relationship with someone toward whom she felt so little? When I posed this question to S—-, she replied that there had been pressure to get married- she wasn’t getting any younger, of course- and individuals whose opinion she respected reassured her that everything would be OK, afterwards it will be different, etc., etc. So, although deep down she had misgivings about her decision, her strength of personality was able to squelch those doubts, and she went ahead with the marriage.

This may be an extreme example. It is clear, however, that such decisions do not occur in a vacuum. They only occur if one has previously relinquished a degree of personal judgement, and developed a distrust of his or her own instincts. This phenomenon may all too often accompany the transition of a young man or woman into a life of Torah, and it is specifically the most sincere and idealistic personalities who are susceptible to falling into this pattern.

Considerable care is therefore required on the part of those who are involved in this area of chinuch. Tremendous sensitivity must be used in order to ensure that the growth of a ben- or bas-Torah not come at the cost of a diminishing of a personality. A clear distinction must be made between yielding one’s judgement in halachic matters, and maintaining a secure sense of identity in personal decisions. And, as was suggested above, the problem is not that the individual is a “weak” personality. Rather, it may be a side effect of the process of teshuva itself.

Conflicts similar to the shidduch situation described above may arise in other areas. Let us examine several more common examples of this phenomenon.

The question of spending significant time in yeshiva and kollel, or becoming involved in the world of parnoso, confronts every ben-Torah to some degree. But the guidance given to a ba’al- or ba’alas teshuva in this regard must take into account that this individual is a product of cultural and educational influences which, for better or for worse, played a great role in forming his personality and attitudes. Both external and internal factors influence a person to define accomplishment in secular terms. Externally, the values of one’s family and friends create certain expectations; even more importantly, an individual learns to gauge his own fulfillment, and accordingly to feel self-worth, in terms of career goals and material success.

When the Hashgochoh provides a young adult with the opportunity to be exposed to Torah, there is a tendency to view the previous years as being irrelevant to the “new” person who is developing in the yeshiva. But in reality, while an individual sincerely admires and identifies with the emes and gadlus of the Torah, and the rabbeim and senior chaverim who have become his role models, this does not mean that he has become a totally new person in the span of a few months. One cannot just slip on a set of attitudes like a new suit of clothes. There are many underlying issues of self-esteem which must also be dealt with, specifically because he is a ba’al teshuva, before a total transformation has taken place. Therefore, there are bound to be a different set of considerations when advising a ba’al teshuva in this regard.

It must be borne in mind that the challenges which he will face will be very different than those facing other b’nei Torah, and less emotional support is available to him, as compared to “conventional” yeshiva or Bais Yaakov students. The latter grew up in a social and educational system which was structured to encourage and facilitate dedication to Torah and mitzvos, and sacrifices made for that cause are generally supported by family and friends. It is so painfully different for the ba’al and ba’alas teshuva!

Several years ago a young man approached me a few days before his wedding. He was close to tears. He had been under tremendous pressure to take care of numerous arrangements for his chasuna, since his family were not able/willing to be involved. He was paying for a good part of his own wedding. In addition, the plans for his oyfruf were being complicated by his family’s insistence that they would just drive in on Shabbos, since they didn’t feel comfortable staying with strangers who had offered hospitality. But this was not what had caused his distress. A kollel member who had in fact been very helpful to the choson as he progressed in his Torah learning, and whom this bochur held in the utmost esteem, had scolded him sharply for being so distracted from his learning in the days before his chasuna…”Your kallah will lose her respect for you!” was the message that he had heard, from someone whose opinion meant an awful lot to him.

How unfair it was to criticize this sincere young man, who was doing his best to make his own chasuna, by applying standards that would only apply to a bochur whose parents are taking care of all the arrangements!

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that ba’alei teshuva shouldn’t dedicate themselves to learning Torah in a serious way. But it does mean that decisions should be made carefully, with full awareness of the specific needs and capabilities of this individual. Many times, peer pressure or a tendency to conform to conventional norms, rather than measured guidance, seem to be prime factors in making major decisions, and nisyonos which could have been avoided are instead created. The obligation of “aytza tova” would certainly dictate that a mechanech should look to the long-range benefit and health of his or her talmidim.

It is crucial to note that this is the counsel which gedolim have taught. Take the following incident, for example, as related to this writer by the rosh yeshiva of one of the major yeshivos for ba’alei teshuva in Yerushalayim.

A talmid of the yeshiva had been studying in a prestigious European university, and had a few months to go before earning a Master’s degree, which would virtually guarantee him a teaching position of his choice. However, having become enthusiastically involved in learning, he saw no point in completing his studies, since at this point he felt no desire to ever re-enter the academic world. The rabbeim of his yeshiva expressed misgivings at this course of action, and suggested that he invest the few months of study to finish his degree, and then continue learning, so that his options will be open in case the need will arise at some future date to seek a teaching position. (It is important to note that his field of study was not problematic from a Halachic standpoint.)

The talmid said that he appreciated his rabbeim’s concern, but it was clear to him that he had no desire to be a college professor, so he had no reason to stop learning. His Rosh Yeshiva then suggested that they discuss the issue with Moran HoRav Shach, shlit”a, and the bochur quickly agreed, confident that he would find total sympathy for his position, since Rav Shach’s stand on the primacy of learning over all else is well known. Much to the surprise of the talmid, however, the advice of Rav Shach was to finish his degree, and then devote himself totally to growth in Torah.

What is noteworthy is that this advice was based on a consideration of the unique issues which face ba’alei teshuva, and would not be applied across the board to the conventional yeshiva talmid.

A similar situation exists with connection to something which is taken for granted in the Torah world: that as a young man or woman enter adulthood, it is natural and desirable that they plan on marrying and raising a family. This is no longer a given in the general society, and in many cases, ba’alei/ba’alos tehuva were educated to look with disdain at this way of life. A mechanech cannot underestimate the influence of “yuppieism” and Women’s Lib on the attitudes of his students, and thoughtful attention must be paid to the underlying issues of sharing and responsibility that are so crucial in establishing a successful home. The stamina and understanding that are so necessary for building a strong relationship and raising children, do not suddenly form out of thin air when a young man or woman becomes committed to Torah and mitzvos.

The question must always be asked: Is this individual emotionally ready for marriage? Or is he or she responding only on a mental, hashkofoh level to what seems to be the “expected” thing to do in the Torah community? Again, sensitivity to the personal dimension of chinuch is indispensable, and will do much to avoid later complications and anguish.

An exceptional young man had become religious, and was learning most of the day in an established Yeshiva for ba’alei teshuva, while running a family business for part of the day. He started the shidduchim process, and for approximately a year was meeting young women, with no success. After a while, one of his rabbeim began to wonder: This young man seems to have everything going for him. He’s very intelligent, sensitive, has a good livelihood, a warm personality; why isn’t he connecting with the young women whom he’s meeting? The rebbe had an insight, and asked the bochur, “Tell me something. If you hadn’t become religious a few years ago, would you also be dating now with intent to get married?”

The young man thought for a moment, and said, “No, I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?” the rebbe asked. The young man told him that several years before, he had ended a serious relationship, and had been hurt very much by the break-up. He didn’t feel emotionally ready yet for this level of commitment. “That’s understandable,” the rebbe replied, “but if so, how can you be involved in shidduchim now?”

The answer was, that this is what you’re “supposed” to do when you’re frum! But it was not yet where the young man was in his personal development. Once this point was recognized, he dealt with the issue, and was engaged a few months later, and is building a beautiful home.

We have attempted to describe a few areas in which the integration of the ba’al/ ba’alas teshuva into the world of Torah requires special sensitivity. The common denominator is that young men and women must be taken seriously as people- both by their teachers and by themselves- to ensure their healthy and mature integration into the fabric of Klal Yisroel.

Tzidkus and Chassidus

It always bothered me that although Noach is favorably called a Tzaddik in the Torah, the adjective, “in his generation”, is taken by one opinion in the Medrash to be a disgrace, by unfavorably comparing him to Avraham, who embodied Chassidus, in his generation.

Another problem I’ve had is that the introduction of Mesillas Yesharim states that Chassidus is the goal, while in Chapter 13, which is the beginning of Chassidus, he says that the majority of the people cannot reach Chassidus. It is enough if they reach Tzidkus. Why did Hashem set up this two tier system of Tzidkus and Chassidus and what should we be aiming for?

Perhaps the answer is that Tzidkus, doing all the mitzvos, is Hashem’s requirement for us to live a proper spiritual life. However, the ultimate goal is to develop an everlasting connection to Hashem, and for that we need Chassidus, to go beyond the basic requirements, to show our love of Hashem.

Noach is discredited for achieving the admirable level of a Tzaddik because that is not enough, we need to go beyond the basics to develop the deeper connection to Hashem, like Avraham.

We all have a requirement to do all the mitzvos and to try to reach Tzidkus, and most of us will not reach Chassidus in all our ways, as the Mesillas Yesharim has stated. However we all have opportunities on a regular basis to go beyond the basic requirements, to perform acts of Chassidus, to develop a closer connection to Hashem. Whether that is giving up our seat, showing genuine concern for another individual, doing a mitzvah in the best possible way, etc… We have to strive for the Tzidkus of Noach, but also look for opportunities to emulate the Chassidus of the Avos.

Start Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum This Week with Bereishis

Chazal (the sages) instituted a weekly spiritual growth mechanism which takes advantage of the power of Torah learning called Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:

1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Learn he Art Scroll translation in English during the week (It’s best to verbalize what you read). This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you miss a week.

Check out https://shnayimyomi.org/

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Bereshis
#1 Creation of the Universe
#2 Creation of Man
#3 The Snake
#4 Cain Kills Hevel
#5 Ten Generations of Adam
#6 Warning of Global Destruction

#1 Creation of the Universe
1st Day: Heaven-Earth – Light-Darkness
2nd Day: Rakia is split
3rd Day: Land-Sea & Vegetation
4th Day: Sun-Moon & Stars
5th Day: Fish-Birds-Creepies – Blessing to Multiply
6th Day: Animals – Man-Dominate-Tzelem-Blessing to Multiply. 

#2 Creation of Man
* Shabbat – Heavens and Earth complete 
* Rain-Man
* Creation of Adam & Chava
* Located in Gan Eden
* Tree of Life & Tree of Knowledge of Good and Negative
* Four Rivers: 1) Pishon; 2) Gihon; 3) Hidekel (Tigris); 4) Euphrates
* One Command: “Don’t eat from Tree of Knowledge or you will die!”
* Not Good To Be Alone
* No Companion – Adam Names all the animals
* Sleep
* Chava Created
* Naked

#3 The Snake
* Snake was Cunning
* Chava Ate
* Adam Ate
* Eyes opened-Clothes
* “Where Are You?”
* Adam blames Wife – G-d
* Chava blames snake
* The Snake’s Curse: Most cursed, Legless, Eat dust, Hated, Slide.
* Woman’s Curse: Pain in Pregnancy, Childbirth, Child-Raising, Husband will Dominate.
* Man’s Curse: Ground is cursed, Sweat from toil, Death-return to dust
* Man names his wife ‘Chava’
* Expulsion from Gan Eden

#4 Cain Kills Hevel
* Hevel’s offering
* HaShem rejects Cain’s offering
* “Why are you depressed? Pick yourself up and start again!”
* Cain kills Hevel
* Cain is cursed – Wanderer
* Cain’s children: Chanoch & Lemech-City named Chanoch
* Chanoch – Irad – M’huyael – Metusha’el – Lamech marries Adda & Tzilah.
* Adda mothers Yaval & Yuval (Yaval is first nomad, Yuval makes musical instruments).
* Tzilah mothers Tuval Cain – (he invents weapons and metal works)
* Tzilah mothers Naama
* Adam reunites with Chava – Shet

#5 Ten Generations of Adam
1st Gen. Adam 930
2nd Gen. Shet 912
3rd Gen. Enosh 905
4th Gen. Keinan 910
5th Gen. Mehalalel 895
6th Gen. Yered 962
7th Gen. Chanoch 365
8th Gen. Metushelach 969
9th Gen. Lemech 777
10th Gen. Noach-Shem-Cham-Yafet

#6 Warning of Global Destruction
* Population explosion
* Fallen Angels take women
* 120 year life limit
* Titans
* Man’s entire agenda was wickedness all day!
* Decree to destroy entire world except Noach

Sukkos – The Jews Inner Self

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download this and a number of other Drashos on Sukkos

Sukkah and the Four Species – The Dual Natures of Man

On Sukkos, we have two mitzvos: to sit in the sukkah, and to shake the Four Species. These two mitzvos represent the two sides of man. The Four Species, which we shake around and move, represent how man is always in movement. We are full of various retzonos (desires), and all of these desires are a kind of movement. The mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah represents a totally different side to us. In a sukkah, we don’t move; we sit there.

Hashem is mainly called by two names. The lower name of Hashem is “adonoy” – He is our adon, our master. This refers to how we serve him with the mitzvos. The higher name of Hashem is the four-letter name of havayah, and this refers to the simple recognition of His existence. The two names of Hashem reflect the two sides of our life’s mission. On one hand, we “move” constantly by doing all the mitzvos. This is how relate to Hashem as our Master, Whom we serve; that He is adonoy. But the inner essence to our life is that we recognize his existence and integrate our own existence as a part of Hashem. This is how we relate to Hashem with his higher name, havayah. It is the deeper part of our life.

The fact that Hashem exists is not just a fact about life, but it is something which we can connect ourselves to. The mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah is entirely about this concept – to sit in Hashem’s Presence, with no need to move around, and instead to connect to Hashem’s Endlessness.

In this discussion, the intention is not merely to say a nice dvar Torah for Sukkos, but rather, to define the very essence of Sukkos: accessing our innermost point of our self – our point of non-movement – when we integrate with Hashem. It is also a concept that has ramifications to our entire life. It is the way how we can prepare for the future, when we will sit in the Sukkah made of the leviathan skin.

The depth of our Avodah on Sukkos is to combine the two sides of mankind and integrate them together: the Four Species, which represents our mitzvos\movement, and the mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah, which represents our recognition of Hashem\non-movement.

Our Actual Essence Vs. The Outer Layers of the Self

We will try to explain this as much as Hashem allows us to understand it.

The most complicating thing in the world is our self. Anything else we recognize are all superficial realities – such as our house, the block we live on, the country we live in, even the world; it’s all an external, superficial kind of recognition. If this is all a person knows of, then he lives a superficial kind of existence – he lives on the outside world. He is thinking all the time about things that are outside of himself. The clothing we wear is not either a part of who we are.

When a person begins to look for his inner essence, he is apt to think that he “is” what he “does.” He identifies himself based on his actions, his emotions, and his thoughts.

For example, a person has an affinity to do chessed (kindness), so he thinks of himself as a “good person” since he sees that he is drawn towards doing good things. When he has to reprimand his children sometimes, he feels horrible inside, because now he thinks he’s a “bad person” by having to act cruel to them.

If a person is deeper, he knows that there is more to himself than the actions he does. He is aware of his thoughts – and he identifies himself based on what’s going on in his mind. Yet this is erroneous as well, because a person is not his thoughts either.

Our actions, our emotions, and our thoughts are just outer layers that cover over our essence. They are like garments that clothe our soul.[1] But there is more to who we are than our actions, emotions, and thoughts.

How can a person identify who he really is?

To be frank, there is almost no one who truly knows who he is, and there is almost no one as well who really recognizes Hashem. If a person doesn’t know he really is, he can’t either recognize Hashem!

There are many people who are searching to find Hashem. But, it is written “From my flesh I see G-d”[2]; in other words, we need to know who we are in order to be able to recognize Hashem.

Only By Recognizing Our Self Can We Recognize Hashem

We will expand more upon these words, because it is a very fundamental concept which needs to be understood well.

There is no person who has no self-knowledge of himself whatsoever; all of us know ourselves to a certain extent, besides for those who have become mentally ill (may G-d have mercy upon them). But the way we understand ourselves is superficial: we recognize ourselves based on the outer parts of our self, such as our actions, our conversations, our emotions, and our thoughts. These are outer layers to our soul – garments that cover over our actual soul – and therefore these factors are not a real way to identify ourselves.

When a person only has a superficial understanding of himself, he will in turn have a superficial relationship towards G-d. It is written, “From my flesh, I see G-d”, so if a person doesn’t properly recognize his own “flesh”, his real self, he won’t come to really identify Hashem either. As a result, he will never form a deep bond with the Creator, because he doesn’t really conceptualize the Creator’s existence in the first place.

We can compare this to a person who wishes to grind flour but he has no home appliance to grind it with. The “I” in a person is a tool for one to recognize the Creator of the World, because “The Holy One and Yisrael are one”. If someone recognizes his own Yisrael, the Jew inside himself – his beginning, for Yisrael is called “the beginning” (see Rashi Beraishis 1:1), then he can come to recognize the beginning of his own beginning, which is the Creator; the Ultimate Beginning. But if a person never got to his own beginning, and he only knows of branches from his beginning – his various abilities – then not only is he missing a bond with the Creator, but he is missing his own Jew within. The essence of the Jew is that he is a Yisrael; thus, if a Jew does not recognize that he is Yisrael deep down in his soul, he is missing self-recognition.

How indeed can a Jew attain self-recognition? It is not written in any sefer\book in the entire world. A book is an outer entity, and thus it impossible for the actual “I” to be described in any book! If the “I” could be written about in a book, that would be releasing the “I” from its inner chamber out into the open world, and that itself is impossible.

The only one who can reveal the “I” is Hashem Himself. “I am Hashem your G-d.” The word anochi (I) stands for the words ana nafshai kesavis yehavis, “I Myself can write this.”[3] In other words, the only one who can write about the “I” is Hashem. Hashem has given us the tool in how we can recognize Him: the more we recognize our self, the more we recognize Him. If we have only a superficial self-recognition, then our recognition of Hashem will also be superficial. If we recognize what our essence is, then we will be able to recognize the essence of Hashem.

The Torah begins with the letter beis, in the word Beraishis. The Ten Commandments began with the letter aleph, in the word “Anochi.” The depth of this is that Hashem reveals Himself in the letter Aleph, which is the beginning letter. If we come to our letter “aleph” in our soul – our point of beginning – then we will be able to come to the total level of Aleph, the Absolute One, the Absolute Beginning – the One who existed, exists and will always exist: the Creator. But if man doesn’t recognize who he is, then he won’t be able to recognize his Creator.

What is the most hidden thing in Creation? Hashem’s Name is never pronounced. Whenever the Name of Havayah is used in the Torah, we read it as “Adonoy.” The actual “I” of Hashem, even when it is written, is never read. And when we do read a name of Hashem, it is not written there. This is not only a fact about reading Torah. It a perspective to have on Creation, a perception of our soul.

There in inner kind of writing of our soul which cannot be read. If we could read it, we would be in the state of Moshiach’s times, which we are not in right now. When we all will be able to pronounce the Name of Havayah, Moshiach will come. Nowadays, only a few individuals are allowed to use the Name of Havayah. Our Avodah is for us to reach the Name of Havayah of Hashem, which we do not currently recognize.

We usually relate to Hashem with the fact that we must do the mitzvos He commanded us with. However, there is an inner aspect to our relationship towards Hashem which we start out being unaware of, and we must discover it. It is the fact that we are not just servants of our Master, but rather, our whole existence is connected with Him.

That is the difference between the lower name of Hashem, Adonoy, and the higher name of Hashem, which is Havayah. The lower name, Adonoy, represents how we must do the mitzvos, for He is our Master. The name of Adonoy implies that our relationship with Him is dependent on the actions we do. The higher name, Havayah, reflects that we are all integrated with Hashem, regardless of what we do or not, because the connection is intrinsic. “A Jew who sins is still a Jew.”

The point of havayah – our true existence, in which we are integrated with Hashem – is the point that is hidden away deep in the soul. When we do the mitzvos, it builds the outer layers of our soul, but it doesn’t build the point of havayah in the soul.

When a person performs a mitzvah, he is doing an action. The root of all action is the power of ratzon – the will. The will represents man’s nature to always be in movement; ratzon comes from the word ratz, to “run”, to move. If a person considers his ratzon to be the deepest part of himself, he identifies himself with the power of movement, of action. He is at the level of the Four Species, which move in all six directions of the world – but he hasn’t yet gotten to his own self. He hasn’t yet gotten to the “Sukkah” inside himself – to the “Yisrael” inside him, his true “I.”

With a poor sense of self-recognition, even a person sitting in the Sukkah doesn’t grasp what the concept of Sukkah is. Although it appears as if he’s reached the point of non-movement, because he’s sitting in the Sukkah – he’s only there physically, but he doesn’t see himself as being in the tzeila d’meheimenusa, the “shadow of faith” that the Sukkah is. He’s doing all the mitzvos for His Master, but he hasn’t yet reached emunah – the sukkah that is all about emunah, recognizing Hashem’s existence.

Thus, there are essentially two stages in our bond with Hashem: first we become His loyal servants by doing all his mitzvos. At a later stage in life, we must eventually enter the second, inner stage, which is to recognize Him with our emunah. These two stages are represented by two great events that our people went through: the exodus of Egypt and the Giving of the Torah. By the exodus, we were released from Pharoah’s servitude and now we became servants of Hashem. By Sinai, Hashem revealed Himself with the giving of the Torah, and now we reached a new level: we recognized Hashem.

When Hashem revealed Himself by the Torah, He did not reveal Himself with His lower name, Adonoy, but rather with His higher name, Havayah. This shows us that the Torah is essentially the higher name of Hashem, Havayah.

For this reason, we never really begin to learn the actual Torah, because we are not connected to Havayah. And surely, we never finish it, for that reason. “The Torah of Hashem is wholesome, it settles the soul.” The Baal Shem Tov said that the Torah is wholesome and perfect because no one has ever begun to learn it and complete it. What is the meaning of his statement? No one ever begun to learn the Torah?! The meaning is that the Torah throughout the generations until the end of time is not yet the actual Name of Hashem to us, and this is the deep reason why the Name of Hashem is not allowed to be pronounced.

When a person recognizes his real essence, he merits to truly learn the Torah – the essence of the Torah. Through his learning, he can then come to recognize Hashem – not just the actions and middos of Hashem, but an actual recognition of Hashem Himself, so to speak, in the same way that he recognizes his own essence.

Only a person who feels his own essence can come to feel the reality of Hashem. Of course, anyone will claim that he can feel himself as existing, not just a Jew, but any non-Jew as well, and even animals, can feel they exist. But as we explained, most people never arrive at true self-recognition, and they only are aware of the outer layers to their existence.

Summary

To summarize: If we want to define the purpose of Creation, the definition is clear. The purpose of Creation is to recognize the reality of Hashem. The way to get there is through self-recognition. The self is the point in a person which never ceases, for Hashem and Yisrael are one; just as Hashem is eternal, so is a soul of Yisrael eternal. If a person views himself as an entity that can cease, then in turn he views his bond with Hashem with the same superficial perspective.

The soul of a Jew is a “piece of G-d from above”, and therefore, one can come to recognize Hashem through the recognition of himself. A Jew is the only nation on this world which is capable of feeling the inner self and thereby sense the Creator with just as much clarity.

This is the lesson of Sukkos: we have two mitzvos – to sit in the Sukkah and to shake the Four Species. We have both of these mitzvos because we are meant to integrate both of the lessons they represent together. The Four Species represents how we must move to do all the mitzvos, the actions through which we serve our Master with. The mitzvos are the way for us to get through to our heart and reveal it. “The heart is pulled after the actions.”[4]

What is it that we must reveal from our heart? It is not limited to the great exalted feelings of love and fear of Hashem. It is not about becoming awe-struck from elation. It is about reaching our essence, our “I.” The point of doing all the mitzvos is so that we can use all these actions to reach our I” and reveal it. In this way, we integrate Adonoy with Havayah.

The “I” can be reached in several ways. There is way to reach it directly, but only the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur knew the secret of how to do it. The other way is the way which we generally take, and that is through doing all the mitzvos so that we can get through to our essence and recognize the Creator as a result. But when we do the mitzvos, the focus should not be on the actions, but rather on the goal, which is to come to our essence.

Reaching Our Point of Menuchah\Serenity

Understandably, the words here are very deep, but they are the secret about life.

All of us want grow higher and elevate ourselves. Yet, this is still a superficial approach. It’s superficial because life is not just about feeling more elated. Elation is still a kind of movement, and as we explained, movement is only the outer layer of our existence. For this reason, there is almost no one who reaches what he wants in life, because a person keeps evading his main goal, in spite of his many aspirations to grow and become more elated in spirituality.

There is a well-known parable that illustrates this message. A man dreams that there is buried treasure underneath the bridge of his town, while in reality, there is buried treasure sitting underneath his house all along.

The lesson we can learn from this is that even when a person seeks spirituality, he might very be well be running away from his real “treasure” all along. For example, if he thinks that Hashem is in Heaven, while he is merely on this lowly earth, then all he will know of is the mitzvos, and his entire life will be limited to performing superficial actions. The truth is that Hashem is found everywhere (Zohar III 225a) – He is found inside a person! Our Avodah is to uncover our true existence, and then we will find Hashem there.

Of course, it will require a lot of “movements” to get to that inner place in ourselves, but we must at least aspire to reach this point of serenity (menucha). When a person reaches menuchah in himself, Hashem is truly revealed, because menuchah represents Shabbos, the point of non-movement and a cessation from all labor. One who attains menuchah on this world can recognize the Creator, and he attains it no less than how all of us will eventually recognize Hashem in the future. But if someone never reaches the point of menuchah in himself, the “Shabbos” in himself – he will not come to the recognition of the One who created the world.

[1] See Tanya chapter 4, and Tzidkas Hatzaddik 263.

[2] Iyov 19: 26

[3] Yalkut Shimeoni: Shemos 20: 226

[4] Sefer HaChinuch, 16

Five Ways to Do Teshuvah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of other Drashos on Yom Kippur

“Te-sh-u-v-ah”: An Acronym for Five Different Spiritual Tasks

There is a teaching from our Rabbis[2] that the word teshuvah (תשובה) stands for the following five fundamentals in our avodah (spiritual task):

תמים תהי’ עם ה’ אלוקיך – “Be simple with Hashem, your G-d.”
שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד – “I place Hashem opposite me, always.”
ואהבת לרעך כמוך – “And you shall love your friend like yourself.”
בכל דרכיך דעהו – “In all your ways, know Him.”
הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך – “Walk modestly with Hashem your G-d.”

We will try here, with the help of Hashem, to reflect into these five aspects involved in doing teshuvah. These five concepts are not randomly placed together. Rather, they all bear a connection to teshuvah, which means to “return”, to one’s root, to his source, to his beginning. Thus, the five verses quoted above are essentially five ways of how one can return to his source.

We will try to explain here how one can practically work on each of these concepts. To work on all of these five steps, practically speaking, is obviously too difficult. Instead, each of us should pick of one these concepts to work on, which is certainly within our power of bechirah (free will) to do, in these days of teshuvah.

1. “Be Simple With Hashem Your G-d” – Returning To Our Childlike Purity

The first concept of teshuvah is: תמים תהי’ עם ה’ אלוקיך, “Be simple with Hashem your G-d”.

Each of us, when we are born, is born with a quality called temimus (earnestness). As we grow older, naturally, this temimus gets covered over. We can see clearly that young children are pure and trusting, and as they grow older, they begin to know the world around them, and they see that they cannot trust the world that much as they used to. They get used to seeing a world that is far from temimus, and as a result, they learn to stifle their own temimus, so that they can fit into their surroundings.

A child will naturally do anything that others do, believing that everyone around them is pure and acting correctly. There is a deep place in the soul as well, our temimus, which is pure and trusting. But this temimus becomes hidden from use with the more we grow older and we want to mimic our surroundings. But the temimus that remains inside us, deep down, remains dormant in us, as a holy power, a power to be completely trusting of Hashem.

If we wouldn’t be born with this power of temimus, it would be too difficult for us to acquire this power, because it wouldn’t be in our resources. But Hashem, in His great mercy, imbued us with this natural ability, from birth, so that we can regain this nature whenever we need it. We don’t need to acquire this quality of temimus from scratch. Rather, all we need to do is return to our original purity which we are born with. It has merely become covered over and hidden from our conscious awareness. But it is there, deep in our soul.

In this time of the year, when our avodah is to do seek atonement and do teshuvah, anyone with a Jewish soul that is a bit opened, will cry tears to Hashem.

Who usually cries, a child or an adult? Generally speaking, a child cries more than an adult. During this time of the year of teshuvah, each and every one us can naturally return, on some degree, to a state of mind that resembles our pure, childlike state. That is why we can easily cry during these days, epitomizing the verse, “And purify our hearts, to serve You in truth.”

These days are the time of which it says, “Before Hashem, be purified”, where we return to a place of simplicity in ourselves, the inner child in ourselves, of trusting in Hashem. This temimus is still in us and it is especially apparent during these days of teshuvah, and it enables us to cry to Hashem, simply, and earnestly. Once a year, we have this opportunity to return to our childlike state. As Dovid HaMelech said, “Like an infant on his mother’s lap.” We can return to this simple, earnest place in ourselves.

During the rest of the year, it is hard to be in this state of mind. But when we are in front of Hashem during these days, we can let this part of ourselves out from hiding, setting our inner childlike state free, and to let it run to Hashem and cry.

To access this power in ourselves, we may employ the use of our imagination, such as by imagining a child crying in his or her mother’s lap, and to further imagine how the parent lovingly fulfills the child’s request.

The blow of the shofar of Rosh HaShanah is considered to be a form of crying, the Gemara says. When a child is born, he cannot say a thing, and all he can do is cry to his parents. The sound of the shofar is like the child’s cry, and it is a hint that one should be like a child, who can easily cry to his parents; to be able to naturally cry to Hashem.

This concludes with Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, there is also crying, but it is not a crying of sadness and mourning, which is the crying we have in the month of Av. Rather, it is a crying of longing for Hashem, like a child who cries for his parents when he sees his parents leaving the house and leaving him alone.

That is the first part of teshuvah: “Be simple, with Hashem your G-d.” It is our temimus. Sit quietly with yourself, and return to a place in yourself which is childlike, pure and trusting, the purest place that exists deep inside you, which is always there. From there, from that place in yourself, turn to Hashem, and let your crying come forth, letting it flow from your innermost depths. Let us feel that this is the depth of the avodah during these days – “Be wholesome with Hashem your G-d” – and to live with this temimus.

2 – “I Place Hashem Opposite Me, Always” – Becoming Cognizant of Hashem’s Presence

The second concept contained in teshuvah is: שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד, “I place Hashem opposite me, always.”

As is well-known, the Rema in the very beginning of Shulchan Aruch begins with these words: “Shivisi Hashem L’negdi tamid” – “I place Hashem opposite me, always” – “This is the great rule in the praiseworthiness of the righteous, who walk before G-d. For the way a person sits and moves in his house does not compare to the way he sits and moves in the house of the king and when he is in front of the king.”

The Rema’s words here are speaking about the way a Jew should conduct himself during the entire year, but the especially auspicious time of the year to practically work on this concept is during these days of repentance. The Gemara says of the ten days of repentance that one should “Seek Hashem where He is found, call out to Him where he is close”. Now is the time where a person should especially seek out closeness to Hashem, because Hashem is closer to us during this time of the year.

Therefore, even it is too high of a level to try to live with the state of “Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid” – and indeed, it is a high level to always live in it – at least during the ten days of repentance, and certainly at least on Yom Kippur, we should try to attain the state of Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid.

So on Yom Kippur, before we are about to recite Kol Nidrei, and before we are about to daven any of the five tefillos of Yom Kippur, we should first stop and think that we are about to stand before Hashem and speak with Him. Before beginning each Shemoneh Esrei on Yom Kippur, stop for a minute, or half a minute, and think about:

1. Whom you are about to stand in front of, and
2. Whom you are about to speak with, and
3. When you are speaking with Hashem, where are you actually found? Remember that “The entire land is filled with His glory.”

When you speak with Him, it must be “as a man talks to his friend”, as the Mesillas Yesharim explains. Hashem is found in front of us, here, and with Him we are speaking. Hashem has no corporeal body, but His existence is constantly in front of us, and with Him we are conversing.

If one can extend this awareness into the rest of the year as well, that is praiseworthy. But let us at least do it once a day, before we are about to daven. For once a day, before you are about to daven, think for just a few seconds about Whom you are about to speak with.

Even if you cannot be on this level during the rest of the year, at least on Yom Kippur, before each of the five tefillos, stand for a few moments and think that you are about to stand before Hashem and that you will be speaking with Him. You can also try to pause in middle of Shemoneh Esrei every so often and remind yourself that you are standing before Hashem.

Many times while people are davening, their thoughts are floating all over the place and they forget they are davening. Sometimes people are even so immersed in what they are davening for, that they forget that they are standing before Hashem, and with Whom they are speaking! They forget where they are.

Part of doing teshuvah is working upon this concept of “Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Tamid”. The Rema says that this is the entire praise of the tzaddikim, but even if we cannot be on this level, at least we can aspire for it. After all, “One is obligated to say: “When will my actions reach that of my forefathers?” Although we cannot reach the level of the Avos, we must aspire to reach their level, and indeed, we can certainly touch upon their level, even if we cannot reach it fully.

If someone merits the level that is “complete teshuvah”, he can be in a state of Shivisi during the rest of the year as well. But at least during these days of teshuvah, any person can strive to touch upon this level, and to bring himself to the level of Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid, for just a few moments, and throughout the day.

Even more so, when it is the time to daven Ne’ilah, at the end of Yom Kippur, what kind of thought do we end the day with? How do we spend the last moments of Yom Kippur? When we are saying those words, “L’shanah Habaah B’Yerushalayim!!” (“Next year in Jerusalem”), we can take a few seconds to think about the ultimate purpose of this day. Think that you are standing in front of Hashem, with nothing dividing between you and Hashem – there are no barriers of sin during these moments. For one moment, bring your soul to a state of being “near” Hashem, and be aware that you are speaking with Him.

How much will this awareness extend into the rest of the year as well? That is relative, and it will depend on the level of each person. But the final thought on Yom Kippur, for each person to think, when we are taking leave of the entire year, is a simple thought: We are standing in front of Hashem, and it is with Him that we speak with. If you merit, you will also have moments throughout the year when you can feel this.

If you go into Yom Kippur with this awareness, starting with the tefillah of Maariv on Yom Kippur and leaving the final moments of Yom Kippur with this simple thought, you will certainly have a more elevated year, with siyata d’shmaya. How elevated will it be? That is up to how you choose to spend the rest of the year. But if you go into Yom Kippur with this awareness and you also leave Yom Kippur like this, your soul will receive a deeper perspective, a more purified level of truth. Each person will certainly be positively affected, on varying levels, through this purification.

3. “And You Shall Love Your Friend Like Yourself”: The Mutual Unity In The Jewish People

The third way to teshuvah is: ואהבת לרעך כמוך, “And you shall like your friend like yourself.”

In the beginning of Kol Nidrei, we say that we are permitting ourselves to pray together with [intentional, rebellious] sinners. During the rest of the year, we may not pray together with [intentional] sinners. But on Yom Kippur, there is one day of the year where even those who have gone the most astray in the Jewish people come to daven, and it is permitted for us on this day to pray together with these who have intentionally sinned. This is not simply a day in which more people come to shul to daven. Rather, Yom Kippur contains a power that unifies everyone together. It is “And you shall love your friend like yourself” which connects every Jew together, which is especially apparent on Yom Kippur.

The day of Yom Kippur is the one day of the year which causes Jews from all walks of life to come and gather together. On Yom Kippur, even those who have gone astray and who are very far, will come to shul, with siyata d’shmaya (heavenly assistance). This is not merely an action they are doing. Rather, their hearts are active on this day, seeking atonement from Hashem. Not only are they coming to speak with Hashem, but they become united again with their brethren, the collective whole of the Jewish people. They are not gathered together in shul by coincidence. Rather, there is a light of truth that comes down onto the world on Yom Kippur. The unifying love between all of the Jewish people is this light.

Rabbi Akiva said that Hashem purifies the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, and the same Rabbi Akiva said, “This is the great rule of the Torah: “And you shall love your friend like yourself.” These are not two separate statements of Rabbi Akiva – they are one and the same. The inner essence of Yom Kippur is a Jew’s bond with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, to be purified before Hashem, to be cognizant of Hashem’s presence, and it is also a day of connection with all of the Jewish people.

That is why Yom Kippur does not atone for sins unless one has sought forgiveness from others. Yom Kippur is atonement from sins against Hashem, and it is also a time to seek atonement for sins committed between man and his friend. There is a great light on Yom Kippur of love for all creations, of “And you shall love your friend like yourself”, and therefore there must be seeking of forgiveness from others before Yom Kippur.

Everyone asks each other forgiveness, because, deep down, everyone feels the light of this love. A person may not be consciously aware of this, but “his mazal sees” – his inner soul can feel this truth, that Yom Kippur is a time of mutual connection between the entire Jewish people.

Here is an example of how one can improve on the aspect of ahavas Yisrael on Yom Kippur. In many shuls on Yom Kippur, there are people who are concerned that they should find the best possible place to sit in, worrying solely for themselves, without thinking of how to benefit others. On the holiest day of the year, while standing in front of Hashem, a person may just be entirely self-absorbed, concerned only for himself. But a person on Yom Kippur must think of a possible way to be concerned for others, and make sure that another person is comfortable.

One should look for ways to help someone around him. Another needs help finding seats for his children. Another person will need something else. We should want to daven of course, but we also need to be concerned for others, and fulfill “And you shall love your friend like yourself.”

Practically speaking, you should do something for someone else on Yom Kippur that will come at the expense of some physical comfort, and even if it deters your spiritual focus. I don’t mean that you should give up your entire spirituality on Yom Kippur in order to help someone. But at least in one area, be prepared to give up from yourself for another, whether it deters you physically or spiritually. Do so from a love for others. This should not be done with the agenda of gaining forgiveness from others, which is a self-serving motivation. Rather, do an act of concern for another simply out of a love for another Jew.

An additional point, related to this, is that when we recite Tefillah Zakah (which one should try to say, as stated in Mishnah Berurah), we state that we forgive anyone who has harmed us, whether in this lifetime or in a previous lifetime, except for certain injustices committed against us, which we are not allowed to forgive for, as the Poskim discuss. Besides for those isolated occurrences, we must strive to forgive any Jew who has wronged us, and to do so from the depths of the heart.

This should not be done with the agenda that if I forgive others, then Hashem will forgive me, even though that is true. Rather, the intention should be to forgive every Jew out of a love for all Jews, to desire that they should have it good. It is not about you. Before we go into Yom Kippur, we should awaken our ahavas Yisrael for all Jews, and we should ask ourselves: Do we really want that every Jew this year should have it good, to be sealed for a good year? Or are we each worried only for our own private lives, that only “I” should have it good and that only “I” should be sealed for a good year?

If we truly want that others should have it good, we should then realize that it is insensible to bear any resentment against anyone, even if another has truly insulted you and wronged you. If you really want others to have it good and not only yourself, you should try to forgive, with your whole heart, truthfully, any person in the Jewish people who has wronged you. (To actually reach a “complete heart” is a high level, but even if you are not at that level, you can still be able to forgive someone completely).

You need to reach a point where you truly want every Jew to have a good year this year; you should want even someone who has wronged to merit a good judgment. If you want to take this further, you can even daven for others that they should have a good year. An even higher level than this is to pray for the betterment of those who have wronged you – in spite of the fact that he did not treat you fairly.

One should inspect his heart well before doing this, to see if his heart is at peace with what he is doing. This part of teshuvah – “And you shall love your friend like yourself” – is of the fundamentals of this day of Yom Kippur. Not only should there be practical concern for others on this day, but mainly in your heart, you should feel a greater love for all Jews, on this day.

If you can do the following, try to take upon yourself not to go to sleep at night unless you have done a kindness for a Jew that day. Just do one nice thing a day for another Jew. A day that goes by without doing a kindness for another Jew is a pointless kind of life. The Nefesh HaChaim writes that a person was only created to help others. Only rare individuals can be like Avraham Avinu and do chessed all day, but as for the rest of us, we should at least do one kindness every day for another Jew.

If you can help someone in the active sense, by all means, do so. If you can’t, at least daven for another, or think of how you can help him tomorrow. But don’t go to sleep unless you have done one kindness a day for another Jew. That is how you can extend the light of Yom Kippur into the rest of the year. Yom Kippur is not the only day of the year to love all Jews – we can try during the rest of the year as well to resemble the higher level of ahavas Yisrael that is more natural on Yom Kippur, by doing at least one kindness a day for another Jew.

4) “In All Your Ways, Know Him” – Sanctifying The Physical

The fourth way to teshuvah is: בכל דרכיך דעהו, “In all your ways, know Him.”

There is an entire siman in Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim (231) which explains the laws of this mitzvah. In simpler terms, there is so much we do each day. We each do hundreds of tasks each day – physical, and spiritual. We do spiritual acts each day, such as prayer, and there are much physical tasks we do each day. “In all your ways, know Him” means that even our physical acts should be with a spiritual intention.

It would be a very high level to turn all of our physical acts into spiritual acts. That would be the complete level of “In all your ways know Him”, and we cannot try to grab high levels too fast. Instead, we should work on this gradually. Pick one physical act during the day and add a spiritual intention to it.

Here is a simple example, which is applicable to Yom Kippur. On Erev Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to eat. There are many different intentions explained in our holy sefarim of how a person should go about eating on Erev Yom Kippur. We all fulfill the mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, regardless of our intention in it. But what are we thinking as we eat? By the seudah mafsekes, what are we thinking? Are we just thinking that we are eating, or are we thinking that it is a mitzvah? There are many things we can think about to elevate this act of eating, but here is one inner intention to have.

Each of us, almost without exception, is able to fast on Yom Kippur. In order to fast on Yom Kippur, it is possible to eat little on Erev Yom Kippur, but we would be very weak when fasting on Yom Kippur. If we really want to have concentration when we daven on Yom Kippur, we need energy. On Erev Yom Kippur, we should have the intention that we are eating in order to have the energy to fast on Yom Kippur.

Why do we need the energy to fast? So that we will be more comfortable? People before a fast have the habit to say to each other, “Have an easy fast.” What does an ‘easy’ fast mean? Does it mean that they shouldn’t suffer? Now there are pills people can take before a fast which makes the fast easier. For what reason should we make the fast easier…? If our intentions in wishing others well before a fast are true, it is not about having an easy fast. It is so that we can have the energy on Yom Kippur to daven properly.

So when eating the seudah mafsekes, what are we thinking? What our thoughts then? Let us think for a moment, before we begin to eat, why we are eating. We cannot eat entirely for the sake of Heaven – that is a high level. Rather, let us try to think that we are eating in order to have energy on Yom Kippur and to be able to daven properly.

If you can have this thought before you eat the seudah, and during the seudah as well, this is reaching a degree of “In all your ways, know Him”. Even more so, you can try to eat one food with the intention that you should have energy on Yom Kippur to daven better.

5) “Walk Modestly With Your G-d”: External and Internal Modesty

The final part of teshuvah is:הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, “Walk modestly with your G-d.”

The task of tzniyus (modesty) is unique to women, but let’s understand the following fundamental point, which is subtle and deep.

Before a person is born, he\she is a fetus inside the mother, hidden from the rest of the world. Nobody sees him; he is covered completely and he is tzanua (hidden, modest). Thus, the very root of our birth begins in a state of tzniyus.

The Maharal says that nothing in Creation is coincidental, even the small things; surely, then, it is not a coincidence that the beginning of our birth is in a state of modesty. Why did Hashem make it this way, that before we emerge into the world, we are hidden for nine months? Before a baby is born, he lives an existence for nine months in which he is hidden from the rest of the world. Why did Hashem make it this way? It is to show us that our very beginning is tzniyus.

Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur: A Time For Modesty

The beginning of the year, Rosh HaShanah, is certainly a time to strengthen our tzniyus. Rosh HaShanah is called “HaYom Haras Olam”, the “day of the conception of the world”. Our Sages said that the word “haras” is from the word “herayon”, conception. Rosh HaShanah is the day in which we are conceived, which serves as a root of tzniyus for the rest of the year.

Rosh HaShanah is also where we blow shofar, which “covers” over sin; as it is written, תקעו בשופר בכסה ליום חגינו, thus shofar is associated with כסה, with “covering.” The Sages expound this verse that said that Rosh HaShanah is a time where the moon is “covered”. The moon becomes more hidden and modest during Rosh HaShanah.[3]

The ten days from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur, where the moon is more covered over, is thus a time for more modesty. On Yom Kippur, the modesty becomes even more apparent: Either we are praying in shul all day on Yom Kippur, or we are praying in the home, away from the rest of the world.

Of the rest of the year, when it is not Yom Kippur, we can apply the verse, כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה – “All of the honor of a princess, is inside” – but only in the partial sense.The glory of a Jewish woman takes place on the “inside” – in the home, and not outside the home; but although the home is the main place for the Jewish woman who is a wife and mother, we know that in the end of the day, women are not found all day in their house; they go out of the home, and certainly in the times we live, this is the case.

But there is one day of the year where a large part of the Jewish people is not outside, and they are found inside, in the home. It is the one time of the year where we can truly apply this verse ofכל כבודה בת מלך פנימה. It is not a coincidence we have a day of the year in which we are not found in the outside world and that this day happens to be Yom Kippur. It is because the underlying essence of Yom Kippur is הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, “Walk secretly with your G-d” – to be in a place that is tzniyus.

But we must clearly know the following: Tzniyus is not just about covering the body. Being physically covered is certainly the main part of tzniyus in the external sense, but the inner essence (the pnimiyus) of tzniyus takes place inside us, in the depths of our heart. That is where our tzniyus is accessed.

There is a deep place in our heart which is covered and hidden from the rest of the world – and from ourselves. What is hidden from? It is hidden from our own selves, because it is so hidden. But when Yom Kippur comes, our hearts are opened, our pnimiyus is opened, and this inner place of tzniyus in our hearts becomes revealed to us.

During the rest of the year, we are experiencing the outer layers of our souls, and that is where we are seeing our life from. The inner place in our heart is hidden from us. But on Yom Kippur, the inner place in the heart can be revealed to us. Yom Kippur is a time where we are purified, where our hearts are purified to serve Hashem, and this purity of the heart means that the inner place in our heart is revealed to us. This means that on Yom Kippur, each person, on his\her own individual level, can reach the innermost place in himself\herself.

Teshuvah – Entering Deeper Into Ourselves

This is also the depth of doing teshuvah. When doing teshuvah, one needs to enter into deeper places in himself, in his\her heart. The normal feelings and emotions which we experience during the rest of the year are not our innermost feelings we reach when doing teshuvah.

Teshuvah is supposed to make us think and reflect, and to feel deeper places in ourselves, and from there, we come to feel true regret for any wrongdoings we have done and to make earnest resolutions to improve in the coming year and be better. The normal emotions which we have during the rest of the year are not the same emotions which enter us into teshuvah on Yom Kippur. The day of Yom Kippur reveals to us a more inner and hidden place in ourselves.

Preparing Ourselves On Erev Yom Kippur

It is recommended that on Erev Yom Kippur, one should sit with herself and prepare herself to enter into a deeper place of herself. If one makes this preparation, she will find it easier on Yom Kippur to reach this deeper place in herself; to reach deeper and truer feelings in herself. This is the deep place in ourselves where we can experience הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך.

Thus,הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, the concept of tzniyus\modesty, includes both external and internal modesty. The external aspect of modesty is to be dressed appropriately, but even more so, it includes being modest about ourselves: not to praise ourselves to others, so that we keep a low profile. Yet even this is still within the external aspect of tzniyus; it is not yet the inner essence of tzniyus.

Tzniyus In The 21st Century

In our generation, we can see that the main emphasis of tzniyus today is being placed on the external aspects of tzniyus, such as how to dress appropriately, etc. Something is greatly missing from the tzniyus in today’s times, and it is because the essence behind tzniyus is usually missing.

We are often grappling with the external issues of tzniyus [appropriate dress and etc.], but these are just the results of a deeper issue. Sometimes we succeed in strengthening the external aspects of tzniyus and sometimes we are less successful. But what we really need is to build our power of tzniyus from its inner root that it is based on: “Walk secretly with your G-d.”

Finding The Essence of Tzniyus In Ourselves – On Yom Kippur

It is written, “And I will dwell amongst them,” and Chazal teach that this verse means that Hashem dwells in each person’s heart. That means that each and every Jew contains in the depths of his\her a hidden place which he can enter, where the Shechinah resides and he can feel a deep closeness with Hashem. That place in our heart is where we are meant to enter on Yom Kippur.

Practically speaking, as we daven to Hashem on Yom Kippur, we need to try to enter into a deeper place in ourselves. We should do so calmly and slowly, and not try to strain ourselves to get there. But we should try to get there and concentrate on this, slowly and calmly: to reach a deeper place in ourselves, to feel a clearer perception of truths, to reach truer and purer feelings there.

Through the teshuvah of Yom Kippur that enables us to be purified by Hashem, we can feel deeper feelings on Yom Kippur than the rest of the year, where we enter into the hidden place in ourselves of “Walk secretly with your G-d.” This hidden place in ourselves is where we can truly feel that we are “with” Hashem.

In Conclusion

So let us remember, that the external aspect of tzniyus, of how we must appear and dress, is but one part of our avodah in tzniyus. Along with it we must awaken in ourselves, for just a few moments, a truer and purer feeling for tzniyus. The time to work on this is especially Yom Kippur, where we have a special opportunity to awaken in ourselves to attain a slightly deeper and truer feeling, towards tzniyus.

We have seen, with siyata d’shmaya, briefly, the five parts of teshuvah.

As mentioned in the beginning, one cannot try to work on all of these ideas at once. That will be too difficult. One should instead choose to focus on one of these paths to teshuvah, and those who merit it can work on two of the paths. Choose one of these five paths, the one that you feel speaks to you, the one that is closest to your heart.

With some people, a certain path will feel close to home, and other paths will not. With others, a different path is the one that feels closer, and not the others. Each person is different when it comes to this, because not all souls are equal. Therefore, sometimes a person will hear a certain path and it will speak to him very much, whereas another person will connect with it less.

So, sit down after this and reflect: Which one of these five paths mentioned is the one that speaks to you the most? Which is the closest one for you to work on?

All of these paths are based on the words of our Sages. I emphasize that they are the words of the Sages, and they are not my own. This idea that the word “teshuvah” stands for these five verses is a concept mentioned in many of the words of our Sages. Choose at least one of these five paths to teshuvah to work on, at least during these last few days of teshuvah leading up to Yom Kippur. And surely on Yom Kippur itself, you should try to touch upon one of these paths of teshuvah.

These days of teshuvah are not just days to daven more. We need to aim to make some kind of small change for the better, to be able to live a bit more spiritually. This change, when worked upon, will have a positive effect on you for the rest of the year as well.

May Hashem let us merit together, with siyata d’shmaya, to become elevated, to grow, each person on his own level, according to his or her own soul. May we merit to grow more and more, to merit to improve, even a little bit more improved, in the coming year.

If one merits to become even more improved, that is wonderful, but even for those who don’t, the least we can each aim for is to grow just a little bit more. This little bit of improvement can enable us to ask Hashem for another year of life, that it should at least be more elevated and more spiritual than the year before.

May we all merit, together, to be sealed in the sefer of the tzaddikim, all of Klal Yisrael, for a gmar chasimah tovah.

[1] יום כיפור 028 – ת-ש-ו-ב-ה

[2] This is said in the name of the Baal HaTanya (Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi) and Reb Zusha of Anipoli

[3] Editor’s Note: It is well-known that the Jewish woman is compared to the moon, which experiences cycles of renewal. It seems that the Rav is drawing a correlation, that just as the moon is more modest on Rosh HaShanah by being covered over, so is the avodah of a Jewish woman to become more modest, with the beginning of Rosh HaShanah.

Yom Kippur – Disconnecting from Sin

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of other Drashos on Yom Kippur

A Day of Soul With No Body

It is written, “For on this day you shall be forgiven and be purified.” Yom Kippur is the time of purity, in which Hashem purifies the Jewish people. The words of Rabbi Akiva are well-known: “Praiseworthy are the Jewish people – before Whom are they purified, and Who purifies them? Just as a mikveh purifies those who are impure, so does Hashem purify the Jewish people.”

Let us think of how our purification process is compared to that of a mikveh. In the sefarim hakedoshim, it is brought that one should immerse in a cold mikveh, because the words “mayim karim” (cold water) has the same gematria (numerical value in Hebrew letters) as the word “meis” – “corpse.” In other words, when a person immerses in a cold mikveh, he is considered to be like a dead person.

What is the gain in being considered like a dead person? Hashem doesn’t want us to die – He wants us to live. A dead person cannot serve Him and do mitzvos. So what is the gain in being considered like “dead” when one goes to a cold mikveh?

There are many meanings behind this concept, but we will focus on just one point, with the help of Hashem.

What, indeed, is death? When a person dies, does he stop existing? We all know: of course not. We are made up of a body and a soul; by death, the soul leaves the body, the body is buried and the soul rises to Heaven. So the whole concept of death is that the soul leaves the body.

If we think about it, this is what Yom Kippur is all about. We have a mitzvah on this day to fast, and our body is denied certain pleasures. We have to be like angels on this day – souls without a body. Only our body suffers from this, though – not our soul. The soul actually receives greater vitality on Yom Kippur (as the Arizal writes). Normally, we need to eat and drink physically in order to be alive, but on Yom Kippur, we receive vitality from above, and thus we do not need physical food or drink.

The Arizal would stay up all night on Yom Kippur. Simply speaking, this was because he didn’t want to take a chance of becoming impure at night (from nocturnal emissions). But the deeper reason behind his conduct was because Yom Kippur is a day in which we are angelic, and we don’t need sleep. Yom Kippur is a day of soul with no body.

On every Yom Tov, there is a mitzvah to eat. Although Yom Kippur is also a Yom Tov, we don’t eat, because it is a day of soul with no body. It is the only day of the year in which we live through our soul and not through our body. The rest of the Yomim Tovim involve mitzvos that have to do with our body.

It is also the only day of the year in which we resemble the dead. We wear white, and there are two reasons for this: the inner reason is because we are resembling the angels, and the external reason is because we want to remind ourselves of death, who are clothed in white shrouds. The truth is that these are not two separate reasons – they are really one and the same: a dead person is a soul with no body, just like an angel.

Let us stress the fact that we do not mean to remind ourselves of death in order to scare ourselves. Although there is a concept of holy fear, that is not our mission on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is actually scarier than Yom Kippur, because it is the day of judgment. The point of reminding ourselves of death on Yom Kippur is, because Yom Kippur is a day in which one is a soul without a body – resembling an angel.

The Purity Available Only On Yom Kippur

That is the clear definition of Yom Kippur, and now we must think into what our actual avodah is on this day. We mentioned before the custom to immerse in a cold mikveh before Yom Kippur. It seems that this is because when we immerse in cold water, we are considered dead, and thus we are purified. But on a deeper note, the death which a person must accept when he immerses in the mikveh is so that he can realize that he is really a soul, without a body. Hashem purifies us on Yom Kippur – when we consider ourselves to be like a soul with no body.

Our purity does not happen on Rosh Hashanah or on Sukkos. It does not happen on Pesach or on any other Yom Tov. We are purified only on Yom Kippur – the time in which we are a soul without a body.

The Lesson We Learn from Yom Kippur For The Rest of the Year
Read more Yom Kippur – Disconnecting from Sin

The Four Foundational Spiritual Practices of the Ramchal

I’ve had the good fortune to learn Mesillas Yesharim in depth with a chavrusa for close to twenty years. During that time, I found it helpful to summarize the important ideas in the sefer to make it easier to review the principles on a regular basis, as the Ramchal recommends. I highly recommend that you sign up for Hachzek (https://hachzek.com/), an organization that has recently started a Daily Mussar Impact program with a daily learning of the Mesillas Yesharim.

This year I was able to distill the Mesillas Yesharim to four foundational practices which have helped me internalize and actively use the main ideas of the sefer. Since Rosh HaShanah is a great time to work on developing our souls, this quick summary of the four foundational practices of the Ramchal might be helpful.

The first practice is to direct your thinking to the two main spiritual goals of developing a deeper relationship with G-d and with people. Thinking about these goals and whether your daily actions are in line with them will make your day-to-day living more meaningful. If we don’t regularly think about these goals, then the distractions of daily living will prevent us from making any real spiritual progress.

The second practice is to generate the positive emotions of love of G-d and love of people. We generate love by identifying and focusing on the positive traits of G-d and the people in our lives. Since happiness results from feeling connected, the more we love, the happier we will be. If we don’t actively fill our emotional needs with love-based happiness, then we’ll probably fill them with alternatives like news, politics, sports, entertainment and technology.

The third practice is to elevate your everyday actions by doing them with thought and positive emotions. This adds a spiritual dimension to our actions which increases our pleasure from life. If we don’t proactively elevate our actions with thought and emotion, then we’ll often be reacting to physical pleasures that appeal to our desires.

The fourth practice is to serve G-d by learning and observing His teachings and to serve people by identifying and addressing their needs. Serving G-d and serving people is the cornerstone of living with spiritual purpose. If we don’t focus on serving others, then we’ll continue with our inborn self-centered perspective which is the primary obstacle to a flourishing spiritual life.

The four practices map to Mesillas Yesharim as follows: directing our thinking (zehirus/watchfulness), generating positive emotions (zerizus/zealousness), elevating our actions (nekiyas/cleanliness) and serving Hashem and others (chassidus/saintliness). These practices help us overcome the spiritual impediments of distraction, boredom, desire and self-centeredness. The result is a fulfilling spiritual life filled with meaning, happiness, pleasure and purpose.

May our commitment to developing our souls earn us the merit to be inscribed in the “Book of Life” this Rosh HaShanah.

The Challenge of Elul for “Former Teshuva Masters”

By Micheal Sedley

Elul is upon us and collectively the Observant community is getting into Tshuva Mode.

Beyond BT poses an interesting question which I think applies to many people who are Ba’al Tshuva, or have moved in the level of observance over a period of years:

When I first became a BT, Teshuva was so easy. Over the course of 2 years, I was keeping Shabbos, Kosher, Davening regularly and performing all the seasonal mitzvos.

After 8 years it has become a lot harder to do Teshuva, even at this time of year. When I look over the last year, the changes are much smaller and were much more difficult to make.

Have other people experienced this change in Teshuva?

Are there a different set of tactics and goals at this later stage?

Is there anything special about the Teshuva of a BT at this point or am I now fighting the same battles that a FFB faces?

“Former Teshuva Master”

I think in a nutshell the problem is that the focus of one’s tshuva must change, and the new focus is often more difficult.

Many people going through a transition towards more observance have a list of things that they know deep down they should be doing but aren’t yet. This list may even be subconscious, but come Rosh Hashana time it’s relatively easy to find the item on the top of the list and commit oneself. If last year I didn’t daven, than this year I’ll start davening. If I’m already davening, maybe I’ll increase the Tfilllot I say each day, or attend minyan each day, or be more careful with kashrut, or Brachot, or some other easy-to-identify Halachic obligation.

This type of Tshuva is relatively easy, and it’s a wonderful feeling to look back over the past year and say “two years ago I ate traif, last year I stopped eating non-kosher meat, this year I’ll be 100% kosher”.

The problem is that eventually you find that you’re living a complete halachic lifestyle – there is nothing quick and easy on the top of the list. Sure you could improve your kavana during davenng or cut down on Bitul Zman or Lashon Harah, but these things are hard to quantify, they aren’t the sort of thing that you can put a check mark next to on your list. I think that this is one of the reasons that suddenly a “Former Teshuva Master” can find it very difficult to have a meaningful Elul.

To make matters even more difficult, this question is seldom addressed directly. In Yeshiva whenever there was a talk on Tshuva they always used a simple example like “lets say someone wants a cheeseburger and stops himself, that’s tshuva” – the problem is that most tshuva is not so easy to qualify, and besides I’ve never had a cheeseburger in my life, and don’t have a particular ta’ava for one, so the metaphor really doesn’t talk to me.

Anyway, the article from Beyond BT got me thinking, and I tried to put together a list of things that I really can work on. I probably wont achieve all of these improvements this Elul, it is possible that I wont achieve any of them, but at least if I have a list it’ll be a place to start on this year’s tshuva adventure.

These items are just off the top of my head, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. Bli Neder over the next 40 days (until Yom Kippur) I’ll review this list, maybe modify it, maybe just think about it, but hopefully this will help give me some direction to move in during Elul, and maybe – just maybe, after Yom Kippur I’ll have at least one measurable improvement in my life.

* I’ll make a conscious effort to appreciate my wife more, especially her non-stop effort to keep the household running smoothly. I’ll identify additional ways that I can help around the house and show additional support for my wife both physically and emotionally.

* I’ll make a conscious effort to spend more time with each of my kids. They all need time with their father on a daily basis and I’ll try to make sure that spending time with them is part of my daily or weekly routine. This could include learning Gemara with my oldest, or practicing reading with the girls (each at their own level), or maybe riding a bike or playing a board game with them – each of them.

* I’ll work on anger, especially with my kids. It is very easy to loose patience with your own kids, but I’ll try to never raise my voice to them and to treat them at least as well as I would the kids of a neighbor (I can’t imagine myself yelling at someone else’s kids).

* I’ll try to use all my time as constructively as possible. When I’m working I should be 100% at work, when I’m with the kids I should be 100% with the kids, when I’m in a shiur I should be 100% at the shiur.

* I’ll slow down with my Brachot, especially Birkat Hamazon. Does mumbling and skipping words in Birkat Hamazon really show my appreciation for the food that I just ate? Is it really so difficult to make sure that I say ALL of the words?

* I’ll try to start off my day by being ON TIME for shul – how difficult should it be to get to shul a few minutes before it starts to put on Tfillin, recite Korbanot, and maybe even look at Parsha Shavua?

Have a great Elul!

Originally posted in August 2008 here.

Parshas Ki Teitzei- Maintain Your Advantage This Elul

This week’s parsha includes the commandment of זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way out of Mitzrayim. This mitzvah, which references the sin of Miriam when she spoke lashon hara about Moshe which resulted in her punishment of tzaras, is among the seven that we are obligated to remember every day. There are scores of lessons to be learned from this mitzvah as laid out by nearly all of the major meforshim. The Chofetz Chaim speaks about it at length in both the Sefer Chofetz Chaim and the Sefer Shmiras Halashon in addition to an entire sefer dedicated to it known as the Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam.

It’s difficult to choose which of the hundreds of ideas to focus on, but there is a nuance that the Chasam Sofer points out that is highly relevant to Elul. The Chasam Sofer references the gemara in Sotah (9b) which explains מִרְיָם הִמְתִּינָה לְמֹשֶׁה שָׁעָה אַחַת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחוֹתוֹ מֵרָחוֹק לְפִיכָךְ נִתְעַכְּבוּ לָהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׁבְעָה יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם Miriam waited for Moshe one hour, as it says: And his sister stood from afar. Therefore the nation waited for her seven days in the desert, as it says: and the people did not travel until Miriam returned (from the quarantine that was imposed upon her as a result of the tzaras she suffered from in punishment for speaking about Moshe). This gemara teaches that Miriam was rewarded midda keneged midda for her chesed in waiting for Moshe when he was a baby.

The Chasam Sofer asks on this gemara. He explains that there are two ways in which we can look at what Miriam was doing when she was watching Moshe. The first way is to view her as if she was simply a sister watching her brother to see what happens to him in a dangerous situation. The second way is to understand that Miriam had prophecy and therefore knew that Moshe was destined to become the leader and redeemer of Klal Yisrael. As such, her intention in watching him was because she wanted to see if there was something she could do “to assist” Hashem’s chosen leader. This second possibility is clearly on a much higher level as it would have been carried out not simply because of the love of a sister for her brother but lekavod shamayim. The Chasam Sofer points out that we are commanded to give others the benefit of the doubt and, therefore, we would have to say that Miriam watched Moshe for the second, more holy reason. However, that is not the case. We see from the fact that Miriam was rewarded in this world, by having Klal Yisrael wait for her, that Hashem viewed her as waiting for Moshe on the lower, albeit still very lofty level, — as a sister might. Because if she was waiting for Moshe on the higher level, her reward would have been so much greater that it would have been reserved for the next world.

In addition to our obligation to judge favorably, the gemara in Shabbos (127b) tells us: הַדָּן חֲבֵירוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת — דָּנִין אוֹתוֹ לִזְכוּת Everyone who judges his friend favorably, he himself is judged favorably. That means that Hashem also judges favorably. So why was it that Miriam was not judged favorably? The Chasam Sofer answers his question as follows. Miriam made a presumption relating to how Moshe was acting vis-a-vis his wife, and she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt, she was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem. The converse of the gemara is true: anyone who does not judge his friend favorably, is not judged favorably by Hashem. The Chasam Sofer concludes: וזהוּ מוּסר למספּרי לה״ר This is the lesson to those who speak Lashon Hara.

All throughout Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, we are seeking rachamim from Hashem. We’re asking Him to give us the benefit of the doubt, even when He knows our exact intentions were sometimes less than stellar. And this is something that Hashem actually “wants” to do. However, if, during this same time period, we are not judging others favorably, we are forfeiting the right to ask Hashem to judge us favorably. There are halachos that determine when we must give someone the benefit of the doubt and when we do not need to. During these special days when we want Hashem to tip the scales toward our benefit even when we really don’t “deserve it”, we should be granting others the benefit of the doubt lefnim meshuras hadin.

The Takeaway:
Miriam was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Hashem judges us in the way that we judge others. When we are asking Hashem to overlook our flaws and see what’s good and focus on the potential within us, we must do the same for others or lose that opportunity ourselves.

This Week:
Assume good intentions on the part of those around you. When something occurs and you have the impetus to create a story about why someone did something, create a story that is positive and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Eric Bruntlett’s Elul

By CJ Srullowitz (http://luleidemistafina.blogspot.com)

One of the joys of being an “ex-pat” Phillies fan, living in New York, is that I can watch my team’s games over the internet. This sure beats the good ol’ days when, in order to listen to my favorite team play, I had to drive around the county in my car, with the radio set to 1210 on the AM dial, until I found a spot that picked up, all the way from Eastern Pennsylvania, a somewhat static-free signal.

Nonetheless, when the Phillies come to New York, I am, ironically, left without video coverage of the game. You see, the way it works is that the local cable companies pay enormous sums of money to reserve all broadcast rights within a team’s market. So if you want to watch a game, in New York, featuring the Mets or the Yankees you first need to buy a cable television packages. In each market, Major League Baseball “blacks out” the local games from its internet service. So when the Phillies play the Yankees or Mets, I’m in a bind. It’s either the radio or Kosher Delight.

Such was the case today as I drove back from getting a tooth filled at my dentist’s office in Queens. The Phils were getting ready to take the field against the Mets at their brand-new home, Citi Field, just as I was driving past, my lower left jaw still numb from novacaine. I debated turning off the Grand Central Parkway and heading for the stadium parking lot to look for a last-minute ticket. But with more important things to do with my afternoon than invest three hours in a ballgame, I did the sensible thing and headed home, trying to convince myself that radio broadcasts are as good as the real thing.

The game appeared over as soon as it started. The Phillies hit two three-run homers in the first inning. But the Mets, down by six runs twice in the game, started to chip away at the Phillies lead. By the ninth, the Phillies were still in front, 9-6, but the momentum had begun to shift toward the Mets.

At this point my computer—through which I was listening to the game—informed me that the blackout had been removed for the bottom of the ninth inning, and the video feed commenced. This was great only briefly, as the first Mets hitter wound up on third, on a three-base error by the Phillies’ first baseman. That play, coupled with an unreliable Brad Lidge and his 7.05 earned run average, on the mound for the Phils, made the phaithful understandably edgy.

That unease gave way to unbridled nail-biting after second baseman Eric Bruntlett muffed the next two plays—the first, scored an error; the second, charitably, a hit. Why was Bruntlett even in the game? Where was Chase Utley, the Phillies’ perennial All-Star, and unofficial leader? He was being given—he never takes—a day off. Bruntlett, hitting .128 for the year, numbers that do not befit someone competing on a championship team, was subbing.

All of a sudden, it was deja vu all over again for the Phillies: holding a slight lead, the tying runs on base, the winning run at the plate, and nobody out—all being protected by Brad Lidge, who was carrying the weight of eight blown saves on his shoulders. We phans have been here before, we’ve seen this picture, and it doesn’t always end pretty.

And then it did.

The next hitter, Jeff Francoeur hit a bullet up the middle. Bruntlett, moving to his right, jumped up, caught the ball and landed on second base, doubling up Luis Castillo, who had been running to third on the pitch. Bruntlett then engaged in an awkward two-step with Dan Murphy, who was just arriving at second base, before tagging him on the letters. And just like that, the game was over. Phillies win.

An unassisted triple play!

I had never seen one before. Not surprising since this was only the fifteenth time in Major League history that one had ocurred. It is the rarest feat in baseball.

Eric Bruntlett, who had been responsible for allowing the two runners to reach base safely to begin with; who was on the verge of being the goat of the game; who because of his awful hitting this year might have been cut from the team if they had gone on to lose this game, emerges as the hero and will have his name in the record books. He was in the right place at the right time and reacted decisively.

Life, like baseball, has many twists and turns—some of them sudden. Elul is a time when we all are asked to come to terms with our behavior throughout the year. Perhaps we are hitting a spiritual .128 for the season. Perhaps we made a couple of errors over the summer. Perhaps we are on the verge of blowing the Big Game.

Now we are in the right place at the right time. We, too, must react decisively. Eric Bruntlett reminds us: “Yeish shekoneh olamo besha’a achas”—it’s never too late to turn it around. Redemption can come more quickly than you ever imagined possible.

Originally Published September 2009

Teshuvah: Returning to Our Source

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Talks on Elul

Teshuvah – Returning To Hashem Through Abandoning Past Sins

“השיבנו אבינו לתורתך” – “Return us, our Father, to Your Torah.”

When a person sins, (rachmana litzlan – May Hashem have mercy upon him), there are three aspects of teshuvah that he needs, as we say in this blessing of Shemoneh Esrei. Besides for the fact that he has sinned against Hashem, he has also distanced himself from the Torah.

Thus, when we seek to do teshuvah, not only do we ask Hashem to return us to Him, but we also ask to be returned to the Torah, that we should once again keep the Torah. The final step of the teshuvah is when we merit a “complete teshuvah” –החזירנו בתשובה שלימה לפניך.

So first, we ask Hashem to return us to the state in which we recognize Him as our Father. השיבנו אבינו. Then, we ask Hashem that we be returned to His Torah.השיבנו אבינו לתורתך. We can then merit to come to a “complete” teshuvah, which this blessing of Shemoneh Esrei concludes with – החזירנו בתשובה שלימה לפניך.

Teshuvah is to return. To where are we returning to? To Hashem.

Returning To The Proper Path In Life – To Abandon The Indulgence In Permissible Desires

On a more subtle note, even if we wouldn’t sin, we still need to do teshuvah, because even if a person doesn’t sin, he can still be far from Hashem. The essence of teshuvah is to return to our Source, even if we haven’t sinned. This is because a person can still be distanced from Hashem even if he doesn’t sin.

For example, there is a concept of “a disgusting one who acts within the permission of the Torah.”[1] When a person lives for his body and not for his soul, he indulges in physical pleasures that are not prohibited by the Torah. Although he hasn’t sinned, he has indulged in his body, and he needs to abandon this situation – as well and return to his source, his soul’s source, which is Hashem and the Torah.

When a person sins, the sin puts constraint on his connection with Hashem; that is very clear. But even if a person doesn’t sin, and even if he has done teshuvah over the sin, he can still be heavily attached to materialism, and this will prevent a person from connecting himself to Hashem.

Living A Life of The Soul

Rabbeinu Yonah in sefer Shaarei Teshuvah writes that a person needs to to abandon his improper path, in order to do teshuvah. This can even be referring to a kind of person who lives religiously, but his soul is not revealed in his life. He does not feel his soul, and instead he lives life through his body. Although he puts on his tallis and tefillin in the morning, it’s only on his body, because he lives and experiences life entirely through his body.

Teshuvah is not just about leaving our sins; it is about abandoning the very path a person is at [initially] in his life, which is heading towards materialism.

The Root of A Life of Soul: Realizing That Hashem Is Our Father

השיבנו אבינו לתורתך וקרבנו מלכינו לעבודתך – “Return us, our Father, to Your Torah; and draw us close, our King, to serve You.” After we return to keeping the Torah, we can return to serving Hashem. But the very first thing we need to realize that Hashem is our Father – and that we are His children. The blessing starts out with the words השיבנו אבינו – “Return us, our Father.” That is the first thing we need to realize: Hashem is “our Father”.

If a person doesn’t realize this, he is saying words that aren’t truthful to where he is right now; his mouth and heart are not in line with each other. Although Chazal established that we all say this tefillah in Shemoneh Esrei, if a person doesn’t realize the truth of what he is saying, from a deeper perspective he is saying something that’s not true to his life.

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Soul’s Desires

So a person must ask himself how much he is in touch with his soul in his life. How can one recognize it? Our soul loves spirituality – such as Torah, mitzvos, and connecting with Hashem. By contrast, our body loves This World and its desires.

For example, let us examine the emotion of love which we are familiar with. What do we love? Is our love only being experienced through our physical desires? Desire [by itself] is not the same thing as love. On another note, if we “love” something of This World, that’s not “love” – it is simply desire.

Teshuvah – Repenting and Returning

The first part of teshuvah, simply, is to repent from our sins. That is the obvious part. But in addition, we need to uncover the deeper aspect of teshuvah, which is that we must realize that we are returning to our Source: our Father.

Ask yourself the following: If we would be given more life on this world, would we stay here so we can do more mitzvos? Or we would we want to stay here so we can continue to enjoy this world’s pleasures…?

Teshuvah is a deep power in our soul, to wish to return, to our point of origin. When a person learns Torah and does mitzvos, he can still be living a life of the body…. even if he still sits in yeshivah for many years and always learns Torah every day!

The deep aspect of teshuvah is to realize that we are children of Hashem, that we are a neshamah (Divine soul). And just as the body enjoys the pleasures of this world, so does our neshamah yearn for Hashem, for Torah, and for mitzvos.

Our Avodah: Revealing Our Neshamah

But we do not need to “acquire” an enjoyment for Hashem and for Torah; it is already there in our soul! The problem is that the soul isn’t often revealed, because the body is initially dominant on a person, and it is concealing the soul.

Therefore, our avodah is thus not to acquire our spiritual feelings. Rather, our avodah is to reveal our neshamah, from its potential state into its active state – and then we will naturally love Hashem and Torah, as an automatic result.

Yearning To Live A Life of Neshamah

People who are able to sit and learn their whole life and to love learning Torah are able to do so not because they always have the answers to all their questions when they learn. It is rather because they have succeeded in uncovering their natural yearning for Hashem and for his Torah.

Therefore, we must be aware when we do teshuvah, that we need to return to our original Source, the way we were originally, when we were pure. To illustrate, a child cries when he is looking for his home. Why does he cry? It is because he yearns to return to his home, to his source.

If a person lives life through his body, even if he learns Torah and does mitzvos, he lives an animalistic kind of existence. One must reveal the light of the neshamah in his life.

That is all part of the teshuvah process that one needs to do, in addition to how he needs to abandon sin. If a person doesn’t have a constant yearning to return to his soul, if he doesn’t feel a burning kind of desire of his soul to return to Torah and to do Hashem’s will – then he has to do teshuvah exactly about this problem!

One needs to yearn to return to an inner kind of life in which he recognizes that his soul is his true source, wishing that he could return to his original state of purity.

The Main Kind of Teshuvah That Is Needed In Our Times

Most people in today’s world are not entrenched in sin – rather, the main problem we see today is that people are simply entrenched in a “body” kind of life.

Teshuvah is not about learning “more” Torah and “doing” mitzvos. It is about living a life of neshamah. It is that when we go to sleep at night, our neshamah continues to yearn for more closeness with Hashem and with Torah. It is that when we get up in the morning, we feel this yearning of our neshamah, and that we continue to feel this yearning even as we walk in the street.

Therefore, besides for doing teshuvah for our past sins, an essential part of our teshuvah is that we need to search for an inner kind of life, in which we feel ourselves yearning to return to our original purity.

Do any of us want next year to the same as this year? If we want next year to really be different than this past year, we must have a constant yearning every day and all the time to live a life of yearning for Hashem, for Torah, and for mitzvos.

Letting Go Of This World

To help give yourself an idea of how you can work on this, each of us should imagine what the day of death will look like, when our soul will leave our body.

If we always think about this – in a serene way of course, and not to be sad or morbid about it – we can begin to feel that our body is not who we are. We will then be able to feel that our real self is our neshamah. One day, we will leave our body. Thinking about this will help you realize the inner world that is going on inside of you.[2]

We must realize that the kind of world we see in front of us – even though there is much Torah and mitzvos today – is a lifestyle that is centered around interests of the body. We need to uncover the perspective of our neshamah and experience life through it. Of course, this will involve a lot of avodah to get there, but this is the root that we can uncover and be in touch with.

In Conclusion

May we merit from Hashem to understand that there is a kind of inner life we can live, in which we can return to our Source – to merit to return to our Father, and thereby come to have complete teshuvah.

[1] See Ramban to Parshas Kedoshim 19:1

[2] For more details, see Bilvavi Part 4, Chapter 5 – Calmly Letting Go Of This World

The Importance of Developing Emotional Connections

The Need For Emotional Connection
The Mesillas Yesharim teaches us that the basis of our Service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you?
– Only to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in all His ways,
– and to love Him,
– and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit.

We are quite good at observing the commandments, but many of us have trouble with the emotional component, specifically that of loving Hashem. We know we are supposed to love Hashem, but do we actually experience that love emotionally?

Without a strong emotional connection to Hashem and Torah, our mitzvos become rote, our davening becomes rushed, and we look to our possessions, our vacations, our vocations, and the worlds of sports, entertainment, and social media for emotional stimulation. It’s very likely that the spiritual malaise effecting large segments of our community is a result of a lack of a strong emotional connection to Hashem and Torah.

How Can We Develop Love
Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner zt”l taught that to develop our Love of Hashem, we should work on Loving Our Fellow Jew, which is a commandment in its own right.

Love means to have a strong emotional connection. Most people have a strong emotional connection with their spouses, their children and their parents. But when we walk into Shul, with how many people do we actually feel a strong emotional connection?

To develop our love of our fellow Jews, we have to identify and relate to their positive qualities. One such quality is that at the root of every Jew is a pure spiritual soul. Every Jew is part of the collective soul of the Jewish people which unites us all. Every Jew is a child of Hashem and is loved by Hashem. Every Jew in our community places a part in creating an environment where we can grow through Torah and Mitzvos. And every Jew in our minyan, is instrumental in increasing the likelihood that Hashem will accept our Tefillos. We’ve identified a few positive qualities that give us the ammunition to develop our love.

Having identified the positive qualities, we have to actively and repeatedly think about that we love our fellow Jews because of their qualities. Thinking that we love someone is instrumental in actually developing that love. We shouldn’t be sidetrack by the fact that we love our spouses, children and parents more then our Shul members. We are obligated to love every Jew and each Jew has inherent positive qualities that form the foundation of love.

Actively thinking about our love of our fellow Jews is critical to developing that emotional capacity – and using it to love Hashem. So on a regular basis we can look around our Shul, and think about how we love this person, and that person, etc..

Loving Hashem
When we develop the practice of experiencing emotional love on a regular basis, we can then use that capability to Love Hashem. Our prayer books are filled with praise of the positive qualities of Hashem which give us many reasons to love Him. We have to actively think about how we love Hashem. It’s not enough to know it intellectually, we have to develop that love, by regularly thinking how we love Hashem.

It’s interesting that Chazal have put a special focus in the Three Weeks on developing a Love of our Fellow Jews. This is followed by the month of Elul, where we focus on Love of Hashem as indicated by ‘Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li’ – ‘I am for My Beloved and My Beloved is for Me’. Loving people and loving Hashem are commandments that are achievable. We can start on the right track every day in Shul with thoughts of Love. Don’t worry, nobody will know, but don’t be surprised if we start feeling them loving us back.

How Do You Feel Sad About Something You Never Saw? (Bilvavi)

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Get a PDF of Three Weeks Talks

How Do You Feel Sad About Something You Never Saw?

Our avodah during the Nine Days involves certain actions we do, which eventually lead up to the day of Tisha B’Av – the very climax of our pain. There are outer actions we have to do according to halachah, but there is also an inner work to be done.

It is hard for us to imagine what it was like when we had a Beis HaMikdash. It is very far from our mind to comprehend, and it is hard as well even to imagine it. We are thus very far from feeling the pain of the destruction. How can we feel pain over something which we never saw, something which we can’t even really imagine?

The avodah we have during the Nine Days is about feeling the pain [over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and what we used to have, before we were placed into exile]. Pain involves our deep emotions. Thus, we need to try to awaken ourselves to cry about what happened during these days. But it is very difficult for many people to do so. People read the stories and the history of what happened during those times, yet it is still very hard for people to actually feel pain and to cry over the tragic period of our history.

We need to find a way to open ourselves up, so that we can feel the depth of the pain of the destruction. We will try here, with the help of Hashem, to draw these matters closer to our hearts, so we can come to feel the pain that we are supposed to feel; to feel how the Shechinah is in exile.

The Superficial Way To Feel Pain

There are two ways how a person can try to draw himself close to mourning over the destruction. One of them is not that effective, while the other way is more effective.

One way (mentioned above) is for a person to awaken himself, in a superficial manner, to get inspired. This can be done by reading the statements of Chazal about the destruction. For most people, however, this doesn’t work, because it is hard to actually feel the pain of the destruction just by reading about the tragedies that went on. A person reads on and on about the many tragedies that Chazal say took place, yet he still doesn’t feel that it has to do with him, and it doesn’t get him to cry.

The Inner Way To Awaken Pain Over the Destruction

An alternative way, which is the way that will help us, is to awaken from within ourselves an internal kind of crying. Then we will be able to actually cry on our outside as well.

This is not accomplished through the usual inspiration that comes from outside of ourselves. We will explain.

All the maalos (qualities) which the soul can attain – such as yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven), kedushah (holiness), taharah (purity), etc. – are all desires of our soul to gain more and more levels in ruchniyus (spirituality). This is the universal desire of the Jewish people: to grow in our ruchniyus. But we must understand that inspiration alone will not suffice in order to accomplish this.

When the Beis Hamikdash was around, there was the Shechinah (Hashem’s revealed Presence), and this enabled people to reach very high levels in their ruchniyus. The great spiritual light that existed then affected all people, even the simplest Jew. The Vilna Gaon writes that we have no comprehension of even the simplest Jew of those times.

If anyone thinks about this – not just intellectually, but as an internalization – he would really see what we are missing today. The desires that we have to grow in ruchniyus, and the frustrations that we each have in trying to grow, would not have existed had we lived in the times of the Beis Hamikdash! It was so much easier to serve Hashem then! If we think about this and what this means for us, we would realize the true depth of the destruction.

All of our frustrations, and all of our various failures, are all a result of exile. Because we don’t have the Shechinah, it is so much harder for us to serve Hashem. We have yearnings to serve Hashem, we really want to grow in Torah and mitzvos, and in all areas of our ruchniyus – but we have so much frustration in trying to succeed. This is all because we don’t have the Shechinah.

If this doesn’t bother a person, that’s a different problem altogether. We are talking about someone who does realize it’s a problem. If a person realizes what he’s missing, he should go deeper into this reflection and what it means: If I would have the Beis Hamikdash in my life, I wouldn’t have so many problems in my ruchniyus.

If a person thinks about this, he will be able to awaken the pain that he is supposed to have over the destruction. There is a lot to think about here: how far we are in our ruchniyus. How far we are from Torah, from Tefillah, from Ahavas Yisrael, from shemiras einayim, from taharah…and from all other areas we need to be better at.

Anyone who thinks about this – calmly, and in solitude (as the Chazon Ish writes to do) – will discover how painful this realization is, and this will bring a person to cry.

In Summary

The avodah during these days is to first contemplate this on at least an intellectual level, and then internalize it in our hearts: how much we are missing.

If we would have a Beis Hamikdash, our hearts would be different, our daas would be different, our middos would be different. Contemplate this, and you will realize how painful this discovery is. And if you merit, it might even bring you to tears.

This is how we can awaken ourselves to cry. Of course, this is not yet reaching the purpose of why we mourn. We are only saying how we can open ourselves up to feel the pain we are supposed to feel.

Most People Need This Approach

The true Tisha B’Av one is supposed to have is to feel the general painful situation of the Jewish people, but this is only reached by someone who has great Ahavas Yisrael. Most people, though, have not reached such a high level of Ahavas Yisrael, and therefore they find it hard to cry over the situation of our people today.

That being the case, practically speaking, most people will need to simply awaken from within themselves a personal reason to cry, such as by thinking about one’s personal frustrations in areas of ruchniyus.

We can only cry over the loss of the Shechinah if we have already drawn ourselves close to the Shechinah, but most people aren’t close to the Shechinah; therefore, it is hard for most people to relate to the concept of the “pain of the Shechinah.” Therefore, most people need to simply open themselves up to cry: by thinking about their own private suffering, by thinking about how much we are missing from our own life.

The Higher Stage: Contemplating Another’s Pain

Let us continue one step further, but first make sure that you are on the first level: first realize where you are in your ruchniyus. If your heart has been opened at least to this first level, you can continue to the next level we are about to say.

Think about the following. Who do you love on this world? Everyone has people whom they love on this world; who do you love the most on this world? Think about this, and now, think: Do you feel the pain of the person whom you love the most? Do you feel his physical pain? If you do, what about the things that bother him spiritually? Do you feel any pain, whatsoever, at his\her situation? If you do, now connect yourself to his\her pain. Then, think about the following? The pain that your beloved person has is all a result of the loss of the Shechinah on this world! This is because all of the pain in the world comes from the absence of Shechinah.

What If Someone Doesn’t Care About Ruchniyus?

In the first stage we explained, we explained how a person should try to awaken his spiritual pain and frustration, so that he can awaken himself to the pain and mourning over the loss of the Shechinah. But what if someone’s spiritual situation doesn’t bother him that much? What can he do to awaken himself to tears over the loss of the Shechinah, if he doesn’t care that much about his own ruchniyus in the first place?

He can at least think into his physical situation, and let himself be bothered by the things in his life that are not alright. Every person has things in his life that bother him. After all, who doesn’t have hardship and difficulty on this world? Thinking about this can help a person open himself up to the idea of feeling pain, and now that he has brought the pain to the surface, he can remind himself that all of this pain is because we are in exile, because we don’t have the Shechinah.

A person has to sit and think about these reflections during Tisha B’Av, so that he can open himself up to the idea of pain and mourning over the exile and the loss of the Shechinah. Besides for hearing Eichah and reciting Kinnos on Tisha B’Av, a person must make sure to actually make these reflections and awaken himself to feel some level of pain.

This self-introspection must be done privately. Simply think about what pains you in your life. Anyone is on the level of doing this. Then, after you remind yourself of the pain you have in your life, realize that all of your pain is rooted in the fact that we do not have a Beis Hamikdash, that we are missing the Shechinah. This will help you open yourself up to the concept of pain, and it will be a small opening for you to help you feel the real pain you are supposed to feel.

May we all merit to feel the pain of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and to be of those whom our Sages say, “Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to see it in its rebuilding.”

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

Parshas Balak – Everyone Knows, Except Me

וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר. And Balak ben Zippor saw.
The Midrash asks what was it that Balak saw? מַהוּ וַיַּרְא. רָאָה בַּפֻּרְעָנוּת הָעֲתִידָה לָבֹא עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְשׂוֹנְאָן הָיָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל שׂוֹנְאִים. שֶׁכֻּלָּם הָיוּ בָּאִין בְּמִלְחָמוֹת וּבְשִׁעְבּוּד שֶׁהֵן יְכוֹלִים לַעֲמֹד בָּהֶן. וְזֶה, כְּאָדָם שֶׁהוּא מוֹצִיא דָּבָר מִפִּיו לַעֲקֹר אֻמָּה שְׁלֵמָה. What Does it mean “he saw”? He saw the punishment that would come upon Israel in the future. And he hated them more than all other enemies. For they all would come with war and subjugation and they (Israel) were able to withstand them. And this one (Balak) was like a man that that which came from his mouth (his speech) could uproot an entire nation.

Balak saw that the power of the Bnei Yisrael was its speech. When all of the nations of the world, even those who seemed mightier, would attack, the Bnei Yisrael prevailed. But Balak knew that this was not due to military acumen or the strength of numbers. It was because of that which came out of their mouths — their Torah study and tefillos to Hashem — that they prevailed. That’s why the Midrash here highlights that Bilam was the perfect enemy for the Jewish people, because he could uproot nations with his speech.

Two pesukim later the Torah says וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן. And the Moabites said to the elders of Midian… The Midrash asks why were the Moabites going to the Midianites in regard to their desire to conquer Bnei Yisrael? מַה טִּיבָם שֶׁל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן כָּאן. שֶׁהָיוּ רוֹאִים אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל נוֹצְחִין שֶׁלֹּא כְּדֶרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ. אָמְרוּ, מַנְהִיג שֶׁלָּהֶם בְּמִדְיָן נִתְגַּדֵּל, נֵדַע מֵהֶן מַה מִּדָּתוֹ. אָמְרוּ לוֹ זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן, אֵין כֹּחוֹ אֶלָּא בְּפִיו. אָמְרוּ לָהֶם, אַף אָנוּ נָבֹא כְּנֶגְדָן בְּאָדָם שֶׁכֹּחוֹ בְּפִיו. What is the relevance of the ziknei Midian here? It is because they (the Moabites) saw that the Bnei Yisrael were conquering in an unusual way. They said (to themselves), their leader grew up in Midian, let’s find out from them what his defining character is. The elders of Midian told them: his singular strength is his mouth. They (the Moabites) said to them (the Midianites): We will also bring against them a man whose power is in his speech.

The nations of the world, their prophets, and their leaders all understood the true nature of the power of Bnei Yisrael– the power of speech. Unfortunately, in our history, we seem to have often forgotten that about ourselves. As we enter the Three Weeks and turn our focus to the sins of sinas chinam and lashon hora, we have to not only focus on the potentially devastating consequences of improper speech, but also on the positive power of our words. By realizing how precious speech is, and how pure speech brings purity to our learning and our tefillah, we will be ensuring the strength necessary to withstand golus and our enemies and achieve the final geulah.

THE TAKEAWAY: Both Balak and the Elders of Midian understood that the koach of Bnei Yisrael is in the mouth– torah learning and tefilah. We sometimes forget this, and we can get better at remembering by focusing not only on the potential damage that speech can cause but on the tremendous positive impact it can have.

THIS WEEK: Each day, review one of the statements highlighting the positive nature of pure speech found on the second page of this parsha sheet.

Yom Rishon/Sunday
There is an extremely awesome aspect of guarding one’s speech, and that is that he begins to repair Hashem’s mizbeach which was destroyed hundreds of years at the time of the churban which was brought about by baseless hatred and loshon hora.
-Chofetz Chaim, Kuntres Chovas HaShmirah.

Yom Sheini/Monday
Every word of a prayer or of any brocha, ascends to great heights carried by specially appointed angels. Each word has an effect on the upper roots of Creation. In this way, the person saying the prayer becomes a partner with Hashem in Creation, since he is able to build and influence many upper worlds. That is why the Sages refer to prayer as “devarim (things or words) that stand in the highest worlds” (Brachos 6b). In other words, the devarim themselves, the words of the prayer, stand at the highest point of the worlds. -Nefesh HaChaim

Yom Shlishi/Tuesday
According to Rabbeinu Yonah, if one guards his tongue and is careful about what he says, then his mouth is considered to be a holy vessel. Just like a holy vessel confers holiness upon whatever [non-holy] item is placed in it, so too all words that are issued from such a mouth are holy.
-Shem MiShmuel

Yom Revi’i/Wednesday
Although it is commendable to try to minimize your speech, if you see someone sad and distressed, it is a great mitzvah to raise his spirits by speaking with him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Yom Chamishi/Thursday
Since man was created as a physical being and not simply a pure, disembodied soul, his pure soul, by itself, is not his complete essence. Rather, the essence of man is his power of speech, which is expressed by the physical organ of the tongue. For man is composed of both physical and soul. Speech is unique to man, since no animal can speak. Speech is rooted in the soul (and yet is found in a physical organ) and therefore is the essence of man (since it combines the physical and the spiritual).
-Maharal, Nesivos Olam

Yom Shishi/ Friday
Midah keneged midah is a foundational principle in all things. Therefore, if one suppresses himself and keeps his mouth from speaking disparagingly against his fellow man and arousing strife against him, so too, above, the Prosecutor will not be able to open his mouth to speak accusingly against him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parah Adumah – It’s Never as Bad, or as Evil, as It Seems

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-zt”l

How does Jewish sin differ from sin in general?

I have recorded a homiletic interpretation … of R. Moshe Hadarshan … And have them take for you… just as they took off their own golden earrings for the calf, so shall they bring this [cow] from their own [assets] in penance. A red cowThis is comparable to the baby of a maidservant who soiled the king’s palace [with fecal matter]. They said, “Let his mother come and clean up the mess.” Similarly, let the cow come and atone for the calf.] … [Midrash Aggadah and Tanchuma Chukath 8]

–Rashi Bemidbar19:22

A Kohen who converted to an idolatrous religion should not “raise his palms” in the priestly blessing. Others say that if he repented then he may perform the priestly blessing.

–Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 128:37

But if he actually worshipped an idol, even if he was forced to do so and even if he subsequently repented, he may not perform the priestly blessing.

–Be’er Heitev ibid footnote 63

Approach the altar: [The salient corners of the altar reminded Ahron of the juvenile horn-buds of the Calf] because Ahron was embarrassed and frightened of approaching [the altar] Moshe said to him: “Why are you ashamed? You have been chosen for this [role]!”

– Torath Kohanim on VaYikra 9:7

Fire came forth from before HaShem and consumed them [Nadav and Avihu], such that they died before HaShem. Then Moshe said to Ahron, “This is precisely what HaShem meant, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me (Shemos 29:43) … “

–VaYikra 10:2,3


מוֹצִיא מִזָּלוֹת יְקָרוֹת. מַתִּיר מֵאֲסוּרוֹת מֻתָּרוֹת. נוֹתֵן מִטְּמֵאוֹת טְהוֹרוֹת
HaShem brings forth the priceless from the worthless, He allows the permissible from the prohibited, He produces the pure from the impure.

Piyut-“Yotzros” for Parshas Parah

The mei chatas-the waters whose main ingredient were the ashes produced from immolating the carcass of the Parah Adumah-the Red Heifer, are the only means to gain purity after contracting impurity through contact with the dead- tuma’as meis. A person who has become tamei meis may not consume the korban Pesach-the Passover sacrifice. (Or, for that matter, any consumable sacrifices.) When the Bais HaMikdash-the Temple in Jerusalem, stood those who were tme’ei meis would undergo the mei chatas purification process required to enable them to offer their korban Pesach.  Nowadays, as the Bais HaMikdash lies in ruins, the four special parshiyos/ maftir readings that precede Pesach are all meant as a preparation for the holiday.  So we can easily understand that it is apropos to read Parshas Parah at this time of the year.

However, during each of the shalosh regalim-pilgrimage holidays, multiple offerings had to be sacrificed and consumed in a state of ritual purity.  This being the case, the Biskovitzer asks: Why is the reading of Parshas Parah limited to pre-Pesach preparation?  Logically, we ought to be reading it before Shavous and Sukkos as well. The insights that he and other members of the Izhbitzer school provide by way of answering this question reveal a profound and deep-seated difference between Jewish sin, and sin in general.

In Torah literature the Parah Adumah is known as THE Chukas haTorah, THE (most) irrational mitzvah of the Torah (preceded with the definite article.)  In a broad sense the entire body of Torah law covering the rules of purity and impurity contains only chukim-irrational mitzvos.  After all, the states of ritual purity or impurity rise above sensory perception.  We can neither see taharah-purity nor smell tumah-impurity.  Similarly, there seems to be no rhyme or reason when trying to connect the dots between cause and effect in either tumah or taharah or in endeavoring to understand their various levels.  But what makes the Parah Adumah a category of chok unto itself is the conundrum of it being a factor causing both tumah and taharah.  Those who prepare and handle it contract a low level of tumah while those who were sprayed with the mei chataas regain a state of purity after being in the thrall of the most powerful and fundamental form of tumah.

Tumah is identified with sin while having attained atonement and rapprochement is associated with taharah.  As such, the conflicted nature of the Parah Adumah serves as a metaphor for the convergence of sin and repentance; of merit and the demerits; of kilkul-spiritual ruination, and tikkun– it’s repair and restoration. The Parah Adumah itself is seen as atoning for the greatest of all sins; the Golden Calf.  It is the mother that comes to clean up the mess that her baby left in the king’s palace.

While the Calf is the “child” and the Red Heifer the “parent” oddly enough, in this case, it is the child that gives birth to the parent.  Absent the Golden Calf there would never have been a Red Heifer. The Biskovitzer maintains that the message of the Parah Adumah is that Jewish sins even the most catastrophic an egregious of Jewish sins; are not all bad.  A weed cannot produce a tasty apple.  If we were to see a delicious apple hanging from a noxious weed we would be forced to conclude that there’s more to this weed than meets the eye.  While it may look and smell like a weed, it must contain some genetic material capable of producing such delicious and nourishing fruit.

If ever there was a sin, a metaphysical weed that looked “all bad” it was the Golden Calf.  Yet when considered on a deeper level it was motivated by something virtuous. K’lal Yisrael, the Jewish People wanted (a) god to lead them.  Ultimately HaShem agreed to this and said “and they should make a sanctuary for me and I will cause my Divine Indwelling to be among them.” (Shemos 25:8) And when they besieged Ahron to become their agent to serve/ worship and to build the altar this too remained as a permanent fixture in the Divine service of HaShem, as Ahron became the Kohen Gadol.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, when listing many examples of spiritual/metaphysical darkness that are the necessary prerequisites to the light that follows, goes so far as to say that the sin of the Golden Calf was the primary cause of the construction of the Mishkan and that the sin of Nadav and Avihu was the primary cause of the Mishkan’s holiness.  Still, the Lubliner Kohen pointedly reminds us that, while the light is contained in the darkness and that spiritual purity and sanctity are present in potentia in every Jewish sin, that sin nevertheless remains, well, sinful … and something to be ashamed of. (cp Taanis 11A Tosafos D”H Amar Shmuel). Otherwise, why would it be prohibited to remind those Ba’alei Teshuvah-masters of repentance, who were motivated to repent by the love of HaShem, of their earlier misdeeds?  While we know that repentance motivated by such love has the power to transform premeditated, and even malicious, sins into zechuyos, merits/ mitzvos, there is nonetheless something untoward and unseemly about the original acts which still appear as sins in the historical record.

This explains Ahron’s reticence and sense of shame and apprehension when he first approached the altar to do the Divine service.  Ahron had done absolutely nothing and exerted no efforts to attain the Office of Kohen Gadol.  On the contrary, his culpability in the sin of the Golden Calf would have seemed to torpedo any chances that he had to serve in the Mishkan.  The halachah states that a Kohen who worshipped idols is disqualified from serving again as a Kohen to HaShem, even after returning to the fold and repenting. How much more so for the “enabler” of this foulest idolatry of the Jewish People? It was only his profound sense of shame over his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf and his feelings of unbridgeable distance and alienation from HaShem that, paradoxically, brought him closer to HaShem than anyone else. To paraphrase the paytan-liturgical poet, of the Parshas Parah yotzer vis-à-vis Ahron;  HaShem brought forth the premier servant from the most mutinous rebel.

The Biskovitzer concludes that while ritual purification from contact with the dead is required in order to consume any of the korbanos we read Parshas Parah before Pesach because they convey the identical message.  During the Exodus from Egypt the ministering angels “challenged” HaShem’s salvation of the Jews and simultaneous destruction of the Egyptians by saying; “these and those are both idolaters.”  Yet, during the night of the slaying of the firstborn, HaShem “passed over.” He, kivyachol-as it were, leapfrogged from one Egyptian occupied home to the other while leaving the Jews occupying the homes in the middle, unscathed.  On a level so profound, deep and imperceivable that even the angels could not grasp it, there was, indeed, a difference between Jewish idolatry, and the concomitant descent into the 49 gates of impurity, and the idolatry of the Egyptians.  While both Egyptians and Jews worshipped idols, the Jews had suffered terribly for k’vod Shamayim-for god’s greater Glory.  Jewish idolatry was not all bad, somehow the purity and sanctity of Mattan Torah-the revelation at Sinai inhered in the degradation, defilement and, yes, even in the idolatry of the Jewish slavery experience in Egypt.

~adapted from Neos Desheh Parshas Parah
Takanas HaShavin 5 page 21
Resisei Laylah 24 pages 3031

This post is An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

Parshas Korach – Give it Up

וְאִם הוּא מַחֲזִיק בַּמַחְלֹקֶת עַל יְדֵי סִפּוּרוֹ עוֹבֵר עוֹד עַל לָאו דְּ”לֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח שֶׁהוּא אַזְהָרָה, שֶׁלֹּא לְהַחֲזִיק בְּמַחְלֹקֶת כ.
And if he gives strength to a dispute through his own speech, he has also transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”, this (commandment) is a warning to not strengthen a dispute. (Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chekek Alef, pesicha, Lav Yud Beis).

The Chofetz Chaim, on this lav, references the gemara in Sanhedrin (110a). ויקם משה וילך אל דתן ואבירם אמר ר”ל מכאן שאין מחזיקין במחלוקת דאמר רב כל המחזיק במחלוקת עובר בלאו שנאמר ולא יהיה כקרח וכעדתו And Moshe got up and he went to Dasan and Aviram, Reish Lakish says from here (we learn) not to strengthen a dispute, as Rav says: anyone who strengthens a dispute has transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”. Rashi points out why it is that we learn this concept from the actions of Moshe: שמחל על כבודו והוא עצמו הלך לבטל מחלוקת (Moshe) was mochel on his honor, and he himself went out to nullify the dispute.

There is a fairly common misunderstanding that the prohibition of being mechazek a machlokes is limited to those outside the actual machlokes. In other words, it’s telling us not to get involved in other people’s disputes. Yes, this is certainly prohibited, but this issur is not limited to that. The gemara is telling us that even those involved in the machlokes itself, and even those who are absolutely correct should do what they can to dampen or uproot the machlokes. We learn this from the actions of
לרפואה שׁלמה חיה גיטל בת מלכה

Moshe who was on the side of Hashem, had been personally attacked, and was הֶחָשׁוּב שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל the most important person in klal yisrael. Nonetheless, he “got up and went” to Dasan and Aviram in order to do what he could to quell the dispute.

The Midrash says that because Moshe went to the tents of Dasan and Aviram, four tzadikim were saved from Gehenom– the three sons of Korach and On ben Peles. The Chofetz Chaim in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon emphasizes the extent to which we need to go to seek peace. He explains the pusek in tehillim בַּקִּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ Seek peace and pursue it as: Seek peace among your friends, pursue it among your enemies; Seek peace in the place where you are, pursue it in other places; Seek peace with personal efforts, pursue peace with your financial resources; Seek peace when it concerns you, pursue peace even when it only involves others; and Seek peace today, pursue peace even for tomorrow (if your efforts at peacemaking don’t bear fruit today, try again tomorrow).

THE TAKEAWAY: We have an obligation to avoid machlokes and to actively and incessantly pursue peace. Moshe, the greatest prophet to ever live, was willing to forego his honor in order to attempt to make peace.

THIS WEEK: Start building or working on the muscle of giving in. Give up on something that you feel is due to you in order to avoid or deepen a conflict.
___________________________
Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Rav Uri Zohar’s Gift

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Rav Uri Zohar ztz”l, who passed away last week, arguably had a greater impact on the Jews in Israel than anyone else in the last fifty years. When he first appeared on the talk show he hosted in 1977 wearing a kippah, the audience and all those watching at home did not know whether to treat it as part of a skit or real. Until then, he had personified the Ashkenazi secular elite that dominated the country in its first three decades.

His move toward a Torah life made teshuvah a real possibility for every single Jew in Israel: If the Torah could win over Uri Zohar, how could anyone feel safe? Amnon Dankner, who would later become editor of Maariv, wrote at that time of hearing of another old friend entering Ohr Somayach every week, and described himself as like an “apple swaying on a tree,” not knowing which way he would fall.

Uri Zohar’s “conversion” simultaneously infused the still small (by today’s standards) Torah community with newfound confidence. Nothing could explain Zohar’s sudden shift other than his conviction of the truth of Torah, for in choosing a Torah life, he put his marriage at grave risk, and sacrificed the material success and fame he had achieved.

My life twice intersected with Rabbi Zohar’s. I was privileged to adapt into English (as a junior partner to Rabbi Doniel Baron) his pamphlet on dealing with struggling children: Breakthrough: How to Reach Our Struggling Kids (Feldheim 2016). I reread it after his passing, and remain convinced that it is required reading for every Jewish parent.

His advice on building a loving relationship, based on open lines of communication, with each child long before they reach their teenage years is invaluable. That means creating time to speak — and much more important, listen — to each child every day. Be careful not to respond with pre-packaged Mussar lessons, lest our children learn that there are subjects it does not pay to discuss with their parents. And don’t live vicariously through your children. “What score did you get on the test?” should not be our most frequently asked question.

Rabbi Zohar wrote about struggling teens from much personal experience with his own children, and of their eventual reconnection to Hashem. The resulting sefer is at once filled with common sense and based on deep Torah insights. (He was a serious talmid chacham, with particular command of the esoteric writings of the Vilna Gaon, Maharal, and Ramchal.) The writing is clear, logical, compassionate, and succinct. The sefer can be read easily in under three hours.

A child’s religious struggles strike parents at their most vulnerable points: their aspirations for their children and their self-image. And consequently, they trigger a host of negative emotions — shame, guilt, fear, and anger — which make it difficult to think clearly, at precisely the moment when thinking clearly is most needed.

Most parents, for instance, recognize that confrontation and denigrating comments are not the likeliest tools to bring their children back. After all, they smile and try to engage their neighbor’s off-the-derech child in friendly conversation. But with their own children….

Rav Zohar showed parents how to remove themselves from the equation in order to focus on helping their child. Rule one: Don’t worry about the opinions of your neighbors. Rule two: Avoid all reactions “cultivated by institutionalized religion, but which do not necessarily reflect true Torah values.” If we obsess, for instance, over a child’s jeans or hairstyle, we may end up driving away not only the legs wearing those jeans, but the heart and head attached to those legs as well.

Some degree of teenage rebellion is almost inevitable, Rav Zohar noted, as a teenager finds himself overcome by powerful emotions and drives with which he or she has had no previous experience. Those drives go with physical maturation, and that physical maturation usually precedes the emotional maturation necessary for a teenager to regain control.

That means there is often nothing that a parent can do other than exercise patience, waiting for emotional maturation to catch up, while maintaining the lines of communication and showing one’s continuing love for one’s struggling child. Expressions of love will not be experienced by teenagers as condonation for their actions; they know very well how their parents conduct their lives and their values.

Rather parental love conveys the message that the Torah does not reject him, and that Hashem awaits his return, just as we pray every year on Yom Kippur that He show patience with us in mending our faults and failures. Exercising patience means that what we don’t say or don’t do is often more important than what we do or say.

Everyone requires a measure of kavod, respect, and none more so that struggling teenagers. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) records how Rebbi brought back the wayward son of Rabi Elazar and the grandson of Rabi Tarfon. In the former case, he began by conferring semichah on the young man, and in the latter’s case by offering his daughter in marriage if he did teshuvah.

Rabbi Zohar’s central metaphor for the role of parents in dealing with struggling children is a midrash (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 46:1). The Midrash relates that when Moshe saw the dancing around the Golden Calf, he realized he could either retain the Luchos, and the people would cease to exist, for they were no longer capable of receiving the level of kedushah contained in the Luchos, or he could break them. Even though the Second Luchos possessed far less kedushah, only they are referred to as tov, for only they were suitable to the spiritual level of the people. (See Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael 35.)

Similarly, writes Rabbi Zohar, parents must transmit Torah to their children according to their current level. “We need to shatter our own norms, abrogate our ‘nonnegotiable’ principles…. We cannot be fettered by social convention or any other social convention as we focus on how we can effectively give over Torah to our children.”

My second opportunity to interact with Rav Uri came while interviewing him for my biography of Rav Noach Weinberg. Even before Rav Uri and his wife became fully observant, Rav Noach and his wife Denah went to visit them at their seaside villa. Subsequently, Rav Noach took on the support of a kollel, which included a number of highly motivated and talented baalei teshuvah, headed by Rabbi Avraham Mendelsohn, the son-in-law of Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Zilberman. Rav Zilberman was the primary religious influence on Rav Uri’s close friend Ari Yitzchak, and subsequently on Rav Uri himself.

Rabbi Zohar joined that kollel when he moved to Jerusalem, and learned in it for over a decade. His presence was one of the major reasons for Rav Noach’s ongoing support of the kollel in the Old City. During that period, the two became very close, though they also argued frequently. Rav Noach constantly pushed Rav Uri to become actively engaged in kiruv, while the latter considered Rav Noach’s vision of returning the entire Jewish People to Torah to be detached from reality and felt that he could have a greater impact through the power of his learning.

Not until 1992, after 15 years of nonstop learning, did Rabbi Zohar agree to make five public appearances on behalf of the new Lev L’achim organization, each of which drew huge crowds. That reemergence — but now as a full-fledged talmid chacham — was of great satisfaction to Rav Noach, and he raised very large sums for Lev L’achim.

My clearest memory of that interview is Rabbi Zohar’s lament that the Torah community is filled with many who have no doubt of Hashem’s existence, but who view Hashem as “out to get them.” They do not feel that Hashem’s greatest desire is their good. That lament could have been taken straight from Rav Noach, who always made Hashem’s ahavah rabbah the focal point of his teaching.

At some point in the interview, Rav Uri must have noticed my amazement at the tiny size of his apartment. He told me laughingly that he was downsizing in preparation for an even more confined space. His body is now there. But his great soul is free to soar unfettered.

Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine – 6/15/2022
https://www.jewishmediaresources.com/2187/rav-uri-zohar-gift

Parshas Behaloscha – Five Barriers, Three Breakthroughs

לזכות חיים יוא־ל בן ארי־ה משׁה הלוי

Our parsha contains the most well known incidence of lashon hara and tzaras– Miriam speaking about Moshe. Before any discussion of this incident can be undertaken, it is imperative to understand that Miriam was among the greatest prophets ever and that due to her lofty level, she was held to an extremely exacting standard. There is not a single meforesh that explains that Miriam ever intended harm to Moshe. In fact, most explain that Miriam’s intentions were constructive. Nonetheless, she was taken to task for not living up to her potential.

The Chofetz Chaim wrote five seforim addressing the halachos and hashkafos of lashon hara: Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek alef, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek beis, Chovos HaShmirah, and Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam. The Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam focuses to a large extent on the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam. According to most opinions, we have a daily obligation to remember this by reading, out loud, the pasuk (found in most sedurim at the end of shacharis): זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out of Egypt. In the first perek of Zachor LeMiriam, the Chofetz Chaim provides five reasons why people don’t always see the full benefit of saying this pasuk:

1. People often don’t appreciate or understand that they suffer from the malady of lashon hora, and since they don’t realize this, they do not seek to be cured from it.
2. Even those who verbalize the zechirah of Miriam don’t think deeply about it and don’t try to understand the depth of bitterness that Miriam experienced after this incident.
3. People look at others who are scrupulous to say the pasuk daily and assume that it does not help since they still see them speaking lashon hora.
4. Many don’t understand that in order to remedy their improper speech, they need to take the steps to uncover the root causes of their own lashon hara (the Chofetz Chaim provides a list of these causes in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon: anger, cynicism, arrogance, futility, negativity, and rationalization).
5. People think that their lashon hora is so entrenched that they believe they will never be successful in removing their yetzer hara in this regard.

The Chofetz Chaim provides advice for how to get past these five barriers. His advice is well known to us: עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. Akivah ben Mehalelel said Gaze at three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. The Chofetz Chaim provides several insights into each of these three concepts. We will only focus on one insight for each of them.

Know from where you came. In addition to the insight with which most of us are familiar — that we come from a putrid drop, the Chofetz Chaim accentuates the positive. He explains that although man is physical–like all other creations– he has a soul that is divine–מִן הַשָׁמַיּם . We are lofty beings and when we remember that, we will be careful not to besmirch ourselves with lashon hara and not to disparage our fellow man, each of whom possesses a divine soul.

Know where you are going. The Chofetz Chaim points out that the language here is in the present tense. It’s not “know where you will end up”, it’s “know where you are going, right now”. Every day we are aging, moving closer to the day when we will leave this world and return to dust. If so, what possible arrogance (the primary root of lashon hara and all sins) can we have? Our physicality and physical possessions? These are amortizing, decreasing in value, every day.

Before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. There is no hiding or rationalization before Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim explains that each of us will have to give an accounting for every word we have spoken, particularly for speech that is forbidden: lashon hara, rechilus, deceptive speech, harmful words, lies, false flattery, words that publicly embarrass others, and words that create or sustain machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim summarizes the mishna: when we focus on these three things, we will not be ensnared by the middah of gaivah- arrogance, שֶׁהִיא רֵשִׁית לְכָל חֵטְא which is the primary cause of all sin. The Chofetz Chaim concludes that man should also focus on the tremendous kindness that Hashem extends to him throughout his entire life and then he will be happy with his lot. When we are happy with what we have — with what we have been gifted– we will not be worried that others have more, and we won’t look to bring others down through negative speech.

THE TAKEAWAY: We are required to remember what Hashem did to Miriam for speaking improperly. People don’t always get the full benefit of this mitzva because: they don’t realize how deficient their own speech is, they say the words without getting a deeper understanding of them, they look at others who say the pasuk but still speak lashon hara, they don’t investigate the root causes of their improper speech, or they believe that their improper speech is so entrenched that they cannot repair it. By thinking about the purity of our souls and those of our fellow Jews, understanding that we have nothing to be arrogant about, and remembering that we will have to provide an accounting for every word we speak, we will arouse ourselves to fight the yetzer hara for improper speech.

THIS WEEK: The Chofetz Chaim points out that if we think about the three things discussed in the mishna above, we will distance ourselves from sin. But, he also says that each one on their own can divert us from sin. Read this short Mishna (Pirkei Avos 3:1) daily this week and take a moment to think about which of these three things speak to you the most. Set a reminder/alarm for yourself to stop and think about this particular aspect at least once during your day.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

The Joy of Mussar

You might be questioning whether it’s appropriate to use the words “Joy” and “Mussar” in the same sentence. Mussar has a strong judgemental tone. When you give somebody Mussar, you’re not telling him to “Have a nice day”. Rather, you’re telling him that “You need to make some serious corrections, brother.”

If we look at the Mesillas Yesharim, the classic textbook on spiritual growth and Mussar, we’ll see that the perceived judgemental tone of Mussar is well founded. The early chapters deal with the trait of Zehirus, watchfulness. The first essential spiritual practice of Zehirus is thinking before you act so that you don’t come to do something wrong. The second essential spiritual practice is reviewing your daily actions to identify and work on correcting in the future, the things you did wrong today. This type of self-judgment sounds intense and it may turn a person away from Mussar, but please read on.

The key is to put this self-judgement in its proper perspective, as the Mesillas Yesharim does in the first two chapters of the sefer. He tells us that the highest pleasure that can be achieved in this world (and the next) is the pleasure of connecting to Hashem. We know that positive emotional and spirtual pleasures are the result of love and connection, as we experience in the pleasure of loving our spouses, our children, our parents, and our friends. We can experience an even greater pleasure when we love and connect with the Master of the Universe and the Source of All Existence. Achieving this great spiritual pleasure takes work. However, when we do put in the proper effort and achieve success, the fact that we worked hard to earn that pleasure makes it even sweeter.

The Ramchal teaches us that this work involves overcoming these deficiencies:
1) controlling and directing our physical desires;
2) reducing self-centeredness and ego;
3) overcoming our natural inclination towards laziness;
4) getting past the distractions of day to day living to focus on serving Hashem;

Corresponding to the extent that we overcome these deficiencies is the extent to which we can experience the greatest of pleasures—connecting to Hashem. We correct these deficiencies through the positive and negative mitzvos. And just like a businessman must judge his activities to achieve his goals, so too must we judge our activities to see why we are not achieving the intense spiritual pleasure available to us.

This is the Joy of Mussar. We have the ability to achieve intense connection and pleasure and Mussar helps us to keep moving on that path. We know from our professional, friendship-building, parental, and spousal experiences that achieving success in the most important things in life takes work. How fortunate are we to have an avenue like Mussar, and a sefer like the Mesillas Yesharim to instruct us on what we need to do to help us achieve the greatest pleasures and happiness available in this world.

Here is a link to hebrew and english versions of Mesillas Yesharim.

Updated from the originally published post of June 2018

Shmirah Ba’Shavuah – Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition

פרשת במדבר ושבועות
Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition
לעילוי נשמת רבקה בת שמאי

Ideas and insights from the forthcoming sefer Shmirah Ba’Shavuah. To sponsor a weekly parsha sheet or to inquire about sponsorship opportunities for the sefer, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com
________________________________________
הקדמה לספר במדבר
Introduction to Sefer Bamidbar
Everyone Counts

תובנה לפרשת במדבר
Insight to Parshas Bamidbar
Choosing Communities

תובנה לשבועות
Shavous Insight
Keneged Kulam

Sefer Bamidbar
Introduction- Everyone counts.

The gemara in Sotah (36b) refers to Sefer Bamidbar as חוֹמֶשׁ הַפְּקוּדִים the Book of Counting. This is how Chazal commonly refer to Sefer Bamidbar, and this is the reason why Sefer Bamidbar is called “Numbers” in english. While it is true that two major censuses of the Jewish people appear in Sefer Bamidbar, there are many more incidents in the Sefer that do not relate to the counting of the members of the Jewish nation. So, why the emphasis on counting? Why is פְּקוּדִים the underlying theme of the entire Sefer? Let’s explore.

We find within Sefer Bamidbar some of the Torah’s most prominent incidents of improper speech. We have Miriam’s improper speech about Moshe and her subsequent punishment with tzaras. We have the incident of the meraglim– the spies who spoke negatively about the land of Israel– resulting in the dying off of an entire generation before entering the land and planting the seeds of future golus from the land. We also have Korach’s attempts to rile up the Jewish people to overthrow Moshe’s leadership. These are in addition to several other speech related incidents including Moshe hitting the rock instead of speaking to it and, lehavdil, Bilaam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael.

While each of these three major speech related incidents have individual aspects and lessons, they all share a common denominator: comparison. Let’s take a look at each of these incidents to see how they are each rooted in comparison.

Aaron and Miriam said: הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה הֲלֹ֖א גַּם־בָּ֣נוּ דִבֵּ֑ר Did Hashem only speak to Moshe?! He also speaks to us. Aaron and Miriam were discussing how Moshe had separated from his wife because he wanted to be in a state of purity when Hashem would speak to him. This –separating from their spouses– was something that Miriam and Aaron did not do. Aaron and Miriam were prophets as well and, in their minds, there could be no reason for Moshe to act differently than they did. Eventually, Hashem explained to Miriam and Aaron that Moshe is not like any other prophet– Hashem speaks to him without a moment’s notice and face to face. While we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet that ever lived, the lesson here isn’t about lauding Moshe, it is about teaching Miriam and Aaron that they should not compare themselves to him.

The meraglim made two significant comparison-related mistakes. Chazal tell us that the meraglim compared Eretz Yisrael to all other ordinary lands, failing to see its uniqueness as the land chosen by Hasem and that which had been promised to Bnei Yisrael. The meraglim also compared Bnei Yisrael to the inhabitants of the land, even presuming how they appeared — like grasshoppers– in comparison to those inhabitants.

Finally, Korach compared himself and his family to Moshe and his family, complaining that everyone was equal. כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה The entire congregation is holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you raise yourself above the rest of Hashem’s assembly?
When we start comparing ourselves to others, two things happen: We don’t value our own uniqueness and we bring others down so that we feel better about ourselves.

Let’s turn back to our question: why is the entire sefer called Sefer Pekudim, even though only a small portion of it relates to the censuses? Perhaps we can find an answer in the challenges presented by these three speech related episodes.

The Ramban provides us a great deal of insight into exactly what pakad, the root of the word pekudim, means. ענין פקידה זכרון והשגחה על דבר The essence of pekida is remembrance and personal divine attention to the matter. כלשון וה’ פקד את שרה, for example Hashem paked es Sarah, Hashem remembered and turned His attention to Sarah.

The Ramban further points out that in the census that is taken in the beginning of the Sefer, the individuals were counted תולדותם למשפחותם לבית אבותם as members of a generation, a family, and their father’s family. HaRav Gedalia Schorr understands the Ramban as telling us that every single individual that was brought before Moshe and Aharon has a special life mission, a tafkid (also from the root of pakad) in relation to his role in the Jewish Nation, a tafkid within his family, and a tafkid within his tribe. No part of the nation would be whole without each individual.

The Ramban goes on to highlight three more important aspects of pekida. מרוב חבתם מונה אותם כל שעה ועוד כי הבא לפני אב הנביאים ואחיו קדוש ה’ והוא נודע אליהם בשמו יהיה לו בדבר הזה זכות וחיים כי בא בסוד העם ובכתב בני ישראל וזכות הרבים במספרם וכן לכולם זכות במספר שימנו לפני משה ואהרן כי ישימו עליהם עינם לטובה יבקשו עליהם רחמים ה’ אלהי אבותיכם

1. Due to His abundant love (for the Bnei Yisrael) He counts them from time to time.

2. Furthermore, when (each person) would come before the father of all prophets (Moshe) and his brother (Aaron), the one who is holy to Hashem, and he knew them by name, there will be a merit and life, because he has come in the council of the people and onto the list of the Bnei Yisrael, and he receives a part in the merit of the community by being included in their numbers.

3. Similarly, each of the people receive a special merit through being counted individually by Moshe and Aaron, for they will set their eyes upon them for good and ask for mercy for them from the G-d of their fathers.

Let’s recap this deeper understanding of pakad so that we can understand, for ourselves, how we should look at each person in Klal Yisrael.
1. Pakad has an aspect of love, Hashem counts us, individually because He loves and treasures us;
2. Pakad includes an aspect of calling to mind merits, like Hashem did for Sarah, and a level of individual divine providence;
3. Pakad includes an understanding that every single individual is unique and plays an irreplaceable, G-d given role within his generation, his family and his ancestry;
4. Pakad has a nature of joining each individual to the community and thereby providing them with the merit of the community and the community with their respective merits; and
5. Pakad includes an aspect of understanding the importance of each individual, by name, and asking Hashem to have rachamim on them.

In sum, when we are involved in pekudim we show interest and value for each individual, we understand that we need them and that they play a unique role, we appreciate them, we get to know them thereby draw divine remembrance, hashgacha and mercy.

The essence of individuality and the important and unique role that each person plays in Hashem’s world is the direct opposite of comparison. Comparison is rooted in finding negative differences while pakad is rooted in finding and appreciating unique positive differences. When we shift from comparison to pekida, we would never think to degrade others with our speech. Instead, just as Moshe and Aaron saw the beauty of each individual and asked Hashem to have mercy on them, we will do the same. Imagine flipping potentially damaging speech to speech that praises others and asks Hashem to shower rachamim upon them.

The Midrash relates an additional fascinating aspect about pakad וכשבאו משה ואהרן אצל זקני ישראל ועשו האותות לעיניהם, הלכו אצל סרח בת אשר. אמרו לה, בא אדם אחד אצלנו ועשה אותות לעינינו כך וכך, אמרה להם, אין באותות האלו ממש. אמרו לה, והרי אמר פקוד יפקוד אלהים אתכם. אמרה להם, הוא האיש העתיד לגאול את ישראל ממצרים, שכן שמעתי מאבא פ”ה ופ”ה פקוד יפקוד, מיד האמינו העם באלהיהם ובשלוחו. When Moshe and Aaron came to the elders of Israel and performed the signs before their eyes, they (the elders) went to Serach bas Asher (who was the oldest living member of Bnei Yisrael) and they said to her: A certain man has come and performed signs in our sight, like this and this (explaining the signs). She said to them: There is nothing of true essence in signs. They said to her: He said “Pakod yiphkod Elokim eschem- G-d will surely visit you”. She said to them: This is the man who will bring Israel out of Egypt, for this is what I heard from my father “peh u’peh, Pakod Pakadeti” (this was the siman of a true redeemer that had been transmitted from Avraham to Yitzchak to Yaakov to the Shvatim, and from Asher to Serach). Immediately the people believed in G-d and His messenger (Moshe)…

This Midrash shows that geulah is somehow rooted in pakad. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that Loshon Hara is the primary aveira that has prolonged our current golus. Perhaps we can say that the way out of golus is by focusing on pakad, appreciating and loving every Jew, getting to know them, davening for them and growing alongside them. When we do so, we will stop making comparisons, stop speaking loshon hara ,and merit geulah, it should be speedily and in our days.

Parshas Bamidbar

Choosing Communities
מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת יַֽחֲנ֑וּ עַ֛ל יֶ֥רֶךְ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן תֵּימָֽנָה
The families of the sons of Kehas shall camp to the south.

Rashi comments: וסמוכין להם דגל ראובן החונים תימנה, אוי לרשע ואוי לשכנו לכך לקו מהם דתן ואבירם ומאתים וחמשים איש עם קרח ועדתו, שנמשכו עמהם במחלוקתם Near them was the division of Reuven, who camped to the south. Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor! This explains why Daasan, Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men were struck with Korach and his congregation, because (since they were neighbors) they were drawn into their machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us אָסוּר לָדוּר בִּשְׁכוּנַת בַּעֲלֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן לֵישֵׁב עִמָּהֶם וְלִשְׁמֹעַ דִּבְרֵיהֶם It is forbidden to live in a neighborhood of consistent speakers of loshon hara, and all the more so to sit with them and listen to their words. In a hagaah on this halacha, the Chofetz Chaim says: ומזה נוכל ללמד, דכל שכן שיש לזהר מאד, שלא לקבע לו מקום בבית הכנסת ובבית המדרש אצל בעלי הלשון
And from here we can learn, all the more so, that one must be extremely careful not to establish for himself a physical place within a Beis HaKeneses or Beis Hamidrash near baalei loshon Hara. The Chofetz Chaim elaborates upon the insidious nature of sitting among these types of sinners in a shul or where one learns. Not only does one place himself at jeopardy of listening to, approving of, believing, and participating in loshon hara, but he also will: miss responding Amen and Yehei shemei rabbah in davening, lose out on a great deal of learning, and even the learning that he does accomplish will be fragmented.

Many meforshim ask why this Rashi, explaining the danger of associating with sinners, is brought here in regard to the physical location of the family of Kehas. The Sifsei Chachamim explains: מקשים העולם ל”ל לרש”י לכל פי’ זה כאן ויש לומר דק”ל למה לא כתיב משפחת בני הקהתי כמו דכתיב בתר הכי למשפחת הקהתי. ולעיל נמי כתיב אלה הם משפחות הקהתי, ומפרש וסמוכים להם דגל ראובן וכו’ שחטאו והחטיאו את הרבים ואינן ראויים לכתוב השם בשמם דהיינו ה”א בראש התיבה והיו”ד בסוף התיבה: Everyone asks the question: Why does Rashi bring this explanation here? It can be said that he is answering this question: Why did the Torah not write (in this verse) “the families of the children of הקהתי (the Kehosites)” as it writes in the next verse — “of the families of the Kehosites,” and above (two verses earlier) — “these are the families of the Kehosites”? (Rashi is answering this question: If previously and subsequently we used the word הקהתי, why only in this verse does the Torah use the words בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת the sons of Kehas). This was because (the verse is teaching:) “Near them was the banner of Reuven…” They (Korach and his followers who were from Kehas) sinned and they caused others (their neighbors) to sin. Therefore, it was improper to write the Name (of Hashem) — with the (letter) hei at the beginning and the (letter) yud at the end together with their name. (The letters yud and hei comprise one of Hashem’s names, therefore הקהתי is a combination of Hashem’s name with Kehas’ name).

This Sifsei Chachamim is enlightening. Someone who lives alongside sinners, and particularly baalei machlokes does not merit to have Hashem’s name attached to them. The gemara in Arakhin (15b) says something similar regarding those who speak loshon hara. המספר לשון הרע אמר הקב”ה אין אני והוא יכולין לדור בעולם One who speaks loshon Hara, Hashem says: He and I cannot exist in the same world.

THE TAKEAWAY: Simply being in close proximity to those who habitually sin has a negative impact on us. It is forbidden to live in a community of baalei loshon hara and it is forbidden to remain in a group that is speaking loshon hara. Hashem distances himself from those who choose to speak improperly or associate with those who do.

THIS WEEK: Think about the communities in which you live. Baruch Hashem, we do not usually find entire communities comprised of baalei loshon hara. But we also need to think about the sub-communities in which we live and work. Sometimes those are actual communities and sometimes they are virtual. Ask yourself: are the people that I choose to spend time with generally careful about their conversations? If not, are these the type of people that I can have an influence upon for the good? If so, determine how you can begin influencing them and ask for Rabbinical guidance on how to do so. If not, determine how you can reduce the time spent with that community and/or gracefully remove yourself from it.

Shavuos Thought
Keneged Kulam

We are all familiar with the mishnah in Peah: אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶן בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם These are the things that a man eats from their fruits in this world and the principal remains for him in the next world: Honoring parents, performing acts of chesed, making peace between two people, and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.

The Yerushalmi (Peah 5a) elucidates the mishnah by adding: וּכְנֶגְדָּן אַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים שֶׁהֵן נִפְרָעִין מִן הָאָדָם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַייֶמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְאֵילּוּ הֵן עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה וְגִילּוּי עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים. וְלָשׁוֹן הָרַע כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן. In regard to four things is someone punished in this world while the principle of the punishment remains in the next world, and these are them: idol worship, illicit relations, and murder, and loshon hara is equivalent to them all.

There is a clear contrary parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara. One brings life, bounty and reward while the other causes destruction, scarcity and punishment. Since Talmud Torah is dependent on speech, loshon hara has a particularly damaging effect on it.

The Vilna Gaon in the Iggeres HaGra says: שכל מצותיו ותורותיו של אדם אינו מספיק למה שמוציא מפיו All of the mitzvos and Torah of a person are not equal to that which comes out of his mouth. This teaches that if someone is constantly speaking loshon hara, he is defiling his mouth and his deeds to the extent that they no longer bear fruits. This is particularly the case when it comes to loshon hara and Talmud Torah. The Gra in Shenos Eliyahu comments on the above Yerushalmi that there is a direct correlation between the four mitzvos mentioned in the mishnah and the four aveiros mentioned in the gemara. This correlation is set in the order of the listings of the respective mitzvos and aveiros, and that brings a parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara.

The Chofetz Chaim elaborates on this in the Shaar HaZechirah of his sefer Shmiras Haloshon: עַתָּה נְבָאֵר אֶת עֹצֶם הַזְּכוּת, לְמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹמֵר אֶת פִּיו וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ מִלְּדַבֵּר דִּבּוּרִים אֲסוּרִים. תְּחִלַּת כָּל הַמַּעֲלוֹת, הוּא מְתַקֵן וּמְקַדֵּשׁ עַל יְדֵי זֶה אֶת כְּלִי הָאֻמָּנוּת הַמְיֻחָד לָאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי, שֶׁהוּא הַדִּבּוּר, וְכָל הַדִּבּוּרִים שֶׁיְּדַבֵּר אַחַר כָּךְ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַתְּפִלָּה, יַעֲלֶה לִמְקוֹר שָׁרְשׁוֹ לְמַעְלָה. Now, we shall explain the greatness of the merit of one who guards his mouth and his tongue from speaking forbidden things. First, he amends and sanctifies through this the unique “tool” of a Jew, which is speech. And all of the words that he speaks after that, in Torah and in tefilla ascend to the source of its root on high.

The Chofetz Chaim continues to explain that the the level of kedusha of our Torah learning is dependent on two things:
1. לְפִי הַהֲכָנָה שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אִם הֵכִין אֶת עַצְמוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא בְּכָל כֹּחוֹתָיו לְקַיֵּם כְּפִי הַתּוֹרָה בְּכָל חֲלָקָיו וּפְרָטָיו שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לָזֶה. In accordance with the preparation that he exerts at this time– (meaning to determine) whether at that moment he exerts his full effort to fulfill the Torah in all of its details.
2. לְפִי כְּלֵי הָאֻמָּנוּת שֶׁעָשָׂה בָּהֶם הַתּוֹרָה, וְהֵם כְּלֵי הַדִּבּוּר, שֶׁאִם הֵם יָפִים וּמְהֻדָּרִים, שֶׁמִּשְׁתַּמְשִׁים בָּהֶם תָּמִיד לְטוֹב, וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה נִתְחַזֵּק כֹּחַ קְדֻשָּׁתָם In accordance with the tool that he uses for Torah, and that is the vessel of speech– whether it is beautiful and extraordinary, that he always uses it for the good, because through that he strengthens the kedusha…

If someone has the first element, but not the second, his learning will be diminished or dissolved. The Chofetz Chaim says:
אִם פּוֹגֵם וּמְטַמֵּא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אֶת כֹּחַ הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁלּוֹ, עַל יְדֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וּרְכִילוּת וְלֵיצָנוּת וְשֶׁקֶר וְכַדּוֹמֶה וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְדַבֵּר בְּפִיו דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה וּתְפִלָּה, אֵיזֶה כֹּחַ יֵשׁ בָּהֶן לְהַמְשִׁיךְ עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְהַתְּפִלָּה הַהִיא קְדֻשָּׁה עֶלְיוֹנָה, אַחֲרֵי שֶׁכְּלֵי הַמִּבְטָא שֶׁלּוֹ הֵם פְּגוּמִים וּטְמֵאִים בְּעַצְמָם מִכְּבָר If he, G-d forbid, makes his speech spoiled and impure through loshon hara, rechilus, levity, falsity, and similar things, and he does not do teshuva, and then speaks with his mouth words of Torah and prayer, what power will they have to draw sanctity to them after his “tools of speech” have been rendered defective and unclean?!

On Shavous, we all turn our thoughts to how we can increase our Torah learning, over Yom Tov and throughout the year. At the same time, let’s avail ourselves of the tool that will play a role in adding kedusha and siyata dishmaya to our learning. Think about how you can incorporate the learning of the halachos of shmiras haloshon into your daily schedule. May all of our learning emanate from pure tools of speech and rise to the highest of heights and may we be zocheh to eat from their fruits in this world and enjoy their full rewards in the next world. Good Yom Tov.

Yom Tov – Finding Our True Source of Happiness

R’ Itamar Shwartz
Download Rav Shwartz Shavous Talks here.

Defining The Joy of Yom Tov

The unique mitzvah of all three festivals is that we have a mitzvah to rejoice on Yom Tov. Chazal state that the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov (joy on the festival) is fulfilled through meat and wine.

Yom Tov is a revelation of our happiness, and it also shows us what makes us happy. The meat and wine only satisfies our nefesh habehaimis, the lower and animalistic part of our souls, but this is not the entire simcha of Yom Tov. It is only needed so that we can give something to our nefesh habehaimis to satisfy it, because if we don’t satisfy it, our nefesh habehaimis will rebel and get in the way of our true, inner happiness.

Therefore, if a person thinks that Simchas Yom Tov is all about dining on meat and wine, he only satisfies his nefesh habehaimis, and he only knows of an external and superficial Simchas Yom Tov. Woe is to such a person!

What is the real happiness of Yom Tov? The possuk says, “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” Our true happiness on Yom Tov is the happiness we have in Yom Tov itself. It is to rejoice with Hashem, Whom our soul is thirsty for. It is from this that we derive the depth of our happiness, on Yom Tov.

“The righteous rejoice in Hashem.” When a person lives a life of truth, when he lives a very internal kind of life, his entire happiness is “in Hashem.” He is happy “in” his feeling of closeness with Hashem and with His Torah – the place where true happiness is derived.

So Yom Tov, the time to rejoice, is the time in which we discover the happiness we are used to. It is a time to discover if our main happiness is coming from externalities such as meat and wine (for the men) jewelry and clothing (for the women) and candy (for the children) – or if our happiness is coming from an inner place. It is only inner happiness which satisfies our spiritual needs – our Nefesh HaElokus (G-dly soul).

Yom Tov is thus not just the time in which we rejoice, but it is a time in which we clarify to ourselves what our soul is really rejoicing in. On Yom Tov, we do not just attempt to ‘connect’ ourselves to happiness, as if happiness is somewhere on the outside of ourselves. The festivals are called regalim, which implies that we reveal from within ourselves where we are habitually drawn towards, where we really are.

When a person never makes this internal clarification – when he never bothers to search himself outside, and he never discovers what truly makes him happy – he is like a dove who cannot find any rest. Yom Tov to him will feel like a time of confusion; he is like the dove who could not find any rest from the mabul (the flood), which is from the word bilbul, confusion.

A person should cleanse himself off from the desires for this world’s pleasures and instead reveal his thirst for the true happiness.

Making This Assessment

When Yom Tov arrives, the first thing we need to clarify with ourselves is: If Yom Tov really makes us happy.

You should know that most people are not really happy on Yom Tov – not even for one second do they really experience Simchas Yom Tov! [This is not just because the Vilna Gaon says that the hardest mitzvah to keep is Simchas Yom Tov, due to the fact that it is for a 24-hour period lasting for seven days. We are referring to a much more simpler and basic level, which most people do not even reach].

Most people enjoy some moments of relaxation on Yom Tov, but they never reach one moment of true simcha. If someone experiences even one moment of Simchas Yom Tov, he has begun to touch the spiritual light of Yom Tov.

In order to reach true simcha on Yom Tov, we need to remove the various bad habits we have towards the various ambitions we have that are not about holiness. We must remove any “thirsts” we may have for things that are not truthful sources of pleasure. When we begin to feel our souls’ thirst for its source – Hashem – we will find our source of happiness there.

A person needs to discover: “What makes me happy?” If someone’s entire happiness on Yom Tov comes from meat and wine, then according to Halacha he has fulfilled Simchas Yom Tov; he has made his nefesh hebehaimis happy, but he did not reach the goal of Yom Tov; he did not reach “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” He hasn’t even touched upon the real happiness of Yom Tov.

The three festivals are called the regalim. They have the power to awaken us to spiritual growth, and to know what is making us happy. From knowing that, we are able to continue that very same happiness and extend it into the rest of the year.

Parshas Behar – Choose the Best

לעילוי נשמת מנחם בן משה הלוי

וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם Do not oppress your fellow Jew, and fear your G-d because I am Hashem, your G-d. Rashi explains: כָּאן הִזְהִיר עַל אוֹנָאַת דְּבָרִים Here is a warning against onaas devarim. While there is, Baruch Hashem, a great emphasis on being careful not to speak Lashon Hora, there is, it seems, less of a broad emphasis on being careful about not speaking onaas devarim– words that oppress.

The mishna in Baba Metzia (58b) says: כשם שאונאה במקח וממכר כך אונאה בדברים לא יאמר לו בכמה חפץ זה והוא אינו רוצה ליקח אם היה בעל תשובה לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים אם הוא בן גרים לא יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך Just as their is onaah (oppression) in buying and selling, there is onaah through words (for example) You should not ask someone how much something costs if you have no intention of buying it, if someone has done teshuva, do not remind him of his previous wrongful deeds, if someone is a son of converts, do not say to him, remember what your ancestors did. Onaas devarim is quite expansive and the gemara here provides several other examples ranging from the way we speak to those who have suffered a loss to how we address those seeking to purchase a certain item. The gemara points out that onaas devarim is even more severe than onaas mamon (onaah caused through commerce), in three ways:

1. The pasuk that prohibits onaas devarim concludes with the extra caution to fear G-d;
2. Onaas devarim affects one’s body while onaas mamon affects one’s money;
3. You can make restitution for onaas mamon, but you cannot make restitution for onaas devarim

Additionally, the gemara in Baba Metzia (59a) says: אמר רב חסדא כל השערים ננעלים חוץ משערי אונאה Rav Chisda said that all of the gates (of heaven) are closed except for the gate of onaah. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is so that those who are oppressed by words will have a means of being repaired. This gemara also explains that oppressing someone with words is one of the three sins that go up directly to Hashem.

The midrash Vayikra Rabbah on the pesukim of onaah brings this story: אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל לְטָבִי עַבְדֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ טָבָא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן, אָמַר לֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַהוּ דֵּין דְּכַד אֲנָא אָמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ טָבָא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן, וְכַד אֲנָא אֲמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מִינָּהּ טָבְתָּא וּמִינָהּ בִּישְׁתָּא, כַּד הֲוָה טַב לֵית טָבָה מִנֵּיהּ, וְכַד

בִּישׁ לֵית בִּישׁ מִנֵּיהּ. רַבִּי עָשָׂה סְעוּדָה לְתַלְמִידָיו, הֵבִיא לִפְנֵיהֶם לְשׁוֹנוֹת רַכִּים וּלְשׁוֹנוֹת קָשִׁים, הִתְחִילוּ
בּוֹרְרִין בָּרַכִּים וּמַנִּיחִין הַקָּשִׁים, אָמַר לָהֶם דְּעוּ מָה אַתֶּם עוֹשִׂין כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאַתֶּם בּוֹרְרִין אֶת הָרַכִּין וּמַנִּיחִין אֶת הַקָּשִׁים כָּךְ יִהְיֶה לְשׁוֹנְכֶם רַךְ אֵלּוּ לָאֵלּוּ Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said to Tavi his servant: go buy for me the best food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: go buy for me the worst food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: What’s this? When I say to you “the best food”, you buy me a tongue, and when I say to you “the worst food”, you buy me tongue. He said to him, this is the best and this is the worst. When it is good, there is nothing better than it, and when it is bad, there is nothing worse than it. Rabi made a meal for his students, and brought before them soft tongues and hard tongues. They immediately chose the soft tongues and left the tough tongues alone. He said to them, Understand what you are doing. Just as you are choosing the soft [tongues] and leaving aside the tough ones, so shall your own tongues be with one another. Our “tongues” have a dual potential, they can be the best things or the worst things. Choose to be the best.

We are familiar that the isur of Lashon Hora is not limited to the spoken word. It also includes facial expressions, winking, frowning, etc. The Sefer Yere’im similarly extends onaas devarim to facial expressions. The Alter of Slabodka was known to say that a person’s face is a reshus harabbim, an area open to the public. If someone walks around with a sullen face, he can be considered a mazik, a damager, because he oppresses others and causes them
to be sad. On the other hand, if someone follows the advice of Pirkei Avos and greets everyone with a kind face, both he and they will be happier and he will avoid any potential damage to them. Choose to be the best. Greet everyone with a kind countenance.

THE TAKEAWAY: Onaas Devarim– speaking words that oppress others, even when they might not be Lashon Hora or Rechilus, is an aveira that is more severe than onaas mamon, oppressing someone in the course of commerce. Our speech has the greatest potential, for both the bad and the good and we need to choose the good. The Sefer Yereim extends onaas devarim to facial expressions.

THIS WEEK: Even when you aren’t feeling one hundred percent, do your best to greet others with a smile and a cheerful countenance. This doesn’t mean that you cannot unburden yourself to others in halachically permissible ways. It means that when you are not discussing the things that have gotten you down, there’s no reason to cause others pain or discontent. Choose to be the best, one smile at a time.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Lag B’Omer – Inner Bonfire

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Growth In Soul, Time, and Place

Generally speaking, there are three ways how one can receive spiritual growth: through his soul, through certain times, or through certain places.[1]

1) Soul – If a person grows spiritually through the soul, it means that he has succeeded in inspiring himself to receive new levels of spiritual growth. This can happen either through directly inspiring his own soul, or if he hears others who inspire him.

2) Time – When a person receives spiritual growth because of certain times, it is because there are special spiritual gifts contained in those times that allow for growth; examples of this are Shabbos and Yom Tov. Time-based growth can affect the person as well and help him grow spiritually, even if the person hasn’t yet managed to elevate his soul to the point that he can attain this growth independently.

3) Place – A person can also receive a spiritual boost by being exposed to a certain place – for example, by going to a holy place, such as Eretz Yisrael, or a holy burial site of a tzaddik[2].

These are the three general ways of how a person can receive spiritual growth [later ir will be mentioned that one can also receive growth from another person, such as being inspired by another person, or by a tzaddik, or from hearing an inspirational person].

The Advantage of Growth In Soul Vs. Growth Through Time and Place

However, there is a fundamental difference between receiving growth from one’s soul [which is more direct], with receiving growth from time or a place [which are external factors]: When a person attains growth from his own soul, he has reached the new levels on his own, and this results in a more permanent change for the soul.

Of course, even when a person attains growth via his soul, he can still have ups and downs from his level, but it will only be a temporary fall, for he has ultimately achieved a new level for his soul via his inner exertion to get there. It will have become easier for him to get back to that newly attained level, because he still has within him the root to get there, now that he has acquired it within himself.

In contrast, any spiritual growth attained from a certain time or place is external only, and it will be dependent on the holiness of the time or place. It is also temporary and therefore it does not retain the same permanence as soul-based growth.

Though people may feel temporarily elated after visiting certain holy places, they often soon resume their routine life [and sink back to their previous spiritual level]. When a time of growth is over – for example, when Shabbos or Yom Tov ends – or when a person leaves a certain holy place, the actual spiritual effects of the holiness fade. He is only left with a certain impression of the previous growth, a shadow or reminder of what he once reached and what he could yet achieve. We can see it clearly. People go to certain holy places and feel spiritual elation there, but after that, they go back to their routine life, and all of the inspiration is forgotten.

When spiritual growth comes from a certain time or place, it is similar to when a person becomes spiritually uplifted by another person. Since the other person’s inspiration is external, the effect is more likely to be temporary unless a person works hard to integrate it into his own soul. When the other person leaves, the spiritual effect often dissipates.

Tools To Maintain Inspiration

Thus, a person’s avodah (inner task) is two-fold. He can reach higher levels of internal spiritual growth by working hard on himself and using tools that can assist with permanent change. He can also realize that any lasting benefits of growth dependent on external holiness (time, place or person) may be fleeting and merely provide a temporary impression unless he works hard to integrate it through corresponding internal spiritual work.

There are pros and cons to being inspired by external factors such as holy people, times or places. The pros are that a person is able to receive a much higher spiritual boost than his current level. One can still receive those great levels, relatively quickly, without working hard to elevate one’s soul. On the other hand, the disadvantage of external spiritual elevation is that a person will struggle to maintain the high level after the holy time, place or person has disappeared. A person may experience frustration when recalling his temporary boost and at his failing to maintain it afterwards.

This is a very subtle but important point, which, when one is aware of it, it can cause misconception. A person may experience great elation on a certain Shabbos and feel that he has ascended spiritually. However, what happens on Sunday? He remembers how he felt on Shabbos, and then he tries to relive the spiritual high. However, since his spiritual growth in this instance was sourced purely from a holy day [and it wasn’t matched with corresponding internal growth], the effects will dissipate with time; trying to recreate Shabbos on Sunday when we have not grown internally is living in a fantasy world.

Certainly it is possible for us to feel the spirituality of Shabbos even on Sunday, but only if one has worked on himself to a point where he is able to reach the levels independently, and by acquiring the inner tools that would enable him to maintain the level of Shabbos for afterwards. Without either of these two factors, then after Shabbos a person is only left with a faint “imprint” of Shabbos. This ‘imprint’[3] can certainly instill in him a burning desire to return to those moments of elation, but one will still need to implement these two points in order for the spiritual growth to stay with him.

When a person is aware that all the levels he has reached is only through his mental capacities (mochin\mind) – meaning, he is aware that these are all temporary moments of elation, but that they haven’t yet been etched into his soul – then he views these levels as something delightful which Hashem has given to him, and he also views them as an ‘indicator’ that shows he has grown spiritually. But if a person overdoes the “indicator” and is always thinking about these levels, when really hasn’t yet acquired them – he is just imagining things. Usually, this problem exists by people who became very inspired from reading a sefer or when they hear a Torah tape.

When it comes to growth we receive from times or places, the danger [of self-delusion] is greater. This is because at the time that the person felt the spiritual growth – such as Shabbos – there was a true feeling, and it is hard for a person to free himself from the intensity of the feelings he remembers. Yesterday, the feeling was there, but today, the feeling is gone.

We can give a simple example that helps us understand this idea very well. On Sukkos, a person shakes his lulav and esrog. If someone comes to shul on Chanukah with his lulav and esrog, he would be a laughingstock. Everything has its time and place. Yet, those who have yet to internalize and maintain the spiritual growth of the holy days throughout the rest of the year are dependent on the spiritual boost of the external, physical mitzvos. Their spiritual level is reliant on these physical times, places and actions so they yearn to connect this way all year or at inappropriate times.

Heart Matters Are Not Understood Every Day

To what will this apply to? In the coming lines, we will discuss a point that is really above our level. We must realize that the coming concepts are really above our level, for we have not acquired them yet.

On Lag Ba’omer, the spiritual gifts contained in this day are that the “gates of wisdom are opened”. This essentially means that that one’s soul on this day can receive levels which he normally can’t absorb. But we must understand that the levels we can attain on this day are temporary and they only last for the day of Lag Ba’omer.

At first glance, this may sound strange. One might say, “If I have already comprehended it, how can it be that I will lose my comprehension of it?! If you told me yesterday that two plus one is three, then why would I forget about this the next day?!”

But that is the mistake. The soul’s wisdom does not refer to intellectual matters; rather, it refers to words that come alive in one’s inner world of the soul. Intellect and understanding are not the same thing. Intellect is referred to as seichel, while understanding, havanah, is avanta d’liba (“understanding of the heart”). There are many smart people in the world, but knowing something with your brain is not the same thing as absorbing something in your heart; there is a very big difference between the mind’s intellectual knowledge and the heart’s knowledge, understanding.

Thus, if a person is aware in advance that whatever he reaches on Lag Ba’omer will not last when it ends, then he will know how to receive the spirituality of this day properly. He will be less likely to lose heart when the levels he has attained on this day inevitably disappear, and less likely to pressure that it was supposed to remain permanently. Instead, one will simply have an inner push to return to these levels and internalize them [by doing the soul work that is involved].

This is possibly the meaning of the statement in Chazal that “Every day, the words of Torah should be to you like new.” What does this mean? A lot of ink has been spent on explaining this. But it appears to mean that even if you understood something yesterday, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will understand it tomorrow. A matter may have entered your intellect, but has not yet been cemented in your heart. Sometimes the next day brings additional understanding deeper than the previous day’s level, if one has managed to purify oneself in the interim.

We are referring to deep, subtle matters which must be lived, in order to be understood and internalized. We are often familiar with only an intellectual understanding of a matter, which is usually permanently retained. In contrast, heart understanding is unique in that it is not anchored in the heart in the same way as intellectual knowledge is anchored in the brain. Thus, with heart understanding, there is a risk that its gain will merely be temporary and ephemeral (unless we do constant, inner avodah to maintain it).

This distinction is crucial to understanding the wisdom of the Creator. Our intellect is cold, simple, and rational. In contrast, heart matters, such as searching for Godliness, are a “burning fire”. Only the heart can understand Godly matters. And the heart is accessed through avanta d’liba, an inner understanding, which can only be accessed during certain times.

The Mystery of Remembering Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

We will speak a little about what is relevant for Lag Ba’Omer, but as we said before, we should remember that it’s only relevant for Lag Ba’Omer; after this day passes, we are left with nothing but a ‘mark’ from it. Therefore, a person should not attempt to grow further from that ‘mark’ after Lag Ba’Omer ends, and if he does, he should be warned in the same way that the people were warned not to ascend Har Sinai when Moshe was receiving the Torah.

It is somewhat of a mystery. Throughout all the generations, there were many Gedolim and tzaddikim who are not remembered so much on their yahrtzeit[4]. People remember the yahrtzeit of Dovid HaMelech[5], but there is almost no one who knows what day of the calendar the yahrtzeit of our own Avos (forefathers) is. There are all kinds of traditions that state which days of the year they died on, but for some reason, there is no clarity in this matter. Only one tzaddik, who came much than the Avos – the Sage, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai – is so remembered. Everyone goes to his grave on this day (Lag Ba’Omer). Why does he get so much attention, more than all the other tzaddikim?

We should think about this. If we are rejoicing in something and we don’t know what to rejoice about, then such rejoicing is superficial; our happiness has to come from our soul, or else it is just by rote and will not amount to anything. So we must know what we are rejoicing about on Lag Ba’Omer.

The Special Time of Lag Ba’Omer

It is written in Koheles (3:1), “For every time.” Chazal comment on this that there was a time for Adam to enter Gan Eden, and there was a time for him to leave Gan Eden; there was a time for Noach to enter the Ark, and there was a time for him to leave the Ark. There was a time for Avraham to be circumcised, and there was a time for him to circumcise his children.”

We can learn from this Midrash that long before Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai passed away on Lag Ba’omer, this day was already sanctified. Thus, our outlook on this day doesn’t have to begin with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai definitely brought the meaning of this special time into the dimension of the soul as well, because long before he lived, this day was already precious. It was a day that inherently contained inherent spiritual gifts.

Let us now reflect: what is the inner meaning of this day?

Lag Ba’Omer and Amalek

Lag Ba’omer falls out on the 18th of the month of Iyar. The gematria (numerical value in Lashon HaKodesh[6]) of the word “Iyar”,[7] together with the number 18[8], is equal to the word “Amalek”.[9] In other words, there is a connection between Amalek and this day. Soon, we will explain the connection.

Sadness – Not Connected To The Root

Whenever a person is sad, this really comes from the fact that he isn’t connected to a root. He is like a branch disconnected from its root. The root has a ‘root’ as well to it: the lack of connection between the person and Hashem. By contrast, happiness is when there is connection to our Source.

It is written, “With hardship shall you bear children.” The pain of child labor is called “etzev”, which can also mean “sadness”. Birth is a separation of the baby from its mother; when the baby was in its mother, it is considered part of the mother. Now, it has disconnected from its mother – this is the “etzev”\sadness of giving birth.

Childbirth, and the etzev which follows it, reflects the concept that a person has to be integrated with his Source. The purpose of man is to integrate himself with his root, and keep connecting himself to his roots until he arrives at the root of all roots, the Creator.

On Yom Tov we have a mitzvah to be happy. Yom Tov is “moed”, which comes from the word “vaad” – a meeting. When there is a meeting, there is connection, and thus there is happiness.

The Meaning Behind the Bonfires

There is a minhag[10] on Lag B’Omer to light bonfires. We don’t just light small fires like we light for Shabbos and Yom Tov. We light big fires – bonfires, which are called “lehavah” in Hebrew.

The inner meaning of this is to show us that we need to have a big “fire”, a lehavah, in our hearts, for Hashem. If a person has this inner fire, he is inwardly connected to Lag Ba’Omer. If a person is just lighting physical bonfires, but his soul is cold inside, he is not truly celebrating Lag Ba’Omer.

It is written, “The house of Yaakov will be a fire, and the house of Yosef will be a big flame.” This is referring to the inner layer of a Jew’s soul, the burning desire for Hashem. At first there is a small fire, and then it becomes a huge flame, a lehavah. When a person increases his inner fire for Hashem until it is a big flame, then he can integrate with Hashem.

In other words, bonfires on this day are not just superficial acts of lighting big fires. It is meant to remind us of our innermost point of the soul, which is like a great, fiery desire to be connected with Hashem.

Countering The ‘Separation’ Caused By Amalek: Connecting To Hashem

It is well-known that the evil force of “Amalek” causes disparity in Creation. Chazal say that Amalek attacked us in Refidim, from the words “rafu y’deihem b’Torah”, implying that “our hands were weak in Torah”. When a person’s hands go weak, he loses connection to what he is holding. Our hands were weak then in “holding” the Torah – there was a weakening in our connection to Torah; and that enabled Amalek to attack us.

Torah is called “words of fire”[11]- the Torah is a ‘fire’, but we on our own must turn it into a big flame, a “lehavah”. This is referring to the concept of becoming totally integrated with Hashem.[12]

The power that is inherent in the day of Lag Ba’Omer is essentially the power to become connected to the Creator – the opposite of Amalek’s agenda, who wants to cause us to be separate from the Creator. This is also the inner meaning of what it means to “erase Amalek” from our midst, and thereby remove its evil. The “great flame” that can be reached on this day – integrating one’s self with Hashem – is what can prevent Amalek from coming to weaken us.

Amalek weakened our “hands” in Torah. What does this mean? When our hands become weak, we lose connection to what we are holding; thus there was a weakening in our connection to Torah. But why is this part of the body chosen to symbolize our connection to Torah? Don’t we learn Torah with our mouths and minds, not our hands?

The answer to this is that there are two points contained here. On one level, a person can only connect to something with his “hands” – in other words, when he is holding onto it. You use your hands to hold onto something, such as a person who is drowning and catches a piece of wood to hold onto. Thus the “weakened hands” in Torah meant a lack of connection to Torah.

On another level, the Zohar states that Torah without fiery feelings of love and awe of Hashem does not ascend to Heaven. In other words, although the generation was learning Torah, they were lacking a certain connection to it; they weren’t connecting themselves to Hashem through it. Amalek “weakening our hands” in Torah meant that the force of Amalek can disconnect a person from the root of his Torah learning: Hashem.

The Power Contained In Lag Ba’Omer: Overcoming Doubt

The power contained in this day [Lag Ba’Omer] is essentially the ability for a person to remove himself from all the obstacles that hold him back from closeness to the Creator.

The main obstacle which holds us back from being close to Hashem is the force of Amalek, as is well-known. Amalek’s power thrives on safek (doubt). When a person has doubts about something, he cannot connect to it, as a result.

To illustrate, consider a person who comes to a crossroads and is faced with choice of following one of two paths. If this person chooses one path but lacks certainty and thinks in his heart the whole time: “I’m not sure about what I’m doing…”, he cannot be properly connected to the path he is taking. Even if he made the right choice, his doubt and uncertainty block him from connecting to it. In contrast, when a person is confident in himself and his purpose and role and choice, he is able to connect to what he does.

Doubts prevent a person from truly connecting to Hashem in an inner way. Even if a person is taking the right path towards Hashem, if he is doubtful about what he’s doing, then that means he is not really connected to the path he is taking, which means he is not really connected with Hashem.

How can a person leave doubt and enter into the inner world of the spiritual? A person needs to become sure about the truth that he knows about! This will eradicate his doubts. How can a person become absolutely sure about the inner truths? The truth is actually very clear. When a person understands it, it is then that he leaves all the doubts.

Hashem Is Here, There, and Everywhere

Compare this to a person who wants to get from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak. He doesn’t know if he should go right or left or straight ahead. Whichever way he takes, he is doubtful, because he has no idea if he will end up in Bnei Brak. But once a person is in Bnei Brak, he has no doubts about where to go – because he is there. This is because if you’re there, you don’t have doubts about where you are.

A person must realize that in whatever “derech” (path) he takes, all of the many different paths essentially bring him to this one and only point: Hashem! There is no such thing as a valid “path” that doesn’t bring you to Hashem. It doesn’t matter if a person is happy, sad, or suffering; all of these are situations that, in the end, can bring you closer to Hashem.

So what are people not sure about? A person knows that Hashem is at the end of the path, but he’s not sure if he’s taking the right path. He may be thinking, “Who says it’s the right path for me…?”

The deep perspective is for a person to realize that Hashem is found everywhere, in every situation, and therefore, he has nothing to be doubtful about. He doesn’t doubt the ‘path’ he is taking which will lead him to the truth, because he is secure in the knowledge that all paths lead to the Creator, for the goal is always to reach closeness with the Creator.

Above The Perspective of ‘Pesach Sheini’

Lag B’Omer often falls out within the seven days of the time period known as “Pesach Sheini” (observed on the 14th of Iyar). When we had the Beis Mikdash and we were able to bring korbonos, there was a mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, for those who were ritually impure on Pesach and couldn’t bring the korbon pesach on the 14th of Nissan; or for those who didn’t make it to Jerusalem on time for Yom Tov. Those who didn’t make it were held back due to the ‘place’ they were in, whereas those who were impure were held back due to the situation of their soul – they were distant from Hashem, thus couldn’t come.

But there is an inner point in which one can know and feel in his soul that Hashem resides inside him, always, even when he in a state of impurity. Such a person had no need for Pesach Sheini. In the physical world, a person needed Pesach Sheini if he was ritually impure, but in the inner world of the soul, once a person comes to the recognition of feeling Hashem in his soul, he doesn’t need “Pesach Sheini” there. This, the fact that Lag B’Omer always falls out within the “seven days of Pesach Sheini” and it reveals a certain heavenly light: that Hashem is found even amidst our state of impurity (just like there are seven days of the first Pesach, so is there a concept that there are seven days of the second Pesach).

“There Is No Place That Is Empty From Him”

When a person is aware that Hashem is found even in the lowest place where he has fallen to, he doesn’t need any “hands” to lift himself up.

If a person thinks simply that “Hashem is Heaven, but I live on this earth”, and that he must try to somehow ‘ascend’ to Heaven – then he will need his “hands” to lift himself upwards [and he won’t be able to get there]. But when a person knows clearly that Hashem is found in any place – for “There is no place empty from Him” – then even when he has fallen low, he can still arrive at a point of clarity in which he sees how Hashem is there at any place, time or situation. There is no amount of spiritual impurity that will be able to get him to have any doubts about this.

We rectify the evil of Amalek in Creation, essentially, by realizing how Hashem is with us even when we are in a lowly situation. Hashem is found with us even as we are amongst the lowest levels of impurity – even Amalek.

Thus, practically speaking, in order to gain from this day of Lag B’Omer, we need to search for the Creator – and because He is everywhere, we can find Him at any moment, in any place, and in any time.

May we merit to arrive at the innermost point – the “lehavah”, the “great flame” that iswithin us, represented by the bonfires we light, which can remind us of a burning desire for Hashem; and may we merit the Redemption, speedily.[13]

[1] This is based on the concept of “Olam, Shanah, Nefesh” (World, Time, and Soul) – everything exists in three dimensions: place, time, and soul [Sefer Yetzirah, III]

[2] Note from the sefer: (the sefarim hakedoshim mentioned that a tzaddik’s grave is as holy as if it were in Eretz Yisrael, even if it is outside Eretz Yisrael),

[3] In Hebrew, “roishem”

[4] memorial day

[5] Shavuos

[6] The Holy Tongue

[7] 221

[8] 221+18 = 239

[9] The word “Amalek” is equal to 240. (As is well-known, in the system of Gematria, the word itself counts as one)

[10] custom

[11] Yirmiyahu 23:29

[12] “hiskalelus” – integrating

[13] Editor’s Note: As a supplement to this derashah, refer to Fixing Your Fire_006_Conceit_Handling Inspiration

Pirkei Avos Week 2

This week is the second Perek for Pirkei Avos. Here is the link for an English Translation of all six Perakim culled from Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld’s translation and commentary at Torah.org. The full text of Pirkei Avos in Hebrew can be found here.

Torah.org also has some of the Maharal’s commentary for Pirkei Avos and you can purchase the Art Scroll adaptation of the Maharal’s commentary here.

Here is Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avos

1. “Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is glorious / praiseworthy for himself, and honors him before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) like a severe one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the pleasure received for sinning compared to the punishment. Consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you – an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”

2. “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will in the end result in waste and will cause sinfulness. All who work for the community should work for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community’s forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will reward you greatly as if you accomplished it on your own.”

3. “Be careful with authorities, for they do not befriend a person except for their own sake. They appear as friends when they benefit from it, but they do not stand by a person in his time of need.”

4. “He used to say, make His will your will, so that He will make your will His will. Annul your will before His will, so that He will annul the will of others before your will.”

5. “Hillel said, do not separate from the community, do not trust yourself until the day you die, do not judge your friend until you reach his place, do not make a statement which cannot be understood which will (only) later be understood, and do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you do not have free time.”

6. “He (Hillel) used to say, a boor cannot fear sin, nor can an unlearned person be pious. A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach. Those who are involved excessively in business will not become a scholar. In a place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.”

7. “He (Hillel) also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: ‘Because you drowned you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned.'”

8. “He (Hillel) used to say, the more flesh the more worms, the more property the more worry, the more wives the more witchcraft, the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more slaves the more thievery. The more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom, the more advice the more understanding, the more charity the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah acquires a share in the World to Come.”

9. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai received [the transmission] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say, if you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because you were created for this.”

10. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai had five [primary] students. They were: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.”

11. “He (Rabban Yochanan ben (son of) Zakkai) used to list their praises (the praises of his five primary students). Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos is a cemented pit which never loses a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya fortunate is she who bore him; Rabbi Yossi the Priest is pious; Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel fears sin; and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an increasing river.”

12. “He used to say, if all the sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Hurkenos on the second side, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name, if all the Sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale with even Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos among them, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach on the second side, he would outweigh them all.”

13. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a good way to which someone should cleave. Rabbi Eliezer said a good eye; Rabbi Yehoshua said a good friend; Rabbi Yossi said a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said one who considers consequences. Rabbi Elazar said a good heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”

14. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a bad way which a person should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said a bad eye. Rabbi Yehoshua said a bad friend. Rabbi Yossi said a bad neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said one who borrows and does not pay back. One who borrows from a person is as one who borrows from G-d, as it says, “A wicked person borrows and does not repay, but the Righteous One is gracious and gives” (Psalms 37:21). Rabbi Elazar said a bad heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”

15. “They (the five students of Rabban Yochanan – see above Mishna 10) each said three things. Rabbi Eliezer said: The honor of your fellow should be as dear to you as your own. Do not get angry easily. Repent one day before you die. Warm yourself before the fire of the Sages. But be wary with their coals that you do not get burnt, for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.”

16. “Rabbi Yehoshua said, an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of another person remove a person from this world.”

17. “Rabbi Yossi said, let your fellow’s property be as dear to you as your own, prepare yourself to study Torah because it is not an inheritance to you, and all of your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”

18. “Rabbi Shimon said, be careful in reading the Shema and the prayers. When you pray, do not regard your prayers as a fixed obligation, rather they should be [the asking for] mercy and supplication before G-d, as the verse says, “For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, great in kindness, and relenting of the evil decree” (Joel 2:13). Do not consider yourself a wicked person.”

19. “Rabbi Elazar said, be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. Know before Whom you toil. And faithful is your Employer that He will pay you the reward for your labor.”

20. “Rabbi Tarfon said, the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”

21. “He (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say, it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be given much reward, and faithful is your Employer that He will reward you for your labor. And know that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.”

The Maharal’s Understanding of Lechem Oni

On Shabbos HaGadol, my Rav’s drasha focused on the issues of using 2 or 3 matzos when making Brochos for HaMotzie and Achilas Matzah on Pesach. The complications come in because we are using Lechem Oni. The Gemora in Pesachim 115b has three explanations of the term “Lechem Oni”, one of which is that at the seder we should eat a piece of Matzah like a poor person.

I was bothered by the fact that the Torah itself discusses our progression from slavery to freedom. So why did the sages introduce the symbolism of a poor person with all the accompanying halachic complications?

I Googled for a possible answer and I was delighted to see that Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean and Rosh Yeshiva at Shapell’s/Darche Noam came up in the search with this link. We have been privileged to post a number of insightful articles by Rabbi Karlinsky on Beyond BT over the years. After reading the article I was thrilled, because it answered my question, and presents us with a new understanding of Lechem Oni based on the writings of the Maharal. I emailed Rabbi Karlinsky for permission to post the article and he quickly responded so we can all benefit from the insight of the Maharal on this central Pesach theme as explained by Rabbi Karlinsky.

Pesach Matzah: Bread of Poverty, Bread of Freedom
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

A common term used in the Haggadah to describe matzah is “lechem oni.” It is usually translated as “the bread of affliction,” or “the bread of poverty.” This explanation is based on the the Ramban’s commentary on Devarim (16:2) (and reflected in most commentaries on the Haggadah) which says that poor people eat this kind of bread, and the Egyptians fed it to the Jewish people as slaves.

The Maharal strongly disagrees with this interpretation, saying we have no source that the Jews ate matzah while enslaved in Egypt. In fact, a verse in the Torah indicates the opposite. “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt, free of charge” (Bamidbar 11:5). Furthermore, it says (Devarim 16:3) “Don’t eat leavened bread with [the Pesach offering]; seven days shall you eat…matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt.” If the Jews ate matzah as slaves, why is “leaving Egypt in haste” given as a reason for the commandment to eat it!? And if matzah is the bread of POVERTY, why is it associated with emancipation and redemption, which reflects freedom and wealth?

A poor person, who lacks all money and possessions, reflects the basic minimum for human existence. This person has nothing outside of himself, and his identity – that of a poor person -is independent of anything except himself. Matzah is called the bread of poverty because it, too, has nothing besides the basic minimum for its existence, flour and water. Any enhancement, whether it be yeast, sugar, or even “time”, adds something to the dough beyond the bare minimum, and it is not matzah, not bread of poverty.

Slavery means to be controlled by forces outside of yourself and your essence, whether it be by the expectations of others, physical dependencies, or personal insecurities. Redemption means emancipating yourself from that control, becoming independent of any external forces or dependencies. A slave is dependent on and controlled by his master. A wealthy person, too, lacks a dimension of independence, since his identity is the result of, and dependent on, his attachment to his money and possessions. So much of his life is controlled by that wealth, while a poor person, having nothing but himself, stands completely separate and independent from anything outside of himself. He represents the concept of redemption and freedom, even if his life in the material world has limitations.

Matzah doesn’t represent poverty. Rather it represents the process of becoming independent. Independence is acquired by removing any bonds or dependencies on things outside of oneself. This is the process of redemption. Therefore, G-d commanded us to eat matzah on the night of the exodus from Egypt. Just as the poor person has nothing beyond his basic existence, on the night of the departure from Egypt we eat the bread composed of the most basic ingredients, at the time when we are acquiring redemption and freedom. We need to leave the control of anything outside of our essence, and we eat bread that contains nothing but the essence necessary for its being.

We now have a new way of understanding the verses commanding us to eat matzah. “Seven days shall you eat…matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt”: Eat bread which stands independent of anything besides its essence. Why? Because you left Egypt in haste. Haste implies no time delay. A process delayed over time includes an enhancement to the essence of the process, while true redemption is built on unloading everything but the essence. The Jewish people didn’t leave the bondage of Egypt through a natural, historical process, which takes time. Their redemption was an instantaneous Divine process, with direct emancipation by G-d Himself, Who transcends the limitations of time. Therefore, chametz was prohibited, since it represents a process which requires time, while we are commanded to eat matzah, which comes into being “without time.”

The Maharal concludes with the following summary. A poor person is one who has nothing. This is a handicap in our material world, which operates with a system of acquisition and relationships. However, simplicity and independence is a virtue in a system which transcends the material. On the night of Pesach, the Jewish people needed redemption. However, it wasn’t a redemption that could evolve from within the material system, but rather from a higher, transcendent source. Therefore, they were commanded to eat matzah, which is a bread of simplicity, since it has only the basic components, with nothing combined with it.

This concept of simplicity is illustrated by the High Priest who serves all year with clothes of gold, and on Yom Kippur enters the Holy of Holies in pure white clothes. He is acquiring the highest level attainable, one of simplicity, lacking connection to anything beyond the essence, which is represented by white, the purest and simplest color.

This is the meaning of the verse “Seven days shall you eat…matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt.” Their departure in haste, with no process extending over time, indicated that they left in an elevated state, with the activity of redemption transcending time, in a supernatural way. Therefore, it was fitting to eat bread of poverty, which has no combinations, but is bread in its simplest and most independent form.

Of course, a person needs possessions to exist in the material world in which we live, and one who has money can accomplish things not available to a person without money. This is what the Maharal means in the previous paragraph when he describes the limitations of a poor person. But our possessions aren’t our essence, and we can’t let them become “us.” How often do we allow our financial success, our social status, or the opinions of others define who we are? None of these things are our essence.

The matzah on Pesach is to teach us that redemption, true freedom, means to be free from external dependencies that control us. Matzah, as bread of poverty, teaches us to connect with our essence. All year we eat chametz, rather than limiting ourselves to matzah, just as the Kohen Gadol goes into the Holy of Holies only once a year, serving the rest of the time in the main part of the Temple in gold clothes. We operate all year in a material world, one of chametz. But just as the Kohen Gadol’s annual entrance into the Holy of Holies in the purest white represents the essence of his service all year, the week of Pesach, with our diet of matzah, defines the essence of our interaction with the material world for the rest of the year. When we can declare independence from everything except our essence, then all the other resources available to us can be used to enhance that essence, rather than create artificial dependencies and enslavement. This is the difference between slavery and dependence on the one hand, and true freedom and redemption on the other.

May this month of redemption bring us true freedom!

Parshas Metzora – Fly Little Birdie

Shmira BaShuvua – Shmiras HaLashon Lessons from the Weekly Parsha

Someone who spoke lashon hara and was afflicted with tzaras was exiled from the three camps of the Bnei Yisrael. Once the metzora’s skin appears to have healed, a kohein would come to investigate. If he determined that the skin had indeed healed, the kohein would command the metzora to prepare a very unique korban וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלָקַ֧ח לַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר שְׁתֵּֽי־צִפֳּרִ֥ים חַיּ֖וֹת טְהֹר֑וֹת וְעֵ֣ץ אֶ֔רֶז וּשְׁנִ֥י תוֹלַ֖עַת וְאֵז:–Then the kohen shall command that the one who wishes to be purified take two live clean birds, a cedar twig, a strip of crimson, and hyssop. Many meforshim discuss each of the individual elements of this korban, but we will focus on the two birds.

Rashi on this pusek references the gemara in Arachin (16b) אמר רבי יהודה בן לוי מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה יביא {ויקרא י״ד:ד׳ } שתי ציפרים לטהרתו אמר הקב”ה הוא עושה מעשה פטיט לפיכך אמרה תורה יביא קרבן פטיט -Rabbi Yehuda ben Levi says: What is different about a metzora that the Torah tell us that two birds are needed for his purification? Hakodesh Baruch Hu says: he performed an action of chattering, therefore the Torah tells him to bring a chattering korban (birds). This gemara seems to provide an explanation in line with the explanation of the other elements of the korban (according to Rashi) with each item being included for a symbolic reason–either to emphasize the sin of haughtiness or to teach the lesson of humility. But there’s another curious thing about the bird offering, the Torah tells us: וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְשָׁחַ֖ט אֶת־הַצִּפּ֣וֹר הָאֶחָ֑ת -And the kohen commands that one of the birds be slaughtered… וְשִׁלַּ֛ח אֶת־הַצִּפֹּ֥ר הַֽחַיָּ֖ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶֽה… -and they send away the live bird on to the land. One of the birds was slaughtered and the other had to be left alive and set free.

HaRav Shlomo Ganzfried, the mechaber of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, in his Sefer Apiryon explains why one bird is slaughtered and the other is set free. There are two sides to speech. There is the type of speech that damages, destroys, brings impurity, blocks our tefillah and Torah learning, and literally kills. Then there is the type of speech that is literally life altering and life giving: words of torah and tefillah, the kind word to someone who is struggling, the ways we honor our parents, teachers and fellow Jews with speech. HaRav Ganzfried is teaching us an important lesson: the solution to avoiding lashon hara is not to stop talking, it’s to learn how to use your speech in the proper way. Hashem gave us the power of speech to connect to him and our fellow man and to literally build worlds. He doesn’t want us to leave that most precious tool in the garage, he wants us to use it and use it properly.

On the occasion of the shloshim of the Chofetz Chaim someone close to the family wrote a eulogy using the pseudonym Machar HaLevi. The Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aryeh Leib haKohen vouched for its veracity and included it in his biography of his father, Sefer Toldos Chofetz Chaim. Machar HaLevi says that when he was in the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin, he used to ask himself what it was about the Chofetz Chaim that made him so choshuv. After all, his son-in-law, Rav Hirsh, seemed to be a greater tzadik than the Chofetz Chaim (if you could imagine). Indeed, Rav Hirsh was considered to be even more strict with his speech than the Chofetz Chaim, he barely spoke at all while the Chofetz Chaim spoke very often. Machar HaLevi explains that he only later realized why the Chofetz Chaim was much greater– kosher speech without a tinge of sin is more difficult and more valuable than remaining silent at all times. He adds that mute-like behavior isolates one from those around him and makes the person depressed. It is also considered a form of miserliness because it withholds so much good from others.

Speech, he continued, is a gift that Hashem gave us to distinguish us from the animals, and a person is not permitted to make himself like an animal or to spurn a gift from Hashem. Proper speech, of course, has its place in torah and tefillah but also in mundane things like business and learning new, proper ideas. The goal is to guard your tongue when speaking and not to refrain from speaking completely.

THE TAKEAWAY: There are two types of speech, the forbidden type of speech that destroys and the type of speech that builds relationships with Hashem, our fellow Jews, and the world around us. Simply refraining from talking at all times is not a solution to the challenges we may be facing in our shmiras halashon.

THIS WEEK: Focus on “lashon tov”, greet others with a kind word, provide verbal chizuk to someone who is struggling, use your speech to honor others, and before you speak think about how your speech can have an impact for good, or chas veshalom, the opposite.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Beyond Vertlach – Key Points of the Seder

The Seder is just around the corner and it’s a great time to start preparing. Divrei Torah and vertlach at the Seder are wonderful, but it’s important to focus on the key points of the seder. A friend of mine developed this overview of the “Key Points of the Seder”.

Here’s are the Key Points of the Seder in text:

1) Tell the Detailed Story – Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim

2) Use Imagery & Details to Really Live/Feel It

3) Strengthen Your Emunah
a. Hashem Exists
b. Hashem is Directly Involved – Hashgacha Pratis
c. Hashem is One – No Other

4) Feel the Gratitude – Hakaros HaTov

5) Give Thanks, Sing, Praise – L’Hodos, L’Hallel, L’Shevach

6) Serve Hashem with Love, Joy and Enthusiasm

Download the one page graphic here.

Preparing for Pesach is Part of our Avodas Hashem

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of amazing Drashos on the month of Nisan and Pesach

In whatever time or situation we are in, we should always be aware that it is an inseparable part of our avodas Hashem. It doesn’t matter if it is something that has to do with ruchniyus (spirituality) or not or if it is something more mundane. Wherever we are, whatever the situation, it is somehow part of our avodas Hashem.

We must wonder in every situation: how is a Jew supposed to go about this?

In these weeks, the frum world, who keep Torah and mitzvos, is very careful to clean the house scrupulously from any trace of chametz. We have a commandment in the Torah to make sure that we do not see or find any chametz in our house; but this mitzvah has much to it which seemingly has nothing to do with Pesach.

Upon reflection, we will be able to see how preparing for Pesach is part of our avodas Hashem, and how through it we can bring ourselves to be closer to Hashem.

“Melumadah” – Acting By Rote

There is a simple point that we must all know and be aware of. This simple point is that we can find Hashem in anything – without exception!

1) When a person begins to clean his house for Pesach, he first has to get rid of the “melumadah” – the tendency to do things by rote. We are not simply cleaning out the house for Pesach “because we have to clean.” Why are you cleaning for Pesach? Because that’s what you did last year and the year before it?! That is not the reason.

2) We all know that to clean the house for Pesach is a mitzvah of the Torah, but what are our thoughts as we do this? If a person doesn’t stop to think, he is only bothered by questions such as: What is the best way to clean the house? What needs to cleaned, and how much? The whole relationship with Hashem is lost with all these questions.

So first, we must get rid of our tendency to just to things without thinking. We must realize that preparing for Pesach is purely avodas Hashem. After we know this we can begin to know how it is avodas Hashem, but the first step is this: don’t just do it like a robot. Just like we understand that learning and davening is avodas Hashem, so must we be aware that preparing for Pesach is avodas Hashem.

If a person feels that cleaning the house for Pesach is not part of avodas Hashem, we can almost tell him that he is forbidden to do it! The Chovos HeLevovos writes that there is no such thing as a gray area; it’s either forbidden or permissible. If it’s not a mitzvah, then it’s wrong to do.

We will try to explain how cleaning for Pesach can be avodas Hashem, in a way how everyone will be able to enter the Yom Tov amidst avodas Hashem, not amidst stress.

Why Do We Clean The House?

If we think into it, besides for the mitzvah of the Torah to keep the house clean from chametz on Pesach, there are more reasons why we need to clean the house.

3) One possible reason why a person cleans is because he feels bad to make the rest of his family do everything! He personally doesn’t care for the house to be clean. Most of the Pesach preparations have nothing to do with the mitzvah of destroying chametz – just various household chores. Why does a person do all these things for Pesach? Many times it is simply because he feels bad standing around and watching everyone else do all the work. He’s doing it all for the sake of chessed.

That is one possible reason why a person spends so much time with Pesach preparations.

4) Another possibility could be that we don’t like it when the house is dirty. Hashem created each person with a natural desire to have a clean house. Some people are cleanlier than others, and they can’t take even the slightest amount of messiness. But all people want their house clean somewhat, so they clean for the house for Pesach.

5) Another possibility can also be because people like it when things are orderly. During the rest of the year people are very busy, and they want to have one time in the year where they sit down and just arrange everything in its place (This is not the same thing as a desire for neatness.)

So far we have mentioned five possibilities why a person cleans the house for Pesach: Acting robotic, doing it because it’s a mitzvah of the Torah, kindness, cleanliness or orderliness.

The first kind of person we mentioned – the one who does it robotically – is obviously not doing it in the right way. That is simple and we don’t need to explain why.

The second kind of person, who does it because it’s a mitzvah, has to put some more thought into it. It is not enough to know that he must clean the house – there must be some more life involved, some more thinking.

Before he begins to clean the house, he should talk to Hashem and say, “Ribono shel olam, Why am I going to clean my house? I have other things to do; I can be learning or relaxing. The reason why I am going to clean my house now is because You, the Ribono shel Olam, commanded me that the house be free of chametz. Since I want to give You a nachas ruach, I will exert myself now to clean my house.”

While a person is cleaning the house, this is what he should be saying to himself. If someone knows how to think in learning Torah as he does something, then he should think in learning and he doesn’t have to do this. But if someone usually doesn’t think in learning as he cleans the house, and his thoughts are just floating elsewhere, then he should at least for a few minutes here and there remind himself of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

We are speaking about a very simple thing one can do; there are people who are on a very high level and always have d’veykus in Hashem wherever they are, but we are not speaking of this. We are speaking about something very basic and simple.

If a person cleans the house because he wants to be nice and doesn’t want everyone else to do all the work, he also has to think about this and say, “Ribono shel olam, Why am I doing this? I don’t personally feel a need to clean my house. The only reason why I am doing it is so that I can do chessed with my family.”

A person should keep talking to Hashem throughout the entire time: “Ribono shel olam, it is my will to do Your will. One of the pillars of the world is chessed, and I am thus doing chessed in order to give You a nachas ruach.”

After a day of doing this, besides for the physical exercise you get out of cleaning the house, your entire day is filled with pure avodas Hashem. In this way, a person never leaves ruchniyus even while being involved in this mundane world.

The Natural Desire for Cleanliness

Let us elaborate on the last two points, which are more subtle points about our soul.

There is a desire in a person for cleanliness. Everyone loves cleanliness – some more, and some less. The soul of a person naturally recoils a bit from messiness. People often see a mess and start cleaning it, and if you ask them, “What are you doing? Why you are cleaning it up?” the answer is, “It bothers me.”

People clean because they can’t stand the sight of something dirty or messy, and cleaning it up removes this anxiety. It seems that this has nothing to do with trying to become close to Hashem, and that a person is trying to save his soul from some pain.

But if we think into it just a little, we can connect everything to Hashem. If a person likes to clean, the first thing he should ask himself is: “Why do I like to clean? Did I make myself this way? No. Hashem gave me this nature.”

Realize that whatever your nature is, it was Hashem who gave you such a nature. Not only that, but Hashem is constantly renewing Creation; He is constantly renewing your nature, which is that you like to clean and that you hate messiness.

After you realize with certainty that it was Hashem who gave you this nature to desire cleanliness, and that He continues to renew this nature in you, now think: “Why did Hashem give me such a nature? What is the purpose of wanting cleanliness, and how do I use this natural desire in a person? What are the pros and cons of it?”

The desire for cleanliness doesn’t happen on its own. (It is absurd to think that it does, but the yetzer hora gets a person to succeed not to think.) A person must think to himself, “Hashem gave me this desire for cleanliness. It was Him who placed this desire in me.”

This realization helps you begin your relationship with Hashem.

What indeed is the root of why we like cleanliness?

Cleanliness (nekiyus) is one of the ten steps in the ladder of avodas Hashem as described by Rebbi Pinchos ben Yair, the basis of sefer Mesillas Yesharim. Cleanliness exists for us to cleanse ourselves from sin, because sin sullies our soul. Every power in the soul is also manifested somehow in our body; the power of cleanliness of our soul manifests itself in our body with the need for physical cleanliness.

The truth is that the more a person grows spiritually, the more he increases his cleanliness. Some people are very clean in their soul and others are very particular also about physical cleanliness (in addition to their spiritual cleanliness), but the point is that the more a person purifies himself, the more of a need for cleanliness he has, and the purer his soul becomes.

The root behind cleanliness comes from an inner desire to be purified. This gives us a whole different attitude to have about our need for physical cleanliness – it is rooted in our soul’s need for cleanliness and purity.

Knowing Your Motivation For Cleanliness

There are two reasons why a person wants physical cleanliness; one reason is unnecessary and more of a luxury to a person, while the other reason is coming from our soul’s need for purity and closeness.

There are situations in which we clean more than we have to, and it is extra. It is hard to say exactly what is considered overdoing it, and each person needs to decide for himself what is considered already too much. If a person is just taking a shower or brushing his teeth simply because he is very concerned about his body, this is totally unnecessary (except for certain rare individuals who won’t get affected by this).

Something even worse than this is when a person is really bothered by uncleanliness and he doesn’t clean. Such a person not only has physical messiness, but he damages his soul with this. He is denying his soul’s demand for cleanliness.

So before begins to clean, he must ask himself: What is my motivation in cleaning the house? Am I doing it out of a compulsiveness to clean (just like there are people who indulge in food and drinking), or am I doing it to help my household? If he realizes that he is doing it to help, then he should work on the avodah we mentioned before (which is to say a tefillah to Hashem).

If he discovers that he’s doing it because he has a personal need for cleanliness, he must really ask himself if he is overdoing it or not, or if it comes from a sensitivity in his soul for cleanliness (and he therefore needs it). Everyone must uncover what is motivating him to clean.

Most people do not have these issues. We will therefore discuss a more simple kind of issue that people have which is much more common: when people love to clean something that is clearly a mess. In this, we need to put some thought into the cleaning.

Before a person cleans, he should say: “Ribono shel olam, this mess really bothers me. Who gave me this feeling? You – Hashem. Where does this nature in me come from? It comes from a power in my soul to demand purity. Ribono shel olam, is it Your will that I break this nature of mine and endure the messiness? Or is it Your will that I live with purity and cleanliness? Since it is clear to me that You want my soul to desire this cleanliness, I will go clean the house in order to get close to You and give You pleasure.”

Even though you’re doing it shelo lishmah – not for the sake of Heaven (because you’re doing it out of your need for cleanliness) – you can still add this element of lishmah into your action.

But always remember that cleaning the house for Pesach is purely avodas Hashem. It must be done properly with thought and concentration.

The Importance Of Orderliness

Another point to be addressed is the fifth reason why a person wants to clean the house: to have orderliness.

Just like a person has a natural need for cleanliness, and this comes from the soul’s desire for purity which Hashem put in us, so did Hashem put in us a natural desire for orderliness.

Some people have a more of a need to be organized than others, but all people have a need to get things organized. This is not by itself – it is a nature which Hashem gave each person.

Without our natural desire for orderliness, no one would get anywhere. In order to build up anything, there is a certain order involved. Since every person on this world must build himself, Hashem endowed each person with an ability to have orderliness. Without orderliness, we wouldn’t be able to develop our avodas Hashem.

The more orderly a person is, the more he is able to develop in avodas Hashem. The less orderly a person is, the more confusion he has, and he feels like he is an exile. A person has to get out of this exile of confusion and become more orderly. This is the beginning of an inner freedom.

Orderliness is thus a need of our soul, but we often use it just for our body’s physical needs, such as the need to look very put together and organized.

Just like a dirty house makes our soul suffer, so can living in a messy house bother us so much that it is an impediment to our avodas Hashem. If we don’t care about how our house looks inside, we will definitely be affected spiritually as well.

It is well-known that when a tzaddik would look for a prospective match for his daughter, he would inspect the boy’s room and see if he’s neat. When a person has no sense of orderliness when it comes to the physical, it is a sign that he has is spiritually messy as well.

In order for our soul to get orderliness in spiritual matters, a person needs to first make sure he’s neat when it comes to his physical matters. But we must always remember that it is Hashem who gives us such a nature. We must recognize that our need for orderliness comes from Hashem, and that this need that people have doesn’t come by itself.

Realize that this need for orderliness can be used as a way to connect to the Creator. Like this, a person can take the physical world and use it to develop a relationship with Hashem. It is an inner kind of life, a life spent with Hashem even in ordinary, mundane actions.

When a person realizes that the need for organization is necessary in his avodas Hashem, he is able to realize that organizing the house is not just an act of kindness with his family, but it is a necessary part in one’s personal avodas Hashem.

In this, there are two parts. Some people were born with a need for orderliness, and it really bothers them when things aren’t in place. The avodah of such a person is to realize that this need comes from Hashem, and it is a way to serve Hashem.

But others don’t feel such a need for cleanliness. They know with their minds that a person should be orderly, but they don’t feel that this is a need for their soul. Such people feel that it makes sense to clean the house once a year, or else the house becomes unlivable…but not more than once a year.

This person’s avodah is the opposite of the first kind of person. Besides for the fact that he must organize his house, he also needs to awaken in his soul a desire to have orderliness.

Days Which We Can Grow From

A person wonders: Why did Hashem make it that people have to work so hard on Erev Pesach? Doesn’t this sacrifice our opportunities to grow spiritually by making preparations for Yom Tov? If we have to work so hard cleaning up, how do we prepare for the Yom Tov??

But if you think about it, these days before Pesach contain tremendous areas which we can use to attain growth in. If Hashem made it this way that we have to clean and organize the house, then that is the way for us to acquire all the precious areas of growth which we need.

Really, cleaning up and organizing the house are there to remind us of our soul’s need for purity. This is a precious gain in our avodas Hashem. But the yetzer hora comes and takes away the message of it and turns it into mundane actions, drying it up from all the avodas Hashem contained in it.

If a person understands the depth of avodas Hashem, he doesn’t clean the house simply because he wants it to be clean. He cleans the house because through that, he connects to an inner point in his soul – the need for spiritual cleanliness. He understands that now is precisely the time to work on this.

The truth is that all of life is like this: the yetzer hora comes and takes what’s very important and turns it into something that’s not important. In whatever we encounter, we should always see the greatness we can achieve in this situation. The more confusing and seemingly pointless a situation appears, the more greatness lies in it if we uncover it.

If a person before Pesach is caught up in this and that and he comes into the Yom Tov exhausted and stressed out, what is all our hard work worth? We don’t gain from this kind of a life.

If we don’t see how everything we do can be a form of avodas Hashem and how much being involved with the world takes away from our soul, then these days go to waste. Our preparation for Pesach should not be a physical preparation; although we do exert our body to prepare for Pesach, really, there is an inner depth taking place in what we are doing. It is really a preparation of our soul for the coming days. Through preparing for it in the right way, a person comes into Yom Tov the way he should.

Each person can take these words and open them up more to himself, each to his own. The common denominator between all people is the days preceding Pesach are days of ruchniyus, not days of materialistic pursuits. They are days of closeness to Hashem.

Hashem should help us that we prepare properly for Pesach during these days, from a sincere desire to give pleasure to our Creator. In these days preceding Pesach, each of us should merit to increase our true closeness and love of Hashem.

Spiritual Growth Through Drinking on Purim

The Obligation to Drink on Purim
The Shulchan Orach states (Orach Chaim 695:2): “A person is required to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between the cursing of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai.”

Drinking to Strengthen Our Emunah in Hashem
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in his Servant of Hashem piece in his classic Sichos Mussar connects this requirement of intoxication to the essence of Purim and its comparison in holiness to Yom Kippur. He brings down a few cases where great people like Moshe, King Shaul and King Chizkiyahu were punished because they had incorrectly used their reasoning and logic to misinterpret Hashem’s directives.

Rabbi Shmuelevitz points out that although we need to use our intellectual facilities to serve G-d, the ultimate goal is to serve Hashem out of a simple faith that He is our Creator, Ruler and Ultimate Benefactor. The essence of Purim is that once a year, we become intoxicated and strip away the all traces of reasoning and serve Hashem with our faith alone.

Drinking to Strengthen Our Connection to People
Rabbi Herschel Welcher points out that Purim is a day of unity with its Mitzvos of giving charity to the poor, giving gifts to our friends and sharing a festive meal with family and friends. Drinking brings down inhibitions and allows us to more easily connect deeply with others in line with the goal of unity.

Rabbi Welcher often tells the story of former friends who had become estranged through a dispute. It was only on Purim when they were both intoxicated that they were able to bury the hatchet, embrace and restore their friendship. Many of us can also connect a little better when we are intoxicated.

Drinking to Enhance Our Self Esteem
I read a great book by Dr. Dovid Lieberman titled “How Free Will Works”. Dr. Lieberman, a Torah-centered psychologist, defines self-esteem as recognizing our inherent worth, feeling deserving of happiness and good fortune, and knowing that we are precious in the eyes of Hashem. It also includes recognizing both our strengths and our weaknesses and the desire to improve.

What often gets in our way is our ego. Dr. Lieberman says our body wants to feel good, our ego wants to look good, and our soul wants to do good. The more we listen to our soul and do what is good (Torah, Mitzvos and Chesed) the more we will enhance our self-esteem and increase our happiness. Our ego and the desire to look good clouds our perspective, and leads us to perform and rationalize incorrect behaviors.

Although Dr. Lieberman does not discuss drinking on Purim, I think that embracing the mitzvah of drinking on Purim allows us to disable our looking-good mechanizations and enjoy being our inherently good selves and our loving relationships with Hashem, our family and our friends.

Drinking Responsibly
When asked about drinking on Purim, Rabbi Welcher would always tell us that he strongly discouraged his high school students from drinking. The persistent among us, asked, “But what about us Baalei Batim?”. He told us that we have to teach our children how to drink responsibly.

A number of years ago we made the seudah with just our family and I stated that my goal was to teach responsible drinking. I was the only one drinking and I took out a bottle of Vodka. (Rabbi Welcher proves from a Rashi that hard liquor is a suitable drink on a Purim). I proceeded to drink shots and get intoxicated. I gave everybody long blessings and acted well within the boundaries of propriety. My kids said, “You’re not drunk!”. To which I replied, “If you were inside my head, you wouldn’t say that”.

With a few notable exceptions, every mitzvah has its measure, and that includes drinking on Purim. Somewhere between 0 and 12 shots (or glasses of wine) is the right amount. Each person can keep in mind the above mentioned goals and stop at the point where he can bring those goals to fruition.

Unique Aspects of Purim

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

On one hand, Purim is the last of the festivals, and on the other hand, it is a new beginning (as it is with all “ends”, where the end is always a beginning to something else). The Sages state all of the festivals in the future will cease, except for Purim. This is because it is the end of the festivals of the current time period – and it is a beginning of the future.

Therefore, Purim is intrinsically different than all the other festivals. Purim contains both the light of the current festivals, as well as an additional light – the light that is beginning of the future times.

This additional light contained in Purim stands out in all of the events of Purim and in its unique mitzvos. There are many examples of how we can see it – here is a list of a few of them.

1) The system of the “festivals” begin with Pesach, the exodus from Egypt, where we were told, למען תדע,“So that you shall know”; and on Sukkos as well, with the mitzvah of sukkah, the Torah says that it is למען ידעו דורותיכם, “So that the generations will know.” But Purim is not for the purpose of knowing – it is about עד דלא ידע, “ad d’lo yoda” – it is about “not” knowing [its concept is “above” the normal daas\knowledge].

2) Regarding all mitzvos of the Torah, there is a rule, “the Torah is not in heaven” (Bava Metzia 59b). But Purim was ‘agreed upon’ in Heaven (Yerushalmi Berachos 67b).

3) When we stood at Har Sinai, there was yirah (awe), for Hashem gave the Torah so that “they will learn to fear Me for all days”. But on Purim, where we re-accepted the Torah, we did so with ratzon (will), which came from ahavah\love [for Hashem], because of the miracles experienced [as Rashi in Tractate Megillah states]. This was ahavah (love), as opposed to just having yirah (awe).

4) In all other festivals, we are obligated in them due to standing at Har Sinai and receiving the Torah. But on Purim we had a different kind of receiving of the Torah, by re-accepting the Torah. Clearly it was not the same acceptance again; it was a much deeper kind of acceptance. It resembled, “A new Torah shall come forth from Me” [the Torah of the future].

All other festivals are rooted in Moshe, who received the Torah from Hashem at Har Sinai. But Purim applied to walled cities from the times of Yehoshua, so it is rooted in Yehoshua.

5) When it comes to the rest of the mitzvos of the Torah, either we give to the poor or to the Kohen. But when it comes to Purim, we give Mishloach Manos to friends, out of love for everyone.

6) The Torah is a ‘masculine’ term, for it is called “Toras Moshe”, who was a man. But the Torah which we received on Purim was wrought through a woman, Esther, and the “Torah” that we received on Purim is collected in “Megillas Esther”.

7) All the other festivals were open miracles, but Purim was entirely hidden miracles. This is because the purpose of Purim was to reveal the hidden, resembling the statement, “Wine enters, secrets come out.”

8) All other festivals have a specific time of the calendar, whereas Purim can fall out either on the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, or the 15th. The mitzvos of Purim can be performed on an earlier date than the 14th, resembling the possibility of the redemption being earlier than its time.

9) In all other festivals, there is only one performance of the mitzvos of the festival (and even when it comes to shaking lulav, there is only one mitzvah per 7 days of Sukkos to shake lulav), but the mitzvos of Purim can be performed over a period of two days, which are the 14th and 15th of Adar. This is because the spiritual light of Purim is a “double” light. The 14th of Purim is equal to the number י”ד in Hebrew, which has the same gematria as דוד, symbolizing the end of the festivals, and the 15th of Purim corresponds to the days of Mashiach, whose kingdom will be completed on the 15th of the month.

10) Just as Shabbos is a resemblance of the World To Come and it contains doubles (see Yalkut Shimeoni Shemos 16:261), so is Purim a beginning of the light of the future, thus it is a “double” day.

Discovering Your Happiness

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

Discovering Your Happiness

Introduction
עמהם חלקנו ושים – We ask Hashem that our portion be with those who truly trust in Hashem. Then we ask בטחנו בך כי נבוש לא ולעולם – that we not be eternally shamed. Here in Shemoneh Esrei we state that if we achieve bitachon (trust in Hashem) that we will not be shamed; clearly, though, we are not yet on the level of bitachon, for we just mentioned that only the tzaddikim attain true bitachon. Why are we requesting this, if we are clearly not yet on the level of having true bitachon in Hashem?

The answer lies in the following.

Focusing On What You Have Already

Everything is inside man. All good middos – as well as all bad middos – are inside us, being that we contain in ourselves a mixture of good and evil.
When a person wants to acquire bitachon, or any other good quality, the superficial attitude is, to try to ‘acquire’ the good trait. A person wants bitachon, so he feels “I need to acquire bitachon.” A person wants simcha (happiness), so his attitude is “I need to acquire simcha.”

But there is a more inner perspective to have. In whatever we want to acquire, we need to first see how much of it we have already acquired and how much we still have to acquire, and upon that, we can then seek to fill whatever we are missing. For example, if a person wants to have bitachon, he shouldn’t think “I don’t have bitachon, so I must get bitachon.” Rather, he needs to see how much bitachon he already has revealed in his life, and then he should seek to acquire the remaining amount of bitachon that you still haven’t acquired yet.

Why? It is because since all of the good middos are really found inside us – for man is all-inclusive – therefore, you already have some of it already revealed in you.

You need to have that perspective. Even if you only have a small revelation of the good quality you’re trying to acquire, it is still something.

Chazal say that one should first give gratitude over the past before he cries to Hashem about what he needs. So first see what you already have, then ask Hashem for things. For example, if you need parnassah, but you are healthy, first thank Hashem for your health, and then ask for parnassah.

There is also a deeper understanding of this. When we thank Hashem, it can only happen as a result of recognizing what we already have. In order to thank Hashem, we first need to see what we have and admit to it. If we just say it with our mouth but we don’t admit to it in our heart, then it’s
just a lip service.

Having A ‘Good Eye’

This concept is also called “ayin tovah” – having a “good eye.” It is also called “someach b’chelko”, being happy with one’s lot. A person has to first focus on the positive and only after that ask Hashem for what he needs. If a person is always focusing on what he’s missing – “I’m missing this middah and that middah, etc.” – then all he is concerned about is how to fill his void. He never stops to consider what he does have.

The correct mentality is to first focus on what you already have. This gets you used to being positive – on what you do have – not on what you don’t have.

Whether we need something physical or something spiritual, first we need to realize what we do have. We should not focus on what we don’t have and what we need. And actually, the more we grow in spirituality, the more we see how much we are missing, and we will grow more and more negative towards ourselves.

Therefore, the real mindset to have is to first reflect on what you do have until now, and then, by thanking Hashem over these things, your gratitude will then connect you to all those things and help you realize them.

If a person can’t thank Hashem for what he does have, he doesn’t really recognize what he have, and he will be negative towards himself, because all he thinks about is how much he doesn’t have. He places his soul in a place that always feels lacking, and this is damaging.

The Vilna Gaon said that we need to be someach b’chelko (happy with our lot) even when it comes to our ruchniyus. So the basis is to realize what we already have gained in our ruchniyus. This is a major fundamental we must know in our Avodas Hashem! It is especially relevant to those who are drawn towards sadness and negativity. When we apply this concept of being focused on the positive to our Avodas Hashem, we will leave our pull towards negativity and instead feel more drawn after simcha (happiness).

Spiritual Growth: Expanding The Good Within

There is also a deeper point to be aware of with regards to this.

In any matter of Avodas Hashem, we do not acquire a matter from “outside” ourselves. Rather, everything is really drawn from within ourselves. Everything we need to acquire is already inside us. All we have to do is expand what we already have.
If someone is only focused on what he doesn’t have in his ruchniyus – he is always thinking about the middos and spiritual qualities he needs to acquire – he has never thought about all the good that is really inside him up until this point.

All you need to do is to expand the good points that are already revealed to a certain extent inside you. To illustrate, Rav Shimon Shkop said that in order to love others like yourself, you can’t do it by simply trying to love another person. Rather, you expand your own love which you have for
yourself, and you let it extend to others.

In whatever good point we are trying to acquire, some of it is already revealed in you! You just need to keep expanding it. But it’s already revealed in you somewhat, and you should not think that you need to “get” some quality or some good middah from outside of yourself. It is already within you, and you just need to keep opening it up more and more from within yourself.

This is a perspective to have towards Torah learning, towards holiness, towards Avodas Hashem you don’t acquire growth from “outside” of yourself. Rather, you get it by expanding upon the good points that are already in you – and all of the good points really are found in you.

Genuine Avodas Hashem

These words are describing a subtle concept. Usually, when a person wants to acquire a certain quality, he will learn the words of Chazal about them. But the inner method is to realize that all’s inside you, and you just need to expand the good that’s already in you; there is nothing “new” you need to acquire from the outside!

This will change your entire perspective towards avodas Hashem, the more you clarify this point and the more you actualize it.

There are people who enter into avodas Hashem but they become more and more disconnected from actual self-recognition, even as they are involved with becoming more serious and devoted to better serving Hashem; they become more superficial! There are also people who immerse themselves in Torah study and they lose their self in the process. They become disconnected from their own self-recognition even as they are involved with spiritual pursuit. But this is not the proper way of Torah.

When it comes to avodas Hashem, a person might think that he’s trying to acquire matters that are beyond himself, and as he is involved in trying to grow, he loses his own self in the process. But if a person uses the inner approach here, he truly experiences the inner world contained in avodas Hashem.

The Innermost Point

An even deeper point is to know the following.

In our soul, there are parts that are revealed to us and parts that are concealed to us. Our good middos are partially revealed and partially concealed. If we want acquire good middos, we need to expand what has already been revealed, and that is how we will bring out the rest that is concealed. This is what we explained so far.

But the concealed good in our soul is not just our good middos that we haven’t revealed. In the very depths of our soul, there is nothing but the actual purity of our soul. All perfection is contained there! We have a Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah which are all found inside us. Therefore, all qualities are already in us. (The Nefesh HaChaim writes part of the neshamah is present in the thoughts of the brain).

So the first point of all this is that a person needs to realize, that all good middos are already in him. Practically speaking, one has to be thankful for whatever good he already has. Then, he has to realize that whatever else he needs to acquire, it is also inside him, and he just needs to expand the good that is already there.

We have discussed these two points until now; now we will explain the third point we need to know, which is to realize the innermost point of the soul. In the very inner depths of the soul, all perfection is contained! There, there is absolute perfection in our Torah and middos. But, it is dormant, and we need to reveal it from its potential state and activate it.

We feel ‘poor’ on the outside, but we really have a million dollars inside our “bank.” If only the “pauper” would be informed that there are millions of dollars stored somewhere in his house. It’s not just money that you can’t access. It can be accessed – you just have to recognize it by getting in
touch with it.

We have good middos and bad middos in ourselves – all of them. From the perspective of our nefesh hebehaimis, we feel lowly towards ourselves because we see how more we need to improve and acquire. Our avodah in this is that we must thank Hashem for the good we have revealed and seek to expand the good that is already in us.

But the higher aspect is to utilize the perspective coming from our very essence of the soul, which is the point of perfection in us.

We thank Hashem every day for returning to us our pure soul, when we say Elokai Neshamah. A person might say this for 70 years but he doesn’t reflect on this concept. Why do we keep thanking Hashem every day for returning to us our soul? It is not just to say thanks to Hashem. It is because it is so fundamental to realize that we are a pure soul in our essence. It’s unbelievable – a person might go his whole life and say Elokai Neshamah every day, yet the life he lives does not reflect this at all. A person might live his whole life and never realize he is really a pure Neshamah, even though he says Elokai Neshamah every day.

All perfection is contained in our soul’s essence. This gives you a whole new perspective towards your self-awareness. Of course, we still have a body and an animalistic level of the soul, and we still have bad middos in us. All the bad middos are indeed in us. But that’s only one way of looking at it. If we focus on the fact that we are a body with base desires and bad middos, we view ourselves with a lowly perspective. The real “Modeh Ani” is to realize that we have a neshamah.

We still have an avodah to work on ourselves and improve ourselves, of course, but we need to do our avodah from the perspective of our neshamah – to realize how wealthy we are! It is called being ‘someiach b’chelko’. It is to recognize oneself with the understanding that one is a perfect neshamah!

Three Ways To Acquire Happiness

We are in the month of Adar, days of simchah (joy). We have three ways of how to reach simchah, as we have so far explained.

(1) The first perspective we explained is to expand upon the good that is already in ourselves. For example, if you want to acquire a good middah of a good quality (i.e. bitachon), realize that you already have some of the level that you want. When you think into this, it can provide you with a degree of simchah.

(2) Another way to derive simchah is to focus on your good points and qualities.

(3) The highest perspective you can have is to realize you are a neshamah (a Divine soul), which contains all inner wealth possible.

When you reveal this joy in yourself, you will feel like a convert born anew, like a new being. With this deep perspective, you will also stop comparing yourself with others and instead just realize that you are a neshamah. When you dwell in it, you live in a world of light. A life of neshamah means to connect yourself with the spiritual world, and on a deeper level, to connect yourself with the
Creator.

These words are not inspirational ideas. It is a perspective to view life with; it is a certain selfawareness. It is not intellectual, nor is it meant to be inspirational. It is about recognizing reality as it is.

In Conclusion

When a person lives with this attitude, he enters into what is written, “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.”

Now we return to the question we started out with. On one hand, one must aspire for bitachon in Hashem and ask Hashem that he be among those who truly trust in Hashem – ask we ask in Shemoneh Esrei, עמהם חלקנו ושים .At the same time, recognize that you are a neshamah – therefore, all good and all perfection is really contained deep down in your essence.

Becoming aware to these three aspects can cause a major overhaul in your life and it can help you enter the spiritual world. There will always be ups and downs, there are always times when we fail, but generally, this is the perspective you can carry with you that will lead you to a truly spiritual life, and you can keep going with it until you reach the complete bond with Hashem.

Purim Katan and Daf Yomi B’Halacha

Tuesday, Feb 15 is Purim Katan. The last section of the Shulchan Aruch (697) is about Purim Katan.

The Shulchan Aruch says:
On the 14th and 15th of the first Adar one should not say Tachanun and should not say the Psalm, La-Menatzeyach Ya’ancha Hashem Be-Yom Tzarah. One these days we don’t say hespeds or fast. However, other Purim matters are not practiced on them. There are authorities who say than even hespeds and fasts are permitted on them. The Rema says: The practice accords with the first reasoning (i.e. no hespeds or fasts)

The Rema adds: There are authorities who say that one is obligated to increase ones feasting and rejoicing on the 14th of the first Adar. This is not the practice. Nevertheless, one should have a somewhat larger meal then in order to satsify the view of the authorities who are stringent in this matter and someone with a contented heart is always festive.

The Mishnah Berurah says: The Tashbeytz stated that one should have a larger meal on Purim Katan and Rabbeinu Yechi’eyl of Paris was accustomed to have a larger meal and invite people. This is what the Rema means when he concludes by saying “and someone with a contented heart is always festive” i.e. that it is desirable for one to have a larger meal to honor the miracle which was performed at these times.

As it happens, this week concludes the 7 year cycle of the Daf Yomi B’Halacha cycle which goes through the entire Shuchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah with a 5 day a week learning schedule. The new cycle begins on Sunday, February 20.

You can download the luach to start the cycle.

Sefaria has begun an English translation of the Mishnah Berurah.

YU Torah has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

The OU has has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

This is probably the most important Yomi cycle since we need to know halacha to serve Hashem properly. This is a great opportunity to going through the Mishnah Berurah. Please join the cycle this upcoming Sunday.

Twice Adar – Understanding the Halachos of Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini

Rabbi Daniel Travis
Kollel Torah Chaim

Rising to the Occasion

“When Adar arrives we increase our level of happiness” ( Taanis 29a). All year long Jews strive to feel the tremendous sense of joy that should accompany our service of G-d. As we draw closer to Purim, we are instructed to raise our spirits to an even higher level.

What is the reason for this?

We can answer this with help from the famous dictum of the Rema, “There is no joy greater than that which we feel when we have eliminated doubts” (Responsa 5). Adar and Nissan are months during which Hashem performed extraordinary miracles for the Jewish people. Through studying and celebrating these events we can achieve clarity of faith and rid ourselves of any doubts regarding G-d’s eternal dominion over the world. When everything is so clear, we know that our Father in Heaven is watching over us every moment of the day, and we are free to experience a constant state of simcha .

Haman’s lots determined that we celebrate Purim in the month of Adar, the month in which Moshe Rabbeinu was born. What do we do in a leap year, when we have two months of Adar?

Although all opinions agree that Purim is celebrated in Adar Sheni, the overwhelming joy of this period makes its presence already felt in Adar Rishon, with the celebration of Purim Katan. However, numerous other issues arise concerning the halachic question of which Adar is which.

Shabbos Mevorchim

The following scenario raises a fascinating halachic conundrum: On the Shabbos before Adar Rishon begins, the chazzan stands before the congregation in synagogue, holding the Torah scroll. As he clears his throat to announce the new month, he wonders to himself, “Should I call the upcoming month Adar, or must I say Adar Rishon?”

This chazzan’s seemingly simple question is discussed extensively by the commentators . They agree that Adar Sheni is the “real” Adar and Adar Rishon is the additional month ( Ridvaz 1:150). Although this information has relevance concerning when to commemorate a yahrzeit (a memorial day for the departed), our Sages did not define words based on halachic parameters. Interestingly enough, the meaning of a word is mainly determined by its colloquial use, i.e. what people mean when they say it.

Most Rishonim agree that when people say or write the word “Adar” by itself, they are referring to the first Adar, Adar Rishon (Rosh, Ran, Nedarim 63a). This answers our chazzan’s question, and he can say that next week will be “Rosh Chodesh Adar.” However, it is always better to avoid ambiguity, and for the sake of clarity it is preferable if he explicitly announces, “Adar Rishon” ( Mishna Berura 427:3).

An Adar Deadline

All kinds of legal questions can arise when people are not specific about which Adar they mean. Here is an interesting story of one young man whose confusion became almost overwhelming:

David’s father passed away on the second day of Adar during a non-leap year. To honor his father’s memory, David made a vow that by Rosh Chodesh Adar of the following year he would reprint a book written by his great-grandfather.

David hired a printer and wrote in the contract that the books must be ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Meanwhile, David became engaged and the wedding was scheduled for the third of Adar Rishon.

Three weeks before the wedding David contacted the printer and requested that the first few hundred copies be printed as a souvenir to be given out at his wedding. The printer told him that he had not been planning to complete the books until the middle of Adar Rishon, but he could do it for him for an extra thousand dollars.

That week David found among his father’s papers a document recording a $1,000 loan given to someone three years previously, also a leap year. The document was dated “the fourteenth of Adar,” but David clearly recalled that the loan had been given on Purim – i.e., the fourteenth of Adar Sheni. The borrower had since died, but David hoped that with the signed document he would be able to collect the debt from the estate.

To add to his concerns, David wished to fast on his father’s yahrzeit , as was the custom in his family. Would this mean that he would have to fast on two consecutive days – the day of his father’s yahrzeit and the following day, the day of his wedding?

This story encompasses four halachic issues, each one discussed in a different section of the Shulchan Aruch .

The first question regards David’s vow to print the book by Rosh Chodesh Adar. Must they be ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon or Rosh Chodesh Adar Sheni?

The next question is by which date did the printer obligate himself to complete the printing?

Third, we must clarify whether the loan document is valid or not. If the loan is considered to have been predated to Adar Rishon, it would be invalid and David is not allowed to use it to collect from the property of the borrower.

Finally, we must determine whether the yahrzeit of David’s father should be observed in Adar Rishon or Adar Sheni.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema both rule that the word “Adar” used by itself refers to Adar Rishon. Therefore, since David vowed to print the books by Rosh Chodesh Adar, he must have them ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon ( Yoreh Deah 220:8).

Similarly, regarding the printer’s contract, since the word “Adar” without explanation means Adar Rishon, the printer is obligated to finish the job in time for David to fulfill his vow without any extra charge ( Choshen Mishpat 43:28).

Concerning the document David found, since the word Adar means Adar Rishon, while the loan was actually given in Adar Sheni, the date is incorrect, meaning that the document is predated and therefore invalid (cf. Rema, Even Ha’ezer 126:7).

In conclusion, when someone says or writes the word Adar, the Shulchan Aruch and Rema agree that it means Adar Rishon, even if he actually meant Adar Sheni.

However, other authorities differ, ruling that the word Adar refers to Adar Sheni (Bach, Shach, Yoreh Deah 220:8). Because of this and other factors that could affect the final ruling, a halachic authority should be consulted in every case.

The question of the yahrzeit depends on other factors. Let us study them in more detail.

Yahrzeits

The Shulchan Aruch writes that if a person passed away in Adar of a non-leap year, the yahrzeit should be observed in Adar Sheni during leap years ( Orach Chaim 568:7).

Regarding vows and financial contracts, the exact date usually depends on what people intend when speaking or writing. However, the date of a yahrzeit has more significance because it is a day of judgment for the deceased and his family, and can only be determined by the month which is considered halachically the “real” Adar. Since Adar Sheni is the real Adar, the Shulchan Aruch places all yahrzeits in that month.

The Rema, however, notes that even though Adar Sheni is the real Adar, we follow the principle of doing mitzvos at the first opportunity and yahrzeits should be marked in Adar Rishon ( Yoreh Deah 402:12). Yet the Rema himself cites authorities who say that since this issue is unclear, it is praiseworthy to observe the yahrzeit in Adar Sheni as well ( Orach Chaim 568:7).

The Mishna states that “the only difference between the first and the second Adar is that the megilla is read and matanos l’evyonim are given [in the second Adar]” ( Megilla 6b). In this vein, some rule that keeping the yahrzeit in both Adar Rishon and Adar Sheni is not just desirable – it is an obligation ( Magen Avraham , Gra, Mishna Berura ). As with the previous halachos , there are many different issues involved in determining which opinion to follow, so a Rabbi should be consulted.

Bar Mitzvas
While the question of when to observe a yahrzeit depends on which month is considered the real halachic Adar, regarding a bar mitzva in a leap year we calculate differently.

In order to consider a child as having reached manhood according to the Torah, it is not enough to identify the real Adar. This calculation requires us to be aware of when thirteen years have completed. Here, even the Rema agrees that a boy born in Adar during a non-leap year does not become bar mitzva until Adar Sheni of his thirteenth year, since the year cannot be considered complete until then (Rema , Orach Chaim 55:11).

Continuous Celebration

The Rambam writes that any celebration that is not accompanied by lifting the spirits of the downtrodden is mere self-gratification ( Hilchos Yom Tov 6,18). Therefore the commentators write that when preparing one’s seuda on Purim Katan , it is proper to give charity to orphans and widows ( Eshel Avraham 697,2). Similarly someone who experienced a personal miracle should distribute money among Torah scholars ( Mishna Berura 218,34). However, there is another secret for making sure that one has the correct intentions when celebrating miracles.

After discussing the opinions of whether one should make a seuda on Purim Katan, the Rema concludes his commentary on Orach Chaim , the section of the Shulchan Aruch which deals with daily life, with a quote from the Book of Proverbs: “ Vetov lev mishteh tamid ,” (One who has a good heart is always feasting). In doing so he repeats the word tamid that he mentioned at the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch where he quoted a Psalm: “ Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tamid ,” (I place Hashem’s Presence in front of me always).

The Birkei Yosef notes that the use of the word “ tamid” in both of these instances hints at a very deep concept.

The temidim , the offerings which were brought on a daily basis in the Temple , had to be offered in their specified order, i.e. the morning korban must always precede the afternoon one.

The use of the word tamid at the beginning and the end of Orach Chaim implies a connection between the two ideas. Only after a person senses Hashem’s Presence before him can he aim to achieve the second level of tamid of “One who has a good heart is always feasting.”

Defining Happiness – Rav Itamar Schwartz (Bilvavi)

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Get a PDF of Repairing Your Simcha

The Source of Sadness

What is a person’s natural mood – to be happy (b’simchah), or to be sad (atzuv)? Without considering other possible factors that take away a person’s happiness – what is a person’s natural state? What is the source of our sadness, and what is the source of our happiness?

The source of sadness is clearly explained to us by our Sages. All sadness came onto the world as a result of the first sin of mankind. After the sin, Adam was cursed with the pain (“etzev”, which comes from the word “atzvus”, sadness) of hard work, and Chavah was also cursed with “etzev”, with the pains of child labor. If not for the first sin, it wouldn’t be possible for people to become sad.

So we know what causes sadness: sin. But what brings simchah\happiness? From where do we get our simchah from?

First, we need to define simcha\happiness – and then we can know what the source of it is.

The Two Kinds of Happiness

There are two kinds of simchah\happiness. One kind of happiness is when I am happy because of something; there can be many things that can cause me to be happy. Another kind of happiness is when I am happy for no reason at all; just like you can’t ask why dirt is dirt and why water is water, so is there a kind of happiness which you can’t explain why it is so. It just is.

In other words, there is an external kind of happiness, and an inner kind of happiness.

External Happiness vs. Inner Happiness

The external kind of happiness, which is to be happy based on a reason, is just the absence of sadness – but it isn’t really “happiness”. The inner kind of happiness, though is actual happiness; it is not just an absence of happiness. It is a happiness simply because that is the way we are created – to be able to be happy, without any reason.0F1

1 Editor’s Note: The Rav has spoken more about this concept in Getting To Know Yourself, where he mentioned the observation of the Brisker Rav zt”l, who pondered: Why is that children are naturally happy, whereas adults find it harder to be happy? As we go through life, we go through various circumstances which may harden us and damage the happiness which we were born with (but it is always there, deep down). The fact that children are naturally happy shows us that we are all born with a natural happiness that is not dependent of any one reason.

The first sin of mankind made it possible for a person to become sad; the curses that came to mankind are essentially forms of sadness, which did not exist in the desired plan of creation. Creation became altered through the sin and brought sadness to the world, making it possible for people to become sad. Not only that, but the sin also caused that we need a reason to become happy.

There is a mitzvah to rejoice on Yom Tov, but this is also happiness based on a reason. We celebrate all of the Fomim Tovim because we were taken out of Egypt. The deeper understanding of this is that the entire concept of Yom Tov came into creation as a result of sin as well. If not for the sin, we would have no need for festivals, because if we need a reason to be happy, this is all the result of the curse given to mankind, so it is cannot be the deepest source of our happiness.

In other words, to be happy “because” of something is that I need to be happy when I achieve something. This is the external kind of happiness.

By contrast, the real, perfect kind of happiness is a very inner kind of happiness. This is the happiness of the tzaddikim, who “rejoice in Hashem”. The inner kind of happiness is an intrinsic kind of happiness; it is when I am happy for no reason at all. This is the higher kind of happiness, which is experienced by tzaddikim.

The ultimate kind of happiness we should achieve on this world is the inner kind of happiness, which is to be happy with one’s intrinsic existence, and not to need any reason to be happy. But this inner happiness is usually concealed from us and it very far from our grasp.

Practically speaking, most people live off of their achievements, and not from their intrinsic existence. Happiness based on achievement is the lower kind of happiness, not the higher kind of happiness. Since that is the reality right now, we will focus our discussion on the lower kind of happiness and on how we can attain it.

Although it is not the ultimate kind of happiness, as we have explained, it is still a kind of happiness nonetheless. Thus, let us try to learn how to achieve it, so that we can at least have some degree of happiness.

Why Most People Aren’t Happy

Most people are not able to have constant happiness, and the reason for this is because they need to always see results, in order to be happy.

But when you are happy only when you get something, it’s like what is written, “Stolen waters are sweet.” The sweetness lasts only for when we have it, but when our achievements go away, we no longer have a reason to be happy. Such a happiness is based on what’s new in our life, so when it’s still new to us, it can give us happiness, but when it’s no longer new, the happiness goes away with it. Even the happiness of Yom Tov, which is a mitzvah, is only a temporary happiness. It is only three times a year.

In the future we will have the ultimate happiness, which is the happiness of the tzaddikim, who “rejoice in Hashem”. For now, we must try to at least have the lower kind of happiness, which is to be happy with our achievements.

Most people today don’t even have the lower kind of happiness, because they aren’t even aware what makes them happy. Many times you can ask a person, “Why are you happy?” and he says, “I don’t know…”

Is such a person happy because he’s such a ‘happy go lucky’ person that everything makes him so happy? That isn’t the reason for his response. It is simply that he isn’t aware to what makes him happy, and that’s why he doesn’t know if he’s happy.

Awareness To What Makes You Happy

The only way to be happy on this world is, to be aware as you’re doing something that will lead to your happiness. If you are aware what makes you happy (and you are involved in trying to achieve it), then you can be happy, but if you’re not aware as to what makes you happy, then you won’t achieve happiness.

If you are aware that you are on the way toward happiness (and you’re doing something to get there) you will be able to be happy. But if you’re not aware, then even when you get what you want and you’re happy, your happiness goes away as soon as whatever you get is no longer here anymore.

You must be aware to what makes you happy, and what makes you sad. This awareness is part of our journey toward happiness, and it has a lot to do with how you are happy or sad.

Being Happy Now, Before You Get What You Want

To illustrate what we mean, let’s say a person has a child after waiting twenty years for a child. He is ecstatic, but why? It’s not just because he has a child. It is because he waited so long. From here we can see that happiness depends on being aware of your journey toward whatever it is that you wanted to achieve. This is called a tahalich – a “journey”. We must always see the tahalich we are on, if we ever wish to be happy.

Let’s say a person is happy when he gets to his results, but he doesn’t care about what he did in order to get there. If that is his outlook on life, he will never be happy, even when he gets the results he wanted. We can see from one who has a baby after a long time of waiting; he isn’t just happy from the results, but he is happy only because he is aware of his journey in getting there. Without that awareness of what he had to go through to get his results – in this case, the birth of a child – he wouldn’t appreciate the child. Now that he had to wait so long, his joy knows no bounds when he finally has a baby.

The basic idea we learn from this is that in order to be happy, a person needs to be aware about his actual journey toward happiness. That means he has to be happy, even now – before he sees results. He’s on a tahalich toward happiness, and he has to see that’s he’s on that tahalich, if he is to appreciate what he’s striving for.

We can see that people lose their happiness very quickly, even after they get what they want. This is because they aren’t aware of the steps they took to get there and only focus on the results. When people only care about results, then whatever happiness they get vanishes with time.

Happiness – Feeling Like I’m Moving

When a person is doing something in order to become happy, he is really moving. He’s trying to gain happiness, so he’s moving toward it. The movement itself is what is making him happy (if he realizes it). It is our movements which make us happy.

We can see this from dancing. A person uses his feet to move; what does a person do when he is happy? He dances. He dances with which part of his body? His feet.

The depth behind this is that happiness is when we move. It’s not like how we are used to thinking, that we can only be happy when we arrive at what we want. Really, happiness is when we are happy with the very steps we are taking in order to get there. Thus, if we don’t have this awareness we won’t be happy, because our whole happiness can only come from appreciating how we’re moving towards it.

We are used to thinking that one can only be happy when he gets his results, and what he did to get there is meaningless; the main thing if he achieved or not. The usual mindset of people is to only value achievement, while efforts alone are regarded as meaningless. The truthful perspective, however, is that a person can only be happy with what he achieved only when he is aware with what he did to get there. Great achievements alone do bring one to have happiness. Only when we realize our efforts – as we are trying to achieve – will we be able to appreciate our achievements are receive happiness from them.

Happiness Defined: Awareness of Effort, Plus Achievement

It’s really two-fold: The results and the effort together make a person happy. If I am happy with only results but not with my efforts, I won’t even realize my own happiness when I get what I want, and I won’t be able to keep my happiness. But if when I get my results I am aware that I had to take a certain path to get there – I will be able to appreciate my achievement. So even when you are happy with your achievements, your happiness is really coming from how much you put into it to get there. If you have this awareness, you will be able to be happy with your achievement, but if you are not aware of this, then you won’t be happy – even when you finally get what you want.

Thus, the harder the struggle to get there, the more you enjoy the happiness when it comes. Like we see from the father who didn’t have children for a long time and finally had a child, he has much more profound kind of happiness, because the path he took to get there involved a lot of perseverance (and he recognizes that). The happiness of your achievement is really based on seeing the change to your situation, thus the greater you see how your situation changed from bad to good, the greater the happiness.

The Future Happiness

The happiness of the future redemption will also be this kind of happiness, but on a much higher level. It will be a major change to our situation, and that is why we will be so happy. It will be a very great happiness because of this long, painful exile we are in. The pain of this exile only adds to the quality of the future happiness. The depth of our whole exile is really that most people are only happy when they have results. But in the future, it will be revealed to all people the way to be happy with even the path to get there. Then, our happiness will be perfect. (For now, we cannot reach the perfect happiness, and thus we will have to settle with imperfect happiness, which we are describing).

Knowing Why We Are Happy

What we must ask ourselves is: are we happy with only our achievements, or are we happy even with what we are putting in in order to get there? We need to become aware what is making us happy. The way we are defining happiness here is not what we are used to. We will therefore elaborate more on the definition of happiness, and then these words will appear simpler.

Let’s say a person is happy when he achieves something. What does that mean? If you think about it, it’s not really a happiness that comes from getting what he wanted. It is really because he breathes a sigh of relief: “It’s finally over.”

Happiness is really to be happy with whatever it was that brought me to my happiness. How do we know this? Happiness is the opposite of sadness. Sadness is when a person puts in effort and doesn’t see results; a person is very sad when he fails after trying so hard to get something. If that is sadness, then happiness, which is the opposite of this, is the other way around: when a person is happy with doing something that brought him to what he wanted.

So happiness is not experienced when I get what I wanted; it is more about getting to what I want. Sadness, by contrast is when I don’t see results, and thus all my efforts are in vain – which makes me sad. (If I wouldn’t base my happiness on results, I wouldn’t be sad, because I could just appreciate my efforts.)

This is why it is not possible in this world to be totally happy, because all of us have some fruitless efforts; this makes us partially sad, even though we have other achievements. Chazal praise a person who “rejoices in his suffering”. The depth of this is that a person rejoices in the path he is on, which is that he is on his way toward being healed. It’s not that he has to enjoy his suffering for the sake of suffering; it is rather that he is happy because he recognizes that he is on a certain path (the road to his recovery, which may involve some suffering).

The Condition Needed

There is a condition for this kind of happiness to work: A person has to be able to see that he eventually will have results from what he is doing now. (This can either be because he has emunah, or because it just makes sense that he will see results from his efforts.)

Meaning, if a person just embarks on an unrealistic goal, he won’t be able to be happy, because realistically speaking, he can’t say that his efforts will get him any results. But if he is on a path in which his goal is a realistic possibility, then he’s able to be happy – even before he gets to his goal.

What is the understanding of this? Superficially, this is like when someone is told, “Don’t worry, everything will turn out good in the end.” But that is not the depth behind it.

A person is sad because he is doing something that is moving along slowly and fruitlessly – it doesn’t seem like he’s getting anywhere; he’s on a path which will not bear any results. Such a person indeed is not able to derive happiness from what he’s doing. Why? Happiness comes from moving toward a goal, and a person who doesn’t seem to be making any progress in what’s he’s doing isn’t moving.

But if someone is on a realistic undertaking to get toward a certain goal, then he can be happy now even before he gets to his goal, because he’s moving along a realistic path to get to a realistic goal, and that’s something that can give him happiness.

Now that we have understood this, it is apparent that a person cannot be happy even when he gets what he wanted to achieve if he wasn’t aware of how he got there. If a person is happy with his efforts, then he can be happy with his results, but if he isn’t happy with his efforts, he won’t even be happy either when he gets his results.

How To View Your Failures

Now we can go a step further with all this.

If a person understands this, he is able to make himself happy even “retroactively” – it is possible to undo all your frustration! How?

The whole reason why we ever became frustrated was because we failed in our life at certain situations; all of us have gone through failures and very difficult times. The only reason why we were frustrated at our failures was because we only wanted to see results, and we aren’t aware of the happiness we could have been having with the efforts we put in.

To illustrate, Chazal say1F2 that if a person tells you, “I tried, and I succeeded – believe him; but if he tells you, “I didn’t try, yet I succeeded” – don’t believe him.” The depth behind this is that in order for a person to really achieve, he needs to be aware of his efforts. If he wasn’t aware of his efforts, then he won’t even arrive at his achievement, so don’t believe him if he says, “I didn’t try yet I succeeded.”

When we don’t see results from our efforts, it makes us sad. It a death-like kind of feeling not to achieve, and it reminds a person of death, which is epitome of sadness.

But if a person is aware that he is on a path that can lead to results, he can be happy even before he sees results. Not only that, but even if he didn’t see any results in the end, he can turn all his frustration into happiness – by becoming aware that he put effort into something. After all, he engaged in a realistic, worthy undertaking. So what if he didn’t see results from it? He was involved in trying to achieve a realistic goal. That itself is a reason to be happy.

If we become aware now that we took certain steps to get to our results, then we can make ourselves happy with those efforts, even if they were failures!

In this way, we can turn all our sadness and frustration into happiness; we can clean ourselves up from all the “dirt” (sadness) that has piled up on our soul from all the years until now, and turn all of our bad experiences into happiness – when we remember that what causes us to be happy is our efforts, not our results. The whole reason that we weren’t happy in the first place was because we lacked the awareness of our efforts and only focused on the results, which we didn’t get. So now, become aware of all your efforts you made (which would have made you happy then, had you been aware of it), and you will discover that all of your frustration can be undone. It’s like giving your soul a cleaning.

Guide to Buying Tzitzit

In Parsha Bamidbar, the Torah instructs us to wear tzitzit “in order to remember and fulfill all of [the] mitzvahs” (Bamidbar 15:40). To explain the mitzvah, the Midrash brings an analogy of a ship passenger who fell into the water. The captain throws him a line, shouting, “Hold onto the rope and don’t let go, otherwise your life is finished!”

The following tzitzit primer was sent to us courtesy of Ben Slobodkin, owner of Ben’s Tallit Shop.

————-

Tzitzit is considered a special, cherished mitzvah, because it helps us cleave to all of the other mitzvahs. Since we are enjoined to perform mitzvahs in an aesthetically pleasing manner – zeh Keli ve’anveiHu – wearing a nice tallit katan is commendable.

Wool or Cotton

According to the Shulchan Aruch, fabrics besides wool require tzitzits only according to Rabbinical Law, but the Rema rules that cotton and other fabrics must have tzitzits min haTorah (O.C. 9,1). Therefore Sephardim are usually stringent while Ashkenazim are often lenient. The Mishna Berura and the Pele Yoetz both state that even for Ashkenazim wool is preferable, whereas the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish zt”l were known to wear cotton and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l held that during the hot summer months, even according to Ashkenazim one can wear a tallit katan made of cotton if he finds wool uncomfortable.

Wool is more expensive than cotton, but it is also more durable and offers a number of other advantages. From my experience, wool tallit katan garments are generally of high quality, whereas cotton can be quite flimsy. If you go with cotton, make sure the eyelets are reinforced, otherwise the fabric will tear easily if the tzitzits get tugged for whatever reason. Tallit katan garments are sometimes made from a thicker, sturdy cotton fabric and feature high quality stitching, but this type is hard to find.

Strings and Knots

If you buy a tallit katan with the tzitzits already tied, look them over if possible. The quality of the knots can vary tremendously. I’ve seen factory tied tzitzits that were not even fully tied.

Tzitzits strings must be made leshem tzitzits (i.e. with intention to fulfill the mitzvah). The question is from what point in the production process this is required. The prevalent opinion is from the spinning stage. Whether machine-spun tzitzits can be made leshem tzitzits is questionable, therefore I strongly recommend buying hand-spun tzitzits, particularly since the difference in cost is relatively small (about $5). Sometimes you will come across tzitzits strings that are reinforced at the tips, which can preclude the need for dabbing glue or making little knots on the ends.

If you want the best tzitzits money can buy, look for niputz lishmah, which are made leshem mitzvah starting from the carding stage. According to the Rema, the custom is to be lenient, whereas the Mishna Berara notes that the Maharal of Prague and the Prisha held it’s best to be stringent in this regard. Expect to pay three times the cost of regular hand-spun tzitzit strings.

Here in Israel the Eida Chareidit of Jerusalem recently started insisting that tzitzits strings made under their supervision be made leshem mitzvah starting from the “lashonot” stage, which comes just before spinning. These tzitzits are known as “lashonot hatzemer” and are only slightly more expensive than other hand-spun tzitzits.

If you can’t afford to spend any money on tzitzits, there are still hiddurim available to you. First of all, you can make a point of tying the tzitzits yourself, since Chazal tell us doing a mitzvah yourself is better than having someone do it for you. There are also side benefits to be gained from DIY tzitzits tying: you will become more familiar with the mechanics behind the mitzvah and won’t be hapless if you ever face broken tzitzits strings.

Size Requirement

Another hiddur is to make a point of wearing a size and design that meets the minimum size requirements according to all opinions. How big does a tallit katan have to be? Both the height and the width must be 50 cm according to Rav Chaim Na’eh, 55 cm according to Rav Moshe Feinstein and 60 cm according to the Chazon Ish. Whether you measure from the bottom of the slit in front or from the neckline is subject to some debate, but the widespread custom is to be lenient. If you prefer to be stringent, try to find a tallit katan with a round neck or sew it closed before you tie on the tzitzits.

Ben Slobodkin grew up in Los Angeles, has a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz and is an alumnus of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim. He owns and operates Ben’s Tallit Shop, an Israel-based tallit and tzitzit webstore.

Originally posted in June 2011.

Yisro in a Nutshell

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Yisro. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Yitro
# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
# 20 The Ten Commandments

# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
* Yitro arrives at Jewish Camp in desert with Tsiporah, Gershom & Eliezer
* Yitro blesses HaShem when he hears the details of the Exodus
* Yitro eats with Moshe in HaShem’s Presence
* Yitro sees Moshe’s method of adjudicating justice
* Yitro’s advice, delegate judges of 10, 50, 100, 1000
* Yitro returns to Midian

# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
* Moshe ascends Mt. Sinai
* You saw how I carried you on eagles wings out of Egypt
* Be to Me a Treasured Nation, a Priestly Kingdom & Unique People
* We declared “We will do!”
* Hashem reveals that the purpose of Divine Revelation is so that the Nation
will hear and witness G-d speaking to Moses directly.
* Purify yourselves for the third day, wash clothes, immerse in Mikveh, no
contact with wives.
* Loud sounds, thunder, heavy cloud, sound of the Shofar, everyone
trembled, we stood ‘beneath’ the mountain, HaShem came down in a fire,
entire Mountain trembled, Shofar continued blasting louder while
HaShem spoke to Moshe directly in the presence of the entire nation
* HaShem instructs Moshe to warn Kohanim not to ascend the Mt.

# 20 The Ten Commandments (14 Mitzvot)
* “I Am The Master, Your Power Who took you out of Egypt.”
* Have no other gods beside Me.
* Don’t say My Name in vain.
* Practice Shabbat.
* Honor both parents.
* Don’t Kill.
* Don’t adulterate.
* Don’t kidnap.
* Don’t bear false witness.
* Don’t envy.
* We all ‘saw’ the sounds, flames, blast of the Shofar and Mountain
smoking.
* We requested Moshe speak directly with us and not The All Powerful G-d
* Moshe ascended to the Arafel where HaShem was revealed
* See ! I spoke to you directly from Heaven
* Don’t make images of Me, gods of silver or gold.
* Make for Me an Altar where you will bring all your offerings
* Wherever I let you mention My Name, I will come down and bless you
* Don’t allow any metal to touch the stone Altar.
* Don’t ascend My Altar by way of steps for modesty sake.

Hishtadlus and Parshas HaMon

We are taught that although Hashem runs the world we have to do our Hishtadlus (our own efforts). What that is in any situation differs for each person and is dependent on a person’s bitachon (trust) and his or her personality type. It’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas Hamon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras, like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – this Tuesday is that Tuesday.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas Hamon.

The Most Famous Ramban in Chumash – The End of Parshas Bo

The Ramban at the end of Bo is a classic work on Jewish philosophy and probably the most quoted Ramban in Chumash.
It’s well worth seeing inside.

Here is a summary:

Reason for the Plagues

The Ramban says that from the time of Enosh there were three types of heretics: 1) Those that didn’t believe in G-d at all; 2) Those that believed in a G-d, but didn’t believe He knew what was happening in the world; 3) Those that believed in G-d’s knowledge, but didn’t believe that He oversees the world or that there is reward and punishments.

By favoring the Jews and altering nature through the plagues, the falsity of the heretical views became clear to all. The supernatural wonders indicate the world has a G-d who created it, knows all, oversees all and is all powerful. And when that wonder is publicly declared beforehand through a prophet, the truth of prophecy is made clear as well, namely that G-d will speak to a person and reveal His secrets to His servants, the prophets, and with acknowledgement of this principle the entire Torah is sustained. (The Ramban brings down a number of pesukim supporting this.)

Reason for so many Mitzvos regarding the Exodus

Now, because G-d does not perform a sign or wonder in every generation in sight of every evil person and disbeliever, He commanded that we should have constant reminders and signs of what we saw in Egypt and we should transmit it to our children thoughout the generations. G-d was stringent in this matter as we see from the strict penalties regarding eating Chometz on Pesach and neglecting the Pesach offering. Other mitzvos regarding the Exodus are tefillin, mezuzos, remembering the Exodus in the morning and evening, Succos.

There are also many other commandments that serve as a reminder of the Exodus (Shabbos, the festivals, redemption of the firstborn,…). And all these commandments serve as a testimony for us through the generations regarding the wonders performed in Egypt, that they not be forgotten and there will be no argument for a heretic to deny faith in G-d.

The Reason behind Mitzvos in General

When one does a simple mitzvah like mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah. In addition he has acknowledged G-d’s kindness towards those that perform His will, for He took us from bondage to freedom in great honor in the merit of our forefathers.

That is why Chazal say, be careful in performing a minor commandment as a major one, for all of them are major and beloved since through them a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. For the objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in G-d and acknowledge to Him that He created us.

Purpose of Creation

In fact this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. And G-d has no desire, except that man should know and acknowledge the G-d that created him. And the purpose of raising our voices in prayer and the purpose of Shuls and the merit of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge that G-d created them and caused them to be and they can publicize this and declare before Him, “We are your creations”.

This is what the sages meant when they explained “And they shall call out mightily to G-d” as from here you learn that prayer requires a loud voice for boldness can overcome evil.

Everything is a Sign of Hashem

Through recalling the great revealed signs of Hashem of the Exodus, a person acknowledges the hidden signs of everyday life which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.

Reward and Punishment

Rather if one observes the commandments his reward will bring him success and if he transgresses them his punishment will destroy him. Hidden signs of Hashem can be more clearly recognized as regards the affairs of a community as in the predictions in the Torah in the matter of the blessings and the curses as it says – And the nations will say, “For what reason did Hashem do so to this land…?” And they will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers”. This matter will become known to the nations, that this is from G-d as their (the Jews) punishment. And it is stated regarding the fulfillment of the commandments, “Then all the people of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.”

First published in January, 2008. Last 2 paragraphs updated January 2012

Groups Within Orthodoxy

A while ago, Steg, a Beyond BT commentor defined the following principles of Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy in a comment. He wrote

Please stop confusing LWMO with MO-Lite. LWMO is:
1. a generally positive view of general society (i.e. “what’s out there that can make me a better person/jew” as opposed to “what’s out there that i should avoid in order to be a better person/jew”)
2. a preference for lenient opinions over more stricter ones, especially for the sake of preserving community
3. a differentiation between halakha and sociology; i.e., just because something “isn’t done” doesn’t mean it’s forbidden, and if it’s not forbidden, and there are good reasons for it, do it (commonly found in issues of gender and women’s roles)
4. a valuing of integration over isolationism, both in cooperating with other Jewish groups and in views on interacting with Non-Jews
5. an acceptance of academic methodology as part of learning Torah (such as Critical Talmud study, and Literary Analysis of Tanakh)

We thought it might be useful to define some principles of the other wings of Orthodoxy. This is a work in progress and your comments and corrections are appreciated. (Originally published in June 2008)

Left Wing MO Right Wing MO Left Wing UO Right Wing UO
Believe In G-d Yes Yes Yes Yes
Believe in Torah From Sinai Yes Yes Yes Yes
Believe in Reward & Punishment Yes Yes Yes Yes
Believe Mitzvah Observance is Obligatory Yes Yes Yes Yes
Halachic Adherence Lenient Normative Halacha Normative Halacha Strict
Scholarly Approach to Torah Full Acceptance Partial Acceptance Little Acceptance Rare Acceptance
Women’s Learning Gemora Taught Gemora Usually Not Taught Gemora Not Taught Gemora Not Taught
         
Normative Occupation Business, Profession Business, Profession Business, Profession, Chinuch Learning, Chinuch
Attitude Towards General Society Positive Potentially Positive Cautious Dismissive
Interaction with Non Jews Frequent Cautious Occasional Rare
Integration with Non Orthodox Groups Frequent Cautious Occasional Rare
Non Traditional Women’s Roles Very Accommodating Accommodating Occasionally Accommodating Not Accommodating
         
Left Wing MO Right Wing MO Left Wing UO Right Wing UO
Mixed Teenage Socializing Accepted Not Encouraged Not Accepted Not Accepted
Mixed Fund Raising Dinners Accepted Accepted Partially Accepted Not Accepted
Mixed Shmorg at Weddings Vast Majority Significant Majority Separate With Crossover No
Mixed Seating Weddings Accepted Sometimes Never Never
Men’s Dress Cultural Norms Suits, Business Casual Suits, Colored Shirts Dark Suits, White Shirts
Women’s Dress Cultural Norms, Hair Not Covered No Pants, Hair Covered No Pants, Hair Covered No Pants, Hair Covered, Legs Covered
         
Secular Studies Encouraged Encouraged Accepted Necessary for Occupation
Secular Fiction Accepted Accepted With Limits Sometimes Accepted Rarely Accepted
Secular Non Fiction Accepted Accepted Sometimes Accepted Rarely Accepted
         
Television & Movies Vast Majority Majority Minority Insignificant Minority
Internet Vast Majority Significant Majority Sometimes Sometimes
Video Games Vast Majority Significant Majority Sometimes Sometimes

Shovavim

It’s the period of Shovavim. Here’s some links on the whys and wherefores of Shovavim.

Shovavim and Self Improvement:

Shovavim is an acronym for the parshiyot that we read during the period between Chanukah and Purim. Rav Nachman Cohen writes that this period is an auspicious time to repent for Adam’s sin with the Eitz Hadaat and his subsequent errant behavior, pegimat habrit, for which mankind suffers until today. Why do we specifically repent now for the sin of Adam?

This period falls after the winter solstice when the days begin to get longer. When Adam sinned, the days began to get shorter and he thought it was because of his sin. When the days began to get longer again, he realized he was not doomed and that his repentance had been accepted. Thus this period is an eit ratzon where one can connect to Hashem.

Working on curbing one’s physical desires and avoiding inappropriate pleasures seems male focused. What is the corollary for women? The Maharal says that the primary praise of a woman is her level of tzniut. Rav Pincus writes that because Adam and Chava did not conduct themselves modestly, the snake desired Chava and devised a plot to make her sin. Therefore, in a sense, the sin of Eitz Hadaat came about through immodesty.

What is modesty? It is a call to concentrate our energies on our inner personality, our spiritual nature, which is deep and hidden within us. We must become attuned to our souls instead of getting caught up in the outer trappings of the physical world. Shovavim is not only a time to work on tzniut but a time of introspection, a time to work on our relationship with Hashem. This entails watching our behavior with the awareness that we are in the presence of Hashem. It is irrelevant what other people think. Life is about walking alone with Hashem. Elevating mitzvot to a higher level by practicing modesty in deed – not talking about the mitzvot you’ve done, is an appropriate goal to work on during Shovavim.

Shovavim Tat:

There are a number of reasons given for this period of Teshuvah:
1) During this period we read the parshiyot which describe the Jews’ suffering and exile in Egypt and their redemption, salvation, and exodus by the Hand of God. Just as Israel in the Torah called out from their physical exile, so too we call out of our personal spiritual exile. Just as the Jewish people overcame the darkness of the Egyptian exile so too we try to overcome the spiritual darkness in our lives and come closer to God from whom we are separated.

2) Many Chassidic and Kabbalistic sources describe the focus of this period as strengthening our resolve in areas of family purity (Taharat Hamishpacha) and in studying and keeping the laws of family purity.

A Sign of the Times:

Shovavim is something that came from the Mekubalim. I once heard it explained that as the generations get weaker, Hashem reveals to us the hidden light that can be found deeper into the year. Let’s face it, we didn’t really do a great job on Aseres Yimei Tshuva and Hashem is showing us these loopholes and extensions because he yearns for us to return and wants us to take advantage. This ties in nicely with something I heard from the Chofetz Chaim who when asked skeptically about Yom Kippur Katan, said that we no longer can go a whole year without a Yom Kippur. We need one once a month.

Ten for the Tenth of Teves

Ten points about the Tenth of Teves from an article by Rabbi Berel Wein.

1) The Tenth of Tevet marks the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia, and the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed Jerusalem.

2) The date of the Tenth of Tevet is recorded for us by the prophet Yechezkel, who himself was already in Babylonia as part of the first group of Jews exiled there by Nebuchadnezzar, 11 years earlier than the actual destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem itself.

3) The Tenth of Tevet is viewed as such a severe and important fast day that it is observed even if it falls on a Friday (erev Shabbat), while our other fast days are so arranged by calendar adjustments as to never fall on a Friday, so as not to interfere with Shabbat preparations.

4) On the eighth of Tevet, King Ptolemy of Egypt forced 70 Jewish scholars to gather and translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Even though the Talmud relates to us that this project was blessed with a miracle

5) The 70 scholars were all placed in separate cubicles and yet they all came up with the same translation

6) The general view of the rabbis of the time towards this project was decidedly negative. The Talmud records that when this translation became public “darkness descended on the world.”

7) The ninth day of Tevet is held to be the day of the death of Ezra the Scribe. This great Jew is comparable even to Moses in the eyes of the Talmud. “If the Torah had not been granted through Moses, it could have been granted to Israel through Ezra.”

8) Ezra led the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. It was under his direction and inspiration, together with the help of the court Jew, Nechemiah, that the Second Temple was built, albeit originally in a much more modest scale and style than the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple.

9) Since fasting on the eighth, ninth and 10th days of Tevet consecutively would be unreasonable, the events of the eighth and ninth were subsumed into the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet.

10) The rabbinic policy of minimizing days of tragic remembrances played a role in assigning the Holocaust remembrance to the Tenth of Tevet for a large section of the Israeli population.

Tenth of Teves Reading and Listening

Rebbetzin Heller on Lost in Translation: The Month of Tevet

What’s the difference between the Septuagint (the 70-man translation) and ArtScroll?

Ptolemy wanted to Hellenize the Torah. He wanted it in his library along with the other classics of his time. To him it was inconceivable that a God-given document and one written by man should be treated differently.

The goal of Torah is to present us with a way of life; one that will change us and take us to parts unknown — Gods infinity. The purpose of other works is to give us greater insight into ourselves and into the world. One deals with human beings and their world, while the other deals with a world far beyond the limitations of human observation. The authors of today’s translations want to let everyone experience Torah by making them bigger. Ptolemy wanted to give everyone access to Torah by dwarfing its scope to fit the limitations of the human mind.

Rabbi Berel Wein on the Tenth of Teves:

The Tenth of Tevet is one of the four fast days that commemorate dark times in Jewish history. The others are Tisha B’Av (the day of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem), the 17th of Tammuz (the day of the breaching of the defensive wall of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman legions in 70 CE), and the third of Tishrei (the day that marks the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed Jewish governor of Judah, Gedaliah ben Achikam. He was actually killed on Rosh Hashana but the fast day was advanced to the day after Rosh Hashana because of the holiday).

Rabbi Noach Weinberg on the Seige of Jerusalem:

On the Tenth of Tevet, 2,500 years ago, Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. Actually, there was little damage on that first day and no Jews were killed. So why is this day so tragic? Because the siege was a message, to get the Jewish people to wake up and fix their problems. They failed, and the siege led to the destruction of the King Solomon’s Temple.

Today we are also under siege. Much of the Jewish world is ignorant of our precious heritage. Children whose Jewish education ended at age 13 now carry that perception through adulthood. The results are catastrophic: assimilation in the diaspora, and a blurring of our national goals in Israel.

Rabbi Yehudah Prero on The Fast of the Tenth of Teves, “Asara B’Teves”

The Aruch HaShulchan concludes that we fast on this day because it marks the beginning of our sorrows – the first event in a chain which resulted in the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the exile of the nation of Israel. In the event that it were possible for this day to fall out on Shabbos (which it can not, because of our calendar system), there are authorities which said that we would still fast, although fasting on the Shabbos day is forbidden. Why would we nevertheless fast? We would fast because the words used by G-d to describe the events to the prophet Yechezkel were the same words used in conjunction with the description of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, on which we fast even if the day falls out on the Shabbos: the words “On this very day” “B’etzem hayom hazeh.”

If you haven’t yet listened to Rabbi Schiller’s tape on Orthodox Achdus, which gives a sophisticated and realistic approach to dealing with differences within Orthodoxy, please take the time today to give it a listen. You can download or listen to Orthodox Achdus here.

Chanukah – Miracles Within – Bilvavi

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Chanukah

Miracles – When Nature Is Overcome[1]

On Chanukah, we make a blessing of שעשה ניסים לאבותינו, expressing our thanks to Hashem for this time where He performed miracles for us. Although we also experienced miracles on Pesach, only the Rabbinical festivals of Chanukah and Purim contain a blessing where we thank Hashem for the miracles performed, which we express in the prayer of Al HaNissim in Shemoneh Esrei.

Hashem runs the world through a system of laws He created which we know as “nature” (teva), and He also built into this a system that works above the normal laws of “nature”: miracles (nisim). Hashem has allowed the laws of “nature” that He created to be the system of the normal “laws” (chukim) which He runs the world with.

When we analyze Creation deeper, there are actually different kinds of “nature” in creation. There are four classifications in Creation: the non-living objects (doimem), plants (tzomeiach), animals (chai), and people (medaber). Each of these has their own specific natures. Human beings, animals, plants, and inanimate objects each have their own specific kind of “nature”.

Each of the creations has their limitations. If Hashem enables a rock to grow and have life to it, it would be a miracle for the rock, because the nature of a rock is that it cannot grow. If Hashem were to allow a plant to move from place to place like an animal can, this would be a miracle for the plant, because a plant’s nature is that it does not grow. If an animal is allowed by Hashem to talk, such as the donkey of Bilaam who was allowed to talk, this is a miracle for the animal, because an animal’s nature is that it cannot talk.

Thus, what is the depth of a miracle (nes)? It is when a different “nature” is revealed in something. A miracle is not simply that Hashem changes the rules. Rather, as the Ramban and others explained, the definition of a “miracle” is when a lower level creation is allowed to function on a level that is normally above its natural level. When a rock can grow, when a plant can walk, when an animal can talk, these are all miracles, because they would be functioning on a higher level than they are normally on. Thus, in the days of Chanukah, we experienced “miracles” in the sense that a higher level of creation was revealed within this lower realm that we dwell on.

Becoming Uplifted To A Higher Level

When one has a difficulty (nisayon\נסיון), either his avodah is to find a way to run away from it (וינס), such as what happened with Yosef when he had to run away from the wife of Potiphar; and sometimes the avodah of going through a nisayon is to bear through it and thereby become uplifted from it (להתנוסס).

When the family of the Chashmonaim had to go to war with the Greeks, it was a nisayon for them, and they passed the test, becoming uplifted from it and rising to a higher level than before. That was the miracle. The Chashmonaim faced some difficulty in their avodah in their own individual souls, and because they passed the difficulty, they were elevated to a higher level, where miracles were performed for them.

In clearer terms, as mentioned earlier, a miracle is when a lower level creation is allowed by Hashem to function on a higher level. This can apply within human beings as well: what is considered nature for one person might be considered a miracle for another person, and vice versa. If Shimon is on a lower spiritual level than Reuven, and Shimon rises to the level of Reuven (which is a natural level for Reuven to be on), this is a miracle for Shimon.

Thus, every year when Chanukah returns, where the spiritual light of “miracles” is revealed, this does not simply mean that the miracles of Chanukah are revealed to us in the very same way it was revealed to us last year. Rather, the definition is that if we have risen to higher levels since a year ago, last year’s miracle isn’t considered a miracle anymore for us, because it has now become our natural level.

The spiritual light of the miracles are shined upon us during this time of the year, as our Sages explain, but the depth of this concept is that it depends on the level we have reached since last year. If one has passed more nisyonos (difficulties) since last year, he merits a greater level of “miracle” this year, because now that he has become more elevated since last year’s level, the miracle of last year is now his natural level, and he is now ready to receive greater miracles than the year before.

Overcoming Our Own Personal Natures

Applying this to us on a personal level, every person has his own “natures” which Hashem has implanted into his soul. There are four elements contained in our various “natures”: fire, wind, water, and earth. These are the roots of our negative middos (character traits). Fire is the root of conceit and anger, wind is the root of idle speech, water is the root of seeking hedonistic pleasure, and earth is the root of sadness and laziness, with their branching traits.[2] These are the natures of our middos. When one works to improve his middos, he is really working to uproot the various natures that Hashem has implanted in him.
Read more Chanukah – Miracles Within – Bilvavi

Experiencing Chanukah – Rav Itamar Schwartz (Bilvavi)

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Chanukah

The Light of Chanukah: Spiritual Or Physical?

Let us learn here about Chanukah in a way that is not just about something that we go through, but as something that really can affect us, experientially.

All of the festivals contain ohr, spiritual light, but Chanukah in particular is the epitome of ohr. In the other festivals, the light is purely spiritual, but on Chanukah, although the light is also spiritual, it manifests also as a physical light that we empower, through the eight lights that we light on Chanukah.

The lights of Chanukah seem to be lit through a wick and oil, but the inner way to understand it is that the light revealed during Chanukah is what is lighting the wick. The wicks, the oil and the flame that we see are [merely] the physical ‘garments’ that clothe the spiritual light that is Chanukah. Of course, it looks like we are lighting it. But it is really the light [revealed during] Chanukah which is shining through the physical wick.

This is the depth behind the halachah that it is forbidden to benefit from the light of Chanukah: we may not use spirituality for This World. When we light [the menorah], a spiritual light emerges [from the hidden realm of spiritual light]. Our physical eyes just see a candle, but our soul sees spiritual light in it.

Although our soul sees spirituality in things, one needs to have a revelation of his soul in order for the soul to see spirituality. With our physical eyes, all we see are just candles burning; therefore we need to actually connect our soul to the spirituality of the hidden light that is revealed on Chanukah.

Seeing The Lights From Our Soul

The neshamah (Jewish soul) is described in the verse, “נר ה’ נשמת אדם”, “The flame of Hashem is the soul of man”. A ner (flame) is composed of a kli (vessel, or container)), oil, and the fire. Our neshamah is called “ner” (flame),and it is also called “ohr” (light), whereas the “kli” (the vessel or container) that holds the neshamah is our physical guf (the body).

The neshamah is called “ner” (flame). Our physical body is created from earth, whereas the soul in us comes from the “breath of Hashem” that was breathed into man by Hashem. Hashem is entirely ohr, so to speak. The earth which our body comes from is a dark material, thus our body is of a “dark” substance, whereas our soul is taken from “light”. Since man is a combined existence of body and soul, his existence is essentially a mixture of light and darkness.

Every person is essentially a light contained within darkness. There is a statement, “A little light can push away much darkness.”[1] We see from the physical world that a small light can light up a dark room, and so too, when our soul is concealed from our access, we will feel like we are groping in the dark. When our soul becomes revealed to us, however, there is a great light we experience, which sends away the “darkness” that is the body.

Thus, when a person hasn’t yet revealed his soul, he lives in darkness. He will experience life through a dark lens. When a person begins to merit a revelation of his soul, his soul begins to shine, and he experiences a degree of spiritual light.

These are the two kinds of lenses through which we experience life: either we see through a dark lens, or we see life through a lens of light.

In deeper terms, there is ayin ra, a “bad eye”, and ayin tov, a “good eye.” The perspective of “ayin ra” comes from the view of the body, and the perspective of “ayin tov” is the view from the soul.

They are different lenses in a person. It is not simply that there are different personalities of either “ayin ra” or “ayin tov” that some people have positive personalities and some people have negative personalities. Rather, “ayin tov” and “ayin ra” are perspectives of how we experience life – either we are viewing life from the prism of the body, or the soul. “Ayin ra” represents the body’s viewpoint, a view from “darkness”, which is a perspective that is darkened by materialism of This World. Thus it does not offer a clear view on life. In contrast, “ayin tov” is a view of “light”, which is pleasant and calming.

These are root concepts of the soul. The world we are in is a mix of light and darkness, a mix of good and evil. And it is mostly dark. What is the world looking like right now? What is it calling out? It is calling out darkness. The world is conveying to us a message of unhappiness, pain, and difficulty – a life of darkness. It is not a place that is mostly good, pure, holy and happy.

A person sees from the place in himself that he is at now. Therefore, if he has a dark lens on life, if he is living a materialistic kind of life where his body dominates and his soul is unrevealed in his life, then he will see a dark life in front of him. If you view life through dirty glasses, everything will look dirty, even if you are looking at something clean. For this reason, when a person sees others, he usually doesn’t see people as souls whom he can have a connection to. He usually just sees the thick materialism of others, he relates to their superficial shell, and as such, he relates to others as physical bodies, and he does not see them as souls in front of him.

But when a person reveals his soul, he will see others through a clear lens. Then he will see the joy, purity, and cleanliness in front of him. This does not mean that he will be naïve and that he’s not aware of reality. He is well aware of reality on this world, but he has gained a view of others that is pristine, clear, and clean.

For example, when he speaks with others, like when asking someone for directions, he will understand that he is speaking with a soul, and not with a body. When he asks questions to others, he is aware that he is asking it from his soul. And when a person speaks from his soul, the soul of the other picks up on it, because the soul is receptive to the sound of another soul. Where you speak from is what the other person will hear; if you speak from your body, the other person hears your gruff body talking, and when you speak from your soul, the other’s soul hears words coming from your soul.

The world today doesn’t have that much speech coming from the soul. When a person meets another and greets him, does he really mean it that the other should have a good day? “Good morning” has become more like a mannerism. Contrast this with what was said about the Alter of Slobodka, who would practice saying “Good Morning” to himself, because he held that it was giving a beracha (blessing) to others.

This is different view on life – totally.

Speaking and Acting From Within Yourself

When a person is talking, where is he speaking from in himself? A person can talk either from the most external part of himself, or from the most innermost part of himself that he identifies with.

Most natural speech flows from the external part of the soul. The more inner a person’s speech is, the more it reflects the statement “words from the heart enter the heart.” This should not just be limited to when a person is conveying a deep emotion such as “I love you”, or “I feel your pain”. It is referring to how a person speaks all the time. All of the time, we really need to speak from our innermost place that we currently identify with.

Most people live from their body and speak from their body, and the person hearing him hears the words from his body. But when a person speaks from his soul, it can go into another’s soul, and the other person will hear it from his soul, because his soul will pick up on it.

Chanukah is a time of “light”, but it is not just a time to light. The light of Chanukah specifically reminds us that the physical is a container for the spiritual – that our body contains a soul. The other festivals are also a spiritual light, but they don’t take on physical form. The light of Chanukah takes on a physical form, showing us that spirituality can be clothed by physicality.

These are not mere intellectual definitions, but a practical view of life to have every day of your life. We do many actions throughout the day. A person washes his hands, for example. How does he do it? We understand that this is allowed through the brain, which sends messages to the body and enables it to function. But when a person tells “Good Morning” to his children, does he do so with at least a little bit of feeling, at least a little more than when he washes his hands? Certainly, he puts some feeling into it. But how many times a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, though do we act from an inner place in ourselves? Are we speaking from a deeper place in ourselves on a more regular basis?

Most people do not access the depth that is contained in themselves. A person who is living inwardly is someone who lives with his depth, all the time, on a regular basis. He lives always with the deepest place in himself. Just like we all use the sink many times a day, a person who lives life in an inner way is using the deepest place he knows of in himself – all the time.

A person usually accesses his inner depth only when there are extreme emotions, of either intense joy or grief. A person usually cannot take that depth that he has reached and bring it more into his daily life. He may remember the pain he felt from his sadness or the joy that he felt when he rejoiced, but he will not remember the depth of the emotions that he reached.

The depth that we do recognize in ourselves, though – how much are we in touch with it on a daily basis?

Recognition of Ourselves

We must recognize who we are. Of course, the purpose of everything is to recognize Hashem. But if we do not recognize ourselves, we can’t recognize Hashem. Skipping self-recognition prevents recognition of Hashem. From recognizing ourselves, we can come to recognize Hashem[2].

Surely, the deepest thing possible is to connect to Hashem, but before we get to that stage, one has to know himself well and identify the deepest place in himself.

How can it be that a person is not in touch with the deepest part of himself? We can memorize many phone numbers. How can it be that we don’t recognize our own self?

If we really want to live a true life, we need to know what our deepest point is in ourselves, which can take a long time to know. After that, one needs to ask himself if his depth has deepened from before. The way we identify ourselves has to mature as the years go on.

We can say in general how deep the soul is, but you on your own need to uncover the depth of your own soul, and then you need to know how to live with it all the time. At least once a day, make sure that you are using it. That is what Chanukah is all about.

The Deepest Point In Yourself

I will try here to explain what the deepest point of the soul is, but it will be hard to understand it, both intellectually as well as emotionally, because each person is at a different point.

The deepest part of the soul, the deepest experience your soul can know of is to experience your very existence (havayah). (There is really a higher experience, which is to experience the reality of the Creator, which is reached through emunah and d’veykus with Hashem. That is an experience above the “I”, however. Here we are describing the experience that is within the “I”.)

One’s very existence is his deepest experience. It is not the will of a person, it is not aspiration, it is not giving, it is not enduring suffering, and it is not joy. Those are all deep experiences, but the deepest experience is to experience one’s existence.

A person needs to be able to remove all the external layers covering the soul, and then he can experience himself. It is not a place of any desires, because it is above all desires.

When a person purifies himself through doing the mitzvos, through attaining a state of purity, and through correcting his middos, then he calms the soul.[3] He can then experience the soul. When he experiences his own soul, he can feel his existence then and be able to live it on a daily basis.

All day, people are running around, and this causes people not to be in touch with the soul. This refers to internal running as well, in which people are running all the time with their desires. They are not calm inside, and they never reach their soul. Therefore, people wonder what the deepest experience is. But the deepest experience is: to experience your own self!

You can’t live from your depth if you haven’t accessed it yet. When you do access it, you need to then live with it all the time – sensibly, of course. This will reveal more and more depth to you as time goes on. In order to get to your own depth, you first need to live daily with the deepest point in yourself – you can think about it and can feel it throughout the day.

These are not ideas or opinions – it is about life. May we merit from Hashem to know our souls and to realize our depths, our existence, and from there, to reach d’veykus with Hashem.

[1] Chovos HaLevovos: Shaar Yichud HaMaaseh: 5

[2] Raavad (Rabbi Avraham ben David, 10th century scholar); based on the verse, “From my flesh, I see G-d.”

[3] See the series of Getting To Know Your Hisboddedus

Experiencing Chanukah – Rav Itamar Schwartz (Bilvavi)

American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, Really Short Version

For the last several years I have not had to face being around my family during any of the chagim because I had lived in Israel. Saying no to attending family holidays, for many people it is an extremely difficult burden to face. How do you say no when it is family? But how can you say yes to the Pesach Family Seder that lasts about 15 minutes and the Rosh Hashanah Meal both First and Second Night that isn’t kosher or Sukkot Chol Hamoed Lunch that isn’t in a Sukkah even when it isn’t raining.

It is so hard because we love our family and we bend over backwards not wanting to alienate them from frumkite, chas v’shalom. But lets face it…knowing that the chagim are all about our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu and we just can’t get “there” to the loftiest of places in a home where there isn’t Kiddusha…or at least the brand of Kiddusha we need especially on a Yom Tov.

So how do you get out of the holiday of Thanksgiving? It never falls on a Shabbat…ok and it isn’t a Yom Tov… no problem there. The truth is, at least for me, Turkey-Day is the one holiday I don’t want or need to “get out of”. This year, for the first time in many years, I was able to and did attend the Family Thanksgiving Dinner. So here is my Survivors Guide, really short version, to spending Thanksgiving (or July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, New Years Day fill in the blank __ Day) with your family.

It is really important that you are able to do the most important thing on Thanksgiving and that is of course EAT. Waking up early on Thanksgiving, my kosher turkey went in the oven. Quickly the house was filled with all the smells of my childhood. I made everything I needed to feel good at the table…

I was able to sit next to my cousins (of course still at the children’s table) and stuff my belly with yummy Thanksgiving delicacies. I even had enough leftovers at home in the fridge to feel very American on “Black Friday”. The mashed potatoes were my “contribution” to the cornucopia feast. Of course they were parve. I couldn’t bring the traditional buttery potatoes to set along side the table of turkey and spiral-cut-you-know-what!

At the end of the evening as we all reclined in our chairs, everyone wanted to know how I made the yummy dilled mashed fluffy stuff. They were all stunned to hear about my secret to make them creamy with out milk or butter (margarine and light mayonnaise). Smiling to myself I thought of my own theory. They tasted so yummy because they were the only kosher thing on the table…of course other than my shiny aluminum pan, double wrapped foil peeled back filled with all the essentials: half a turkey breast, a mini portion of yams with marshmallow, challah stuffing, string bean casserole and of course parve mashed potatoes. FYI … you can follow the Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the label but instead of condensed milk, replace with soy milk and Rich’s cream frozen.

Originally Posted in the Birth Months of BBT in Dec 2005

On Disabling the “Frumkeit-Checker” In My Brain

On a school vacation day a number of years ago, here in the Holy Land, I’m out with my brood at an amusement park. The children are scattered; some on the bumper cars, others on trampolines and I’m at the plastic picnic tables along with the other bored adults, waiting for the kids to tire out or the place to shut down, whichever comes first.

Meanwhile, I’m using my idle moments to people watch pretending to be Marcel Proust sitting in a Parisian sidewalk café, which of course, I’m not.

Most of the other patrons are secular Israelis, but then I see, one of us, a frum young mother cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She’s cute—the mother I mean: one of those rare creatures who combines her Yiddishkeit with an inbred funk. I’ll bet that she has jazz on her CD player and pesto and sundried tomatoes in her fridge and davens where no one winces at the long curls tumbling out of her beret or the fact that her flary skirt stops just above her knees.

She reminds me of a discarded earlier version of myself. I’ve since gotten stodgier, and frummer, taken on borer and bug checking, shatnez and tznius . But somehow in the course spiritual climb, I’ve gotten judgmental. It is almost as if someone managed to install a frumkeit checker in my brain which automatically monitors the madreiga of everyone I encounter.

Ooops , here comes the young mother’s reading —several notches below me ( I could have guessed that) , definitely not Bais Yaacov material, wouldn’t pass through the admissions board in Kiryat Sefer…. a joke, a pseudo-orthodox Jew….. right?

I look at her again. Now I see that she isn’t alone. Along with her baby, she has another companion— a middle aged woman with thinning red hair dressed in black pants. Now, I put the pieces together.

The old woman is her mother and the young mother is one of us, a ba’alat teshuva, someone with the spiritual fine tuning to hear the Torah’s call over the media’s din. And she’s upended her identity, possibly changing her name, her address, her friends, to mend the broken links in the chain of tradition.

I imagine her fighting grueling internecine battles to establish a beachhead of kashrut and Shabbat and family purity—a real heroine.

The truth is that I’m making this up, but I’m making a point. I think I can size her up in a instant, but—let’s be real, I can’t. Who can I size up? What do I know of the young mother’s life or anyone else’s life, for that matter?

So why the frumkeit checker?

A few reasons come up. It’s a kick, albeit an unhealthy one. Righteous indignation is a high. There is a perverse thrill in that irresistible “how dare she” feeling that comes from sneering at someone else’s (especially someone younger and cuter) deficiencies.

And the checker also deflects insecurity, by marginalizing anyone different and potentially threatening and it begs a little question that most of us don’t like to ask—what if she is right and I am wrong. Putting her down changes that subject.

That is great, but it’s got a problem. The problem is that this isn’t the Torah’s approach. According to the Torah, when I encounter someone different what I need to determine is what I can learn from them, how I can use the interaction to grow .

As to the young mother I have no clue as to why her tznius is not quite normatively Halachic but I do know that she (and most everyone else in the place ) is a Jew.

Once upon a time, when a Jew met another Jew he’d call out “Sholom Aleichem Reb Yid.” Hello Mr. Jew, but that is mostly gone today, replaced by the frumkeit checker and it’s accessories, judge mentalism and divisiveness.

I need to find my own “Sholom Aleichem For this woman (and for all Jews) —at least in my heart and to delegate the job of other people’s spiritual repair to the Kiruv Rabbis and G-d.

As soon as I get out of this park, I’ve got Pesach cleaning to do and my first stop will be the hametz in my own head. Disabling that nasty frumkeit checker is a good first step.

Originally Published April 2009

An Awesome Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel

On a trip to Eretz Yisroel a few years ago, I had the good fortune to rent an apartment in Kfar David in Mamilla, very close to the Jaffa Gate. I davened almost every Tefillah at the Kotel, except for Shabbos when we were in Ramat Beis Shemesh.

Davening at the Kotel is amazing because it’s a Minyan factory and you get to join together with all types of Jews from the four corners of the world. However, I do find it distracting at Shacharis, between the people collecting Tzedakah and the simultaneous Minyanim going on at a somewhat loud volumne.

On my first Shacharis I went to the Vasikin minyan, which is at sunrise and is the best time to Daven according to the Shulchan Aruch. So here I was, at the best place-the Kotel, at the best time-sunrise, and with a great collection of Jewish souls from around the world. And to top it all off, since it was Vasikin every Minyan starts Shemoneh Esrai at the same time and the entire Kotel would be quiet together.

So I stepped into Shemoneh Esrai anticipating the sweet sound of silence, but unfortunately perfection was not to be found. There was one individual who was davening very loudly well into our Shemoneh Esrai. So there were 300 souls with the opportunity to join in Tefillah at the perfect time at the perfect place, but one person was out of step.

I decided to write three endings to this piece:

1) How does Hashem judge this situation. On the one hand the person was davening to Hashem in sincerity, but at the same time he was disturbing many other people in a situation where total quiet was a possibility.

2) I need to work more on my davening. If I really worked on it, I could daven anywhere without being distracted. Perhaps wanting or needing silence is really a deficiency in my davening.

3) We’re in Golus and even if we’re at the perfect place and the perfect time, it’s our souls that need correcting. That begins with me working on caring about this unknown individual as much before the Shemoneh Esrai as after. He’s a great Yid who made the same journey I did to daven at this awesome place and time. Even if he was mistaken in this one act, I make plenty of mistakes myself and I hope people judge me favorably.

So at the end of the day, maybe it was better that there was no silence. After all place, time and silence are external and davening is an internal act. And becoming a little more forgiving from this incident is probably more important than finding the perfect Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel.

Originally Published February 2010

Let’s Share the Joy

By Jonathan Rosenblum

A recent Israeli study concluded that chareidim are happier than their secular counterparts — and not just by a little bit. Sixty-two percent of the chareidim interviewed expressed a high degree of satisfaction with their lives, as opposed to just 26 percent of the secular Jews. And that is despite the fact that chareidim, on average, have far lower per capita incomes.

The study is just one in a long line of such studies yielding similar results. One team of Israeli researchers explained the life satisfaction differential in terms of the far higher levels of hakaras hatov (gratitude) and optimism among chareidim. A sense of gratitude, as opposed to an attitude of entitlement, is deeply ingrained in chareidi life. It starts first thing in the morning with Modeh Ani, and is reinforced throughout the day in countless ways, such as the recitation of asher yatzar.

Optimism goes hand in hand with the feeling that our lives are guided by a beneficent G-d. The confidence that good may come from even negative experiences comes naturally to chareidim raised from an early age on stories of Nachum Ish Gamzu and Rabi Akiva proclaiming, “Kol d’avid Rachmana l’tava avid — All that Heaven does is for the good.”

The very definition of “one who is happy” as “one who rejoices in his portion” reinforces both optimism and gratitude. The meaning of the mishnah in Avos (4:1) is that the key to happiness is the recognition that Hashem provides each of us with what we need for our mission in life. If that is the case, there is no reason to think that a greater measure of life’s “goodies” would enhance one’s ability to fulfill one’s mission. By the same token, optimism flows from knowing that one has been apportioned what one needs for that mission.

Researchers distinguish between two types of happiness: hedonic and eudaemonic. The latter refers to a general sense of well-being, and, in contrast to hedonic pleasure, is associated with a large number of positive outcomes: longer life expectancy, lower rates of heart disease, reduced chances of Alzheimer’s.

The four elements most identified with high levels of eudaemonia are intrinsic to an Orthodox life. The first is the awareness of a transcendent realm — i.e., of a G-d above. The second is belonging to a community. Communal prayer, shared life rhythms determined by the calendar, large families all provide a strong social support network for chareidim. A third element is the ability to present one’s life story as a coherent whole. That is something much easier for Orthodox Jews to do because they see their lives as guided by G-d. Finally, a sense that one’s life has meaning. There are multiple sources for that meaning and purpose, including Rav Chaim of Volozhin’s extended description in Nefesh HaChaim of how each thought, work, action has the power to open up pipelines of blessing to the world.

FROM THE HIGHER LEVELS of life satisfaction among chareidim, I take away two messages. First, it is not just that the Torah contains many life prescriptions that if followed will make people happier; but also that Jews who define themselves by their commitment to Torah really do take those prescriptions seriously. And as a consequence, their whole approach to life differs radically from that of the world outside our community. In short, the Torah’s message penetrates our inner psyches.

My second takeaway is how much we have to offer our fellow Jews, indeed the world at large. Rabbi Noach Weinberg used to say, “In an insane world, we are the least insane.” By that, he meant (I think) that being an observant Jew does not guarantee a blissful marriage, or that one will be a perfect parent, or that our children will fulfill all our dreams for them. Nothing goes without constant work on our middos, which, according to Rav Chaim Vital, are scarcely mentioned directly in the Torah because they are the precondition for the acceptance of Torah.

Yet we have been given a set of rules by which to live that provide the greatest possibility of human fulfillment because they come from the Creator of human nature, and thus comport with it.

Of late, I find myself thinking that much of modern existence has become completely unmoored from human nature, particularly the imperative of family formation without which humankind cannot survive. My most recent data point is an excellent article by Suzy Weiss at her older sister Bari’s site, in which she interviews young women, one only 19, who have had or are planning operations to ensure that they never bear children. Their reasons vary. One cites her plan to retire early and travel the world unencumbered by responsibilities; another, her lousy parents and wish to avoid their mistakes; a third, the inevitability of some suffering in even the most blessed life; a fourth, a desire not to add to the toll on Mother Earth from too many humans.

While their stories do not alone prove a trend, Weiss brings evidence of the decline in matrimony and childbearing as well. American marriage rates are at an all-time low — 6.5 per thousand. Millennials (born 1981–1996) are the first generation in which a majority (56 percent) are unmarried at this stage in their lives, and more likely to be living with their parents in their twenties and thirties.

In half the states, deaths outnumbered births last year; the preceding year, that was the case in only five states. Nearly two-fifths of Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are afraid of having children because of the impending climax apocalypse. A survey of a representative sample of American adults conducted in Michigan found that over one-quarter are childless by choice. In San Francisco, dogs outnumber children.

We are now 60 years into the revolution that set out to release human pleasure to hitherto undreamed of heights by tearing down all traditional norms of courtship and marriage. Yet like most revolutions, it did not quite turn out like it was supposed to. Instead of increasing joy, the revolution has been accompanied by higher rates of mental illness, anxiety, and depression in every subsequent generation.

Men and women have been turned into two suspicious, warring camps, to the benefit of neither. Finding themselves constantly condemned for their toxic masculinity, many males at some point stopped trying. On American college campuses today, women outnumber men by a 60:40 ratio, and are the majority of law and medical students. But women’s very success has not come without a cost, particularly the absence of men with whom to build a life and family.

An article in Quillette a few months back noted that women are hard-wired to look for men who will serve as providers and protectors. But for the most educated and highest-earning cohort of women, those men are increasingly hard to find. And once found, enticing them into marriage is even harder.

The highly sought-after kind of men whom high-powered women view as marriage material are not so concerned with their partner’s earning capacity and have a wide selection of younger women to choose from. They often feel little impulse to commit at all. As a consequence, about 30 percent of the women in the most educated and highest earning cohort will never marry.

Baruch Hashem, we still live in a society in which the desire is marry and raise children is the nearly unanimous default position. I have no doubt that the richness of familial bonds has a great deal to do with our higher level of feelings of well-being.

But that must not remain our secret alone. Chazal tell us that Yaakov Avinu lost 33 years from his life, one year for each word of his complaint about the difficulties he had endured, in response to Pharaoh’s question — “How old are you?” But there are only 25 words in Yaakov’s answer. Rav Noach Weinberg used to explain, Yaakov Avinu was punished as well for the eight words in Pharaoh’s question, which was provoked by his downtrodden countenance.

Let us not repeat that mistake, but rather project joy in all that we do.

Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine, November 3, 2021
http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/2140/let-share-the-joy

A Brief Introduction to the Works of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

By Rabbi Gershon Seif

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lived over a century ago, and yet his insights into the Torah and his teachings of the Torah’s view of life remain very current.

This brief essay cannot do justice to an explanation of the times within which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lived, his battles, and his worldview. Nor can it provide a real appreciation of his writing which is comprised of commentaries on the Torah, Psalms, Siddur, Ethics of the Fathers, as well as Horeb, an explanation of Jewish Law and the meanings behind those laws, and The Nineteen Letters, Hirsch’s first published work, which serves as an amazing digest of all of Hirsch’s future writings and views. In addition, there are eight volumes of collected writings, mostly culled from his years of writing articles to his community on a wide variety of topics. I highly recommend reading the introduction to Horeb to get a more complete picture of what these works are about as well as appreciating Hirsch’s mission.

Hirsch was the leader of a community at a time in history when change was everywhere. The number of observant Jews in Germany was dwindling as the masses were being swept up with the birth of the Reform movement. Hirsch was the brave warrior who battled two simultaneous battles.

While the older generation of his time was to be commended for its staunch adherence to the Torah, nonetheless Hirsch felt that much of that observance was dry and lacking in depth and meaning. He felt that this was a large part of why so many observant youth had abandoned their faith. Hirsch was an inspired, poetic soul. He saw symbolism in every Mitzvah. He saw meaningful, relevant lessons in every page of history, both Biblical and current. He was forever exhorting the observant community to appreciate the depth and beauty that lies within our Torah.

Those same talents were put to use to stem the tide of Reform. Hirsch challenged those who were abandoning Orthodoxy to have another look. He mocked the Reform’s need for “Up-to-date Judaism”. They needed an education in the beauty and depth of the Torah. They needed to be shown that the Torah is authentic. Symbolism of Mitzvos is only meaningful if they are Mitzvos of God, and if those Mitzvos teach us lessons of how to live, not the other way around. At that time, many were discarding most of the Mitzvos, yet claiming to maintain the spirit of the Torah. Hirsch sought to develop a system of understanding the spirit of the Torah directly from the study of the minute specifics of each Mitzvah. He used his linguistic skills to show profound meaning in every nuance of the Torah’s wording. He wrote many articles debating the claims that the Torah was not God-given.

Perhaps the term that appears most often in Hirsch’s writings is that of Torah Im Derech Eretz. Much ink has been spilled in attempts to explain Hirsch’s take on this Midrashic phrase which became his mantra. Derech Eretz (the way of the land) is taken by Hirsch to mean engaging in the world in a way that will uplift the world and all Mankind. Torah with Derech Eretz means that the Torah guides us through all of our experiences in the world and teaches us how to do this. There are many ways that this manifests itself.

Mitzvah observance is one way. When I keep the laws of kashrus, I sanctify my body and imbue it with all the lessons of the symbolism of that Mitzvah. The Laws of Shaatnez do the same in the realm of the clothes that garb my body. When I make a blessing over wine for Kiddush, the wine becomes elevated, as does the one who makes the blessing. When I buy a home and consecrate the home at the Channukas Habayis, I have elevated the home and myself as well. The family is a further extension of this idea.

Building a community based on Godliness is another way. The Torah gives us a whole body of civil law and teaches us about charity and kindness to sanctify our community life. As Hirsch quotes on numerous occasions when he discusses this topic: “Ikar Shechina B’tachtonim” – God’s presence has descended to this world, and it is our task to raise this world up and allow space for God to fill it.

In this same context, history is understood to be God’s conversation with Mankind. It is our task to understand history and be an active part in that conversation. One needs to understand God’s plan for all of Mankind as well as how and why the Jews are to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation – A light unto the world.

Earning a livelihood, expressing oneself through the talents of writing, art and music are all part of Derech Eretz. Of course we must always remember that it is Torah Im Derech Eretz. We are all to study Torah daily, and every community has its “Levites” who immerse themselves in the study of Torah completely. But Hirsch was convinced that for the average Jew on the street, his duty was to live a balanced diet of Torah study, communal involvement, and family life.

Hirsch himself attended a secular university as did many people in his community. Without a doubt, before Hirsch came on the scene, the people were already doing so in Germany. It is wrong to assume that it was Hirsch who introduced this notion into Orthodox living. Having been born into such a society and with his understanding of Torah Im Derech Eretz, he had no qualms advising his community to live by that model. Would Hirsch recommend that for today? That’s the subject of a big debate. I believe he would, provided that the students were well equipped to deal with the many challenges that confront a young, impressionable student that might otherwise shake his or her faith and level of observance.

Four Top Misconceptions About Judaism

A while ago I attended an excellent seminar in Kew Garden Hills, NY from Project Inspire, a joint initiative of Aish HaTorah and the OU aimed at creating a grass-roots outreach movement. One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Rabbi Chaim Samson from Aish about the four main misconceptions about Judaism than non-frum Jews hava, and the four reassurances that can overcome them. While I can’t recreate the full glory of the presentation in a written summary, the ideas are inspiring enough in any format. For anyone involved professionally or casually in outreach, keeping these four misconceptions in mind is a good starting point. The presentation is also great for ba’alei teshuva.

When he was learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, Rabbi Samson and his friends would often pass backpackers hanging out in the old city. He and his friends had a running that joke that if they approached two backpackers and asked them if they’d like to spend some time in a yeshiva learning about philosophy, mysticism, ethics, how Judaism can inspire our lives, etc., they would get the same answers every time. One of the backpackers would jump at the chance, saying that he had always wanted to learn more about Judaism. The other would demur and make up a litany of excuses. Inevitably the one who is eager to learn about Judaism would be non-Jewish, and interested in comparative religions or an understanding of the development of religions, and the one who wants nothing to do with the religion would be Jewish.

Why this hesitancy? Rabbi Samson points to four misconceptions that lead to this, and four reassurances which can counter them.

1. Judging Others

First, there’s the misconception that religious Jews look down on non-religious Jews, judging them to be less holy or less of a Jew. So therefore why would a non-frum Jew ever want to walk into a room full of frum Jews, thinking that everyone in the room is judging him?

But this idea is completely contrary to Judaism! At the core of Judaism are the concepts of care, concern and love for our fellow Jews. Judaism brought the ideals of charity, kindness and respect to the world. No matter the religious beliefs of another Jew, we have a mitzvah to love and respect them.

As an illustration, Jewish law rules that if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to kill someone else, you must refuse. This is based on the Talmudic concept that we can’t know whose blood is redder, for only G-d knows who is holier. Taking the example one step further, if you were forced to choose between killing a homeless, alcoholic bum, who never worked a day in his life, and shooting the Chofetz Chayim, one of the biggest Rabbis of all time, Judaism also would say that you cannot choose. We as humans cannot know which of the two people is holier. Each of us has a mission in this world and a potential we can reach, and we cannot know who is closer to reaching it.

Therefore this is a complete misconception, for it could be that the non-frum Jew is truly on a higher level and closer to G-d that his religious brother! The frum person can gain and learn from his less-religious coreligionist, so we can never say that one person is on a lower level than ourselves.

2. Who wants Judaism? It’s a hardship!

There’s the common misconception that Judaism is a hardship, a deprivation of all enjoyment in the world, and that a non-frum person would have to give up all that he enjoys in life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Judaism is about sucking the marrow out of life and making the most of it. While we have to temper and focus some of our desires, one of the goals of Judaism is getting the most out of this world and achieving the greatest amount of satisfaction.

One of the most important desires that any parent has for a child is that he or she should be happy. It’s the same for G-d. We are His children, and He wants us to get pleasure in this world and the next. Therefore He shows us how real happiness comes from becoming holy. Learning Torah and keeping mitzvot brings the greatest levels of enjoyment a person can have.

Just as a person would never drive a car without reading the instruction manual, we shouldn’t go through life without first reading the instructions. The Torah is our instruction book, our guidebook for getting the most out of life. When a non-frum Jew sees a beautiful Shabbas table with singing, a closeness among family members and true happiness, he or she gets a taste of real enjoyment. The way to do this is by sincerely showing people that Judaism, the Torah and the mitzvot hold the key to happiness.

3. It’s all or nothing.

Upon seeing the multitude of laws and customs in Judaism, many people will throw up their hands and say “It’s too great for me! I’ll never achieve it all, so why should I try?” When they realize they can’t do everything, they opt for nothing.

But it’s a fallacy to assume that we can achieve everything. There is no person on earth who can honestly say that he’s learned every item of Torah, perfected every mitzvot and learned every secret. No one achieves it all.

Instead we all need to take baby steps. We need to take on new mitzvot one at a time. A person may think it’s hypocritical to only take on particular items, but it’s really being human. We’re all constantly struggling to achieve perfection, but that’s human nature. As long as we’re focused on constantly improving and adding to our observance, taking small steps is the way to go.

For example if a jeweler put 613 precious diamonds on a table and told you to grab as many as you could in a few seconds, it’s obviously impossible to grab them all. But that doesn’t mean you should walk away from the table without trying. You need to try to grab as many as you can at once.

By showing other Jews how easy it is to do single mitzvot, such as lighting candles on Friday night, wearing tzitzit, etc., you’ll inspire them to tremendous heights. One mitzvah leads to another. It’s important to get to know a person well enough to be able to recommend particular mitzvot to them, but the most important item is that slow and steady steps helps one win the race.

4. It’s not true!

Often people outside the spectrum of Torah-true Judaism will think of the religion as archaic and backwards, a belief system for people who lack something and who are less intellectual. This probably stems from a misconception based on other religions that require a leap of faith to accept their laws.

Judaism is based on the completely opposite idea. We believe that not only is there a G-d, but that it’s possible to know that He’s out there, that it’s provable. It’s unreasonable to think that G-d would want us to pray to Him without knowing for sure that He’s there. What would be the point of it? How would we ever achieve the heights of spirituality if we weren’t sure our prayers were being heard?

Judaism is one of the only religions that encourages questions and challenges. These are the central goals of Jewish learning and the cores of Judaism. If we can constantly question and challenge, it’s a tremendous testimony to the veracity of Judaism! G-d wouldn’t encourage us to question if it was impossible to find the truth. Our eagerness to question demonstrates our supreme confidence in the truth of our religion.

Based on these four misconceptions and four reassurances, we also have four key methodologies for reaching out to people:

1. Showing care for people, to show that any thoughts that they’re being judged are incorrect.

2. Demonstrating the beauty and pleasure inherent in Judaism.

3. Taking baby steps to observance.

4. Showing that Judaism is based on truth.

These four statements are fundamental to outreach, and fundamental to our performance of our religion.

To end with my own addition, these four statements are also excellent items to work on as we prepare for the divine tribunal on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are four areas that we need to constantly work on. By strengthening our love for fellow Jews and refraining from judging them, we become more caring and compassionate people. By making sure that our actions radiate the beauty of Judaism, we remind ourselves and those around us how beautiful our religion is and we enhance our performance of the mitvot. Taking baby steps is the best way to adopt any new mitzvah or practice, and doing so is especially appropriate during this month of Elul. By spending this month taking small steps towards our commitments for next year, we demonstrate to G-d and ourselves that we are sincere and that we will really try to achieve them next year, instead of just jumping into them without preparation on Rosh Hashanah. And by demonstrating to the world that truth is at the core of Judaism, we can inspire ourselves, our families and our communities to greater love and observance of Judaism.

Originally Published in October, 2006

The 60 Second Guide to the Book of Bereishes

In the beginning (Bereishes), G-d created the universe, but Adam and Chava and the next 9 generations failed in G-d’s plan of subjugating their physical to their spiritual side.

Noach was the only righteous man of his corrupt generation, which was destroyed by the flood, and he restarted the spiritual mission, but after another 10 generations mankind was corrupt, and failed at fulfilling their mission.

Avraham went out (Lech Lecha) from his home and achieved unparalleled connection to G-d, Who chose Avraham and his children to inherit the land of Israel, and lead humanity towards creation’s goal, and his first wife Hagar was expelled from his home, and his first son Yishmael was circumcised with Avraham.

Three Angels appeared (Vayera) to Avraham to inform him that Sodom would be destroyed, and that his wife Sarah would give birth to his spiritual heir, Yitzchak, who Avraham was prepared to sacrifice for the sake of G-d.

After the life of Sarah (Chayah Sarah) ended, Avraham’s servant Eliezer found a wife, Rivka, for Yitzchak.

The generations (Toldos) of Yitzchak begin with his twin sons Esau and Yaakov, and Yaakov’s spiritual superiority resulted in him getting Esau’s birthright and Yitzchak’s blessings.

Yaakov went out (Vayeitzei) from his birthplace to escape Esau’s wrath, to his uncle Laban, and married his daughter’s Leah and Rachel, their maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah fathered 12 sons and 1 daughter.

Yaakov sent (Vayishlach) messengers to appease Esau who reconciled with him, and his daughter Dina was captured by the people of Shechem, who were subsequently destroyed by Shimon and Levi.

Yaakov settled (Vayeshev) in Canaan, but his sons faked favored son Yosef’s death, sold him, and he was taken to Egypt, purchased by Potiphar whose wife falsely sent him to jail, where he helped the Pharaoh’s butler get released.

At the end (Miketz) of two years after the butler’s release, Pharaoh had 2 dreams interpreted by Yosef, who was made viceroy and prepared for a famine which caused his brothers to come to Egypt, where Yosef deceived them and imprisoned the youngest brother Binyamin.

Yehudah, the brother’s leader approached (Vayigash) Yosef for Binyamin’s release, and Yosef revealed himself to the brothers, and sent for Yaakov, who moved with the 70 members of his family to Goshen in Egypt.

Yaakov lived (Vayechi) in Egypt for 17 years, and before his death he blessed all the brothers, who were reminded by Yosef, before his death, that they would eventually be taken to the Israel as promised by G-d.

A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Perspectives

By “David Shub”

As the father of two BTs, the first words of advice to parents of other BTs is to say that you cannot make it a power struggle. Not only is it not a power struggle, but it is not a “fight” of who is right and who is wrong.

If someone had told me these words twenty years ago, when my older child was becoming “frum,” I would probably have become angry. Years of adaptation, adoption, and understanding have softened my initial view points.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I did not understand what was happening to our 14 year old child. The child was raised in a rather non-religious household. (I was raised in a secular Jewish household where religion was often mocked as the “opium of the masses,” but Yiddishkeit was an understood value.) We did join a Reform synagogue so that we would be able to give our kids whatever it was that we were not exposed to. When our daughter studied for her bat mitzvah, she displayed such a passion for Judaism that we thought we had a rabbi in the making. After her bat mitzvah she decided she wanted more, so we allowed her to enroll in a local Sunday Jewish High School that was run by an Orthodox principal and Orthodox teachers. The student body was comprised mostly of children from Conservative and Reform households.

The first “shock” to us occurred when I went one Saturday night to pick up our daughter after a Shabbaton. I walked into the basement of the Orthodox shul, and the students and teachers were sitting in a circle, chanting a strange tune. Periodically, during what I later learned was termed a “kumsitz,” individuals would stand and explain what the Shabbaton had meant to him or her. All I saw was “cult.”

As parents, we did not know where to turn. We knew that we could not deny our daughter’s attraction to this life because she would do things behind our backs. We sought advice of our Reform rabbi and congregation. Better she would have contemplated conversion than to adopt the Orthodox lifestyle, they intimated

High school became difficult for us. Our once athletic child now placed Shabbos before a game. She was going across town to spend Shabbos with friends. We made, what to some seemed a ridiculous decision, to Kasher the kitchen. If your child will not eat at your table, the family unit is destroyed. I remember a family member said to me when she learned what we were undertaking, “No one will come between me and my shrimp!” How foolish a statement.

I will pass over the fights, the arguments, the fears…just to say that we adapted ourselves to what we could no longer fight. Our daughter attended Stern College, a place which we felt was not nearly as academic as she was capable of handling. By the time she turned 21, she had met her “beshert” and had married in a very traditional Orthodox ceremony. I cannot say we “loved” the thick veil, the maheatza, the separate dancing, but we adapted.

Now, there are five grandchildren…and they all sit at our dining room table.

Our son, four years younger than his sister, tolerated much of the arguments in the house while his sister was straying from our path. He honored the Kosher kitchen, he honored the lights and phone restrictions on Shabbas, but he went his own way. He also attended the Sunday Jewish High School, but was not swayed by them. He graduated high school and went on to attend a very prestigious four year college. He graduated with high honors, and moved to Brooklyn where he housed with his college friends. He was the only Jewish boy. He worked in the financial area in New York. When he was around 25, he started to become interested in religion. He also met his “beshert,” although he could not believe that she was Orthodox. Unlike his sister, she was dressed in short sleeves and pants. But there is Modern Orthodox, as well as “black hat” Orthodox. They married in an Orthodox ceremony, with a modern touch. Probably because our daughter paved the way, we were less “stressed” by his route. And, of course, Modern Orthodox is easier to comprehend than the more extreme route.

What do we all want for our children? We hope that they will have married the right mate, and that they will have married into a family that loves and supports them. Our children have done that. Now, we have eleven of us at the dining room table, with a recent high chair with the twelfth addition to the family.

What has been the most difficult aspect to understand? For me, it is probably the covering of the head. Why camouflage beautiful hair with beautiful hair? I still have difficulty understanding that nothing, nothing at all interferes with the observance of Shabbos. I am not totally comfortable with the role of the woman in the family. I am baffled by the laws of “sneis.” I am not comfortable with the Yeshiva education where the secular studies program takes a secondary role.

When my oldest grandson tells me, “Grandpa, you should really wear a kippa,” I respond that “I know…” When my six year old grandson asks me why I drive on Shabbos, I try to explain to him that there are all kinds of Jews.

And when my kids come for Shabbos, we leave the lights on, we do not answer the phone, we make cholent, and leave an urn of water on the counter.

My son-in-law asks me, “Dad, are you thinking of becoming frum?” I respond, “No, not yet.”

In the long run, the Reform temple was wrong. It would not have been better if my children had converted. We have adapted, we have adopted, and we try to understand. It is best that they are Jews and that we sit at the table as a family.

Grandpa of Six (in 2006)

First Published February 7, 2006

Yom Kippur Takeaway – Forgiving Others When We’re Slighted

I was Googling for a web-based description of the origins of Avinu Malkeinu when I came across Rabbi Micha Berger’s great discussion of the trait of ma’avir al midosav – forgiving others when we are slighted:

Rabbi Eliezer once went before the ark [as chazan on a fast day enacted because of a drought] and recited twenty-four berakhos and was not answered. Rabbi Aqiva went [as chazan] after him and said, “Avinu malkeinu — our Father, our King, we have no king other than You! Our Father, our King – for Your sake have compassion for us!” and it started raining. “The rabbis started speaking negatively [about Rabbi Eliezer]. A Heavenly voice emerged and declared, “It is not because this one [Rabbi Akiva] is greater than that one [Rabbi Eliezer], but because this one is ma’avir al midosav and this one is not ma’avir al midosav.” – Ta’anis 25b

Rav Yisrael Salanter (Or Yisrael #28) elaborates. If being a ma’avir al midosav is so important, wouldn’t that mean that Rabbi Aqiva was greater than Rabbi Eliezer after all? Rather, there are two equally valid approaches to serving Hashem. Rabbi Aqiva, being from Beis Hillel, was ma’avir al midosav. Rabbi Eliezer was a member of Beis Shammai (Tosafos Shabbos 130b), and therefore insisted upon strict justice (Shabbos 31a). Both approaches are equally valid, and until the ruling that we are to follow Beis Hillel, both Rabbi Aqiva’s and Rabbi Eliezer’s approaches were equal paths to holiness. However, at a time when we can’t withstand the scrutiny of strict justice, it’s Rabbi Aqiva’s approach that is more appropriate.

Rabbi Akiva, the most prominent Baal Teshuva of all time, teaches us the lesson that rings in our ears throughout all of Yom Kippur – we need to favor forgiveness over demands for justice. We start Kol Nidre by offering forgiveness for all Jews (BT, FFB and Non-Frum) as we join together in a day of prayer. We end with a resounding Avinu Malkenu asking Hashem to forgive us, even though by strict justice – we don’t really deserve it.

Throughout YK, Rabbi Welcher stressed the need for understanding and unity. So, it was very appropriate and moving that during Neilah, five non-religious Jews walked into the Shul. A few who has multiple body piercings came towards my section and they were quickly given Art Scroll Machzorim. As we screamed for mercy they joined us, and nobody gave them a second look. They were Jews who had summed up the awesome courage to walk into an Orthodox Shul and join their brothers in prayer. We welcomed them with open arms.

The message of forgiveness and understanding is the message that Baalei Teshuva know all so well. One of the most recurrent themes we see here on Beyond Teshuva is that BTs often feel like they don’t fit in. We plead to our fellow Frum Jews: Please treat us with mercy. Please don’t judge us. Please don’t make us feel small. Please accept us as who we are and where we want to go.

Since we know this teaching all so well, we are well-positioned to teach it by example, as we show forgiveness and understanding to our non-frum friends and relatives, our talk-in-shul neighbors and all the Jews greater than us in Torah, Tefillah or Gemillas Chasadim. It’s hardest to live this teaching when we’re slighted and put upon, but that was the greatness of our teacher Rabbi Akiva – and that is the greatness we can each achieve as we internalize this message.

Originally published October 2006

Rebbetzin Heller Gottlieb on Approaching the Viduy on Yom Kippur

Adapted from a newsletter article by Rebbetzin Heller Gottlieb

Keep in mind that Hashem accepts you with all of your faults and broken pieces, you needn’t act as if they don’t exist.

Review the viduy before Yom Kippur in the machzor.

Don’t fall into any of the usual traps when you read the list of potential sins that you may have done:
1. What a great list. It’s even alphabetical. How interesting. I think I did everything.
2. I am doomed. I think I’ll go out for pizza. This is too heavy.
3. My life is a mess. It can’t be fixed. No one who had a childhood like mine will ever be clean on the inside.
4. This is extreme. I’m basically a good person. What’s all this breast-beating good for?
5. I hate myself.

Instead, come to grips with the reality of imperfection. If you’re human, you’re imperfect. You have the chance now to open yourself up to greater and higher movement towards being the person you want to be. Every breath you take is a gift from the One who wants to (and can!) understand you totally. Read the list with the same sort of feeling you would have if you were discussing a heartbreaking issue with your therapist. You want to change, that’s why you’re there.

There is one critical difference. Your therapist can only help you hear yourself. Hashem can help you discover a self that you may never have encountered (or may have thought was lost). If you open yourself even a little bit, He will open His Heart to you beyond your greatest hope.

The Avodah of Rosh HaShanah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download this and a number of other Drashos on Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur

Rosh HaShannah – Avodah of Ben & Eved

1209 reads Printer-friendly version שלח דף במייל send page via email ליצור קובץ פי די אף make a PDF a
Malchiyus – Declaring Hashem’s sovereignty

Hashem says on Rosh HaShanah, “Declare before Me malchiyus, zichronos, and shofaros; declare malchiyus so that I should rule over you.”[1]

The truth is that in all of the davening on Rosh HaShanah, the only time we mention “zichronos” and “shofaros” is in the tefillah of Mussaf. Throughout all of the tefillos, however, we mention malchiyus. This shows us that malchiyus is the main aspect which we mention on Rosh HaShanah.

“There is no king without a nation.”[2] In order for Hashem to be King on us, so to speak, we need to declare ourselves as His servants. In other words, the avodah we have on Rosh Hashanah is not just to declare Hashem as our King. It is mainly that we become His servants.

Now that we have clarified that the main avodah on Rosh Hashanah is to accept our servitude to Hashem, we must know what it means to be an eved, a servant. If we truly know what it means to be an “eved”, we can understand our mission on this day.

“Eved” – Derogatory or Praiseworthy?

The Gemara[3] says that when we do Hashem’s will, we are called a ben (son) of Hashem, and when we don’t do His will, we are called eved\servant. It seems from this statement that eved is a derogatory title, something we are called when we don’t do Hashem’s will.

However, we find that Moshe Rabbeinu is given the unique title “eved” of Hashem. He is also called “eved ne’eman” – “trustworthy servant of Hashem”.

This is a paradox. Is eved a derogatory title, or is it a praiseworthy title?!

Three Levels

It depends, because there are two implications of the word “eved.”

One person serves his king, not because he loves him, but because he needs the king to fulfill his needs. He’s serving the king all for himself. An eved like this is the negative implication of eved, because all his service to the King is for his own benefit.
There is a higher implication of eved, and that is when the servant doesn’t serve Hashem for his own personal interests, but because he’s devoted entirely to the king. This is the deeper meaning behind why “whatever a servant acquires, his master acquires it” – it is because ideally, a servant has no personal life of his own, and his whole life is devotes to his master. This is the desirable level of eved – and one who acts like this fulfills the purpose of Creation. This was the kind of eved that Moshe Rabbeinu was. It is the meaning behind the Mishnah in Avos, “Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive reward, rather, be like servants who serve their master not to get a reward.”
We see from the above that it’s possible for a person to act selflessly and be considered “eved”, and that one doesn’t have to on the level of “ben” in order to reach this. Ben is when a person goes even beyond that and serves the king out of his love.

A person needs to have selfless devotion to Hashem, and this is “eved.” With this as well, a person needs to have serve Hashem out of a love for Him, and this is called “ben.” If so, we have altogether three levels:

The lower kind of eved, one who serves Hashem only because he needs Him.
The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
Ben, which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.
Practical Guidance for Utilizing Rosh Hashanah

If we want to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and declare Him as King over us – and that we become His servants – we must understand that if we feel as if we are forced into serving Him, we are being the first kind of eved, and then the whole purpose of Rosh Hashanah will be lost. Our main task on Rosh Hashanah we must do is to be like the second kind of eved: that our whole lives should be about one goal alone – serving Hashem. This should be why we live our life, and we shouldn’t have any other personal desires. This is the inner meaning behind all of our avodah on Rosh Hashanah.

It is not enough just to daven slowly and with concentration on Rosh Hashanah. Our main job on this day is to come to a decision that we will change our lives and live only for Hashem – and not for ourselves.

This job obligates us to make a deep internal clarification. We must know exactly what we want to get out of our life, and to examine our deeds to see if they are line with the goal we are striving for. If one truly decides to live a life of serving Hashem, he has to see if all that he does 24\7 is reflecting this.

How We Can Let Rosh Hashanah Affect Us For The Whole Year

If a person accepts upon himself to become a true eved of Hashem, then Rosh Hashanah must not end for him on the third day of Tishrei; Rosh Hashanah has to carry over into the rest of the year as well, until the next Rosh Hashanah! If a person examines his situation and finds that on Purim and Pesach he doesn’t think about Hashem, it must be that he did not have a good Rosh Hashanah. It shows that he did not accept upon himself on Rosh Hashanah to become an eved of Hashem.

May Hashem merit us that we all accept His sovereignty on Rosh Hashanah, and that we should become His true servants – and through this, we can merit to have the light of Rosh Hashanah affect us the whole year round.

[1] Rosh HaShanah 16b

[2] Kad HaKemach, Rosh HaShanah 70a

[3] Bava Basra 10a

Offering Up Our Egos on the Altar of Elul

I was recently reminded of an incident that happened over 30 years ago. In the English-speaking beis midrash where I learned, smoking was strictly forbidden. The Israelis who davened with us respected the rule even with, according to their cultural predisposition, they couldn’t quite understand it.

On one occasion, a young Israeli new the community lit up right after davening. I was standing near by and asked him politely to put out his cigarette. He waved me away without breaking his conversation. I asked him again, this time more forcefully. This time he complied, extinguishing his cigarette on my sleeve. The other Israeli with whom he had been speaking was considerably more outraged than I was. The young man shrugged his shoulders and walked away with a chuckle.

I didn’t see this young fellow often, but on the infrequent occasions I did I made a point of setting my face into the fiercest scowl I could manage.

It must have been nearly a year later, possibly in Elul, although I can’t say for sure. I was walking along one Shabbos afternoon and spotted the young man coming toward me. As I prepared to scowl at him, I suddenly asked myself what I hoped to accomplish. Surprising myself as much as him, I relaxed my expression and said, “Gut Shabbos.” I don’t remember whether or not he answered me.

Less than a week later there was a knock on my door. Guess who? Yes, it was the same young man holding a stack of seforim in his hands. He offered them to me, and I gave him a quizzical look. He said he wanted to ask forgiveness for the incident with the cigarette.

How little effort it required to restore shalom! How great a reward for so tiny an investment. And yet, how difficult was it for me to make the decision to turn my scowl into words of greeting.

Perhaps, if we thought more about how much we can accomplish through such small expenditures of effort, we would find it easier to set aside our petty egos and choose to do what’s right.

Please visit Rabbi Goldson’s website at www.yonasongoldson.com.
Originally Posted Aug 28, 2008

Pondering The Meaning Of Life

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Talks on Elul

Hashem Helps Us When We Connect Our Actions With Him

ומגן ומושיע עוזר מלך Hashem is our עוזר ,our ultimate Helper.

Hashem is our true Helper. When a person helps another, the one receiving the help is considered the main person. But when Hashem helps us, we realize that Hashem is the main one, and we are just secondary. As it is written, “My help comes from Hashem.”.

Chazal say that our evil inclination gets stronger every day, and if not for Hashem, we cannot overcome it (Sukkah 52a). On a deeper note, our every action needs Hashem’s help. How indeed does Hashem help us? Whenever we do an action, it is considered alive only if we put Hashem into the equation. Although we use our power of bechirah to do good actions, our actions can only be considered ‘alive’ when we realize how we need Hashem to help us, and this gives life to the actions we do. A person might do many good deeds, but inwardly, he can be dead, because there is no life-source to his actions; Hashem is missing from the equation. Once we put Hashem into what we do, Hashem is providing life to our actions, and then the actions we do are alive.

Life Vs. Imagination

A person needs to live an inner kind of life, in which all that he does is inwardly connected to Hashem. We must know what it means to really live life, and what it means to merely imagine what a good life is – to see the differentiation between these two. To illustrate, a child plays a game and is having a good time; he thinks that this is his life. As he begins to get older, he realizes that all his fun was the world of imagination, and that this is not life.

The life which we see in front of us, on this world, is all a world of imagination! In order to really know what our life is, we have to merit from Hashem that He open our hearts to understand what it really is. If our heart hasn’t been opened a little, we do not understand what “life” is at all. We might know what death is, but we won’t know what “life” is.

Our existence is that we are a soul clothed by a body. Therefore, we initially perceive life from the perspective of our body, even if we learn Torah and mitzvos; from the perspective of the body, we have an erroneous perception of what life is about. We have to daven to Hashem that He should open our heart (as we daven in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, “Open my heart to Your Torah”) in order to understand what life really is.

We should look back at out past and see that whatever we thought until now as “life” is not really life, just imagination. Most people are not experiencing the true meaning of life, even if they live for 70 or 80 years. People often do not even experience one moment of true life on this world!

Our neshamah in us knows what real life is. Even when we ask Hashem for life, we do not always know what it is. The meaning of life is really a secret; only our neshamah knows what it is. Sometimes we receive sparks of understanding of what the meaning of life is. But to actually arrive at a total recognition of what life is, we need to have our hearts opened.

During Elul, what are people asking Hashem for? People have all kinds of things they want and ask Hashem for a whole list of things. The more a person asks for various things, the more it shows that he doesn’t understand what life is. We are all asking Hashem for life! In Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh HaShanah, we daven Zochreinu L’Chaim, Melech Chofetz B’Chaim, Kosveinu B’Sefer HaChaim…we keep asking for life, because that is really our central request in Elul. As for our personal requests that we ask of Hashem, most of these requests are not for life itself, but rather about various details that branch out from our life, such as parnassah, etc. The main request which we ask for in Shemoneh Esrei is that we should have life!

Since we are young, we think that we know we are alive. But the truth is that most people don’t even realize what it means to really be alive! People ask Hashem that they be granted life only because they don’t want to die. But as for life itself, to know what it means to be alive – people often do not know what it is. We don’t want Hashem to take away our life, as we daven in the prayer of Shema Koleinu. But what is our life to begin with? What is the life that we are asking for more of? Do we realize the true meaning of what it means to be alive…?

If our hearts begin to become a little opened, we can realize that the kind of life we think we have been living until now is really the world of imagination. Compare this to a child. A child’s perspective on life is not life – it is imagination. It is hard to verbally express this concept in words. The point is that your heart needs to become opened, and then you will know what is being discussed here.

In Elul, we ask for life. We must realize that this world we see in front of us is all imagination! Ever since Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, this world became like one big imaginary kind of existence. This is the depth behind the curse of “death” that came to the world – it was a “death” to the ideal state of mankind. So when we ask for life in Elul, the depth of our request is that we are asking Hashem that we be granted the power to leave our imagination, and instead taste of the true life – the Eitz HaChaim, the source of true life.

It is not only a person who is immersed in physical interests who is living in imagination. Even a person learning Torah and doing mitzvos, who is not entrenched in physical pursuit, can also be living in imagination. We see from this from the fact that we have all kinds of dreams at night.

When we reveal the inner essence of our heart, we will then understand what the true meaning of life is, and then we will be able to truly have d’veykus with the Creator.

Two Kinds of Joy

Rabbi Dessler – Strive for Truth 6 – Re’ei

King Shelomo prayed: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; give me my allotted bread. If I am satisfied, I might deny and say ‘Who is God?’ If I am poor, I might steal and take the name of my God [in vain].”

Troubles arouse a person and turn him towards God. If all his needs are satisfied, he may imagine that he can do without God, and from that to denial is not very far. It is clear that human beings have a strong tendency to deny God. If a person whose needs have been satisfied for the moment has this tendency, how much more so a rich man who thinks his prosperity is guaranteed far into the future.

Because this danger was so clear to him, Shelomo HaMelech prayed that he would not have riches nor even the complete satisfaction of his physical needs, but only the essential minimum: “my allotted bread.” The implication is that he would have much preferred to be poor and lack even essentials, were it not that poverty has its own dangers. He might be tempted to steal and lie, and so eventually also come to deny God by taking a false oath.

SUKKA OF PEACE
“You shall make a festival of Sukkot…when you gather your harvest…”2 Everyone is happy when the harvest is in and they feel that their livelihood for the year is assured. The danger of denying God is self-evident. To obviate this danger, the Torah commands us to “dwell in sukkot for seven days.”‘ This is to teach us that safety is not in material things, but in our closeness to God. Our shelter is not the roof, but God’s sukka of peace. We realize that true satisfaction comes only from banishing material ambitions from our hearts and filling our lives with avodat Hashem.4

REJOICING IN THE FESTIVAL
Instead of rejoicing in the harvest, the Torah tells us to “rejoice in your festival.”‘ This means spiritual joy, as another verse says, “You shall rejoice before God, your God.” The Talmud learns from this verse—”and you shall rejoice in your festival”—that one is not allowed to celebrate a marriage during a festival: “Rejoice in your festival and not in your wife.”‘ It is all the more obvious that our joy should not be in our harvest or in our sense of physical security. The joy of the festival is spiritual joy. It is joy in the heartfelt fulfillment that comes from transcending material desires and putting in their place the service of Hashem.

But how is it possible to change one’s joy from joy in the material to joy in the spiritual? There is only one way in which to do this, which we shall now explain.

THE FIELD OF THE HEART
My rebbe told me this in the name of the Vilna Gaon, of blessed memory. It is impossible to sow a field unless it has first been plowed. Similarly, the blockage in our heart—timtum ha-lev prevents spiritual feelings from penetrating it. The hard peel surrounding the heart must first be pierced. Only then can spiritual insights be sown, and only then can fruit be expected to grow, in theform of changed attitudes.

How can the hard soil of the heart be plowed? With strong emotional upheaval. This can come from sudden disaster or from great joy. When a person is in a state of great excitement, for whatever reason, his heart opens. A person can now impress on it whatever he likes. He can say to himself: Now is my chance! The hard casing of my heart has been broken open. Quick! I must sow in it what I want.

The origin of the great joy may have been nothing more than a good harvest. But now that the heart is excited and aroused, its habitual blockage is removed. This provides the opportunity to show one’s heart that the joy of spiritual success far exceeds the joy of material success. Here is the chance to transform one’s joy into another, higher level of joy.

The water-drawing ceremony which took place during the nights of the Sukkot festival was one of the highlights of the service in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. “One who has never seen the water-drawing ceremony in the Holy Temple has never seen joy in his life.”8 This ceremony and the water libation—nissuch ha-mayim—that followed it were in essence a prayer for rain for the coming year. But our Rabbis transformed it into a celebration of the spirit. “Why is it called ‘the joy of the water-drawing’? Because from it they used to draw the holy spirit.”‘ Prophets used to draw their inspiration from this dramatic and joy-inspiring ceremony.”‘

So we see what the Torah meant by “Make a festival…when you gather…”” Use the physical joy of gathering the harvest as a springboard to reach spiritual joy. Then your joy will be complete. You will experience the supreme happiness of transforming the lower into the higher — the darkness of denial into the great light of faith in God.

HASSIDIC CUSTOMS
With this in mind, we can now understand the custom prevalent among Hassidim to arousc joy and good humor through external means, such as the judicious use of liquor. They use joyous occasions to speak words of Torah and serving Hashem. Whoever instituted this obviously understood the secret of opening the heart and sowing seeds of Torah and chessed — as we discussed above.

It is wonderful to see how all Jewish customs, in every section of Jewry, have the same goal—to further Torah and deepen our avodat Hasbem.

notes
1 Mishlei 30:8-9.
2 Devarim 16:13.
3 Vayikra 23:42.
4 See parasbat Shoftim, end.
5 Devarim 16:14.
6 Vayikra 23:40.
7 Mo`ed Ratan 8b.
8 Sukka 51a.
9 Bereshit Rabba 70:8.
10 Yerushalmi Sukka 5:1.
11 See note 2, above.

What Does G-d Want From Us?

There is a verse in this week’s Parsha, that the Mesillas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, says is the basis of our Avodas Hashem, our service of Hashem.

As we probably know, the Mesillas Yesharim, was written by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato, also known as “the Ramchal”, and is one of the two most studied character development books of all time (the other being the Duties of the Heart).

The reason why Mesillas Yesharim is so popular is because the Ramchal teaches us:
– What it means to serve Hashem (Ramchal’s Introduction).
– Why we should devote our entire lives to serving Hashem (Chapter 1 – Man’s Mission in the World).
– How to methodologically improve our service of Hashem (Chapters 2 through 26)

The verse that the Ramchal says is the basis of our Service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev:
“And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you?
– Only to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in all His ways,
– and to love Him,
– and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal continues and says:
“Here, has been included all the components of complete Divine service that are pleasing to Hashem, blessed be He and they are: fear (awe) of Hashem, walking in His ways, love, wholeheartedness, and observance of all the commandments.

The Ramchal then writes a paragraph on each of these five components, which can be summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like you would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king,
2) walking in His ways – refining our character traits, leading to strengthening of Torah and improved friendships,
3) love – ingraining in our hearts a love of Hashem, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents,
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with pure motives, focused on serving Hashem, not by rote, with heartfelt devotion,
5) and observance of all the mitzvos – observing the entire body of mitzvos, with all their fine points and conditions.

The Ramchal then says, “I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have categorized these elements in a different, more detailed formulation, in which they are arranged according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition.”

This is based on the Beraisa by Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair in the Gemora which says that Torah leads to Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead. The Mesillas Yesharim is based on this Beraisa.

I always wondered about the order of pasuk and why the Ramchal is so focused on it as the basis for Divine service, while the Gemora and the commentators are focused mainly on the fear (awe) part of the pasuk. I believe that the Ramchal sees that the Pasuk is in the reverse order of the Beraisa, with
5) observance of all the mitzvos – take us from the beginning through Cleanliness
4) wholeheartedness – takes us through Purity
3) love – takes us through Saintliness
2) walking in His ways – takes us through Humility
1) fear (awe) of God – takes us through Fear of Sin.

Perhaps this is why the Ramchal is all over this pasuk, because it has the same structure as the Beraisa delineating the components and levels of Divine Service.

This is a fantastic opportunity to review the introduction of Mesillas Yesharim, which can be found here.

Shmira Bashavua – Shmiras HaLashon in the Weekly Parsha

I am excited to share with the Beyond BT community the first fruits of a sefer that I have been working on for several years– Shmira Bashavua. Shmira Bashavua is a parsha sefer which gleans Shmiras HaLashon related halacha and hashkafa from each parsha and provides practical tools for taking each idea into the week.

I strongly believe that Shmira Bashavua has the potential to be a Shabbos table staple and play a part in creating stronger Shmiras HaLashon within our families and communities.

The first volume of Shmira Bashavua (Sefer Vayikra) is scheduled to be published and in stores in advance of Parshas Vayikra.

You can download the Introduction to the Sefer, the Introduction to Sefer Vayikra and 5 or 6 selections from Parshas Vayikra.
https://beyondbt.com/docs/ShmiraBashuvaVayikraSample.pdf

I am currently looking for sponsors for the sefer. This is an opportunity to play an important role in spreading awareness and learning of Shmiras HaLashon. Here is the link to the form which contains details about these dedication opportunities.
https://forms.gle/FcYJVdP2tQdVsyon7
I look forward to your feedback and I deeply appreciate your support.

David

Tisha B’Av Prep – Preserving Our Prayer Portal and Lessons from Bar Kamtza’s Pain

It’s not often that Bar Kamtza is portrayed as the good guy, but in this shiur by Rabbi Herschel Welcher, titled “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza“, we take a look at the story from Bar Kamtza’s perspective and see the lessons we can learn and apply today. Please download the shiur here.

In a shiur titled, “The Morning after the Mourning“, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd explains how we were responsible for closing the Prayer Portal of the Beis HaMikdash and how we’re unfortunately repeating the lesson with our distracted approach to prayer today. Please download the shiur here.

Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:ז/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

The Three Weeks – Building The World

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Binah/Binyan – The Power To ‘Build’ Through Our Understandings

ומלמד לאנוש בינה Hashem teaches “binah”, intuition, to us.

The word binah is related to the word binyan, to build. Torah scholars are called “builders” – they are blessed with the power of binah. When a person exerts himself in learning Torah, he is really building the world.

How can we reveal our power of binah to build the world – and to be more specific, to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash?

The Depth Behind ‘Sinas Chinam’ (Baseless Hatred): A Viewpoint of Disparity

Chazal tell us that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred)6. What is the root of sinas chinam? From where does this negative emotion come from?

Simply, it comes from being egotistical. When a person only cares about himself, he couldn’t care less about others, so he will hate others for no reason.

But the deeper understanding is as follows.

When we build a structure, a brick is placed on top of another. Hashem created many details in Creation; we are all like many bricks that need to get added together, and form the complete structure of Creation. All details in Creation are many parts of one whole which will ultimately have to come together.

When we see the world – inanimate objects, as well as people – from a superficial perspective, we do not see how all these connect. But it is this superficial perspective which actually brought about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash!

We are supposed to see how all the details in Creation are really meant to come together and form a structure. Therefore, the many details going on in Creation are not just a bunch of random details. They are many parts of one whole, which need to come together in a structure. The purpose of everything is always one and the same – to come together, to become unified, and form one structure.

Applying this to our own development, when a person is young, he doesn’t connect outward beyond himself. When he gets a little older, he begins to realize that there is a Creator, and he wants to connect with the Creator, but he does not necessarily see connection with others as part of his connection with the Creator. If a person gets a little wiser, he realizes that his connection with the Creator really depends on how he connects with others.

When a person views Creation through a lens of disparity, this was the perspective which enabled destruction to come to the world. This is the depth behind sinas chinam.

Sinas Chinam – To Be Inwardly Apart From Other Jews

Even more so, sinas chinam means “I can live on my own; I don’t need other Jews in order to exist.”

What about the mitzvah to do chessed? The person rationalizes, “Chessed is like any other mitzvah that is outside of myself, like shaking a lulav. I don’t need chessed to exist.” When a person views Creation with disparity like this, that is sinas chinam – this perspective is what destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

What was the Beis HaMikdash? It was the place that contained the Shechinah. But what is the Shechinah about? It is about Hashem’s Presence dwelling in Klal Yisrael, when we are in union. When we are not unified and we are instead apart from each other in our hearts, there is no point of having the Shechinah.

“The king is called the heart of the nation”; Hashem called is our “heart”. But if our hearts are full of disparity towards each other, and we each feel like we can survive without other Jews, then our damaged heart will not allow Hashem to be the heart of the nation, and thus the Shechinah will not dwell among us.

Sinas chinam has two layers to it. The outer layer of it is to show signs of hatred, simply speaking. The essence of sinas chinam, though, is that a person feels himself apart from other Jews, that he feels fine without other Jews, that he feels like he can live without other Jews. Sinas chinam, at its core, is to have a perspective of disparity towards Creation, a lack of awareness that Creation is supposed to become unified.

Moving In The Opposite Direction of Sinas Chinam

How do we go in the opposite direction, then, and get ahavas chinam (‘baseless love’)? We know that we have a mitzvah to love other Jews like ourselves but, how do we actually get it?

Simply speaking, we need to get rid of sinas chinam and reveal our deep ahavah for other Jews that we have really deep down. True, but there is more to it.

Ahavas chinam is when we realize, “I cannot exist without another Jew’s existence, for we are all part and parcel with one another.” There is no individual Jew who can live without another Jew’s existence; when we internalize this understanding, we reveal ahavas chinam. Thus, hatred can only exist when a Jew thinks he can exist fine without another Jew.

This perspective of ahavas chinam is the power that can rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, as well as the world as a whole.

Learning Torah To Build The World

As an example, when a person learns Torah, does he realize he is building the world? Or is he learning it all for himself…?

Learning Torah is what unifies the details of the world together. When a person learns Torah, he must be aware that his learning causes unity in Creation, for Torah is the root of all souls. But if a person is learning Torah and he has no love for other Jews, he’s learning Torah all for himself, and such Torah does not build the world.

Uprooting Hatred, and Getting To The Root of Love

The Rambam describes our middos as “daas”. The essence of all our middos and emotions is daas. The depth of ahavas chinam, and removing sinas chinam, is thus not by working with our emotions. Our emotions of love or hatred can only be the result of what perspective we have deep down. If we reveal daas – and we come to actually sense it – then we can reveal love.

We know that doing things for other people can bring love, for “the heart is pulled after the actions”, but at the same time we must realize that we need daas. When we do actions for others, we need to reveal daas with it – to realize that we must unify with others.

To uproot sinas chinam, and to develop ahavas chinam, we need to do good actions for others and help others, but along with this, we also need to reveal our daas – to realize that we need to unify with others. It is a perspective which we need to gain on how we view others. This is the way to access the real emotion of love for other Jews. Destruction comes when we are missing this perspective.

Love For Other Is Not A Novelty

What does it mean to love? It is not simply to shower love upon others. Love is when we reach our daas, when we connect with others, by realizing that all of Creation needs to become unified.

When a person gets married, he believes this is his bashert (soul-mate). He believes the words of Chazal that finding a wife is like finding his lost object. He does not view the love towards his wife as something new; he realizes that he is revealing a reality which is already there, for Chazal say that husband and wife were already destined to be bound together in love.

In the same way, we should view other Jews in Creation – our love for other Jews must not be some novel concept to us. When you meet another Jew, don’t think to yourself that Ahavas Yisrael is some new concept that you have to work on. Rather, it is the reality, and you need to align your way of thinking with that reality. This is because we are all one at our root.

The only reason why we don’t feel that unity is because we are currently living in a world of darkness, which blurs us from seeing the true reality. Therefore, we feel apart from each other, but it’s only because we are not in touch with reality.

What We Cry About on Tisha B’Av

We cry on Tisha B’Av over the ruins of Jerusalem, which lies in disgrace. We are living in a time of hester panim (concealment of Hashem’s revelation). But even more than so, we should cry about an even more painful situation: there are many of our fellow Jews today who are going through all sorts of pain, suffering, and predicament. In our times we live in, our fellow Jews today have both physical suffering as well as suffering of the soul.

We cannot really cry over the destruction of Jerusalem if we do not feel unity with other Jews. Why we do we cry on Tisha B’Av? Is it because we can’t bring our own Korbonos for ourselves? Or are we crying because we don’t have the Korbonos that atone for the entire congregation…? Which of these aspects means more to you…?

In Conclusion

“Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to its rebuilding.” Even if we do not merit the actual rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, we can each have a part in its rebuilding, when we build the world through the deeper understanding that comes from our “daas”, towards our relationship with the other Jewish souls.

May we all merit to unify with other Jews, as one piece, and come together into one structure, in which “Hashem will be One, and His Name will be one”.

We’re All Broken Vessels – The 17th of Tammuz

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller Gottlieb

Internalized Confusion Leads to Tragedy

The first major tragedy in history was when Adam ate the fruit and internalized confusion. Prior to that sin, confusion was external, but after the sin the confusion was internalized. Man went from an objective reality of true and false to an often confused subjective reality of good and evil.

Much of the negativity in the world is due to this confusion, where collective mankind brings upon itself tragedies such as hunger, poverty and war. This is the negative side of free choice and these tragedies result from our confusion. If we had G-d awareness, we would be able to get past these tragedies. If we had a strong sense of G-d’s presence, confused negative traits like selfishness, violence, cruelty and abusiveness would not exist.

With Spiritual Diminishment, We Make G-d Small, Instead of Making Ourselves Big

After the first sin, G-d withdrew His presence from the world, but it was restored by people such as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov until a full awareness of G-d was acheived at Sinai. So how did the people worship the golden calf shortly thereafter?

Nobody thought the golden calf was the creator of the world. Nobody creates an idol in the morning and thinks that it created him in the afternoon. The golden calf was representative of the powers of nature and strength, it was a representation of G-d. What is so bad about this? What’s so bad about idol worship is that we were created to elevate ourselves. Idol worship brings G-d down to man instead of man rising up to G-d. When we try to make G-d small, we fail as humans, we stop moving upwards. This lack of spiritual ambition was the second great tragedy.

Many people today are not intellectually confused, they are spiritually lost. They don’t see the value of becoming “big”. When we build golden calves we weaken spiritual ambition and cause spiritual diminishment.

We Live in a World Where Spirit is Gone and What is Left is Stone

When Moshe came down from Sinai on the 17th of Tammuz and saw the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets. The Midrash says the tablets were very huge and the letters of the tablets carried the weight of the stone, the spirit carried the body. When he saw the golden calf, the spirit was gone and all that was left was stone, so the tablets fell under their own weight and were smashed.

Today we live in a world of rampant materialism and foreign lifestyles. It is a world where spirit is gone and what is left is stone. This is one reason why we fast today.

We’re Fine with using Animals for Food and Clothing, But not for Spiritual Purposes

The next significant event is that the sacrifices were stopped before the destruction of the temple. Even during the siege of Yerushalayim, the Jews would offer sacrifices. They would send down money over the wall and an animal would be sent up. One day they sent down money and a pig was sent up. It was at that point that the sacrifices stopped.

Today, many of us have trouble with sacrifices both emotionally and intellectually. But most of us have no problem using animals for food or for leather. We are fine with exploiting animals for our physical purposes, but if we talk about using an animal for spiritual means it becomes barbaric and ridiculous. This is because we have stone and we don’t have spirit, we can relate to eating, but we can’t relate to worship.

Animal sacrifice is a way of experientially relating to G-d. The person offering the sacrifice had to put their hand on the animal, saying I am mortal, I came from you and I will return to you. It was an extremely powerful way of relating to G-d. The reason we’re concerned about the day the sacrifices stopped is because of what it says about it. The fact that the temple could be destroyed is an example of spirit turning to stone and the animal sacrifices being another symptom.

The Temple Was our House for Spiritual Self-Expression

The other tragedies on this day were the Torah was burned, an idol was brought into the temple and the walls of Yerushalayim were breached, leading to the destruction on the 9th of Av. When we talk about losing the Temple, it’s hard to grasp what that means. The temple was called a mountain by Avraham, a field by Yitzchak and a house by Yaakov. A house is a place where you can personally express yourself. For a Jew, personal self-expression means putting back spirit where there is only stone. The Beis Hamikdash was a place where spiritual experience was a part of physical experience, it wasn’t two different worlds like it is today.

We can’t relate to what we are missing in the temple experience, because we have never met anybody who met anybody who met anybody who saw the Jewish people when our major identity was spirit and not stone. We don’t know who we are anymore.

The 17th of Tammuz is Meant to Be a Heavy Day of Introspection

What does this have to do with us personally? When we think about what gives our life joy it comes down to two things, triumph and love. If we think about our happiest moment, there is no doubt there is triumph and love. Triumph and love only happen when spirit is greater than stone. Our world is very banal and grey and the only thing that allows us to rise above this physical existence is the moments of triumph and achievement that are truly spiritual that come to us through the mitzvos.

The 17th of Tammuz is a personal day when we have to do an accounting of our soul, a cheshbon nefesh. We have to figure where we are, where we want to be, where we want to be next year. What do we want people to say about us in the end, how would we want today to look if it was our last day? It’s a heavy day, it’s meant to be heavy.

In addition to looking at this personally, we have an obligation to look at this collectively. Collectively, we are not in such great shape, especially in regard to events in the Middle East. We are all collectively responsible for the state we are in.

G-d Wants to Give, But Do We Want to Receive

Today we have to say, can we be the person we talk about every day in the Shema? Can we love G-d with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our possessions? Do we live up to the ideal of spirit over rock. G-d has promised us that when we live up to our potential, He will give us the land and He will give us peace. When we fail, we are expelled. This is what we say in the Shema, if we serve Hashem with our heart and our soul we will get blessings. But be careful that your heart is not seduced. We can’t let our emotions lead us to choosing the physical over the spiritual. This will lead us to worshipping and serving other G-ds, our own private golden calves. We all know at least one person who is enslaved to their ego, or their income or their career. This is personal enslavement. When we reach that state of enslavement, G-d will expel us from the land, because He cares for us. G-d on his side wants to give, but do we want to receive?

Fasting has two purposes to move us away from the physical and to recognize our fraility. We move away from the physical pleasure, specifically eating which is a big part of our life. As it gets late in the day, many of us will ask, when is the fast over. We will be concerned about the phyisical. This need for the physical reminds us that we are frail and we are physical. Part of raising the spiritual over the physical is being forgiving of each other. The more we are aware of our own fraility, the easier it is to remember that every person we encounter is a member of the brotherhood of the frail. Everybody else faces the physical and gratification struggles that we do. We need to forgive them like we want G-d to forgive us.

We’re All Broken Vessels

In the time of the sacrifices in Shilo, after pottery vessels were used for libations, they had to be broken within sight of the alter. After coming in to possession of some of these pottery shards, Rebbetzin Heller realized that these shards were pieces of someone else’s Teshuva. She sent some of these shards to a friend in the States who had suffered some great losses. She asked her what she thought about the shards. Her friend told her, “We’re all broken vessels”.

Once we see everybody as a broken vessel, we can forgive them, we can love them, we can let what we see of their spirit overcome what we see of their stone. This is the key that will help us overcome the destruction that we find ourselves in now. This is the way the Third Temple will be built.


First Posted on July 3rd, 2007
Based on a lecture By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller which can be found here.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller – The Biggest Challenges Facing Baalei Teshuva

Rabbi Mayer Schiller is stopping teaching, so we are paying tribute to his wonderful career by reposting this great piece that he wrote for Beyond BT when we first started in December 2005.

Part 1 — Challenges

I have been asked to write on the “biggest challenges facing baalei teshuva.” Of course, every Jew in his life’s pursuit of Hashem and His Torah encounters challenges. However, the challenges we face and how we respond to them is forever colored by who we are and where we come from. Thus, much of what follows may be relevant to all Jews but it strikes me that these challenges are of particular concern to baalei teshuva.

The tikkun that each individual’s life is to achieve requires a realistic assessment of the nisyonos that are specific to one’s place in life, human/Jewish history and cultural context.

Also, any discussion of this issue must be colored by much subjectivity. We can, in the end, only speak with authority about our own “challenges.” Part of us is always alone in the world. Yet, life is also a shared experience. Hopefully some of what I – and others on this site – have to say may resonate in the heart of another and together we may be worthy of giving and receiving a bit of chizuk as we seek to ascend the har Hashem.

In all honesty, I have encountered so many challenges, born of the baal teshuva experience, that one almost doesn’t know where to begin. Plus, the challenges change, some deepen, while others become weaker over the years, as one spends more time in the Orthodox community.

At the beginning, I think a baal teshuva is haunted by a certain loneliness in, and sense of alienation from his new environment. Everyone else practices Judaism as a matter of second nature. To baalei teshuva, at first, everything done, learned and experienced is new, startling and , at times confusing. Everything is a big deal. Everyone else seems to know what is a big deal and what isn’t.

As part of this problem there is the, at times, blasé attitude of FFBers who seem less than enthused about things that the BT has been taught are of the utmost importance. This too can be most disconcerting.

Before long, one realizes that Orthodoxy is not a monolith and that there are many different models of how to live in the Torah world. Should the baal teshuva select a significant sage to tell him where to go or, should he seek a derech that fits his own soul’s needs as he perceives/experiences them?

Perhaps, the most daunting challenge faced is the ever growing awareness that not all Orthodox Jews are paragons of empathy or kindness or patience or even honesty; or even very much engaged in proper study and prayer. Further, to some of them, their religion is simply a rote practice, little cherished and almost no source of inspiration to them. The personal encounters with all the above can give many a baal teshuva moments of pain and doubt. To a degree that pain will never pass. We all entered Yiddishkeit in search of a good, more meaningful and certainly more spiritual, moral and ethical life. The grim knowledge that this is often far from the reality hits baalei teshuva very hard.

Indeed, the pain for the BT intensifies when he later confronts the fact that his children are FFBs and often far less passionate about the same things that inspired him.

Often the BT learns by experience that it is even those Torah teachers that may have once seemed so perfect to him that are, in reality, flawed human beings as well.

For the thoughtful BT the process of engaging with Torah and halacha may at times prove disquieting. Laws and ideas concerning non – Jews, women, the disabled, slaves and the like are apt to be unsettling and the proposed answers often apologetic and/or seemingly inadequate.

Finally, there is the general stance of Orthodoxy in relation to non – Orthodox (or haredi towards Modern Orthodox and, more surprisingly, Modern Orthodox to haredi) society both in Israel and America as self absorbed, insular tribes with little interest in or responsibility towards “outside” groups /individuals, be it of a material or spiritual nature. This attitude inevitably costs many BTs some sleepless nights.

All or some of the above are among the challenges BTs face. As a BT member of the Beth Shraga Beis Medrash said to me in the summer of 1968, “In the end we are different. It is not just that we can’t go home for Shabbos. We are built differently and always will stay that way.”

This is both a blessing and a curse. Just as the BT will often carry some alienation and doubt throughout life, he will also experience Torah in powerful, wondrous, insightful and joyous ways that might be inaccessible to most FFBs.

In my next entry I hope to discuss the possible means (thoughts, seforim, leaders, books, communities and the like) that will help a BT through the moments of darkness just outlined.

For the interim, the essential issue is to retain the fervor and devotion of one’s initial experiences in Torah while living in the real world with its ambiguities. complexities, paradoxes and disappointments. This is the calling of the mature, thoughtful BT.

May we all be worthy of success and joy in our service of the Ribbono shel Olam.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller

Originally posted on December 9th, 2005.

Telling My Story

When people meet me, and find out a bit of my background – being from Alabama, not growing up in an Orthodox home – they often ask me to tell “my story.” I used to have no problem with this, but lately, the request for my story has started to bother me.

I don’t hide my background; I don’t pretend to be “FFB” (though I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I could “pass” easily). I’m very upfront with my background and the fact that my family is not observant. So why does it bother me to be asked about my story?

I think it’s because I’ve moved beyond my story. I’ve been shomer shabbos for almost nine years now, the majority of my independent life. My “story” occurred a long time ago. I just don’t feel like those events define who I am anymore, nor even my frumkeit.

Many people who become observant go off to a certain seminary or yeshiva and come to define themselves within the hashkafa of that particular place. I didn’t do that – I worked it out for myself, through many permutations until I made it my own. I imagine that it will still change somewhat throughout my life, but I don’t define myself by the organization that mikareved me, so I’m always a little uncomfortable telling people how I got “into” Orthodoxy.

But beyond having people try to define me by the specific organization that I don’t align myself with (which I don’t blame anyone for, it’s human nature to want to put people in boxes in order to understand them better), I guess I want to move on with my life, to just be a normal Jew who observes or doesn’t observe particular facets of Judaism. It’s not about blending – believe me, it’s difficult to blend when you are from Alabama, living in the NY area – but it’s about wanting people to look at me for WHO I am NOW, rather than where I came from.

Yes, our current lives are certainly affected by our upbringing and our experiences throughout life, but because the events that sparked my interest in becoming more observant happened so long ago, I’m not that person anymore. I’ve moved beyond it, just like I’ve moved beyond the person I was in junior high school.

So now when people ask me my story, I kinda cringe and give them as few details as possible. Not because I’m embarrassed about it or my past, because I’m not. But because I just have trouble remembering who that person was.

Originally Posted in December 2006

The Power of the Spoken Word

Parshas Shelach
“Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel” — Bamidbar 13:2

Timeline of the miraglim

The parsha of Shelach opens up with the story of the miraglim. Rashi notes that the previous parsha ended with the story of Miriam getting tzaras and being sent out of the camp because she spoke loshon harah about Moshe. Since this parsha begins with the miraglim, it implies that these two events are connected. But Rashi is bothered by the fact that they did not happen in chronological proximity. The events of the Korach rebellion were sandwiched in between.

Rashi explains that the Torah took these two events and juxtaposed them to teach us a lesson: Had the miraglim not been so wicked, they would have learned from what happened to Miriam, and that would have prevented them from saying their negative report about the land. However, says Rashi, “These wicked people saw what happened and didn’t learn from it.”

The miraglim’s sin wasn’t loshon harah

The problem with this Rashi is that the miraglim’s sin had nothing to do with loshon harah; it emanated from a lack of trust in HASHEM. When they entered the land, they saw giants occupying fortified cities. They witnessed people dying left, right, and center. In their minds, if the Jewish nation attempted to conquer this land, they would be slaughtered wholesale – man, woman, and child.

Clearly, they were lacking in bitachon. Their faith in HASHEM was deficient. But they weren’t guilty of speaking loshon harah. First off, there is no prohibition against speaking loshon harah about land. Land is inanimate. We are forbidden from derogatory speech about people – not rocks.

Of even greater significance, once the miragalim made their mistake and concluded that HASHEM wasn’t powerful enough to bring us into the land, what they then spoke wasn’t loshon harah at all. In their calculation, they were saving the Jewish people from utter destruction, in which case it wasn’t forbidden speech; it was a mitzvah.

Why does the Torah forbid loshon harah?

The answer to this question stems from understanding why the Torah forbids loshon harah. The Rambam defines loshon harah as words that hurt, words that damage. Whether they cause a person embarrassment, loss of income, or sully his reputation, the very definition of loshon harah is words that cause harm. That is the reason the Torah forbids us to speak it – not because the Torah is so strict, but because words can have such a harmful effect.

To appreciate the damage that words can cause, imagine that I discover a cloak of invisibility. When I put this cape on, I can walk around freely without anyone seeing me. Imagine for a moment that after I find this cloak, I decide to have some fun. As I walk around the bais medrash, I take a sefer from one fellow and turn it upside down. Oh, his reaction when he sees it! Then I walk over to another fellow and close his Gemara. “Hey! What happened?” Next, I see a pair of charvusahs who are standing up for a moment. I walk over and put both of their Gemaras back on the shelf. “What–?”

I am having a jolly time!

After a while, I get a bit bolder. As someone is walking by, I leave my foot in the aisle. “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” he yells as he falls to the floor with a crash.

“This is fun,” I think to myself. And now I really start to get into it.

As a fellow walks by, I give him a punch in the stomach, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!” The next guy, I smash in the back, “Agggggh!” And before you know it, guys are falling, getting smashed, and really getting hurt. The joke is no longer funny.

The Chofetz Chaim points out to us that the Torah reserves a curse for one who “hits his neighbor while hiding.” Chazal explain that this refers to someone who speaks loshon harah about his friend. Why am I so cavalier about what I say about him? Because he isn’t here. If he were standing right nearby, I would never say what I said. I say it only because he isn’t around. And in that sense, I am hitting him while hiding.

One of the reasons that we have difficulty controlling our speech is that we don’t see it as truly damaging. “What is the big deal if I tell an interesting story or two?” we say. While I would never dream of physically harming you, when it comes to ruining your reputation, damaging your business, or causing you harm in the way that people perceive you, then I am much less concerned. The Torah is teaching us that loshon harah is forbidden because of the power of the words and the damage they can cause. That is why they are forbidden.

The power of speech

The answer to this question on the miraglim seems to be that they should have seen what happened to Miriam and learned one lesson from it – the power of speech. They should have thought to themselves, “If such a tzadekes said something only slightly questionable about her brother whom she loved and revered and had to be sent out of the encampment for seven days to suffer embarrassment and public humiliation, what does that tell us about the impact of her words? Why did HASHEM act so harshly with her? It must be that what she did was far more egregious than we realized. It must be that her words – while merely speech – are a powerful force.”

Had the miraglim learned this lesson, they would have been far more careful in their speech. They would have thought many times about the consequences of their words, and that would have made them stop and think to themselves, “Before we bring back this report, are we sure? Are we a hundred percent certain that the Jewish people will die trying to conquer this land? Didn’t HASHEM bring us out of Mitzrayim? Didn’t HASHEM split the sea for us?”

Understanding the power of speech would have caused them to think about the consequences, and the results might well have been very different.

This concept has great relevance in our lives. Most of the damage that we do through speech isn’t malicious or with bad intent. We speak without thinking about the consequences, without contemplating the results. The Torah is teaching us the power of those words and how careful we have to be with what we say, not because the Torah is machmir when it comes to sins of speech, but because of the effect that speech has to help or to harm – because of the power of the spoken word.

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #139- The Power of Speech

The Shmuz – Marriage Seminar, a 12 part, comprehensive guide to a successful Marriage is available FREE of charge at www.TheShmuz.com. It is also on the Shmuz App available at the App store, or on Google play, or you may listen on Kol Halashon by calling 718- 906 6400, then options 1, 4, 3

What Not To Do At The Shabbat Table

The Broodo family of Dallas, Texas is now a well-established Orthodox family. They’re leaders and role models in their community. However one event during their first Shabbat experience almost derailed their teshuva journey. If it was not for the quick thinking of their hosts, their lives might have been very different today.

Ken and Beth Broodo were both raised in non-Orthodox Jewish homes. Ken is a lawyer, and several years ago a local Jewish organization, the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA), the “community kollel,” sponsored a onetime lunch-n-learn at his law firm. It was delivered by a big-name visiting rabbi. Ken attended the event and enjoyed it, but didn’t feel particularly changed by it.

The event put the Broodos on DATA’s mailing list, and six months later they received an invitation to a DATA seminar on the upcoming holiday of Purim. The Broodos acknowledged that they knew very little about their Judaism and were very curious to learn more, so they decided to attend the event.

At the event, DATA rabbis spoke about various topics of Purim. One topic, the Hidden Mask of Nature, peaked their curiosity. The speaker, Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum, surprised them by pointing out that Hashem’s name is never mentioned in the Megillah but His hand is apparent throughout the whole story.
“Only when you look back do you see Hashem’s hand in it. Even when I say it now I get chills. I had never heard something of that depth about the Torah. It was an interesting phenomenon to me,” Ken said.

Ken was fascinated by the presentation and impressed by Rabbi Feigenbaum. Ken stayed afterwards to drill him with a slew of other questions.
Following the seminar, the Broodos began attending other classes sponsored by DATA. Ken began studying one-on-one with Rabbi Feigenbaum each week. He and his wife began seeing the truth and beauty of Judaism and began to realize that this was the spirituality they were craving in their lives. However they were somewhat intimidated by the observances and cautious about jumping into anything too religious.

Rabbi Feigenbaum had given them an open invitation to come to synagogue on a Friday night and to his home for Shabbat dinner. The Broodos were intrigued by the opportunity to learn more and to get closer to the Feigenbaums. They were uncertain about what the experience would be like, but were excited about the opportunity. One Friday night they decided to take him up on it.

As soon as they entered the Feigenbaum’s house, the Broodos were made comfortable by their hosts’ warm welcome, the beauty of their Shabbat table and the obvious love and holiness that filled the home.

“It was my first Shabbat dinner. I was very taken by the whole scene – the white tablecloth, the silver Kiddush cup, the candles, the singing and the Divrai Torah,” Ken said.

Ken especially loved Mrs. Feigenbaum’s homemade Challah. He had never eaten homemade challah before, and he found it to be absolutely delicious.
After finishing his first piece, Ken craved a second slice. The challah was sitting in a metal wire basket in the middle of the table, amidst all sorts of dishes and just on the other side of Mrs. Feigenbaum’s beautiful silver Shabbat candlesticks. Ken tried asking other people to pass him the bowl, but he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. So he decided to lean across the table and pick up the challah bowl himself.

The challah basket was lined with a napkin. As he carried the basket over the items on the table, Ken lifted it over the Shabbat candles, and within a second, it caught fire and turned into a giant bowl of flaming challah!

Ken dropped the burning basket onto the table and was about the douse it with his glass of water, when the rabbi leaned over the table and said ‘Stop!’ Rabbi Feigenbaum picked up the basket, carried to the front porch and let it burn out.

Ken felt extremely embarrassed that he had set the Feigenbaum’s challah on fire. He was ready to leave the meal at the first opportunity and never come back again. But when Ken and wife finally did put on their coats to leave, without missing a beat, Mrs. Feigenbaum responded in a way that immediately turned around his negative feelings.

“Stop worrying about it,” she said to Ken. “The next time you want toast for Shabbat, just let me know in advance!”

Mrs. Feigenbaum’s quip put a smile back on Ken’s face and helped the Broodos stay on their path of growth towards Jewish observance.

“When Mrs. Feigenbaum said that, we all laughed. I realized that no one judged me for making such a ridiculous mistake. Then I felt accepted” Ken explained. “When you’re not frum and you’re around people that are, the one thing you feel sure of is that you are being judged and not accepted.”

The burning challah episode was a critical point in the Broodos’ life. If their hosts had handled it in any other way, they might have never come back. Instead they returned for many more meals in the Feigenbaum home and grew extremely close to the family. They began attending additional classes and started coming to the community frequently for Shabbat.

The Broodos eventually moved into the neighborhood. Several years later, the new local Orthodox synagogue was founded in their living room, and they remain extremely involved to this day. They also now frequently host newcomers to the community. And for anyone who seems uncomfortable by being in an Orthodox home for Shabbat, Ken eases their worries by telling them the story about the Shabbat night that he set the rabbi’s challah on fire.

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com.
Published in the Jewish Press in March, 2010

The Test of Shavuos

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here.

The Test That Returns Each Year

Shavuos is the time of the giving of the Torah. Consequently, it is now the time to prepare to receive the Torah. In order to ‘receive’ the Torah each year we can gain inspiration from reflecting on what the Jewish people did to prepare themselves to receive the Torah.

When Hashem came down to Har Sinai, He revealed Himself to the Jewish people. The entire nation trembled at the awesomeness of His revelation. Moshe Rabbeinu had to reassure the people that they had nothing to fear, and that Hashem was merely giving them a test.

A difficult test is called a nisayon. The days of Sefiras HaOmer occur during three months of the Jewish calendar – the second half of the month of Nissan, the entire month of Iyar, and the beginning of the month of Sivan. The word Nissan is rooted in the word nisayon. In other words, this first month of the sefiras ha’omer, the month of Nissan, contains in it a nisayon – a test. The “test” is how we will prepare for the Torah.

The word Iyar (the month which follows Nissan) comes from the word “yirah”, awe. This alludes to how the month of Iyar contains the power of yirah which can help enable us to prepare for receiving the Torah.

Thus, the months of Nissan and Iyar both serve to help us prepare for Shavuos. The “nisayon” (test)of Nissan requires us to prepare for the Torah, and the month of Iyar aids us in having the proper yirah, which are both necessary in order to receive the Torah.

The word nisayon comes from the word nes, which means to “run”; if a person “runs” away from the nisayon, he fails to grow from it. Alternatively, the word nes also means “miracle,” which uplifts a person. The hint of this is that a nisayon can either cause a person to run away from it, or become uplifted from it.Thus, every nisayon we endure serves as a test of our power of free choice – we can choose to elevate ourselves through the nisayon we are presented with, or run away from the message and fail to grow.

When the people heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai and all the thunder and lightning that followed, they had a nisayon. They were faced with a choice – they could want to run away, orthey could choose to become uplifted. Their first reaction was to want to flee; only then did Moshe Rabbeinu calm them down and reassure them not to flee in fear. He was really teaching the people that the purpose of this nisayon was to uplift them.

The Test At Har Sinai and Each Year

What exactly is the nisayon which the Jewish people faced in receiving the Torah? What did they find so difficult?

The Mesillas Yesharim writes that everything in this world is in a nisayon. No matter who you are and what your situation is, one is always facing a nisayon.

The first nisayon at Har Sinai was whether we the Jewish people would really accept the Torah when it was offered by Hashem to them as an option. The second nisayon occurred at the actual time of the giving of the Torah and was a much deeper but more subtle kind of test. At this point the Jewish people had already reached the apex of perfection, standing at Har Sinai and seeing the revelation of Hashem. Their test was whether they were willing and courageous enough choose to hear the Torah directly from the voice of Hashem.

Did they pass the test?

The Torah tells us that they did not pass the test. When the people heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai, they were afraid that they would die from hearing Hashem’s voice. In their fear, they requested to hear the Torah from Moshe’s voice instead. The Vilna Gaon teaches that this deviation from listening to Hashem was the seed that ultimately led to the sin of the Golden Calf. The Jewish people were supposed to be on the level of being willing to die in order to hear the voice of Hashem. From this we learn that we actually need to serve Hashem on the level of being prepared to die just to listen to Hashem’s voice!

But surely we would be forgiven for wanting to live and give up the opportunity to hear Hashem’s voice, rather than hear Hashem’s voice and die? What is the problem with choosing to live rather than hear Hashem’s voice? The answer is that to live without hearing the voice of Hashem’s is not really a life!

Admittedly, the people’s fear of Hashem’s voice did not signify idol worship. However, the sin lay in the fact that their fear of dying (which they associated with hearing His voice directly) surpassed their love of Hashem. The people’s fear of dying led them to settle for hearing the Torah through Moshe instead of directly from Hashem’s voice. However, the people failed to realize that life without hearing Hashem’s voice is meaningless.

When Adam sinned, he was ashamed in front of Hashem. He said, “Your voice I hear amidst the garden, but I am afraid and hiding.” [1] He ran away from hearing Hashem’s voice. At Har Sinai, we reached the purified state of Adam before the sin and were tested once again to see if we would listen to Hashem’s voice or run in fear. However, we failed to pass the test.

All of us were at Har Sinai, for our souls were there in a previous lifetime. Thus, we all failed to pass that test – we were afraid to die. However, we have a chance every year to pass this test again every year at Shavuos time. Are we ready to die to hear the voice of Hashem?

Before we accept the light of receiving the Torah which returns every year on Shavuos, we are first tested again to see whether we have reached the level of choosing to listen to Hashem’s voice and risk dying. At Har Sinai, the test was overt. In contrast, the test of our current day is not as clear to us, though it is the same test. And though we are not on the same level as we were at Har Sinai, Hashem still sends us the same test to each and every one us each year [to see if we will pass].

Striving For A Relationship With Hashem In Our Daily Life

In practical terms, what is our “test” that returns to us each Shavuos? In order to understand the essence of this difficult test presented to us each year on Shavuos, we must first understand that there are two totally different ways to live life.

When faced with a difficulty, one kind of person will continue to learn Torah and do all the mitzvos, visit tzaddikim and give tzedakah. He may also daven by kevarim (and even talk to Hashem a little when he is there). In contrast, the second type of person who meets with challenges will talk to Hashem about them all the time, and share with Him all his problems.

The first type of person is missing the point of life. Of course, there is something special in visiting tzaddikim. There is certainly a concept of segulos, but relying on spiritual charms is not enough!! We need to have a constant relationship with Hashem, including regular interaction and talking to Him, so that when we face a challenge we will naturally talk to Hashem directly, without wanting or thinking we need someone else to do it for us!

When we daven to Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei, we must realize we are speaking directly with Hashem. We can choose to ‘hear His voice’ and have direct contact with Him. And this is not just limited to our Shemonei Esrei. Our entire life can and should involve Hashem in this way. We should strive to always feel that Hashem is in front of us. As we learn from the Mesillas Yesharim, we should talk to Hashem “as a man who talks to his friend.”

For instance, imagine that you need something urgently. There is something very specific that you personally can do about it. Talk to Hashem! Davening to Hashem is not a “segulah.” Rather, it should be natural to you. This mindset and practice affects our entire life. Tefillah is the art of a Jew, which we received from our ancestors. We can ask and thank Hashem before everything we do.

However, since many of us are unfamiliar with this regular practice, we do not feel that closeness to Hashem. Therefore, it is only natural that we would be less likely to be prepared to die for Hashem. There is no relationship, so we would be less inclined to sacrifice anything for Him. There has to first be a relationship with Hashem. Only once we have fostered and ignited a close and loving relationship can we ever hope to reach the level of being prepared to give himself up for Him.

Every year, Hashem approaches us on Shavuos and offers to speak to us again so we can hear His voice. The question is – are we prepared to listen to Him? The truth to this question lies deep in your heart. We must try to reach a level whereby we truly should be willing to and want to hear the voice of Hashem.

Of course, if you ask anyone if he wants to hear Hashem’s voice, he will respond, “Of course! What spiritual bliss that would be!” But as soon as he told that he will have to give his life for it and die for it, he turns back and runs away. At Har Sinai the people did not want to hear Hashem’s voice. Instead they chose to hear the Torah from Moshe. It is harsh to say something like this, but the same thing is likely to happen at the time of the Moshiach if one did not develop a strong enough relationship with Hashem. At the time of the Moshiach, we are taught that we will learn Torah. But from whom will we hear this Torah from? We will have a choice to hear it either from Hashem directly, or from Moshiach.

If someone never spent his life talking with Hashem, then when Moshiach comes, he will not be able to suddenly run to go hear Hashem’s voice teaching the Torah. He will reject hearing the Torah directly from Hashem Himself, in favor of hearing it from Moshiach!

The Sages teach that one must exert himself over the Torah, and must “kill himself in the tents of Torah.”[2] Why it is indeed necessary for us to ‘die’ for the Torah? On a simple level, this is a euphemism for sacrificing all materialism for the sake of ruchniyus, and a greater connection with the Torah. However, on a deeper level, we learn that just as the Jewish people were supposed to die in order to hear Hashem’s voice, so must we be prepared to die in order to hear Hashem’s speaking to us through the Torah.

And so, the question we must ask ourselves each Shavuos is: Are we prepared to die for the Torah?

Imagine if Hashem came to us again and asked us if we wanted the Torah. Imagine if we heard His voice and felt our souls leaving us, just as the souls of the Jewish people left them with each word of the Torah they heard from Hashem. What would we do? Would we be willing to continue listening and sacrifice our soul? Or would we say, “I don’t know about this. I have to ask my wife. Also, I have kids at home. If I die, they will be left without a father.” All kinds of excuses….

Preparation for receiving the Torah is really all about being prepared to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of Torah and to hear Hashem’s voice. And, this must be a true willingness in one’s heart, and it will not suffice as a mere utterance of the lips that is superficial.

Preparing For Shavuos: Making A Self-Accounting

Practically speaking, in the three days leading up to Shavuos, everyone should actively carve out some time of quiet to make a self-accounting and ask himself if he is ready to accept the Torah or not. Is he willing to stay and listen to Hashem’s voice at the risk of death? This is the question that each Jew should ask himself every Shavuos: “If I would be standing at Har Sinai right now, would I be on the level to receive the Torah directly from Hashem’s voice?”

People may assume that such willingness to sacrifice our lives for Hashem was only relevant and appropriate for previous generations, and that we surely cannot be on the level of standing at Har Sinai. They may react, “What do you want from us?? These words are not for this generation…”

But such an attitude reveals a rejection of receiving the Torah. Whether or not we are there yet, we must at least strive to have a yearning to reach that high level, and we must not remain complacent with a low spiritual level.

This willingness to die for Hashem and His Torah should not be limited just to Shavuos. It should carry over into the rest of the year as well – to life a life of connection with Hashem, all day, and not just when we daven three times a day. Every day, each person should actively consider deeply about his relationship with Hashem, and how much he is willing to sacrifice to get closer to Him.

The Torah says, “Remember the day in which you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at Horeb.” Don’t just remember that you stood at Har Sinai – remember that you stood in front ofHashem at Har Sinai.

These words here will ring true for anyone who searches for a true kind of life. It is the true way to prepare for receiving the Torah. I hope that the words here are not new to you; to the contrary, I hope that they are quite familiar to you. We must separate ourselves from the mores of our generation to become souls of the Creator of the World.

May Hashem merit all of us to accept the Torah before Shavuos, and to be ready to give ourselves up in order to hear Hashem’s voice and His Torah, all year.

[1] Bereishis 3:10

[2] Brochos 63b

For Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan – A Translation of The Shelah’s Prayer for Parents on Behalf of their Children

The Shelah HaKadosh says that Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan is a special day to daven for your children’s spiritual and material needs. Here is an English Translation of the Shelah’s prayer he composed for this day. You can say the Hebrew version here. Here is the link to the prayer on Artscroll’s Website.

You have been the Eternal, our G-d, before You created the world, and You are the Eternal, our G-d, since you created the world, and You are G-d forever. You created Your world so that Your Divinity should become revealed thorugh Your holy Torah, as our Sages expounded on the first word therein, and for Israel, for they are Your people and Your inheritance whom You have chosen from among all nations. You have given them Your holy Torah and drawn them toward Your great Name. These two commandments are, “Be fruitful and Multiply” and “You shall teach them to your children.” Their purpose is that You did not create the world to be empty, but to be inhabited, and that it is for Your glory that You created, fashioned, and perfected it, so that we, our offspring, and all the descendants of your people Israel will know Your Name and study Your Torah.

Thus I entreat You, O Eternal, supreme King of kings. My eyes are fixed on You until You favor me, and hear my prayer, and provide me with sons and daughters who will also be fruitful and multiply, they and their descendents unto all generations, in order that they and we might all engage in the study of Your holy Torah, to learn and to teach, to observe and to do, and to fulfill with love all the words of Your Torah’s teaching. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah and attach our heart to Your commandments to love and revere Your Name.

Our Father, compassionate Father, grant us all a long and blessed life. Who is like You, compassionate Father, Who in compassion remembers His creatures for life! Remember us for eternal life, as our Forefather Avraham prayed, “If only Yishmael would live before You,” which the Sages interpreted as “…live in reverence of You.”

For this I have come to appeal and plead before You, that my offspring and their descendants be proper, and that You find no imperfection or disrepute in me or them forever. May they be people of peace, truth, goodness and integrity in the eyes of G-d and man. Help them to become practiced in Torah, accomplished in Scriptures, Mishnah, Talmud, Kabbalah, mitzvos, kindness, and good attributes, and to serve you with an inner love and reverence, not merely outwardly. Provide every one of them with their needs with honor, and give them health, honor and strength, good bearing and appearance, grace and loving-kindness. May love and brotherhood reign among them. Provide them with suitable marriage partners of scholarly and righteous parentage who will also be blessed with all that I have asked for my own descendants, since they will share the same fate.

You, the Eternal, know everything that is concealed, and to You all my heart’s secrets are revealed. For all my intention concerning the above is for the sake of Your great and holy Name and Torah. Therefore, answer me, O Eternal, answer me in the merit of our holy Forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. For the sake of the fathers save the children, so the branches will be like the roots. For the sake of Your servant, David, who is the fourth part of Your Chariot, who sings with Divine inspiration.

A song of ascents. Fortunate is everyone who fears the Eternal, who walks in His ways. When you eat of the toil of your hands, you are fortunate, and good will be yours. Your wife is like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children are like olive shoots around your table. Look! So is blessed the man who fears the Eternal. May the Eternal bless you from Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you see your children’s children, peace upon Israel.

Please, O Eternal, Who listens to prayer: May the following verse be fulfilled in me: “‘As for Me,’ says the Eternal, “this My covenant shall remain their very being; My spirit, which rests upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth nor from the mouths of your children, nor from the mouths of your children’s children,” said the Eternal, “from now to all Eternity.” May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing before You, Eternal, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Shavuos – Not Just Another Uber Driver

The Talmud relates [Pesachim 68b] that Rav Yosef would make a tremendous party on Shavuos. He would say, “If not for this special day (on which the Torah was given), look how many Yosefs there are in the market place”. Rabbi Frand explains “If not for the fact that I as a Jew have that precious gift of Torah, I would literally be ‘just another Joe'”.

On an Uber drive a few years ago, one of my kids got into a discussion with the driver about Judaism. The driver was amazed that a Torah Observant Jew can’t eat whatever they want, can’t wear whatever they want, can’t say whatever they want and can’t do whatever they want. The driver remarked that he does basically anything that he wants.

What the driver missed, and what we often take for granted, is that basic Torah observance, Shabbos, kashrus, etc, makes us great. Chazal teach that Hashem created man with a yetzer hara for desire, egocentricity and laziness and only by following the antidote of Torah and its commandments, can we rise above our base nature and become great human beings, with the possibility of connecting to people and connecting to Hashem with all our actions. When we heed the directives and follow the mitzvos of the Torah we unify the world and create a reality in which “Hashem will be One and His Name will be One”.

The Mesillas Yesharim is structured around the beraisa of R. Pinchas ben Yair which states:
“Torah leads to Watchfulness; Zeal; Cleanliness; Separation; Purity; Saintliness; Humility; Fear of Sin; Holiness; Divine Inspiration; the Revival of the Dead.” It starts with Torah and every step is infused with different aspects of the Torah: the warnings of the Torah, the mitzvos of the Torah, the learning of the Torah, the middos of the Torah and more.

Shavuos is the time for us to raise our commitment to Torah and to growing well beyond an Uber driver in the marketplace. Chag Someach!

Momentary Gains or Lasting Benefits

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here.

We find three times where the Torah refers to counting: counting the years to Yovel (the jubilee), counting the days for purification of a zavah (VaYikra 15:19), and counting the omer. But a zavah does not make a beracha when she counts. Tosfot (Menachot 65b) explain that with the omer, we can be sure that it will lead to completion, but the zavah might not become pure at this time.

With the omer, then, we are able to begin (and continue) with an awareness of the end. If we do not anticipate an end, there is no blessing (and no requirement to count orally, which is why the zavah need not count orally). In life, too, we must always maintain an awareness of the end, as the Rosh writes that one must always be cognizant of death.

We might ask: Chazal have taught us (Avot 2:16) that “you are not expected to finish the task.” How, then, can one keep the end in mind if he will never reach the end?

If a person is ill, and there is no known remedy for his illness, that does not necessarily mean that he should despair of being cured. Often, there is ongoing research, and a cure might be discovered at a later time. He may want to begin saving his money for when it will hopefully become available. So, too, although one individual cannot single-handedly cause Mashiach to come, he should anticipate that it will come soon, and focus his actions toward that endpoint. Inwardly, a person must always yearn for that goal.

The value of this yearning is that he will have a completely different perspective on his actions. For example, if a person plans to move to a nicer home as soon as he can afford to, he will not invest more money in his current home than absolutely necessary. The opposite will be the case with someone who plans to stay in his home for many years. So, too, if we focus on the end (the times of Mashiach or our own deaths) our attitude toward this life and this world will be much different than if we were focused solely on our current state. We would be much less focused on material things. We would still take care of our needs here, but be aware that it is all temporary.

A person would not invest all his money in something unstable. Chazal in fact have advised that one divide his assets among cash, land, and merchandise. This world is unstable, and we must be aware of this fact not only with regard to money.

To illustrate: A person at a red light would not turn off his car engine, because he expects to move soon. But I was once in a traffic jam because the police stopped traffic for hours while they were looking for a criminal, and people parked their cars in the street and got out while they waited. Life is more like a car at a red light. We must be ready for any change in life. This world is full of drastic changes.

These changes in the world serve to remind us not to take the material world too seriously. We must focus on what has real permanence. For example, when a person seeks a wife, he is very careful, and he would not marry someone unstable, because marriage is a long-term commitment.

What has permanence here is the spiritual level. If a person seeks truth and stability, he must be aware of the instability of this world, and not take it too seriously, and on the other hand, connect to the permanent world of Hashem and the Torah. These relate to the eternal world. This awareness will enable us to accept the Torah properly on Shavuot and earn eternity.

Calibrating Covid Fear

In the Ninth chapter of Mesillas Yesharim on Zerizus (Positive Mitzvah Performance), the Ramchal explores the factors that undermine the proper performance of mitzvos. One of the undermining factors he discusses is fear. The Ramchal makes an important distinction between justified fear and excessive fear. Excessive fear creates an atmosphere which inhibits proper mitzvah performance.

In the last month or so, vaccinations have been effective in reducing the health risk of Covid. The CDC website states that if you’ve been fully vaccinated then you can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart. They do add the caveat that you should avoid medium or large gatherings.

The difficulty with Covid is that it is travelling across the continuum from justified fear to possible excessive fear, in mostly vaccinated Shuls. There is no exact measurement to determine whether a Covid fear is excessive, and therefore different Shuls have implemented a wide range of mask policies.

Let us pray that we continue on the path of transforming our Shuls from Houses of Fear to Houses of Trust in G-d.

Pirkei Avos – Chapter Three

As many of you know, there is a widespread Jewish custom of learning Pirkei Avos in the six week period between Pesach and Shavous. Some have the custom to keep on learning a perek a week until Rosh Hoshana.

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld of Beit Shemesh, Israel has an excellent commentary to Pirkei Avos over at Torah.org.

A few years ago, to facilitate review of Pirkei Avos, I cut and pasted Rabbi Rosenthal’s translation into a document so that I could print off the perek of the week and keep it in my wallet for review. Rabbi Yaakov Menken, the man administering Torah.org, Cross-Currents.com and other spreading Torah projects was gracious enough to allow the document to be downloaded here.

Here is the link for the English Translation of Pirkei Avos.

Here is the translation for Chapter Three:

Chapter 3
1. “Akavia the son of Mehalalel said, consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know from where you have come, to where you are heading, and before Whom you will give justification and accounting. From where have you come – from a putrid drop; to where are you heading – to a place of dirt, worms and maggots; and before Whom will you give justification and accounting – before the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He.”
2. “Rabbi Chanina the deputy High Priest said, pray for the welfare of the government (lit., monarchy), for if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live.”
3. “Rabbi Chanina the son of Tradyon said, if two people sit together and do not share words of Torah between them, it is a company of scorners, as the verse says, ‘in the company of scorners he (the righteous man) did not sit [rather in G-d’s Torah was his desire…]’ (Psalms 1:1-2). But if two people sit and share words of Torah between them the Divine Presence rests between them, as the verse says, ‘Then spoke those who fear G-d to one another, and G-d listened and heard, and it was written in a book of remembrance before Him, for those who fear G-d and regard His Name’ (Malachi 3:16). From here we may learn about two. How do we know that even one who sits and studies Torah G-d designates a reward for him? The verse says, ‘Let him sit alone and be silent, for it (a reward) will be placed upon him’ (Lamentations 3:28).”
4. “Rabbi Shimon said, three people who have eaten at the same table and did not speak words of Torah are as if they had eaten from the sacrifices of dead [idols], as the verse states ‘For all such tables are full of vomit and filth without room’ (Isaiah 28:8). But three who have eaten at the same table and did speak words of Torah are as if they had eaten from the Lord’s table, as it states ‘And he (the angel) said to me, this is the table that is before the Lord’ (Ezekiel 41:22).”
5. “Rabbi Chanina the son of Chachiniye said, one who stays awake at night or one who travels on the road alone and leaves his heart open to idleness – behold, he bears the guilt for his own soul.”
6. “Rabbi Nechunia the son of Hakanah said, anyone who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of earning a livelihood will be removed from him. Anyone who casts off of himself the yoke of Torah, the yokes of government and earning a livelihood will be placed upon him.”
7. “Rabbi Chalafta the son of Dosa of K’far Chananya said, if ten people sit together and study Torah, the Divine Presence dwells among them, as the verse states ‘The L-rd stands in the assembly of G-d’ (Psalms 82:1). How do we know this even for five? As it states ‘He has established his bundle on the land’ (Amos 9:6). How do we know even three? As it states ‘In the midst of judges He judges’ (Psalms 82:1). How do we know even two? As it states ‘Then those who feared the L-rd spoke one to the other, and G-d listened and heard’ (Malachi 3:16). How do we know even one? As it states ‘In every place where My Name is mentioned I will come to you and bless you’ (Exodus 20:21).”
8. “Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa said, give Him from His own, for you and your possessions are His. And so does the verse say regarding King David, ‘For everything is from You, and from Your hands we have given to You.'”
9. “Rabbi Yaakov said, one who is walking along the road and is studying [Torah], and then interrupts his studies and says ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’ – Scriptures considers it as if he himself bears the guilt for his soul.”
10. “Rabbi Dostai the son of Yannai said in the name of Rabbi Meir, whoever forgets anything from his Torah learning, Scripture considers it as if he bears the guilt for his own soul, as the verse says, ‘Only take heed and guard yourself well, lest you forget the things which your eyes saw’ (Deuteronomy 4:9). One might think this applies even if his studies were too difficult for him? The verse therefore continues, ‘and lest they be removed from your heart all the days of your life.’ Thus, one does not bear the guilt for his soul unless he sits and removes them from his heart.”
11. “Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa said, anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. And anyone whose wisdom precedes his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.”
12. “He (Rabbi Chanina) used to say, anyone whose good deeds are greater than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. Anyone whose wisdom is greater than his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure.”
13. “He (Rabbi Chanina) used to say, anyone who is pleasing to his fellows is pleasing to G-d. Anyone who is not pleasing to his fellows is not pleasing to G-d.”
14. “Rabbi Dosa the son of Horkinos said, sleep in the morning, wine in the afternoon, the chatter of the youth, and sitting in the gatherings of the ignorant drive a person out of the world.”
15. “Rabbi Elazar of Modin said, one who desecrates sacred objects, one who disgraces the festivals, one who shames his fellow in public, one who annuls the covenant of our forefather Abraham, or one who interprets the Torah not according to Jewish law – even if he has Torah [study] and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.”
16. “Rabbi Yishmael said, be yielding to a superior, gentle to the young, and receive every person with happiness.”
17. “Rabbi Akiva said, jesting and lightheadedness accustom a person to immorality. The oral transmission is a protective fence around the Torah. Tithes are a protective fence for wealth. Vows are a protective fence for abstinence. A protective fence for wisdom is silence.”
18. “He (Rabbi Akiva) used to say, beloved is man for he was created in G-d’s image. It is a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in G-d’s image, as it is said, ‘For in the image of G-d did He make man’ (Genesis 9:6). Beloved is Israel for they are called the children of the L-rd. It is a greater love that it was made known to them that they are the children of the L-rd, as it is said, ‘You are children to the L-rd your G-d’ (Deuteronomy 14:1). Beloved is Israel that they were given a precious utensil (the Torah). It is an greater love that it was made known to them that they were given a precious utensil, as it is said ‘For I have given you a good possession; do not forsake My Torah’ (Proverbs 4:2).”
19. “Everything is foreseen, yet free will is given. The world is judged with goodness, and all is according to the majority of deeds.”
20. “He (Rabbi Akiva) used to say, everything is given on collateral, and a net is spread over all the living. The store is open, the Storekeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, the hand writes, and whoever wants to borrow may come borrow. The collectors make their rounds constantly every day, and they collect from a person whether he realizes it or not, and they have what to rely upon. The judgment is true, and everything is prepared for the banquet (of Leviathan).”
21. “Rabbi Elazar ben (son of) Azariah said: If there is no Torah there is no proper conduct; if there is no proper conduct there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom there is no fear of G-d; if there is no fear of G-d there is no wisdom. If there is no knowledge there is no understanding; if there is no understanding there is no knowledge. If there is no flour (sustenance) there is no Torah; if there is no Torah there is no flour.”
22. “He (Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah) used to say, anyone whose wisdom is greater than his deeds to what is he comparable? To a tree whose branches are many and whose roots are few, and the wind comes and turns it over. As it is said ‘And he will be like a lonely tree in a wasteland, and it will not see when good comes. It will dwell on parched soil in the desert, a salted land, uninhabited’ (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom to what is he comparable? To a tree whose branches are few and whose roots are many, that even if all the winds in the world blow against it, they do not move it from its place. As it is said ‘And he shall be like a tree planted on the water, and towards the stream it spreads its roots, and it will not see when heat comes. Its leaves will be fresh, in a year of drought it will not worry, and it shall not cease yielding fruit’ (ibid. 17:8).”
23. “Rabbi Elazar ben (son of) Chisma said, The laws of the offerings of pairs of birds and the beginning of menstrual periods – these are essential laws. Astronomy and the numeric values [of the Hebrew letters] are the spices to wisdom.”

Fifty Ways to Meet Your Lover (Sefirat HaOmer)

Mystical writings make this time period analogous to a woman preparing for union with her lover. She purifies herself for seven days. Seven is also the number of types of impurity that must be eliminated, and in our case linked to seven weeks, the time period between Passover and the Biblical holiday of Shavuot, forty-nine days called Sefirat HaOmer, “Counting the Omer”. God reveals all wisdom that there is to know on the fiftieth day, Shavuot, symbolized by the consummation of a marriage. In other words, to learn wisdom is to become one with the Infinite.

Therefore “spiritual purification” is a theme of these fifty days. Each day is designated for us to pray for and work towards a small piece of spirituality.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone who wants God’s wisdom can have it. He loves everyone and wants to give to them. But the more we are equipped to deal with it the more useful it will be.

There’s an old story of a person who seeks to speak with a wise Zen master.

As the proposed disciple sits before the master, the disciple begins to expound on his own knowledge to impress the master. The master stays quiet and begins to pour tea into a cup for the visitor. After the cup is full the master continues to pour until the tea is pouring over the sides causing the disciple to jump up and yell “Stop, the cup is full and can hold no more!”

The wise Zen master replies, “And what about you? Are you full of wisdom? If so, there is no more room for me to teach you anything.”

Wisdom is being poured out from above, but we have to be ready to receive it. Are we humble enough to know how little we know about marriage, parenting, happiness, and meaning? If so we will hit the jackpot.


Step by Step

We are commanded to count each and every day between Passover and Shavuot. This implies that spiritual growth is best achieved step by step, one day at a time. Our soul wants to soar straight to the Infinite. Our body also wants to become holy overnight so it doesn’t have to work. The real path, though, is to fire up a burning desire for purity every single day, working step by step to make progress on the ladder to the Heavens.

Seven Shepherds

One path the sages recommend to grab this opportunity is to emulate the Seven Shepherds. Each week is designated for a different holy one to try to be like.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David each represents a different character trait. The first week is dedicated to Abraham, the second to Isaac, and so on. There are seven kabbalistic terms in Hebrew that do not lend themselves to an English translation so I will describe an aspect of them instead.

1st Week:
Abraham exemplifies the quality of Chesed, a trait evidenced in his extreme love of mankind. This first week, in order to purify yourself and tap into the flow of Divine assistance, we can look for the positive things in others that bring to the surface that natural love in our hearts for all humanity. If the Almighty can love all His children, so can we.

2nd Week:
Isaac exemplifies Gevura, a trait of discipline and inner strength. He never wavered from whatever he deemed the will of God. To imitate him we can focus our attention on things we are doing that we know are not God’s will and eradicate them.

3rd Week:
Jacob is Tiferet, the ability to be in harmony with all forces. Sometimes he fought, sometimes he bowed. He knew how to handle every single person that came his way. He even had two names which showed his flexibility. He blessed each of his children, showing that he spent time considering the nature of each child, trying to give each one what he needed, encouragement, rebuke, insight, etc. We can do this too by thinking deeply about each of our close family and friends and think about what each person needs.

4th Week:
Moses is Netzach, the Torah’s eternal conduit. We can emulate him by studying the insights of the Torah and try to remove any of our own personal influence on the insights, looking for the pure unadulterated truth.

5th Week:
Aaron is Hod, a trait which made him beloved by all who knew him. He loved peace and did everything he could to bring peace into the world at every opportunity. We all want people to get along, but how many of us are doing anything about it? This fifth week we can emulate Aaron by doing something practical and specific that brings more peace in the world.

6th Week:
Joseph is Yesod, similar to Jacob’s ability to relate to all people, Joseph’s ability was to be able to bond with, join, and become a part of each and every person he met. He easily and successfully became a trusted assistant wherever he went, whether with Jacob, Potiphar (an Egyptian official), the jailer of the dungeon, or to Pharaoh himself. He was immediately trusted because he truly felt the pain of each person he met. We can imitate him by trying to become one with the people we know and their challenges to the point they truly trust us.

7th Week:
David is Malchut, a trait that allowed him to connect his own royal power and tie it to the Almighty. Power corrupts unless you constantly remind yourself that your power is only the Divine putting you in a position like a marionette puppet. When all others were afraid of Goliath, David said, “Are you going to let this guy curse the Almighty? HaShem will help you defeat him.” David knew that the Almighty runs the show at all times. “To You are the greatness, the strength, the harmony, the permanence, and the glory….” We can look at all of our abilities or power roles this week and see how we are merely a conduit for the Almighty.

If you try to emulate each character trait for one week of the seven week period you will experience a new type of enlightenment at the end. This is a simple straightforward approach to the Sefirah period. A more complicated approach uses all seven traits each week. Because each trait is incomplete without all the other six. You can’t have real love like Abraham if you don’t include Isaac’s awe of God. Otherwise you’ll transgress God’s laws to fulfill your love. You’ll spoil your children and become a doormat to your spouse. Each trait properly includes all the others. So a complicated approach to the 50 days has a different combination of two traits each day.

Our tradition says that the Israelites accomplished this when they left Egypt and fifty days later received the Torah.

Riding the Escalator of Life

Sometimes we get a special gift. When you work on spirituality in a consistent way the Almighty opens up a gate for you that you might not have imagined. If you look for reminders of what you are working on you will also notice on a daily basis how the Almighty is guiding and directing your efforts at self-growth. This daily testament to His role in our daily life is comforting and keeps us connected. But when we get that special gift, sometimes a whole new world opens up.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) had an angel come to him and teach him many secrets because of his consistent study of the Mishna, the Oral Tradition. We are not all going to have such a special and holy event happen to us like that but each on our own individual level will receive a boost.

Kind of like that way someone gets “discovered” after plugging away for many years at something. Kimya Dawson was a relatively unknown recording a performing artist for years until one day an actress in a movie called “Juno” recommended her recording with the Moldy Peaches for the soundtrack which became a chartbuster. Now Kimya Dawson is “suddenly” a recognized star. Suddenly….after years of continuous effort. In the spiritual world it happens too.

Whatever area of growth we want to grab a hold of, consistency and continuity will be helpful, and sometimes they will be the cause of a major leap that propels us into a higher level. Our small path of steps just might be turn into a springboard. Now is the time to take the first step.

First Published on May 14, 2008

Matzah with a Shmear of Spiritual Sensitivity

We experience the world through our fives senses which makes our primary orientation a physical one. We also experience qualities like love, caring, gratitude and justice which are not perceivable through our five senses. Let’s call those qualities – spiritual sensitivities. Another spiritual sensitivity is the awareness that there is a loving G-d, Who created the world and wants to help us bring the world to a more perfect place of universal love, caring, gratitude and justice.

The path to perfecting the world and ourselves is through quieting our self-involved physical sensitivities and increasing our spiritual sensitivies. Passover provides us with a tremendous opportunity with the mitzvah of eating Matzah. Food is a tremendous source of physical and emotional pleasure and the Torah encourages us to fully experience that pleasure on Shabbos and the Holidays. However, the primary spiritual purpose of food is to provide us with the energy to carry out the worthwhile day to day activities of our life. On Passover we are instructed to eat Matzah, a plain basic staple of water and flour, to increase our sensitivity to the spiritual nature of food.

Spiritual sensitivity provides us with increased life fulfillment opportunities in every bite we take and every step we make. We can transcend the limits of our own physicality and look at the constant connection opportunities with our fellow human beings and with G-d. We should all be blessed with enhanced spiritual sensitivity this Passover.

Happy Passover!

Pesach – Internalizing Your Knowledge

By Rav Itamar Schwartz the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Click here for the Bilvavi Hagaddah.
Click here for a number of Drashos on Pesach from Rav Schwartz.

Leaving Egypt – and then Receiving the Torah

First we left Egypt, and then we came to Har Sinai to receive the Torah.

It is written, “And you shall know today, and you shall return the matter to your heart.” Our avodah is always first to know the facts, and then to internalize our mind’s knowledge into our heart.

The Egyptian exile deterred us from receiving the Torah. As long as we were in Egypt, we could not receive the Torah; we have to leave it in order to become purified at Har Sinai and receive the Torah. In Egypt, we would not have been able to internalize the Torah had we received it. In Egypt, there was “bricks and mortar”, and this personified the exile. What exactly are these “bricks and mortar” that held us back from receiving the Torah? It wasn’t just that we had cruel physical labor. It was a spiritual kind of bricks and mortar – a blockage that held us back from receiving the Torah.

There were two layers to the redemption. There was a physical redemption, which took place when we actually left Egypt, in the physical sense. But there was also a spiritual layer to the redemption: the redemption that took place in our souls, enabling us to receive the Torah.

Although the physical redemption happened a long time ago, the spiritual redemption to our souls happens every year. Let us learn how we can merit to have the yearly spiritual redemption during this time – to reach the level of receiving the Torah, the level of internalizing our knowledge.

Removing The “Blockage of the Heart”

In the Haggadah we express, “By your blood shall you live” – which the Sages explain this to refer to the blood of the korban pesach (paschal sacrifice) and the blood of bris milah (circumcision) What is the connection between korbon pesach and bris milah? Simply it is because in order to eat the korban pesach, one had to be circumcised, as the Gemara says. But the deeper meaning is that one has to circumcise his “orlas halev” – the blockage that is on his heart.

There exist two kinds of orlah (blockages) which we remove – a physical blockage which exists in the part of the body that is circumcised by bris milah, and a spiritual kind of blockage, which is present on the heart. This is called orlas halev. When our heart is blocked, the Torah knowledge in our mind isn’t able to penetrate into our heart.

On Pesach, we were commanded to become circumcised; the simple meaning of this, as we said, was because we need to undergo bris milah in order to eat from the korbon pesach. But the deeper meaning is that we had to remove our orlas halev, “blockage of our heart” that was on us – as it is written, “And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your hearts.”

We must remove the barrier between our mind and heart, so that our mind’s knowledge can settle in our heart. And it has to be “in” our heart, not just on our heart.

In order to eat the korbon pesach, we had to have a bris milah. As we explained, the deeper meaning of this is that we had to remove our “orlas halev” in order to eat the korban pesach. In Egypt, we removed some of the blockage as we began to cry out to Hashem from our heart, but this process was not yet complete until we left Egypt, when we actually received bris milah – which was not just a physical act of circumcision, but a removal of the blockage on our heart.

How We Can Accomplish Internalization

How do we internalize the knowledge of our mind into our heart? We get to know the Torah by learning it well, but how do we internalize it into our heart? In the works of our Rabbis, there are two general ways described in how we can accomplish it.

The First Way: Da’as

One way is as follows. In our brain, we have three “minds” going on – three different mental abilities: Chochmah, Tevunah, and Daas. Chochmah is what one learns from his teacher. Tevunah is when we think on our own, and Daas is when we connect to our knowledge. Daas is when a person is always thinking about Torah, because he connects to the knowledge of his mind. Daas is an inner kind of thinking, not a superficial kind of thinking.

When a person merely intellectualizes about his learning, he’s either using Chochmah or Tevunah, but this isn’t yet Daas. Daas is only when a person thinks all the time about his learning because he is truly connected to his learning; from his deep connection to the Torah, he thinks about it as a result.

When a person uses his Daas, he is connected all the time to his learning as he thinks constantly of Torah – and in this way, his mind’s knowledge enters his heart. This is when a person learns Torah along with emunah in Hashem in his life. The Torah then penetrates into his heart.

The Second Way: Verbal Repetition

The second method brought by our Rabbis on how we can internalize is by making an direct imprint on our heart, and this is accomplished when we review matters repeatedly using our simple emunah. As it is written in the possuk, “I believed, for I spoke.” When we constantly repeat a fact, it eventually settles into our heart, where it becomes internalized knowledge.

Pharoah knew that Hashem existed, but he didn’t internalize this information. Pharoah means peh rah, “evil mouth.” In other words, he didn’t use his mouth in the right way, and thus he didn’t internalize his mind’s knowledge.

So one way to internalize is to use daas, which is by learning Torah in a way that we connect to it; and this is accomplished when we learn Torah together with having emunah in Hashem. The second method to internalize is to use our power of speech, to affect our heart.

The Third, Deeper Way: Repeating The Facts Of Our Da’as To Our Heart

But there is also a third way, which is deeper than the above two ways, and it combines the two methods together: to speak to ourselves facts that we know from our daas, with the intention that it should affect our heart.

This is also the deeper meaning behind why we count Sefiras HaOmer for 49 days. It is because by repeating to ourselves that today is another day towards Shavuos, it eventually internalizes in our heart; through the power of constant verbal repetition, the facts of our brain settle into our heart and become internalized.

Most people when they learn Torah are only using the lower power of Chochmah, which is located in the brain. This is mere intellectual knowledge, and it doesn’t always affect a person. But the higher, deeper kind of Chochmah is called Chochmas HaLev – the wisdom of the heart – and it is rare. It is accessed when we verbalize our mind’s knowledge to ourselves and we repeat the facts, over and over again, until it penetrates our heart. It then becomes Chochmas HaLev.

Feel The Contradiction Between Your Mind and Heart

First we must realize, though, that our mind and heart are in vast contradiction with each other. There are many contradictions going on between our heart and mind, and therefore, our mind and heart are very far from each other. Our heart is full of various desires that are evil, even though our mind knows that it’s wrong.

Desires, jealousy and honor-seeking are negative emotions that are present in our heart. These negative emotions contradict what we know in our mind. Feel the contradiction going on between your mind and heart – and let it bother you! When you feel very bothered by the great contradiction going on between your mind and heart, you can then realize that you must work to internalize your mind’s knowledge into your heart.

It is not enough to simply ignore these negative emotions that pass through us and hope that they will go away on their own. Rather, we should seek the truth, and instead we should seek to change our heart, by repeating our mind’s facts to our heart, through repeated verbalization.

In today’s generation, our heart is for the most part negatively affected, and we often don’t feel at all how it’s affected. But out heart is being affected more and more, for the worse, as our life goes on. If we don’t seek to change our heart, our heart only gets worse and worse as we get older, and we will only continue to get negatively influenced by our surroundings.

In order to survive the dismal situation of today’s times, we must continuously attempt to internalize our mind’s knowledge into our heart. We have to go through a constant purification process within ourselves. Our heart has to literally burn for Torah, for mitzvos, for love and fear of Hashem, for a bond with Him. It has to burn like a fire, or else we get worse and worse as our life goes on. Every Jew needs to have a heart that is actuallyburning for a bond with Hashem and for His Torah and mitzvos.

Unless a person develops a burning desire in his heart to internalize the facts he knows, he will remain his whole life and end it with his initial level of orlas halev.

We must bring our life to a halt (at least once) and seek how we can internalize our knowledge, how we can acquire a heart that burns for Hashem. A person might go his whole life and know a lot of Torah, but in his heart, he is a total ignoramus, and not only that, but his heart is evil from his youth. Even if he’s a prominent person when it comes to Torah knowledge – even if he gives shiurim and wrote sefarim – it doesn’t mean he has internalized the Torah into his heart…

If a person seeks to change his heart constantly, he will be much less affected by society. A person needs to realize that our surroundings place us in grave danger. We can’t become complacent! If we let ourselves become complacent in today’s times, we are in mortal danger.

To summarize: We must each seek to internalize our mind’s knowledge into our hearts – through our daas, and through repeating the facts with our mouth. And we must set aside time to reflect about important matters, (as Reb Yisrael Salanter would do, to go over one statement of Chazal and repeat it numerous times, passionately).

We need to do this all the time, not just once in a while: we must always seek to internalize the facts into our heart, by repeating to ourselves the facts that we know. Hashem created us with a lev tahor, a “pure heart” – and when we feel our pure heart, we will feel as if we have just converted anew to Judaism.

(Of course, we need a brain too, and not just a heart. We cannot live with just our mind or just our heart – we need to connect them both together.)

We need to have a life brimming with Torah, mitzvos and emunah. This is the true redemption from Egypt.

May we merit to leave the blockage on our hearts, and instead come to “know” Hashem – and to internalize the knowledge about Him in our heart.

The Seder in Four Hours, Five Minutes or One Minute

The Beyond BT Guide to the Seder contains all the steps of the seder along with some commentary and halachic instructions.

A few years ago I edited the above guide and compiled a Five Minute Seder for a non-observant friend and his family. Five minutes may be stretching it, but it’s pretty bare bones for those who have trouble going through the whole thing.

And here’s the One Minute explanation if you’re really pressed for time.

The Events of the Exodus
The process of the Exodus began when our forefather Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, and his family settled in Egypt as the honored guests of the Pharaoh at that time. The process continued through the Jewish enslavement by the Egyptians; the 10 nature-defying plagues prophesized by Moshe and activated by G-d over a period of 12 months; the subsequent release of the approximately 3 million Jews to freedom after the plague of the death of the first born; the splitting of the Red Sea 7 days after their release; and the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai 7 weeks after their release.

The Centrality of the Exodus
The centrality of the Exodus in Judaism is predicated on the fact that the Jewish people were freed and separated as a unique nation through the clear actions of G-d Himself. Besides the physical freedom achieved, G-d chose us to be the world’s spiritual leaders by giving us the mitzvos of the Torah at Mount Sinai The mitzvos free us from a purely animal-like physical existence, to one in which we can elevate all our actions to be spiritual and G-d connected. Passover is a time where we commemorate the Exodus and renew our spiritual focus.

The Seder
The Seder with its focus on the telling of the story enable us to experientially reconnect with the slavery and freedom of the Exodus and express our appreciation to G-d for our redemption and selection as His chosen people. The salt water in which the green vegetable is dipped and the bitter herbs are associated with our bondage. The four cups of wine and the festival meal help us relive our freedom.

The Holiday of Matzah
The Matzah is the central component of both the Seder and the 8 days of Passover. Matzah, consisting of just flour and water was our no frills food when we were slaves in Egypt. It’s also a symbol of our freedom because we hastily left Egypt without time to bake bread.

On a spiritual level, the leaven in bread makes it more digestible and flavorous. This is appropriate for the rest of the year when our main challenge is to integrate the physical into the spiritual. On Passover, we eat only Matzah and abstain from the physically oriented leaven. This allows us to keep spiritually focused as we recharge our spiritual mission and focus during the holiday of Passover.

TEN WAYS to help you and YOUR CHILDREN have a more Meaningful and Inspiring PESACH SEDER

Use these suggestions to infuse new meaning and excitement into your seder and create a lasting experience for you and your family.

1.Make the most of your Seder and best fulfill the mitzvah of V’higadita L’vincha by staying focused on telling the actual story of Yetzias Mitzrayim; concentrate on the events and their lessons.

2. Transform Yetzias Mitzrayim from a story into a reality by celebrating the Seder like you celebrate a Simcha in your own family. Speak about it vividly, personally and enthusiastically…you’ll inspire yourself and your children.

3. Prepare for the Seder! Spend time studying books and Midrashim that elaborate specifically on the details of each miracle to help your children appreciate the extent of Hashem’s kindness.

4. Make Pesach personal and relevant to your children. Use your discussion about the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim as a means of opening their eyes to the miracles Hashem performs for us every day.

5. Show your children how so much of the Pesach Seder revolves around them, demonstrating how much Hashem cares about every child and values each one as an essential member of Klal Yisroel.

6. Involve your children in the Pesach Seder. Prepare stimulating and challenging questions that will guide them to understand the lessons of the Haggadah and be an active participant in the Seder.

7. Practice the lesson of the Four Sons during your Seder by making a particular effort to involve each child (and adult!) in a way that best suits his or her unique personality, style and level.

8. Take the time to patiently answer your children’s questions. If you don’t know the answer, create a powerful Chinuch experience by asking a rabbi and exploring the issue… together with your child.

9. Reinforce their Emunah through the Pesach Seder by explaining that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim irrefutably demonstrated Hashem’s complete control over the world to millions of eyewitnesses. We attest to this truth every year on the Seder night.

10. Inspire yourself by remembering that tonight Jewish parents around the world are passing on a glorious 3,320 year old legacy to their children as their parents and ancestors have done before them. Realize that the Seder that you create for your children will inspire them for the rest of their lives and shape the future Seder that they will make for their children.

The Pesach Seder:
A Unique Opportunity to Instill Emunah in Our Children

The Mitvah of telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is primarily focused on our children and family. Its main purpose is to instill in their hearts the full knowledge of Hashem’s sovereignty and the magnitude of His strength and miracles. One should explain the story to them in the language that they understand to make them aware of the extent of the wonders that Hashem performs. It is not sufficient to explain just the main points of Yetzias Mitzrayim written in the Haggadah. Instead, we should describe all of the miracles vividly as they are depicted in the Gemara, Midrashim and other Seforim. (Based on Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avoda 9:6)

COURTESY OF THE COMMUNITY TRAINING INITIATIVE OF PRIORITY-1
Under the auspices of Harav Reuven Feinstein, Shlita

For additional copies of this poster or for more information about Priority-1’s training programs, resources and consultations for parents and educators, please call 800-33-FOREVER

Perspectives on Pesach Hotels

An article was many years ago Rabbi Jonathon Rosenblum, titled Five Star Pesach:

I will never forget an address by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman at an Agudath Israel of America convention on the topic “Living a Life of Ruchnios amidst Gashmius.” I had never before heard Rabbi Wachsman, and I practically jumped out of my seat when he thundered: This topic represents a fundamental mistake. There is no ruchnius amidst gashmius. To the extent that a person is living in the world of gashmius he is removed from ruchnius!

I was reminded of those words recently on a recent trip to Los Angeles, where I had a rare opportunity to speak with a rav whose wisdom has always impressed me. In the course of our conversation, he asked to me, “What would you say is the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit today?” I leaned forward eagerly, confident that he would mention one of my favorite subjects. But I must admit that his answer would not have been on my top ten-list.

“Pesach in hotels,” turned out to be the winning answer. And my friend’s central criticism was similar to that of Rabbi Wachsman: the Pesach hotel industry takes what should be one of the ultimate spiritual experiences of every Jew’s life and encases it in a thick wrapper of materialism. Read the advertisements, he told me: “No gebrochts” right next to “24 hour tea bar;” “Daily daf hayomi” next to “Karate, go-carts, and jeeping for the kids.”

Rabbi Horowitz had his own take on this in The Greatest Threat to Yiddishkeit:

My dear chaver and colleague Reb Yonoson Rosenblum (#204; Five-Star Pesach) describes how he “practically jumped out of his seat,” listening to Rabbi Wachsman “thunder” that there is “no ruchniyus amid gashmiyus.” Well, I practically jumped out of my seat when I read Reb Yonoson’s quote of a Rav who claimed that Pesach programs are “the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit today.”

I do not know which Rav he was referring to, but I will gladly forward my home phone calls and those of Project YES to that Rav for a month. After listening to the terrible and very real challenges that we face individually and communally for thirty days and sleepless nights, I dare say that he may reconsider his thoughts as to what “the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit” is.

Rabbi Rosenblum continued with Pesach Hotels: A Second Look and Rabbi Horowitz published an opposing opinion in Rabbi Horowitz, I Beg to Differ.

Which leads to Azriella Jaffe’s take on the subject in a Yated letter to the Editor:

5/5/08
To: Letter to the Editor, Yated

I felt I needed to respond to the strongly worded sentiments of late that sounds something like: “I-would-never-go-to-a-hotel for Pesach! What is the frum world coming to, that Jews with money pay to escape the workload of preparing for Pesach, and thus, miss the entire spiritual meaning of the holiday?”

Until this Pesach, I was one of those who felt something between envy, disdain, and plenty of negative judgment towards the hotel-Pesach crowd. I’ve done a 180 degree turn, and I hope that Hashem will forgive me for my regrettable, previous inability to give benefit of the doubt. Allow me to explain.

I am an author and speaker on Jewish topics by profession, and I was contacted by the organizer of a Pesach hotel program with this offer: “If you’ll give over workshops/speeches for our attendees on the Shabbos and Yomim Tovim of Pesach, we’d love to have your family join us as well.” Now, I had a dilemma. This was a magnificent opportunity for a professional and family experience we would never have otherwise; how could I turn it down? But I was philosophically against the hotel scene, so what should I do? After consulting with my husband and my Rav, we agreed to give it a try this year. Not only were we all pleasantly surprised, I see the entire scene differently now.

What I didn’t realize until I met, and talked with, numerous guests, is that none of the guests in the hotel that I met were there because they are lazy. They are there with a story. A mother with cancer who can’t possibly make Pesach. A divorced father whose kids are with their mother for Pesach. A Bubbe in her late seventies who realizes that she can no longer handle 27 extended guests in her home for the Yomim Tovim, and they have the financial means to treat the family for a gathering at the hotel instead, so why not? Elderly couples whose married children are now making Sederim with their inlaws. Older singles who don’t want to be spending all of Pesach at relative’s homes who look with pity and disdain at their single status. Houses under renovation, Jews who had some kind of major nisayon this year, (or in some cases, two or three major nisyonos!) and they just “need a break.” Jews who find the shiurim and nightly entertainment particularly uplifting, and they realize that their spirits need an infusion of “spark.”

Yes, the food is delicious, and it’s superb not to have to wash a dish, or scrub the house down before Pesach. It certainly is a vacation. Yes, the Sederim are different when you aren’t in the privacy of your own home, and perhaps not ideal for some families. No question about it – there is truth to the concern that we mustn’t abandon our responsibility to pass along to our children how Pesach, (and all of its relevant mitzvos), is prepared in one’s own home. The hotel scene may not be necessary, appropriate or even enjoyable for many of us. But I urge all of us, as a community, to withhold judgment. I now understand that for many in our community, Pesach in a hotel does not substitute for a spiritual Pesach experience, but rather, it makes a kosher, meaningful Pesach possible.

Originally Published June 2, 2008

Missing an Opportunity

People come to Shul on Shabbos morning for one of the following main reasons: 1) The Davening; 2) The Rabbi; 3) The Socialization.

Some attribute the spectacular rise of Covid backyard minyans, to the fact that socialization is the main driver for many, and the backyard minyanim provide a better socialization venue. They’re like Shteibels on steroids, where the participants make the rules.

I personally value the socialization aspect of our Shuls very highly, and long for the days when we can gather for a kiddush, Shalosh Seudos and public shiurim. However, I think we have unfortunately missed an opportunity for serious spiritual growth through improved davening.

Remember our renewed commitments to davening as we prayed alone in our homes for 10 Covid weeks? And now that we’re back, what happened? Yes, we have to deal with the whos, wheres and how longs of social distanced davening. But when we’ve stepped into that first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai, what’s our excuse? Maybe it’s only me, but I suspect others have also not taken full advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

It’s not too late. We can still show Hashem how much we appreciate the return to our Shuls.
You give Hashem your attention for 7 minutes, and He’ll give you the world.

Preparing Your Soul for Pesach

Rabbi Itamar Shwartz author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and the Getting to Know Your Self/Soul/Emotions/Thoughts series has some great articles for Soul Preparation for Pesach.

Pesach Talks

————-

Rabbi Akiva Tatz has some amazing Pesach Shiurim here.

————-

Torah Anytime has hundreds of shiurim on Pesach.

————————

YU Torah has hundreds of shiurim on Pesach.

————————

Aish has many articles on Pesach here.

————————

The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim.”

Rabbi Moshe Gordon explores some of the classical approaches to understanding and fulfilling this Mitzvah in this mp3 on Leaving Mitzraim.

And here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night and the Hagaddah.

Seder
Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Haggadagh
Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

————————

How Can Everyone Make Purim More Meaningful and Really Take Advantage of This Great Day

From the Weekly Bilvavi email. (send an email to subscribe@bilvavi.net)
Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

QUESTION What is the avodah for both men and women and Purim, and how can everyone make Purim more meaningful and really take advantage of this great day?

ANSWER There are a lot of aspects to Purim. The halachah of drinking on Purim applies only to men, and the parameters of this halachah is explained by the Poskim. But there are many other aspects of Purim as well which apply to both men and women. Here are some of those points to think about, and each person should try to do them on his or her own level, according to his or her personal capabilities – and not based on any reasons influenced by factors that are either social, or emotional, or family-based, because there are many times where people act based solely on “what’s normal”, and this uproots any serenity and joy that they could have on Purim.

1) Consider the aspect of reading the Megillah on Purim. Both men and women are obligated to hear the Megillah on Purim. And on a more inner level, both men and women can reflect on the events in the Megillah and see how there was Divine Providence laced throughout this story, because the word “Megillas Esther” means to “reveal” the “hidden”, to turn the concealment (hester) into giluy (revelation of Hashem’s Divine Providence). A person can go through all of the details in the Purim story, from beginning until end, and he can see how it was all an unfolding process of Hashem’s Divine Providence – as opposed to a bunch of random details that have no connection to each other.

On an even deeper level, each person, whether a man or woman, on his or her own level, can see Hashem’s inner mode of conduct hidden in the Creation, as explained in sefer Daas Tevunos, and how every event in the world can be seen through the lens of Hashem’s carefully planned Divine Providence, His goodness, and the revelation of His Oneness.

2) Consider the mitzvah of sending Mishloach Manos on Purim. The purpose of this mitzvah is to increase love and friendship. On the obligatory level, everyone is obligated to send two portions of food to someone. On an inner level, one should also think about whom he will make happy by giving Mishloach Manos to. Then one should think, “What can I put into this Mishloach Manos package which will make the other person happy? What would that person really enjoy?” One should put thought into how much Mishloach Manos to send, what the quality of it should be like, how nice it should look & what kind of nice messages he can send with it. Everyone should do this only according to her personal capabilities, and not over-do it.
Even more so, when giving Mishloach Manos, it should not just be an act of giving motivated by logic alone, but it should be given from the depth of one’s heart, with love and joy, to make the other person happy.

Included in this aspect (gladdening other people on Purim) is to make the children happy, with costumes and the like. But again, one should do this only within her actual capabilities, and only if she can do it with joy.

3) Consider also the mitzvah to give Matanos L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor) on Purim. One should look for a person who needs it the most, and who would be the happiest to receive it – and one should strive to give Matanos L’Evyonim specifically to this kind of person. A woman usually needs to ask her husband about whom she may give Matanos L’Evyonim to, mainly so that her husband should agree with her decision.

4) Regarding the seudah of Purim, [if you are hosting a seudah], try to serve dishes that each person there will enjoy, catered to his or her particular tastes. The main point of the seudah on Purim, of course, is to think about and discuss Purim-related matters and what Purim is all about, and to stay away from any words that can be insulting to others, which only serve to bring out the most unrefined and impure elements in one’s nature.

5) The purpose of the day of Purim is to reach a deep place in ourselves that is above one’s daas (logical reasoning and understanding). For men, whose main mitzvah is to learn Torah, their main work on this world is to develop the power of their logic throughout the year, by studying Torah. That is why men need the intoxicating effects of wine (or the dulling effect of sleep) in order to “nullify” their logical understanding and reach a place that goes beyond logical understanding. Women, who are exempt from Torah study, are therefore closer to the concept of nullifying their understanding and to more easily reach a place that goes beyond logical understanding. This is the point known as temimus
(non-intellectual simplicity or earnestness).

Thus the main avodah of the day of Purim is: “Be wholesome with Hashem your G-d”, to walk with Him in temimus (simplicity), without any intellectual thinking. It is about sensing His unlimited love for us, just as the people in the time of Achashveirosh re-accepted the Torah out of their great love of Hashem that they saw through the miracles of Purim. It is about feeling how He always gives of His kindnesses to us, out of His great love for us, by saving us from trouble, and by bestowing good upon us. From this understanding, we can come to feel the sweetness and pleasantness of being close to Him. This is the root of true simchah on Purim, because by feeling close to Hashem a person feels physically lighter, in the body in general and specifically in the feet. That is why one can easily sing and dance on Purim, just as by the song of Miriam, when the joy of the women made them feel lighter, causing them to quickly sing and dance.

And that is why the miracles on Purim happened precisely through women [Esther]. It is because women are closer to this temimus (simplicity and earnestness). Men need to drink on Purim as a means to reach this place of temimus, whereas women are closer to reaching it, without the means of drinking. It only requires a little bit of re-fl ecting and calm silence, to enter into the deepest place within oneself – and each person on his or her own level can do it. (from the Bilvavi Q & A archive.)

Join the Bilvavi active email list: subscribe@bilvavi.net
Audio classes, transcripts, translations online at www.bilvavi.net
Original audio files available on “Kol haLashon” Israel 073.295.1245 l USA 718.521.5231
Questions on any subject in english or hebrew: rav@bilvavi.net or online www.question.bilvavi.net
To Sponsor An Issue Call 917.589.3379

When Adar Enters, Focus on Connection and Completion

The Gemora (Ta’anis 29a) tells us that “Just as from when the month of Av enters, we minimize our happiness, so too from when the month of Adar enters, we increase our happiness.”

Although we are taught to increase our happiness, there are no specific mitzvos commanded to accomplish this increase. The Maharal in his commentary on Avos (6:1) says that happiness flows from completeness, just as grief is the result of loss and deficiency. When we are connected within ourselves, to Hashem, and to other people, we are more complete and the happiness flows. Happiness is not the goal of Judaism, but when we accomplish our purpose through the pursuit of three types of connection, happiness is the result.

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the popular Bilvavi and Da Es seforim, points out that our purpose in this world is rooted in these three types of connection: connection between our body and soul, connection between ourselves and Hashem, and connection between ourselves and other people.
The Mishna in Avos (1:2) says the world stands on three things, Torah, Service of Hashem, and Acts of Kindness. The Nesivos Shalom says that the world refered to in the Mishna is our personal world which we build each and every day. Torah provides us with the concepts and mitzvos that enable us to use the material world in a spiritual way – which connects our physical bodies to our spiritual soul. Service of Hashem is accomplished through prayer which connects us to Hashem on a daily basis. Acts of Kindness, both large and small, connect us to our family, friends and community.

When we actualize these connections, through learning Torah, prayer, and chesed, we should focus on feeling the increase in our sense of completion. If we do this our happiness will increase.

Purim – It’s Not a Party for the Non-Observant

When I first came to yeshiva in Israel it happened to be this time of year leading up to the holiday of Purim. There was an interest and an excitement amongst the students and Rabbis. Since I didn’t really know what it was all about, I was kind of keeping it at a distance from myself in my mind and focusing on my studies. I had come to yeshiva seeking the answers to life’s most important questions and I had found a happy home there delving into the meaning of life, morality, and spirituality.

I noticed leading up to Purim that more and more people were saying to me how much I was going to enjoy the holiday and how much fun it would be. The implication was that since I was secular, and secular people like parties, I would like Purim because it’s a party. However, as Purim got closer, and the holiday was not really being explained to me, I forced an older student to go through the Megillah with me so I’d know a little bit more what the holiday is about.

Once Purim descended upon us I understood it to some extent, but I was highly unimpressed with the party aspect. You see as far as secular parties go it wasn’t much. Sure some costumes were interesting and it was different seeing the Rabbis more relaxed, but I was there in yeshiva for spirituality, not to party. In fact, since it was hyped so much by people it was even more of a let down.

Maybe all the guys had loved Purim their first time and thought I would too. Or maybe they forgot what it was like the first time. There are many good reasons for their enthusiasm and assumption I would enjoy the Purim parties. But my experience was flat and unexciting. My feeling was they were cheapening my search for spirituality by assuming I would love to drink cheap wine and dance in a circle.

Now that I’m frum and don’t watch T.V. or go to secular parties, the Purim parties are a lot of fun. And I’ve learned to appreciate the spirituality that’s hidden in the party.

But with my students, I try not to get there hopes up about the partying because for most of them, they could go to a party that’s a lot more fun and intoxicating. And I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that the reason they are studying with me is to get more spirituality in their lives. So I try to educate them about the deeper meaning behind the masks.

And then I pour them a glass of cheap wine.

Originally published March 6, 2006

Purim: Happiness In Spite Of Pain

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

What is happiness? Basically, it is to fulfill a lacking. The more lacking we feel, the greater happiness we feel when we fulfill what we’re missing.

It’s easy to be happy on Purim – after all, we experienced a redemption! We were saved from death. But how can we be happy today when we are in exile, and we are full of suffering?

In Tehillim we say, “Serve Hashem with joy”. This means that we can always be happy – but how? When we experience failure and we are down, how can we be happy?

It’s nice to say, “Gam Zu L’Tovah” — “This, too is for the best”. But that doesn’t yet prove we are happy; that would definitely show Emunah in Hashem, but how can we be actually happy in spite of all the suffering we have?

The way we can always be happy, even amidst pain, is by nullifying our will completely to Hashem.

What does it means to nullify our selves?

It doesn’t mean simply to give up what we want for Hashem, to sacrifice for Him, (which is indeed commendable). It means that my entire existence is completely for Hashem! Let us elaborate further.

Why is it that most people don’t feel that Hashem is always with them? How come people don’t feel Hashem in their life?

Many people will answer – “I must have many sins, therefore I don’t feel Hashem next to me.” That is true, but there is a more inner reason.

The true, inner reason is because most people simply never realize that Hashem even exists! How then can a person recognize Hashem in his life?

If a person nullifies his ego, he will automatically come to realize Hashem’s existence. The “Me, me me” in a person is what prevents a person from experiencing the simple awareness of Hashem’s existence.

When a person suffers — let’s say a person becomes ill – it is a time to “accept suffering”; the Mishna in Avos says that we must accept suffering. But what does it mean to accept suffering? Does it mean that a person should think, “Let my suffering be an atonement for all my sins?” That is not the purpose of suffering (although it is definitely true that suffering does atone one’s sins). The purpose of accepting suffering is to give up one’s very self to Hashem.

When one suffers, he has the opportunity to give up his very self, bringing himself ever closer to Hashem. This is how a person can rejoice even while he is suffering – by giving up his very self to Hashem.

What is Purim to us?

For many people, Purim is a day of strict halachic observance and nothing more. Purim can be a day of observing the mitzvos with all their dikduk and chumros – hearing the Megillah this way and that way, giving this and that for Mishloach Manos and Matanos L’evyonim – it can remain at that, a day of superficial mitzvah observance!

We are not trying to make fun of those who are very frum to carry out every halacha of Purim! We are not saying these are not good things. It is very commendable to observe and carry our all the halachos of Purim as best as possible. But there is a lot more to Purim than just the mitzvos of Purim!

The question we must ask ourselves every year is: “Did Purim change me?” Did you simply rejoice over the fact that the Jews were saved on Purim, celebrating the same celebration every year… or did you succeed in realizing that you have to give your self up for Hashem?

If you are simply happy on Purim because there was one time in history that the Jews were saved on this day, your happiness on Purim is only on Purim – that’s it! You will remain the same sad person after Purim ends, not having changed a bit.

The halacha is that “A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until has lost his daas”. Why?

By getting drunk on Purim, we can come to a level of recognizing Hashem in our lives, by realizing that we must give our selves up for him. The Purim of today that we see is very far from the truth, from the way it is supposed to be. In fact, there is no day further from the truth than modern-day Purim; we are failing to use it properly. Let’s turn it around – V’nahafoch Hu!

Dealing With Disappointment

By Yonoson Rosenblum

Torah isn’t just a lifestyle choice, no matter how attractive or comfortable. Above all, it is the Truth

Rabbi Berel Wein has famously remarked, “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews.” As great as my admiration and affection for Rabbi Wein is, I have never been a fan of this particular comment.

Most important, it is futile: We all know — and need to know — that Judaism is being judged all the time by the Jews, and particularly by the most identifiable among us. That is particularly true for the gentiles judging Judaism, but also for nonobservant Jews as well.

Nevertheless, I recently came to appreciate a new profundity in Rabbi Wein’s line, in a context other than the one I always understood it. I have always assumed that Rabbi Wein was addressing his words to those on the outside of Torah Judaism looking in.

But lately it dawned upon me that he might well have been speaking to those on the inside dismayed by the behavior of their fellow Orthodox Jews. The occasion for my reevaluation was a call I received this week from a baal teshuvah of decades’ standing. He told me that he finds himself terribly disillusioned by those whom he most respected, and that he is hearing the same from many friends who, like him, are baalei teshuvah of longstanding, and even from those who were born into religious families.

My caller — someone whom I have never met — and his friends were particularly upset by the communal response to COVID-19. He had a particular grievance, as he is a doctor who has treated many of the Torah scholars in his community and their families. And he has grown increasingly exasperated at being told, “The doctors don’t know what they are talking about [with respect to urging people to wear masks, especially inside, or maintaining social distancing].” He had always been taught that the halachah pesukah is to act in accord with the best consensus among doctors at that particular moment in history.

THAT PHONE CALL left me badly shaken, and since that conversation, I have been thinking about what I could tell my caller.

Let me begin with a couple of quasi-sociological observations. The first I heard well over thirty years ago from Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb: No one becomes an Orthodox Jew exclusively for intellectual reasons. (And that is even more the case for those born into the Orthodox world.) For the baal teshuvah, the beauty of the Shabbos table, the warm families (albeit often idealized), the desire to connect oneself to the great chain of the Jewish People, the awe one feels for figures totally unlike anyone whom one has met before — in my case, Rabbi Nachman Bulman and, ybdlcht”a, Rabbi Aharon Feldman — all play a role.

Second observation: Community plays an outsized role for an observant Jew, as compared to his secular neighbors. Every Jew is defined by his membership in Klal Yisrael (and in many cases various sub-communities thereof as well). Many of our basic obligations depend on a larger community for their optimal performance. And the feeling of being part of a community of people who care about one another is one of the great joys of a Torah life. The decision of a number of chassidic rebbes to go ahead with Tu B’Shevat gatherings of thousands was, I’m told, based on the fear that without such communal events, many would feel that their Yiddishkeit had been drained of all meaning.

Yet we have to remember that we are not only members of a community. We are also individuals, with our own unique relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. As I have written many times in the name of Rav Moshe Shapira ztz”l, “On Rosh Hashanah, we confront Hashem as a solitary individual, stripped of social context.”

At some point, we have to make sure that our constant question is: What does Hashem want from me at this moment? And not: What will the neighbors say? When we do that, we will find other kindred souls on the path. Disappointment with a particular rav or even with a large part of a community need not leave one alone or bereft. As I pointed out to my caller, many of the most prominent local rabbanim and poskim in his community fully support his position, and the shul with the largest number of daily mispallelim is also the strictest with regard to masks and social distancing.

In order to overcome the inevitable disappointment that arises when our idealized vision of having moved into a perfect community does not pan out, we have to remember that Torah is not just a lifestyle choice, no matter how attractive or comfortable it happens to be. Above all, it is the Truth. Lifestyles can be cast aside when they no longer satisfy or they become a source of embarrassment. But the Truth obligates us, even when we are alienated to one degree another from the community. Once one perceives the Torah as the ultimate Truth, he can no longer imagine himself living a life other than as a Torah Jew.

In one sense, baalei teshuvah have it easier than FFBs. The initial idealistic excitement of upending their lives brings a tremendous momentum to their entry into the Torah world. Yet in the end that momentum will not be sufficient to sustain one over a lifetime, any more than maintaining the default position of having been born into a religious family will sustain a rich religious life.

We were born to labor, and labor we must. Always. When one feels distraught over certain perceived communal shortcomings, it is time to turn inward and focus more intensely on our individual tasks as Torah Jews.

The Maharal in his introduction to Derech Hachayim on Pirkei Avos describes man as coming into the world with a threefold task: to complete himself with respect to his fellow man; to complete himself with respect to Hashem; and to complete himself in relation to himself. The three cardinal sins, which require one to give up one’s life rather than commit them, each derive from the fact that they render completion in one of those areas impossible: murder, with respect to connecting to one’s fellow man; idolatry, with respect to one’s relationship to Hashem; and animalistic licentiousness with respect to completion of oneself. A remarkable two-volume work by the late Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Greenwald, With Truth and with Love, explores these different forms of connection in detail and in the context of an overarching Torah vision.

But the necessary precondition for marshaling all our kochos for self-completion is to be constantly reinforcing our conviction in the truth of Torah. There are many ways and combinations of ways toward developing knowledge of the Truth of Hashem and His Torah. But it is critical that each of us be involved in them. For some it will be the contemplation of the quality of human beings formed by the deepest immersion in Torah. One need go no further than the three extraordinary Jews portrayed in the last issue of Mishpacha. For others, it might be reflection on history’s long-lasting miracle, the survival of the Jewish People, and, in particular, those Jews grounded in Torah.

Some will find compelling science-based proofs for the Creator. In his explication of the Divine Name Shakkai (the expression of Hashem as He Who imposes limits), in Exodus: A Parasha Companion, for instance, Rabbi David Fohrman cites leading cosmologists to show that had there been any infinitesimal variation in the relative strengths of the four forces that comprise the universe — gravity, electromagnetic, the nuclear strong force, and the nuclear weak force — it could not have come into existence.

I cannot imagine a week without hours devoted to Chumash and delving into the commentaries, both ancient and modern, that derive infinite layers of meaning from the text and guidance for our everyday lives. Or a day without participation in the same debates that have engrossed the greatest minds for thousands of years.

That immersion will not keep me from feeling frustration over those actions by chareidi Jews that push other Jews away from ever experiencing the excitement and feeling of connectedness that I do. But it ensures that I would never wish to be leading a life different from the one I am at present.

Originally Published in Mishpacha Magazine – February 10, 2021

Understanding Gods Plan as Best We Can

Over the past few weeks (in January 2007), I’ve started, and failed to finish, about 5 different posts for Beyond BT. While all were different, all had the same theme: why aren’t people seeing the same ‘truths’ that I see in the Torah?

I started all of these posts trying to engender a spirit of honest debate and questioning, but stopped before I’d completed them. Why? Firstly, because like everyone, I have my own baggage, and however ‘objective’ I wish I was, I know that my own slanted viewpoint creeps in here and there, and warps the real essence of what I’m trying to write.

Secondly, because many of the subjects I was trying to write about – and which are exercising me at the moment – are ‘biggies’. Let me share some examples: We moved to Israel from the UK, about a year and a half ago. While many people, thank G-d, have had an easy aliya, we have had quite a challenging aliya, with things going ‘wrong’ on many different levels.

Without belaboring the point, within a week of moving here, we lost all of our savings (thanks to an ‘unexpected development’ back in chutz); had a falling out with a close family member ostensibly upset about our move; and a firm offer of a job (again, with a firm in chutz) retracted.

From that point, we went on to have our credit card stolen, our house broken into, business difficulties which in turn lead to financial difficulties, and the dawning realization that socially, we just weren’t fitting in all that well.

Yet despite all this – or maybe, because of all of it – I haven’t stopped thanking Hashem that we made the move. In the UK, we were both workaholics; in Israel, we have had the time and space to really appreciate the blessings that are our children. In the UK, I was too busy making and spending money to really do much in the way of learning or chesed. Here, I can’t give tzedeka as freely as I’d like to. But boy, am I making an effort to have Shabbat guests and to find ‘free’ ways of doing nice things for people.

In Israel, thanks to many of our difficulties, I am now inordinately grateful for everything I do have, like my health, my husband, my family more generally. In chutz, I would get down if even the tiniest thing didn’t go my way. In Israel, I am meeting so many great people, who are really on an upward path in terms of their yiddishkeit. People who are really living their Judaism, and for whom Hashem permeates every minute, every moment, every decision and action. In chutz, I really wasn’t.

As one of the other posters here commented, all the arguments about moving to Israel etc, have been very well rehearsed. But when you live here – and you really struggle to live here – you understand how a Jew who doesn’t live here is missing out on a very fundamental part of their yiddishkeit. That’s controversial, I know. But it’s what I truly believe.

Here’s another ‘controversial’ thing that the last few months here have shown me: Having a lot of material wealth is an enormous obstacle to getting close to Hashem. Yes, the dream house, luxury car, gourmet meal and designer outfit is nice, on one level. But that level is incredibly superficial. I had nice things in London and lots of money. And I realize now just how complacent I’d become in my yiddishkeit as a result.

Here, I have prayed like I have never prayed before. It’s not always been a comfortable experience. But I’ve had to ask myself ‘what are we here for?’ and I’ve had to realize that the answer is ‘to work on ourselves and get closer to our creator’. And you don’t do that by shopping.

The last thing I’ve realized, again controversially, is that ‘feminism’ and Judaism really don’t go together. To the point that now, I try to steer clear of any self-styled ‘orthodox feminists’. Why? Because anyone who is putting gender politics into Torah really doesn’t grasp the basic principles underlying creation: G-d made the world. G-d is perfect. G-d knew exactly what he was doing, and if you have a problem with it, you are essentially saying that you know better than G-d.

I know others will differ, but for me, that is a fundamentally problematic position to take; it’s a circle that simply can’t be squared.

Every issue / problem / challenge has G-d at its root. From the small niggles, to the larger frustrations and the enormous tragedies, G-d is running the world, and knows better than we do what is for our best, and ultimately, what is for our ultimate ‘good’.

It sounds strange, even to me, to write these words and be that much closer to genuinely believing them. But coming to Israel, with all the ups and downs it has entailed, has helped me to realize that if I am to have a meaningful relationship with G-d, and also to my Judaism, I have to accept that I can only ever see a very small part of Gods plan – and that his ability to run the world is far beyond what I can comprehend.

Originally Posted in January, 2007

The Halachos of Snow

As we shovel and plow and navigate our way to work, it’s a great time to listen to some Torah to Go. A number of years ago Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, gave a shiur at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel about Inyanei D’Yoma (relevant topic of the day), namely the Halachos of Snow. It was an amazing shiur, which you can download here, highlighting that in addition to the snow on the ground, the abstraction of snow is also a beautiful sight.

The Ramchal in the Book of Logic teaches us that the labor of the intellect is to see things as they really are, but we often make mistakes and come to false conclusions. The two most basic functions of the mind in the quest for knowledge are the activities of comparison and differentiation. Mistakes can occur in either one of these two activities, when we compare things that are not similar or differentiate things which are not really different.

This is where snow as an abstraction is so fascinating as Rabbi Schachter gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the issues involved when we compare and differentiate the realities of snow in various circumstances. The kids love good packing snow and one of the questions we can ask is whether our construction of a snow man on Shabbos would be considered building or not?

Another question is in what ways is snow similar to water. We know that a collection of water in a Mikveh has certain spirtual properties in that it can remove spiritual impurity. What happens if you had a Mikveh filled with snow and you immersed yourself in it. Is it considered a body of water at rest on the ground like a mikveh filled with water or perhaps the nature of snow prevent it from acting as a collected body of water at rest?

As we walked through the streets in the aftermath of the storm the snow is packed solid and piled high. Is that packed snow considered an extension of the ground or not? To build an eruv, the marker has to be at 40 inches above the ground. When packed snow covers the ground do we measure from the top of the snow or do we measure from the ground?

Rabbi Schacter dealt with many more issues regarding the abstractions of snow and I highly recommend listening to the audio. The physical reality of snow presents one set of issues, but the abstraction of snow sheds an entirely different spotlight on this wondrous creation in Hashem’s world.

OMG

Probably the most incredible thing that happened during Krias Yam Suf, was not the miraculous splitting of the sea or the drowning of the Egyptian army, or the salvation of the Jewish people. But rather when all of Klal Yisroel lifted up their voices and sang in unison as one choir.

Every individual was able to make the following declaration: Zeh K-e-li Ve-anvehu: This is my God and I will glorify Him.

They came to recognize not only that there is a God and He does good and miraculous things for us. But rather this is my God and He does good for me.

The big prize of life is not to discover that there is a God and he does good, but rather that this is my God.

OMG

Bringing Holiness Into How You Eat

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download some amazing Drashos on Eating and Tu B’Shevat

For everything that we eat or drink, we have to recite a berachah (benediction\blessing) over the food, before we eat\drink and after we eat\drink. There is a verse, “A good eye is blessed.” When we make a blessing over food, we need to “eat” the good in it, and then it is “blessed.” Everything in creation is a mix of good and evil, and our avodah is to sift out the good from the evil. All of our food too is a mix of good and evil. Either we can see the “good” in it and eat it with a “good eye”, or we are seeing it from the “evil eye” and we are eating the food out of an evil desire for the food. Ever since Chavah saw the fruit of the Eitz HaDaas and she desired us, there is a part in us which desires food as soon as we see food, and this desire is coming from evil. It is the desire to simply eat the food and satisfy the desire.

In everything we encounter, we must see the good and evil in each thing [as we began to mention in the previous chapter]. We must first see the “good” in everything, Hashem has placed “good” into everything in Creation. But if a person just eats without doing any thinking at all before he eats, he eats without any yishuv hadaas (settled mind), and by default, he will eat simply to satisfy the desire for the food. And if a person goes further with this and he indulges in the food, this is an even more evil part of the desire.

The ideal way to eat is to eat with yishuv hadaas – to eat it calmly. For example, when you look at food, think about the following. First of all, there is “good” in this food here. That is why you are making the blessing over it. The food is a creation of Hashem. “Borei pri ha’etz”, “Borei pri ha’adamah” – we need to recognize how Hashem is the Creator, in each food we eat. This is the “good” we can find in each food. The “good” in each food is how we connect to the good in each food, and this is how we have an ayin tovah, “good eye”. Having a “good eye” in this way connects us to the food in the right way: to feel thankful to Hashem for the food right before we eat it.

When a person pauses for just half a minute before he eats the food and he thinks that Hashem created it, he lives a whole different kind of life! Right before you are about to eat, pause a second and remember that Hashem bestows good upon us, and that we are thanking Him for it. Hashem is giving you something good – remember that, and thank Him for it. In order to connect to the good in a food, you need a “good heart”. Your soul is then truly satisfied inside from this “good” in the food that you have connected yourself, which is achieved by attributing the food to Hashem’s goodness.

Hashem keeps giving us all kinds of things every day. A large part of this is food. We all know in our brains that Hashem gave these foods to us, but we don’t always remember. We have to remind ourselves before we eat that Hashem gives it to us. We need to sense it right before we eat, and it is not enough just to know about this intellectually. Even if we sense that Hashem gives us so much, we must be able to sense it right before we eat.

For example, if a person takes an apple to eat, remind yourself of how good it is that Hashem is giving it to you. Think about how Hashem’s good is contained in this fruit. This is a deeper kind of awareness than just knowing that Hashem gives you the fruit. Think that it is good, for Hashem has placed His good in everything in Creation, and He is now giving it to you.

The Chovos HaLevovos writes in Shaar HaBechinah that every day, a person has to find something new to thank Hashem for. This doesn’t just mean that each day we receive something else from Hashem. Rather, it is that each day we need to see how each thing is good, and this is a new thing to thank Hashem for each day. Don’t just think that this food is good because it gives you strength to serve Hashem better; that is true, but it is not yet the deeper awareness. The deeper awareness is to realize that the food in your hands is good, because Hashem gives you good each day.

Inspiration in Everyday Life

When I was a Yeshivah student, one of the rabbis brought us to a meeting with Rav Shlomo Wolbe. A question was raised in that meeting by a married student, which I didn’t really grasp. “How can someone deal with the spiritual letdown of being involved in mundane affairs? After a day learning in Kollel, I come home and have to deal with diapers, shopping, bills, dirty dishes, etc. How does one remain spiritual in face of this? What can I tell my wife, who has to deal with this all day?”

At the time, being unmarried, I couldn’t relate much to the question, except in a theoretical way. Years later, I was returning from the Beis Midrash on Yom Kippur, during the break between Mussaf and Minchah. Wearing my white kittel, feeling spiritually elevated, the nigunim of the Yom Kippur service reverberating in my mind, I entered my apartment and soon found myself in an encounter with a six month year old baby and a heavily soiled diaper. That’s when the question finally sunk in and I recalled Rav Wolbe’s answer:

“Once, I went with one of the students of Beer Yaakov to buy a piece of jewelry for his kallah. We took the bus to Tel Aviv, and while we were walking down a thoroughfare, he asked me: ‘Rebbe, what are we doing here? Why should we leave the spiritual environs of the Beis Midrash to walk in this commercial district, a completely materialistic environment, for the sake of a piece of jewelry?’

“I answered: ‘Here, we are walking in the world of chesed. The Beis Midrash is the world of Torah and Tefillah. This is the world of chesed.’”

The world of chesed (loving-kindness). The Mishnah says: “The world stands on three pillars: Torah, Divine Service, and acts of kindness.”

For many years, I used to condition myself for 30 seconds before I entered the home: Now, you are entering the world of chesed. Put aside the intricacies of the Gemara, leave the yearning to be close to Hashem in prayer, and focus on chesed!

Different parts of our day have a different focus, and different stages of our lives have a different focus. Focusing on the great opportunities that await us in the world of chesed brings a spiritual uplift to the mundane affairs of everyday life.

Originally posted in February, 2008

Sharing Details About Our Past

After a discussion with my FFB in-laws about “Inspired” and some griping here, David suggested I write about that perennial BT question: Should we or shouldn’t we share details about our old lives?

For those who missed that post, my in-law objected to “Inspired” because in her words, “Al pi halacha, you are not supposed to mention your past aveiros.”

I checked that “halacha” out with my Rov and learned that although there is a prohibition against asking BTs about the past, BTs are permitted to share as much or as little they like. Just like anything else which involves information about a person which could possibly damage them, what you share depends on your purpose. A film like “Inspired” seems to be the highest purpose I can think of for mentioning the past; the further removed the people were from Yiddishkeit, the more remarkable their teshuva seemed.
Read more Sharing Details About Our Past

Should I Argue Against Evolution or for a G-d Directed Evolution

I have a work associate who seems interested in Torah, but he likes to challenge me about contradictions between Torah and science and other things. He recently asked me about the Torahs views on Evolution.

On the one hand, I could say that that I don’t believe in evolution and there are many holes in evolution theory and that scientists are biased against a belief in G-d. On the other hand, many secular Jews accept the scientific consensus that evolution did take place, and I could make the case that a G-d directed evolution would not necessarily contradict the Torah.

My Rav holds that you don’t have to take a 6,000 year creation literally.

What approach makes more sense when dealing with non observant Jews?

– Jack

Originally posted July 2008

The Biggest Problem in Judaism

What’s the biggest problem in Judaism. A lot of things come to mind, the Covid Crisis, the Yeshiva System, the Shidduch System, the Chinuch System, the Left, the Right, the Middle, the Open, the Closed, the Leadership, the lack of Leadership, etc.

However, I think the biggest problem in Judaism is clearly stated in the pasuk in Devarim:
And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, that you
1) fear Him, 2) walk in His ways, 3) love Him, 4) serve Him with all your heart and all your soul and 5) observe all the mitzvos.

That’s what’s expected of us!

On top of that we have an animal soul that’s impulsive, loves physical pleasure, and detests exertion. We have a yetzer hara that makes us ego-centric leading to selfishness, anger, envy and honor seeking. And we live in a world loaded with intellectual, emotional and physical distractions like politics, business, sports, shopping, gadgets, social media, and entertainment.

And even when we are able to overcome the physical, emotional and intellectual deterrents and create some connection to Hashem through fear, middos development, love, wholehearted service, and meticulous mitzvos observance – the major payoff for most people, will not even be received in this world, but in the World to Come.

This challenge is a tall order and it’s not really emphasized to children or adults, because it would discourage them. So Yeshivos focus on the information and thought development of Torah study, and Kiruv and non-Yeshivish environments offer Torah as a lifestyle choice. So it should be no surprise that many of us want to move to a town where we can sit back a little and enjoy the Torah lifestyle. And some of us choose a mostly physical lifestyle, with a side order of spirituality.

That is the Biggest Problem in Judaism – a lot is expected of us and it’s really hard given our nature and environment. However, this is a problem that Hashem created. And if He created this problem, we know that He created a solution. The solution is following a Torah based spiritual growth path. With such a path, a person can truly connect to Hashem and receive the greatest pleasure possible in this world and the next.

Yearning on the Tenth of Teves

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

The Absence of Seeing Hashem In Creation

It is not coincidental that the fast of Asarah B’Teves, the tenth day of the month of Teves, is also during the tenth month of the year.

The significance of the number 10 is found in many places. There is a mitzvah for a person to give maaser, to tithe his crops and animals, to the Levi and Kohen. The holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, is on the tenth of Tishrei. Avraham Avinu was tested with ten trials, and the Jewish people endured ten trials in Egypt. What is the root of all this?

The Mishnah in Avos says that the world was created with ten expressions of Hashem. That was how the world was created, but what is the purpose of it all? To recognize the One who made it all. How do we recognize Him? Through mitzvos, tefillah, and perfecting our middos. Those are all the tools, but what is the goal? To recognize Him completely, to have d’veykus in Him, as the Mesillas Yesharim writes in the beginning. So the world was created through ten expressions, and the purpose of all of Creation is for the creations to become close and attached to Him.

The purpose of the world is manifest in the dimensions of time, space, and soul. In time, the purpose of the world is revealed on Yom Kippur, when all sins are forgiven, when everyone becomes purified, and the purpose of this purification is that all of the creations can be close to Hashem. At what time does a person feel closest to Hashem? Some people can feel the closeness during a time of turbulent emotions, such as in a time of joyous celebration, or during a troublesome time. But the time when almost all people feel closer to Hashem is, on Yom Kippur.

Where is the place in the world where the purpose of Creation was revealed? It was by the Beis HaMikdash. That was where a person could clearly sense Hashem. Our Sages said that when a person entered the Beis HaMikdash, he could feel clearly that he was standing in Hashem’s Presence. In our own times, people can also feel this closeness, of feeling Hashem’s Presence, on varying levels. Some feel it more and some feel it less. But in those times, in the Beis HaMikdash, everyone felt it clearly. The Vilna Gaon says that we have no comprehension of the level of even the simplest Jew then.

Furthermore, there were ten miracles that took place every day in the Beis HaMikdash. There was a unique revelation of Torah that came forth from there, “For from Zion comes forth the Torah, and the word of Hashem, from Jerusalem”, and this was a continuation of the revelations that took place on Har Sinai when the Torah was given. Har HaMoriah, the mountain where the Beis HaMikdash rested on, was a continuation of the light of Torah which Hashem revealed on Har Sinai. It was the place that revealed Hashem’s Presence so clearly on this world. Everyone who entered the Beis HaMikdash was able to sense clearly what was important and what wasn’t, what the main part of life is, why we exist, what we are living for, what our purpose is.

This revelation was not only limited to the Beis HaMikdash. An illumination of it spread to the rest of Yerushalayim, and also to the rest of Eretz Yisrael. Offshoots of it could also be felt at the other ends of the world. The closer a person got to the Beis HaMikdash, the closer he felt to Hashem. This was known as the event of aliyah l’regel, ascending by foot [on the festivals] to the Beis HaMikdash. Chazal say Yerushalayim was the “highest of the lands”, which means it was the highest spiritual peak of the world. But it also meant that a person who went there would ascend on a soul level. It was the place in the world where the purpose of Creation was revealed. The closeness to Hashem there was felt clearly in the soul as a simple feeling of the heart. That was the case in the times when the Beis HaMikdash stood.

The beginning of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash took place on the 10th of Teves. The Beis Yosef writes that if the 10th of Teves would fall out on Shabbos, it would be observed even on Shabbos. What is the great spiritual significance of this fast day?

There was a very deep destruction that took place on this day. It was the beginning of the destruction of a place in the world where the purpose of Creation was revealed. It signified the beginning of an event where we could no longer go to a place in the world where the clarity of Hashem’s presence was felt, where the purpose of the Creation was revealed. Certainly, the purpose of Creation can still be revealed, even in our own times, but it has become very hidden since the beginning of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash [which took place on the 10th of Teves].

To illustrate the idea, we know that all of Creation came from Hashem’s word. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, a person could sense Hashem so clearly that even when he viewed a simple creation in front of him, he saw how it came from Hashem. One saw the light outside and was aware that the light comes from Hashem’s light, which He created on the first day. One was able to see then how the water, the earth, the sky, the sun, the moon, the heavens and all of the stars in it, the plants, mountains, animals and all people in the world, all of Creation, comes from Hashem – from the ten expressions that He used to create the world.

Today, when we see all of this, we do not see it all as the expression of Hashem. We just see a world in front of us at face value. That is the meaning of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash! When the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, it was not only a massive burning and an obliteration of an edifice of many stones. It was a destruction of all that the Beis HaMikdash stood for!

The beginning of the tragedies took place on the 10th of Teves, because the purpose of the Creation went into hiding, on this day. It was no longer revealed clearly in the world, and instead it went into a concealed, hidden state. The 10th of Teves is about the destruction of all the spiritual revelation that used to exist clearly in Creation. Today, this spiritual revelation is hidden. A simple, average Jew in the times of the Beis HaMikdash could feel it. Today, the average Jew cannot.

The Chofetz Chaim wrote many important sefarim, such as Chofetz Chaim and Shemiras HaLashon, which had many novel halachos on the laws of permitted and forbidden speech. He also wrote the monumental work Mishnah Berurah, which explains many aspects of daily halachah. But he also wrote a sefer on the laws of Kodshim, detailing the laws of the sacrifices and avodah in the Beis HaMikdash, which he wrote for Kohanim, so that Kohanim can know the halachos of the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash. He said that he wrote this sefer because the arrival of Mashiach was imminent, and that Kohanim should therefore be prepared for the halachos. He had very clear emunah in the arrival of Mashiach. His emunah in Moshiach’s arrival was clear and simple.

Yet, the same Chofetz Chaim, who possessed such strong and clear emunah, also worked very hard to maintain his emunah. He said that whenever he felt somewhat lacking in emunah, he would open up a Chumash and begin to read through the first chapter of parshas Beraishis, to renew his emunah. He would begin with “In the beginning, Hashem created the heavens and the earth”, and review all of the events, until he felt his clarity of emunah again. Then he would return to his regular learning.

The destruction that took place on the tenth of Teves was a total antithesis to the above.

Why Do We Want The Beis HaMikdash?

Many people know about this, but how many people live it? In the times of the Beis HaMikdash everyone felt it clearly and yearned all the time for even more closeness.

Every day we daven for the return of the Beis HaMikdash, in Shemoneh Esrei and in Bircas HaMazon. But in our souls, we have to await it. Each person needs to wonder if he really has the yearning, if he really feels what he’s missing without the Beis HaMikdash. Do any of us have a yearning that it be rebuilt? And if we do, why do want it? For what do we need it? We believe in the Sages that there will be a third Beis HaMikdash, as Hashem promised us through the words of His prophets, and that it will be eternal. But for what do we need it? First we need to yearn for it.

Fasting on Asarah B’Teves is the basic level of observance, and it is an obligation upon each Jew, but it is only the external part of this day. We need to infuse an internal meaning into this day, besides for actually observing the fast. The internal part of our avodah on the tenth of Teves is, that we need to wonder if we want the Beis HaMikdash – and in addition, why we want it.

The Sages said that all Heavenly blessing came to the world because of the Beis HaMikdash. So if a person is missing livelihood, he might yearn for the Beis HaMikdash so that he can be financially secure. Others are more spiritual than this, and they want the Beis HaMikdash because they want atonement for their sins. Only someone who feels bothered and pained at his sins can relate to this yearning. This is a higher level than the first kind of person, yet it is not the highest level to reach. A higher level is to yearn for the revelations of Torah that were available in the world because of the spiritual effects of the Beis HaMikdash. But even this isn’t the highest level to yearn for the Beis HaMikdash. The truest reason to yearn for the Beis HaMikdash is, as explained earlier, because it was the revelation of Hashem’s presence on this world.

Some people don’t care at all for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. They are the worst results of the destruction. But even in those who do yearn for it, they need to know the reason why we should want it rebuilt. We need to yearn for it because it enabled us to have more emunah, a clearer recognition of Hashem!

In Conclusion

Every person on his own level should yearn for a greater closeness with Hashem, and this should be the reason why one should desire the rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash. But it should not be limited to this, for that would just be self-serving. It is about wishing for a world where everyone will know of Hashem. It should be a yearning for the betterment of the entire world.

The more one awaits the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash for this reason, the more one is truly yearning for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. Just like a person misses his house when he leaves it and he wishes to return to it, so did we have a Beis HaMikdash, which was each Jew’s true bayis, his true home. Just as a person misses his home when he leaves it and he wants to go back to it, so does each person need to yearn to return to the “house” in his own soul: The Beis HaMikdash. That is our true home, our spiritual fort, where we belong to.

Every day when we daven Shemoneh Esrei, when we ask for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, let us think for just a moment, about why we want it. Are we saying it only because it’s part of the text of Shemoneh Esrei established by the Men of Great Assembly…? Or do we truly want the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt?

Let us awaken in ourselves a true yearning for the Beis HaMikdash, and let us wonder why we should want it. We should truly yearn for its rebuilding, but for the truest and innermost reason for its rebuilding. When that is how we yearn for it, we will certainly merit to see it rebuilt in our times!

Translated from the Hebrew audio shiur:
https://www.bilvavi.net/sugya/chodesh.teves

Doing a Better Hallel On Chanukah

Chanukah is a time of L’hodos U’l’hallel, To give thanks and praise to Hashem and we fulfill that obligation with the saying of the Full Hallel on Chanukah for all eight days. Here are some notes from Maharal: Emerging Patterns by Yaakov Rosenblatt on Hallel.

Give Praise Servants of Hashem from this time forth and forever more
Despite Hashem’s loftiness, He is still intimately involved with the life of man and continually bestows goodness through kindness, judgment or mercy.
He raise the needy from the dust is through judgment because the poor should be provided for.
To seat them with the nobles, nobles of His people is through kindness because although raising the poor out of poverty is just, elevating them to sit with nobles is an act of kindness.
He transforms the barren women into a joyful mother of children is an act of mercy since this women is not capable and therefore is not in the realm of judgment, nor is it kindness since children are not above and beyond human needs, rather it is mercy because even though this woman is unable to have children naturally, Hashem still allows her to conceive and bear children.

When Yisroel Went of out of Egypt, the House of Yaakov from a people of a Strange Language
After praising Hashem for His kindness through normal realms, we now praise Hashem for the miracles that transcend nature.
The sea saw and fled, the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep – water takes the shape of its container and the Earth is shaped by man. When Hashem acts and gives form and definition to all creation it is natural that the sea fled and the mountains skipped.
Hashem turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters – when Hashem is the force, even a rock is shaped effortlessly.

Not to us Hashem, but to Your Name Give Glory
This Psalm says the reason that Hashem performs miracles for the Jews is to give recognition to His name, His love and His truth. Only Hashem deserves this recognition and not things like idols which clearly have no power and are weaker than man. Man’s powers are listed in decreasing importance: speech, sight, hearing, smell, feeling, walking, and making sounds.

Hashem will Bless our Remembrance: He will Bless the House of Yisrael
Hashem will Bless our Remembrance requests that the lasting impact we will have on others and the world will be a blessing.
The Dead cannot praise Hashem, nor can any who go down into silence shows that only when the human body and the world are functioning properly can they “sing” the praises of Hashem. King David says allow us to live, allow us to thrive, so our very existence can proclaim your glory.

I love Hashem Who Hears my Voice and my Supplications
You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. King David thanks Hashem for saving his soul which represents the spiritual, the eyes which are the connection between the spiritual and the physical because they do not actively enter the world, but monitor it for the mind/soul to process, and the feet which represent the physical. Tears represent a loss of part of the soul.

How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me?
I will carry the cup that You have filled with salvation, and call upon the name of Hashem – A cup that is filled represents ones meaningful accomplishments and we think Hashem for the ability to act in meaningful ways.
I will carry …in my arms to show the cup that you filled precedes me and proclaims your greatness
I will pay my vows to Hashem in the Presence of all His People to use every opportunity to proclaim the greatness of Hashem and to publicly honor Hashem’s glory

Give Thanks to Hashem for He is Good
Thanks also mean to concede, so to the extent that a person recognizes and acknowledges the Hashem has given him everything is the extent to which he will thank Him. Different groups: humanity, Jews, Kohanim and G-d fearing people, have experienced different benefits and will therefore thank Hashem differently.

Out of My Distress I called upon Hashem
There are three levels of hatred, basic dislike (all the nations) because of economic, cultural or military threats, dislike due to differences in values which only the Jews hold (they surrounded me) and deep seated hatred (they surrounded me like bees) due to the subconscious understanding that the success of the nations is dependent on the Jew’s failure. If we act according to our spiritual potential the world’s event will be centralized around us for our benefit. If we do not, we are punished and the the nations are successful.

O praise Hashem all you Nations
Hallelukah combines a word of praise with Hashem’s name and is used to praise the miraculous because the only the one who created the worlds (Heh – this world, Yud – the next) can suspend the rules to perform miracles when he sees fit.

Chanukah – Transcending Self-Centeredness

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller Gottlieb

The Greeks centered their opposition to the Jews on three religious laws that one the surface of things couldn’t be less threatening to them or their way of life. Why would a Greek concern himself about someone else circumcising his son? If a neighbor likes having three rather lavish meals on Saturday after attending the synagogue why let it occupy space in your mind? The most puzzling was their antagonism towards consecrating the new moon, a religious ceremony that had no observable impact other than being the basis of the Jewish calendar. Can you imagine losing any sleep over when Ramadan comes out next year?

The underlying antagonism was caused by what these commandments represent. Circumcision is a statement. It tell you that you are not born perfect, that perfection has to be earned, and that the path towards perfection requires a certain degree of sacrifice, and a certain measure of authentic submission to a force higher than your own ego. Nothing could possibly be less Greek.

Shabbos takes us even further from the Greek vision of a human centered world. What we say by keeping Shabbos is that even our creativity and our ability to dominate nature and make it our own, is not the end of the story. The highest level from our point of view is taking all of our creative energy and saying, “let go. It’s time to step back and see what God, not I, created”. When you see things from that angle, it isn’t hard to see what was so offensive about defining time through ritual instead of through human observation.

What all of this tells you is that this is the time of year that you can decide once and for all that you can finally stop being a closet Hellenist. You body, your endeavors and your sense of reality can all go beyond the limitations of the little castle called “me” and explore a new planet, one called “transcendence”. You can be bigger than your ego and your assumptions.

Let the light of the candles that reflect eternal truth give you enough light to step into the next phase of your life, into a more holy and God aware future.

The Eight Sheets of Chanukah

By Ruby

With 5 weeks left to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, invitations were sitting at home waiting to be addressed and mailed. All my wife had to do was create the spreadsheet with all the addresses, set up the mail merge, and feed the envelopes through the printer. I had the really tough job – to buy stamps – and I was determined to do it right. I estimated 150 stamps would do. But which theme stamp would be most appropriate for a Bar Mitzvah? I went looking at the USPS website. Flags? Too standard. “Happy Birthday”? Too juvenile. “I Love You”? Too mushy. Flowers? Too feminine. Fighter planes? Maybe… But not very mitzvah-ish. Then I saw them. Chanukah stamps with a dreidle. Perfect! We’ll be mailing them on Chanukah. And they come in sheets of 20, so I needed 8 sheets of Chanukah. What could be better?

Off to the post office on Pine St. I went, and when my turn came I happily requested “8 sheets of Hanukah, please”.

The clerk frowned and said “Hanukah? We’re out of Hanukah”.

“No! it can’t be!” I exclaimed. “You must have Hanukah stamps”.

So she looked and looked through all her drawers and all her folders. In the end, all she could find was one single sheet of Hanukah stamps.

“But that won’t do”, I said. “One sheet won’t last. I need eight sheets of Hanukah.”

She called over to the next clerk who looked through his folders. He came up with another two. “Three, that’s all we have”, she said.

Suddenly emboldened, I said “Please check in the back. I know you will find 8”.

Her eyebrows raised at my attitude, she headed towards the back. As she passed each other clerk I saw her say something to them, and each time the clerk shook his head. After checking with the last clerk, she looked across the room at me and shrugged. I gave her a nod of encouragement and she disappeared into the back. (If I were one of the people standing behind me in line I would have killed me…) Several minutes later she emerged with a triumphant look on her face.

“8 sheets of Hanukah!” she proclaimed.

“Thank you so much for your perseverance”, I said. “I knew you would find 8”.

“How could you be so sure?” she asked.

“Why, it’s the miracle of Chanukah”, I said.

A Freilichen Chanukah to All.

Originally Published December 22, 2006.

An E-Mail To My Brother-In-Law

Good afternoon. I wanted to touch base with you and apologize first for not being able to do this over the phone since our schedules usually make it hard to find time.

I realize that you have decided not to have bagels and lox at the brunch for your parent’s anniversary, yet this now puts me in a difficult position. On one hand, I try to keep kosher to the best of my ability, yet on the other hand, I strive to build bridges of understanding and tolerance to others who may not do what ~wife’s name~ and I do. As you can see, if I choose the option of eating strictly kosher it may be detrimental to my relationships with others who do not. And, if I eat whatever non-kosher food that is served than I feel as if I have compromised my beliefs. It is truly a lose/lose situation on my part. Either way, I go home without a good feeling.

Last Sunday, I suggested ~name of kosher establishment ~ bagels, lox, and cream cheese because I thought it would be something we could enjoy and also because I thought it to be a win/win situation for everyone. Since you opted for a lighter option that is also better for your father’s health, perhaps ~wife’s name~ could bring something, and that way you can still serve whatever you would like. I am completely cognizant of that fact that it is not my place to weigh-in on menu selection in your home. I am not attempting even in the slightest to dictate what others eat, only what I choose to eat. What I eat or refrain from eating is not commentary on anyone else’s life despite the fact that is repeatedly seen as such. Not once have I ever told a family member, or anyone else for that matter, that what they are doing is “wrong”.

I hope this e-mail will give you insight into my thought process. If you could see inside my heart you would see that I wrote these words without a trace of divisiveness. I ask that you give us the ability to help us participate and celebrate along with you. I think that misunderstandings that we have had in the past stem simply from a lack of honest dialogue. Both ~wife’s name~ and I strive to correct this and want to break down barriers of misunderstanding that may exist.

Originally Posted September, 2006

Being Thankful for Thanksgiving

When it comes to Thanksgiving, some families within Torah observant Jewry tend to have the attitude: “I’m thankful the whole year. I say Modeh Ani every single morning. Why should I celebrate Thanksgiving?”

The truth is that when I was growing up, as a third generation American with marginal Synagogue affiliation, my family ‘did’ thanksgiving, but it was never a big deal. When I got married, things changed (for the better).

As a married couple, Thanksgiving became a big deal. My wife is a first generation American and her family is totally into Thanksgiving. When we spend it with family or friends we go all out. Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, my homemade “I can’t believe the’re pareve” mashed potatoes, and apple pie.

For Baalei Teshuva, Thanksgiving is almost the best of both worlds-the secular and the holy. It provides an opportunity to be with family and friends whom we might not normally have a meal with,a meal without the pressure of: zimiros, accidentally turning off of lights, constant explaining of why we make tea or coffee differently on Shabbos, etc.

Over the years I’ve listened to my co-workers complain about the pressure of making such a lavish meal, “All that hard work just to eat food for one hour”. For the Torah observant Jew, Thanksgiving is a piece of cake. We make “lavish meals” every weekend.

I often tell friends of mine that I love Thanksgiving because we can eat like Shabbos, but still turn off the lights and watch TV (although I’m not a big sports fan, so I usually don’t watch the big games).

In recent years, due to geographical logistics we haven’t spent many Thanksgivings with my wife’s family, but some years, we did. There were kashrus challenges, like a limited supply of kosher pots, pans, and utensils, but we were able to make the entire meal kosher. Armed with the ability to kasher an oven and several phone numbers of various Rabbis on speed dial, we really enjoyed to it. The zechus (merit) of the family members hosting our ‘kosher Thanksgiving’ is something they might never understand, but my wife and I do. The memories that my kids will have of spending Thanksgiving with family is something very dear to us. I am very thankful.

Originally Published on 11/11/2006

David Linn’s The grATTITUDE Newsletter

One of the hats that David wears is The Gratitude Dude. He’s been writing, speaking, and giving workshops on improving your gratitude quotient for many years. He recently started a newsletter called “The grATTITUDE” that you definitely should subscribe to.

You can sign up for the weekly gratitude email, The grATTITUDE at http://bit.ly/gratitudeemail

Here is a recent sample

The grATTITUDE
Your weekly injection of gratitude inspiration, insight, education and practical advice.

“Gratitude makes what we have enough.”
— Melody Beattie

What’s the Good Word?

Hedonic Adaptation/Hedonic Treadmill

Hedonic Adaptation refers to the idea that people’s levels of happiness tend to return to their start point despite significant positive or negative events in their lives.

So, if we were able to say that someone’s level of happiness is a 7 out of 10 and then that person takes the vacation of a lifetime, even though that would likely bump their happiness up, it would eventually return to the 7.

The same is generally true when someone experiences a negative event like the loss of a loved one– their happiness level will drop, understandably, but will gradually return to the 7.

While this is a good thing when dealing with negative events– it boosts recovery and resilience– it’s not a good thing at all when it comes to positive events. As soon as the bump from the positive event passes, we go looking for something new.

That’s why Hedonic Adaptation is also called the Hedonic Treadmill because we keep looking for new things to bump us up but we essentially end up getting nowhere– we’re right back where we started.

Gratitude plays an important role in slowing down Hedonic Adaptation to positive events. Gratitude, particularly through speaking or writing about our appreciation for happy things and events, has a savoring quality that makes the event last longer. Additionally, grateful people are generally happier with their lives and, as such, are not constantly craving new things.

Dive into gratitude and jump off the hedonic treadmill.

Making it Work at Work

Gratitude in the workplace isn’t fluff. There are serious studies conducted by top-tier medical and business schools and published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals that evidence that gratitude has a positive effect on nearly every single business metric— from employee engagement and retention to psychological safety and creativity and, of course profit.

One of the surprising things about gratitude in the workplace is that peer-to-peer gratitude is often more important than gratitude from workplace superiors. This might be true because your peers know you better, interact with you more and aren’t perceived to be expressing gratitude because that’s what bosses are supposed to do. Smart businesses are instilling cultures of appreciation that train leaders but also foster peer-to-peer appreciation.

Your Turn

Among all of the gratitude habits or interventions, writing a gratitude letter is one of the most popular and most studied.

The concept is quite simple. Write a letter to someone expressing, in as much detail as possible, the gratitude that you have for them.

Many people recommend that you read the letter directly to the recipient, in person if possible. I think that in our digital era, receiving a physical letter in the mail feels special and shows the recipient that you are thinking about them and that you made an extra effort.

Here are a few tips provided by the Greater Good Science Center:

• Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
• Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
• Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
• Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
•Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this email, please consider sharing this sign-up link: bit.ly/gratitudeemail.

With Gratitude,
Dave Linn, The Gratitude Dude
In collaboration with A Good World Company.

P.S Hey there! Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The grATTITUDE. Every week, we’ll send out an email newsletter filled with tips and tricks and all things gratitude. We’d love to hear your feedback, like what you loved in this week’s email and what you’d like to see next time. Send an email to thegrattitude@gmail.com and we’ll be sure to read your message.

To reach Dave directly, email him at dave@generosityseries.com. To find out more about A Good World Company, email Yehudis at yehudis@agoodworldcompany.com.

Copyright © 2020 The grATTITUDE, All rights reserved.

When Opposites Attract

Why did Avraham consider Eliezer to be cursed if Lavan referred to him as “the blessed of HaShem”?
If the cursed cannot bond with the blessed how are we to understand the unions of Shechem and Dinah, the Queen of Shevah and Shlomo the King et al?
Why didn’t Eliezer seek a girl who would do chessed proactively before having to be asked?

He [Noach] said, “Cursed is Cannan! He shall be a slave’s slave to his brothers”

— Bereishis 9:25

 “I will compel you with an oath in the name of HaShem, L-rd of Heaven and L-rd of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live.”

— Bereishis 24:3

“My master compelled me with an oath ‘Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I reside. Instead you must go to my father’s house, to my family, and get a wife for my son there.’ I [then] said to my master ‘Perhaps the woman [from your family] will not follow me [back to Canaan]’? “

— Bereishis 24:37-39

Perhaps the woman will not follow me: It [the word אֻלַי (perhaps)] is written [lacking a “vav” and may be read] אֵלַי (to me). Eliezer had a daughter, and he sought a pretext so that Avraham would tell him, to turn to him [i.e. Eliaezers family], so that Yitzchok would marry his daughter. Avraham said to him, “My son is blessed, and you are cursed [Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan who had been cursed by Noach], and an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.”

— Rashi ibid

And Lavan said “Come O he who is blessed by HaShem! Why are you still standing outdoors? I have cleared the house [of what you might find offensive] and prepared a place for the camels.”

— Bereishis 24:31

Why is Mt. Sinai so called? [Sinai is, alliteratively, similar to the lashon kodesh-biblical Hebrew; word for hatred] Because it was there that hatred descended to the idolaters [for they rejected the Torah that was revealed there].

— Shabbos 89A and Rashi ibid

The intensity of the hatred that ignorami have for Torah scholars exceeds that of the anti-Semitism that the idolaters bear towards the nation of Israel …

— Pesachim 49B

As faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the hearts of men.

— Mishlei 27:19

He [Eliezer] prayed O HaShem, L-rd of my master Avraham, be with me today and grant favor to my master Avraham … If I say to a girl ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink’ and she responds ‘drink and I will also hydrate your camels’ she will be the one whom You have designated [as a bride] for your servant Yitzchok.”

— Bereishis 24:12,14

When discussing the metaphysics of matchmaking Avraham declares “… an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.” Yet TeNaC”h-the Jewish Torah canon; is replete with desired, attempted and actual unions, both marital and extra-marital, between evil and good.  The assertion that evil cannot unite with good, that curse cannot cleave to blessing; seems to be unsupportable in light of such matches and near-miss marriages as those of Shechem and Dinah, Potiphar’s wife and Yoseph, Kozbee and Zimri and Achashveirosh and Esther, et al.

Moreover Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, observes that while, per Chazal, Avraham rejected Eliezers marriage proposal on the grounds of Eliezer being cursed the Torah quotes Lavan as describing Eliezer as “he who is blessed by HaShem.”  Presumably “the Torah of truth” would not record nonsense, hyperbole or the insincere flattery of a sycophant. If Lavans words are true it means that at some point between Avraham rejecting his shidduch proposal and Lavan greeting him, Eliezer underwent a qualitative transformation from being accursed to being blessed.

The Lubliner Kohen illuminates the dynamic of a metamorphosis at least as astonishing as that of the caterpillar-into-butterfly variety.

Evil and Good are in a state of constant and intense antipathy towards each other.  They want no truck with one another and do not desire merger. Shlomo the king teaches in Mishlei that “as faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the the hearts of men.” The nature of “emotion” is cyclical and reciprocal and so, the vicious cycle of abhorrence and recrimination between Evil and Good perpetually intensifies the alienation between the two.  But, at the risk of sounding trite, this begs the question: Who started the hostilities and estrangement?  Who’s to blame for the inability to come together?

A close reading of Rashi, “an accursed (one) cannot bond with a blessed (one)”reveals that it is evil that finds itself incapable of cleaving to good; it is not the other way around. I might add that this understanding is further supported by the gemara in Pesachim 49B that speaks of the hatred of the ignoramii and the idolatrous nations first, although it is safe to presume that the Torah Scholars and the Nation of Israel bear reciprocal loathing towards those who hate them. The passage in Shabbos 89A that pinpoints the origin of the Divine Hatred of the idolatrous nations at Sinai, only after they rejected the Torah, further bolsters this argument. Yet this makes it even more difficult to understand why it was Eliezer who initiated the proposed match between the daughter of Eliezer the cursed and the son of Avraham the blessed.

It is important to note that that Eliezer never articulated an explicit marriage proposal.  The proposal, such as it was, was an insubstantial allusion, a mere wordplay.  The Vilna Gaon explains that Chazal detected the subliminal marriage proposal in Eliezer employing the word אֻלַיperhaps; connoting a desired outcome, rather than פן–lest; connoting a scenario to be avoided. Moreover the Kotzker Rebbe insightfully points out that even this mere hint of a proposed match does not appear in the Torahs narrative of the actual dialogue between Eliezer and Avraham.  It is only later, during Eliezers repetition of that conversation to Rivkas family, that he had an epiphany and understood why he had employed the word אֻלַי rather than פן.

Along these lines, and to address the issues of evil and good bonding, the Lubliner Kohen maintains that during his actual conversation with Avraham, Eliezer revealed his subconscious desires in what contemporaries might call a Freudian slip, because he only had blessed potential at the time, but was not quite ready to transform into a full-fledged blessed being until after his encounter with Rivka. The nascence of his transformation from cursed to blessed began as soon as he accepted the mission of his master Avraham but, as he had not yet actualized his potential for blessedness he was, as yet, incapable of verbalizing his desire to unite with and cleave to the good and blessed on an overt level.

Read more When Opposites Attract

Surrendering to Humility

Tuesday 23 Cheshvan

Humility is not denying your talents or withdrawing within yourself. Humility does not mean that you are worthless or insignificant. Humility is recognizing the incredible gifts that Hashem has blessed you with and using them to make the world a better place. Humility is surrendering your will to Hashem’s will and in that way becoming far greater than what you could ever become alone. At times this act of surrender is excruciatingly painful, but if we are able to channel our talents in a holy way, we merit partnering with Hashem in infusing our world with holiness, and blessing.

R’ Aryeh Goldman offers 100 words of daily chizuk to uplift and inspire Yidden to live a meaningful life deeply connected to Hashem.

Web Site: https://www.100wordsofchizuk.com

Whats App Chat: https://chat.whatsapp.com/CKVftNO28QlKIMpDko8688

The Secret Of All Growth

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

To receive Bilvavi on the Parsha – send an email with Subject “Subscribe” to subscribe@bilvavi.net

Avraham Avinu’s test of the binding of Yitzchok, which required him to show mesirus nefesh, was a fundamental lesson in how to acquire all levels of avodah. The Mesillas Yesharim says, “Sanctity is at first exertion, and in the end, a gift.” This is not only true of the level of sanctity, but it is true of all the levels after that, which includes even ruach hakodesh and techiyas hameisim.

This is a rule that applies to anything spiritual we want to acquire, even the most basic level. Any spiritual attainment requires mesirus nefesh on our part – if not total mesirus nefesh, which only a few individuals attain, we at least need the minimal level of mesirus nefesh, which is: To exert ourselves just a little bit beyond our regular level.

When one is clear about this and he puts this into practice, he can enter into a life of going beyond his natural capabilities, and herein lays the success in life. If one is not clear about this, he may try hard his entire life and he may attain much, but he will remain in his normal human limitations. A life of practicing mesirus nefesh enables one to reach above his natural level.

The spiritual tasks in our life are daunting. A Jew may have the aspiration to know all of the Torah, which is wider than the sea and longer than the earth – this includes all five books of the Chumash, Nach, all of Mishnayos, the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi, the Sifra, Sifrei, Tosefta, and more – with all of the commentaries of the Rishonim and Acharonim! In addition to this, one also has the 613 mitzvos to keep. Even though we do not fulfill all the 613 mitzvos today, we have plenty of them to keep. And in addition, one is also a husband and father, and he has to provide for his household. He is busy from various responsibilities in life. He has to do chessed, spread Torah to others, and set side time to prepare for davening. When is there time to live and finish everything?!

The true answer is that there is no time! We really do not have enough time to finish everything. What is possible for us, however, is to enter into an inner world (our olam pnimi), which takes us beyond the limitations of This World. When it becomes opened to a person, only then can one reach much more than what he is naturally capable of.

May Hashem enable us that Avraham’s act of the binding of Yitzchok on the Altar should radiate within the depths of our souls.

100 words of Chizuk

R’ Aryeh Goldman offers 100 words of daily chizuk to uplift and inspire Yidden to live a meaningful life deeply connected to Hashem.

Web Site
https://www.100wordsofchizuk.com

Whats App Chat
https://chat.whatsapp.com/CKVftNO28QlKIMpDko8688

Tuesday 16 Cheshvan

Most of us begin a program of transformation highly inspired with the best intentions. However before long we lose the initial excitement and hit a plateau. This is when our true desire to reach our goal is tested. At that moment our persistence waivers and most just give up. To achieve greatness you can never give up. Champions are born out of a resolute persistence in the face of adversity. Legends see the moments of stagnation, the plateau, the challenges, as opportunities to reveal their innermost Ratzon (will), and in so doing, inevitably bring themselves closer to their goals.

The Only Absolute Connection We Have

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

To receive Bilvavi on the Parsha – send an email with Subject “Subscribe” to subscribe@bilvavi.net

In Parshas Lech Lecha, Avraham Avinu is told by Hashem, “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father, to the land which I will show you.”

Our Sages list this as one of the “ten nisyonos (trials)” which Avraham was tested with, and we are also taught by our Sages the rule, “Maaseh Avos, Siman L’Banim” – “The actions of the forefathers is a sign for the children.” Just as Avraham Avinu went through ten trials where he was tested by Hashem, so does every soul go through “ten trials.”

This does not mean that we are given the same exact tests as Avraham Avinu, but our tests are a reflection of those tests. We are not always told by Hashem to leave our country and move elsewhere, but the lesson of it always remains true in our own lives, where we are confronted with the spiritual test of having to leave behind our past in general.

Avraham Avinu’s test was that he had to disconnect from his roots, and leave it all behind to go out there into the world. His country, his birthplace, the house of his father, were all different aspects that bound him to his past, and he was told to disconnect from it and leave it all behind, in order to become elevated. This shows us that there exists in the soul an ability to disconnect from that which we are powerfully connected to, to that which we feel permanence in, on This World.

Avraham Avinu was told, “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father.” The soul becomes disconnected from its root in Heaven in order to come down onto this world, and at death, the soul doesn’t want to leave this world, now that it has become attached to it. If a person lived a life in which he grew attached to materialism, he will suffer a disconnection from it upon death. But if a person lived a spiritual life, an internal kind of life, a Torah life – at death, he will only disconnect from this world in the physical sense. The spiritual world, the inner world he had lived through his neshamah on this world, does not become severed from him. It continues and it intensifies after death.

One needs to be aware that everything on this world is temporary; every time and period of your life is a temporary situation. The nisayon (test) which we have on this world is: Will we form any absolute connection, other than with Hashem, Torah, and Klal Yisrael? The deep power in the soul to have absolute connection must be channeled to Hashem, Torah, and Yisrael.

Noach was a good man, a good man, a good man…

Noach was a good man
a good man, a good man
Noach was a good man
….In his time
– A Cheder Song

Noach is described as a Tzaddik, but the first Rashi on the Parsha casts a shadow on his righteousness. Dig in to the parsha and rediscover Noach’s greatness.

Update: Rabbi Nebenzhal has a good analysis of the above issue here. Hat tip: Bob Miller

As mentioned previously, Rabbi Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Noach
#6 Building Noach’s Ark
#7 The Flood
#8 Mt. Ararat
#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
#10 The Descendants of Shem, Cham & Yafet
#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Noach

#6 Building Noach’s Ark
* Praise of Noach
* The Three Sons of Noach
* World corruption
* “Behold! I will destroy them utterly!”
* Build an ark
* Compartments
* 300 X 50 X 30 cubits
* Skylight – Slanted Roof – 3 Stories
* 1 Male – 1 Female of every animal – Store Food

#7 The Flood
* 7 pairs of kosher animals
* 2 pairs of non-kosher animals
* 7 pairs of birds
* Noach 600 years old when flood began (2nd month, 17th day)
* 40 days & 40 nights – 15 cubits above the highest mountain
* Total destruction
* 150 days

#8 Mt. Ararat
* 150 days till water receded
* 7th Month, 17th day, the Ark rested on Mt. Ararat
* 10th Month, 1st day mountain tops become visible
* Raven
* Dove #1, #2, #3
* 1st Tishrei Noach opened gate of Ark
* 2nd Month, 27th day, land was totally dry (exactly 365 days after the flood began).
* ‘Leave the Ark!’
* Noach built an Altar
* G-d appeased & promises never to flood the earth again
* Four seasons

#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
* Blessing to Noach “Be fruitful and Multiply!”
* All living creatures will fear you
* You can eat meat but not flesh from living animal
* Violation of suicide
* Death penalty for murder
* Command to be fruitful and multiply
* G-d promises never to flood entire world again
* Rainbow is sign of this promise
* Noach planted a vineyard
* Drunk
* Canaan cursed: slave of slaves to his brothers
* Blessed Shem and Yafet
* Noach died 950

#10 The Descendants of Noach
* Descendants of Yafet and Cham (Nimrod grandson of Cham & 1st world despot)
* Descendents of Canaan
* Descendants of Shem

#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Shem
* One Language
* The Tower
* HaShem scattered them
* 10 Generations of Shem
* 11th Gen. Shem 600
* 12th Gen. Arpachshad 438
* 13th Gen. Shelach 433
* 14th Gen. Ever 464
* 15th Gen. Peleg 239
* 16th Gen. Re’oo 239
* 17th Gen. Serug 230
* 18th Gen. Nachor 248
* 19th Gen. Terach 205 – Avram-Nachor-Haran
* Haran – Lot – Milka & Yiska (Sarai). Haran dies in Ur Kasdim
* Avram marries Sarai
* Nachor marries Milka
* 20th Gen. Avram
* Terach leaves Ur Kasdim with Avram, grandson Lot & Sarai
* Terach dies in Charan

Bilvavi on Succos Download and Intro of Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download some amazing Drashos on Succos

The Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah

In the Yom Tov of Sukkos, the main mitzvos are to shake the four species and to sit in the sukkah. (There used to also be the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim in the Beis Hamikdash, but we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash).

The mitzvah of the four species involves movement – we shake them and move them around, which symbolizes how we want to move away from evil, and instead to come closer to Hashem. By contrast, the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah involves no movement at all – we sit in it and don’t move at all. This symbolizes a different aspect of our avodas Hashem: to reach the point of “non-movement.”

In other words, there are two steps in our avodas Hashem- sometimes we have to “move”, and sometimes we “don’t move”.[1]

Sukkos of Today and Sukkos of the Future

There is a halachah on Sukkos that we have to sit specifically in the “shadow” (“tzeil”) of the sukkah. This is the sukkah of nowadays – we sit in the sukkah’s shadow, which symbolizes how Hashem’s radiance is concealed from us.

However, in the future, Chazal state that the sukkah will be made from the skin of the leviathan – it will be a sukkah of entirely light. The Sukkah of the future will be the perfect sukkah, in which “all citizens” (“kol ha’ezrach”) will be enveloped within it; “ezrach”, “citizen”, is rooted in the word “zerichah”, “light.” This alludes to the sukkah of the future, which will be totally light. This is because the depth behind the sukkah is not just to be “in the shadow” of the sukkah, but to sit in the light of Hashem.

Dovid Hamelech says that “Hashem is my light, and my salvation.” Chazal expound on this verse that “my light” is referring to Rosh Hashanah, while “my salvation” is referring to Yom Kippur. Sukkos, which is the continuation of this, is the actual revelation of “my light”, Rosh Hashanah – which is entirely Hashem’s light.

It is only nowadays that the sukkah is like a “shadow”, because since there is evil in the world, the evil places a “shadow” on the “light” of Rosh Hashanah and dims it from its full effect. But in the future, there will be no more evil, and then Sukkos will no longer be a concept of shadow, but rather a concept of complete spiritual light.

Shemini Atzeres – The D’veykus With Hashem Above All Spiritual Light

Even higher than Sukkos is the level of Shemini Atzeres, which is the day of complete unity between Hashem and the Jewish people. It is a power that is above even the spiritual light revealed through Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.[2]

Chazal say of this day that Hashem said, “Remain with me one more day”. This is the great desire of Hashem toward His people, and it was there even before Hashem created light on the first day; this great desire that He has to us returns on Shemini Ateres.

[1] The Rav has been brief here in this fundamental concept; we will elaborate here to give more background. Generally speaking, the lower mode of Avodas Hashem involves movement, such as the six days of the week, when we move and work, representing the mundane. On Shabbos we don’t move, because we do not work; thus non-movement is always seen as the higher aspect of our Avodas Hashem. In sefer Da Es Menuchasecha (which is available online in English as The Search for Serenity), these concepts are explained at length in regards to achieving menuchas hanefesh – that the more we reach our “non-moving” state of our soul, the closer we come to our inner peace. The innermost part of our soul, our Yechidah, is a non-moving part of our existence, because our actual self is very still, content with its existence, for it is a cheilek eloka mimaal, a “portion of Hashem”. Our very essence is unmoving because it is rooted in Hashem, who is unmoving. Non-movement is also explained more in sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh: Shabbos Kodesh, as well as in sefer Da Es Hargoshosecha (soon to be released in English as “Getting To Know Your Feelings”). This footnote does not nearly exhaust the topic; it is a very vast subject which the Rov frequently discusses, and the references we have given here are the main sources where the Rov discusses it at length.

[2] Editor’s Note: See sefer Sifsei Chaim: Moadim (Vol. I) who explains how the spirituality of Shemini Atzeres is deeper than the first days of Sukkos. On Sukkos, we have the mitzvah of sukkah and the four species, because we are given these tools on Sukkos to reach closeness to Hashem through them. However, Shemini Atzeres is a higher connection we have with Hashem, as it is the culmination of the entire Yomim Noraim; thus, it doesn’t require us to sit in the sukkah or to shake the four species, because it is more of a direct connection with Hashem.

Rav Soloveitchik on Awakening the Emotional on Yom Kippur

In the Sefer, Before Hashem You Will Be Purified, the following is brought down from Rav Soloveitchik’s 1976 Teshuvah drasha:

My religious world-view was formed not only through learning Torah, but also by me religious experience…I continually refer to the the two traditions of Torah learning — halakhah and that or religious life and feeling — the enthusiasm, the love of Hashem, the yearning for Hashem… The first is relatively easy to impart; I can give long lectures on shofar, the halakhot of teshuvah, the Avodah, etc. with great depth and thoroughness. Yet what is easy for me [to explain] regarding the first tradition is very difficult regarding the second tradition.

To recount what Jews of earlier generations–not only the Gedolei Yisrael, but Jews in general — experienced on the Yamim Nora’im — the yearning, the nostalgia that overtook one’s entire being — to impart the emotion is almost impossible. As a child, I remember how infectious that emotion was: I felt the same yearning as everyone else without really understanding what exactly I was yearning for. Those emotions which overtook me as a child stimulate me still today, and my whole Weltenschauung, my whole religious philosophy, is a result of this experience.

Contemporary Orthodoxy is well ground intellectually. In spite of this, however, its followers lack passion and enthusiasm. This deficiency is especially evident on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

How can a Jew pray on Yom Kippur and not feel the greatness, the fire and holiness of the day? How can I possible impart such an experience? Perhaps one can begin to awaken the ecstatic feeling by discussing the customs and laws which we observe on Yom Kippur. From within the allegedly dry confines of Jewish law, there is an awesome, warm, enormous world — there is a definite transition from Halakhah to service of Hashem. Perhaps through such a discussion, the audience will be awakened to the religious mood that a Jew must find himself on Yom Kippur.

Originally published in Sept 2007

Joy on Rosh Hashanah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download some amazing Drashos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Awe and Joy on the Day of Judgment

Rosh HaShanah is the Yom HaDin (the day of judgment). Is there any heart that does not tremble from it? Just as a person is afraid when he stands in court, so is Rosh HaShanah a time of trepidation, where we stand before the King of all kings. There is a natural fear that all people have of the judgment of Rosh HaShanah, each person on his own level.

But on the other hand, Rosh HaShanah is also described as a joyous time. It is written, “Eat from the fattest foods and drink sweet beverages…and do not be sad, for the joy of Hashem is their splendor.”[1]There is a mitzvah to eat, drink, and be joyous, on Rosh HaShanah. Some opinions even forbid fasting on Rosh HaShanah, because it is a time of joy.

What is the joy that takes place on Rosh HaShanah? The fear of Rosh HaShanah we are all familiar with. We know it is the time where people are judged, where life and death is decided; naturally there is a fear on this day. But it is hard to understand why Rosh HaShanah is also a joyous time. What is this happiness all about?

Joy: When Sin Is Removed

It is well-known that the Arizal said that he mainly reached his high levels of comprehension through simcha (joy). Let us think into this.

The simple-known reason of the Arizal’s success is because he intensely desired the Torah and he was aware of its value. It is certainly true that he valued the Torah very much, and that he appreciated holiness. The Arizal found joy in the Torah, before he became the Arizal. Now that we have his writings, it became easier for us to find joy in the Torah, but the Arizal found joy in the Torah way before he composed his writings, through his exertion in Torah and in doing the mitzvos. The joy he had from Torah and mitzvos enabled him to reach all of his great revelations.

This is the simple understanding of how the Arizal found his great joy. There is also a deeper reason, though.

It is written, “G-d created man upright, but they seek many calculations.”[2] Originally, man was yoshor (upright), and after Adam’s sin, man fell from the state of yoshor into the state of seeking “many calculations”: all kinds of rationalizations that lead to sin.

Why does man become sad? The word for “sadness” in Hebrew is “etzev”, from the word atzavim, “images”, a term for idol worship. Had Adam HaRishon never sinned, no one else who came after him would have been enabled to sin; there would be no sins in the world. There would be no idol worship in the world; every sin is a degree of idol worship. If we would live in a world in which there is no sin, there would be no sadness.

Sadness happens because the soul deep down is in pain that it has sinned. It is pained that it has become distanced from her Creator. (This is at the root of the matter. When we analyze the branch of the matter, it is because the body enables sadness, for the body is created from the element of earth, which is the root of sadness).

When a person is found living with Hashem, there is “Splendor and joy in His place.”[3] There is no place for sadness in Hashem’s abode. “One cannot come to the king in sackcloth” – this is not just because it is a dishonor to the king to come in sackcloth, but because the palace of the king is a place of joy, and sackcloth is a connotation of pain and sadness, the antithesis of joy.

A person can only be sad when he becomes distanced from the Creator. When a person sins, this causes “timtum halev” (blockage of the heart); there is distance between man and his Creator, and then there is sadness.

It seems to a person that he is sad because he has financial issues, or because he has a problem when it comes to raising his children or a problem with shidduchim. But the deep reason of why sadness appears is because of a person’s sins. The sins create a distance between the person and Hashem. A person’s sins might make their appearance in the form of problems with children or with shidduchim, but those things are just the garments that are covering over the real issue. Those problems are not the root of the sadness.

The true joy that a person can know of in his life is: to reach a situation in which he is cleansed from sin. This is when one purifies himself from sins, through doing true teshuvah. The Rambam says that the teshuvah must be on the level in which Hashem testifies on the person that he would never commit the sin again.[4] When one does genuine teshuvah, he becomes happy.

Of Motzei Yom Kippur, it is said, “Go eat your bread happily…for G-d is already satisfied with your deeds.” When one’s sins have become erased, he can then go eat his bread happily. The joy is not simply because his sins have been forgiven; that is also a reason to rejoice, but the depth of the joy is because it is sin that causes sadness, and now that the sins have been removed, there is no place for sadness in the person. When sins are removed, a person naturally finds himself happy, for the soul is connected to the Creator, and this is a natural joy of the soul, where it delights in its very bond with the Almighty.

The Arizal was thus joyous when he learned Torah, because he purified himself from any sins, so that he would be able to learn Torah with proper fervor and awe; together with his exertion in learning. This brought him to joy, and from this joy, he reached awesome levels of comprehension.

Joy comes from returning to our pure state, where we are cleansed from sin. When a person tries to get his happiness from external factors, it can only be temporary happiness, and it is minimal. True joy is only when a person removes from himself the reason that is responsible for all sadness in the soul – sin.

The Joy on Rosh HaShanah – Passing Before The King

This also helps us understand the joy that is present on Rosh HaShanah. Although Rosh HaShanah is the Yom HaDin, it is also a day of simcha (joy). The reason to be happy on Rosh HaShanah is because it is the day where “All in the world pass before Him, like sheep of a flock.” It is one day of the year where each person is granted a ‘ticket’ to enter before Him.

Throughout the rest of the year, only tzaddikim have access to Hashem’s palace that is opened to them. (They feel Hashem simply at all times. This is the meaning of the 36 tzaddikim who greet the Shechinah each day – to receive the Shechinah is to palpably sense Hashem). A regular person cannot enter into that ‘place’ during the rest of the year. But there is one day a year where all people are given the right to enter before the King of the world: Rosh HaShanah. On this day, there is no one who cannot come before the King of all Kings. When one merits to be with the King of all Kings and to be close to Him, he is filled with joy.

The joy on Rosh HaShanah is thus not to be happy over the fact that it is Yom HaDin (although from a deeper perspective, there is also a concept of having joy in the concept of the Yom HaDin; but we won’t discuss this). The Yom HaDin evokes fear, not joy. Which part of Rosh HaShanah evokes joy? The fact that it is a day of great closeness with Hashem. When a person is close to Hashem – there is “Splendor and joy in His place.”

Thus, the reason to be joyous on Rosh HaShanah is, because a person is passing before the King of the world.

Preparing For Rosh HaShanah With Both Fear and Joy

If a person never thinks on Rosh HaShanah that it is the day where we are guaranteed to pass in such close proximity before Hashem, he is missing the joy of this day. One must therefore prepare before Rosh HaShanah, on two different levels. Firstly, one must reflect on how it is the yom hadin, where all people will be judged for every single action; the more a person has purified his heart, the more he will have a sense of fear. Secondly, one must realize that it is the day where we declare Hashem as king – and all people are granted the right to enter before Him.

Hashem is scrutinizing each person on Rosh HaShanah, and there is no one who goes unnoticed. The simple understanding of this is that it refers to the judgment. But the deeper meaning of it is that Hashem counts each person lovingly, like a father who loves to see his children, like a king who enjoys seeing his people. There is a desire from Hashem, so to speak, to see each of His children, and that is why each person is scrutinized before Him.

There is no day where we are so guaranteed to feel close to Hashem as on Rosh HaShanah! If a person only prepared for Rosh HaShanah with a sense of dread of the Yom HaDin, but he is not aware of the joy of this day, he might merit a good judgment, but he will be missing the point of this day: the fact that Hashem is more fully revealed, in the minds and hearts, of all of us.

Four Words that Fuel Spiritual Growth

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains that the key to establishing a palpable closeness to G-d when we say the Shemoneh Esrai, are the words Melekh (King), Ozer (Helper), uMoshia (Rescuer), uMogen (Shield) in the first brocha. We start off addressing G-d as a majestic but somewhat distant King. A Helper is more available and closer than a King, like a friend who we know we can call on. A Rescuer is closer than a Helper, because he is right there to save us when we need help. A Shield is closer than a Rescuer because he is surrounding us, protecting us from harm. If we say these four words slowly (4+ seconds per word), focusing on the different perceptions of closeness, we can sense Hashem’s protection.

This four word progression is also applicable to the Yomim Noraim. On Rosh Hoshana we focus on Hashem as King. In the ten days of Teshuva, we call out more in Selichos to Hashem, our Rescuer, because He is more available in this period. On Yom Kippur, we pray and confess to Hashem, our Saviour, as He saves us from the consequences of our sins. On Succos, we focus on Hashem, our Shield, through the mitzvos of the Sukkah and the feelings of protection that it generates.

The idea of the progression from King, to Helper, to Rescuer, to Shield, might help explain a question regarding brochos. Every standalone or sequence-beginning brocha must contain Hashem’s name and the word Melekh. However, the beginning of Shomeneh Esrai is missing the Melekh. Tosfos gives the most quoted answer: the first Brocha mentions Avrahom, who was the first one who made Hashem King over himself. The question still remains: why not just put the word Melekh, like we find in every other brocha?

Perhaps we can say that the word Melekh by itself represents a distant King. However in Shomeneh Esrai we are talking directly to Hashem, To help us create that conversational closeness, the Men of the Great Assembly, put the word Melekh at the end of the brocha in the progression leading to Magen. This is the relationship Avrahom personified, and that is the relationship we are pursuing in the first brocha and in the entire Shomoneh Esrai.

May we all merit to make the progression from Melekh to Magen in these upcoming Yomim Noraim, and in every tefillah that we daven.

Rav Itamar Shwartz (Bilvavi) on Pondering The Meaning Of Life

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Elul Talks here.

Hashem Helps Us When We Connect Our Actions With Him

ומגן ומושיע עוזר מלך Hashem is our עוזר ,our ultimate Helper.
Hashem is our true Helper. When a person helps another, the one receiving the help is considered the main person. But when Hashem helps us, we realize that Hashem is the main one, and we are just secondary. As it is written, “My help comes from Hashem.”.

Chazal say that our evil inclination gets stronger every day, and if not for Hashem, we cannot overcome it (Sukkah 52a). On a deeper note, our every action needs Hashem’s help. How indeed does Hashem help us?

Whenever we do an action, it is considered alive only if we put Hashem into the equation. Although we use our power of bechirah to do good actions, our actions can only be considered ‘alive’ when we realize how we need Hashem to help us, and this gives life to the actions we do. A person might do many good deeds, but inwardly, he can be dead, because there is no life-source to his actions; Hashem is missing from the equation. Once we put Hashem into what we do, Hashem isproviding life to our actions, and then the actions we do are alive.

Life Vs. Imagination

A person needs to live an inner kind of life, in which all that he does is inwardly connected to Hashem.

We must know what it means to really live life, and what it means to merely imagine what a good life is – to see the differentiation between these two. To illustrate, a child plays a game and is having a good time; he thinks that this is his life. As he begins to get older, he realizes that all his fun was the world of imagination, and that this is not life.

The life which we see in front of us, on this world, is all a world of imagination! In order to really know what our life is, we have to merit from Hashem that He open our hearts to understand what it really is. If our heart hasn’t been opened a little, we do not understand what “life” is at all. We might know what death is, but we won’t know what “life” is.

Our existence is that we are a soul clothed by a body. Therefore, we initially perceive life from the perspective of our body, even if we learn Torah and mitzvos; from the perspective of the body, we have an erroneous perception of what life is about. We have to daven to Hashem that He should open our heart (as we daven in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, “Open my heart to Your Torah”) in order to understand what life really is.

We should look back at out past and see that whatever we thought until now as “life” is not really life, just imagination. Most people are not experiencing the true meaning of life, even if they live for 70 or 80 years. People often do not even experience one moment of true life on this world!

Our neshamah in us knows what real life is. Even when we ask Hashem for life, we do not always know what it is. The meaning of life is really a secret; only our neshamah knows what it is. Sometimes we receive sparks of understanding of what the meaning of life is. But to actually arrive at a total recognition of what life is, we need to have our hearts opened.

During Elul, what are people asking Hashem for? People have all kinds of things they want and ask Hashem for a whole list of things. The more a person asks for various things, the more it shows that he doesn’t understand what life is. We are all asking Hashem for life! In Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh HaShanah, we daven Zochreinu L’Chaim, Melech Chofetz B’Chaim, Kosveinu B’Sefer HaChaim…we keep asking for life, because that is really our central request in Elul. As for our personal requests that we ask of Hashem, most of these requests are not for life itself, but rather about various details that branch out from our life, such as parnassah, etc. The main request which we ask for in Shemoneh Esrei is that we should have life!

Since we are young, we think that we know we are alive. But the truth is that most people don’t even realize what it means to really be alive! People ask Hashem that they be granted life only because they don’t want to die. But as for life itself, to know what it means to be alive – people often do not know what it is. We don’t want Hashem to take away our life, as we daven in the prayer of Shema Koleinu. But what is our life to begin with? What is the life that we are asking for more of? Do we realize the true meaning of what it means to be alive…?

If our hearts begin to become a little opened, we can realize that the kind of life we think we have been living until now is really the world of imagination. Compare this to a child. A child’s perspective on life is not life – it is imagination.

It is hard to verbally express this concept in words. The point is that your heart needs to become opened, and then you will know what is being discussed here.

In Elul, we ask for life. We must realize that this world we see in front of us is all imagination! Ever since Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, this world became like one big imaginary kind of existence. This is the depth behind the curse of “death” that came to the world – it was a “death” to the ideal state of mankind. So when we ask for life in Elul, the depth of our request is that we are asking Hashem that we be granted the power to leave our imagination, and instead taste of the true life – the Eitz HaChaim, the source of true life.

It is not only a person who is immersed in physical interests who is living in imagination. Even a person learning Torah and doing mitzvos, who is not entrenched in physical pursuit, can also be living in imagination. We see from this from the fact that we have all kinds of dreams at night.

When we reveal the inner essence of our heart, we will then understand what the true meaning of life is, and then we will be able to truly have d’veykus with the Creator.

Led Zeppelin & Frum Culture

As a BT, I’ve often felt the clash between the culture I grew up in and the “frum” culture I’ve been living in for so long. One of the areas the clash always made itself evident to me was music. I just never could get into “Jewish music.”

This clash took on new meaning for me years ago when I worked as a manager in a small business that employed Chassidic girls, who loved to listen to music as they did their tasks. One girl, in particular, was really into it. She sometimes asked my opinion of the latest song or album. I tried to feign interest, but Jewish music – especially the type these girls liked – really never did anything for me.

One day she excitedly brought in the newest album and played it. I had to admit, at first, that there was something I liked about one of the songs. It had… a certain….

I couldn’t put my finger on it. But it had a quality that resonated for me. And as I listened to it over the next few hours — she played the album again and again — all of a sudden it struck me:

It was “Stairway to Heaven,” by Led Zeppelin, regurgitated in instrumental form without lyrics.

I don’t have to tell most readers here that Led Zeppelin was a famous hard rock band in the ‘70s. Their concerts were drug and alcohol fests; their music hard-driving heavy metal, their lyrics raunchy. In other words, everything a red-blooded American teenager with a rebellious streak ever wanted.

And everything one would have thought a Chassid, in the real sense of the word, would recoil from. Yet, here were these Chassidic girls really into it.

Of course, they had no idea of the context or the words. Moreover, even if they did, there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with the denuded elevator music version of the song. Chassidic philosophy, in particular, emphasizes the idea that there are sparks of kedusha all around embedded in the tumah waiting for a Jew to come and extract it. Some of the most inspiring Shabbos niggunim were originally Czarist army marching songs. We are here to convert the matter of the lower world into the currency of the higher world.

Still… Led Zeppelin?

One of the lessons this drove home for me was that if I had any reason to feel inferior because of my cultural upbringing I was a fool. If sparks of kedusha could be had in Led Zeppelin, then the sound tracks of my memory banks were gold mines of potential kedusha no Chassid could hope to duplicate.

But the larger point was the place of culture clash in the evolution of a BT. There is, of course, a difference between real Torah and a culture in which this Torah is expressed. They are not necessarily the same thing. Moshe Rabbeinu did not speak Yiddish or wear a streimel (notwithstanding the Parasha sheets our kids bring home from yeshiva).

Yet, the reality is that when we become observant we not only join a religion but perforce join one of the cultures within it, be it Modern Orthodox, Chassidic or whatever. Judaism is a social religion; it demands we become part of a tzibbur, a kehilla, a community. Therefore, we must make our peace with a community, even if it is lacking or imperfect in our eyes.

And so, we BTs more than others, go about our lives in strange paradox, feeling alienated from the culture we left behind for a religion that makes sense but invariably comes with a culture we may not fit perfectly into.

Somehow we have to find a niche not necessarily made in our image without losing our selves. We have to navigate the choppy seas of a culture sometimes at odds with our memories, origins and expectations while remaining glued to the inner compass that led us to the timeless values underpinning that culture to begin with.

Some of the cultural dissonance is relatively easy to handle but some is not. Often there is no easy solution for the latter – other than recognizing that our task here is not always easy.

That’s a lesson we learned long before we came to Torah. You can’t buy a stairway to heaven.

Originally published March 15, 2006

Crying From Within on Tisha BAv

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Who Is The Redemption About?

At the end of the first berachah of Shemoneh Esrei, we say, למען שמו באהבה, “l’maan Shemo b’ahavah” (For the sake of His Name, with love).

We await the redemption, but besides for this, we await the kind of redemption which is “for the sake of His Name”. Rather than simply bringing the redemption simply for the sake of His children, Hashem will bring the redemption is “for the sake of His Name, with love.”

A Seeming Contradiction

The Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av is a time where we are supposed to feel pain and mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Yet, we also look forward to the redemption. This seems like a contradiction in our Avodas Hashem. How do we integrate these two seemingly contrary feelings – joy due to hope for the future geulah (redemption), but also sadness at the current state of exile, the galus?

Personal Suffering vs. National Suffering

It is natural for humans to want to escape pain. We are creatures of comfort and long to be redeemed from any uncomfortable or painful situations. However, escaping pain is not the purpose of the Redemption. Rather, the purpose of the Redemption will be “for Hashem’s sake”, as we say in Shemoneh Esrei – “l’maan shemo b’ahavah” ,“For the sake of His Name, with love.”

The sole purpose of the Redemption is to reveal Hashem’s name in the world, which is the purpose of Creation.[1] [Thus, we must long for the Redemption not to end our personal suffering but rather to achieve the whole purpose of Creation, for His Shechinah to be able to rest in this World.]

The Root of Exile

What does the passuk mean when it refers to the Redemption being for the sake of the “Name” of Hashem?

A name reveals the nature of something. In the gentile world, a name is meaningless [it is merely an arbitrary string of letters attached to things to enable people to communicate]. Similarly, the name of a gentile does not define his essence. However, in contrast, Jewish names reveal their essence. The names of people and things are intricately woven into their essential nature. Thus, the “Name” of Hashem when it is revealed in the future will reveal Hashem in the world.

Thus, since the entire purpose of Creation is to reveal Hashem in the world, the Redemption will be in His name’s sake. The word for exile in Hebrew is “galus”. The Hebrew word for redemption is “geulah”. Both these words are rooted in the Hebrew word “giluy”, meaning “to reveal”. This hints to the fact that both the exile and the redemption will reveal Hashem.[2]

Exile is essentially Hashem’s concealment of His radiance toward us (otherwise known as “hester panim”).[3] In other words, our current exile is synonymous with the revelation of Hashem concealed from our minds and hearts. In contrast, the redemption will reveal Hashem in our minds and hearts. It will be the time in which we will exclaim, “This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him”, and when all the nations of the world will exclaim, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu” (Hear, Yisrael, that Hashem is our G-d).

Needless to say, the four periods of exile that the Jewish people have endured (the fourth of which we are still currently enduring) have been rife with suffering and tragedy. However, the sufferings of the exiles are just the external branches. The root of the exile is the hester panim. The fact that Hashem has concealed His radiance from us – that is the true exile.

Chazal state that wherever the nation of Israel is exiled, the Shechinah (Hashem’s Presence) is exiled as well. However, it is important to note that the exile only occurs because the Shechinah has gone into exile. The exile ends when the Shechinah returns and Hashem is again revealed to us.

In other words, all of the exiles – from Egypt until the present exile, which is Edom (Rome and all the nations that have branched out from it) together with Yishmael (the Arab nations) – are merely representative of the true underlying cause of the exile – the absence of Hashem’s radiance toward us.

Why Are We Crying?

Of course, during this time of mourning, we have to think about the suffering of the Jewish people. However, it is important to remember that the suffering and tragedies are not the original cause of our situation but rather the result of our situation. The cause or root of the problem, the root of all the exiles, is hester panim. Without being aware of this, a person just has the “branches” [the consequential effect] without the “root” [original cause].

In summary, there are two layers to our mourning. There is the external layer, crying, which concerns the suffering we experience during our exile. However, these tears are really sourced in the internal, root cause of our sadness – the hester panim.

What Do We Really Want?

In the words ”le’maan Shemo b’ahavah’ of Shemoneh Esrei, why we do we also say the word b’ahavah (“with love”), and not simply l’maan “Shemo” (“for the sake of His Name”)?

[In order to understand this, it is useful to explore the meaning and source of the Hebrew word “ahavah.”] The Hebrew word for father is av, which is rooted in the word ahavah, love. Ahavah also means ratzon, to “want”.[6] This alludes to our Avos (forefathers), who wanted the true ratzon (will) – the desire to do Hashem’s will: “It is our will to do Your will.”

Thus, the ahavah of “l’maan Shemo b’ahavah”, concerns the love that comes from the revelation of our very deepest ratzon. There are other kinds of ahavah, love – including ahavah rabbah (“great love”) and ahavas olam (“eternal” love). However, the love expressed in the words “l’eman Shemo b’ahavah” is greater than both of these. It is a love that comes when the true ratzon, the will of Hashem, is revealed. It is a revelation of “retzoneinu laasos Retzoncha” – “Our will to do Your will.”[7]

Exile thus represents a state whereby we have not achieved this greatest love, where our will is not to do Hashem’s will.There is no revelation of “retzonenu laasos Retzoncha” in exile. Admittedly, even in exile there can still be a revelation of the desire to see Hashem, for “It is our desire to see Our King” (“retzonenu liros es Malkeinu”.)[8] [In other words, we ‘want to want’ to do Hashem’s will. But we have not achieved the level of actually wanting it and incorporating our will into His will.]

Another way of understanding this distinction is to consider the prayer [which we recite later in Shemoneh Esrei], of לישועתך קוינו כל היום, “For Your salvation we await, every day.” This salvation is the true redemption. However, we obviously do not fully have sufficient ratzon for Hashem to save us, otherwise the redemption would have already come. Unfortunately, our ratzon itself is in exile! Our true internal, higher soul and its desires remain hidden from us. And as we explained above, since ratzon forms the basis of this greatest love, the absence of ratzon is the absence of the love.

How To Reach The Real Crying

To truly have pain over the exile, we have to first fire up our ratzon to truly want the redemption. Only when we have uncovered and fired up our true, inner desire for redemption will we truly feel pain over the exile, that we have not yet obtained what our hearts’ desire. This weeping can only be achieved when a person recognizes within himself of what he is truly missing and how discontent we truly are. This realization will bring us to true tears, not just fleeting moments of emotion.

The following scenario may assist us to understand this better, demonstrating how the greater the ahavah, the greater the ratzon and emotion involved with this person.

This is also true of feeling the pain over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the current exile. We do not necessarily feel the pain (and thereby achieve the avodah of the Three Weeks/Nine Days) without work. How, indeed, can we reach this inner source of the crying?

We have to focus on our true ratzon. What do we truly want? Learning Torah and doing the mitzvos only shows what we want on the outside. What do we truly want on the inside? What is a person’s true ratzon in life…?

Hashem will bring the Redemption “for the sake of His Name, with love.” He has a will (ratzon) as well as a love (ahavah) for us. The more we strive to connect ourselves to these middos of Hashem (of ratzon and ahavah), more we reveal our ratzon for the redemption, and the closer we will be to our salvation from this exile.

The Avodah of Tisha B’Av

What is the practical avodah we need to do on Tisha B’Av (I would instead say: What, practically speaking, is the avodah we need to do on Tisha B’Av?)?

Fasting and being forbidden to learn Torah make Tisha B’Av difficult to endure on the outside. To inspire themselves to reach a point of mourning, many people read different statements of Chazal in the Gemara about the destruction or listen to inspiring lectures. However, such mourning is simply an external sadness and pain.

In order to reach a true, inner pain, we must consider and reflect on what the destruction truly represents– the fact that we no longer have the Shechinah is because we do not have the ratzon to bring it here!

This is what we truly have to mourn about on Tisha B’Av. The destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the many tragedies that took place then, the suffering of all the exiles – these are just the external layer of the destruction. It is the destruction to our soul, and to our soul’s true ratzon to reveal Hashem into the world, that we should really be crying about.

[1] As explained at length by Ramchal in sefer Daas Tevunos

[2] Maharal (Netzach Yisrael: 1)

[3] Ramchal (sefer Daas Tevunos)

[6] Siddur Nusach Arizal, Tefillas Shacharis Shabbos, “b’ahavah u’bratzon”; Kedushas Levi Tehillim 69:14

[7] Berachos 17a

[8] Rashi Shemos 19:9

SGZ Vol10 – Our Avodah without the Beis HaMikdash

The Avodah of Making Better Brochos

We’ve been discussing how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

The Path to Improving Our Avodah

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World)
-Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
-Internalize and Focus on your Purpose

Zehirus (Watchfulness)
-Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
-Stop, Think, Act, Review

Zerizus (Zealousness)
-Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority
-Do Mitzvos with Enthusiasm

Mourning the Missing of Avodah of the Beis HaMikdash

We’re now in the period of the nine days, and the call of this period day is to mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. We mourn because we are lacking the close connection to Hashem that existed when we had the Beis HaMikdash. That connection was built through the avodah that was available through the bringing of korbonos, which we no longer have.

Availing Ourselves of the Opportunity of Avodah She’b’lev

We don’t have the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash, but we do have the Avodah She’b’lev, namely Tefillah. If we work on improving our brochos, even a little bit, as described above, we’re showing Hashem that we value our opportunities to serve Him.

Getting Joy from Our Avodah

We are taught in the Tochacha that bad things happened to the Jewish People because we did not serve Hashem with joy. When we stop, think and say a brocha properly, we can feel joy from this realized opportunity of serving and getting closer to Hashem. That is a step in rectifying our past of not serving Hashem with joy.

Better Avodah Leads to More Avodah Opportunities

In our own lives, we often see that improving our avodah leads to more avodah opportunities. It’s logical, that a significant collective improvement of our Avodah, will be met by Hashem bringing back the Avodah opportunities of the Beis HaMikdash. May it happen speedily in our days.

SGZ – V9 – The Three Foundations

Last week we talked about how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:
– Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
– Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
– Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority

Chovas HaAdam – Internalize Your Purpose
Proper Divine Service begins with internalizing our purpose in the world. Why are we here? It starts with why. In the secular world, this concept relates to our discovering our individual purpose. In the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal is focused on the common purpose we all share, which is to develop a deep connection to Hashem in this world, through the performance of mitzvos. That is our why, our purpose, and the more we internalize it, the more we’ll be driven by it.
– At least once a day, say to yourself “My purpose in this world us to develop a deep connection to Hashem through the performance of Mitzvos”

Zehirus – Stop, Think, Act, Review
Zehirus is internalizing the habit of thinking before you act. We are often distracted and don’t think about our actions. The first step is to stop before you act. The purpose of stopping is to think about what you are about to determine if it is in line with your purpose in life. If what you are about to do is an aveira, then try not to do it. If what you’re about to do is a mitzvah, then do it, with the thought that this act will help me achieve my purpose. The next step is doing the act with the proper thoughts. The last step is to review and think about the actions at least once a day. This helps to internalize the habit of zehirus.
– At least once a day, think about whether your actions were in line with your purpose.

Zerizus – Do it with Enthusiasm
Zerizus is internalizing the habit of doing mitzvos enthusiastically. The nemesis of enthusiasm is lethargy and laziness, which is a result of our physical nature. The first step is stopping and thinking before we act, which are the components of zehirus. Now we can think about the fact that the mitzvah we are about to do is in line with our purpose of connecting to Hashem. What could be better? Now we can proceed to do the mitzvah with increased enthusiasm, as it is integral to fulfilling our purpose.
– At least once a day, think about the importance of the brocha you are about to say, and then say it with some enthusiasm.

SGZ – V8 – Applying Our Spiritual Knowledge to Improve Our Davening



Last week we looked at three aspects of spiritual growth: inspiration, information, internalization. In regards to inspiration, or motivation, we spoke about our need to improve our Divine Service, and the fact that we don’t understand Divine Service so well. In regards to information, we reviewed the five components of Divine Service: Awe, Walking in His Way, Love, Wholehearted Service, Careful Performance of Mitzvos. We said that internalization is often the missing component in our spiritual growth.

The Mesillas Yesharim tells us that only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained. Internalizing awe of Hashem is the key to wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the relevant application of knowledge to a situation. The ultimate wisdom is determining and doing what Hashem wants from us in every situation. This requires learning halacha, hashkafa, mussar and applying it. The only way we can apply the information is if it’s internalized and accessible.

Internalizing Divine Service requires a step by step repetitive process. In the Zoomcast we look at the step by step process of improving our davening. We discuss the following steps:
1) Internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem.
2) Stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem.
3) Focusing on thinking that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name.
4) Appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem.

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V7 – Inspiration, Information, Internalization

Here’s the accompanying post:

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast, we talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Inspiration, Information and Internalization

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast on beyondbt.com, we will talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V6 – The Importance of the Mesillas Yesharim Introduction

Check out the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V6 – The Importance of the Mesillas Yesharim Introduction

Here is a summary of the Mesillas Yesharim Introduction:

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.

00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.

00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.

00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.

00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.

00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.

00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.

00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.

00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.

00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.

00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.

00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.

00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.

00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.

00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.

00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.

00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead.

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Check out the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Here is a summary of the Zoomcast:

What we need to do.
Introduction to the need to improve our Divine Service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.

The key point to internalize.
Chovas HaAdam or Man’s Purpose in the World is to pursue the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.

Four deterrents to deal will: distraction, laziness, desire, self-centeredness.

Reduce distraction with focused thinking.
Zehirus or Watchfulness is avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.

Reduce laziness with enthusiastic positive spiritual performance.
Zerizus or Zealousness is overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.

Battle desire and self-centeredness by focusing on spiritual achievement.
Nekiyus or Cleanliness is reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.

Weaken desire further by thinking about it’s deficiencies.
Perishus or Abstaining is recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.

Address self-centeredness by focusing more on our spiritual side.
Tahara or Purity is reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.

Displace self-centeredness, by putting pleasing Hashem at the top of priorities.
Chassidus or Saintliness is expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.

Weaken self-centeredness further by examining our deficiencies.
Anavah or Humility is realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.

Putting Hashem front and center.
Yiras Cheit or Fear of Sin is being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.

Doing everything for Hashem.
Kedushah or Holiness is removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.

Overview of Mesillas Yesharim

In the upcoming Zoomcast we’ll be giving a Overview of the Mesillas Yesharim. Here’s a preview.

Introduction – Improving our Divine service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.
It is critical to work on improving our service of Hashem, since this is the reason for our existence.Without effort and a methodology, we won’t reach adequate levels of service. Divine Service is doing mitzvos properly—with focus, love, and awe, and diminishing our self-centeredness through giving and connecting to other people.

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.
We build our foundation of improved service of Hashem by internalizing the understanding that our life’s purpose is to develop an eternal connection to Hashem. We develop that connection doing the mitzvos properly, serving Hashem, and withstanding tests.

Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.
To reduce the distractions which distance us from Hashem, we have to develop the habit of thinking before we act whether a prospective action will draw us away from or bring us closer to Hashem. We need to regularly review our purpose and examine whether our daily actions are in line with our purpose.

Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.
To avail ourselves of the constant opportunities to come close to Hashem, we need to overcome our laziness which prevents us from enthusiastic mitzvah performance. We need to recognize the constant mitzvah opportunities, and then act without delay to take advantage of these opportunities to connect to Hashem.

Nekiyus (Cleanliness) – Reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.
We need to learn the details of mitzvah observance and proper middos, particularly the 14 mitzvos categories and 4 middos that we are most likely to transgress. We need to internalize the awareness that physical desire and self-centeredness often cause us to rationalize our transgressions.

Perishus (Abstaining) – Recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.
Perishus is the beginning of Chassidus and consists of abstaining from permitted worldly matters that are unessential or may lead to sin. However, if something is essential, it is a sin to abstain from it. Determining what is unessential and what is essential is an ongoing spiritual growth process.

Tahara (Purity) – Reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.
Tahara refers to the refinement of our actions, emotions and thoughts. Tahara in physical acts is reducing our physical desires. Tahara in mitzvos refers to having proper intentions, which is called doing mitzvos l’shma or “for their own sake”.

Chassidus (Saintliness) – Expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.
Chassidus is bringing pleasure, honor and satisfaction to Hashem by adding to that which was explicitly commanded regarding mitzvos. Just like the love between people is expressed by doing more, so too is the love of Hashem. Chassidus teaches us to focus on helping people physically, financially and emotionally. In addition, all our mitzvos should be carried out with love, fear, concern for Hashem’s honor, and the intention of benefitting our entire generation.

Anavah (Humility) – Realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.
Humility of thought is to realize that we are not superior to others. Wisdom is the most common cause of conceit, even though we make errors and always need to learn. Humility in deeds means we should conduct ourselves humbly, accept insults, flee from honor and wielding authority..

Yiras Cheit (Fear of Sin) – Being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.
Fear of punishment for violating Hashem’s mitzvos is the most basic fear and is a trait of Zehirus. Avoiding sins because of our awe of Hashem’s exaltedness is a trait of Chassidus. Yiras Cheit is the concern that a trace of sin intruded into any of our actions which caused an affront to the honor due to Hashem. When someone has reached this high level, this fear of sin operates constantly.

Kedushah (Holiness) – Removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.
Holiness is removing oneself from physicality and cleaving constantly to Hashem, with our every act done purely for His sake. This is achieved as a gift from Hashem after a person is constantly cleaving to Him through powerful love, intense fear and reflection on His exaltedness. Even ones physical deeds, like eating, will then be holy.

Going Beyond Bein Adam L’Makom

In our previous Zoomcasts we defined a G-d Centered spirituality emphasizing the goal of developing a deep loving emotional connection with G-d, and the resulting benefits of developing that relationship. This seems to focus on the Bein Adam L’Makom aspects of Torah Judaism. Surely that’s not all there is.

As the Mesillas Yesharim makes quite clear, middos and mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, play an essential role in G-d centered spirituality. In regard to Middos, each of the ten steps of the Baraisa (Torah, Zehirus, Zerisus,…) is built on a foundation of eliminating bad middos and developing good middos. The Mesillas Yesharim however provides us with priorities in Middos Development.

In Zehirus, he focuses on the negative middah of distraction, which includes worldly pursuits, dreaming and fantasizing. The antidote is to think about your primary purpose and life, and to stop, and think, before you act, to see if your thoughts and actions are helping you achieve your purpose. When you work on the positive trait of thinking before you speak or act, you realize that this takes a concerted effort.

In Zerizus, he discusses the negative middah of laziness, which prevents us from doing positive mitzvos properly. The antidote here is doing mitzvos as soon as the opportunity presents itself, with enthusiasm. He also dicusses feeling the pleasure of Loving Hashem when doing the right thing. The negative middah of worry and anxiety is also addressed in Zerizus.

In Nekius, the negative middah of desire is discussed. The antidote begins with an awareness of how desire for physical pleasure, for honor and for money, influences our actions. The power of desire can be diminished by feeling the pleasure of doing the right thing. As Dr. David Lieberman says: “the body wants to feel good, the ego wants to look good, the soul wants to do good”. We have to feel the pleasure of doing good, to overcome the hold that that desire has on us.

At the end of Nekius he discusses the centrality of middos development in Avodah Hashem and how much effort must be made to improve our middos. The Ramchal teaches that there are numerous middos, but he focuses on the ones that create the greatest stumbling block, specifically arrogance, anger, envy and desire. The Vilna Gaon in Even Shleimah also teaches the centrality of middos development in Avodas Hashem, and he states that anger, desire and arrogance are the principal bad traits.

Let’s go back to the importance of the centrality of G-d connection in our Spiritual Growth. This, perhaps, is one of the major issues we have in the Frum community. We are not taught about the centrality and immense benefits of the emotional connection to G-d. Therefore, we often do mitzvos, say brachos, and pray without thought, and we don’t receive the pleasure which mitzvos, brachos and prayer can deliver.

I think a major reason for this is that when we begin our Judaism as a BT or a FFB the focus is on what to do and how to do it. At the beginning, we’re not focused on the benefits, or the why, which include the pleasurable emotional connection to Hashem. BTs are usually not ready for this at the beginning. And FFB children do not have enough emotional maturity to develop a deep emotional connection to Hashem at that point of their lives. That’s why we have to be thankful to Mesillas Yesharim for give us the step by step guidelines to develop that emotional connection and to get beyond our plateau.

Look out for the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast – volume 4, where we’ll discuss the above issues.

Rav Itamar Shwartz (Bilvavi) on Shavous and the Soul Perspective

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here. Here are some short excerpts:

Three Kinds Of Love: For the Creator, For Torah, and For Another Jew.

With the help of Hashem, we are approaching the time of the giving of the Torah. When the Torah was given, there were three great revelations. The first revelation was that Hashem came down onto Har Sinai, and opened up all the heavens and showed us that Ain Od Milvado, there is nothing besides for Him. The second revelation was the Ten Commandments, which contains the entire Torah. The third revelation was that we all stood together with one heart.

The sefarim hakedoshim reveal that there are three kinds of love that we need to seek: love for Hashem, love for the Torah, and love for the Jewish people. These three kinds of love were all revealed at the giving of the Torah. Our love for the Creator was revealed when Hashem revealed Himself to us. Our love for the Torah was revealed through the Ten Commandments. Our love for the Jewish people was revealed when we had complete unity with each other, standing together with one heart.

Changing to a Soul Perspective
The choice that everyone has on this world is: If he will live life through his body, or through his
soul.

A person should ask himself how much physical gratification he’s getting, versus how much of his basic soul needs that he is getting. One should try thinking about this every day.

If anyone reflects, he’ll find that most of the day is spent on physical gratification – whether it’s coffee, smoking, food, newspapers, etc. Each to his own.
To begin to change this, one should try to make sure that he’s giving himself at least a little attention each day to his soul’s needs.

Today, pleasure is often only experienced sensually, with the physical. People often are completely devoid of experiencing any enjoyment whatsoever with regards to their souls. A person can start to change this by making sure to give his soul a little pleasure each day. This is just the beginning step.

When a person then feels a desire for something physical, such as for food – if he feels that he can give it up for something that is a soul need, he is making progress with this. It shows that he has begun to change his perspective at least a little.

Someone who does this and gets used to this will come to an amazing discovery. He will begin to actually feel others. He will feel other’s happiness when they make a simcha, and he will feel their sadness when they go through a loss. His soul will be able to feel the other’s soul.

Leaving The Body And Entering The Soul
When we heard the Torah at Har Sinai, our souls left us. In other words, we left the perspective of the body and entered the perspective of our soul!

This shows us that the way to prepare for the Torah – [at least] one of the ways – is to leave our body’s perspective and to instead enter into our soul a bit. This will resemble how the souls of the Jewish people left their bodies at Har Sinai.

May we be zoche to leave the thick materialism of this world and instead feel how we are a soul, beginning from the most basic needs of our soul [our emotional happiness], and then to the more spiritual needs of our soul, until we finally reach the highest part of our soul – the point of total d’veykus (attachment) with Hashem.

Is Developing a Deeper Connection to Hashem Worth the Effort?

As Torah observant Jews we all practice a form of G-d centered spirituality. We’re learning Torah, keeping Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas HaMishpacha because G-d commanded us.

The next level of G-d centered spirituality is having a deep loving emotional connection to G-d as stated in the Rambam, Chovos HaLevovos, Chassidic sources and Mesillas Yesharim. That deep emotional loving connection can be the source of always-available pleasure in both this world and the next. Many of the above mentioned classic sources teach that developing a deep emotional connecting to Hashem requires a step by step methodology.

The push back to a growth methodology is that a person can argue that through Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim – they will, over time, develop that deep connection to Hashem. So what’s the problem? Many have had Rebbeim who have developed a deep connection and they never taught the need for a methodology.

Putting the methodology issue aside, what if I’m basically satisfied with my combination of physical and spiritual pleasure. Why should I put in all the effort for increased spiritual please? Is it really worth it?

In our upcoming Spiritual Growth Zoomcast we’ll discuss the above issues.

The Shul Zoom Boom

It’s been a long haul for us Shul lovers. But we’re making the best out of difficult situation, thanks in part to technology, and particularly Zoom.

Our first use of Zoom was for online Kiddushim. A small group of us joins a Zoom meeting before Shabbos and we share a L’chaim, some words of Torah, and a discussion of the issues of the day. It’s usually about 20 minutes long. It’s not the same as a Shabbos Kiddush, but we look forward to it and it keeps us connected on a weekly basis.

We’ve also had a few Zoom life cycle events. We’ve had a vort, a wedding, and unfortunately there have been levayas and shiva visits. Of course it’s not the same as the in-person equivalents, but it does enable a degree of connect to the baal simcha or aveilah.

Another use of Zoom is for our daily Shacharis minyan. Someone davens, saying every brocha and the beginning and ending of every paragraph out loud. There are no Devarim Shel Kedusha as it is not a halachic minyan. We pace it consistently and many people have found it very helpful for their Kavana.

This cycle of the Daf Yomi has seen two major changes. More people in our Shul are learning the Daf and the OU Daf app (https://alldaf.org/) has been a tremendous additional asset. All of our Shul Daf Yomi shiurim are functioning on Zoom. Despite the availability of the OU Daf resources, people like their shiur leaders and their chaburas, and continue to attend them on Zoom. We’ve also continued all our weekly shiurim, given by members of our shul via Zoom.

Perhaps the most impactful use of Zoom has been our Rav’s online Zoom shiurim. He gives shiurim from Sunday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for about 30 minutes. We get very nice attendance and it’s a real chizuk to see many fellow members on a regular basis. At the end of the shiur we unmute everybody and we shmoose for a few minutes with the Rav greeting everybody in attendance. It’s a great experience and I wonder how we’ll use Zoom to supplement the live shiurim when we return.

We anxiously await returning to Shul, but we’re thankful that Hashem has provided us with the Zoom refuah in the face of our quarantine machala.

Cross Posted from http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Improving Our Davening at This Critical Time

We’re in a crisis situation. A situation which calls for us to storm the heavens with our prayers. So we step into our Shemoneh Esrai committed to do our best, and before we know it we’ve lost focus. What can we do? The first thing to know is that you’re not alone, almost everybody has the davening problem to some degree. The second thing to know is that we can improve. Here’s a path.

Davening is about connecting to Hashem in heart and mind. To connect to Hashem, we have to think about Hashem. A very important time to think about Hashem is when we’re praying and saying His Name. The Shulchan Aruch teaches that when saying the name Hashem, “we should concentrate on the meaning of how it is read, referring to His Lordship, that He is the Master of all.”

The Shulchan Aruch also says that “we should concentrate on (how it is written) the Yud-Hei – that He was, is, and always will be”, but the Mishna Berurah brings down in the name of the Gra, that this second meaning is only required when we say Hashem’s name in the Shema.

Is there any doubt in our mind that Hashem is the Master of all? He has brought the entire world to a standstill before our very eyes! When we say Hashem’s name in the brochos of Shomoneh Esrai, we should think and recognize that Hashem is the Master of all.

Start with the the first Brocha. If you catch yourself wandering in the middle of any brocha, bring yourself back to thinking about Hashem’s name when you conclude the Brocha. Don’t get discouraged when you’re not successful, just keep on making the effort. With repeated step by step effort, you’ll develop the ability to focus on Hashem’s name during davening.

We have to do our stop-the-spread hishtadlus. But more importantly, we have to turn and think about the Master of all in prayer. If not now, when?

Cross Posted on http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Pesach Redeeming Your Soul

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of amazing Drashos on Personal Redemption
Download a number of amazing Drashos on Pesach

Exile of Our Daas

The Egyptian exile was an exile of our Da’as (our mind). We learn this from what Hashem told Avraham Avinu, that “you will surely know (“yodua teida”) that your offspring will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs…”

The Egyptian exile was an exile of our da’as, and its redemption was a redemption to our da’as. From the double usage of the word da’as in the possuk (yodua teida) we learn that there are two kinds of exiles that both involve an exile of our da’as. Let us reflect what these two kinds of da’as are.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that these two kinds of da’as are a “masculine” kind of da’as and a “feminine” kind of da’as. The redemption from Egypt was a feminine kind of da’as, and the future redemption will be a masculine kind of da’as. What does he mean?

We can understand the Baal Shem’s statement as follows. Each individual has two components: feelings and vision. (An example of “vision” is that a person is obligated on the night of Pesach to see himself leaving Egypt”).

The feminine kind of da’as is “feelings”, and the masculine kind of da’as is “vision”. Egypt was an exile of our feelings – our feminine aspect of da’as. Its redemption was a redemption as well of our feminine da’as. But the future redemption will involve our masculine kind of da’as, which is our vision. “For with an eye and an eye we will see the return of Hashem to Zion.”

It is well-known that the final redemption is also contained in the first redemption. The redemption from Egypt is the root of the final redemption.

We must know what these two different kinds of redemption are in our soul.

Our Mind Is Still In Exile

There are two “kings” that reside in a person: the mind and the heart. The mind’s vision is limited and we need to learn how to expand it.

The Zohar always uses an expression of ta chazi, “come and see”, while the Gemara always uses an expression of ta shema, “come and hear.” When a person hears, he hears the feelings, but when a person sees, he doesn’t use his feelings, just his limited vision. The abilities of feeling and vision are two distinct forces in the soul, and each of them need to be removed from what’s blocking them. Our mind’s vision is prevented by being too narrow-sighted, while our heart’s feelings can be stuffed with timtum halev (spiritual “blockage”).

In the Egyptian exile, our heart was in exile. There was a redemption to this, so our feelings. But our mind still hasn’t been totally redeemed. Our feelings of the soul, such as ahavah (love), yirah (fear), hispaarus (pride), etc. were redeemed in Egypt, but our mind’s vision – in other words, our inner vision, the ability to see holiness – is still concealed in this exile.

The avodah of the Egyptian exile was to recognize Hashem’s goodness and to come to have feelings for Him, such as love and fear of Hashem. But what is the avodah of the final exile?

We must expand our minds in order to know this.

The Secret of The Redemption: Unity

The Arizal explains that the night of Pesach is a time of “gadlus hamochin” (a higher state of mind). What is the higher state of mind, and what is the lower state of mind?

Simply speaking, it means that sometimes our mind is more or less clear. But the more truthful outlook is that gadlus hamochin is a straight way of thinking – “G-d made man upright” (Koheles 7:29) – it is a straight kind of vision, and in it lies a person’s mind.

In the redemption of Egypt, anyone who didn’t merit to leave Egypt perished. The wicked perished in the plague of darkness. Everyone else who left Egypt left as one collective unit – there was achdus (unity) of the entire nation at the redemption. At this redemption, the entire Jewish people were united to follow Hashem into the desert, experience the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah. At all of these events, all 600,000 souls of the Jewish people were all present.

The inner way to look at reality is to see everything as one. From an inner perspective, a person sees how many details are really all one collective unit. The secret that brings redemption is unity in one unit. For example, the entire Jewish people in Egypt did not change their names, language, or dress.

Thus, the redemption is all about achdus – unity. There is a redemption that will take place to the Jewish people as a whole. There is also a personal redemption to each person that will take place, a redemption to each person’s soul. This is to redeem our mind. To redeem our mind, we must acquire an inner perspective on things – a perspective of achdus, to be able to see how many details connect and are all one.

Before, we mentioned that we have two different component in us: feelings, which are in our heart, and our vision, which is in our mind. Our mind, which is otherwise known as the masculine kind of daas, has an advantage over the heart in that it can see how many details connect as one. Our mind is capable of seeing achdus.

The second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred). The future redemption will be the opposite of this; it will be a unity of the world. The secret of the redemption is achdus.

The secret to the redemption when a person acquires this inner perspective – the way to see unity in many details.

The secret to the current exile is contained in the Egyptian exile. By understanding what the Egyptian exile was, we can learn about our own redemption from the current exile, because the root of all redemption is the redemption from Egypt.

What Is This Unity?

What is this secret of “achdus” of the final redemption, which is contained in the Egyptian exile?

We say in the Haggaddah, “And G-d took us out of Egypt, not through an angel or through a seraph or through a messenger, but G-d Himself, in His Honor.”

There is a concept that everything which takes place in the world also takes place in time, and everything that takes place in time also takes place in our soul. In our own soul, there can be a redemption by Hashem Himself.

On the night of Pesach, there is a revelation of G-dliness in every person’s soul! “Not through an angel or a seraph or a messenger, but G-d himself.” As long as a person doesn’t block this revelation from happening, it becomes revealed in one’s soul on the night of Pesach: a personal redemption that takes place in the soul.

When a person still has an egotistical “I”, he is separate from others. But when there is a revelation of G-dliness in the soul, a secret of “oneness” (rozo d’echad) is revealed in the soul.

If a person looks at another person according to the other’s opinions about life, then he is apart from others. Chazal say that “Just like all faces are different, so are all minds different.” But when a person looks at another person’s soul with a deep perspective, he sees G-dliness in another Jew’s soul. He sees “Hashem Himself” that resides in the deepest point in every Jew’s soul. (This deepest point is the called “Yechidah”.) When a person has this perspective, he has an outlook of achdus toward every Jew and he unifies every soul into one unit.

This revelation that takes place in the soul on the night of Pesach is the root of the future redemption.

Thus, on the night of Pesach we have an additional form of avodah. Besides the well-known avodah of connecting ourselves to “leaving Egypt now”, we must also reveal the root of the future redemption. We must recognize what the redemption is and connect to it.

The Root of The Future Redemption – Nullifying Your Ego

The power of the future redemption is essentially the ability to leave the selfish “I” in a person. As long as a person is still egotistical, there is a divide between a person and Hashem. When a person still has his ego, he has only his daas, and each person’s daas is different. This is the depth of Chazal that “Just as all faces are different, so are all minds different.” A person’s self-absorption prevents the revelation of achdus.

We need to acquire the higher daas. This is called “Keil de’os (G-d of knowledge”, an expression used by the Rambam). This is not regular daas of a person; it is a higher kind of daas that is hidden from us. It is the kind of daas which unifies the many varying opinions of people, the many different kind of daas that everyone has.

In the redemption from Egypt, even though it was a redemption of our daas, it was only a redemption of each person’s private daas. We are still different from one another, because we each have our own opinions. It wasn’t yet a total redemption.

There are two ways how we can see this. First of all, Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid that the people wouldn’t be worthy of being redeemed, because of the wicked individuals present. This was already a lapse in the unity of the Jewish people. In addition to this, even when they were redeemed, the Erev Rav (“Mixed Multitude”, Egyptian non-Jews who escaped Egypt together with the Jewish people) came with them, which affected the unity of the Jewish people.

The future redemption, though, will be a total redemption of our daas. It will be nullification of our daas and in its place a revelation of the higher Daas, the Daas of the Creator. The revelation of Hashem by the redemption will be a revelation of the achdus of the Jewish people.

Thus we have two missions on Pesach: we must feel as if we are leaving Egypt now, to receive a new vitality in our feelings. But this isn’t enough. Even with renewed feelings, our perspective can still be very limited. Feelings without a developed mind can be imbalanced. Feelings aren’t everything. Some people are so zealous that they go overboard with their zealousness. We must realize that our feelings are only a garment on our soul. Feelings aren’t everything, and we shouldn’t get caught up in them – they need to be fused with an expanded mind.

For example, the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael really applies to wicked people as well. One of the four sons is a wicked son; we must still love him as a son, even though he is wicked. In the future redemption, all the dispersed members of our people will be gathered together, even the wicked members. Although in Egypt, “had the wicked son been there, he wouldn’t have been redeemed”, still, in the future redemption, which is a more complete redemption, the wicked will be included.

This kind of feeling is a feeling expanded by the mind. This is the gadlus hamochin contained in Pesach.

“Now we are slaves, Next Year we will be free”

We need both kinds of redemption: the past redemption of Egypt (which we already experienced), and the future redemption. These are two different kinds of redemption.

The previous redemption, the redemption from Egypt, is a light that we must return to each year on Pesach. The future redemption is something else: we must draw it closer to us and extend it upon us even now.

In the beginning of the Hagaddah, we say “Now we are slaves, Next year we will be free.” These are the beginning words of the Hagaddah, and they are the preface to what occurs on the night of Pesach.

In these words we mention two things. We mention the “bread of suffering” which our ancestors ate in Egypt, yet we also mention the future redemption – “Next year we will be free.” This is not just a yearning for the redemption (which is also a wonderful thing to aspire to), but it is a connection to the redemption.

If we only consider the light of the redemption to be a thing of the past, then the purpose of the festival remains concealed.

The redemption hasn’t yet come. Thus, the avodah we have on this Pesach is to awaken in us the inner meaning of the redemption – the higher aspect of the redemption, not the lower aspect of the redemption. We need both aspects. The point is that we need the higher aspect of the redemption as well.

Inspiration Lasts Only If We Expand Our Mind

Upon understanding these words, we can look at the inner depth of the avodah upon us, in a new light. There is a deep point hidden here.

Every year, the holy Jewish people want to be awakened and inspired. People hear inspiring lectures – each to his own. Everyone wants to awaken in his soul a feel for the holiness of the Yom Tov. But we must know that many times we just have “inspiration” (hisorerus) and after some time, our inspiration wanes and we just go back to “usual”.

What is the mistake that people are making? It has to do with what we have been saying until now: feelings, without the mind to guide them, are only half the equation. Even if we redeem our “feelings” and we are full of renewed feelings for holiness, without expanding our mind the feelings won’t last. It’s only “half” the redemption.

If all we do is open up our feelings, without expanding our mind – then we only have the first kind of redemption, a redemption from Egypt. We will be missing our current redemption.

With just feelings and no mind, the inspiration we get doesn’t last. We will be able to connect to the redemption from Egypt with our renewed feelings of love and fear of Hashem, but after that our inspiration will go away, and we will just be left with the remaining exiles that came after Egypt….

In order for our inspiration to last, we need an expanded mind. On the night of Pesach, one is obligated to “see” himself as if he’s leaving Egypt. What does it mean to “see” yourself leaving Egypt? Are we supposed to become deluded by our imagination?!

We can understand that all our souls were there one time in Egypt, but why must we see ourselves actually leaving Egypt now?

We need to be able to “see” since the other part of our redemption is to redeem our power of vision in the mind.

This halachah, that one must see himself leaving Egypt, contains the higher aspect of the redemption: to redeem one’s vision of the mind.

The depth of this is that if a person hasn’t nullified his ego and he doesn’t integrate himself with the Jewish people, then he doesn’t know how to “see.” He doesn’t have a vision of achdus. His redemption has nothing to do with Hashem – it’s all about redeeming himself. When a person remains absorbed in himself, he might have wonderful feelings for Avodas Hashem, but he actually might be on a very lowly level. Reb Yisrael Salanter’s words are famous – a person can be so afraid of the yom hadin (day of judgment), yet he damages others when they see a scowl on his face.

When a person only seeks to have great feelings in avodas Hashem, it doesn’t mean yet that he is pure. It’s possible that he is self-absorbed in himself as he seeks to gain high levels in avodas Hashem. He is so self-absorbed in his personal growth that he doesn’t even see any person next to him! Even when such a person relates the story of the exodus to his household, he’s wrapped up in his own self as he seeks higher levels to attain. Such a person is sorely mistaken in the purpose of the festival.

When a person doesn’t realize that the main part of the redemption is to be redeemed from one’s selfish ego, he is missing the whole redemption. He might love and fear Hashem and have all the great feelings that one can reach, but it’s all another way of being self-absorbed. This is not a true redemption.

The true redemption to have on Pesach is when one nullifies his self and integrates into the Jewish people, as a part of a whole.

When one considers the redemption of Pesach to be about himself, he only redeems “himself.” We cannot call this a redemption. The purpose of the redemption is that all should recognize Hashem; it is about revealing Hashem, not about revealing one’s “I.”

The way to redeem yourself on Pesach is actually by nullifying yourself. When a person is locked up in a jail, he desires to escape it – he wants his “I” to escape. His escape from it will just be all about how he worries for himself. But the depth to the redemption is to leave your very self and forget about yourself.

This is really the depth of Ahavas Yisrael, which is the secret of the final redemption. Ahavas Yisrael is really when your soul has a redemption – when you leave yourself!! In other words, there is a kind of personal redemption in which you leave your inner imprisonment, and then there is another kind of redemption – when you leave your “I”. This is when you leave your ego for the sake of integrating with the rest of the Jewish people.

Thus, the beginning of redemption is to redeem our feelings. We need to first leave the materialism – the “bricks and mortar” – and enter the world of spirituality. The second part of our redemption, which is the purpose, is to reach our masculine kind of daas – the revelation of unity on the world; in other words, to nullify your “I.”

Hashem should merit all of the Jewish people that we all integrate with each other and from there, to integrate in unison with the Creator, who is really the only One who exists.

The Five Minute Seder and the Five Minute Plus Seder

Some people want to have a very fast seder. This guide is for them.

A few years ago a non-observant friend asked if I could put together a five minute seder.
I had written a A Longer Guide to the Seder. I pared it down to just the essential steps.
Pass it on to anyone for whom it might be helpful.

frogs_small__2426429601

1) Kaddesh – Sanctify the day with the recitation of Kiddush
*Leader says

On Shabbos add:
Vay’hi erev vay’hi voker yom hashi-shi. Vay’chulu hashamayim v’ha-aretz v’choltzva’am.
Vay’chal Elohim bayom hashvi’i, m’lachto asher asah, vayishbot bayom hashvi-i,
mikol-mlachto asher asah. Vay’vareich Elohim, et-yom hashvi’i, vay’kadeish oto,
ki vo shavat mikol-mlachto, asher-bara Elohim la-asot.

On all days continue
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher bachar banu mikol’am,
v’rom’manu mikol-lashon, v’kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, vatiten-lanu Adonai Eloheinu
b’ahavah (shabatot limnuchah u) moadim l’simchah, chagim uz’manim l’sason et-yom
(hashabat hazeh v’et-yom) chag hamatzot hazeh. Z’man cheiruteinu, (b’ahavah,)
mikra kodesh, zeicher litziat mitzrayim. Ki vanu vacharta v’otanu kidashta mikol
ha’amim. (v’shabat) umo’adei kod’shecha (b’ahavah uv’ratzon) b’simchah uv’sason
hinchaltanu. Baruch atah Adonai, m’kadeish (h’shabbat v’) Yisrael v’hazmanim.

Ba-ruch A-tah A-do-noi E-loi-hei-nu Me-lech ha-o-lam
she-he-chee-ya-nu v’ki-yi-ma-nu vi-hi-gi-ya-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

*Drink the 1st cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

2) Urechatz, – *Wash your hands before eating Karpas.

3) Karpas – *Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water.
*Leader says Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ho-adomah –
*Everybody eats the vegetable. Lean to your left while eating.

4) Yachatz. -* Break the middle Matzah. Hide the larger half for Afikoman.

5) Maggid – *Tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt
Here is a summary of the story. (Alternatively go around the room reading in English from a translated Haggadah.)

The main mitzvah of the night is telling about the Exodus from Egypt.
*Pour the 2nd Cup of Wine
*Four Questions are asked

*The answer to the four questions is given.

According to one commentator, it’s broken up into 6 parts based on the verse in the Torah which describes the mitzvah of telling the story at the Seder:
“And you shall relate to your child on that day saying: it is because of this Hashem acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”

a)– And you shall relate to your child – four types of chidren/people with different belief levels are discussed.

b)– on that day – explains that we should tell the story on Passover night and not earlier in the month,

c)– saying – the actual story:
Our ancestors were idol worshippers;—– through Abraham;—– Egyptian Enslavement;—– We cry out;—– G-d hears our cries
G-d saves us with the 10 plagues;—– We express our thanks for G-d saving us
Dip your finger in the wine for the 10 plagues
1) Water, which turned to blood and killed all fish and other aquatic life
2) Frogs
3) Lice
4) Wild animals
5) Disease on livestock
6) Incurable boils
7) Hail and thunder
8) Locusts
9) Darkness
10) Death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. To be saved, the Israelites had to place the blood of a lamb on the front door of their houses.

d) — It is because of this — “Rabban Gamliel explains why we use the Passover offering, Matzah and Maror.
The Passover lamb, represented in our times by the roasted bone, recalls the blood on the doorposts and the terror and anticipation of the night of the plague of the first born.

Matzah is what we ate in the morning when Israel was rushed out of Egypt with no time to let their dough rise.

Maror captures the bitterness of the enslavement.

e) — Hashem acted for me…” – “In every generation, we should see ourselves as if we had gone out from Egypt.

f) – when I came forth out of Egypt.” –We recite 2 songs of praise to G-d similar to the songs recited when we left Egypt.

*Leader of Seder recites Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 2nd cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

6) Rachtzah – *Wash the hands prior to eating Matzah and the meal.
*After washing and before drying say
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melcch Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov V’tzivonu Al N’tilas Yodoyim.

7) Motzi – *Recite the Hamotzi blessing over eating Matzah before a Meal
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Hamotzi Lechem Min Ho-oretz.

8) Matzah – *Recite the blessing over eating Matzah
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Matzah.

*Eat the Matzah. Lean to your left while eating.

9) Maror – *The Maror is dipped in Charoscs
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Maror.
*Eat the Maror.

10) Korech – *Eat a sandwich of Matzah and Maror.
*Eat the Sandwich.

11) Shulchan Orech – *Eat the festival meal

Find the Afikoman.

12) Tzafun – *Eat the Afikoman which had been hidden all during the Seder.
*Pour the 3rd cup of wine

13) Barech – Recite Birchas Hamazon, the blessings after the meal

*Leader of Seder recites blessing Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 3rd cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

*Pour the 4th cup of wine;
*Pour the cup for Elijah

14) Hallel – Recite the praises of G-d
*Leader of Seder recites Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 4th cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

15) Nirtzah – Pray that G-d accepts our praise and speedily sends the Messiah.
Sing the songs of the Haggadah

photo credit: dcJohn via photopin cc

Taking a Step Forward after Three Hard Steps Back

It’s a tough time for worldwide Shul goers: no public shiurim, no social contact, no davening with a Tzibbur. However, there is a tremendous opportunity here to take a step to improve our davening. Let me share a practical idea.

Our spiritual purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. We connect to Hashem by thinking about Him, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing physical acts of spiritual connection.

Davening contains all three of these components, but the essence of davening is feeling emotionally connected, as we learn in the Gemora in Taanis, “Prayer is the Service of the Heart”. It’s also the hardest component. We can arrive at Shul, say the prayers, and because we are distracted, barely think about Him, much less feel emotionally connected.

The emotional connections that we are seeking to develop during davening are love of Hashem and awe of Hashem. Let’s look at love, which is the feeling of a deep connection. A foundational spiritual thought, and the first of the 6 constant mitzvos, is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all that exists. If we look at the wonderful things in our life, we can appreciate that Hashem caused it, with love for us. We can then start to reciprocally return that love to Him.

Every time we say the word Boruch, which is usually explained as Hashem being the source of blessing, we can appreciate the love that Hashem is showering on us with His gifts in this world. We can then try to direct our love right back at Him. There are 100 opportunities a day to feel this love, and we can try to connect at least once a day, when we say Boruch.

Spiritual growth is a step by step process. Today we have a tremendous opportunity to take one step forward, after having been propelled three hard steps back.

Reposted from http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Developing Our Spiritual Side

Now is a tremendous opportunity to work on our spiritual growth. Sometimes it’s helpful to step back and take a fresh look at what we are trying to achieve.

I was having dinner with a childhood friend a while back, and he lamented that he wanted to do more to develop his spiritual side. In my current neighborhood, I have many friends who express that same concern, including myself. Since I have studied much about this subject and have discussed it with others, I thought I would share some practical ideas in these anxious times.

If we want to develop our physical side, we might pursue a better exercise routine and healthier eating habits. To develop our emotional side, we might work on reducing anger and anxiety, while increasing our capacities for love and happiness. Development of our mental side might include learning and remembering new things, as well as increasing our capacity to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

In Judaism, developing our spiritual side means increasing our capacity to connect to G-d and His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. Individual spiritual development is like physical, emotional and mental development, in that it is a step by step process.

Spirituality consists of thinking about G-d, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing acts of spiritual connection. A foundational spiritual thought is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all existence. Any time we actively think that thought, we are doing an act of spiritual connection. If we look at our beautiful world, or any of the wonderful things in our life, and feel an emotional connection to G-d, the creator of all existence, then we have taken a step in creating an emotional connection to G-d.

Thinking about the ideas stated here is taking a step in our spiritual development. If we take the time to think about G-d as the source of something in our life, we will have taken another step. There are many opportunities for spiritual development and we each must take our own steps. To be continued…

Beyond Corona – I

We are taught that our purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to create a world where Hashem is One and His Name is One. Since we’re spending more time alone, perhaps we can work on connecting to Hashem, so we can get Beyond Corona.

One way to connect to Hashem is to think about Him. The first constant mitzvah is “To believe that there is one G-d in the world that caused all that exists to be so”. When we read about Corona, if we add the thought that Corona and everything in the world comes from Hashem, we have performed a mitzvah and strengthened our connection to Hashem. When we try to put this into practice we will see that it is difficult, because the distraction of reading makes it difficult to think about Hashem.

Perhaps it will be easier to think about Hashem when we say His name in davening and Brachos. The Shulchan Aruch says that when mentioning the name Hashem, we should concentrate on the meaning of how it is read (Adon*i): that He is the Master of all. We should also concentrate on the Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei spelling: that He was, He is, and He always will be. This is also difficult, because we are not in the habit of concentrating when we pray. So perhaps we can try to put this in practice during the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

If many of us try and think about Hashem’s name when we say the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai, then we will have taken a tremendous first step in getting Beyond Corona.

The Love and Happiness of Adar

Increasing Our Happiness During Adar
The Gemara in Taanis (29a) teaches us that Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’simcha, when Adar begins we increase our happiness. Rashi comments that “Purim and Pesach were days of miracles for Yisrael” and therefore Adar and Nisan are joyous months. Let’s take a brief dive into the Torah concept of happiness so that we can maximize our joy during this wondeful time.

What is Happiness
The Maharal in his commentary to Mishna 6.1 in Avos teaches that happiness flows from completion just as grief is the result of loss and deficiency. Happiness takes many forms. When we crave a favorite food, attaining it creates a sense of completeness, and generates happiness. Much of our lives is composed of wanting things, getting them, and achieving a small dose of happiness as a result. When we do the right thing in a difficult situation, we feel more complete in the use of our strengths and capabilities, and this generates happiness.

Happiness from Love
When we feel connected to friends and family through the emotion we call love, we feel more complete and happy. The Chovos HaLevovos, the Mesillas Yesharim and the Rambam teach that love of Hashem generates the highest sense of completion and therefore the greatest pleasure and happiness.

Developing Love
The higher, love-based levels of happiness take more time and effort to attain, are deeper, and are high Torah priorities. “Loving Hashem” and “Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself” are two cornerstone mitzvos. When we appreciate the miracles that Hashem did for us on Purim and Pesach, we deepen our connection and love of Him, which increases our sense of completion and our happiness. It takes thought, focus and effort, but we are all