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.

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 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.

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

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

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

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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.”

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

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.

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

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!

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.

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.

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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.

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.