Tefillah — A Ladder that Ascends to Heaven

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
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Tefillah — A Ladder that Ascends to Heaven

Tefillah (davening — prayer), in essence, is to ascend to the Heavens. It is something we do here on this Earth, but it reaches Heaven, like we find by the ladder of Yaakov’s dream: “A ladder placed on the ground, and its head reached the Heavens.”

We also see this from the statement of the Sages, that tefillah is “a matter that stands at the height of the world.” (Berachos 6b) Tefillah is to ascend to the Heavens.

This doesn’t mean, though that tefillah is only in Heaven! What it really means is that if one ascends to the Heavens, he will find tefillah there; in other words, just because tefillah is such a lofty matter doesn’t mean that we can’t reach it. We reach tefillah by ascending the “ladder” found even on our physical world, which we will see.

The Difference Between Torah and Tefillah

We have two major vehicles that bring us close to Hashem — Torah and tefillah. What is the difference between them?

The sefer Nefesh HaChaim writes that learning Torah is called “achdus hamochin” (unity of the minds). This means that Torah is all-inclusive, because it is a power that comes and unifies things. Torah is all-inclusive in that it unifies the Heavens with the earth. Tefillah is also all-inclusive — but from a different aspect: it unifies Earth to the Heavens. Tefillah is in essence a ladder that ascends to the Heavens, but it is footed on Earth. Torah was in Heaven, but Hashem brought it down to this world. Tefillah, however, is found on this world — but is ascends to Heaven.

Tefillah is like Yaakov Avinu’s ladder: we begin from its foot here on Earth, and we ascend up it, step-by-step — until Heaven.

Chazal say that tefillah “stands” at the height of the world — and standing is Amidah, which is another term for the silent Shemoneh Esrei. This doesn’t mean that tefillah stands in Heaven while the person praying remains here in This World. The opposite is true: tefillah is the ladder that a person ascends on — until the person himself reaches Heaven. Through tefillah, a person climbs a ladder toward Heaven, and he is actually standing in Heaven and praying there!

This has to be. Only in Heaven can a person be standing “in front of the King.” When a person davens, he is actually standing in Heaven — “in front of the King.”

How do we get from Earth to Heaven?! If we are to climb the ladder toward Heaven, through tefillah, then our tefillah cannot just be a lip service we do. There must be a specific path to take through tefillah in order to get to Heaven, and it must be a step-by-step plan.

How do we ascend this ladder toward Heaven? Before we get to the top of the ladder — which is the Amidah, the silent Shemoneh Esrei — we have to climb the beginning steps of the ladder. These beginning rungs of the ladder are the first three sections of davening, before we get to Shemoneh Esrei.

Our davening (before Shemoneh Esrei) is split into three sections:

1) The morning blessings and recitation of korbonos (sacrifices),

2) Pesukei Dezimrah,

3) Shema and its blessings.

The “Actions” in Tefillah

There are three parts that make up a person — actions, feelings, and thoughts.

The actions are things done with your physical parts, like your hands. The feelings are in your heart. The thoughts are in your mind.

The three sections of the davening, as well, are made up of these human forces! The beginning of davening is action. One gets up, washes his hands, puts on tzitzis and tefillin — these are all actions. Then he sacrifices korbonos (which he recites). This is action manifest in our tefillah.

The better one’s actions are, the higher level his tefillah will be. It is written, “All my bones shall speak of You.” But if a person sins, the sins are entrenched in his bones, and his bones cannot speak of Hashem….

The morning blessings and korbonos, as well, consists of actions — the action of purifying oneself more and more. The purer one’s actions are, the more worthy his tefillah will be — and it can be said of him that his “mouth and heart are equal.”

The Arizal writes that one should do teshuvah before he davens. Why is this? The depth of this is so that when one davens, it can truly be said of him that “All of my bones speak of You,” because he has purified himself through doing teshuvah beforehand.

In tefillah, we make requests of Hashem. Why do we request something? Because we want to change our situation. This is actually the soul’s desire to change situations — a form of action. This force in our souls comes from the aspect of action within us.

This shows us that tefillah is not just saying words — it is in essence a desire for change.

The “Feelings” in Tefillah

The second section of davening is Pesukei Dezimrah. After we have hopefully changed our actions by purifying them, the soul now wants to change and purify its feelings. This is a desire for a “pure heart,” as it is written, “A pure heart Hashem created in me.” After purifying the actions, the next level is to break his “heart of stone” and to instead have a “pure” heart.

In Pesukei Dezimrah, we sing Hashem’s praises. In essence, this is the soul itself singing to Hashem. Why is the soul singing now? Because it now feels what it wants; we sing when we feel that we have attained what we wanted. Pesukei Dezimrah is not just saying over Hashem’s praises, saying one Hallelukah after another. It is the soul’s song to Hashem — an expression of purifying the feelings.

Pesukei Dezimrah also isn’t to reflect on Hashem’s praises. It is to reach a state that one’s feelings are dedicated to Hashem. When one overcomes bad middos, such as overcoming an evil desire or overcoming arrogance — the soul sings from this. The soul is singing because now Hashem can be found nearby, with the person who overcame the bad middos — the feelings have been purified.

To summarize: first, a person purifies his actions (by avoiding sin), which is in essence the soul’s desire to change. After this, a person sings a song of longing from his soul — Pesukei Dezimrah. Through this, a person sings the true song — a song of praise to Hashem.

The “Thoughts” in Tefillah

The third section of tefillah is Shema and its blessings. This is the aspect of the “mind” in davening — purifying the mind and thoughts. It represents the step that comes after one has purified his actions and feelings.

In this part of the davening, we ask Hashem to enlighten our eyes to the Torah, and we include the Ahavah Rabbah prayer — which speaks of Hashem’s love to our people. All of these prayers are, in essence, sanctifying our thoughts. We are not just mentioning here that we want to always think thoughts of learning Torah (we wish that too!). It is rather a different request — we are asking Hashem to help us live in the world of thought, which is in essence the Torah. It is written, “And you shall be immersed in it day and night.” This means to actually live in a world of thought — which is Torah.

The blessings that precede the Shema help us reach the level of sanctifying our thought — and to pray from there onward.

A person climbs this ladder of tefillah — first through actions, then through feelings, and then the person reaches the thoughts. These are thoughts that are in essence a desire, from our intellect, to long for Hashem.

Climbing the Ladder — Within

But one has to understand that he climbs the ladder within himself. Yaakov Avinu, who dreamed of a ladder, represents the ladder. This means that he himself was a ladder, climbing it within himself.

Thus, if a person’s actions, feelings, and thoughts are not worthy, and they don’t match up to his prayers, it is like what is written of Haman: “And he came to the king in sackcloth.” A person can’t stand in the King’s court wearing dirty clothing. Sins are like coming to the King with dirty clothing.

But if one’s conduct matches his prayers, it is then that he can enter the King’s court.

Shemoneh Esrei: Entering the King’s Court

If we accomplish these three steps, we can now proceed to the next part of our avodah here: Shemoneh Esrei.

Reb Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l (Chiddushei Reb Chaim HaLevi, Hilchos Tefillah)said there are two aspects of concentration in tefillah: 1) the actual meaning of the words, and 2) standing in front of the King.

Until now — the three sections preceding the Shemoneh Esrei — a person feels that he is here on this Earth, while Hashem is in Heaven.

But in Shemoneh Esrei, there is amidah — standing in front of Hashem! This is where a person actually feels that he is in front of Him. It is to literally be “nochach” — opposite of Hashem — as real as can be. In Shemoneh Esrei, we are not on this world — we are with Hashem, in Heaven, as we stand in front of Him.

Bamidbar-Shavuos Learning to Live Positively

A great post from Rabbi Noson Weisz on Aish

We invariably read Parshat Bamidbar on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the anniversary of our meeting with God at Sinai, the holiday that celebrates the renewal of the giving/receiving of the Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that the spiritual potential of a week derives from the preceding Shabbat. It is from the Shabbat of Bamidbar that we draw the spiritual energy to dedicate ourselves to receiving the Torah afresh.


The commentators find a very strong connection between the Parsha and the occasion. Judaism teaches that creation was conditional on the acceptance of the Torah [see Rashi (Genesis 1:31)]. It also teaches that the Torah could only be given to a nation. [Nachmanides, Devarim 33:5] The fully formed Jewish nation is described for the first time in the Torah in Bamidbar. Our Parsha contains a full census and describes the layout of the Jewish encampment around the Tabernacle. This arrangement of the Jewish people, where everyone is allocated his own distinct place within the commonwealth and yet coexists with all fellow Jews in a state of harmony and co-operation, is a necessary pre-condition to the acceptance of the Torah. [Ohr Hachaim, Exodus 19:2]

We have dealt with this correlation between social harmony and spiritual preparedness to receive the Torah in a previous essay, [see http://www.aish.com/torahportion/moray/The_Harmony_of_Israel.asp, a previous essay on Bamidbar] but much remains to be explored. We shall attempt to delve somewhat deeper into the significance of social unity in this essay.


Let us begin by studying the theoretical framework that underlies all social unity, the social contracts around which all social interactions are organized. It is strikingly apparent that the contractual foundation of the Jewish nation represents a marked departure from our ordinary understanding of the way that nations are formed.

Classical political theory teaches that societies are organized for the benefit of individuals. If we all lived alone or in mated pairs, we would be forced to worry about providing our own food, clothing and shelter. We would be compelled to organize our own security arrangements and to set up some structure for educating our children. This is obviously an impossibly heavy load for any individual or human pair or even a small tribe to carry. Consequently human beings have arranged themselves into large groups or nations.

The best indication that we have all internalized this theory of social integration is President Kennedy’s classic exhortation, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country.” This famous remark was prompted by the recognition that we human beings are always looking for what our society can do for us; we fully understand that the services and the quality of life that society is able to provide are its raison d’etre.

This classic social contract theory has been somewhat revised to accommodate the obvious fact that man is a social creature who prefers to live in groups simply because he loves company quite apart from the practical considerations involved. But the evolutionists maintain that this built in longing for companionship is the effect of the biological imprinting of the social contract onto the human gene; nature’s method of compelling man to do the sensible thing to ensure his survival and join a group.

Both socially and biologically the existence of social co-operation is based on the fact that society is a powerful survival tool. The evolutionary pressures that have turned man into a social animal are those that are outlined by classic social contract theory. If individual man were in possession of the inputs of his survival even were he to live in isolation, there would be no other purpose in joining a group except for entertainment, and evolutionary pressures would not have fashioned man into a social being.


The social contract presented by the Torah is a million light years away from this approach. The Torah informs us that the Jews formed themselves into a nation to establish God as their King. As the Midrash points out: [Yalkut, Mishlei, 941], there is no such thing as a king without a kingdom. In order for God, who is called the King of the Universe, to assume the mantle of His royal office, He needed a nation to rule over, and it is the Jewish people who agreed to satisfy this Divine need by forming themselves into a nation under the rule of God. The Jews formally founded their nation by signing the covenant at Sinai and accepting God’s law, thus enabling God to don the mantle of royalty over the newly formed Jewish nation.

This Midrash paints the portrait of a society that is the diametric opposite of the one described by classic social contract theory. The Jewish nation was not formed for the benefit of the Jewish people at all. We organized ourselves into a distinct nation to benefit God! This is not to say that we do not benefit from this arrangement. If you do God a favor, it is quite reasonable to expect that He will respond in kind. This expectation does not detract from the founding spirit of unselfishness on which the Jewish commonwealth stands. God’s installation as King over the Jewish nation had to be a sincere gesture in order to achieve the desired effect and elicit Divine gratitude.

It is quite clear that the Torah method of forming societies involves giving rather than taking. The purpose of social organization is to give. In the society formed by secular theory we must also be prepared to give in order to succeed. But the purpose of the enterprise is to take. To appreciate the full ramifications of this difference we must next examine the idea of purpose in depth.


As a means of attempting to comprehend the purpose of secular human activity in general, let us look at the life of a medical practitioner, John. John goes to school for many years in order to learn medicine. This is certainly a purposeful activity, and one that requires much planning and dedication. Most of us would judge it to be highly worthwhile. The effort produces worthwhile results; John becomes competent to practice medicine, which is also a highly purposeful activity as it allows John to heal the sick. Even after completing this scrutiny of John’s entire professional life, the most critical observer would be compelled to concede that it is both purposeful and productive.

If we analyze the factor that establishes the productivity of John’s life as being so self-evident, it is clearly the fact that John is competent and presumably successful at healing the sick. But suppose that illness were eliminated and there was no need to heal the sick, or suppose that John never managed to heal anyone during all his years of practice, then in retrospect, there would be no purpose at all in anything John learned or did, and the working part of John’s life would have been futile. He would have spent a large part of his life totally wasting his time.

The same can be said about all human activity that is aimed in some way at reshaping the world to make it more user- friendly. All these sorts of activities are purposeless in themselves. We engage in them because we need their results. If there were another way of obtaining the same results, we ourselves would abandon the activities designed to produce these results as a waste of our precious time. This applies not only to major projects requiring planning, investment and self-discipline such as learning a profession or working at a career but even to mundane activities such as eating or sleeping. If we could find another way to obtain the rest or nourishment our bodies demand, we would never eat or sleep except for enjoyment.


We are seldom interested in the activities in which we invest most of our talents and energies per se. All our purposeful activities are undertaken as a means to an end. In the world of nature, there are only two sorts of activities that are not undertaken to eliminate some problem:

(1) Obtaining pleasure. It seems obvious that we seek pleasure for its own sake not as a means of obtaining something else. Let us study pleasure as a commodity that can invest life with purpose. The use of the word ‘obtaining’ rather than ‘pursuing’ in the introduction was quite deliberate. A vacation is a pleasure. Preparing for it is only a means to an end. We would presumably cheerfully abandon making reservations, doing the shopping etc. if we could get our vacation without them. It is experiencing pure pleasure that we are suggesting as a possible purpose, rather than the pursuit of pleasure.

But even pure distilled pleasure, a commodity that we no doubt very much desire, cannot serve as a worthy candidate for investing life with meaning. Without minimizing the importance of satisfying one’s desires, experiencing pleasure is rarely accepted by intelligent people as an acceptable goal for life. Most thinking people consider the pursuit of pleasure unimportant. Experiencing a threshold amount of pleasure is no doubt essential for the maintenance of psychological health and balance, but viewed in this light, pleasure is also reduced to a means rather than an end.

(2) That leaves us with the second exception, the area of relationships. Activities that are undertaken to build relationships are not merely a means to an end but are purposeful per se. A relationship strengthening activity is itself a part of the relationship that it builds. A heart to heart talk between friends not only brings them closer but serves simultaneously as the best expression of their newfound nearness. Relationships are certainly important. However they also cannot be used as a means of investing life itself with purpose. One of the most banal teachings of folk wisdom is that you cannot live for others.

Inasmuch as secular societies are created as the best means of supplying their members with their individual physical and social needs, social organization is no more purposeful than the areas of life it is designed to satisfy. If the natural world encompasses all of reality, we are condemned to spending the vast majority of our lives doing things that we would rather not have to do at all, or other things that we do not consider sufficiently important to justify living. What a pitiful world we live in!


In fact the only thing that we know of that is truly valuable and worthwhile in and of itself and could therefore provide a suitable purpose for life is life itself. We engage in all other activities to support being alive. We consume life for the sake of living. The Talmud remarks on this phenomenon; look at these crazy Babylonians who eat bread so that they will be able to eat bread again. (Bezah, 16a)

If we could possibly find an activity that not only produces more life than it consumes but is itself a manifestation of that new life, we could invest our lives with purpose according to any standard by pursuing it. Our problem is that there is simply no such phenomenon in the reality encompassed by the natural world. Fortunately the natural world is not all there is to reality, and there is such an activity available. It is called a Mitzvah.

The performance of a Mitzvah solves no worldly problem and fills no natural void. It is legitimate to ask; in light of this apparent irrelevancy, why does God ask us to perform Mitzvot? The common answer; so that He could reward us for their performance, is entirely unacceptable in light of what we have already demonstrated.

If this view were correct, Mitzvot are as shallow as any other human activity; they are really a waste of time in themselves and are only valuable as a means to an end. No one needs the activity of the Mitzvah itself and the only purpose of engaging in the performance of mitzvot is the valuable good that can be obtained through their performance. As in all other goods, if we were able to attain them without having to reshape the world, the activity would be a waste of time.

Couldn’t God come up with a world where there was something worthwhile to do? It’s one thing to be forced to accept a purposeless life in a secular universe. No one planned or created such a universe and there is no one to criticize for its inadequacies and flaws. But surely an intelligent Creator could have come up with something better.

The truth is that He did.


A person should not say, “I will fulfill the mitzvot… in order to receive all the blessings … or in order to merit the life to come.” Or “I will separate myself from all the sins … so that I will be saved from all the curses…or so that my soul will not be cut off from the life of the world to come.”

It is not fitting to serve God in this manner. A person whose service is motivated by these factors is considered one who serves out of fear. He is not on the level of the prophets or of the wise. The ones who serve God in this manner are…minors. They are trained to serve God out of fear until their knowledge increases and they serve out of love.

One who serves God out of love occupies himself in the Torah and the mitzvot and walks in the paths of wisdom for no ulterior motive; not because of fear that evil will occur, nor in order to acquire benefit. Rather he does what is true because it is true, and ultimately, good will come out of it… (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, Ch. 10, 1-2)

Maimonides appears to be contradicting himself. First he tells us that one should not perform the Mitzvot because of the rewards and punishments they bring but because of their essential ‘truth’. Almost in the same breath he instructs the person who performs the Mitzvot because of their truth to bear in mind that the good is sure to follow. What does this mean? If I bear in mind that the good is sure to follow, doesn’t that automatically mean that I perform the Mitzvah to obtain the good?

The things we have learned put the answer in our grasp. The Mitzvot don’t bring the good as a means to an end; the Mitzvot themselves are the good that follows!

Step by step.

Maimonides recounts two manifestations of serving God out of fear. One is obvious; the avoidance of sins because of the fear of their dire consequences, but the performance of good deeds for the sake of reward is also defined by Maimonides as serving God out of fear. Apparently fear has a broader definition than we generally assign to it.

In terms of our argument, we are able to explain this well; an act of Divine service that is undertaken as a means to an end is not an act of ‘service’ at all. It demonstrates that the person who performs that act would rather not serve God at all. If he could discover another way to get to the world to come or to avoid the fires of hell, he would gladly take the alternative route. Under the circumstances, as the only way to obtain the reward that he desires involves serving God, he will serve God.

In a broad sense, anything done with the attitude that it is the lesser of two evils can be classified as being based on fear. The person who serves God because he regards Divine service as an unfortunate necessity of life is always focused on the negative. Calculation of his options leads him to the conclusion that not serving God is either less advantageous or downright terrifying. The attitude underlying such service is fear and avoidance.

This attitude reflects a profound misunderstanding of what Divine service is all about. The true reward of Divine service is everlasting life. Everlasting life is not a commodity that can be taken off some shelf and distributed to the deserving; it is a function of connecting to God, the source of life. The connection is not established through Divine service as a means to an end; it is forged by the performance of the mitzvot themselves. Doing a mitzvah is connecting to God by definition. The purpose of doing a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself. Maimonides explains that the person who understands this will always serve God out of love. Doing anything for its own sake is described as loving it.


The most profound expression of this idea is in the area of inter personal relations. More than fifty percent of the Ten Commandments [the commandment to honor one’s parents swings the balance] concern relations between people. This sets the pattern for the entirety of the 613 commandments. How does this reflect the idea that a mitzvah is itself the connection to God? One can readily perceive how the laying of phylacteries is an expression of the human-Divine connection, but how is this bond manifest in giving my fellow Jew a loan?

Let us remember that the Jewish social contract was signed to establish God as the King of Israel. Every mitzvah is a detail in the mosaic of our relationship with God. If we equate this relationship with life, every mitzvah is one of life’s details. But even the tiniest step that leads to the building of the Jewish commonwealth can never be classified as a mere detail. The relationship with God of every Jewish individual is based on his membership in the Jewish commonwealth, which is founded on the idea of establishing God as the God/King of Israel. As we declare in the holy words of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: YHVH is our God, YHVH, the One and Only.” Establishing or strengthening Israel as a nation is itself the fullest embrace of God we are capable of, and must be equated in the most profound sense with the entire panorama of existence.

Building and strengthening the social cohesion among the Jewish people is identical to building the relationship of the Jewish people with God. The Jewish people exist in the world for no other purpose than to declare God their king. The lack of cohesion among Jews is automatically expressed in a lack of cohesion of the Jewish people with God. The contrary is also true. When we are truly united, God is automatically among us. We are all inspired to be fully committed to Torah, because we all experience the surge of life in God’s Almighty embrace.


On Shavuot we read the story of Ruth. As the day is dedicated to the acceptance of the Torah, we study the account of the highest form this acceptance can adopt. If we analyze the basis of Ruth’s connecting herself to God, it is clear that her prime motivation was her determination to aid and support her mother-in-law Naomi, a person she loved and admired and could not bear to be separated from. The love of Jews and the love of God are the flip sides of a single coin. Building and strengthening the Jewish people is equivalent to establishing the kingdom of God. The flip side of God’s kingdom is Jewish sovereignty. The ultimate fruit of Ruth’s act of dedication was the birth of David, the king of Israel whose great love of God inspired the Book of Psalms read by all humanity.

Our ideological divides prevent us from being able to fully unite around the banner of Torah at this time in Jewish history. But there is another route available to the same destination and we could all travel down this road if we chose. We could resolve to live in peace and harmony with all our fellow Jews by focusing on the positive in each other and reach the same point of total unity with God and total acceptance of His Torah.

Living A Life of Neshama

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here.

The Light of the Torah

At the giving of the Torah, the original light which existed at the beginning of the Creation returned. The Torah is called “Torah ohr” (light) because the Torah revealed the original ohr of Creation, in which Hashem declared, “Behold, let there be light.”

The first commandment was “I am Hashem your G-d.” This reflected the first statement which Hashem declared in Creation, which was “Behold, let there be light.” When Hashem first declared that there should be light in Creation, He used his light that was already there; He took His original light, which always existed before He created the universe, and continued it into the Creation.

The root of the Ten Commandments was the first commandment, “I am Hashem.” Thus, the giving of the Torah – which is called ‘Torah ohr’, the ‘Torah of light’ – is really the light of Hashem, which fills all of existence. The light of Hashem is revealed in Creation through the Torah.

The inner way to learn Torah is by understanding that the Torah is ohr. It is Hashem’s very light!

There is a way of life we can live in which the Torah is ohr to us; it is not the regular kind of life we are used to.

Living A Life of ‘Torah Ohr’

There is a sefer called Moreh HaPerishus V’Derech HaPeshitus[1], written by Rav Dovid HaMaimoni, one of the grandchildren of the Rambam, which describes how our ancestors lived. In that sefer, an inner kind of life is described – a life of detachment from the physical world, and to instead live totally secluded with Hashem. The basic concept of it is for a person to realize that there is an inner layer of reality, in which Torah is felt as the “light of Hashem” to us.

Why is it that most people do not see Torah as ohr in their life? It is because man was created from the earth. The earth is a dark kind of texture, thus, man tends to experience life through a very dark lens. Even if a person keeps Torah and mitzvos, he will naturally perceive himself as “You are earth”, as Adam was told; he lives a very dark kind of existence. And this is true even if he does all the mitzvos and learns the Torah very intellectually. He lives in a dark kind of world, a world of materialism.

Life without Torah is really dark. When a person really connects to Torah, the Torah lights up the darkness of his life. It shows a person that he has an inner point in his soul, a place that is “simple” and totally detached from the physical.

The sefer of Rav Dovid HaMaimoni, “Moreh HaPerishus V’Derech HaPeshitus”, is a guide for how a person can separate himself from the materialism of life. It can show a person how he can abandon his once sensual kind of existence and instead help him radiate an inner depth to life – it can help a person reach an inner place of the soul which is divested from all physicality.

It is called the “makom hapashut” (lit. “simple point”), a point in the soul removed from all materialism; it is the deepest point in the soul, which is totally pure and devoid of materialism.

Without the light of Torah in a person’s life – without accessing ‘Torah ohr’ – a person is attached to materialism; when a person learns Torah in an inner way, the Torah can remove all the darkness in his life caused by materialism.

Disconnecting From A Materialistic Life

In order for a person to learn Torah in the real way, he has to give a “divorce” to his materialistic life – literally – and then his hold of materialism will weaken. In its place, he enters into an inner, radiant world of the soul, a world of real Torah: Torah ohr. A world in which “The flame of Hashem, is the soul of man”; a world of Shechinah, which is entirely spiritual light.

When people hear about this concept, ‘Torah ohr’, they tend to think that ohr is just a “moshol” (parable) to Torah. But “ohr” is not just a moshol in which we have to find the lesson; it is a possuk in the Torah, that Torah is an ohr! The fact that Torah is ohr is the very reality. Sometimes our Sages describe a concept in the form of a moshol, but ‘Torah Ohr’ is not a moshol. It is a reality in and of itself.

‘Torah Ohr’ is accessed when a person divorces himself from the materialistic lifestyle of this world; his soul then begins to really shine, and then he begins to feel, recognize, and see the “light” that is Torah. He sees it as a reality that he feels and recognizes.

But it is only a reality for someone who indeed detaches from this materialistic world and he wants to enter the inner reality. It is only for someone who is willing to literally give a ‘divorce document’ to the materialistic kind of life, whereupon he can then enter his deep place of the soul, the point of this utter simplicity.

(This inner point of the soul is called “peshitus” [another term for “makom hapashut”] or temimus\simplicity). It is the point in the soul in which a perfected level of Torah is revealed – a “Toras Hashem Temimah” (the Torah of Hashem is perfect).

When a person reaches this inner point in his soul, the Torah becomes a “Torah of light” to him – and it is a reality, not just a “moshol”. A person can recognize it as a light – he can feel its warmth. He feels, clearly, the light; that it is existing, that it is actually there.

The Roles of the Intellect and The Heart In Our Life’s Task

In Sefer Moreh Perishus V’Derech HaPeshitus, it is described that there are basically two deep ways with which how we should ideally live our life. These two ways form the basis of a person’s Avodah (life’s mission in serving the Creator).

One approach is for a person to use his soul, his heart – to have yearnings for holiness, for spirituality; and on a more subtle level, to yearn just for Hashem alone. As the possuk says, “My soul thirsts for You.” Our heart has yearnings to become closer to Hashem.

There is a more inner approach in one’s Avodas Hashem, and this is when a person uses hismind to yearn for more knowledge of the Torah, the wisdom of Hashem. This is when one wishes to partake of Hashem’s hidden treasuries, to enlighten his intellect with the light of Torah, depth within depth, getting deeper and deeper into the subtlety of the Torah’s wisdom. It is for one to involve oneself in Hashem’s wisdom, the Torah, which was passed down to us throughout the generations.

These are two great yearnings of our soul. The first way we mentioned is a yearning of our heart, for spirituality, for Torah, for Hashem Himself. The second way mentioned is the yearning of our mind, our intellect, to know the depth of the Torah’s wisdom, its secrets.

It is there [in the second way mentioned] that a person can see clearly the light of Torah; it is revealed to those who succeed in entering the inner chambers of the Torah. But it is only accessed by those who divorce themselves from a materialistic lifestyle.

Fusing Together The Intellect and the Heart

The true way to live, as described in Sefer Moreh Perishus V’Derech HaPeshitus, is to combine both approaches.

On one hand, we must yearn for more holiness, for more Torah, for closeness to Hashem. As it is written, “My soul is sick with love for You.” But together with this, we also need to develop a deep desire to know the G-dly wisdom of Torah; that the G-dly wisdom of Hashem should fill our mind and turn our minds to think G-dly.

When we combine these two approaches – the heart’s yearning for more spirituality, as well as to sanctify the thinking of our mind with Torah – we will then enter into the inner reality called ‘Torah ohr’. We discover there the Torah of our mind – and the Torah of the heart.

The reality of what the Torah truly is becomes revealed when we reach this dimension. It transforms a person into living an angelic kind of existence, in which the light of Hashem is shining forth in him.

If a person studies the sefer of Rav Dovid HaMaimoni in-depth, his soul can enter the G-dly light that is available. He must reflect deeply into the matters of this sefer and not just peruse its pages superficially. The reader has to actually let his soul enter the sefer, and then, his soul enters into the light of Hashem.

‘Temimus’ (Innocence) and ‘Peshitus’ (Simplicity)

Before Creation, Hashem was One, and His Name was One; His light filled the universe. At Har Sinai, our soul – our inner depth of our soul (mind and heart together) – connected with Hashem. “Hashem and the Torah and Yisrael are one.”[2]

When a person enters the inner reality of Torah, he can feel the ohr of Torah just as a person can feel the sun shining on him.

As we said before, a person needs to be connected to Torah both with his heart and mind; and then he enters into the inner depths of his soul, which is the pure temimus (earnestness) of the soul.

On a more subtle note, he will go above even his own temimus of the soul, which is the point called peshitus, “simplicity”. When he enters that inner place, he is connected to it both with his mind and his heart – not one without the other.

It is then that he recognizes, feels, and sees, how the light of Hashem really fills the entire universe.

This is the level we were on when we received the Torah at Har Sinai. At the giving of the Torah, we reached an inner place in our soul in which we felt Hashem’s light surrounding everything and permeating all of Creation.

When a person achieves the inner kind of life, he feels Hashem’s light surrounding him. He feels himself being found entirely within Hashem’s light, and thus he is purified both externally and internally, just as the Aron was gold on the outside and gold on the inside. He merits the state that existed before Adam’s sin, in which Adam possessed “kosnor ohr”, special garments that were made from Hashem’s light.

The words we are saying here are very different from the kind of life that we see going on in the outside world. On a more subtle note, there is no real life going on today – but rather a death-like kind of existence.

Hashem’s Kiss At Death

People don’t recognize the inner kind of life we are describing, because they aren’t willing to divorce themselves from the superficial, materialistic lifestyle. They have no idea that there is an inner world, an inner reality.

We all know that there is a Next World, a place called Gan Eden, in which the tzaddikim sit and enjoy the radiance of the Shechinah. R’ Dovid Maimoni states in sefer Moreh Perishus V’Derech HaPeshitus that if a person didn’t feel the light of Hashem as he lived on this physical world, when he comes to the next world, he won’t be able to experience the spiritual enjoyment of the Next World – because he never connected to it yet.

It could be that he kept all the mitzvos and learned Torah on this world, but if he never lived the inner reality, he has never yet connected himself to the spiritual reality, and thus he cannot connect with it in the Next World!

Chazal say that although no one can see Hashem as they live, when we die, it is possible to see Hashem. When a tzaddik dies, he merits misas neshikah – a “kiss of death”. The soul of the tzaddik, upon his time of physical death, sees Hashem’s light in its full zenith. Chazal say that this is a very pleasurable experience; the soul of a tzaddik, as soon as his physical life ends, immediately wishes to ascend to Heaven out of great love for Hashem, like a magnetic pull.

Only a person who detaches from the materialistic kind of life merits this. The sefarim hakedoshim say that if someone attached himself already on this world to Hashem, he connects to Hashem’s light when he leaves this world.

The “kiss of death” is obviously not a physical kind of kiss. It is an incredible yearning of the soul to attach itself to the light of Hashem, and in this sense, it is like a kiss.

The light of Hashem is really everywhere; it fills all of existence. But in order to reach it, a person has to remove all the dirty layers that are covering him; he must remove himself from the attachment to this physical world, if he wants to reveal the light.

Making This Concept Practical

If someone wants to make this concept practical and merit the inner kind of life we are describing, the opportunity is very available to him. As Chazal say, “The Torah is in a corner; all who wish to take it can come and take it.”

One should take this sefer of Rav Dovid HaMaimoni – sefer “Moreh Perishus V’Derech HaPeshitus” – and he should learn it in-depth. And he shouldn’t just “learn” the sefer on a purely intellectual level – he should actually practice the kind of lifestyle being described in that sefer. He should practice everything it says in that sefer, not just partially.

It is a lifestyle in which a person lives with Hashem, with temimus (earnestness), with peshitus (simplicity). It is a kind of life which can take a person out of the materialistic lifestyle we recognize. It is not a “new” way to live life; it is the way of our great ancestors, who were like angels.

In Conclusion

In the days before Shavuos, when we are meant to prepare to accept the Torah, we have a test before us. It is the test to see where our lives are at, what kind of life we want to live; if we really want to live a life of Torah Ohr. It is the test of determining where our soul is heading towards.

The soul in us, deep down, has a yearning for something, and it is an endless desire, which we are not able to silence. It screams out inside each and every one of us, and it is demanding that we detach from the superficial kind of life we see, and instead enter into the inner world.

We must disconnect from the superficial life in front of us that we see, and instead become like a convert, who is considered born anew; we must enter a totally different reality, a reality which is entirely Hashem’s light.

If we want to merit the great spiritual bliss of the Next World – the light of Hashem – we need to connect ourselves already now, on this world we live on, to that light.

May we merit to receive the Torah which we received at Sinai – in the same way we were like when we are in the desert as we received it, separated totally from materialism; may we merit to return to the true way of life, as our Avos lived.

[1] ??? “???? ??????? ???? ???????”

[2] Zohar parshas Achrei Mos 73a

Pesach – Leaving the Imprisonment of Materialism

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of Drashos on Pesach

On Pesach, when we left Egypt, we left in haste, and therefore the bread we were carrying did not have a chance to become leavened (chometz). We left with unleavened bread – matzah – which is called lechem oni, “the poor man’s bread.” Why should it matter that we left Egypt with unleavened bread? What does this fact of history have to do with us now?

It has relevance to us, even now. Pesach, the “Chag HaMatzos” – the festival of unleavened bread – is called zman cheiruseinu, the time of our freedom. Therefore, matzah hints how we can reach cheirus/freedom. The mitzvah on Pesach to eat matzah serves for us a way to enter our soul – by leaving materialism.

When the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, they had to work with bricks (choimer) and mortar (levainim). The Hebrew word for bricks is choimer, which can also mean “materialism”. In other words, leaving Egypt was essentially about leaving our materialistic pursuits and entering into spirituality, represented by matzah, which was a very simple kind of bread, a poor man’s bread. The lesson we learn from this is that when we go with simplicity, we can enter the world of spirituality.

On every Yom Tov, there is a mitzvah to rejoice. How do we rejoice with our freedom we have on Pesach?

There must be joy amongst our feeling of freedom, or else we can’t call it freedom. Freedom that has no joy in it cannot be called freedom. So if we reach the desire to leave materialistic pursuits and instead enter into spirituality, it should be with the same mentality that the people had when they left Egypt. When we left Egypt, it wasn’t because we wanted to reach high levels in spirituality or deep levels of understanding. It was because we couldn’t wait to escape the enormous pressure that was upon us then, the immense pressure of exile that did not allow our soul to have serenity.

If one reaches the understanding that it is worthwhile to leave materialistic pursuits and instead enter into spiritual pursuits, it shouldn’t be with the attitude that spirituality is the “good thing to do, therefore, I will pursue it.” Of course, spirituality is good, and Chazal tell us that is the only true good there is; we believe in this and we yearn for that true good. But this should not be our initial motivation in seeking spirituality.

Our initial motivation should be: “And the Egyptians made the children of Israel work with cruel labor, and they embittered their lives, with difficult work, with bricks and mortar.”

A person has to realize that life on this world involves materialism, and this means that we are forced to be in this cruel labor of materialism! Living a life of materialistic pursuit is really a form of bitterness. If someone doesn’t feel this way, he hasn’t yet uncovered a desire to want to leave this exile and have the redemption. If one doesn’t have a true desire to leave his exile, he can’t be redeemed…

Leaving a physical prison is not the same kind of redemption as leaving a spiritual kind of imprisonment. When a person gets out of jail, he’s free, whether or not he wanted to get out. But when it comes to leaving our spiritual prison within us, the only way to get out of it is if we truly want to get out of it. Otherwise, we won’t be able to get out of it.

In order to start serving Hashem, we must first come to the recognition that our life of materialistic pursuits actually resembles the cruel labor of Egypt, since the “bricks and mortar” – a.k.a. materialism – imprisoned us. The body, which keeps our soul in prison, is a cruel prison to our soul. We must feel a true wish to go free from the bonds of materialistic pursuits that are entrapping the soul.

After we come to that recognition, we must then come to do as the people did in Egypt when they realized their suffering, which was that they cried out to Hashem (and their groans were indeed heard by Hashem). It is therefore not enough for us to have a desire to leave exile – ultimately, it is up to Hashem to take us out, whenever it is His will to do so. For this reason, we must cry out to Hashem in prayer, just as the people did in Egypt.

We must cry out to Hashem from the very depths of the soul.

We must feel that our body’s hold on our soul is a form of cruel labor. We must feel the bitterness of this in the same way that we felt embittered by the Egyptians. If we don’t feel this bitterness, then we won’t be able to cry out to Hashem from a true desire to escape.

A person must realize that he needs to get out of his inner imprisonment which entails crying to Hashem for days and nights, from the depth of our hearts and not just to cry ‘crocodile tears’. There can be no hope for a person to truly serve Hashem without crying from the depth of his heart, because he will be missing the first, basic point that he needs to start with.

May Hashem help all of us that we should first come to recognize the lowliness of our situation, to realize that without being close to Him, life is not a life, but a total fantasy. May this recognition cause to feel, with Hashem’s help, a true yearning to be freed from this dark exile – and to reach the light of the redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.

Some Great Pesach Mp3s on the Seder and the Haggadah by Rabbi Moshe Gordon

Pesach is approaching quickly and we need to prepare both physically and spiritually. Here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Moshe Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night.

Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

A Brighter Future for Kiruv

Moishe Bane recently wrote an article in Jewish Action titled “Yefashpesh B’ma’asav: Post-Tragedy Introspection.”
This section on Kiruv was encouraging.

“Communal allocations to kiruv: American Orthodox outreach to secular and unaffiliated Jews has always been on the communal agenda, albeit pursued on a relatively modest scale. Adult outreach, in particular, has been limited to Chabad, and to a relatively small group of other impressive but significantly underfunded efforts. This minimalistic attitude was formulated in the mid-to-late twentieth century in an era of limited Orthodox communal resources and when Orthodoxy itself was struggling with its own revitalization. As a result, for most Orthodox leaders and philanthropists, strengthening Orthodox education and community building, not outreach, were prioritized.

In addition, the most powerful and effective kiruv efforts have been one-on-one personal interactions. But because such efforts are costly, they are limited in generating the scale that might significantly affect the escalating intermarriage rates within the American Jewish community.

With new realities emerging since October 7, perhaps we need to rethink our community’s attitude toward outreach. Post-October 7, we observe a surge of interest in Jewish identity across the spectrum of American Jewry. For example, NCSY’s JSU public school clubs throughout North America have experienced an explosion of non-observant student participants and social media is replete with unaffiliated Jews, and even intermarried Jews, expressing a desire to strengthen their Jewish knowledge and identity. Perhaps there is a rare window of opportunity to engage unaffiliated Jews and provide a path for their greater connection to Jews and Judaism.

We must also acknowledge that the financial base of our community has enjoyed significant expansion, and kiruv need not be pursued at the expense of meeting internal Orthodox needs. Moreover, social media has introduced unprecedented tools and opportunities to inspire and inculcate Jewish identity on a previously unimaginable scale.

On the other hand, if this pivot is to be seriously considered, proposals for implementation must first be designed and initial efforts implemented to evidence effectiveness. ”

How Can Everyone Make Purim More Meaningful and Really Take Advantage of This Great Day

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
From the Weekly Bilvavi email. (send an email to subscribe@bilvavi.net)
Download a number of Drashos on Purim

QUESTION: What is the avodah for both men and women and Purim, and how can everyone make Purim more meaningful and really take advantage of this great day?

ANSWER: There are a lot of aspects to Purim. The halachah of drinking on Purim applies only to men, and the parameters of this halachah is explained by the Poskim. But there are many other aspects of Purim as well which apply to both men and women. Here are some of those points to think about, and each person should try to do them on his or her own level, according to his or her personal capabilities and not based on any reasons influenced by factors that are either social, or emotional, or family-based, because there are many times where people act based solely on “what’s normal”, and this uproots any serenity and joy that they could have on Purim.

1) Consider the aspect of reading the Megillah on Purim. Both men and women are obligated to hear the Megillah on Purim. And on a more inner level, both men and women can reflect on the events in the Megillah and see how there was Divine Providence laced throughout this story, because the word “Megillas Esther” means to “reveal” the “hidden”, to turn the concealment (hester) into giluy (revelation of Hashem’s Divine Providence). A person can go through all of the details in the Purim story, from beginning until end, and he can see how it was all an unfolding process of Hashem’s Divine Providence – as opposed to a bunch of random details that have no connection to each other.

On an even deeper level, each person, whether a man or woman, on his or her own level, can see Hashem’s inner mode of conduct hidden in the Creation, as explained in sefer Daas Tevunos, and how every event in the world can be seen through the lens of Hashem’s carefully planned Divine Providence, His goodness, and the revelation of His Oneness.

2) Consider the mitzvah of sending Mishloach Manos on Purim. The purpose of this mitzvah is to increase love and friendship. On the obligatory level, everyone is obligated to send two portions of food to someone. On an inner level, one should also think about whom he will make happy by giving Mishloach Manos to. Then one should think, “What can I put into this Mishloach Manos package which will make the other person happy? What would that person really enjoy?” One should put thought into how much Mishloach Manos to send, what the quality of it should be like, how nice it should look & what kind of nice messages he can send with it. Everyone should do this only according to her personal capabilities, and not over-do it.

Even more so, when giving Mishloach Manos, it should not just be an act of giving motivated by logic alone, but it should be given from the depth of one’s heart, with love and joy, to make the other person happy.

Included in this aspect (gladdening other people on Purim) is to make the children happy, with costumes and the like. But again, one should do this only within her actual capabilities, and only if she can do it with joy.

3) Consider also the mitzvah to give Matanos L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor) on Purim. One should look for a person who needs it the most, and who would be the happiest to receive it. One should strive to give Matanos L’Evyonim specifically to this kind of person. A woman usually needs to ask her husband about whom she may give Matanos L’Evyonim to, mainly so that her husband should agree with her decision.

4) Regarding the seudah of Purim, [if you are hosting a seudah], try to serve dishes that each person there will enjoy, catered to his or her particular tastes. The main point of the seudah on Purim, of course, is to think about and discuss Purim-related matters and what Purim is all about, and to stay away from any words that can be insulting to others, which only serve to bring out the most unrefined and impure elements in one’s nature.

5) The purpose of the day of Purim is to reach a deep place in ourselves that is above one’s daas (logical reasoning and understanding). For men, whose main mitzvah is to learn Torah, their main work on this world is to develop the power of their logic throughout the year, by studying Torah. That is why men need the intoxicating effects of wine (or the dulling effect of sleep) in order to “nullify” their logical understanding and reach a place that goes beyond logical understanding. Women, who are exempt from Torah study, are therefore closer to the concept of nullifying their understanding and to more easily reach a place that goes beyond logical understanding. This is the point known as temimus (non-intellectual simplicity or earnestness).

Thus the main avodah of the day of Purim is: “Be wholesome with Hashem your G-d”, to walk with Him in temimus (simplicity), without any intellectual thinking. It is about sensing His unlimited love for us, just as the people in the time of Achashveirosh re-accepted the Torah out of their great love of Hashem that they saw through the miracles of Purim. It is about feeling how He always gives of His kindnesses to us, out of His great love for us, by saving us from trouble, and by bestowing good upon us. From this understanding, we can come to feel the sweetness and pleasantness of being close to Him. This is the root of true simchah on Purim, because by feeling close to Hashem a person feels physically lighter, in the body in general and specifically in the feet. That is why one can easily sing and dance on Purim, just as by the song of Miriam, when the joy of the women made them feel lighter, causing them to quickly sing and dance.

And that is why the miracles on Purim happened precisely through women [Esther]. It is because women are closer to this temimus (simplicity and earnestness). Men need to drink on Purim as a means to reach this place of temimus, whereas women are closer to reaching it, without the means of drinking. It only requires a little bit of reflecting and calm silence, to enter into the deepest place within oneself and each person on his or her own level can do it. (from the Bilvavi Q & A archive.)

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The Month of Adar – A Time of Happiness

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Download a number of Drashos on Purim

The Month of Adar – A Time of Happiness

We are now in the month of Adar, with the help of Hashem. (In a leap year, we merit to have two months of Adar). It is a well-known fact which power is revealed during the month of Adar: it is the month where there is more simchah/happiness. The Sages state, “When Adar enters, we increase happiness.”[1] To be more specific, the power which describes the month of Adar is known as sechok/laughter.[2]

Let us reflect, with siyata d’shmaya, on what the roots of sadness are, so that we can learn how to remove sadness and reveal happiness in our life.

Reflecting On the Roots of Sadness

In whatever we think about, we can always discover details and roots. Either we can see the details involved in a matter, or we can see the roots of the matter. Therefore when it comes to analyzing sadness, either we can contemplate on the many different details that cause it, or we can look into the roots and see what brings one to that emotion.

Here we will try to analyze the roots that cause sadness, as opposed to studying the many ‘branches’ that can bring it on. There are several “root” causes for sadness.

Two Sources of Sadness – In the Body and In the Soul

Man is comprised of four physical elements: fire, wind, water and earth. These four elements are in all of Creation as well as in man. Earth is the heaviest of the elements. When it is left unbalanced by the other elements, the element of earth will weigh one down, which will ultimately cause one to feel sadness.

Thus, sadness can stem from the heaviness that is found in our physical body. Our body was fashioned from the earth. Man comes from dirt. When one’s element of earth is imbalanced, this heaviness can breed sadness. This is the first source for sadness: the element of earth contained in the physical body.

When one commits a sin (Heaven forbid), and certainly if one commits more than one, one’s soul becomes sad because it does not want to be in a situation of sin. When a person sins and does not immediately do teshuvah,[3] the soul becomes sad.

Solving Sadness Due To Heaviness

As we discussed in the month of Shevat, generally speaking, one should focus on eating a healthier diet. Our body becomes heavy from the “earth” within us, so we need to be careful what we put in it. When we overeat, this makes us feel heavy – heaviness causes us to be sad, since heaviness is a trait of earth, the root element for sadness. Therefore, we should become accustomed to eating foods that will not make us feel heavy.[4]

In addition, when someone is extremely drawn towards lethargy, he needs to start doing things enthusiastically. This will combat the nature of the ‘heaviness’ within him that is causing him to feel sad. He should work on this by practicing doing things energetically. For example, he could resolve upon himself that for three times a day, he will do something quickly and with enthusiasm.[5]

This is the two-part solution that resolves the sadness that comes from feeling physically lethargic and sluggish. The first part of the solution is to get used to a healthier diet. The second part of the solution is to try to do three things a day with enthusiasm. This will enable one to acquire the trait that is described in the Mishnah in Avos, “as light as an eagle”, and to avoid the lethargy and sadness that is produced from the ‘heaviness’ in the body.

Solving Sadness of our Soul

The second source for sadness that we mentioned is when sadness comes from the soul. The soul becomes sad when a person commits sins. The solution for this kind of sadness is to do earnest teshuvah from the depths of one’s heart.

Our Sages wrote that there are four main times to do teshuvah: before going to sleep at night, on Erev Shabbos, on Erev Rosh Chodesh and on Erev Yom Kippur – which is the most important time to do teshuvah. These are the “general” times to do teshuvah, but if a person lives a more inner way of life, he does teshuvah whenever he feels sadness coming from his soul, and he does so from the depths of his heart.

The teshuvah should not be done monotonously, but truthfully and earnestly, until one feels that one’s teshuvah is genuine, to the point that “The One who knows all secrets (Hashem) can testify on him that his teshuvah is truthful.”[6]

This is an internal way of living, wherein one trains oneself to react immediately when one feels an inner sadness by concentrating deeply and resolving to live as a more sincere Jew: to resolve that one will truly submit oneself to the Ribono Shel Olam.[7]

If one does teshuvah earnestly, one will find that one’s sadness will subside, either totally, or at least to a very large extent.

Identifying Your Sadness

From the two above possible reasons for feeling sad – feeling a physical heaviness of the body, or feeling sad due to a sin – one should try to identify which sadness it is as one is feeling it.

If one feels a sense of ‘heaviness’ in one’s body, if one is feeling somewhat sluggish and lethargic, then this stems from the body’s element of earth. The solution for this kind of sadness as we said is to get used to a healthier diet as well as to do things enthusiastically. But often one will feel that the reason for this sadness is deeper than just a general sense of feeling lethargic. Such sadness is not stemming from a heaviness of the body, but from a deeper source. It is coming from the depths of the neshamah/the soul, due to sins, which feel painful to the soul. When that is the case, the solution is to do earnest teshuvah.

If one reflects and has become a more internal kind of person, one will be able to keenly identify if the sadness one is feeling is coming from a heaviness of the body (the element of earth in the body), or if it’s coming from sins. And after identifying which kind of sadness it is, one should use the solutions above, accordingly.

We have so far mentioned two root causes for sadness, how they can be rectified, and how one should go about identifying them.

A Third Cause for Sadness: Lacking a Sense of Purpose in Life

Until now we have explained, with siyata d’shmaya, two kinds of sadness – a sadness that comes from a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the body, which is rooted in the body’s element of earth; and a sadness that comes from the soul, due to sins and improper actions. Now we will speak about a third kind of sadness, which is very common. This is when one is living without any sense of direction, when one doesn’t know what one wants from oneself nor what one’s purpose in life is.

Many times, when one experiences failures in the external aspects of life, or when one has time to think quietly about one’s personal situation, one will discover that one has no clear-cut direction in life. When a person is living without a sense of clear direction in his life, he is filled with all kinds of doubts about what to do and what not to do. In a broader sense, he is filled with doubt about his entire life. This is the most common example of sadness. The world is full of this kind of sadness.

We have so far given a general description of it. Now let’s explore this deeper so that we can have a clearer understanding.

There is a well-known statement, written by the Rema, who says, “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.” [8] These words imply that when there are no doubts, there is happiness. Thus there will be sadness whenever a person has doubts. When one is trying to make a decision but is filled with doubt, the soul becomes sad.

(A hint to this is that the Hebrew word for sadness, which is atzvus is from the word (etzev), which is from the words , which hints to the term “two options of advice – in other words, when a person faces two conflicting paths of advice to take, he has atzvus/sadness.)

Sometimes a person is sad due to a particular doubt about something that he is going through. For example, if he isn’t sure whom to marry, if he doesn’t know which house to buy, where to live, or if he’s not sure what kind of job he needs to take. In these cases, one knows clearly the doubt that is plaguing his happiness. But in many cases, one cannot name a particular doubt which is bothering one. He is just feeling doubtful about his entire life and which direction it is taking. This makes him feel a general lack of clarity in his life. These are the kinds of doubts that fill the lives of many people resulting in the world being full of this kind of sadness.

Lack of Centeredness

If we ask any believing Jew, “What are you living for?” he will surely answer that he is living in order to fulfill the will of Hashem and to fulfill the mitzvos. However, if we would look deeper into what’s going on inside most people, we would discover that they – while certainly saying that this is what they live for, and that they know in their minds what they must do – are not directed towards any one point. Their souls are scattered over many different situations that they are involved with. When the soul is so spread out and is not aiming towards any one point in particular, this lack of direction towards anything clear, results in a deep sadness to the soul.

We see that there are many people who are working towards a goal. Sometimes they have materialistic goals, and sometimes they have spiritual goals, but in either case, they are striving towards one point. They are centered and focused on attaining a particular goal that they have which generally keeps them from falling into the pit of sadness.

Based upon this observation, we can uncover the solution for the deep sadness that fills most of the world – a sadness that stems from the lack of clarity and direction in life – by learning how to stay focused on a particular goal. The goal that we want to develop, however, will be of a spiritual nature, and not of a materialistic one. Yet, we can still learn a lesson from the materialistic goal-oriented people of the world and can use their method of success, when it comes to our own spiritual potential. With the help of Hashem, we will explain this.

Having a Spiritual Goal

There are many observant Jews who learn a profession, whether it is to become a doctor, lawyer, or whatever profession they choose. They are juggling many different aspects in their life, yet they are focused on attaining a certain goal. By going to school to study, this helps them stay centered as they aim for that goal. The mere fact that they are working towards a goal gives them a sense of happiness, whether the goal is a worthy one or not.

Just as actively striving towards a particular goal can be a means for success in the material world, so too it can work when we have a spiritual goal to strive for. There are some people who actively pursue spiritual goals from which they gain satisfaction and happiness.

For example, there are people who feel that doing chessed for others is their spiritual goal in life. They open up a gemach/an organization that helps people, and are focused solely on this one goal. Some people help by giving/loaning money, some help by offering their advice and some people help others by lending their possessions. There are many ways in which to help others. In all of these scenarios, the person is focused on a spiritual goal of chessed.

Whether the goal is materialistic or spiritual, as long as one can stay focused and concentrate on pursuing this goal, one’s soul will feel connected to something. He will be less prone to sadness, and will find it easier to be happy.

Most people are actively doing many good and wonderful things, but they are not striving for any one goal in particular. For example, if a woman is a housewife, she does many good things every day; she takes care of the house, she is constantly nourishing her husband and children with food – each of these acts involves countless achievements. In addition, a woman does many other constructive acts yet this doesn’t necessarily make her happy, even though she is doing all of these good things.

Why? It is because she doesn’t see how it all connects. She may feel very ‘spread out’ all over the place with all of these things that she does. She would be very happy if she would just consider how all of these acts really connect into one piece. If she considers chessed to be her goal, then she would derive happiness from this. But when a woman doesn’t consider all of what she does as part of a general goal that she is striving for, then in spite of all her many actual achievements, she will not be happy.

Every Jew, man and woman alike, needs to aim for a spiritual goal in their life. No matter how many countless wonderful acts a person is doing each day, one will not actually be happy from all of this unless there is a particular spiritual goal that he/she is striving for.

Each person can have a unique goal to strive for; it is not the same for everyone.
Figuring Out Your Personal Spiritual Goal in Life

In the secular values of the material world, people seek wealth, status, and nice houses to live in -that is what drives them to stay focused on their goals. But when we speak about the inner, spiritual world, the focus must be on a spiritual goal, on a certain inner point which we aim towards, as we go about our day-to-day living.

Every person will have to sit alone in a quiet place and try to figure out, as best as he can, a spiritual goal that will speak to him and which he feels is attainable. One needs to think: “What is a worthy, spiritual goal that I would want to aim for and direct my whole life towards?” The point is to be focused on utilizing one’s own potential, which lies dormant within you.

Once again, let us emphasize that there is a difference between how the secular world pursues their goals as to how a Torah Jew needs to pursue his goals. When a gentile speaks of having goals in life and on being focused and concentrated on working towards a goal, the attitude is to lay down the desire that you really want and how to get to what you want the most; how to attain that which you want badly. But when we speak of spiritual goals, the goals that a Torah Jew needs to have, which utilize the potential of our neshamah/Divine soul, the way of knowing our goals is a different process.

It is about how to actualize the potential that is within me, as opposed to getting what I want out of life. It is about figuring out which point speaks to me and is close to home, as opposed to something that my nefesh habehaimis/external, animalistic layer of the soul wants, which is expressed in the gentile world. It is a clarification about the innermost point that I currently identify with. It is that point which a Jew needs to strive for and to figure out how to realize this potential.

If one succeeds in uncovering the spiritual point that speaks to one the most at one’s current level, one is engaged in utilizing his potential, and one will succeed in removing the deep sadness of the soul, the pain of the soul where there is a lack of clarity and direction in life.

However, it is not an easy feat to figure out what the goal is – it will definitely not just take a few minutes. One needs to sit alone,quietly and delve deep so as to clearly recognize oneself, until one can see what one’s deepest spiritual ambition is. Often we will need to speak to someone else for help with this.

One will also need to daven to Hashem for help so that one should merit to discover a spiritual goal that can be aimed for. If we can cry to Hashem for this, we should do so. But even more so, we must understand that we will not get to it immediately. But at one’s own current level, one can try to figure out a spiritual goal that speaks very clearly to oneself, and to aim towards it in one’s day-to-day life.

Slowly as time goes on, one will gradually be able to uncover an even deeper spiritual goal and then direct oneself accordingly so as to actualize that goal.
The Prerequisite to Happiness

We need to understand the following point, which is a prerequisite to simchah/happiness. It is the very root of the solution and an essential point to be aware of: simchah is not just based on that which I want to attain but have not as yet attained, it is primarily based on whatever I have attained thus far.

If one is not focused on any one goal in particular, one will not be clear as to what one wants to achieve – neither will one be clear of what one has already achieved.

These two points are unclear when one does not have a goal. Upon having a goal, we first need to clarify what we wants to attain. At the same time, we must also be aware of what we have already attained. We need to always remind ourselves of this: to be clear in what we want to reach, and to be clear in what we have so far gained. That which you have already attained is actually the root of your simchah, and that which you are aiming for, which you haven’t yet achieved, is the factor that takes away sadness.

Thus, simchah is comprised of two factors: the removal of our sadness, and the revelation of happiness itself. Anything you have attained thus far is included in your aspect of “someach b’chelko”, “being happy with one’s lot” (which is the revelation of happiness). Anything which you have not as yet achieved but which you are aiming towards, takes away sadness.

Let’s review this again so that we are clear about it: there are two parts to simchah – the removal of sadness, and the revelation of happiness. When I am focused on attaining a certain goal, this removes my current sadness [because the soul will feel like it is moving forwards]; to be more specific, it removes the doubts that create sadness. And where do I derive simchah from in the present? From that which I have attained thus far; this is the “someiach b’chelko” that reveals happiness in one’s present state.

Now we can understand the following. We mentioned earlier the difference between the gentile and the Torah approaches of being goal-oriented. The way of the gentiles, which is especially the case in our current generation, focuses on what you should want out of life, and how to get it. It is about “getting what you want”. When you get it, you are happy, because that was what you wanted, you aimed for it, and you got it. That is Western mentality. By contrast, the Torah has a different approach to being goal-oriented: it is about actualizing the “I”. For we need to wonder: What is the “I” in us that wants things?

If “being happy with my lot” means that I got what I wanted, that would mean that I partially have what I want and partially I don’t. There is a rule, “He who wants a hundred, will want two hundred.” We are never completely satisfied when we attain what we want, because the next day we will want something else, and then we are back to where we started. There is no “lot” to be happy with here.

But if I tried to reach something which my “I” wanted – if it came from a very deep inner drive – then when I do attain that which I want, it is not simply that I have received what I wanted, but that it is a part of my very “I”, something that is a part of me. The resulting happiness is coming from the actualization of the “I” – the happiness that comes when one utilizes one’s potential.

We need to understand this clear, deep point. When a person wants something, and attains it either partially or completely, the happiness that results from this is just superficial; it is an incomplete happiness. The happiness will be fleeting, and sadness will soon follow.

The only genuine happiness which exists is not when I simply attain what I want, but when I reveal my “I”; when I actualize the potential of my “I”. That is simchah. For if something is not a part of me and it is only external, reaching it will not give me true and inner simchah, even if it is a wonderful thing to attain; whether it is a physical attainment, or a spiritual one. By contrast, if I achieve something that is small but it actualized my “I” in the process of getting there, then the happiness I will experience is coming from my “I”. You can only have real simchah in something that is a part of your “I.”

The meaning of someiach b’chelko/being happy with one’s lot, means that even if my “lot” is small – like when I compare myself with others and I see that others have more than me – I can still be someiach b’chelko.

How indeed can one be happy if one sees that others have achieved more? The depth of this is because simchah does not come from what I acquire. If it would come from what I acquire, then I can never be happy, because in comparison to others, I may have acquired very little. Simchah comes from actualizing the potential of my “I.” When my “I” is actualized, when I have reached something which is “me”, there is resulting simchah.

For this reason, if a person does not have true self-recognition, he will not be aware of any actualization of his potential, and will find nothing to be happy about. When he reads these words, he will not be satisfied, and he will feel, “In the end of the day, I don’t have much to be happy about. Even the things I do have in my life are minimal compared to what others have. Others have much more than I have to be happy about. So how can I be happy with what I have, when I see that everyone else has more than me both physically and spiritually…?”

When one finds it impossible to be happy with what one has, it can only be because one is out of touch with one’s “I”. One is unaware that the only thing which truly gives us happiness is when one utilizes his personal potential. If he would be aware of his “I” and he would be aware that only actualizing his potential is what provides happiness, he would have a whole different perspective towards life, and he would not need answers because he would be above this question.

When one lives superficially, one will remain with the question resulting in a lot of pain. We will not be able to be happy with what we have. But when a person comes out of superficiality and realizes that happiness does not come from acquiring things, but from actualizing the “I”, he will feel that everything he attains is a part of his “I”, and the simchah that he experiences will be a happiness in his very “I” as it is.

We are speaking about a totally different perspective of simchah here! It is not a simchah that comes from getting what you want, where you remain dissatisfied by the things you have not as yet achieved -it is a simchah that one has in one’s very “I”.

It is difficult to explain it any more than how it has been explained here, but herein lays an entirely different and deeper perspective of simchah.


In summary, we have explained three main underlying reasons for sadness.

The first source of sadness comes from our body, when we have a feeling of ‘heaviness’ that dominates us and makes us lethargic. This can be counteracted with watching what we eat, together with doing things enthusiastically each day.

A second source of sadness comes from our soul, when there are sins that we have not as yet done teshuvah for. The solution for this is to train oneself to doing teshuvah on a regular basis, from the depths of the heart. A person should awaken himself to teshuvah for every time that he feels a deep and inner sadness.

The third cause of sadness, which is the most common kind of sadness that people have, is when people do not feel fulfilled in their lives, and lack a sense of direction. The solution for this is two-fold: to realize what we have already gained so far in our life, as well as to be focused on a certain spiritual goal that speaks to us. Unfortunately, most people in the world are suffering in their souls from this kind of sadness – they feel like they are not aiming for any particular goal in life.

In Conclusion

All that we have explained here until now, understandably, is only the introduction for one to get to the complete and true simchah, which is described in the verse, – “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.” We did not discuss this kind of simchah, but that is the desired goal of all that has been explained here.

May we merit from Hashem to feel true happiness in our life – by being happy with even the parts of ourselves that we have not as yet actualized, as well as by being happy with the parts of ourselves that we have actualized; and that all of us together should rejoice in the Creator – as it is written, “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.”

[1] Talmud Bavli Taanis 29a

[2] Sefer Yetzirah 5:5 [see Rosh Chodesh Avodah_013_The Power of Laughter, for how to use the power of sechok/laughter in the month of Adar].

[3] repentance

[4] This was discussed in the shiur of Rosh Chodesh Avodah_011_Elevated Eating; see also Fixing Your Earth_010_Countering Laziness

[5] Editor’s Note: It is said about Reb Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l that he would practice doing things against his will 5 times a day, in order to counter the nature of laziness (and another note, the Rav explained this in terms of getting used to bittul haratzon (nullifying one’s will). Perhaps the reason for the Rav’s recommendation of doing this 3 times a day, as opposed to 5 times a day as Reb Yeruchem did, is so that even simpler people (like us), who are not on the level of Reb Yeruchem Levovitz, can also practice it.

[6] A quote from the Ramban

[7] Master of the world

[8] Toras HaOlah

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

Rabbi Daniel Travis

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.


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.”

Yisro and the Aseres HaDibros in a Nutshell

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Yisro. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

# 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.

Sanctifying The Act of Eating

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download some Drashos on Eating and Tu BeShevat

The month of Shevat, as we are taught by Chazal, is associated with the act of le’itah (chewing), which is otherwise known as achilah, eating.[1] When Esav was starving and he wanted food, he said, “Feed me (“hal-iteini”) from that red stuff” – from the word “le’itah”, to chew and consume food. Let us understand what our avodah of “eating” in Shevat is.

We know that a person cannot survive without eating. It is possible for a person to go several days without consuming food, but generally speaking, we need to eat every day of our life. Except for the fast days, such as Yom Kippur and the Rabbinically ordained fasts, we eat every single day. If we never reflect into the purpose of why we eat – of how it can be holy to us or of how it can be spiritually detrimental to us – then we will go our entire life without any sense of purpose in our eating.

If you make a simple calculation, each person eats an average amount of 70,000 meals in his lifetime (assuming that a person lives for 70 years, since “the years of a man are seventy”, and that he eats about 1000 times during each year of his lifetime). Should a person eat for his entire life, going through 70,000 meals or more, without ever reflecting into the purpose of why he eats?

Clearly, we need to understand what the role of food is in our life, and how it can serve to elevate us spiritually. There’s a very big difference between a person who thinks about it and a person who doesn’t think about it; being aware of the purpose in our eating can change the whole way we are living our life.

Four Possible Reasons of Why We Eat

Eating takes up a big part of our life. Let’s first think into what factors are included in our eating. Usually, when a person eats, there are two factors. The first thing to consider is: What kind of food to eat. It can be bread, eggs, vegetables, fish, chicken, and other foods. Another factor in our eating is the taste of the food. Usually, we want to eat food that has a decent taste to it. We are usually not just looking to eat a certain kind of food – we want it to also taste good.

So whenever we eat food, there are always two motivating factors taking place: a motivation to eat the particular food we are eating, as well as a motivation for taste. If we make a reflection, we can notice that sometimes we eat because we really need to eat, and sometimes we eat because we just want to taste something good, and not because we really have a need to eat right now. We might want to eat because we really need to eat, or we might want to eat just to fill up our stomach; both of these motivations are within the desire to eat. But there is also a third motivation of why we eat: to simply taste something that’s good.

In the first motivation of why we eat, it is a desire for food, not taste. This itself divides into two categories: (1) Eating because we are hungry, and (2) Eating more than what is necessary to fill our hunger – which is actually a desire to experience more materialism of this world. In the second motivation of why we eat, we eat simply because we feel a need for taste, and we will want to experience various kinds of taste.

If we reflect into it, we can discover these three motivations in our eating. Sometimes we eat because we are hungry, sometimes we eat because we are desiring materialism, and sometimes we eat for a completely different reason: because we are looking for taste.

There is also an additional, fourth reason why we eat, and every person can also discover this motivation in his eating: sometimes we eat because we are feeling bored. We are in the mood of doing something, and sometimes we fulfill this need for action through engaging ourselves in eating. In this motivation for eating, we are not eating because we need to eat, nor are we even trying to fill our stomachs and pursue physical desires, and we are not either doing so out of a need to experience new tastes. Rather, we are in the mood of having some kind of action, and we are using eating to fill that void.

In Summary

So there are altogether four possible reasons why people eat: (1) Because we are hungry, and we are trying to fill the hunger, so that we can feel nourished and full. (2) Because we are pursuing bodily cravings, which is a materialistic kind of desire; (3) Because we want to enjoy a good taste, (4) Because we are bored and we feel a need for action, and eating makes us feel like we are being active.

Developing Awareness of Why We Are Eating Right Now

Before we continue our discussion on this, with siyata d’shmaya – we first need to conceptualize the first idea we mentioned, which is that we need to reflect into the things we do and to have an awareness in what we are doing; to know why we are doing something as we are in the midst of doing it. If a person eats and never pays attention to why he’s eating, his eating is no different than how an animal eats. But if a person is at least a bit spiritual and isn’t entrenched in the materialism of life, he thinks into why he eats, before he is about to eat something, as well as while he’s eating. He eats with a sense of awareness.

When a person wants to become aware of why he is eating, he should first reflect: “What is the reason that I am about to eat right now? Is it because I am hungry? Is it because I simply want to nosh? Is it because I want to taste something? Or is it because I’m just bored?”

One must be aware: “Why do I eat?”, and try to find which of the above four reasons are his motivation to eat right now. Clearly, there will not always be one reason that is motivating him to eat. There can be two reasons, three reasons, or even all four of the above reasons, which are all driving him to want to eat right now. The more a person can “listen” to what’s going on inside himself, he can better discern what his motivations in eating are.

Focused, Calm Eating

By many people, there is problem that they have of having food in one hand and doing something else with their other hand, and at the same time, they are talking on the phone during all of this multi-tasking. Besides for how this ignores the halachah that one must not converse as he’s eating, there is another problem which develops from this unfocused kind of eating.

When a person is doing other things as he’s eating, he usually will not have any awareness of why he’s eating right now. He won’t be able to listen to himself at this moment and be aware of why he’s eating. When a person gets used to eating in this way, he does not pay attention to why he’s eating at the moment, and he will be very far from developing any awareness in his eating and from elevating the act of eating. Therefore, practically speaking, we need to avoid as much as possible this kind of unfocused eating, where a person does various different things as he’s in middle of eating. One should view eating as a time to work on his menuchas hanefesh (serenity). Eating should be always be done calmly, and that will enable a person to have the calmness to listen to himself and reflect into the reasons of why he’s eating.

Therefore, in order to carry out this advice, try to make sure that you don’t eat during a time of the day where you are harried or feeling pressured with lots of tasks to take care of. Every person needs to set aside a part of the day where he will have some menuchah (serenity), and for part of this time, he should eat calmly.

When a person isn’t focused and calm as he eats, he doesn’t digest it as well. Not only is it unhealthy to our physical body, but it damages us as well on a more inner level. When a person eats as he’s not calm, he will eat more than he really needs to, because he can’t think properly about how much he needs to eat right now.

If we do not see the importance of paying attention to our eating, we damage ourselves both physically and spiritually, and as we mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, we would go through about 70,000 meals during our lifetime having never given any thought to our eating, and all of those meals would be eaten without any purpose.

1) How We Can Elevate Hunger

Let us now continue, with the help of Hashem, to discuss the last point we mentioned.

We need to have the proper perspective towards eating. Eating is an important part of our life, both in the physical and in the spiritual. However, we mainly need to consider how eating affects us spiritually. We need to have a serious attitude towards eating, by setting aside some time of the day where we will work on mindful eating. But if we never think into why we are eating and we don’t take it seriously, we will probably not care to set aside the time each day to work on mindful eating, and then we will go through a lifetime of meals with no sense of purpose in them, and all of the meals of our lifetime then become wasted opportunities.

That was the introduction to the discussion here, of how we need to generally view eating. Now we will elaborate upon the four motivations of eating which we mentioned earlier, and go through each of these with greater depth.

The first reason we mentioned, of why a person eats, is to eat out of hunger. When a person feels hungry to eat, he should ask himself the following: “Who made me hungry? Did I make myself hungry? No, that can’t be.” Whenever a person feels that he is “hungry” and he immediately goes to eat something, without thinking it through enough, he might open up the fridge and eat whatever he finds there. But this resembles the way an animal eats. A person who wishes to live a more inner kind of life doesn’t act upon his impulses so fast. He first thinks, calmly, about this simple thought: “Who made me hungry?”

If a person immediately answers to this, “The nature of my body made me hungry”, he should then counter to this thought, “And who made the body have this nature?” After simply reflecting onto this, you discover simply that it is Hashem who made you hungry. Now ask yourself, “And why did Hashem make me hungry? Ah, so that I will need to eat, and then make the required berachah (blessing) to Him before I eat it, so that I can thank Hashem for it. In this way, I am elevating the materialistic act of eating.” And, on a deeper level, perhaps you are also elevating the souls who may have been reincarnated in the food you are eating, who are raised to holiness when a blessing is made over them.

The point of this thinking is so that you become aware that there is a more spiritual source to your hunger. The reason why your hunger has appeared is not simply because your body has made you hungry, but because Hashem made you hungry so that you will be able to elevate the act of eating, and on two levels. First of all, you make a berachah over the food, where you thank Hashem for the food you’re about to eat, and that itself elevates the mundane act of eating. Secondly, by making the berachah, you can feel gratitude to Hashem for this food, and this elevates the materialistic aspect of the food, bringing Hashem into the picture.

As you are feeling a hunger for food, be clear about this attitude: “When I get hungry, it is because Hashem made me hungry, so that I should eat in a more elevated manner, which enables me to elevate the food I am eating, from the material to the spiritual.”

In summary of until now: When you are aware that the reason that you’re eating is because you are hungry, don’t act upon it so fast. Train yourself to start thinking like this before you are about to eat, and get used to the habit of making reflection before you eat. Even if it is only a little amount of reflecting, it is helpful, because it trains you not to act upon impulse as soon as you get hungry. You can try waiting for 60 seconds, or 30 seconds (and if you can’t do that, try it for 20 seconds) before eating upon the hunger.

Whatever amount of self-control you can muster when it comes to this, the point is not to eat immediately when you feel hunger. When you get used to reflecting a bit before you eat, your eating becomes more spiritual, it becomes more refined and loftier, and it becomes elevated from the normally animalistic eating that it would have been. This advice has been mentioned in the works of the Rishonim: whenever you are hungry, wait a little bit before you eat [and reflect into the purpose of eating].

2) What To Do About Cravings

Until now we explained about what do when you’re eating of hunger. Now we will learn about what to do when we are eating due to the second possible motivation in our eating: when we are eating simply because we are getting a craving for food, which is really a desire to attach ourselves to the materialism of this world.

First of all, let’s go deeper into this motivation. Every person contains a guf (body) and neshamah (soul). Our neshamah doesn’t need anything to eat, because it is completely spiritual. It is only interested in the spiritual, as it is written, “When there will be no hunger for bread, no thirst for water, except to hear the word of Hashem.” But we also have a body, which needs physicality in order for it to be sustained. For that reason, we need to eat when we feel hunger.

But our body also causes us to pursue the second motivation in eating: to eat food simply because we feel a craving for materialism. The body is interested in more and more materialistic desires, and that is what causes us to pursue food and other desires which we don’t really need to sustain ourselves. It is simply a desire to attach ourselves to the thick and heavy materialism of this world, and it comes from our physical body.

We can see this in different meals we eat. Sometimes we have a lighter kind of meal, and we don’t feel heavy afterwards, and sometimes we eat in order to feel full, where we will eat heavier and thicker kinds of foods, and we feel heavy after such meals. Many times people will intentionally eat a thicker kind of food which makes them feel heavier afterwards, because they want to have this feeling of “feeling full” after they eat. This is a bodily desire, which wants to experience more materialism. It causes cravings in a person for more food that is necessary for him to eat, and it is rooted in the body’s desire to “feel full” after a meal.

It is written, “A righteous person eats to satisfy his soul, and the stomach of the wicked always feels lacking.” The possuk is saying that a tzaddik eats until he feels satisfied, whereas a wicked person eats in order to feel that his stomach has been filled up. Many times people mix up the two motivations, and they think that to feel “satisfied” from a meal means to “feel full”. But if a person has trained himself to eat calmly and with awareness, as we spoke about before, he will be able to make a distinction between eating to feel “satisfied” and eating to “feel full”, and he will be able to see how they are not the same thing.

The Rambam says that a person should eat less than a third of his portion, but even if a person can’t eat on the disciplined level that the Rambam reached, he can still train himself not to eat his entire portion at once, and to instead eat slowly and calmly. He can try eating a bit, then pausing, then continuing to eat, and repeating the cycle, during his meal. When a person gets used to eating like this, he will suddenly begin to feel a deeper place in himself, where he will realize that his hunger was not actually hunger, and that he had really been satisfied all along. It was simply a desire to have a “full stomach”, and not a desire to become satiated.

When a person keeps eating continuously and without pause, he might think that he is doing so in order to be satisfied from the meal, but in actuality, it is stemming from a desire to have a “full stomach”. But by getting used to taking breaks as we are eating, such as by pausing for 2 minutes every here and there during the meal, a person will suddenly discover that his will to keep eating is not stemming from a will to be satisfied, but from a will to feel like he’s “full” afterwards, a “full stomach”.

This is a very subtle differentiation to discern in oneself. The practical way to work on this is by pausing every so often as you eat, and the point of it is to be able to eat in a serene way, where you can listen to the real needs of your body.

There is an inner power we have of listening to the body. It is hidden from most people, but the more a person is living a serene kind of life and he does things calmly and with reflection beforehand, he is better able to listen to the messages of his body. As a person is eating, pausing, and continuing to eat, he can listen to the body and discern if his need to eat right now is stemming from a desire for hunger\satiation, or because he simply has a desire to have a “full stomach” – which is not necessary, and it is merely a desire rooted in materialism.

Another point to mention here is, about what we actually eat. In order for a person’s eating to be on the level of a tzaddik’s eating and to avoid the kind of eating that is about having a “full stomach”, a person needs to get used to eating lighter and more refined kinds of food. We know that some foods are heavier, thicker, oilier and fattier, with many different ingredients, whereas other foods are lighter, more refined, and contain fewer ingredients. If a person wants to live a more truthful life and he wants his eating to become more spiritual and less materialistic, he should get used to generally having a lighter diet.

Much of the cooked meals that we eat are heavy and thick, which are not meant to merely satiate us and nourish us, but to make us feel like we have a “full stomach” afterwards. A person needs to get used to eating foods that are closer to the nature which Hashem Himself prepares. This doesn’t mean that you should only eat vegetables and fruit, but the point is to eat lighter foods, with most of your meals being lighter in their nature, and to avoid heavy, thick foods with all kinds of ingredients. By getting used to a lighter diet, the body will become trained to eat for the purpose of satiation, and much less for the purpose of “feeling full”.

In summary, when a person feels cravings to eat more food than what he needs, the first part of the advice for this is to get used to takes pauses in between the meal. The second piece of advice is to train ourselves to eat lighter kinds of foods, and to avoid eating heavier and thicker kinds of food. All of this should be done with conscious attention that you are trying to eat calmly, and it should be done during a time of the day that you set aside specially for this, where you will work on eating with more menuchas hanefesh.

There are also loftier and more spiritual ways than this to elevate our eating, and if a person can have those lofty thoughts while he is eating, that will also serve to help him avoid heavier, thicker foods and to stick to a lighter diet.

3) What To Do About The Need For Taste

Now we will deal with the third reason of why people eat: when a person feels a need for taste.

Our body has a nature to want to taste things, and this is especially the case ever since the sin of Adam, where man tasted of the Eitz HaDaas. Ever since then, there has become a genuine need to taste things. This need is used for holiness when we taste of the Shabbos food, as it is written, “Those who taste of it [Shabbos], merit life” [and this refers to tasting the Shabbos food]. But even during the weekday as well, almost all people need to have a good taste in their food, and they will not be able to have tasteless food.

However, we need to have the proper attitude towards the need for taste. The Hebrew word for “taste” is taam (???), which has the same letters as the word me’at (???) – which means “a little”. This hints to us that the need for taste is only meant to be utilized “a little”, meaning, to eat the food in order to taste it, and not more than that. But if a person eats more than that need, he is mixing in a craving for more food, which is the motivation in eating that we discussed earlier, where a person eats in order to feel full; he will keep eating it until he feels heavy afterwards. This is a double motivation contained in one act: a motivation for taste, and a motivation for more materialism.

For this reason, most people, when they taste a certain food, they will keep gorging on it, even though they didn’t plan on having more than a taste of it. When people keep eating the food after they have tasted it, this is not stemming from the original need for taste. If it would be a need for taste, the person would taste it and no more.

A person should first identify this when he tastes something. When he tastes it, he should realize that this came from a need to taste it. If he keeps eating after the original bite, he should identify that this is not coming from his need to experience taste, but from a craving to eat more food and to feel full and heavy afterwards. To counter this problem, one should taste the food, then pause, and then taste a little bit, and then repeat the cycle. In this way, he will calm the desire to engage in unnecessary eating. He will still want to taste it, but he will have calmed his desire to gorge on the food.

When most people overeat, it is due to these combined factors in their motivation. They usually began with a desire to taste of the food, and this awakens the desire for materialism, where a person will want to finish what he tasted, so that he can “feel full”. The motivations of taste and materialism become mixed with each other in the act of eating.

As we mentioned, the advice that can work for this is to take pauses after you taste something. Taste it, then pause, then take another bite, and repeat the cycle. Make sure not to go overboard as you are tasting it, leave it at just a taste of the food, pause, then taste it again, making sure not to eat beyond that amount, and repeat. In this way, you will identify in yourself the two different motivations, the desire to eat more and the desire to taste something, and by getting used to this, not only will you calm the desire to eat more, but you will also be able to calm the desire for taste itself.

This is a subtle matter which requires you to listen to your body, and when you identify the motivating factors that are taking place in your body, you are then able to deal with them accordingly.

To bring out this idea, the Shelah HaKadosh writes that the mitzvah to taste of the Shabbos food is precisely to take a little taste of each thing [on Shabbos]. But when people taste the cholent on Shabbos, and they like the taste of it, they will usually keep eating it, until they feel like they have full stomach from it.

However, Shabbos is the time to elevate our eating. By having a little taste of the food on Shabbos and by leaving it at that, we elevate the act of eating, on the holy day of Shabbos. Even during the weekday as well, there is this concept, where a person can elevate his eating by having a mere taste of the food, in order to calm his anxiousness; but nothing more than that.

Based upon the above, a person should make sure to taste things, so that his body will be calmed, and he should try this with lighter kind of food which doesn’t have too many ingredients. Throughout the day, if you ever feel a need to taste something – and we should emphasize that it’s only when you feel a need to taste something, and it should not be brought on deliberately – make sure to put something tasty in your mouth, so that you can satisfy the need for taste; and leave it at that.

You can try this with the Shabbos food, which is the main time to work on this avodah. But even if you can’t do it with Shabbos, you can still try it during the weekday, as we explained.

This is something that can be worked upon by almost anyone. There are others who can elevate their eating even more than this, because they have worked very much on purifying themselves from materialism. But the words here are geared towards most people, who still struggle with the pull towards materialistic desires.

The words here are about a very basic level, which can be worked upon by anyone. Understandably, if one can achieve an even higher level of self-control than this, it is certainly praiseworthy.

4) Eating Out of Boredom

Now we will address the fourth reason of why people eat: boredom. When a person feels a need for movement and action, he may ease this tension by eating, which gives him the feeling that he is “doing” something.

Here is an example of it. Many times, when people nosh on glazed nuts or the like, it makes them move around a lot as they eat it. There is much movement in their mouth as they crunch on the food, and they are moving around their hands a lot too as they eat it, so it can feel very engaging. There is also a lot of digestion taking place from this kind of eating, which is internal movement, and all of these movements make a person feel like he is active, which eases his boredom.

Firstly, one needs to become aware of this motivation in his eating. If he is bored and he is eating, the first thing he should realize is that he does not need to eat this, and that it is only because he wants to feel like he is having some kind of movement.

When this is the case, a person needs to set up a schedule for himself where he will be able to engage in productive kinds of movement, in order to satisfy his need for movement. If he wants, he can taste something as he’s involved in the activity that he chooses, in order to calm his desire. The main thing to do, upon becoming aware of his need for movement, is to find other movements to do, which can calm his body’s need for movement.

With some people, this desire for movement is calmed if they go for a walk. Another person is calmed by engaging in conversation. Another person can calm himself by reciting verses of Tehillim. Another kind of person can calm himself by listening to a shiur. The point is to replace the eating with another kind of movement that will calm the body, and each person will have to find what kind of movement calms him from boredom; it is mainly about being aware that his desire to eat food right now is not coming from a need to eat, but from a need for movement.

By replacing the food with some other engaging act of movement, he calms his body’s need for movement which is causing the boredom. As we mentioned, he can also try eating something as he’s involved with that other activity he chooses, so that he can feel calmer. This is similar to the idea we mentioned earlier when we spoke about how to calm the desire for taste. Once he becomes aware of the motivation of why he wants to eat, there is much less of a chance that he will be dragged after the eating, if he just takes a taste of it to calm himself and no more.

By finding some engaging activity that makes him feel like he is doing something, he calms his desire to eat out of boredom, which is entirely a need to experience movement.

In Summary

We have learned here about four motivations of why we eat. These are subtle and complex matters to understand, and there is a lot more to say about this topic. But the most important thing to remember is the point we started out with, which is that a person should always reflect into what is motivating him to eat. It is a whole different kind of eating when a person eats with this awareness, which spans an average of 70,000 meals a lifetime – it would be a shame to have all these meals go to waste.

We should first internalize the fact that eating with this mindfulness causes us to be better off physically, but we should mainly think of its spiritual benefits. Thus, we should try to bring an inner attitude into our eating. We should eat calmly, with menuchas hanefesh, and from “listening to our body” as we eat. Eating calmly includes avoiding eating while standing, avoiding eating quickly, and not to multi-task while eating. Therefore, we should set aside time every for “menuchas hanefesh” eating.

Slowly but surely as we get used to this, we will be able to better feel what our motivations are as we eat, and direct ourselves accordingly.

Avoid Talking About Food So Much

There is also another important point we will mention now: we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of eating and talk about food so much. It has become common in our generation for people to talk about food for hours and hours, discussing all kinds of foods and tastes. People will talk about what kinds of food they ate at a wedding the day before, and how it tasted, and wonder how it is made. But if we want to live a more truthful kind of life, we need to develop an inner attitude towards eating. We need to avoid talking about food and how it tastes, and instead we need to view eating as part of how we can serve Hashem in an inner way.

With the help of Hashem, if we reflect into these matters well, our eating will be elevated, and then all of us together will merit to eat from the korbonos, with the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash – Amen, and Amen.


Questions & Answers with the Rav

Q1: I do not make a deal out of food that much, but I make sure to have certain foods and drinks when I eat breakfast, which doesn’t take up much of my time. I just eat a quick breakfast and then I’m done. Is there anything wrong with this kind of rushed eating, since I’m not eating normally and I’m just eating and drinking enough to stay healthy?

A:It sounds like you are eating in order to stay healthy. What is wrong with this?

Q2: What I want to know is: Is this a lack in elevating my eating?

A: If you are referring to how you eat during the weekday, and not Shabbos, there is no problem with this. It is totally fine. However, you need to know for sure if it’s indeed coming from a reason to stay healthy, as opposed to a motivation to become physically slim. You need to know for sure if you’re eating less because you are indeed keeping away from physical indulgence, of if it’s just coming from a desire to “look good” [which is not a holy desire].

Q3: I make sure to eat only healthy foods, and I educate women on how to eat healthy foods, by informing them of how necessary it is to eat healthy and how to avoid the unhealthy foods which are so common in our generation. Since the Rav said that we shouldn’t make such a big deal talking about food, how much should I talk with others about the need to eat healthy food, and how much shouldn’t I talk about it? It seems from the Rav that the main thing is not about what you eat, but about how you eat. So what is the amount of time that I can spend talking to people about what to eat?

A: This is a very, very good question. There’s a problem in our generation where people talk a lot about health, but it does not come from a balance between the physical and the spiritual. In fact, it has become like a form of avodah zarah (idol worship), where people emphasize physical health so much, to the point that they only care for their physical well-being. The Chovos HaLevovos has a term for this: “They made their stomachs into their own gods.” When the body becomes the central aspect in people’s lives, this is what causes people to talk about health so much and to make such a big deal out of it, because the physical body is their priority, and therefore, much effort is expended by people to make sure that the body is being well taken care of. After all, they see their body as the main thing in their life.

Therefore, when we want to speak about health with others, we need to have the appropriate balance between a concern for our body and our soul. We can inform others of what the healthy foods are and what the unhealthy foods are, and to guide them to eat the right foods, but not as a purpose unto itself. The reason why we need to keep our body healthy is because it is the kli (vessel) which contains our neshamah, and we need to maintain our “vessel” and keep is strong, so that the light of our neshamah can shine properly within us.

If a Jew does not have this perspective towards health and he\she is a health practitioner, then his attitude towards health is no different than a gentile’s outlook, for a gentile can give over the very same health education. If a person teaches other people about how to stay healthy, he\she must be clearly aware of the reason of why he\she practices this: the Torah’s view of health is that our body needs to be a proper vessel to maintain the spiritual effects of our neshamah. When the focus is purely on physical health and there is no awareness that we are a neshamah, this is purely the gentile attitude towards living, and it is not the way for the Jewish people.

Q4: In today’s generation, where food is out of control and people overeat, just for the sake of taste and enjoyment and for no other purpose, how can we raise our children to make sure that they shouldn’t eat too much nosh and candy? Are there guidelines of nosh that we should try to formulate, like what to give out and what not to give out to them, and what the limitations should be?

A:This is a very good question. In today’s generation, you can find no less than 1000 different types of candy in the stores, all with a hecsher. It is a giant ocean of desires. To simply tell a child, “Don’t eat all of this stuff!” will not do much for the child. There is really a deeper issue we need to address when it comes to all of this. We need to train a child to understand that we have a body as well as a neshamah, and that our need for taste is actually a spiritual need that comes from the neshamah, only, it is often channeled in the wrong direction; and that when we pursue physical tastes, we prevent ourselves from tasting the spiritual. The same is true vice versa – the less we pursue physical taste, the more we can taste of what is waiting for our neshamah.

Therefore, our task in chinuch (child education) is really a task to bring to them to live more spiritually, and part of this includes experiencing spiritual enjoyment and tastes. To tell our children not to eat so much is perhaps a little bit helpful, but it will not do much for them. Instead, we need to emphasize to our children what a life of ruchniyus (spirituality) is like, and to explain to a child that pursuing physical gratification prevents us from experiencing the taste and enjoyment of ruchniyus.

We must know that there is a spiritual kind of taste, which is pleasurable to our neshamah, and there is also physical enjoyment and taste, which prevents a person from tasting the spiritual. A person has the free will on this world to choose what kind of taste he wants to have – either to taste of the spiritual, which is of the higher realms of our existence, or to taste the physical, which is of the lower realms. That choice is what we need to convey to our children.

Understandably, we will not be able to convey this information 100% to our children. We are only speaking of percentages. It is an inner way to live life, which we can bring our children into slowly, but this does not happen in a day or two. It is also not just about the issue of food, but about how to live life in general. We need to train ourselves, and our children, to live a more inner kind of life. We need to slowly show a child how he needs to choose between pursuing the physical vs. the spiritual. The point is not to tell him what to eat and what not to eat. Rather, we need to convey the message to the child that it takes several years to work on ourselves when it comes to this, and to deepen our sense of taste, so that we can reveal a taste in the spiritual. If the child gets the message correctly, we can then do appropriate chinuch.

So it is really a very good question, and it is a big problem which our generation struggles with, where there are so many different kinds of indulgence everywhere we turn.

Q5: So is the Rav saying that there is nothing we can practically about this, and it is just that we need to have the proper hashkafah (perspective) about it?

A: A young child is not at the point of desiring so many candies and nosh, but as a child gets a bit older and he begins to want things, we can start training him to choose between living a more hedonistic kind of life versus a more spiritual kind of life. Again, it is not about telling him what to eat and what not to eat, but to help him decide and make the right choice, of what kind of life he wants to live.

How should we help him choose? This is what we should ask him: “Do you want to live a life of gashmiyus (pursuing physical gratification)? Or would you rather live a life or ruchniyus? Do you want to be a person who chases after gashmiyus or do you want to be a person of ruchniyus?” If he says that he does want ruchniyus over gashmiyus, then we can guide him slowly and in steps from there.

For example, on Shabbos when giving out candy and sweets to the children, we can tell a child to put aside one candy and not eat it. If he gets a full bag full of nosh, tell him to put aside one candy that he won’t eat. Don’t tell him not to want it. Instead, train him into the inner perspective that we have described here. Again, the point is not to tell him how to behave. The point is to bring him to a certain awareness, a more mature perspective towards life, where he thinks about the spiritual and he chooses between gashmiyus and ruchniyus.

Q6: Can we also get others to follow these principles, and not just to use them for our own children?

A: If a person is in charge of a shul or school, where children bring in nosh and candy, the person in charge can try to set guidelines about what can be brought in to shul\school and what should not be brought in. It’s really impossible to control this, though, because there are so many children in these places, and we can’t control all the nosh that comes in. But it would be good if one community would set guidelines about these things. The message behind it, though, should be clear: Life is not meant to be hefker (free to pursue whatever desires we want). The fact that everything today has a hecsher on it is a lifestyle that is totally hefker, and it doesn’t make sense.

Q7: If a person feels hungry, could it also be because his soul is feeling hungry, and the body intercepts this message and translates it into a hunger for food?

A: That can certainly be possible, but in order to discern this, we would have to explain this point more in-depth. Most people are not aware to the messages that their neshamah is sending them. In order for a person to recognize if a desire is coming from the neshamah or not, he would have to know how to identify that the desire is coming from the neshamah, and that the desire of his neshamah for more spirituality is merely being clothed under the “garment” of a physical desire for food. But I did not speak about this point in this class, because most people do not pay attention to the sounds of their neshamah. It is certainly possible, though, for a person to identify his hunger as a spiritual hunger that is coming from his neshamah, and that it is being translated by the body into physical hunger; but this is a much higher level of avodah than the level that was discussed in this class.[2]

[1] Sefer Yetzirah III

[2] The Rav has also spoken about how to elevate our eating in the shiurim of Fixing.Your.Water.005 and Tefillah #081 – Eating With Holiness.

Sanctifying The Act of Eating

Shovavim – Repairing Our Thoughts

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Introduction To Shovavim

The holy sefarim[1] describe the days of Shovavim (Parshas Shemos through Parshas Mishpatim) as days of teshuvah (repentance), based on the possuk, “Return, wayward sons”, and that the main sin which we need to focus our teshuvah on during these days is to rectify the sin of keri (spilling human seed).

We need to know what the root of the spiritual light is that exists during this time, what exactly it means to damage the Bris, and how it is rectified.

In many places, the custom during these days is to recite Selichos (prayer supplications) and to perform various tikkunim (soul rectifications) for the public.

The ancient scholars who taught the inner parts of the Torah[2] established five ways to rectify the sin of spilling seed, and each of them are based on the five different causes that can lead a person to the sin. The five causes that bring about this sin are: 1) Thoughts, 2) Desire to gaze at another woman[3], 3) Desire for gay behavior[4], 4) Wasted spittle[5], 5) One who deliberately delays circumcision[6].

In these coming chapters (Shovavim #02, #03, #04, #05 and #06) we will not delve that in-depth into the esoteric concepts here; rather, we will see the homiletic statements of our Sages about these matters.

We will begin, with the help of Hashem, with the first path of rectification of the sin, which is to rectify the thoughts.

Rectifying The Thoughts: Returning To The Beginning

The power of thought is described as the beginning point of man. To illustrate the concept, the first thing Hashem did to create the world was that He thought about it. The beginning of a matter is always with thought, thus, thought is seen as the beginning point. Thought is the first kernel of wisdom that allows for the wisdom to become expanded further and further.

Since the purpose of Creation is to reveal the sovereignty of Hashem, “the end of action is first with thought”, therefore, the end of Creation, which will be the purpose, is somewhat reflected in the beginning point of Creation. So the concept of thought, which is the beginning point of Creation, is actually a reflection of the purpose of Creation.

Before the conception of the Jewish people, the Torah describes the 70 nations who descended from Esav. Although the Jewish people are called raishis, “the beginning,” they were still preceded by the 70 nations. What is the meaning of this? It is because the 70 nations of the world are a different kind of beginning. They are another kind of tool which brings about the revelation of Hashem. We see this from the fact that in the future, Hashem will first reveal Himself to all the nations, “And His Kingdom will reign over all jurisdictions”, and after that, the Jewish people will then become the tool that will reveal the purpose of Creation. The purpose of Creation is the revelation of Hashem’s Presence upon the world, and when His sovereignty will be revealed, that will be the tool that brings it about.

Thus, there are different tools which Hashem has set into motion that will reveal the purpose of Creation. Even the gentile nations of the world will be a key factor in the process; this is actually the deeper meaning behind why Esav’s head is buried with the Avos. It is a hint to the fact that the beginning of the nations is really good at its root. The nations of the world have a good beginning, because they will be the first stage in the revelation of Hashem upon the world; it is just that their end will not be lofty as their beginning was. Their dominion will come to an end, and that is why only Esav’s head is buried with the Avos, because only the head of Esav is worthy. The Jewish people, by contrast, have both a beginning and an end which will reveal Hashem upon the world.

When one’s thoughts are damaged through sinful thinking, that essentially means that the ‘beginning’ point in a person is damaged. This has several aspects to it. One aspect of our thoughts is that our thoughts are meant to remain inside us; our thoughts are private, and they are supposed to be kept private. To illustrate, we don’t know what others are thinking; the reason for this is to show us that thoughts are supposed to be kept private. When thoughts do need to become revealed, they must be revealed in a proper way, because in essence, they are really meant to be kept private.

Thus, we have a two-fold avodah in protecting our power of thought: We need to keep them private, and in addition, when we do reveal them, they need to be revealed properly.

The Root of Damaging The Bris: Feeling Completely Independent

The root of a person’s downfall is when he thinks he is perfect. ‘Esav’ is called so because he was asuy, already ‘made’, meaning, he was born ‘complete’; the inner meaning of this is that he thought he was complete, and that is the depth of his ruination. When a person thinks he is complete, he denies the fact that he needs others in order to be completed. Because he thinks he is perfect, he doesn’t feel a need to connect with others. This is really the depth behind damaging the Bris: when a person thinks that he does not need to receive from others. When a person is unmarried, he can understand well what it means to feel lacking; he knows that he needs to be completed by another.

Although we find that the Sage Ben Azai did not marry, because he desired learning Torah alone and didn’t feel the need to be completed by a woman, still, although he reasoned well, we know that his path is not meant for us to take, for the Sages recount that when he was shown Heavenly revelations as a result of his spiritual level, he could not survive the revelations, and he died out of shock.

After Adam sinned, before Kayin and Hevel were even conceived, it is brought in the holy sefarim[7] that droplets of keri left his body; and for the 130 years that he was separated from Chavah after the sin, demons were formed from those droplets. Why was he punished? It was because he blamed Chavah for the sin; ‘This woman you gave me, it is she who gave me from the tree that I ate.’ When he said this, the deeper implication of this was that he was basically saying that he doesn’t need her, chas v’shalom, for he was declaring that woman is detrimental to man. So he thought he doesn’t need her to complete him, and that he is better off without her.

This leads us the way to how we can fix the sin of spilling seed. When one feels incomplete, and he is aware that he needs to receive from others in order to become complete, he has fixed the sin at its root. Perfection is not achieved by feeling perfect about yourself and not needing others; rather, it is achieved precisely when one realizes he is incomplete without another to help him reach perfection.

The Deeper Implication of Misusing The Thought Process

In the power of thought, there are three kinds of thoughts: Chochmah, Binah, and Daas. Chochmah is the knowledge that one learns from his teachers. Binah is to reflect on the words of the Chochmah and thereby expand upon them. Daas is to connect the information that the Chochmah imparts and the information that the Binah imparts, bringing them to their potential. Daas reflects the concept that Chochmah needs Binah in order to become complete.

Thus, when a person has sinful thoughts, he has misused his daas, because he thinks he doesn’t need others in order to be complete.

The external part of the rectification for the sin is to feel lacking without another, but the inner layer of the solution is for a person to realize that he needs to become a tool that reveals beginnings. Soon, we will explain what this means.

The truth is that the concept of damaging the Bris was already existent as soon as Chavah’s body was separated from Adam’s; this already reflected a kind of separation between man and woman, in which man thinks that he doesn’t need woman for completion. Once Adam became separated from her, the idea of damaging the Bris became possible. It was the idea that it is possible for husband to be complete without his wife.

When one damages his thoughts, it is not only that he has misused his mental powers of Chochmah, Binah and Daas. The thoughts are damaged even when one has extraneous thoughts when he lets his thoughts turn outward to think about things that he doesn’t need to think about. Just like the eyes are supposed to be controlled and they should not be turned outward that much, so is there a concept that the thoughts of a person not turn outward.

Repenting Over The Shame Caused By Sin

According to the Kamarna Rebbe, the 50th Gate of Impurity, which is the lowest level, is the sin of heresy, and it is created through the sin of damaging the Bris. This shows us how the Bris is damaged – but it also shows us at the same time how it can be repaired.

We can ask: Why is spilling seed considered to be the lowest level of impurity? Why can’t it just be viewed like any other desire that a person has?

The deep reason is as follows. Before the sin, Adam and Chavah were unclothed, yet they were not ashamed in their nakedness. As soon as they sinned, they realized they were naked and they grew ashamed; this shows us that the entire concept of shame began after the sin. Before the sin, there was no concept of shame. Why? It is because shame is when a person is concerned of what others think about himself; what is a person is ashamed of? He is ashamed of how he appears outwardly to others. But he is not concerned of how he appears inwardly to others. Before the sin, Adam and Chavah were so pure that they were only concerned of how they looked internally, not outwardly. After the sin, they became concerned with externalities, therefore, they were ashamed of how they appear outwardly to others.

So the pure state of mankind is to be concerned with who really is deep down, and not to be concerned of how he appears outwardly to others. Thus, the way to repair the sin is by returning to the original state of Adam, in there was no shame yet; meaning, for a person to concerned about his internal state, to keep his thoughts private as they are meant to be, and not to reveal them outwardly, not to think into things that he shouldn’t think about.

Thus, it’s not enough for a person to simply be ashamed about damaging the Bris. Although shame over a sin normally atones for all sins, the sin of damaging the Bris requires a higher kind of teshuvah, and shame alone is not enough to rectify it, for it was the sin that brought about shame to the world; the sin requires more than just shame and repentance, then, to rectify. What really needs to be rectified is the very fact that we are ashamed! Because if not for the sin in the first place, we would never know what shame is.

Of course, this does not mean chas v’shalom that one should harden himself and not feel bad after he sins. It means that a person has to reach an inner place in himself in which he returns to the state of before the sin, in which there was no shame yet, because then, when man was entirely pure, he was not concerned of anything external or outward!

When a person’s thoughts think about things that he shouldn’t think about, he is turning his thoughts outward, and this can lead chas v’shalom to eventually damaging the Bris. Our avodah during Shovavim is to return to our source, that even our power of teshuvah should be returned to its source.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, we say in Selichos that ‘If one’s heart understands and he repents, he will be healed’, meaning, if one is ashamed because of his sins and he repents, his teshuvah is valid. However, the teshuvah we do during Shovavim is a different concept of teshuvah than the usual kind of teshuvah. Shovavim comes after the Ten Days of Repentance, because the sin of damaging the Bris needs its own rectification and thus it cannot be covered by repenting during the Ten Days of Repentance. It is because teshuvah alone does not rectify damaging the Bris [as the Zohar states].

But that doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t feel ashamed about damaging the Bris. Of course a person should feel ashamed and do teshuvah about it! But it is just that after he does that, he should then do a deeper kind of teshuvah he should do teshuvah over the very fact that he has shame as a result of the sin; he should do teshuvah over the fact that he allowed his thoughts to be turned outward, that he allowed himself to be involved with the external and left the inner world of his thoughts.

Of course, now that we live after the sin, our initial nature is to seek what’s outside of us. But our avodah is to return ourselves to the original state of mankind before the sin, and to describe this in deeper terms, it’s referring to the power of emunah. Emunah helps a person stay in his proper place, where he will never feel a desire to go outward from himself.

Thus, the first way to rectify the sin of damaging the Bris (spilling human seed) is through rectifying our thoughts, and this means to return our thoughts to their source that we should keep our thoughts inward, and not let them roam outward.

Private (Intimate) Matters Should Be Kept Private

The Chida[8] and others write that if someone reveals secrets to others when he wasn’t supposed to, he will end up sinning with damaging the Bris. This is because he turned outwardly when he should have remained inward. A secret should only be revealed to one who is modest, because he will know how to protect the secret.

When a person lets his thoughts roam around to explore thoughts that are forbidden or extraneous, that is the first root of what leads to damaging the Bris. But it also includes not to speak about private matters with others.

‘Matters of the heart are not revealed to the mouth'[9], meaning, inner and private matters should not be revealed outwardly by the mouth to others. When a Bris [the covenant of marriage between man and woman] remains private between them and it is not spoken about to others, it remains as a protected covenant, as long as it is not spoken about through the mouth [to others].

This is what it means to have Kedushas HaBris, to keep the holiness of the Bris Kodesh: to protect the private nature of the Bris [the covenant of marriage between husband and wife]. Holiness means to conduct one’s private affairs in a hidden manner, in a dark room, privately, and it should be kept hidden and protected – never spoken about with others.

This is the first rectification of repairing the Bris Kodesh. May Hashem help us be able to act upon it practically.[10]

[1] Arizal: shaar ruach hakodesh: tikkun 27; further discussed in Levush, Magen Avraham, Beer Heitiv, and Pri Megadim to Orach Chaim: 685

[2] Rav Chaim Vital in Shaar Ruach HaKodesh (Arizal), ibid.

[3] This will be discussed b’ezras Hashem in Shovavaim #005 Repairing Lust

[4] See Shovavim #04, Shovavim Today

[5] Shovavim #003

[6] Shovavim #006

[7] Shaar HaPesukim, Yechezkel

[8] Avodas HaKodesh: Tziporen HaShamir: 7: 113

[9] Koheles Rabbah 12:1

[10] Editor’s Summary: In the beginning of the chapter, it was stated that we have a two-fold avodah in repairing our damaged thoughts. The first part is to protect our private thoughts; this includes two aspects, 1)Not to think about forbidden things, which is obvious; 2)Not to reveal our private matters to others. The second part of the rectification was that when we do need to reveal our thoughts to others, they must be revealed properly; now it has been explained at the end of the chapter to mean that matters of privacy should only be revealed to someone who is modest who won’t tell it to others.

The Eight Sheets of Chanukah

By Ruby

With 5 weeks left to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, invitations were sitting at home waiting to be addressed and mailed. All my wife had to do was create the spreadsheet with all the addresses, set up the mail merge, and feed the envelopes through the printer. I had the really tough job – to buy stamps – and I was determined to do it right. I estimated 150 stamps would do.

But which theme stamp would be most appropriate for a Bar Mitzvah? I went looking at the USPS website. Flags? Too standard. “Happy Birthday”? Too juvenile. “I Love You”? Too mushy. Flowers? Too feminine. Fighter planes? Maybe… But not very mitzvah-ish.

Then I saw them. Chanukah stamps with a dreidle. Perfect! We’ll be mailing them on Chanukah. And they come in sheets of 20, so I needed 8 sheets of Chanukah. What could be better?

Off to the post office on Pine St. I went, and when my turn came I happily requested “8 sheets of Hanukah, please”.

The clerk frowned and said “Hanukah? We’re out of Hanukah”.

“No! it can’t be!” I exclaimed. “You must have Hanukah stamps”.

So she looked and looked through all her drawers and all her folders. In the end, all she could find was one single sheet of Hanukah stamps.

“But that won’t do”, I said. “One sheet won’t last. I need eight sheets of Hanukah.”

She called over to the next clerk who looked through his folders. He came up with another two. “Three, that’s all we have”, she said.

Suddenly emboldened, I said “Please check in the back. I know you will find 8”.

Her eyebrows raised at my attitude, she headed towards the back. As she passed each other clerk I saw her say something to them, and each time the clerk shook his head. After checking with the last clerk, she looked across the room at me and shrugged. I gave her a nod of encouragement and she disappeared into the back. (If I were one of the people standing behind me in line I would have killed me…) Several minutes later she emerged with a triumphant look on her face.

“8 sheets of Hanukah!” she proclaimed.

“Thank you so much for your perseverance”, I said. “I knew you would find 8”.

“How could you be so sure?” she asked.

“Why, it’s the miracle of Chanukah”, I said.

A Freilichen Chanukah to All.

Originally Published December 22, 2006.

Greek Influence Today

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of Drashos on Chanukah

The Current Exile of “Erev Rav”

In Al HaNissim, the Greeks are described as “zeidim”, rebellious ones, who came to uproot the Torah.

Our Rabbis teach that we will go through seven exiles: Egypt, Bavel, Persia, Greece, Edom, Yishmael, and the Erev Rav.[1] Each of the exiles had a specific time that they lasted for. But the last exile, the exile of the Erev Rav (these are reincarnations of the “Erev Rav” [Mixed Multitude] souls who left Egypt together with the Jewish people, and influenced them to do evil) has no specific time, because it includes all of the exiles together.

Therefore, the current and final exile – the exile of the Erev Rav – is not just “the exile of the Erev Rav” alone. It includes all of the influences of the nations, together, at once. The exiles of Egypt, Bavel, Persia, Greece, Edom and Yishmael each have their specific natures. But the exile of the Erev Rav includes ingredients of all of them at once. This is the depth of our final exile, and this is why it is so hard.

Now we can understand why the final exile is the most difficult. No one knows when the current and final exile will end; it hasn’t been revealed to anyone. But we are definitely in it, as our Rabbis wrote about.

The more subtle definition of explaining it is that we are in the exile of Edom, and within that, the exile of Yishmael, and within that – the exile of the Erev Rav. The main part of the exile is the “Erev Rav” aspect. It is an exile which includes all exiles; clearly, then, it is the most difficult of all the exiles. It pits us against the nations as never before. From all sides, we are surrounded with the evil influences that seek to ensnare us.

That describes the place and time we are in.

The Unique Nature of The Greek Exile

In a certain sense, the Greek exile was also different than the other exiles. The Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian exiles all took place outside of Eretz Yisrael, but the Greek exile took place in Eretz Yisrael, and not only that, but with the Beis HaMikdash still standing.

The Greeks came to defile the Beis HaMikdash. It added a new dimension to exile: that even when we have Eretz Yisrael and a Beis HaMikdash, we are still susceptible to danger.

Normally, exile is defined by the fact that we are exiled from Eretz Yisrael and forced to live outside the land. But the Greek exile was a new kind of exile: that even when we are in Eretz Yisrael, and even when we have a Beis HaMikdash, we can still be in exile. It wasn’t just a side thing. It defined the whole Greek exile.

What was the concept of the Greek exile? It is defined by the fact that they came and defiled the Beis HaMikdash, contaminating all the oils for the Menorah. Their entire purpose was to come and contaminate our holiness. They went straight to the Heichal in the Beis HaMikdash, so that they could contaminate the oil for the Menorah. They came to the holiest site, with specific intentions to ruin the holiness.

It didn’t begin with that. It really began with the decrees against certain mitzvos such as Shabbos, Bris Milah, and Rosh Chodesh, as our Chazal tell us. But it still didn’t look so bad, because everyone thought that they weren’t really in exile, because after all, the Beis HaMikdash was still around. So although decrees were being made against us, decree after decree, still, people thought it wasn’t so bad – because we still had the Beis HaMikdash.

What indeed is the difference between the Greek exile with the other exiles? The difference was astounding. During the other exiles, when we were exiled from Eretz Yisrael and we had no Beis HaMikdash, we knew we were in exile. But during the Greek exile, it did not seem to us that we were in exile, because we were in Eretz Yisrael, and we had a Beis HaMikdash.

The Greeks came to contaminate the oil – this did not just mean that we had a technical problem in that the Greeks had all the oil. It was all a result of what came before that. Olive oil (shemen) is seen by our Sages as a symbol of wisdom (chochmah); the Greeks had control over all the oil, both on a physical level as well as on a spiritual level. They succeeded in confusing the wisdom and minds of our nation, with all their secular thinking. When the Greeks affected how we thought – that was how they were able to physically control our oil as well.

The Beis HaMikdash was the holiest site, but it was also the place that can contaminate everything [when it becomes contaminated]. If a person thinks that this was just another random detail in the Chanukah story, he is missing the whole point. When the Greeks came to contaminate the oil, their real intentions were that they wanted to destroy the holy power of thought which the Jewish people possess.

The Jewish people were first conceived in Hashem’s thoughts, and the Greeks wanted to destroy that too. When the Greeks affected our holy power of thought, they were really damaging the entire holiness of Jewish souls. That was the depth of the matter of how they contaminated all the oils.

The Greek Exile Reappearing In The Current Exile

If we reflect a little, the “exile of the Erev Rav” that we are in includes all of the other exiles with it, and that is the depth of the current exile.

When a person reads about the words of our Rabbis concerning the exile, he can know at least on an intellectual level about what kind of problem we find ourselves in, how our minds are being threatened. But even more so, the depth of the exile is that evil can enter even into the holiest places. That was the uniqueness of the Greek exile, and since our current exile includes the Greek exile, our current exile also contains that disturbing kind of evil: our very holiness is being threatened. The evil influences of the nations can spread into even the holy places and contaminate holiness.

In our times as well, it can be said, rachmana litzlan, that the nations are coming and contaminating our holy places. Only one jug of oil was found, and it was hidden in the ground. So too, in our times, the Greek exile is here with it. The real evil is that Jewish minds are being contaminated by the secular influences.

Depth of The Current Exile

When these words are absorbed, we can begin to realize what kind of situation we are in. First of all, we are in an all-inclusive kind of exile, which includes aspects of all the exiles, with all of the secular influences. But even more specifically, we are in an exile that resembles the Greek exile, for we live in Eretz Yisrael; and the exile that we are in is not only taking places in the streets, and in the buildings of secular people who make decrees against the Torah. Our very holy places are being contaminated by the modern influences, which are disturbingly reminiscent of the nature of the Greek exile.

It is not only the “Heichal” of the Beis HaMikdash hundreds of years ago which is being contaminated. Every shul and beis midrash in this generation is being contaminated by the secular influences! When a Jew walks into a shul or beis midrash nowadays, his mind is becoming contaminated from all of the secular ideas he hears about!

In this exile, “Erev Rav”, which includes in it the Greek exile, we find ourselves facing Greek influences all over again. But worse still is that the current exile includes all of the exiles – it includes all of the secular influences of every nation. Those influences are coming into every beis midrash and shul!

A person is learning Torah in a beis midrash or davening in shul, and thinks that he’s being protected by the fact that shuls are called a “mikdash me’at” (abode of holiness) he is in, and that all the impurity is the street, while he’s safe and sheltered from it. After all, he is in middle of learning or davening, immersed in spirituality…

But the Greeks were able to contaminate the Heichal! If they can contaminate the Heichal, surely they can come into every shul and beis midrash. What this causes is the following: the initial way of thinking of the average Jew who lives in our times is a contaminated kind of thinking. It is because the whole air around us is impure.

It’s clear to all that there’s impurity outside in the streets. But it’s not clear that the impurity of the streets has entered the shuls and batei midrashim. The secular de’os (ways of thinking) have entered our circles and are ruining the mind of a Jew. The daas of the Torah has become exiled to the impure daas of the other nations.

We must know that all people, except for a few rare individuals – their minds have been contaminated by secular influences; even if they are found in the shuls and batei midrashim. One who doesn’t try to find the “jug of oil” in our times – meaning, if he doesn’t search for truth – he will not see the truth.

But the real difficulty is that people don’t even realize that there’s a problem. If we would know that there was an exile, everyone would cry to Hashem and beg Him that we attain a pure mind and have real daas. But people think that exile is only in the streets, not in the shuls and batei midrashim; a person is confident that his de’os are truthful. This is the depth of the exile; our de’os are being mixed up by the gentile nations, and we don’t even realize.

If we would list all of the untruthful de’os that are affecting us nowadays, there would not be enough time. But we must know one thing: In the depth of exile we are in, in the last couple of years (it’s hard to say when exactly it started), the secular nations have succeeded in uprooting the entire proper Torah perspective which frum people used to have. Not only are they making financial decrees against those who learn Torah; that is just the external part of the decree. They are uprooting all de’os of even those who learn Torah, and they are doing so to groups of people here and there; it all adds up.

They are taking away the proper de’os which we received as tradition from our forefathers. They have even succeeded in causing us to doubt the most basic fundamentals.

Anyone born into this generation is a “tinok shenishboh” (captured child) among the nations, even if he is born into a Torah family, because there are very few de’os today which are truthful. In the Chanukah episode, only one jug of oil was found; the message of this is that nowadays, it is rare to find the truth, even in the Torah world.

The actual words of Torah, of course, are never contaminated, as the Nefesh HaChaim writes. But in our souls, the words of Torah can definitely become hidden from the person, when his real mind is ruined by secular thinking.

If one would research all his de’os in his mind, he would discover how much he has become influenced by secular thinking.

A Spiritual Holocaust Taking Place In Our Midst

The words here are harsh – but it is the reality which we find ourselves in.

In previous generations, they were in a physical Holocaust. In this generation, we are in middle of a spiritual Holocaust. The spiritual Holocaust is not only affecting those who have gone off the derech and taken to the streets; it is affecting even us who are in the beis hamidrash! The true de’os are being uprooted, and the holiness of the Jew’s soul is being extinguished.

It is all because of what the influence of the Erev Rav is doing; because people are connected with “the heads of the Erev Rav”. And there is no end to how much damage they can cause when they enter our circles.

When the Torah world becomes connected with the outside world – via the influences of the Erev Rav – the “heads of the Erev Rav” can mix together Chareidim with those who aren’t Chareidim. How do they have the power to do this?? The answer is: Because there is no more Chareidi society! The Chareidi society is already gone! There are only a few G-d fearing individuals left. It’s all gone, it’s all destroyed.

We must understand that their influence upon is a holocaust to us! Someone born into this generation is being born into a spiritual holocaust, no less than someone born into the generation of the Holocaust that was 50 years ago. The Jewish people are being burned; everything is burning! Maybe in our physical situation, there are some who are surviving. But in our spiritual situation, the souls of the Jewish people are being burned! Each individual must realize how much the ways of our fathers are being given up in favor of the secular influences.

The words here are just a brief description of the problems of today’s exile. The depth of the exile is that each day, Jewish souls are being burned. There is no safe place anymore. Even the “Heichal” itself is being contaminated. It is not an external kind of impurity going on; it is the kind that enters the Jew’s mind and ruins it.

The Only Hope

Every opinion that enters our minds needs to be carefully researched to see if it’s truthful or not.

The truth must burn in our hearts. We need to daven and cry out to Hashem, from the depths of our hearts: “Save me from this generation that I am in, from all the impurity that is everywhere! Help me get through this lifetime properly!”

One must know the depth of the exile we are in – that there is no more Chareidi society anymore, except for a few rare individuals who fear Hashem. The only thing that we can do in this generation is to connect ourselves truthfully to Hashem, and one who is connected to Hashem, and he makes sure to have mesirus nefesh, he resembles the heroic Chashmonaim of history.

Although we each have our various ups and downs in our spiritual level, we can still remain all the time connected with Hashem and pray to Him all the time that we remain connected with Him. We must be very afraid of the situation that we are in right now, because of the spiritual danger that surrounds us; that fear is what can protect us.

May Hashem end this exile and bring Moshiach, speedily in our days, Amen V’Amen.[2]

[1] Although we refer generally to the “four” exiles (Bavel\Babylonia, Yavan\Greece, Persia, and Edom\Rome) the four really subdivide for a total of seven, when we add on Egypt, the root of all exiles; and the last exile, Edom, which breaks up into two additional exiles: the exile of Yishmael\Arabs and the innermost layer of the exile, the exile of the “Erev Rav.” For the source on “exile of the Erev Rav”, refer to Gra (the Vilna Gaon) in sefer Even Shelaimah available at the bilvavi website.

[2] Refer also to Tefillah #085- Erev Rav Today and Derashos #0103 – Surviving Spiritually. See also Tefillah #093- Media Influence and Tefillah #094- Seeking Advice . Refer also to the Rav’s series of Getting To Know Your Hisboddedus Practice and the clip of Eretz Yisrael Today.

Parshas Toldos – FFB and BT Tzaddikim

Rabbi Yaacov Haber (the YU musmach) has an interesting piece on Parsha Toldos where he points out:

– Rashi says that Yitzchak’s prayers were answered instead of Rifkas because he was a Tzaddik, who was a child of a Tzaddik, while Rivka was a Tzaddik who was the child of a Rasha.

– This seems to contradict the Gemora which says that a Tzaddik can not stand in the place of a Baalei Teshuva seemingly because a BT has a harder job and therefore more reward. And therefore Rifka’s prayers should have been answered because she worked harder.

– Rabbi Haber says that a FFB has it harder than a BT because the BT approaches Judaism with more enthusiasm.

– Therefore Yitzchak’s prayers were answered because he was still a Tzaddik even though he was an FFB (the son of a Tzaddik).

But we all know that to many that BT enthusiasm we have to keep on learning, so here is Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Toldos. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram

#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
* Rivkah is barren
* Rivkah’s painful pregnancy
* Prophecy that she will give birth to twins – two great nations
* Yaakov completely honest, Esav deceitful
* Esav sells birthright to Yaakov

#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
* Famine
* ‘Don’t go down to Egypt’
* G-d’s promise to Yitschak to be an Eternal G-d & inherit the land forever.
* Avimelech almost takes Rivkah
* HaShem makes Yitschak exceedingly wealthy
* Avimelech tells Yitschak to leave his land
* Three wells of conflict: Esek-Sitna-Rechovot
* Yitschak goes to Be’ar Sheva
* HaShem reassures Yitschak: “Don’t fear, I’m with you!”
* Yitschak builds an altar
* Agreement with Avimelech
* Esav marries at 40 years old

#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
* Rivkah persuades Yaakov to impersonate Esav
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov believing him to be Esav
* Esav’s blessing
* Rivkah tells Yaakov to flee from Esav

#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram
* Yitschak tells Yaakov to go to Padam Aram
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov
* Esav marries Mahlat, daughter of Yishmael

Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah – Bilvavi

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download some Drashos on Succos

The Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah

In the Yom Tov of Sukkos, the main mitzvos are to shake the four species and to sit in the sukkah. (There used to also be the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim in the Beis Hamikdash, but we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash).

The mitzvah of the four species involves movement – we shake them and move them around, which symbolizes how we want to move away from evil, and instead to come closer to Hashem. By contrast, the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah involves no movement at all – we sit in it and don’t move at all. This symbolizes a different aspect of our avodas Hashem: to reach the point of “non-movement.”

In other words, there are two steps in our avodas Hashem- sometimes we have to “move”, and sometimes we “don’t move”.[1]

Sukkos of Today and Sukkos of the Future

There is a halachah on Sukkos that we have to sit specifically in the “shadow” (“tzeil”) of the sukkah. This is the sukkah of nowadays – we sit in the sukkah’s shadow, which symbolizes how Hashem’s radiance is concealed from us.

However, in the future, Chazal state that the sukkah will be made from the skin of the leviathan – it will be a sukkah of entirely light. The Sukkah of the future will be the perfect sukkah, in which “all citizens” (“kol ha’ezrach”) will be enveloped within it; “ezrach”, “citizen”, is rooted in the word “zerichah”, “light.” This alludes to the sukkah of the future, which will be totally light. This is because the depth behind the sukkah is not just to be “in the shadow” of the sukkah, but to sit in the light of Hashem.

Dovid Hamelech says that “Hashem is my light, and my salvation.” Chazal expound on this verse that “my light” is referring to Rosh Hashanah, while “my salvation” is referring to Yom Kippur. Sukkos, which is the continuation of this, is the actual revelation of “my light”, Rosh Hashanah – which is entirely Hashem’s light.

It is only nowadays that the sukkah is like a “shadow”, because since there is evil in the world, the evil places a “shadow” on the “light” of Rosh Hashanah and dims it from its full effect. But in the future, there will be no more evil, and then Sukkos will no longer be a concept of shadow, but rather a concept of complete spiritual light.

Shemini Atzeres – The D’veykus With Hashem Above All Spiritual Light

Even higher than Sukkos is the level of Shemini Atzeres, which is the day of complete unity between Hashem and the Jewish people. It is a power that is above even the spiritual light revealed through Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.[2]

Chazal say of this day that Hashem said, “Remain with me one more day”. This is the great desire of Hashem toward His people, and it was there even before Hashem created light on the first day; this great desire that He has to us returns on Shemini Ateres.

[1] The Rav has been brief here in this fundamental concept; we will elaborate here to give more background. Generally speaking, the lower mode of Avodas Hashem involves movement, such as the six days of the week, when we move and work, representing the mundane. On Shabbos we don’t move, because we do not work; thus non-movement is always seen as the higher aspect of our Avodas Hashem. In sefer Da Es Menuchasecha (which is available online in English as The Search for Serenity), these concepts are explained at length in regards to achieving menuchas hanefesh – that the more we reach our “non-moving” state of our soul, the closer we come to our inner peace. The innermost part of our soul, our Yechidah, is a non-moving part of our existence, because our actual self is very still, content with its existence, for it is a cheilek eloka mimaal, a “portion of Hashem”. Our very essence is unmoving because it is rooted in Hashem, who is unmoving. Non-movement is also explained more in sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh: Shabbos Kodesh, as well as in sefer Da Es Hargoshosecha (soon to be released in English as “Getting To Know Your Feelings”). This footnote does not nearly exhaust the topic; it is a very vast subject which the Rov frequently discusses, and the references we have given here are the main sources where the Rov discusses it at length.

[2] Editor’s Note: See sefer Sifsei Chaim: Moadim (Vol. I) who explains how the spirituality of Shemini Atzeres is deeper than the first days of Sukkos. On Sukkos, we have the mitzvah of sukkah and the four species, because we are given these tools on Sukkos to reach closeness to Hashem through them. However, Shemini Atzeres is a higher connection we have with Hashem, as it is the culmination of the entire Yomim Noraim; thus, it doesn’t require us to sit in the sukkah or to shake the four species, because it is more of a direct connection with Hashem.

Rav Itamar Shwartz (Bilvavi) on Pondering The Meaning Of Life

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Elul Talks here.

Hashem Helps Us When We Connect Our Actions With Him

ומגן ומושיע עוזר מלך Hashem is our עוזר ,our ultimate Helper.
Hashem is our true Helper. When a person helps another, the one receiving the help is considered the main person. But when Hashem helps us, we realize that Hashem is the main one, and we are just secondary. As it is written, “My help comes from Hashem.”.

Chazal say that our evil inclination gets stronger every day, and if not for Hashem, we cannot overcome it (Sukkah 52a). On a deeper note, our every action needs Hashem’s help. How indeed does Hashem help us?

Whenever we do an action, it is considered alive only if we put Hashem into the equation. Although we use our power of bechirah to do good actions, our actions can only be considered ‘alive’ when we realize how we need Hashem to help us, and this gives life to the actions we do. A person might do many good deeds, but inwardly, he can be dead, because there is no life-source to his actions; Hashem is missing from the equation. Once we put Hashem into what we do, Hashem isproviding life to our actions, and then the actions we do are alive.

Life Vs. Imagination

A person needs to live an inner kind of life, in which all that he does is inwardly connected to Hashem.

We must know what it means to really live life, and what it means to merely imagine what a good life is – to see the differentiation between these two. To illustrate, a child plays a game and is having a good time; he thinks that this is his life. As he begins to get older, he realizes that all his fun was the world of imagination, and that this is not life.

The life which we see in front of us, on this world, is all a world of imagination! In order to really know what our life is, we have to merit from Hashem that He open our hearts to understand what it really is. If our heart hasn’t been opened a little, we do not understand what “life” is at all. We might know what death is, but we won’t know what “life” is.

Our existence is that we are a soul clothed by a body. Therefore, we initially perceive life from the perspective of our body, even if we learn Torah and mitzvos; from the perspective of the body, we have an erroneous perception of what life is about. We have to daven to Hashem that He should open our heart (as we daven in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, “Open my heart to Your Torah”) in order to understand what life really is.

We should look back at out past and see that whatever we thought until now as “life” is not really life, just imagination. Most people are not experiencing the true meaning of life, even if they live for 70 or 80 years. People often do not even experience one moment of true life on this world!

Our neshamah in us knows what real life is. Even when we ask Hashem for life, we do not always know what it is. The meaning of life is really a secret; only our neshamah knows what it is. Sometimes we receive sparks of understanding of what the meaning of life is. But to actually arrive at a total recognition of what life is, we need to have our hearts opened.

During Elul, what are people asking Hashem for? People have all kinds of things they want and ask Hashem for a whole list of things. The more a person asks for various things, the more it shows that he doesn’t understand what life is. We are all asking Hashem for life! In Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh HaShanah, we daven Zochreinu L’Chaim, Melech Chofetz B’Chaim, Kosveinu B’Sefer HaChaim…we keep asking for life, because that is really our central request in Elul. As for our personal requests that we ask of Hashem, most of these requests are not for life itself, but rather about various details that branch out from our life, such as parnassah, etc. The main request which we ask for in Shemoneh Esrei is that we should have life!

Since we are young, we think that we know we are alive. But the truth is that most people don’t even realize what it means to really be alive! People ask Hashem that they be granted life only because they don’t want to die. But as for life itself, to know what it means to be alive – people often do not know what it is. We don’t want Hashem to take away our life, as we daven in the prayer of Shema Koleinu. But what is our life to begin with? What is the life that we are asking for more of? Do we realize the true meaning of what it means to be alive…?

If our hearts begin to become a little opened, we can realize that the kind of life we think we have been living until now is really the world of imagination. Compare this to a child. A child’s perspective on life is not life – it is imagination.

It is hard to verbally express this concept in words. The point is that your heart needs to become opened, and then you will know what is being discussed here.

In Elul, we ask for life. We must realize that this world we see in front of us is all imagination! Ever since Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, this world became like one big imaginary kind of existence. This is the depth behind the curse of “death” that came to the world – it was a “death” to the ideal state of mankind. So when we ask for life in Elul, the depth of our request is that we are asking Hashem that we be granted the power to leave our imagination, and instead taste of the true life – the Eitz HaChaim, the source of true life.

It is not only a person who is immersed in physical interests who is living in imagination. Even a person learning Torah and doing mitzvos, who is not entrenched in physical pursuit, can also be living in imagination. We see from this from the fact that we have all kinds of dreams at night.

When we reveal the inner essence of our heart, we will then understand what the true meaning of life is, and then we will be able to truly have d’veykus with the Creator.

Mourning on Tisha B’Av: Feeling the Void

Rabbi Reuven Leuchter

Tisha B’Av is a day when we stop, sit on the floor and mourn. Yet year after year, we struggle to connect to mourning the churban, as the whole topic seems so far from our reality. We do not have any grasp on what it is like to have shechina in our midst; we do not feel that its absence has left the world bereft. In fact, we seem to be doing ‘just fine’ without a Beis Hamikdash.

The first point to understand is that the avodas Hashem of Tisha B’Av is different from all other days. We are accustomed to avoda performed through deeds and actions. Sitting idly all day gives us a feeling of time wasting and of disconnection from avodas Hashem. We instinctively seek to busy ourselves with activities in an attempt to connect us to the day.

However, the main avoda on Tisha B’Av is actually to refrain from doing actions. We enter a state of aveilus, whose purpose is to engender a sense of the real void that exists both in the world as whole and in our personal lives. We aim to feel an emptiness – not to immediately break the silence with talk of (for example) longing for the Moshiach. The focus should simply be to ‘feel the lacking’, to contemplate without trying to repair or replenish.

Yet how are we supposed to sense this lacking – if in reality we feel that our lives are full and complete?

The main reason that we do not sense this void is because we spend our lives thinking about ourselves. In order to feel the lacking, we need to escape from our superficial, personal perspective, in which we are focused on ourselves and on how we can advance personally. We need to change direction; to start thinking about the purpose of the world, the great plan that the Borei Olam has – and where we find ourselves within His plan.

If we introspect about this, we will realize that He has a desire for the world to be a place where His malchus and kedusha are revealed. That is what Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov focused on in their avoda; as did Moshe, Aharon and David Hamelech. This is now our task – to bring the world to its ultimate purpose of revealing kavod shamayim, something that is so much bigger than our personal, individual agendas.

If we delve into this idea fully and start to see ourselves as part of a big picture, we will begin to understand how great the void is. Our world is so far from this goal of gilui shechinah, so detached from the concept of kedusha. It is not even a topic of discussion. Whilst we may be busy fulfilling mitzvos and learning Torah, we do not identify with this greater goal. Moreover, when we see that the world at large is happy to permit acts and attitudes that are totally counter to kedusha, our feelings in response are tame, borne more out of personal sentiment than out of concrern for the Borei Olam’s master plan.

For example, if we come across chilul Shabbos (×—”ו), we are pained that our personal sensitives are not being respected. We are not so moved by the fact that such a thing could happen in a world that is supposed to be the setting for gilui shechinah. This shows the depths of the void, and indicates how our personal worldview does not actually include the Ribono shel Olam at all!

There is another reason why we do not see kedusha around us. Beyond the disconnection of society as a whole, personally we struggle to see how things in the physical world are transformed to a higher, spiritual plane – whether it is the clothing we wear on Shabbos, or the pen we use to write chidushei Torah. Our mitzvos and ma’asim tovim become detached from our practical surrounding. On the one hand we have Torah and mitzvos, on the other hand we have the world around us, yet we struggle to connect the two. That is also a real void.

Seen in this light, our tefila on Tisha B’Av should have a sense of distance. Rav Chaim of Volozhin wrote that we do not wear tefilin in the morning (of Tisha B’Av) because they are a ‘sign’ (an os) of connection between the Borei Olam and ourselves. We are trying to experience the greatest sense of richuk (distance) – any generating of closeness or connection is at odds with the essence of the day, whose focus is contemplating the terrible void.

The Nine Days: Awakening Yourself To Tears

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

How Do You Feel Sad At 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.”

The Three Weeks – Building the World with Ahavas Chinam

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Binah/Binyan – The Power To ‘Build’ Through Our Understandings

בינה לאנוש ומלמד Hashem teaches “binah”, intuition, to us.

The word binah is related to the word binyan, to build. Torah scholars are called “builders” – they are blessed with the power of binah. When a person exerts himself in learning Torah, he is really building the world.
How can we reveal our power of binah to build the world – and to be more specific, to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash?

The Depth Behind ‘Sinas Chinam’ (Baseless Hatred): A Viewpoint of Disparity

Chazal tell us that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) 3
What is the root of sinas chinam? From where does this negative emotion come from?

Simply, it comes from being egotistical. When a person only cares about himself, he couldn’t care less about others, so he will hate others for no reason.

But the deeper understanding is as follows.

When we build a structure, a brick is placed on top of another. Hashem created many details in Creation; we are all like many bricks that need to get added together, and form the complete structure of Creation. All details in Creation are many parts of one whole which will ultimately have to come together.

When we see the world – inanimate objects, as well as people – from a superficial perspective, we do not see how all these connect. But it is this superficial perspective which actually brought about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash!

We are supposed to see how all the details in Creation are really meant to come together and form a structure. Therefore, the many details going on in Creation are not just a bunch of random details. They are many parts of one whole, which need to come together in a structure. The purpose of everything is always one and the same – to come together, to become unified, and form one structure.

Applying this to our own development, when a person is young, he doesn’t connect outward beyond himself. When he gets a little older, he begins to realize that there is a Creator, and he wants to connect with the Creator, but he does not necessarily see connection with others as part of his connection with the Creator. If a person gets a little wiser, he realizes that his connection with theCreator really depends on how he connects with others.

When a person views Creation through a lens of disparity, this was the perspective which enabled destruction to come to the world. This is the depth behind sinas chinam.

Sinas Chinam – To Be Inwardly Apart From Other Jews

Even more so, sinas chinam means “I can live on my own; I don’t need other Jews in order to exist.”

What about the mitzvah to do chessed? The person rationalizes, “Chessed is like any other mitzvah that is outside of myself, like shaking a lulav. I don’t need chessed to exist.” When a person views Creation with disparity like this, that is sinas chinam – this perspective is what destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

What was the Beis HaMikdash? It was the place that contained the Shechinah. But what is the Shechinah about? It is about Hashem’s Presence dwelling in Klal Yisrael, when we are in union. When we are not unified and we are instead apart from each other in our hearts, there is no point of having the Shechinah.

“The king is called the heart of the nation”; Hashem called is our “heart”. But if our hearts are full of disparity towards each other, and we each feel like we can survive without other Jews, then our damaged heart will not allow Hashem to be the heart of the nation, and thus the Shechinah will not dwell among us.

Sinas chinam has two layers to it. The outer layer of it is to show signs of hatred, simply speaking. The essence of sinas chinam, though, is that a person feels himself apart from other Jews, that he feels fine without other Jews, that he feels like he can live without other Jews. Sinas chinam, at its core, is to have a perspective of disparity towards creation, a lack of awareness that Creation is supposed to become unified.

Moving In The Opposite Direction of Sinas Chinam

How do we go in the opposite direction, then, and get ahavas chinam (‘baseless love’)? We know that we have a mitzvah to love other Jews like ourselves but, how do we actually get it?

Simply speaking, we need to get rid of sinas chinam and reveal our deep ahavah for other Jews that we have really deep down. True, but there is more to it.

Ahavas chinam is when we realize, “I cannot exist without another Jew’s existence, for we are all part and parcel with one another.” There is no individual Jew who can live without another Jew’s existence; when we internalize this understanding, we reveal ahavas chinam. Thus, hatred can only exist when a Jew thinks he can exist fine without another Jew.

This perspective of ahavas chinam is the power that can rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, as well as the world as a whole.

Learning Torah To Build The World

As an example, when a person learns Torah, does he realize he is building the world? Or is he learning it all for himself…?

Learning Torah is what unifies the details of the world together. When a person learns Torah, he must be aware that his learning causes unity in Creation, for Torah is the root of all souls. But if a person is learning Torah and he has no love for other Jews, he’s learning Torah all for himself, and such Torah does not build the world.

Uprooting Hatred, and Getting To The Root of Love

The Rambam describes our middos as “daas”. The essence of all our middos and emotions is daas. The depth of ahavas chinam, and removing sinas chinam, is thus not by working with our emotions. Our emotions of love or hatred can only be the result of what perspective we have deep down. If we reveal daas – and we come to actually sense it – then we can reveal love.

We know that doing things for other people can bring love, for “the heart is pulled after the actions”, but at the same time we must realize that we need daas. When we do actions for others, we need to reveal daas with it – to realize that we must unify with others.

To uproot sinas chinam, and to develop ahavas chinam, we need to do good actions for others and help others, but along with this, we also need to reveal our daas – to realize that we need to unify with others. It is a perspective which we need to gain on how we view others. This is the way to access the real emotion of love for other Jews.

Destruction comes when we are missing this perspective.

Love For Other Is Not A Novelty

What does it mean to love? It is not simply to shower love upon others. Love is when we reach our daas, when we connect with others, by realizing that all of Creation needs to become unified.

When a person gets married, he believes this is his bashert (soul-mate). He believes the words of Chazal that finding a wife is like finding his lost object. He does not view the love towards his wife as something new; he realizes that he is revealing a reality which is already there, for Chazal say that husband and wife were already destined to be bound together in love.

In the same way, we should view other Jews in Creation – our love for other Jews must not be some novel concept to us. When you meet another Jew, don’t think to yourself that Ahavas Yisrael is some new concept that you have to work on. Rather, it is the reality, and you need to align your way of thinking with that reality. This is because we are all one at our root.

The only reason why we don’t feel that unity is because we are currently living in a world of darkness, which blurs us from seeing the true reality. Therefore, we feel apart from each other, but it’s only because we are not in touch with reality.

What We Cry About on Tisha B’Av

We cry on Tisha B’Av over the ruins of Jerusalem, which lies in disgrace. We are living in a time of hester panim (concealment of Hashem’s revelation). But even more than so, we should cry about an even more painful situation: there are many of our fellow Jews today who are going through all sorts of pain, suffering, and predicament. In our times we live in, our fellow Jews today have both physical suffering as well as suffering of the soul.

We cannot really cry over the destruction of Jerusalem if we do not feel unity with other Jews. Why we do we cry on Tisha B’Av? Is it because we can’t bring our own Korbonos for ourselves? Or are we crying because we don’t have the Korbonos that atone for the entire congregation…? Which of these aspects means more to you…?

In Conclusion

“Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to its rebuilding.” Even if we do not merit the actual rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, we can each have a part in its rebuilding, when we build the world through the deeper understanding that comes from our “daas”, towards our relationship with the other Jewish souls.

May we all merit to unify with other Jews, as one piece, and come together into one structure, in which “Hashem will be One, and His Name will be one”.