Rav Itamar Shwartz (Bilvavi) on Shavous and the Soul Perspective

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

Three Kinds Of Love: For the Creator, For Torah, and For Another Jew.

With the help of Hashem, we are approaching the time of the giving of the Torah. When the Torah was given, there were three great revelations. The first revelation was that Hashem came down onto Har Sinai, and opened up all the heavens and showed us that Ain Od Milvado, there is nothing besides for Him. The second revelation was the Ten Commandments, which contains the entire Torah. The third revelation was that we all stood together with one heart.

The sefarim hakedoshim reveal that there are three kinds of love that we need to seek: love for Hashem, love for the Torah, and love for the Jewish people. These three kinds of love were all revealed at the giving of the Torah. Our love for the Creator was revealed when Hashem revealed Himself to us. Our love for the Torah was revealed through the Ten Commandments. Our love for the Jewish people was revealed when we had complete unity with each other, standing together with one heart.

Changing to a Soul Perspective
The choice that everyone has on this world is: If he will live life through his body, or through his
soul.

A person should ask himself how much physical gratification he’s getting, versus how much of his basic soul needs that he is getting. One should try thinking about this every day.

If anyone reflects, he’ll find that most of the day is spent on physical gratification – whether it’s coffee, smoking, food, newspapers, etc. Each to his own.
To begin to change this, one should try to make sure that he’s giving himself at least a little attention each day to his soul’s needs.

Today, pleasure is often only experienced sensually, with the physical. People often are completely devoid of experiencing any enjoyment whatsoever with regards to their souls. A person can start to change this by making sure to give his soul a little pleasure each day. This is just the beginning step.

When a person then feels a desire for something physical, such as for food – if he feels that he can give it up for something that is a soul need, he is making progress with this. It shows that he has begun to change his perspective at least a little.

Someone who does this and gets used to this will come to an amazing discovery. He will begin to actually feel others. He will feel other’s happiness when they make a simcha, and he will feel their sadness when they go through a loss. His soul will be able to feel the other’s soul.

Leaving The Body And Entering The Soul
When we heard the Torah at Har Sinai, our souls left us. In other words, we left the perspective of the body and entered the perspective of our soul!

This shows us that the way to prepare for the Torah – [at least] one of the ways – is to leave our body’s perspective and to instead enter into our soul a bit. This will resemble how the souls of the Jewish people left their bodies at Har Sinai.

May we be zoche to leave the thick materialism of this world and instead feel how we are a soul, beginning from the most basic needs of our soul [our emotional happiness], and then to the more spiritual needs of our soul, until we finally reach the highest part of our soul – the point of total d’veykus (attachment) with Hashem.

Pesach Redeeming Your Soul

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

Exile of Our Daas

The Egyptian exile was an exile of our Da’as (our mind). We learn this from what Hashem told Avraham Avinu, that “you will surely know (“yodua teida”) that your offspring will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs…”

The Egyptian exile was an exile of our da’as, and its redemption was a redemption to our da’as. From the double usage of the word da’as in the possuk (yodua teida) we learn that there are two kinds of exiles that both involve an exile of our da’as. Let us reflect what these two kinds of da’as are.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that these two kinds of da’as are a “masculine” kind of da’as and a “feminine” kind of da’as. The redemption from Egypt was a feminine kind of da’as, and the future redemption will be a masculine kind of da’as. What does he mean?

We can understand the Baal Shem’s statement as follows. Each individual has two components: feelings and vision. (An example of “vision” is that a person is obligated on the night of Pesach to see himself leaving Egypt”).

The feminine kind of da’as is “feelings”, and the masculine kind of da’as is “vision”. Egypt was an exile of our feelings – our feminine aspect of da’as. Its redemption was a redemption as well of our feminine da’as. But the future redemption will involve our masculine kind of da’as, which is our vision. “For with an eye and an eye we will see the return of Hashem to Zion.”

It is well-known that the final redemption is also contained in the first redemption. The redemption from Egypt is the root of the final redemption.

We must know what these two different kinds of redemption are in our soul.

Our Mind Is Still In Exile

There are two “kings” that reside in a person: the mind and the heart. The mind’s vision is limited and we need to learn how to expand it.

The Zohar always uses an expression of ta chazi, “come and see”, while the Gemara always uses an expression of ta shema, “come and hear.” When a person hears, he hears the feelings, but when a person sees, he doesn’t use his feelings, just his limited vision. The abilities of feeling and vision are two distinct forces in the soul, and each of them need to be removed from what’s blocking them. Our mind’s vision is prevented by being too narrow-sighted, while our heart’s feelings can be stuffed with timtum halev (spiritual “blockage”).

In the Egyptian exile, our heart was in exile. There was a redemption to this, so our feelings. But our mind still hasn’t been totally redeemed. Our feelings of the soul, such as ahavah (love), yirah (fear), hispaarus (pride), etc. were redeemed in Egypt, but our mind’s vision – in other words, our inner vision, the ability to see holiness – is still concealed in this exile.

The avodah of the Egyptian exile was to recognize Hashem’s goodness and to come to have feelings for Him, such as love and fear of Hashem. But what is the avodah of the final exile?

We must expand our minds in order to know this.

The Secret of The Redemption: Unity

The Arizal explains that the night of Pesach is a time of “gadlus hamochin” (a higher state of mind). What is the higher state of mind, and what is the lower state of mind?

Simply speaking, it means that sometimes our mind is more or less clear. But the more truthful outlook is that gadlus hamochin is a straight way of thinking – “G-d made man upright” (Koheles 7:29) – it is a straight kind of vision, and in it lies a person’s mind.

In the redemption of Egypt, anyone who didn’t merit to leave Egypt perished. The wicked perished in the plague of darkness. Everyone else who left Egypt left as one collective unit – there was achdus (unity) of the entire nation at the redemption. At this redemption, the entire Jewish people were united to follow Hashem into the desert, experience the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah. At all of these events, all 600,000 souls of the Jewish people were all present.

The inner way to look at reality is to see everything as one. From an inner perspective, a person sees how many details are really all one collective unit. The secret that brings redemption is unity in one unit. For example, the entire Jewish people in Egypt did not change their names, language, or dress.

Thus, the redemption is all about achdus – unity. There is a redemption that will take place to the Jewish people as a whole. There is also a personal redemption to each person that will take place, a redemption to each person’s soul. This is to redeem our mind. To redeem our mind, we must acquire an inner perspective on things – a perspective of achdus, to be able to see how many details connect and are all one.

Before, we mentioned that we have two different component in us: feelings, which are in our heart, and our vision, which is in our mind. Our mind, which is otherwise known as the masculine kind of daas, has an advantage over the heart in that it can see how many details connect as one. Our mind is capable of seeing achdus.

The second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred). The future redemption will be the opposite of this; it will be a unity of the world. The secret of the redemption is achdus.

The secret to the redemption when a person acquires this inner perspective – the way to see unity in many details.

The secret to the current exile is contained in the Egyptian exile. By understanding what the Egyptian exile was, we can learn about our own redemption from the current exile, because the root of all redemption is the redemption from Egypt.

What Is This Unity?

What is this secret of “achdus” of the final redemption, which is contained in the Egyptian exile?

We say in the Haggaddah, “And G-d took us out of Egypt, not through an angel or through a seraph or through a messenger, but G-d Himself, in His Honor.”

There is a concept that everything which takes place in the world also takes place in time, and everything that takes place in time also takes place in our soul. In our own soul, there can be a redemption by Hashem Himself.

On the night of Pesach, there is a revelation of G-dliness in every person’s soul! “Not through an angel or a seraph or a messenger, but G-d himself.” As long as a person doesn’t block this revelation from happening, it becomes revealed in one’s soul on the night of Pesach: a personal redemption that takes place in the soul.

When a person still has an egotistical “I”, he is separate from others. But when there is a revelation of G-dliness in the soul, a secret of “oneness” (rozo d’echad) is revealed in the soul.

If a person looks at another person according to the other’s opinions about life, then he is apart from others. Chazal say that “Just like all faces are different, so are all minds different.” But when a person looks at another person’s soul with a deep perspective, he sees G-dliness in another Jew’s soul. He sees “Hashem Himself” that resides in the deepest point in every Jew’s soul. (This deepest point is the called “Yechidah”.) When a person has this perspective, he has an outlook of achdus toward every Jew and he unifies every soul into one unit.

This revelation that takes place in the soul on the night of Pesach is the root of the future redemption.

Thus, on the night of Pesach we have an additional form of avodah. Besides the well-known avodah of connecting ourselves to “leaving Egypt now”, we must also reveal the root of the future redemption. We must recognize what the redemption is and connect to it.

The Root of The Future Redemption – Nullifying Your Ego

The power of the future redemption is essentially the ability to leave the selfish “I” in a person. As long as a person is still egotistical, there is a divide between a person and Hashem. When a person still has his ego, he has only his daas, and each person’s daas is different. This is the depth of Chazal that “Just as all faces are different, so are all minds different.” A person’s self-absorption prevents the revelation of achdus.

We need to acquire the higher daas. This is called “Keil de’os (G-d of knowledge”, an expression used by the Rambam). This is not regular daas of a person; it is a higher kind of daas that is hidden from us. It is the kind of daas which unifies the many varying opinions of people, the many different kind of daas that everyone has.

In the redemption from Egypt, even though it was a redemption of our daas, it was only a redemption of each person’s private daas. We are still different from one another, because we each have our own opinions. It wasn’t yet a total redemption.

There are two ways how we can see this. First of all, Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid that the people wouldn’t be worthy of being redeemed, because of the wicked individuals present. This was already a lapse in the unity of the Jewish people. In addition to this, even when they were redeemed, the Erev Rav (“Mixed Multitude”, Egyptian non-Jews who escaped Egypt together with the Jewish people) came with them, which affected the unity of the Jewish people.

The future redemption, though, will be a total redemption of our daas. It will be nullification of our daas and in its place a revelation of the higher Daas, the Daas of the Creator. The revelation of Hashem by the redemption will be a revelation of the achdus of the Jewish people.

Thus we have two missions on Pesach: we must feel as if we are leaving Egypt now, to receive a new vitality in our feelings. But this isn’t enough. Even with renewed feelings, our perspective can still be very limited. Feelings without a developed mind can be imbalanced. Feelings aren’t everything. Some people are so zealous that they go overboard with their zealousness. We must realize that our feelings are only a garment on our soul. Feelings aren’t everything, and we shouldn’t get caught up in them – they need to be fused with an expanded mind.

For example, the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael really applies to wicked people as well. One of the four sons is a wicked son; we must still love him as a son, even though he is wicked. In the future redemption, all the dispersed members of our people will be gathered together, even the wicked members. Although in Egypt, “had the wicked son been there, he wouldn’t have been redeemed”, still, in the future redemption, which is a more complete redemption, the wicked will be included.

This kind of feeling is a feeling expanded by the mind. This is the gadlus hamochin contained in Pesach.

“Now we are slaves, Next Year we will be free”

We need both kinds of redemption: the past redemption of Egypt (which we already experienced), and the future redemption. These are two different kinds of redemption.

The previous redemption, the redemption from Egypt, is a light that we must return to each year on Pesach. The future redemption is something else: we must draw it closer to us and extend it upon us even now.

In the beginning of the Hagaddah, we say “Now we are slaves, Next year we will be free.” These are the beginning words of the Hagaddah, and they are the preface to what occurs on the night of Pesach.

In these words we mention two things. We mention the “bread of suffering” which our ancestors ate in Egypt, yet we also mention the future redemption – “Next year we will be free.” This is not just a yearning for the redemption (which is also a wonderful thing to aspire to), but it is a connection to the redemption.

If we only consider the light of the redemption to be a thing of the past, then the purpose of the festival remains concealed.

The redemption hasn’t yet come. Thus, the avodah we have on this Pesach is to awaken in us the inner meaning of the redemption – the higher aspect of the redemption, not the lower aspect of the redemption. We need both aspects. The point is that we need the higher aspect of the redemption as well.

Inspiration Lasts Only If We Expand Our Mind

Upon understanding these words, we can look at the inner depth of the avodah upon us, in a new light. There is a deep point hidden here.

Every year, the holy Jewish people want to be awakened and inspired. People hear inspiring lectures – each to his own. Everyone wants to awaken in his soul a feel for the holiness of the Yom Tov. But we must know that many times we just have “inspiration” (hisorerus) and after some time, our inspiration wanes and we just go back to “usual”.

What is the mistake that people are making? It has to do with what we have been saying until now: feelings, without the mind to guide them, are only half the equation. Even if we redeem our “feelings” and we are full of renewed feelings for holiness, without expanding our mind the feelings won’t last. It’s only “half” the redemption.

If all we do is open up our feelings, without expanding our mind – then we only have the first kind of redemption, a redemption from Egypt. We will be missing our current redemption.

With just feelings and no mind, the inspiration we get doesn’t last. We will be able to connect to the redemption from Egypt with our renewed feelings of love and fear of Hashem, but after that our inspiration will go away, and we will just be left with the remaining exiles that came after Egypt….

In order for our inspiration to last, we need an expanded mind. On the night of Pesach, one is obligated to “see” himself as if he’s leaving Egypt. What does it mean to “see” yourself leaving Egypt? Are we supposed to become deluded by our imagination?!

We can understand that all our souls were there one time in Egypt, but why must we see ourselves actually leaving Egypt now?

We need to be able to “see” since the other part of our redemption is to redeem our power of vision in the mind.

This halachah, that one must see himself leaving Egypt, contains the higher aspect of the redemption: to redeem one’s vision of the mind.

The depth of this is that if a person hasn’t nullified his ego and he doesn’t integrate himself with the Jewish people, then he doesn’t know how to “see.” He doesn’t have a vision of achdus. His redemption has nothing to do with Hashem – it’s all about redeeming himself. When a person remains absorbed in himself, he might have wonderful feelings for Avodas Hashem, but he actually might be on a very lowly level. Reb Yisrael Salanter’s words are famous – a person can be so afraid of the yom hadin (day of judgment), yet he damages others when they see a scowl on his face.

When a person only seeks to have great feelings in avodas Hashem, it doesn’t mean yet that he is pure. It’s possible that he is self-absorbed in himself as he seeks to gain high levels in avodas Hashem. He is so self-absorbed in his personal growth that he doesn’t even see any person next to him! Even when such a person relates the story of the exodus to his household, he’s wrapped up in his own self as he seeks higher levels to attain. Such a person is sorely mistaken in the purpose of the festival.

When a person doesn’t realize that the main part of the redemption is to be redeemed from one’s selfish ego, he is missing the whole redemption. He might love and fear Hashem and have all the great feelings that one can reach, but it’s all another way of being self-absorbed. This is not a true redemption.

The true redemption to have on Pesach is when one nullifies his self and integrates into the Jewish people, as a part of a whole.

When one considers the redemption of Pesach to be about himself, he only redeems “himself.” We cannot call this a redemption. The purpose of the redemption is that all should recognize Hashem; it is about revealing Hashem, not about revealing one’s “I.”

The way to redeem yourself on Pesach is actually by nullifying yourself. When a person is locked up in a jail, he desires to escape it – he wants his “I” to escape. His escape from it will just be all about how he worries for himself. But the depth to the redemption is to leave your very self and forget about yourself.

This is really the depth of Ahavas Yisrael, which is the secret of the final redemption. Ahavas Yisrael is really when your soul has a redemption – when you leave yourself!! In other words, there is a kind of personal redemption in which you leave your inner imprisonment, and then there is another kind of redemption – when you leave your “I”. This is when you leave your ego for the sake of integrating with the rest of the Jewish people.

Thus, the beginning of redemption is to redeem our feelings. We need to first leave the materialism – the “bricks and mortar” – and enter the world of spirituality. The second part of our redemption, which is the purpose, is to reach our masculine kind of daas – the revelation of unity on the world; in other words, to nullify your “I.”

Hashem should merit all of the Jewish people that we all integrate with each other and from there, to integrate in unison with the Creator, who is really the only One who exists.

Az Yashir: An Introduction

From Weekly Tefilah Focus and on Torah Anytime
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When we were being chased by the Egyptians at the Yam Suf and we were miraculously saved, the mal’achim wanted to sing praise to Hashem. However, Hashem did not allow them to. “My handiwork is drowning and you wish to sing a song of praise?” (Gemara, Megillah 10b). Conversely, when we eventually saw the Egyptians washed up on the shores of the Yam Suf, Moshe and the entire nation called out in shirah, the song of praise we know as “Az Yashir.” Why were we permitted to sing praise when themal’achim were not? What happened to the fact that Hashem’s handiwork had drowned?

The well-known answer is that the mal’achim had no direct benefit from K’rias Yam Suf. Therefore, it was inappropriate for them to sing when Hashem’s creations were drowning. We, on the other hand, were saved from destruction and therefore benefited greatly. Therefore, we were not only permitted to sing praises to Hashem, but we were in fact obligated to do so.

There is another beautiful answer, which will serve as our introduction to Az Yashir. It is based on Reb Yonah Weinrib’s writing in his beautifully artistic work on Hallel, which is sourced from Mishnas Rav Aharon on Pesach, though much has been added.

The shirah, the song of praise, has the power to infuse man with a greater internalization of emunah. We can read about, hear, and even see spectacular wonders and miracles; and though we are inspired at the moment, the effect can and will evaporate in a short period of time, unless we take action to internalize deeply what we have witnessed, read, or heard. And, therefore, Hashem wants us to sing shirah at that moment so that we grow from the experience, as opposed to angels who do not grow, notwithstanding the fact that he is saddened because his handiwork is drowning.

There is a story in one of Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s books about a man who was crying very emotionally at the Kosel. Two individuals observing the man decided that, after he was finished, they would approach him and offer their assistance both financially and medically, since one had considerable financial resources and the other was heavily involved in the chesed of providing medical assistance in Eretz Yisrael. When the man finished, they approached him and asked him what was troubling him so much that brought him to such tearful and heartfelt emotion, and they made their offer to help. The man responded that all was well and he did not need any help. Then why were you crying with such emotion? The man responded, I just married off my last child of my large family and I am so grateful to Hashem that I couldn’t control myself as I thanked Him profusely. Those were tears of joy.

We often find the words l’hodos and l’hallel together in that order. Allow us to present very briefly a progression leading to an outburst of emotion of praise to Hashem. The first step is recognition. We must become more aware and recognize the great loving-kindness that Hashem gifts to us. That leads to our verbal expression of thanks to Hashem as step two. These two steps are “l’hodos,” which is hakaras ha’tov. The third step is to contemplate Hashem’s love for us and the kindness that Hashem has granted to us until we reach the point where the emotion within us bursts out in song of praise. That is l’hallel and zimrah. That level of shirah and all that led to it has the ability to have a dramatic impact on us. It builds within our neshamos a more profound appreciation of the greatness of Hashem, and brings forth wellsprings of emunah that reside deep within us.

The growth in emunah and closeness to and love for Hashem that can be gained from shirah is immeasurable.

We now understand the answer to our initial question. It is entirely appropriate for us to recite shirah because we are elevating ourselves significantly through singing shirah, whereas the mal’achim could not sing the shirah because they would not benefit. They are stagnant in their level and do not grow as we do.

Perhaps we now have a better understanding of why Chazal say, “One who sings shirah in this world will merit to sing it in the next world” (Sanhedrin 91b). And perhaps this is why the Chofetz Chaim, based on a midrash, writes that one who says the shirah with simchah merits to have his aveiros forgiven (Mishnah B’rurah, siman 51 s”k 17). May we merit to reach the level of saying the shirah with heart, emotion, and simchah, and merit to deepen our emunah and connection with Hashem, have our aveiros forgiven, and merit to sing Hashem’s praises in the next world.

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The Engaging Shabbos Table

by Rabbi Aryeh Goetz

If the goal of your Shabbos table is to create a positive and unifying experience for participants of all ages and backgrounds, here are some simple techniques that encourage everyone’s participation. This format is wonderful for those who would like to invite guests who may be less familiar with Shabbos customs, but it works equally well any family or group, as well.

Set Up
The set up of the table should be to form one “circle”, so each person can have eye contact with every other person seated. It’s best not to have a separate children’s table or a T-shaped configuration, if possible. It is also helpful to have bentchers on the table, set at the places, or handed out to the guests. This is often a good job for one of the children. Remember to announce the page if you have guests that may not be familiar with the songs (Shalom Aleichem, Eishes Chayil, Shabbos zemiros). “Newcomers” that are not familiar with the songs, should be given an English/Hebrew version or a siddur to at least follow along reading to themselves in English, so they get a sense of what is being said.

Kiddush & HaMotzi
Introduce the concept to newcomers in a phrase that explains the meaning of Kiddush. It could be somewhat like this: “Kiddush is to testify that G-d created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. We emulate this concept by refraining from creative work on Shabbos. The second theme of the Kiddush is that HaShem brought the Jewish people out from slavery in Egypt and formed them into a nation and gave them the Torah. Shabbos is one of the gifts in the Torah.” If there is someone who is not familiar with the washing of the hands, make sure someone in the family explains this procedure and recites the blessing of al netilas yadiam with him or her. Casually mention that there is no speaking between the hand washing and the distribution and eating of the challah. New guests enjoy this a lot!

Introductions & Theme Question
After the first course is served and everyone has some food on their plate and in their stomach, we begin “introductions”. Going around the table, I start (so I can model what I want to happen) and we go around to the right (counter-clockwise). I ask each person to say his or her name. This is especially helpful when there are guests who may not know the names of the children or the names of the other guests. I say something like, “Please say your name, since everyone may not yet know everyone else”. It is a helpful icebreaker at the start. Also, I ask each person to answer the “theme question” after they introduce themselves. The theme question is a one or two word topic to which everyone will be able to relate, and it has an “open ended” style. We are not looking for one ‘right answer’. Whatever comes to mind is a good answer. The topic is related either directly or indirectly to the weekly parsha. I announce the name of the parsha and then the theme. For instance, for parsha Bereshis the theme might be “garden” or it might be “tree” or any other related word, for Noach, some example may be “flood” or “animal”. One person may end up discussing the time that his basement flooded, and how he reacted. Another guest may talk about a big storm and how it affected her life.

The theme question gives people a chance to express themselves in a non-judgmental context. It works for all age groups and encourages speaking as well listening skills. Everyone gets to know what the others are thinking. Parents can get an insight into what is on the minds of their children. If someone can’t think of something to say relating to the theme, he can just state his name and ‘pass’ until everyone else is done and we can come back to him when he is ready, if he would like.

The Dvar Torah
The theme question is a great segue way to the Dvar Torah. When the children are younger, they are asked to speak about something they learned in school or discuss a point from their ‘parsha sheet’. Starting from youngest to oldest, keeps an orderly flow and allows the younger ones to say something that had not yet been said, since they are going first. After a young child has his or her turn to speak, he or she may want to leave the table to play if it is too much for them to pay attention to the others. They should be allowed to leave the table after their turn by asking permission. This allows the meal to be child-focused and not guest- focused for as long as it is enjoyable for the children, and the guests gain much as well by focusing on the children’s presentations.

When the children got older, I gave the Dvar Torah first and asked anyone (child or guest) who had something to share, to do so. Over the years, the children gained self-confidence in public speaking and listening skills. Some young children love the “public speaking” opportunity so much, they stand up on their chairs when their turns come.

Zemiros / Singing
As the main course ends, the singing of the zemiros is a cue for the plates to be cleared from the table. One can ask a newcomer guest if he knows any Jewish songs or a guest can choose the zemer or lead the tune, if they are willing.

The Dessert Question
The concluding question is called the “dessert question” because it is answered while dessert is served and eaten. The question is the same each week but the answer always differs, because each week has brought new experiences. The question is: “What was the highlight of your week?” This encourages people to think back from last Shabbos until now, review their week, focus on a positive experience, and share it with others. There is no particular order to answer the “dessert question.” Anyone who is ready to share their highlight, may start. It also encourages thankfulness to HaShem for many blessings.

Bentching
I thank my wife for the delicious meal, if I haven’t already done so, and all those who assisted in preparing, cleaning up or bringing something for Shabbos. We bentch together, as this brings closure to the meal. Afterwards, those who want to leave the table are free to do so. Those that would like to stay and talk are welcome to stay at the table or go into the living room. It is important that people (especially children) should not be “held hostage” at the table for too long. Children who have left the table should be called back for the dessert question and the group bentching. We usually sing the first paragraph in unison.

Our Shabbos tables have the potential to be unifying opportunities for participants of all ages and backgrounds, just by making a few simple accommodations. I hope this provides some ideas with which to experiment and enhance Shabbos pleasure!

Rabbi Aryeh Goetz is the Director of Neighborhood Investment for CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.) and rabbi of the Jewish Recovery Houses in Baltimore, Maryland. He can be reached at aryehgoetz@gmail.com. Originally published January 2016.

The Pain of Forgetting The Mourners Consolation

By Hirshel Tzig

You wanna know pain? I’ll show you pain.

A local non-frum/maybe half-frum Jew walks into shul to say Kaddish. He seems like a somewhat affluent man, yet disheveled, like he hasn’t slept or shaved for a few days. It turns out his dear wife of many years just passed away, and he’s still in middle of Shivah. So the Rov tells him to sit down on a low chair, and that the people davening there will bless him for his recent loss. So, one by one he hears the “HaMokom” from everybody at the Minyan and thanks them for it, although he’s not quite sure what it is they’re saying. A Phenomenon like that is not something you see every day, but it sure does prepare you for what you might see outside of your local frum neighborhood these days.

There was this one gentlemen – a real Tzaddik, a Baal Tshuveh, yes, and most frum people can learn a lot from him – who also wanted to partake of this Mitzvah, (for lack of a better term) and who also started to say the HaMokom. Lo and behold that’s all he could remember, he couldn’t remember the words that follow! The pain and frustration that was visible on his face was worse than anything I had ever seen. Of course he wouldn’t ask anybody what the exact words were, at least I didn’t see him doing that. I also couldn’t bring myself to tell him what they were, for fear of emabarrassing him further, since he didn’t know that I saw him forget. So, he quietly and humbly walked away, in a very “aw-shucks” way lamenting the fact that he couldn’t console the poor old man on his loss. What’s ironic about all this is that he must’ve heard the phrase hundreds of times when being consoled for his own recent loss…..

Originally published in Sept 2007

The Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download some amazing Drashos on Succos

The Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah

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

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

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

Sukkos of Today and Sukkos of the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Editor’s Note: See sefer Sifsei Chaim: Moadim (Vol. I) who explains how the spirituality of Shemini Atzeres is deeper than the first days of Sukkos. On Sukkos, we have the mitzvah of sukkah and the four species, because we are given these tools on Sukkos to reach closeness to Hashem through them. However, Shemini Atzeres is a higher connection we have with Hashem, as it is the culmination of the entire Yomim Noraim; thus, it doesn’t require us to sit in the sukkah or to shake the four species, because it is more of a direct connection with Hashem. See also Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh on Sukkos, pages 112-113 for an esoteric difference between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres.

Rosh HaShanah – Avodah of Ben & Eved

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download some amazing Drashos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
including one titled Mussar Vs. Chassidus

Malchiyus – Declaring Hashem’s sovereignty

Hashem says on Rosh HaShanah, “Declare before Me malchiyus, zichronos, and shofaros; declare malchiyus so that I should rule over you.”[1]

The truth is that in all of the davening on Rosh HaShanah, the only time we mention “zichronos” and “shofaros” is in the tefillah of Mussaf. Throughout all of the tefillos, however, we mention malchiyus. This shows us that malchiyus is the main aspect which we mention on Rosh HaShanah.

“There is no king without a nation.”[2] In order for Hashem to be King on us, so to speak, we need to declare ourselves as His servants. In other words, the avodah we have on Rosh Hashanah is not just to declare Hashem as our King. It is mainly that we become His servants.

Now that we have clarified that the main avodah on Rosh Hashanah is to accept our servitude to Hashem, we must know what it means to be an eved, a servant. If we truly know what it means to be an “eved”, we can understand our mission on this day.

“Eved” – Derogatory or Praiseworthy?

The Gemara[3] says that when we do Hashem’s will, we are called a ben (son) of Hashem, and when we don’t do His will, we are called eved\servant. It seems from this statement that eved is a derogatory title, something we are called when we don’t do Hashem’s will.

However, we find that Moshe Rabbeinu is given the unique title “eved” of Hashem. He is also called “eved ne’eman” – “trustworthy servant of Hashem”.

This is a paradox. Is eved a derogatory title, or is it a praiseworthy title?!

Three Levels

It depends, because there are two implications of the word “eved.”:

1) One person serves his king, not because he loves him, but because he needs the king to fulfill his needs. He’s serving the king all for himself. An eved like this is the negative implication of eved, because all his service to the King is for his own benefit.

2) There is a higher implication of eved, and that is when the servant doesn’t serve Hashem for his own personal interests, but because he’s devoted entirely to the king. This is the deeper meaning behind why “whatever a servant acquires, his master acquires it” – it is because ideally, a servant has no personal life of his own, and his whole life is devotes to his master. This is the desirable level of eved – and one who acts like this fulfills the purpose of Creation. This was the kind of eved that Moshe Rabbeinu was. It is the meaning behind the Mishnah in Avos, “Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive reward, rather, be like servants who serve their master not to get a reward.”

We see from the above that it’s possible for a person to act selflessly and be considered “eved”, and that one doesn’t have to on the level of “ben” in order to reach this. Ben is when a person goes even beyond that and serves the king out of his love.

A person needs to have selfless devotion to Hashem, and this is “eved.” With this as well, a person needs to have serve Hashem out of a love for Him, and this is called “ben.” If so, we have altogether three levels:

1) The lower kind of eved, one who serves Hashem only because he needs Him.
2) The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
3) Ben, which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.

Practical Guidance for Utilizing Rosh Hashanah

If we want to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and declare Him as King over us – and that we become His servants – we must understand that if we feel as if we are forced into serving Him, we are being the first kind of eved, and then the whole purpose of Rosh Hashanah will be lost. Our main task on Rosh Hashanah we must do is to be like the second kind of eved: that our whole lives should be about one goal alone – serving Hashem. This should be why we live our life, and we shouldn’t have any other personal desires. This is the inner meaning behind all of our avodah on Rosh Hashanah.

It is not enough just to daven slowly and with concentration on Rosh Hashanah. Our main job on this day is to come to a decision that we will change our lives and live only for Hashem – and not for ourselves.

This job obligates us to make a deep internal clarification. We must know exactly what we want to get out of our life, and to examine our deeds to see if they are line with the goal we are striving for. If one truly decides to live a life of serving Hashem, he has to see if all that he does 24\7 is reflecting this.

How We Can Let Rosh Hashanah Affect Us For The Whole Year

If a person accepts upon himself to become a true eved of Hashem, then Rosh Hashanah must not end for him on the third day of Tishrei; Rosh Hashanah has to carry over into the rest of the year as well, until the next Rosh Hashanah! If a person examines his situation and finds that on Purim and Pesach he doesn’t think about Hashem, it must be that he did not have a good Rosh Hashanah. It shows that he did not accept upon himself on Rosh Hashanah to become an eved of Hashem.

May Hashem merit us that we all accept His sovereignty on Rosh Hashanah, and that we should become His true servants – and through this, we can merit to have the light of Rosh Hashanah affect us the whole year round.

Confessions of a BT Wannabe

By Charlotte Friedland

It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m not a ba’alas teshuvah (BT). As I was born to observant Jewish parents, the outreach networks dismiss me as an “FFB”—a “frum from birth” specimen, not worthy of attention. The term itself suggests staleness. After all, an FFB arrives in a world where traditions and education are clearly outlined, and from that moment on, it’s same ol’, same ol’.

So there are no special Shabbatons, no charismatic rabbis seeking me out, no books written about my kind—except those describing us as smug, spoiled and spiritually indolent. But that’s not all: the fact that our families held onto religious Judaism renders us likely to indulge in excessive triumphant bleating. And nobody invites a triumphalist to parties.

Thus it is written, and thus it is believed. Lord knows, I’ve tried not to be triumphant, curbed my pride in rabbinic ancestors, lowered my voice in shul. Yet the image persists. To remedy the situation, I’ve been hanging out at outreach events, skulking around, trying my best to look lost. One must appear to be searching, that’s the key.

Usually, in fact, I am searching for my keys, but no one seems to care about the small stuff. Everyone is so busy describing their personal epiphanies, so full of that glowing exuberance over critical life choices, that they can’t hide their disappointment when I confess my lineage. “Oh, an FFB,” they mouth politely, “how nice,” and then move on to that fascinating individual who just entered the room, fresh from an ashram.

No, I don’t remember my first Shabbos. I never struggled over reading Hebrew, nor had a defining moment of truth. But I’ve had a few good cries on Yom Kippur, really, and once in awhile I think to myself, “If I weren’t born religious, would I be doing this?” And then my mind clicks off, unable to fathom the question.

Trained to think in Biblical terms, I look for guidance to the first FFB in history—Yitzchak. After all, his father and mother had grown up “out there.” He was born after they had mastered Shabbos zemiros and correct hemlines, and he was raised to be a perfect Jew from day one. Granted, it appears that he has no trace of his folks’ flair for convincing people of an invisible God. Kind of withdrawn and sullen, he seems—and I think I know why. He probably felt out of place at his parents’ “Judaism 101” weekends. There he is, the first FFB, standing awkwardly among all those repentant pagans, struggling to empathize with their turmoil, while his father works the tent, cheerfully spreading his light.

He nods dumbly as the caravan driver describes to him his disillusion with idols, his attempts to find meaning in camel racing, his sixteen failed marriages, his forty-three children who “just don’t seem to have any values, no values at all. That’s why, I’m here. I’m told that Abraham is onto something big, something that could change my life. You know what I mean? Did you ever wonder ‘what’s it all about?’” Abraham’s son shifts uneasily. “Yeah, sure. I know. I have a brother like that….” But his voice sounds hollow, his tone unconvincing. Better to leave kiruv to the professionals.

The outreach pros in my life have told me how lucky I am. I should be part of their army, they say, marching (but not too triumphantly) along with them. I should be descending upon the secular world with the light of heritage glowing in my eyes. Dunno. Like most FFBs, I’m scared silly that someone will ask a basic question that I can’t answer. I’m not an authority, just a plain Jew.

At least I could invite somebody for Shabbos now and then, that’s true. And the fact is that whenever we do have “late starters” at the table, I always learn something from them. They ask questions that never entered my mind; they marvel at the easy-going confidence with which we roll through the rituals—–to the point that even I take notice. And they make me feel blessed because I have never been without a hearty, meaningful Jewish life, the kind of life they want so badly it hurts.

I think it was the Bluzhover Rebbe—who so valiantly led others through the Holocaust—who once commented that the “ruach teshuvah,” the spirit of awakening rippling across our world today, is the spiritual outcome of the horrific war years. The problem, he mused, is that only secular Jews are taking advantage of it, though it is meant for all of us.

Imagine that. Spiritual growth is not limited to those born on the outskirts of Jewland. You can live your entire life as an Orthodox Jew and still have room to emerge as a ba’al teshuvah. Could that be the challenge? I wonder if there are other people like me—BT wannabes who are beginning to think that maybe being an FFB is deceptively simple, that our goals have been set too low.

Are there enough of us to launch a new era? Dare we raise our banner as FFBBTs, create our own chat room, gather at conventions?

Who am I kidding? In my heart of hearts, this generic Jew knows that the title doesn’t matter and never did. It’s a question of direction. Let’s face it: clawing your way up from being 85 percent frum to 86 percent is a real struggle, even if it doesn’t earn accolades, even if it has no name. There’s no dramatic story, but you have the quiet satisfaction of knowing that you live your Judaism as genuinely as the BT next door.

I suspect that it’s time for us all to drop the labels and move on.


“Reprinted with permission from Jewish Action – Winter 2007, the magazine of the Orthodox Union. “

© 2007 Charlotte Friedland

Charlotte Friedland is a former editor of Jewish Action and also served as book editor at Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Introspection on Tisha B’Av

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Knowing vs. Feeling

We will try a little, with siyata d’shmaya, to somewhat reach, perhaps, the essence of this day [Tisha B’Av].

We generally know all there is to know [about the Nine Days]. We all know the reasons why we must mourn, and the necessity to mourn. But the distance between what we know, and what we feel is usually a very far distance.

Sometimes the distance between knowledge and feeling is bigger and sometimes it is smaller, but either way, there is always a big difference between what we know with what we feel. If we ask any person if we are supposed to mourn over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, any person will answer, “Yes.” If we ask any person if we should cry over this, the answer is also “Yes.” If we ask a person if he really feels like doing so, though, we will get different answers.

The minimum pain we are supposed to feel is to at least be pained over the fact that we don’t feel the pain we know we are supposed to feel and that we aren’t succeeding in getting ourselves to cry. If even this doesn’t bother the person, this person is very far from the avodah of these days.

We will try here to draw the matters closer to us, so that it is should at least be made possible for us to have somewhat of a degree of mourning and weeping.

Some Introductory Points

However, it is right now the 29th day of Tamuz, and we hope Mashiach will come soon. Therefore, the words here are only relevant if Mashiach isn’t here before the 9th of Av. Additionally, the words here are not only applicable to Tisha B’Av of this year. There is no way for a person to suddenly change in the timespan between the 29th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. The heart doesn’t suddenly get opened so fast. If someone knows of such a way, I will be very happy to hear of it.

If the words we will say here are indeed helpful to you, at best they might help you for next year Tisha B’Av [because there is no way to change so fast by the time it comes this year’s Tisha B’Av]. Hashem should bring Mashiach by then, and hopefully way before that; he should come today, and then today’s derasha will just be one of the many lectures of history. Our avodah is to try to prepare ourselves [for Tisha B’Av] – and that is what we will try to do here.

Why Do We Have A Hard Time With the Nine Days?

When a person hears good news, does he need to prepare for it? Usually, if it is very good news, you don’t need to prepare for the news in order to enjoy it. You are just happy and excited to hear the good news, whether you expected it or not. The same is true of hearing sad news; it has an intense effect on us even if we didn’t prepare for it. If so, why is it that our soul usually doesn’t feel an intense sadness over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash?

Our Sages already addressed this question, and gave several answers.

(1) “Old mourning”. The mourning is not new to us. We go through this mourning ever year, therefore we have grown used to it, so we’re not as affected by it.

(2) We don’t feel it. Another reason given is because a person simply doesn’t feel that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. We might know very well that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, but do we feel that it was destroyed? It is a whole different question.

(3) We can’t recognize it. The Beis HaMikdash has been destroyed already for close to 2,000 years. We are only able to know what something is when we know what its opposite is.

For example, we know what light is because we know what darkness is, and we know what the color white is because we know what the color black is. We would be able to relate to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash if we would have seen it standing. But because none of saw it (in the current lifetime we are in), we do not have an actual recognition of the destruction. Because we never saw the Beis HaMikdash, it is hard for us to relate to its destruction.

So there is actually a third reason why it is hard for our soul to relate the destruction, (and on a deeper note, it is really another angle of the second reason, the fact that we don’t feel the destruction): we can only recognize something from its opposite, and since we do not know what it means for the Beis HaMikdash to be standing, we do not recognize its destruction.

A Closed Heart Vs. An Opened Heart

Yet there is another reason why it is hard for us to relate to the destruction, and it precedes all of the above three reasons.

The feelings of joy, pain, and sadness are not intellectual abilities. They do not stem from the daas of our intellect; they stem from the daas of our heart [when it combines with the daas of the intellect]. When one’s heart is alive with spiritual feelings, it is working properly, and it breathes the reality in front of us. When a person isn’t sensitive to spiritual feelings, when he never reflects into the spiritual realities in front of us, he is far from what it means to have joy on the festivals, he is far from improving during the Ten Days of Repentance, and he is far from the pain that we are supposed to feel during the Nine Days through Tisha B’Av.

Thus, if one doesn’t feel the pain over the destruction during the Nine Days, this is only a ‘branch’ of the problem, a symptom of something deeper. The ‘root’ of the problem is the fact that he is not in touch with his spiritual heart. It’s not because he doesn’t know how to feel pain over the Destruction. The problem starts way before that: it is because something is missing from his heart altogether.

By contrast, one whose heart is spiritually alive during the rest of the year doesn’t have to exert himself to feel pain during the Nine Days; it is natural for him. He can cry [as he says the Kinnos] with almost no effort to do so.

To illustrate what we mean, when a woman has just lost her husband, anything that reminds her of her husband causes her to cry and feel pain over his loss. She doesn’t have to think about this all day in order for this to happen (if she would think about it the entire day, this is extreme behavior). As soon as she remembers her husband, she finds her tears natural, because her heart is already active.

If one has to exert himself in order to be able to cry and mourn, if he has to read a sefer that speaks about the tragedies of the destruction, filled with commentaries, and through this he awakens himself and gets himself to feel something, we cannot say that is pointless; it might awaken him a little. But it is like someone whose heart has stopped working and he gets a fake heart placed in him which acts mechanically.

If it needs to explained to him, if he has to read about it in order to strain his mind and think into it so that he can get himself to shed a tear, this is all proof that his heart isn’t activated during the rest of the year. There is something wrong with his heart. It’s not that he has a problem with the Nine Days. His lack of emotion during the Nine Days is simply a sign of his general situation throughout the year, which has much left to be desired.

A heart that is spiritually alive is the kind of heart we need to live with during the entire year. Such a life enables a person to feel the joy of the festivals, to feel the closeness to Hashem that can be attained during the Ten Days of Repentance, and to weep during the Nine Days.

It is clear to anyone that when someone has just lost a parent, when it is right before the funeral and he hasn’t even started yet the seven days of mourning, he is naturally in pain. Imagine if we have a person who is not the type to feel pain or cry, and it is brought to him a book which explains why he should feel pain over the loss of his parent, and it is told to him that he should study it in-depth, so that he can understand why he needs to feel the pain of the loss. We can all understand that something is very wrong here with this person.

So there is no piece of advice that can help you come to feel pain over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and to help you shed tears over it. There is a way, however, for you to open your heart during the course of the rest of the year – and if your heart has been opened during the year, then when the Nine Days arrive, you’ll naturally feel the pain you are supposed to feel and you will find it natural to cry.

Destruction On The Communal Level and On The Individual Level

Let’s go further.

The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is a very obscure matter from us, something very far from us which we don’t understand. It is something that the Jewish people have been mourning about for thousands of years. But there are two dimensions to the destruction. There was destruction on the communal level, and there was also a destruction on an individual level.

The communal destruction was the fact that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, for all generations to come. There was also an inner and more private destruction that took place to each person on an individual level: the Shechinah [Hashem’s presence] is no longer openly revealed in a person’s life. This is each person’s own private destruction.

If one does not lead a life in which the Beis HaMikdash is built in his heart and he does not feel pain over the absence of his own personal Beis HaMikdash, he won’t be able to suddenly feel the communal destruction of the Beis HaMikdash when Tisha B’Av comes.

If one does not recognize personally in himself what it means to have a Beis HaMikdash in oneself, if one doesn’t feel bad that it’s missing, he can’t suddenly feel pain when the Nine Days arrive. Even if one can get himself to feel pain, it might be because he has gotten emotional, but this is usually not a crying that comes from a deep place in the soul. One of our Gedolim said that just as our ears and nose produce excess fluid, so can our eyes produce excess fluid – in the form of tears. This doesn’t mean that all tears are useless, chas v’shalom; it means that not every tear that a person sheds is truthful.

The deepest place in our heart, its essence, is described in the verse, “The rock of my heart and my portion, is G-d.” The essence of our heart is covered over by many external layers. The external layer of our heart includes our various desires. As long as a person’s extraneous desires fill his heart, he can’t feel Hashem’s presence in his heart. And if he doesn’t feel Hashem’s presence in his heart, he does not know what it means to have a personal Beis HaMikdash within, and he will find it most difficult to feel pain and to cry during the Nine Days and Tisha B’Av.

If it bothers him that he doesn’t feel the pain he knows he should feel, this is a good sign; Baruch Hashem that he at least feels this. But how will he ever be able to cry over it? Can someone cry over something he has never really cared about?

A person cries about something he wanted and desired which he has either lost or hasn’t attained. The less a person wanted something, the less likely he is to cry over it if he loses it. If a person has a ratzon (will) to feel Hashem’s presence in his life, if he has a very deep desire to feel Him within himself, then when Tisha B’Av comes, at least he will be able to feel what he is personally missing in his life.

(This doesn’t yet mean he will feel the communal level of mourning, which is an entirely different matter that we hope to soon explain. But at least he will feel the destruction on a private and inner level.)

One who doesn’t feel Hashem in his heart during the rest of the year won’t suddenly change during the Nine Days. People do not change so fast. There is no way to suddenly change and become sensitive to spiritual feelings in such a short amount of time. The only way is for one to already have an active heart from during the rest of the year: to desire Hashem’s presence. If a person can relate to that during the rest of the year, he is at least connected to the inner world within him, and he will find it natural to feel mourning when the Nine Days arrive.

The Nine Days are a sign of what a person’s level is during the rest of the year. If one’s heart is already a bit open from the rest of the year, he can burst out in tears when he realizes how much he is missing. This, in and of itself, is already commendable.

Joy and Pain At Once

“When Av enters, joy is lessened.”[1] It is brought in Halachah that we do not build things during the month of Av, and we also do not engage in anything that gives us particular joy; additionally, we should not engage in unnecessary acts (There are exceptions according to Halacha when it affects one’s livelihood).

Why is it that a person should only do what’s necessary during Av? It is understandable if it is something that will bring joy. But why must we refrain from doing things during Av that are simply unnecessary?

The simple understanding is because it causes us to take our mind off mourning. But the deeper reason is as follows. When one removes his mind from mourning during the Nine Days, it really means that he is caught up in various pursuits of life.

The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash must cause us to cry, but we know that we cannot be this way during the rest of the year. We can’t go on with sadness for that long. So how does a person survive the Nine Days? We can simply say that a person can get himself to be sad for the duration of the nine days. If one is more spiritual and purified, he can feel sadness every night through reciting Tikkun Chatzos.

But the true perspective is totally different than the above approach.

We are capable of joy, and we are also capable of sadness, pain, and crying. One who has removed his superficial desires is able to feel both joy and sadness at once. We don’t mean that one day the person is sad and the next day he can feel joyous. Rather, there is a deep place in our soul which knows how to feel both joy and sadness at once. Sometimes either joy or sadness will dominate, but in essence, they can both be active at the same time.

When the festivals arrive, a person may be able to imagine that he is happy that the festival here. There are external factors which can give a person a superficial feeling of happiness on the festivals – such as meat and wine. After all, the Sages say that “There is no simcha (happiness) except in meat and wine.”[2] He might be able to get himself to be a little happy with such things. But if a person doesn’t know how to cry on Tisha B’Av, he does not know either how to be happy on Pesach!

The very soul in us which can feel pain is the very same soul in us which can feel joy. They are not separate aspects of our being; they stem from the same place in our soul. This is because each thing is comprised of itself and its opposite (“dovor v’hipucho”). Joy and happiness are opposites; in order to appreciate joy, you must know what sadness is, and in order to know what sadness is, you need to experience joy. Without knowing how to feel simcha, one does not know how to feel pain; if one does not know of pain, he will not know what it means to be truly happy.

David HaMelech said, “My heart is empty within me.” The sefer he wrote, sefer Tehillim, was written after he felt the empty space in his heart. In sefer Tehillim, many kinds of experiences are described. There were times that Dovid HaMelech felt lowly, times where he felt pain, and times where he felt joyous. It is well-known that sefer Tehillim contains all of the experiences that every Jew will ever go through. This was all due to Dovid HaMelech’s achievement of emptying out his heart from all desires, where he was left with nothing in his heart except for the desire for Hashem’s will. In that deep place in the heart, one can feel both joy and sadness there at once, and the contradicting emotions are both truthful.

During the month of Av, we lessen activities that are unnecessary, and the reason for this is not simply because we must not take our mind off the mourning of the Nine Days. Rather, it is because if a person has desires in his heart that are unnecessary, he cannot be connected to the concept of the Nine Days. His heart is far from where it is supposed to be.

From a superficial level, a person observes the halachos of the Nine Days. He opens up the Shulchan Aruch and finds out the halachah and he doesn’t do all the activities he normally does. It is certainly commendable that he follows halachah, but if this is his entire idea of mourning during the Nine Days, he has missed the boat. The whole reason why we refrain from certain activities during the Nine Days is because it is supposed to be used as a means to erase the unnecessary desires from our heart and live a truthful life, of “My heart is empty [from desires] within me.”

The deep place in our heart, which is removed from all unnecessary desires, is the place in us which can feel contradictory emotions at once. It can feel joy and sadness at once, and it is the place in the soul which enables a person to have true tears.

Getting Back Our Simplicity

Why is it that a child cries easily, whereas an adult doesn’t cry so fast? It is because a child lives in a simple reality. He simply has a desire for something, and if he doesn’t get it, he cries. An adult, though, has developed layers upon his soul. He has to dig deep into himself in order to bring out his emotions. If one lives in the simple point in his soul which feels like “an infant in its mother’s lap”, he naturally can feel joy and he can naturally feel pain, just as easily as he feels physical sensation.

The avodah of a person is not to work hard on himself to bring out his emotions in order to get himself to cry. That is not the way. The avodah is for a person to develop his heart in the first place. Once the heart is functioning properly, everything else will follow as a result. There will be natural emotions of joy when appropriate, and there will be natural emotions of sadness where appropriate. He will be a “ben ish chai”, a “living person”.

Thus, as we said in the beginning of the chapter, there is no advice that can guide a person to teach him how to mourn, in the time between the 29th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. Even if one could teach himself how to cry by the time it comes the 9th of Av, the tears wouldn’t be coming from a truthful place in himself.

Nullifying Our Desires

There is only one way, and it is very simple, fundamental, and true. But it takes time, and it is not developed instantly. It is a way to live life, and it is not just for the Nine Days. It is for a person to remove his extra desires, on a constant basis, throughout the course of the year. The Sages said it: “Nullify your will before His will.”

A person should get used to keep nullifying his desires, one after one. The Chazon Ish says that every time a person breaks his will, it adds a stone to the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash.

But if a person wants to remain with all of his desires, and he also wants to cry on Tisha B’Av, and he also wants to be happy on the festivals, and he also wants a perfect wife and perfect children and perfect health and perfect livelihood, and honor, and an outpouring of blessing in his life, and _____, then when the Nine Days come, he won’t be able to find himself at all amidst all of these desires.

The issue is very simple and fundamental: How does a person live during the rest of the year? We all have difficulties. But what is the root of all our difficulties? It is always one single reason: our various unfulfilled desires.

The only desire that we must seek to fulfill is the desire to do Hashem’s will! All desires other than this are not desires we need. Sometimes we do need to fulfill a certain desire we have, but even in such situations, it is only a means to a greater end. The only desire we need to have is “Our will is to do Your will.” All other desires need to be eliminated, one by one, slowly and in steps.

If one is motivated to do this throughout the course of the year, he should so with the attitude that this is our life’s task. Thus, each year when it comes Tisha B’Av, this must cause a person to feel a deeper degree of the destruction. The tears will then flow freely and naturally, as an automatic result. But this will only happen when a person realizes that life is all about giving up our desires for Hashem, and to replace all of our desires with one single desire alone: the desire to do Hashem’s will.

Using Suffering To Rid Ourselves of Desires

Now we will try to explain how we can practically work on this.

The Gemara says that when a person puts his hand into his pocket and he doesn’t find money there, this is a form of suffering. If he wanted two coins and he only found one coin, this is a degree of suffering. Let us contemplate what the depth of the suffering is.

The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sin. The first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to the three cardinal sins of murder, adultery, and idol worship. The second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred.[3]

The Sages say that suffering takes away the effect of sin. How does this work? Why does suffering take away the effect of a sin? A sin means that a person has actualized a negative desire. How is a sin rectified? If the person has stole, he must return that which he stole. But with other sins, how does a person undo what he did?

Suffering takes away the root of the problem of the sin. The person had a desire to sin, and that was why he sinned. With suffering, the root of the sin can be uprooted, because the person’s desire for the sin has been removed, through the suffering. Suffering goes against our will; we don’t want it. Accepting suffering with love and with emunah helps us get rid of our desire for the sin.

Therefore, suffering only atones for the sin if the person’s desire for the sin has been removed. Sometimes people go through physical suffering but he remains unchanged. He still has the same desire to sin, and he might even have stronger desires for the sin, because he is waiting for his suffering to pass so that he can go fulfill his desires. Suffering doesn’t always make a person change his desires.

The desires in a person destroy a person’s own “personal Beis HaMikdash”.[4] They are like a strange god living inside the person. This is not an idea that comes from a derasha. It is absolutely a reality. The fact that the Shechinah dwells in each person’s heart is not an idea – it is reality. The only thing that holds back that revelation from a person is his desires. When a person removes the desires, G-dliness is revealed in the person.

How can a person know if he is going on the right path or not? If he sees that he is succeeded in getting rid of some of his desires and he feels that he is closer to doing Hashem’s will, this is a sign that his soul is becoming healthier.

Anything that we seek to acquire needs intention in order to acquire. In order for the heart to be acquired, one must break his desires. But it must be done with the intention that one is trying to reveal his inner will of the soul (the will to do Hashem’s will). When a person succeeds in breaking a desire, he can feel purer afterwards; he can feel like something has been cleared from his system.

Inspiration Vs. Building Our Life

We need to change the root of how we view life; to wonder how we are supposed to live to begin with. Baruch Hashem, when it comes the night of Tisha B’Av, there are lecturers, and sometimes it helps a little. Sometimes the speaker will inspire himself as he is speaking, and then others will be inspired with him, as a result. But it is clear that something is very much missing here. One cannot build his life based upon one derasha!

A derasha does almost nothing for a person. A derasha remains a derasha, and the truth remains the truth. A derasha can only inspire a person minimally. What more do we need to hear\read in order for us to change our perspective in life? Inspiration is gone as soon as it comes. It has a very fleeting effect.

The issue is how to live to begin with, from the very start! We should not be interested in inspiration. The question is how we should live life to begin with – to wonder how a proper life should look like from the very start. [5]

I was once in a place where I spoke to some boys who had become irreligious (may G-d have mercy on them). I said to them whatever it is that I had to say to them, and then one of the boys said to me, “You are giving me solutions that work for me after I’ve fallen. But what is the solution before I fall?”

People want to know why kids are ‘going off the derech’. But nobody ‘went off the derech’. They were never on the derech to begin with! There was never a “derech” that they were on to begin with to fall off of it.

We must have a “derech” (way) in how to live life to begin with! Speeches and inspiring lectures won’t do it for us. What people really need is to make a soul-accounting and get to the root, and wonder: how should we live life from the very start?

Imagine if a man gets married and he finds out that his wife is mentally unstable (G-d forbid). He goes to his Rav and tells him the story. The Rav is in doubt if the marriage was ever valid to begin with. It’s not that there was a marriage here and now he will have to get divorced. There was never a marriage here to begin with!

You are all past the age of 30 already. You’ve all heard many derashos in your life; some of them were very true and some were less true, but the issue really is if you can get to the root of how to live life. We must understand that our life is not about gathering knowledge. Rabbeinu Yonah writes that if one is on a path that is not good, he must get himself off the path and take a new path. If something was wrong in a person’s life from the start, even living 1000 years and hearing derashos and amassing all that much knowledge will be nothing. A person can do many mitzvos yet his heart doesn’t change inside. We see that people have been davening and putting on tefillin for many years yet they don’t feel a thing from it.

Reb Chatzkel Levenstein zt”l would say, “People have been listening to me speak for 20 years, but they haven’t even begun to understand what I mean.” When a person’s heart is closed, nothing he hears will change him.

Utilizing Tisha B’Av To Its Fullest

All of the times of the year Hashem gave to us are here as a reminder to ask ourselves if we are living life in the right way to begin with; if we are living a life of building ourselves. The Nine Days are also such a time. It is a time where we need to bring our life to halt and wonder how we can build our soul. It takes time to build the soul, just like it takes time to build the Beis HaMikdash. In order for a person to build himself, he must bring his life to a halt and make a self-accounting on how to live life to begin with.

On Tisha B’Av, it is forbidden to learn Torah. What does a person do with his free time on Tisha B’Av? Baruch Hashem, there’s Kol HaLashon, or you can go to the speeches that are in town, which is filled with men and women who are all willing to listen to the speaker. But what is the point of Tisha B’Av?? Why was this day given to us? We can’t learn Torah, we can’t do any labor, so what are we supposed to do with ourselves on this day? Think about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash? That is true, but the depth of Tisha B’Av is to bring our life to a halt and empty ourselves out of all desires.

We can’t even learn Torah, which is the most important desire to have (other than the desire to do Hashem’s will). We are supposed to just bring our lives to a halt and we begin to think of a new life for ourselves!

Find a quiet place, and reflect, from a silent place within yourself. The Nine Days, and especially Tisha B’Av, are a time to reflect and to bring the routine of life to a halt, and ask ourselves how to live life from the start. Tisha B’Av is not a time to seek what is ‘permissible’ to do and which parts of Torah are ‘permissible’ to learn. It is a time to bring all of your life to a halt. If one seeks truth, he must wonder, as he reflects, on how he can rebuild his life anew.

Quiet Time Every Day To Reflect

Besides for Tisha B’Av, one needs to have set times every day where one can reflect about the purpose of life. People might think they know what the purpose of life is, but a person can keep uncovering deeper meaning to the purpose of life every day, when he reflects quietly on this each day with inner silence. If one “doesn’t have any time” to do this, this is an inner destruction.

It is not only on Tisha B’Av and the Nine Days that you should do this. Every day, a person needs to have times where he reflects about the purpose of life and to think if he’s going in the right direction[6]. If you come to the conclusion that you are going in the way of Torah and mitzvos, keep going in that direction. But if you discover that this is not the case, you need to wonder how you can come to live a more truthful life.

This is what you need to do, each day, in order to acquire “purity of heart” and rid your heart from desires, which enables you to reach the point of “My heart is empty within me” as Dovid HaMelech said; and when your heart is slowly emptied from all of the desires, you can eventually come to the point where you have only one desire alone in your heart – the desire to do Hashem’s will.

Of course, our heart is purified from learning Torah and doing the mitzvos. But more specifically, it comes from nullifying our desires, until a person only has one desire left: the desire to do Hashem’s will.

Sincere Tears

When a person reaches that inner silence and he is in touch with the inner will of his soul (to do Hashem’s will), he can come to a true and inner crying that comes from the depths of his soul, from the pure point in the soul that only feels Hashem’s will. In that deep place in himself, he can feel how Hashem is mourning over His children who have been exiled from Him, who have “left their father’s table.” He won’t even have to strain himself to cry, because the tears will flow freely and naturally.

In Conclusion

Hashem gave us all bechirah (free will), and the free will was given to us so that we can choose to set aside time every day to reflect on how to live a truthful life. Just like a baal teshuvah changes his entire life when he leaves his world behind and he enters the world of Torah, so must an already frum person raised in the world of Torah go deeper into himself and enter a new world within him.

It might not always be easy and pleasant to make a self-accounting every day, but this is the only way of how we can live a truthful life and come to rebuild the personal Beis HaMikdash within ourselves.

I really hope that these words have been truly understood, not as a derasha, not as inspiration, and not even as preparation for the Nine Days; rather, that they be perceived as a way to live our life from the start.

[1] Taanis 29a

[2] Pesachim 109a

[3] Yoma 9b

[4] See Nefesh HaChaim – Gate I

[5] See Getting To Know Your Happiness #011 – Raising Happy Children

[6] Ramchal in sefer Derech Eretz Chaim. See Bilvavi_ Part_ 4_ Chapter_ 3

Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l on “Taste and See that Hashem is Good”

From Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh – Part 4 – Reviewing Basic Goals

There is a story told over about Reb Aryeh Leib Malin zt”l that once a young boy asked him a certain question in learning, and when he told him the answer, the boy didn’t understand. After many times of trying to explain the answer and being unsuccessful, Reb Malin zt”l told him the following: “I can explain it to you from all different kinds of angles until you understand it. But I can’t give you my level of grasp.” (He was not referring to sharpness or memory, but clear understanding).

Once, Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l came to a yeshiva to speak, and in middle, he said the following: “I can talk and explain a lot, but believe me: If you would only know what it is to feel like when a person lives with Hashem in his life, you would run after it, after I explain to you how you can get there. You don’t understand how much darkness you are in, what you are missing in life, and how far you are from the truth, from “taste and see that Hashem is good.”

He continued: “And you should also know that even if you would ask me how you can taste that feeling, I wouldn’t be able to give it to you. Hashem did not give me the power to be able to give over what it tastes like – the taste of true d’veykus with Hashem.”

Everyone has special times in which they feel themselves growing spiritually and enjoying this. However, people come to imagine that such elation is supposed to be every second, and that this is what it means to be close to Hashem all the time.

This is a mistake! Being close to Hashem is unlike anything you recognize from until now. A person can live all the time with closeness to Hashem, or chas v’shalom, the opposite. A person has to decide, with total conviction, with clarity, if he truly wants to let Hashem enter his heart.

This is the meaning of, “Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh” – “In my heart, I will build a sanctuary.” It is to truly live with Hashem. It is not merely about thinking about how Hashem is next to us, or to put the four-letter Name of Hashem in front of us all the time. These are superficial methods, as they does not define being close to Hashem. Being close to Hashem means that Hashem is found within one’s heart.

We cannot really explain what it is to anyone who hasn’t reached it yet. But what we can all do is to firmly believe that it is possible to attain, just as all the other tzaddikim in the past reached – and lived – closeness with Hashem.

Once Reb Moshe of Kobrin zt”l said that if lustful people would only know how enjoyable it is to be close to Hashem, they would give up that fake, physical pleasure for the real thing – an intimate closeness with Hashem, which is true pleasure.

In fact, all the various loves that people have on this world, besides for a love for Hashem, is fake love. People who don’t have a love for Hashem haven’t tasted what true love is.[5]

This is the way Hashem made the world; as long as a person remains outside the world of closeness with Hashem, he will never attain it – not even a tiny bit of that inner world.

The way to get our inward reality is through emunah. Part of emunah is to have faith in the many leaders throughout all the generations, faith in their students and in their students who came after them. With faith in our leaders, we can believe the words of the Chazon Ish who wrote that it’s possible for a person at times to temporarily resemble an angel even as one stands on this physical earth, and that such a feeling cannot be expressed to anyone. This is the true feeling of being close to Hashem.

If a person believes in this, he will then be able to truly feel, in a very real way and not in his imagination, a simple feeling no that is no less that how one can feel a table or a chair: that there is a Creator of the world. If a person believes that there is such a feeling he can experience, and he decides to live his life for this goal, closeness to Hashem – he leaves this world of darkness, and enters into a world that is radiant.

If the reader is still doubtful at this point about the words here, then there is no proof we can bring to convince him otherwise. But one thing we can ask of him: For your own sake, and for the sake of the Jewish people, and for the sake of giving your Creator a satisfaction, cry to Hashem every day, hour after hour, and ask Him that he guide you to the truth. If a person really begs Hashem for this, and if he really wants it, Hashem will surely help him get to the truth, that he be able to give a nachas ruach (satisfaction) to Hashem all his life.

[5] Editor’s Note: Of course, this is not to negate the love we are supposed to have to people, especially to those who are dearest to us, such as our families and friends. It appears that intention of the author is that once a person tastes love of Hashem, his own love will deepen, and his relationships will deepen as a result (see “Heart of the Jewish Woman”). As for having a like towards various worldly pleasures, it is clear that love for these things is just indulgence and cannot be considered love in the first place.

Turning the Tables on the Constant Test of Summertime Immodesty

By Rabbi Yonah Levant

The 1st Mishna is Pirkei Avos, Chapter 2 says:
Rabbi [Yehuda haNasi] said:…
Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) as with a major one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the ‘reward’ received for sinning compared to the loss….

The two parts of the Mishnah, the encouragement to keep mitzvos, and the steeling oneself to avoid aveirah, seem to be distinct and can be fully understood independent of each other. It seems.

I saw a chiddush (novel insight) that manages to link the סוֹר מרע (turn away from bad) with the עשה טוב (do good) in a way that can have a very big impact on a person’s entire relationship to Hashem.

This is based on what we all intuitively know – that it is most worthwhile to daven to Hashem during an עת רצון (time of divine favor). “Worthwhile,” in terms of having one’s tefilos heard and accepted. The Ohr HaChaim on the pasuk ואתחנן אל ×”’ בעת ההיא לאמר (and I davened to Hashem in that time saying) explains that the בעת ההיא (in that time) meant that it was an עת רצון (time of divine favor), and that is why Moshe davened then. Moshe knew when it was an עת רצון (time of divine favor) and he took full advantage to daven then.

Wouldn’t we love to know when there is an עת רצון (time of divine favor), or better yet, be able to create such a thing, by ourselves!

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita of Bnei Brak quotes the Ba’al Sefer Shomer Emunim who says that whenever one does a mitzvah, it is an עת רצון (time of divine favor). And especially when one sees inappropriate scenes, pritsus (immodesty), and one looks away with proper שמירת עיניים (guarding of one’s eyes) , that creates a עת רצון (time of divine favor) such that your tefillos will certainly be accepted by Hashem.

What does this mean to us? What does it mean to us who live in a very degraded generation in terms of tsnius (modesty), and what does it mean to us in terms of our lives as Jews, in the Big Picture.

Before this insight, a person might feel overwhelmed by a non-tsnius (immodest) world, especially in the summer, where one is put to the test all the time. A person might end up feeling aggravated endlessly, that the world is so antagonistic to Torah observance. You can’t look around and walk around like a normal person. You always have to be on edge, like in a battle.

And Shemiras Aynayim (guarding ones eyes) is a tricky business, since willpower doesn’t stop your optic nerve from working! The Ran in Nedarim says (I don’t have the source location) “אבל עיניו ואזניו של אדם אינם ברשותו, שהרי על כרחו יראח בעיניו ובאזניו ישמע.” – (but the eyes and ears of a man are not his possession, because one sees with his eyes and hears with his ears, even when he doesn’t want to). So, it’s a mitzvah where you practically start off on the wrong foot all the time! You see something inappropriate and only then do you look away.

If you need to be on the street, or driving, etc. you can’t prevent your eye from seeing something un-tsnius (immodest) if it (or her) steps right in front of you. The chiyuv (obligation) is obviously to look away immediately. So, it is a nisayon (test) of great proportions, considering that a healthy human being is not Parev (neutral) about these things. It pulls at a person’s very base nature. If the mitzvah of Shemiras Aynayim (guarding ones eyes) was to avoid looking at wool, it would be much easier to observe, even though wool is also everywhere! Nobody has a deep desire for looking at wool!

So, a person can be exhausted and aggravated from the ongoing nisayon (test) , even if he is successful! Or, chas v’shalom (G-d forbid), a person can give up the fight, and not keep the mitzvah, and abandon that level of kedushah (holiness) that Hashem wants of every single Yid.

With the insight of the Shomer Emunim, a person can change each nisayon (test) of Shemiras Aynayim (and any other aveirah nisayon (trangression test)) into an opportunity for tremendous dveykus (closeness) to Hashem. When one looks away, one can proclaim “Hashem, I am yours, I do not belong to the street! And since I am yours, and since I am overcoming my desires, for You, please help me with…” A person can become Davek to Hashem amidst the shmutz of our world. A person can grow, because of the opportunity hidden within the nisayon (test). “I am not looking Hashem, because I am yours! I am not theirs!”

Rav Zilberstein in his sefer טובך יביעו ×—”ב עמ’סח quotes an unnamed Godol who said that a person who doesn’t practice Shemiras Aynayim sullies his davening and learning which require Kedushah. But it also robs him of his ability to get real pleasure and sweetness from learning, and davening, and the like.

You essentially end up switching the forbidden pleasure for the pleasure Hashem wanted you to have in dveykus (closeness) with Him through a geshmak (wonderful feeling) in learning, a heartfelt davening, etc.

I think it was the Steipler Gaon zatzal who was quoted (2008 Men’s tsnius asifah in Lakewood, Rav Wachsman drosho) as saying that when a person foregoes a forbidden pleasure, because of Hashem’s Will, then he will get a תשלומים, an equivalent, a replacement pleasure through Avodas Hashem. He will find real pleasure, real earthly pleasure in davening, or learning, or some other kosher venue. You will not lose out, says the Steipler Gaon.

Let us all try to turn this constant test into an opportunity to have our prayers answered, especially in this troubling time.

Rabbi Wolbe – Each Person Must Know He’s Important – Bamidbar/Shavuos

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel (1:2).”

The process of counting Bnei Yisrael described in this parashah differs drastically from the election tallies or censuses that take place in our time. In the electoral process it makes no difference whether a professor or an illiterate placed the ballot, because the purpose of the voting is not to place a spotlight on the individual; the aim is simply to identify which party has accumulated the greatest sum total of votes. Similarly, the purpose of a census is to determine the total count of people in any specific area. The counting of Bnei Yisrael, on the other hand, was carried out as a manifestation of Hashem’s Hashgachah Pratis and love for each Jew. Rashi tells us, “Because of His affection for them, He counts them at all times” (1:1).

The Torah instructed Moshe, Aharon, and all the leaders of the tribes to be present during the process of the counting. Since this census was performed by counting each individual’s half-shekel donation, would it not have sufficed for a collector to go around and collect the money? Why did the leaders of the nation have to give of their precious time to be involved in this process?

This census was meant to be an uplifting experience: “Se’u es rosh Bnei Yisrael” — lift up the heads of Bnei Yisrael (1:2). The only way the counting could be performed was if the greatest men of the generation would take interest in the individual.

Ramban explains that there was even a more compelling reason that necessitated the presence of Moshe and Aharon. “Additionally, he who comes and introduces himself before the foremost prophet and his brother, the holy one of Hashem, has gained merit and life … It is a merit to be counted by Moshe and Aharon because they will look at them favorably and pray that Hashem have compassion on them …” When each person came to give his half-shekel, Moshe would ask him his name and then bless him that he succeed in his endeavors.

The Gra said that during the era of prophecy there was no need for anyone to try to determine his own unique purpose in life. He would simply ask the prophet, and the prophet would tell him what he was supposed to do and how to go about doing it. A person who came before Moshe, the greatest of all prophets, would merit an even more inspiring encounter. Moshe would penetrate into the deepest recesses of each person’s soul in order to give him an appropriate blessing for success. Afterward, Aharon and the leader of his shevet would also bless him individually. Such a process uplifts a person significantly.

It is crucial that every person know that he is important: “Each and every person must say, The world was created for me” (Sanhedrin 37a). Every person has a unique combination of strengths and circumstances that distinguish him from anyone else who has lived or will ever live. He was born to specific parents, lives in a particular era and place, and was given certain talents because he has an avodah that he, and only he, can accomplish. The entire creation is waiting for him to achieve what is incumbent upon him.

If a person is not conscious of his own importance, he cannot begin his avodah in Torah. As an introduction to Kabbalas HaTorah, Hashem told Bnei Yisrael, “And you will be for Me a kingdom of priests (i.e., dignitaries)” (Shemos 19:6; see Rashi). Every Jew is a dignitary with responsibilities and an elevated status, no different from a dignitary in a government. It was with these feelings that Bnei Yisrael prepared themselves to receive the Torah, and it would be beneficial for us to try to emulate these feelings as well.

(Shiurei Chumash, Parashas Bamidbar 1:1; Alei Shur, Vol. I, p. 168)
From Rav Wolbe on Chumash (page 255).

Purim: The Joys of Simcha and Sasson

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

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

Purim: The Joys of Simcha and Sasson

The days of Purim are called days of mishteh (festivity) and simcha (happiness). What is a mishteh, and what is a simcha?

The Gemara (Sukkah 56b) says that Sasson and Simcha (two kinds of happiness) had an argument about who comes first. Simcha said that it came before Sasson, because it is written, “To the Jews there was orah, simcha and sasson”; by Purim, the possuk writes “simcha” before “sasson.”

Sasson is associated with water. On the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, they would celebrate the nisuch hamayim, the one time of the year in which they would pour water on the Mizbeiach. About this there is a possuk, “And they draw water with sasson.”

Simcha is associated with wine – “And wine gladdens the heart of man.”

What was created first – water or wine? We know that water was created first. This shows us that normally, sasson comes before simcha. But on Purim, simcha came before sasson.

What is simcha, and what is sasson?

Intrinsic Happiness Before The Increase Of Happiness

This has to do with the difference between mishteh and simcha. There is a simcha which comes before a mishteh, and there is a simcha which comes after a mishteh.

Sasson is a joy upon completion. Sasson comes from the word sheish, “six.” When the world was finished being created on the sixth day, there was a joy in creation – a sasson. When creation became complete, there was a happiness just with the very existence of creation.

Simcha is a happiness that comes after that. When one has joy from existence, he has sasson. When one adds onto that happiness, he has simcha. Simcha is when we add onto our intrinsic happiness – when we increase our already existing happiness.

Simcha adds onto Sasson. The entire idea of Simcha is to add onto the happiness of our existence, which is Sasson. Thus, there has to first be Sasson in order to have Simcha.

In order for a person to increase his happiness, he first needs to be happy with the fact that he exists. On top of your intrinsic happiness you are able to add onto that more happiness, but there has to be first be a happiness in yourself in order for you to increase it.

If a person attempts to have simcha by trying to increase his happiness, but he isn’t yet happy with the fact that he exists, then he will not be able to have simcha. You can only add onto your happiness if there is a happiness already there to begin with! This is why sasson must come before simcha. First you have to be happy with the mere fact that you exist, and then you can increase your happiness.

When people just try to increase their happiness but they’re not happy with themselves to begin with, it is a foolish and superficial kind of happiness.

Purim – Above Your Existence

But on Purim, it is the other way around: simcha comes before sasson. On Purim, simcha is mentioned in the possuk before it mentions sasson; this shows us that on Purim we need to have something that comes even before sasson. On Purim, we need to find a simcha which comes even before sasson.

If sasson is the happiness of one’s very existence, what can come before this? What comes before your existence?

We know that there are certain creations which were created even before Hashem created the universe. One of them was the Torah. On Purim, when the Jewish people accepted the Torah again anew, it was really an acceptance of the Torah of before creation. This is an example of something that came before existence.

What is this power that is “before” your existence? How can anything else come before something exists?

One way we see this is in the future happiness, which is “The righteous rejoice in Hashem”. The happiness in Hashem alone is a kind of happiness that is before I exist; such a happiness existed before I exist, and this will be again revealed in the future.

There is another way to arrive at the simcha which comes before sasson. Purim is about totally nullifying one’s Daas – we can see this from the halachah that a person has to get drunk on Purim until he has no more Daas.

This is how one experiences a happiness that is above his existence – when one nullifies his very self to the Creator.

Finding Joy in the Practice of Judaism

Rabbi Noson Weisz explains the spiritual input that God offers on Purim:

There is much more to Judaism than the outer trappings of observance. Observance is the body of Judaism, but its soul requires the Jews to place their relationship with God at the very center of life. The observance of the commandments is only meaningful when it is the outer manifestation of this inner reality. One cannot be truly Jewish without dreaming of the Temple and of Jerusalem. Jews who manage to find a good life in the absence of this dream are on their way to annihilation as a distinct people no matter what their level of observance may be.

There is a famous saying in Yiddish, S’is shver zu zein a Yid! “It’s hard to be a Jew.” Israel has lost far many more Jews through its history to this statement than to the persuasive power of foreign ideologies.

The spiritual input of the Purim holiday is provided to counter this tendency. In essence, it comes to counter the protest of coercion. We see the Torah as coercion as long as we feel that strict observance is impractical and burdensome in the context of the realities within which we are forced to live. But Jews in exile must be able to find joy in the practice of Judaism to be able to maintain their commitment to Judaism as the focus of their existence. They must still feel that despite all the hardships of exile, their commitment to the Torah is the force that gives them life.

When they were faced with Haman’s edict, the Jewish people found the strength to reach deep into their collective soul. Israel realized that the physical annihilation which threatened them was an indication of the spiritual level to which they had sunk. They were threatened with outward physical annihilation only because they were close to dying as a people spiritually on the inside. They reexamined their attitude to their own commitment to Judaism, located the protest of coercion in their collective Jewish soul, and gave it up for good. As a result, the physical edict was rescinded and the Jews were blessed with “light, happiness, joy and honor.”

The joy that comes from Torah observance under seemingly unfavorable circumstances is the spiritual input that God offers on Purim. May we all merit receiving a powerful dose of it.

Read the whole thing here

Getting to Know Your Feelings – Understanding The Power of Love

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

View this and other Drashas on the Bilvavi.Net site

Feeling On The Outside, Da’as On The Inside

Although there are many emotions in the soul, they are all branches of one single root: love.

What is love? Our Sages say:[1] “The prayers of the righteous turn the da’as of Hashem from cruelty to mercy.” Hashem doesn’t just transform His cruelty to mercy; He also transforms His “da’as, because the root of everything is da’as. Hashem sometimes uses da’as for “good,” such as when He exhibits mercy, or He can sometimes use His da’as for when He has to be “cruel.” Da’as is the root of everything, the essence of the soul, as we explained before.

We may think that cruelty and mercy are just emotions, but our Sages say that they are more than that: emotions are really da’as. The Rambam classifies emotions as “hilchos da’as,” because our emotions and our da’as are really one entity. The inner layer of emotions is da’as, and the outer layer is comprised of the feelings that emotions engender. Looking at emotions as only feelings and nothing else is a superficial approach, since the focus is only looking at the garment of the emotions, and not at the essence.

Once we have internalized this concept, it becomes clear that love has two layers to it as well. Love has da’as within it, as well as the feeling of love we are familiar with. The da’as of love is its essence, and the feeling of love we know of is only the outer layer of the love.

What, indeed, is the essence of love? What is the “da’as” of love?

Conditional Love And Unconditional Love

The words of the Sages[2] are well-known: “Any love that is dependent on a reason, the love goes away when the reason goes away; any love that is not dependent on a reason, the love never goes away, even when the reason goes away.”

What are these two kinds of love, and what is their root?

A love that is dependent on something is a superficial emotion of love, and doesn’t involve da’as. A love that isn’t dependent on anything is a love that stems from one’s da’as.

When love is unconditional, the feeling of love that the person experiences is only the garment of the love, while the essence of the love is his da’as.

The numerical value in Hebrew of the word ahavah (love) is the same as echad (one). True love, which is unconditional love, is reached when we want to become one with another. When we view another as being one with us and then we a feel love for the person, we are utilizing the da’as of love. The accompanying feeling of love we experience is only its outer layer, but the love itself is the da’as – the oneness, which we have with another.

The source of conditional love is what we identify as the “emotion” of love. It is not the kind of love that connects people; it is just a feeling, and nothing more. These feelings of “love” toward another can come in numerous ways: either from “loving” him for his money, or for the honor the person gives us, or simply because of our personality tastes.

The love that one is feeling in these cases derive its strength from any of these superficial reasons, but as soon as any of these reasons go away, the feeling of love disappears with it.

Unconditional love is thus when one uses da’as, to foster a sense of unity with another. When a person is at one with another, he can love him. After this process is completed, the feeling of love he then experiences is a garment of the love, resulting from his da’as behind the love, but it is not the love itself. The actual love is the da’as behind it, which in this case is the desire to truly unify with the other.

Every feeling has it’s source. The root of conditional love comes from a superficial source, dependent on something external that causes the love; there is no sense of oneness with another here, and no da’as. Whatever it depends on is subject to change, so the love goes away when that factor changes. Unconditional love comes from tapping into the power of our da’as – to desire unity with another; it lasts forever, because oneness doesn’t change.

Unconditional love is the true and deep kind of love, while conditional love depends on liking something about the other person’s personality, which is subject to change, and thus can never be considered true love.

Natural Love

Now we can understand that there are two sources from which we draw forth our power to love.

Every person is born with a natural love for himself, and we can love ourselves in two ways. One of these ways is a superficial way to love others, while the other way is the true source of love that we have within ourselves.

The primary source of our natural self-love is the love that a person has for himself and his very existence. This is evident from the fact that every person wants to remain alive; a person loves himself for just existing. A second source of self-love we have in ourselves is the superficial kind of self-love, which is to love ourselves for our personality and good middos and qualities.

A person loves himself and his children unconditionally. Even if a person’s child would be evil, and even if the child would be as evil as Amalek, Heaven forbid, the father would still love his child. Why?

It is because he sees the child as a part of himself. He loves his child just as much as he loves himself, and sees him as an extension of his own existence. This love doesn’t come from admiring his child for any specific qualities; it comes from just loving one’s very existence which is a deeper kind of love.

Just like a person loves himself even if he wouldn’t be able to find anything admirable about his personality, so does a parent love his child unconditionally, and not because he admires anything in particular about his child.

These two kinds of natural love – unconditional love for ourselves, as well as conditional love for ourselves – exist within every person. A person can love himself simply because he exists – or for a variety of different reasons, most of which are superficial.

People who love themselves with the second kind of love only love themselves partially, depending on how positive they are toward themselves.

With this kind of love, a person born with a more positive kind of personality will be able to love himself, but a person born with a tendency toward negativity will love himself less.

But when a person loves himself unconditionally – simply because he exists – he loves himself totally no matter what.

Every person needs to recognize these two kinds of love within himself. Most people who need others to admire them for their qualities are usually unaware of how to truly love themselves. People don’t know how to truly love themselves. They think that they should love themselves by finding their good middos. If one has a positive self-image, he may be able to generate feelings of self-love, but if he’s negatively inclined toward himself, he will not feel loved, and he’ll look for love from others, instead of being able to give it to himself. Either way, he has no inner source of love, whereas a person who loves himself unconditionally experiences a constant flow of love for himself, and from himself.

People who feel they don’t really love themselves believe that this is because of their low spiritual level. They have no idea about the true love for themselves they could be having.

When a person loves himself conditionally, he will often feel down about himself and he will feel unloved, when his reasons to love himself fall away. But when a person loves himself unconditionally, such love is consistent, and it rarely fluctuates. This is an ability that exists within every person, whether it is has already been revealed, or whether it remains dormant in the person. His own unconditional love provides a constant inner flow of love from within himself that doesn’t depend on anything external.

It is impossible to find unconditional love from an outside source. Unconditional love comes from one’s inner world; it is not a feeling of love towards oneself, but it is rather a pure kind of love that comes from one’s power of da’as.

This inner flow of love that a person has within himself comes from one’s very existence.

It is the pure kind of love that comes from one’s da’as, and it extends to become a pure feeling. A person can only love himself unconditionally if he loves his very existence; any other type of love can only be conditional.

Revealing True Love Towards Others

However, when it comes to loving others, there has to be both conditional and unconditional love present. For a person to really love others, he has to love them both because of their qualities and because of their very existence. We will explain why.

When a person feels a love toward another person, he must be able to recognize the source of that love: Is it an extension of the unconditional love he has for himself, or does it depend on external factors? We will explain the difference.

If a person only loves himself conditionally, his love for others will be the same kind of love he has for himself. He will love Reuven…but not Shimon. This is why people have a hard time loving others. A husband and wife might only love each other based on certain factors, and thus the love between them is only conditional. A child who loves his father solely because he knows that his father gives him things only loves his father because he gives him things. This kind of love is shaky and impermanent.

When a person loves himself unconditionally, he will have no problem loving others the same way. His love for others won’t depend on anything.

All of us are able to love unconditionally, but our conditional love can hold back the unconditional love if we don’t access it within ourselves. But once the unconditional love pushes itself to the forefront, even if we find a reason to love another, the unconditional love will remain unchanged, and we will be able to experience both types of love simultaneously.

This was the great love that existed between David and Yehonasan.[3] Although they had reasons why they loved each other, they still loved each other unconditionally, because they had recognized unconditional love within themselves and allowed it to be revealed.

Let us review this again: We all have within us two abilities, the power to love conditionally and to love unconditionally. Unconditional love is to love yourself simply because you exist, while conditional love is to love yourself based on a reason. These are not two separate powers, but rather two layers of the same power. The inner layer of love is unconditional love, while its outer layer is conditional love.

One who only loves himself conditionally, however, will not be able to love others unconditionally, even if he tries to.

Let us ask: if a person has unconditional love toward himself, why doesn’t he automatically love all others equally? The answer is because he also has conditional love for himself, which prevents him from loving everyone equally. He is incapable of loving others who don’t appeal to him. His conditional love prevents his unconditional love from being truly revealed.

How, then, can we access our unconditional love for others? Won’t the fact that we love others conditionally get in the way? Conditional love doesn’t totally prevent[4] us from loving the other, because at least a little bit of love for the other has been revealed.

After all, at least we have uncovered a conditional love toward the other, which is already a step. Once we reveal at least a conditional love for the other, we will then be able to reveal even an unconditional love for the other, reminiscent of the love between David and Yehonasan.[5]

Eternal Love

Let us return to the Mishnah in Avos:[6] “Any love that is dependent on a reason, the love goes away when the reason goes away; any love that is not dependent on a reason, the love never goes away, even when the reason goes away.”

This is difficult to understand. It is clear that if the love was dependent on a reason, then the love stops as soon as the reason goes away. But unconditional love cannot go away because it doesn’t depend on anything. Why does the Mishnah point this out?

Unconditional love can be hidden by the conditional love, so the Mishnah is teaching as follows: When a person loves another unconditionally, then even when his conditional love for the other falls away, he will still love the other, because unconditional love will always remain.

The lesson of the Mishnah is that even when the conditions for the love fall away, the person will still be left with unconditional love toward the other. Once there is unconditional love, there will always be love, even when the reasons for the love are no longer there.

Hatred Is Only Possible When The Love Was Conditional

Now that we have explained love, we can understand hatred, the opposite of love. Hatred is whatever love isn’t, and love is whatever hatred isn’t.

Only conditional love has an opposite emotion of hatred; unconditional love, though, has no opposite.

There is no such thing as unconditional hatred, because something that has no conditions to it cannot, by definition, have an opposite.

Hatred is only possible when a person only knows of conditional love.

Once a person reveals his unconditional love, he cannot hate.

Unconditional Love Is Love Based On Da’as, Conditional Love is Love Based On A Feeling

Now we can understand the opening words of this chapter, that the inner kind of love is love that comes from da’as.

What is the difference between a feeling coming from da’as, to a feeling that isn’t coming from da’as?

Da’as is the awareness of reality as it is.

A feeling without da’as, though, is just a “feeling” to us and nothing more.

Unconditional love is an awareness of reality (even if one might also love himself for other reasons).

A person can love himself either due to his da’as, which translates into unconditional love towards himself; or from a mere feeling of love for himself, which translates into conditional love towards himself.

Recognizing Another’s Existence

Before a person is able to love another, he has to first acknowledge their existence based on more than his physical senses.

Most people, though, evaluate others based on externalities, even by something as superficial as seeing or hearing them.

Reb Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l once stated that “A person cannot murder another person.” If so, he asked, how was Kayin able to kill Hevel? It was because he wasn’t aware that Hevel existed. He was cruel; he had no mercy. Only a merciful person is aware that another person exists. Anyone who is cruel enough to kill could only come to such behavior because he is not aware of others.

This can be applied similarly to the idea of loving others. We have a mitzvah to love other Jews on the same level that we love ourselves;[7] “And you shall love your friend like yourself.”

We must love every Jew – absolutely! But there is something that comes before this! If we really want to love others, we need to first be truly aware of the other’s existence, in the same way that we know that we see ourselves as existing. Just as one senses his own existence – in a very real way – so can he sense others’ existence in a very real way.

But if a person never thought about his own existence and doesn’t love himself unconditionally, then his awareness of himself is hidden, and he only experiences his awareness of others in a superficial manner.

Because his love for himself is dependent on a reason, he recognizes the existence of others in the same way.

True love is revealed when one utilizes da’as. Only by realizing the reality of your own existence will you be able to truly love yourself for who you are – and only then will you be able come to love others, simply because they exist.

[1]  Sukkah 14a

[2]  Avos 5:19

[3]  Avos 5:19

[4]  Editor’s Note: The author previously stated that love will not last if it is based on conditional love. Here the author explains that conditional love is still essential in the process of reaching true love and to the contrary, we need to begin with conditional love which eventually will reveal unconditional love but only if that is the underlying motivation.

[5]  Avos 5:19

[6]  Pirkei Avos 5:19

[7]  Vayikra 19:18, Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim Perek 9

Adults at Risk

This article was posted at Rabbi Horowitz’s first site.

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher and Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon

For those of us that have been involved in outreach and fighting assimilation, whether as a full-time senior lecturer (as is the case with Rabbi Mordechai Becher) or as a lay activist leader (as is the case with Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon), various acronyms have become an accepted part of our mainstream “working lexicon” e.g. B.T. (Baal Teshuva), F.F.B (Frum From Birth) and F.F.H (Frum From Habit) … It is for the last mentioned category that we have coined the phrase “Adults at Risk.”

Our analyses of this phenomenon will emphasize some primary causes of the Adult at Risk crisis and more importantly, some proposed solutions. At the outset, however, a clarification of the topic at hand is essential …

What does “Adults at Risk” really mean?

Read more Adults at Risk

Succos and Koheles

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download this and a number of other Drashos on Sukkos

Koheles – Everything Is “Hevel Havalim”

“Moed” – A “Meeting” With Hashem

Yom Tov is called moed. Moed comes from the word vaad, which means “gathering” or “meeting.” Who are we meeting with? With Hashem! When a person makes up to meet with his friend, they make up that they will meet in a certain place. Where is the place that Hashem would meet us in? In the Beis Hamikdash. In the times of the Beis Hamikdash, there was a mitzvah three times a year to go up to the Beis Hamikdash. It was an eye-to-eye meeting with Hashem, just like when two friends meet each other and make eye contact.

Nowadays, we have no Beis Hamikdash. Where then can we meet with Hashem?

Yom Tov is our meeting with Hashem. It continues to exist, long after we no longer have a Beis Hamikdash.

Hashem is fully ready to meet us – He is everywhere. Nothing is holding Him back. The only thing that prevents a person from meeting with Hashem is his very self. If a person manages to remove the barrier holding him back – his very self – he would then be able to meet Hashem, wherever he is. The Mesillas Yesharim[1] writes that a person who is constantly connected with Hashem is considered to always be walking with Him, even as he lives here on this physical world.

When a person is always connected to Hashem in his life, even though he has no Beis Hamikdash to meet with Him, he himself has become like a Beis Hamikdash – and he can meet with Him.

Every Yom Tov has an inner power in it that enables a person to meet with Hashem. A person has to receive the inner point of each Yom Tov which will connect him with Hashem.

On Sukkos, what is that inner point of Yom Tov that can connect a person with Hashem?

Removing the Barriers

On Shabbos of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, Chazal established that we read the book of Koheles.[2] This is not a coincidence that we read Koheles specifically on Sukkos. There must be some connection between the book of Koheles and the theme of Sukkos; otherwise, why would Chazal establish that we read Koheles on Sukkos?

Shlomo Hamelech begins the book of Koheles with, “Hevel havalim (“futility of futilities”), so says Koheles; hevel havalim, everything is hevel havalim.” Rashi brings from Chazal the following: “Koheles is making an announcement and saying that all of Creation is futile; he says “hevel” seven times in the possuk, corresponding to the seven days of Creation. The commentators are perplexed: How could Shlomo HaMelech say such a thing?! How could he say that Hashem’s Creation is all futility and vanity?

The depth of the matter appears to be as follows. The world is called “olam”, from the word “he’elam” – “concealment.” This world really conceals Hashem from being revealed to us. The world – this world of he’elam – was created in seven days; in other words, there are seven levels of he’elam. A person’s job on this world is to remove all the he’elam – to remove all the barriers between him and Hashem – and come to reveal Hashem. All of a person’s avodah is essentially to show how all of creation is one big he’elam.

When a person comes to really feel that all of Creation is hevel – in that it conceals Hashem from us – he personally reveals Hashem in his life. He essentially enters the state of before Creation, in which there was no he’elam yet; he will be able to become constantly attached to Hashem as a result. Anything which deters a person from being attached with Hashem is a kind of he’elam. When a person manages to remove that barrier from upon himself – he views everything as hevel, since it’s all getting in the way of revealing Hashem onto the world – he will be able to always become attached to Hashem.

This is the inner point that one can reveal on Sukkos. This is the way how one meets with Hashem on the Yom Tov of Sukkos.

Reb Chatzkel Levenstein zt”l once said that it’s not enough for a person to read the book of Koheles written by Shlomo Hamelech; every single person has to write the words “Hevel havalim…everything is hevel havalim”, and these words have to be ingrained in one’s blood. A person has to feel clearly in his heart that this world is completely hevel – it leads us astray from Hashem. This is the Avodah of Sukkos: write your own personal sefer Koheles!

Before and After the Beis Hamikdash

When the Beis Hamikdash was around, a person had special Heavenly assistance to reach utter closeness with Hashem and get past all the barriers of this world. He would bring the korbonos (sacrifices) and eliminate the physical aspect of the animal, transforming the physical into the spiritual. He would reveal G-dliness in what was previously something totally physical, something that was a kind of he’elam.

Now that the Beis Hamikdash isn’t around, we have to accomplish this very same goal, but through the abilities of our soul. We need to eradicate the he’elam of this world and instead to come meet with the Creator of the world – the state of total attachment with Him that existed before creation, when there was no he’elam yet.

[1] chapter 26

[2] Ecclesiasties

The Kingship of the Ten Days of Teshuva

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander zt”l in the Rinas Chaim writes about the issue of Kingship after Rosh Hoshana:

“The similarity of issues, which appear in the prayers of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, pointing to Hashem Yisbarach’s kingship and reign, leads us to a question. Why must we bring up the issue of malchus, Hashem’s kingship, on Yom Kippur as well?

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment, and the whole concept of judgment is a product of His kingship. Hashem Yisbarach, as the supreme monarch, distributes tasks — and the vehicles necessary for the fulfillment of those individual tasks — to each one of His subjects on Rosh Hashanah. Thus, on the first day of the year, HaKadosh Baruch Hu dons the cloak of the supreme Judge and estimates the quality of each person’s fulfillment of his tasks from the previous year. Those individual tasks are part of the general goal of proclaiming Hashem Yisbarach as King over creation, and over each one of us in particular. Hashem Yisbarach then delegates each person’s task for the coming year according to the level of his performance the year before.

However, due to Hashem’s lovingkindness, the judgment does not end on Rosh Hashanah, but lasts during the subsequent Ten Days of Repentance, during which it is still possible to repent and to amend the final verdict. On each of those ten days we en treat HaKadosh Baruch Hu with the supplications of “Inscribe us in the Book of the Living,” and “In the Book of Life… may we be inscribed before You.”

The whole issue of judgment is maintained within the concept of kingship, as we stated before. We are judged according to what extent we have accepted upon ourselves Hashem Yisbarach’s kingdom in all aspects of our lives, and especially in the fulfillment of our individual tasks. Our judgment also hinges upon the extent that we are prepared spiritually for the holy task of proclaiming Him as King in the forthcoming year. That is why we stress kingship in our prayers during those ten days, saying “the holy King,” and “the King of judgment.” All these ten days are days meant for us to proclaim Hashem as King over us — and our judgment flows from this.

The conclusion of the judgment occurs on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur it is assessed and established to what extent we are spiritually ready to recognize the reign of our King, the King of all kings — HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Therefore, on Yom Kippur we mention and we seek the acceptance of Malchus Shmayim, the Heavenly kingdom, just as we do on Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur the spiritual task of the entire ten days of proclaiming Hashem King comes to its peak and culminates with the acceptance of Ol Malchus Shmayim at the end of the Ne’ilah prayer.”

The Essence of the Month of Elul

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Elul

Elul – The Month of Maaseh\Action

With siyata d’shmaya, we are nearing the month of Elul, may it come upon us for good tidings. Let us try to understand a little, with the help of Hashem, the avodah upon us during these days, and hopefully we will each merit to also act upon these words, each on his own level.

Each month contains a special power that is connected to the particular time of the year that it is found in. The power of Elul is called maaseh, action. The power in man to “act” is especially manifest in Elul.

The Sages state (according to one opinion) that the world was created on the 25th of Elul. The Creation is called the “handiwork of Hashem”, His maaseh (action), thus the month of Elul is rooted in the original maaseh of Creation. Hashem revealed the power of His maaseh in Elul, so to speak; He “made” the heavens and the earth, which is all in terminology of “maaseh”.

When Elul arrives each year, the power of Hashem’s maaseh returns each year, as it were. Being that man has an avodah to resemble Hashem (as the Sages say, “Just as He is merciful, so should you be merciful; just as He is compassionate, so should you be compassionate”), there must also be a power of maaseh on man’s own level, in some small resemblance to Hashem’s power of maaseh. What exactly is that maaseh, though, that we must perform?

The Gemara says that “the purpose of Torah is teshuvah (repentance) and maasim tovim (good deeds).” The simple meaning of this is that these are two different things the Torah leads to: repenting, and good deeds. It seems as if these two matters bear no connection; simply speaking, if a person commits a bad deed, he must repent over it, and thereafter he must perform good deeds. But the depth of the matter is as follows.

When Hashem created the world, He made it over the course of six days. This was an utterly pure and holy action, but even more so, Hashem created it with His ten expressions; His dibbur (word). He said “Let there be light” and there was light. He told the heavens to be created, and they were created. All of Creation is thereby powered by His word. When people perform an action, we usually attribute it to ourselves, thinking that it is our hands which do things. Our hands are the symbol of human action. But the symbol of Hashem’s actions are His word, for it is His word which created each thing.

Elul are days of maaseh, but it is hard to understand how exactly these days are days of maaseh. The Tur says that Moshe Rabbeinu stood for 40 days to receive the Torah, and the first 30 days of this were in Elul. The 40th day was Yom Kippur. Where is the ‘action’ in these 30 days of receiving the Torah? Moshe stood there for 40 days to receive the Torah, but how was this “action”? In truth, however, it shows that Elul is both a time of action and a time of receiving Torah. It is just hard to understand how exactly it is a time of action. What we need to understand is that these days are of a different kind of action that the usual kind of “action” that we are familiar with.

This is a deep concept, so we will need to explain it very thoroughly.

Action\Building In Elul: Using Our Power of Speech In Selichos

The Gemara says that Torah scholars are called builders[1], for it is written, “And all your builders are those who learn [the Torah of] Hashem”. How is something built? The power to ‘build’ [in the spiritual dimension] is not like how we build physically, which is through our hands, but through speaking words of Torah. A Torah scholar spends his day speaking of Torah, and that is how he builds the world.

This power is also given to all of us as well: we can build and perform deeds, through our power of speech. Just as Hashem created the world through His word, so did He give us the power to build, through words.

Where do we see this kind of ‘building’ take place, though? In Elul and in the Ten Days of Repentance, we make heavy use of our power of speech. There is Selichos, where we repeatedly ask Hashem for mercy. This is surely connected with the fact that we must increase our good deeds during Elul; but we just need to understand what exactly the connection is.

The way we know the answer to this depends on knowing what our soul’s power of maaseh is. What does it really mean to ‘do’ something? In the spiritual dimension, how can we ‘do’ something? We can understand that our body ‘does’ something, but how does our soul “do” something? If we understand what it is, we can understand what the avodah of “maaseh” in in Elul, but if not, then perhaps we will be able to increase our good deeds in Elul, but we will not have succeeded in developing the soul’s power of maaseh.

Let us reflect into the soul’s power of maaseh. The body performs actions, and it is our words which execute actions. Man is called “nefesh chayah” (living spirit), and Targum translates this to mean “ruach memalelah”, a talking spirit; man’s power of speech is essentially his spiritual power to “do” things. Thus, our power of dibbur (speech) is the source of our power to perform deeds (maaseh).

To illustrate this [on a deeper level], a Torah scholar lives in the realm of Torah words. He is constantly accessing his spiritual power of maaseh. In contrast, someone who does not live in the realm of Torah is not making use of the spiritual power of maaseh; the only maaseh he performs are physical actions with his hands,

Being that dibbur (speech) is identified with man’s title of nefesh chayah (living spirit), dibbur\speech is the source of all our spiritual actions. In Elul where we use the power of dibbur a lot [through prayer and Selichos], we are thus involving ourselves in a dibbur that leads to maaseh; we are involved with a kind of dibbur that is all about maaseh. Soon we will explain what it is, but this is the outline of the concept.

Action Is About Completion

What exactly is the soul’s power of maaseh\action that is contained in the power of dibbur\speech?

The Gemara says that one should perform that which he says. Otherwise, he has not completed that which he spoke about. We can learn from here that an “action” implies the completion of something. [On a deeper level], the “world of action” we live in is the finalized and completed form of all the higher worlds which precede it. What we “do” here on this world is the last step of everything that emanates from the higher worlds; it all ends here. Hashem intentionally created an imperfect world – and it is “completed” in the world of action we live in. We were created imperfect, and it is our task to complete ourselves, here on this world, this world of action.

A person thinks, then he says what he is thinking, and then he acts upon what he says. The action is the final step of the thinking process; it is the final step of everything. So action is not just an action – it is the completed and final step of a process.

What is the soul’s power of maaseh, then? It is essentially the completion of the soul. Our body completes an action when it finishes “doing” some kind of labor or work, and our soul “does” something when it has completed its spiritual work on this world.

The Depth of Teshuvah: Uprooting The Reason To Sin

Let us try to understand a little more about the concept of maaseh.

Elul is the time where the world began (according to one opinion in the Sages, as mentioned earlier), but in the order of the months, it is the final month of the year. This shows the connection between Elul and maaseh: because Elul is the completion of the year. This is not because it is the ‘last month on the Jewish calendar’; it is the time of the year where our soul has finished its work for this past year.

Teshuvah (repentance) includes regret and confession, and the Ramban famously writes that Hashem knows what the person is really thinking as he does teshuvah, if he is earnest or not. The depth of his words is because teshuvah is about putting an end to the sinful action. If one continues to sin, his “action” continues, thus he has not reached completion. If one confesses the sin but he continues to sin, he has not yet ended his sinful action. He is missing his soul’s completion. But if he does teshuvah, that means he has put an end to the sinful action; he has reached completion.

Thus, the soul’s power of maaseh is to put an end to things; for one to place boundaries and limitations on himself that he will not cross.

Elul, the days of maaseh, are also days of teshuvah. The connection between these two facts lies in the understanding of the earlier-quoted statement of our Sages, “The purpose of Torah is teshuvah and good deeds”. It is because when we do proper teshuvah, we access the power of maaseh. The concept of teshuvah is thus connected to the soul’s power of maaseh, which is essentially the idea of putting and end to things, to place boundaries and limitations on any sinful acts which we were doing, so that the sinful actions won’t continue to spread any further.

There are some parts of the soul which do not need boundaries to be placed on them. The desire in our soul to learn Torah, to daven, and to do mitzvos are all holy desires, which should only be increased, not decreased. But there are parts to the soul which we need to place limitations on. That is the idea of teshuvah.

Teshuvah is about returning the soul after one has sinned, not just to stop sinning. In order to do teshuvah in which one will not return to the sin, it is not enough to do teshuvah over the act itself, but to do teshuvah over the reason that motivated the person to sin. Often we are used to doing teshuvah over the sinful act, but not over the reason that caused us to sin. For this reason, the teshuvah of many people does not last. The depth of teshuvah is to stop the particular aspect in the [external layer of the] soul that is being motivated to sin.

Whenever our Sages said their words, they were not speaking to our bodies. They were speaking to our souls. The language of the soul is different than the language that the body understands. Of course, our body is a factor; much of keeping Halachah affects our body, not just our souls. But teshuvah is about returning the soul, not just to stop sinning. When one sins, the action is no longer here, but the motivation to sin is still here. We aren’t supposed to do teshuvah just on the mere actions that we did; we are meant to do teshuvah on the motivations to sin, which remains on this world long after the sin is over. That is how we return our soul when we do teshuvah – and that is the depth of teshuvah.

To Feel Complete

Let’s attempt now to explain this in clearer terms. We will ask: Why does a person sin? What is the internal source in the person that causes a person to do the opposite of Hashem’s will, chas v’shalom?

In the blessing of Borei Nefashos, we say, “Borei Nefashos rabbos v’chesronam” –the Creator of many souls and their deficiencies.” A person sins when he feels deficient about something and he seeks to fill that deficiency. If he would feel filled, he would not seek to fill himself with anything from the outside, and he would never commit the sin.

Thus, we can now understand better how the depth of teshuvah is not merely about stopping to sin, but about uprooting the reason that caused the sin in the first place.

For example, if a person spoke lashon hora about someone, why did he speak lashon hora? He was jealous of him, or doesn’t like him. What is his teshuvah? To stop talking lashon hora about the person? Or to uproot his negative emotions towards him? The only reason why he spoke evil speech about the person was because he had an evil ‘eye’ towards the person. Every sin stems from some deficiency in the soul. That is where the main aspect of the teshuvah lies.

The main avodah of a person in doing teshuvah, besides for avoiding the sin, is to do “complete teshuvah” – to uproot the inner reason that caused one to sin. Incomplete teshuvah, by contrast, is to repent over the evil deed that was committed, without regretting the evil motivation that caused it. Teshuvah is therefore about returning the soul’s abilities to their pure source, after they had been used for evil.

For example, when a person steals 100 dollars, not only should he return the money; his teshuvah should be about regretting the desire he had to steal. If he would have been “happy with his lot” as the Sages teach, then he wouldn’t have come to steal. He only stole because he felt deficient about himself. Had he felt complete within himself, he never would have come to sin. The main part of the teshuvah is thus to return the soul from its deficient state into its original, complete state.

This is the meaning of “complete teshuvah” which we daven for in Shemoneh Esrei, and this is also the idea behind the soul’s power of maaseh.

Now we can understand better what the power of maaseh is. Maaseh is to feel complete and to feel that we lack for nothing; to feel complete within ourselves.

Of course, this is a power that needs to be used in its proper time and place. It does not mean that one should not have aspirations for holiness. If one learned a page of Gemara, he must certainly want to learn more pages of Gemara and he must not remain satisfied with the page of Gemara he learned. The power of maaseh, to feel complete, is only referring to being at peace from avoiding materialistic desires, not spiritual desires.

If a person is jealous of another person, if a person lusted after something, it was because he felt deficient about himself. The root of sin is always about some kind of deficiency the person felt. Thus the depth of teshuvah is to nullify the very desire for the sin, not just to regret the act of sin itself.

The days of Elul are called yemai ratzon, “days of will” – for it is the time to get in touch with our innermost will; to uproot the negative desires we have. This is what lays in the power of maaseh. When I don’t feel a necessity to pursue a desire, because I feel complete within myself, this is called maaseh – the “action” is complete.

The Deep Source of Teshuvah

This is a subtle and deep approach towards teshuvah. We all know we must do teshuvah, we all resolve to be better this year, but there is much more to teshuvah than this!

Chazal say that teshuvah was one of the things that existed already before Hashem created the world. Why was there a need for teshuvah if nothing was missing at that point from Creation and there was no possibility of sin? It is to show us that the level of “complete teshuvah” is only when one connects to his deep inner source which lacks nothing.

If we do not know this deep source of teshuvah, it is very hard to actually do teshuvah. We all know what teshuvah is, we all want to teshuvah, but if we do not understand the deep source that it comes from, we cannot really do teshuvah.

The Sages said (concerning physical action): “The eyes sees, the heart desires, and the actions complete.” Not only does the body complete and “do” action that begins in the eyes and the heart (this was said in the context of physical desire), but so does the soul contain the power to “do” actions that complete: by feeling complete within itself, with no need for anything else outside of it. In this way, a person will never feel deficient, and he will never come to sin.

On Rosh HaShanah, it is brought in Halacha that one must rejoice[2]. How can we rejoice on Rosh HaShanah, when Hashem is judging the world? It is because if one doesn’t rejoice on Rosh HaShanah, it is because he feels deficient. If he is incomplete, he cannot come to do real teshuvah.

So we must really know what teshuvah is about. Teshuvah is not only about regretting the sin and resolving not to sin again. The depth of teshuvah is to reach the deepest part of our soul, where we feel complete. When we feel that completion, we will find there that we have no desire to sin.

“One who is greater than his friend, has a greater yetzer hora than him.”[3] Why is this so? Compare this to a person who has a hundred dollars, who wants two hundred dollars. The more one has, the more he wants. But how indeed does one get rid of all his extraneous desires? By accessing the power of teshuvah that came before Creation. (In spirituality, we must aspire endlessly and always want more. But when it comes to materialistic desires, we must nullify all of these desires.)

That is complete teshuvah: to return to the deepest part of ourselves, where there are no desires. In that place in our soul we find the deeper power of teshuvah that has been around before Creation.

The teshuvah in Elul leads to Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of the year; thus the teshuvah in Elul leads to a new beginning. It is not simply leaving this past year and entering the new year. It is about reaching an entirely new beginning.

Elul are days of maaseh. It is not about simply doing more good deeds, although that is also true that we must increase our goods. It is about reaching the completion of our soul, where we feel complete inside ourselves, where we are so attached in closeness to Hashem that we feel the greatest sense of completion from this.

Elul is depicted as “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li” (“I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me”)– one who does not feel this in Elul cannot feel completion, and then he will be missing the true depth of teshuvah. But if one feels the meaning of “Dodi” (“my Beloved”) in Elul – that Hashem is our Beloved companion Who fills all of our life – this enables him to feel completion at this, and from that place in himself, he is spurred on to do “complete teshuvah”.

The Deep Source of Our Completion

Thus, we can now understand that “Torah scholars are called builders” in the sense that they build from a place of completion in themselves, not out of deficiency. They build the world through their words of Torah, and the Torah is complete; thus they are building the world from a complete source.

The more a person is attached in closeness with Hashem, he is connected to completion and perfection, and he lacks for nothing. It won’t be possible for him to sin, because there is no more reason that motivates him to sin. Of course, we are human and imperfect. But when one is close to Hashem, he receives a special spiritual light of completion, which makes him feel complete and doesn’t allow him to sin.

In the days of Elul and Yomim Noraim, we should know that these are not just days to increase Torah learning and to do more mitzvos, although that is certainly truthful to do; it is not the purpose. The purpose of these days is to enter the depth of this time, to enter the deepest part of our own souls, where our soul is connected to the reality of Hashem. It is a place in the soul which is attached to perfection, and when we connect to this place in our soul, we are connected to completion and perfection, and there is then no possibility of sin there, with the more we are connected to that place. It is there that we can do complete teshuvah.

In Conclusion

We ask Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei, “Return us, in complete repentance, before You.” To do teshuvah “before Hashem” is to do teshuvah and become closer to Hashem through it. If the teshuvah doesn’t bring one closer to Hashem from it, it is not “complete” teshuvah.

May the Creator merit us to reach this perfection in our souls and to connect ourselves to the reality of the Creator, and to do His will always, throughout every day of the year.

[1] Berachos 64a

[2] Tur: Orach Chaim 597:1

[3] Sukkah 52a