So Bad That it MUST be Good

A SPECIAL REQUEST: Please do not begin reading this devar Torah unless you intend to learn it thoroughly and reach the disclaimer at the very end. To do otherwise could prove hazardous to your spiritual development and health.

How can it be that a small spreading of the white negatzara’as rash causes ritual impurity but that if the rash spreads over the entire body it then becomes a sign of ritual purity?

Why is it that on a Sanhedrin tribunal judging capital offenses a mere majority of two voting for guilt is sufficient to execute capital punishment but that if the Sanhedrin votes for guilt unanimously that the accused is declared innocent and “walks”?

But if the white mark increases in size on the skin after it was shown to the Kohen, who purified it, the person must again show it to the Kohen.  If the Kohen observes that the rash on the skin has increased in size he shall declare the person impure, it is the leprous curse.

—Vayikra 13:7,8

[This is the law] if the leprous area flourishes over the skin so that it covers all the skin of the afflicted person from head to foot wherever the Kohen can see: When the Kohen sees that a leprous discoloration has covered all the [person’s] skin he must declare the afflicted person pure. It has turned completely white [and so] he is pure.

—Vayikra 13:12,13

Rabi Kahana said: If the Sanhedrin unanimously found [the accused] guilty, he is acquitted. Why? —Because we have learned that final sentencing must be postponed till the next day [after the completion of the trial] in the hope of finding new points in favor of the defense. But these [judges who voted unanimously] will no longer [be capable of] see[ing anything exonerating or meritorious] for him

 —Sanhedrin 17A

Rabi Yochanan said, “Yehudah wanted to pass by [Tamar], but God sent the angel who is appointed over lust. The angel said to him, ‘Yehudah!  Where are you going? Where will kings come from? Where will great men come from? Where will redeemers come from?’”… “And he veered towards her on the road” (Bereshis38:16)—Coerced against his will [not in his best interests

                                                                                                                                      —Bereshis Rabbah 85:8

Belief in human Free-Will is a fundamental of our faith. In Hilchos Teshuvah (chapters 5,6) the Rambam argues spiritedly and convincingly for the veracity and reality the human Free-Will refuting the arguments and beliefs of the determinists and incompatibilists, even the ones who attempt to support their contentions by quoting pesukim from the TeNaC”h.  Later commentaries point out that the eleventh Maimonidean article of faith is Divine Reward and Punishment and that such a belief is untenable unless human Free-Will is real and not a myth.

That said it is equally important to remember that our Free-Will is limited and not absolute or all-encompassing.  In his treatise on Free-Will, Rav Elya Lazer Dessler uses the following allegory to illustrate this point: When two neighboring countries are war with one another in theory the potential exists for the absolute victory of one country or another.  In this scenario country “A” would conquer and annex every last acre of enemy country “B”s land, raising their national colors and imposing their laws and governmental system over every inch of what was formerly enemy territory.  But in practice, on any given day during any given battle of the war only a small portion or, in a multiple front war, several small portions of territory are actually being contested.  Armies advance and retreat and what was firmly under the control of one country or another last week, last month or last year may be in enemy hands today.  Nevertheless, in a long wars ebb and flow the actual current battlefronts comprise a relatively small to tiny portion of the combatant countries total land mass. Read more So Bad That it MUST be Good

And For an Offering … I Will Sacrifice My Soul

Vayikra 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a man will bring near, from [among] you,( meekem) a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice           

–Vayikra 1: 2

When he brings. [The pasuk is not discussing an obligatory sacrifice, in which case it would have said, “a man shall bring ….” Rather,] the pasuk is speaking here of voluntary sacrifices [and thus says, “When a man …brings a sacrifice”]. — [Toras Kohanim 1:12]

from animals: but not all of them. [The phrase therefore] excludes the case of animals that have cohabited with a human, as an active or a passive partner. – [Toras Kohanim 1:17]

from cattle [The phrase] excludes an animal that has been worshipped [as a deity].

from the flock: [This phrase} excludes muktzah-an animal set aside [i.e., designated for sacrifice to pagan deities]. — [Toras Kohanim 1:18]

–Rashi ibid

Several sefarim from the Izhbitzer school pose a grammatical question about this pasuk ; Why the garbled sentence structure with the verb appearing before stating the subject precisely? The syntax of the sentence ought to have been “When a man from among you will bring near?

What follows is a sampling of the wide array of answers that are offered:

Referencing the famous drasha-derivation of a Halachah from close textual readings, of the gemara ( Sukkah 41B): “and you shall take lachem-to yourself–from that which belongs to you”, Rav Leibeleh Eiger  understands the odd placement of the word meekem – “from (among) you”, to mean that the real sacrifice is not from ones property / livestock, but from oneself. After all, the pasuk need not mention that the donor of the sacrifice is from “among” the Jewish People as the entirety of the Torah is addressed to an exclusively Jewish audience. Rather, the pasuk seeks to convey the concept that the “stuff” of the bringing near/sacrificing is from “you”, from the very being of the donor.

Many people tend to compartmentalize their lives.  Their attitude is that they “owe” G-d the performance of mitzvos and the avoidance of transgressions.  However, if something in their lives; be it a thought, a word or action is Halachically / morally neutral; a devar reshus– something we are neither commanded to do nor to avoid; then we are, so to speak, free agents, we are on our own.  As long as something is Halachically permissible then, the thinking goes, we ought to “go for all the gusto”, take full advantage of all permissible pleasures and thus, live life to its fullest.

This may be a pervasive attitude but it is not an authentically Jewish one.  At the beginning of Parashas Kedoshim the Ramban famously condemns it as being the mind-set of a nahval birshus hatorah– a vile lowlife with the Torah’s imprimatur and “seal of approval.” Rav Leibeleh teaches that the nearness and the sacrifice of what is termed a korban derives mainly from meekem; giving up something of yourself, leaving some pleasure on the table, some of the great deals unconsummated or some adventurous experience unlived.

This, he maintains, is what Rashi is referring to when he explains “the pasuk is speaking here of voluntary sacrifices,” that a generosity of spirit and volunteerism grip the worshippers heart so that he is prepared to strive for the paradigm of  “sanctify yourself with [i.e. by giving up some of] what is permitted to you.”

There is a well known argument between the Ramban and the Rambam as to the main underlying reason for the mitzvah of the korbanos-sacrifices in general . Per the Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) korbanos are meant to be an audio-visual aid to the teshuvah process of the sinner offering the korban.  The animal being sacrificed becomes a stand-in; a substitute for the donor.  When observing the sacrificial process the following types of thoughts and emotions are supposed to run through the heart and mind of the donor:  “There but for the grace of G-d go I. By offending my Creator and the transgressing His will I have forfeited my right to exist.  If justice was not tempered by mercy it is my own throat that ought to have been slashed, my own blood collected and sprayed, my own skin flayed from my body and my own viscera or limbs immolated on the altar.”

In light of this Ramban and extending the concept that, even after using the animal as a surrogate, the essential offering of the korban is still meekem-from you, the Izhbitzer and Rav Leibeleh Eiger argue that it follows that any Halachic limitations applying to the animal would apply to the donor as well. These limitations are the pasuks way of explicating ways and means to achieve the goal of sacrificing oneself through “sanctify yourself with [i.e. by giving up some of] what is permitted to you.”

Just as the animal is invalid for sacrifice if it was used for immoral purposes so too the donor must sacrifice meekem; of his pleasure-seeking, and purify himself from his baser animal instincts that drive his libidinous tendencies. Just as the animal is invalid for sacrifice if it has been worshipped, so too the donor must sacrifice of his ego-gratification and cleanse himself of lording it over others and being domineering over others or making himself salient above others in any way. Just as the animal is invalid for sacrifice if has been dedicated/set aside-huktzah as a sacrifice for idolatry, so too the donor must sacrifice of his social-networking with parties that have dedicated themselves to causes antithetical to the service of HaShem, the root of sadness and depression, and the donor must lose any sense of awe and self-abnegation towards anything worldly and temporal.

By not maximizing his own self-actualization and sacrificing of his lusts, of his glory-seeking, of his need for social approval and of his worship of temporal worldly matters the korban will be meekem, from the essential YOU.

~adapted from Toras Emes Vaykra D”H Adam (the first)

Mei HaShiloach II Vayikra D”H Adam

See also Bais Yaakov Vayikra Inyan 23

If You Can’t Stand the Light, Get Out of the Vision

Bo5774-An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

And Moshe said [to Pharaoh] “HaShem said as follows: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and every firstborn in Egypt will die …’ “

-Shemos 11:4,5

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are staying; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you and there won’t be any lethal plague in your midst when I strike the land of Egypt.  

-Shemos 12:13

G-d will then move across to afflict Egypt. When He sees the blood over the door and on the two doorposts G-d will pass over that door and not allow the force of destruction to enter your homes to strike.

-Shemos 12:23

There was a pronounced difference between the Jews and the Egyptians during all the plagues prior to “the striking of the firstborn”. The Jews were invulnerable to the destructive effects of the plagues.   During the first plague, if a Jew and an Egyptian would drink from the same vessel, the Jew would swallow sweet fresh water while the Egyptian would gag on blood.  The ninth plague caused a palpable; immobilizing darkness to lie upon the land but the children of Israel had abundant light in all of their dwellings.  The same applied to plagues two through eight. Moreover, it was G-d Himself who produced these disparities.  No heroic measures were required on the part of the Jews.

These differences were so pronounced, foretold and deliberate that the Izhbitzer School interprets them to be part of the exodus process itself. HaShem sought to take one nation out of the midst / “the innards” of another nation.  Debunking the alleged equality between Israel and Egypt was part and parcel of the process. Yetzias Mitzrayim-the exodus from Egypt, was about more than liberating a group of Egyptian slaves; it was the birth of a nation and the creation of a new man.  Thus understood, the sequence of the plagues was not just a war of attrition to break the will of the Egyptians. The disparities that existed between the Jews and the Egyptians during the plagues gradually advanced the nation of Israel “through the birth canal” as it were, towards the ultimate goal of a new, distinct identity and absolute individuation.

In light of this Rav Tazdok, the Lubliner Kohen, asks several pointed questions:

1. The Egyptians had “earned” the striking of the firstborn as the wages of the sin of their continued refusal to release the children of Israel. But the Jews had done nothing to delay their own release. So why did they warrant the striking of the firstborn?
2. During the final plague, why were the protective measures of daubing the blood of the Passover sacrifice on the lintel and the doorposts and not leaving their homes all night necessary when no such measures had been needed during the first nine plagues?
3. As HaShem moved across Egypt to strike the firstborn Himself the rule of “once the destroying angel is given a license to act he does not distinguish between the wicked and the righteous”(Bava Kama 60A) should not apply. Then what did the Jews have to fear?
4.  How, in fact, did HaShem dispense kivyachol-as it were, with the services of the destroying angel when our theology teaches that “no evil (i.e. punishment or suffering) emanates out of the mouth of the Most High” (Eichah 3:38)

Before presenting his answer the Lubliner Kohen introduces a novel understanding of a particular type of death.

Imagine a simple, standard-issue garden hose being attached to a fire hydrant to extinguish a fire.  After just a few moments the hose would crack and burst.  Garden hoses are not engineered to withstand that level of water pressure per square inch.  This serves as an allegory for the human soul’s interface with G-d’s Infinite Light.  An overload of Divine Light accrues to “the breaking of the vessels.” This is the meaning of the pasuk “And He said: ‘You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.’ “(Shemos 33:20) to which Chazal appended this significant addendum: “But at the moment of death, man shall see [HaShem]” (Sifri B’Ha’aloschah 103).

The Tenach and the Talmud are replete with examples of those who reached for medregos– levels that exceeded the grasp of their own actual madregah and who perished from an inability to endure the intensity of the Divine Light:

Four great Tannaim entered the Parde”s. One of them, ben Azai, tragically “glimpsed and died” shattered by the intensity of the G-d knowledge he’d grasped there. (Chagigah 14B). This was the cause of death of Ahron’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, as well. Those baalei teshuvah-masters of repentance, who fast-track their teshuvah-turning and reacquire perfection proverbially בשעתא חדא וברגעא חדא -“in one hour–one moment” also part with their souls in this manner. This was the cause of death for the exemplary baal teshuvah “Rabi” Elazar ben Durdai. (Avodah Zarah 17A).

This was precisely the dynamic at work during the final plague; the striking of the firstborn. HaShem Himself, (or as our sages put it בכבודו ובעצמו) kivyachol “emerged” and “moved across” Egypt. This was an unprecedented gilui Shechinah-Divine revelation. The Egyptians, engrossed as they were in idolatry and licentiousness lacked the necessary “vessels” to contain this tsunami of light.  In fact, the grossness of rank-and-file Egyptians’ impurity actually left them with no capacity to sense the light of holiness at all.

But before Matan Torah– the giving of the Torah, sacrifices were offered by firstborns. The firstborn of every nation possessed some modicum of sensitivity to holiness. Still, their capacity for absorbing holiness was minimal and constrained. The gilui Shechinah at midnight of the exodus came into the souls of the non-Jewish firstborn with all of the force of fire hydrant-pressurized water entering a garden hose. Unsurprisingly, they were instantly shattered.  Their deaths were not punishments in the conventional sense.  On the contrary, nothing became their depraved and debauched lives so much as leaving it through this one glorious moment of G-d-perception. No evil had emanated from the Most High.

As for the Jews; eventually they would develop “vessels” broad and sturdy enough to absorb the light of gilui Shechinah.  The Torah, when describing the revelation at Sinai, attests to this after the fact: “has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have, and lived?” (Devarim 4:33) Yet, at midnight of the exodus this potential was underdeveloped.  For the Jews to have ventured outdoors then would have been a reckless exercise in “reach” that exceeded “grasp”.  As was the case with Rabi Elazar ben Durdai, such a meteoric ascent, in which lofty madregos are gained “in one hour–one moment” would have cost them their lives.

Paradoxically, it is the Jewish capacity for mesirus nefesh-giving up their lives for HaShems sake, which transforms their souls into vessels broad and sturdy enough to absorb the light of gilui Shechinah.  This was manifested just prior to Matan Torah, when they agreed to take the Torah, no questions asked.  All the other nations lacked this capacity.  When the other nations were offered the Torah they would ask “what is written within the Torah?” and when they discovered something in the Torah that rubbed against their grains; that disagreed with their constitutions, they rejected the Torah and its Author.

The blood of the Passover sacrifices that the Jews daubed on their doorposts served as a sign of the Jewish potential for mesirus nefesh.  On the night of the exodus the Jews were passing and skipping over the gradual, slow-and-steady approach to attaining madregos.  Even so, behind these doors signed with mesirus nefesh they were protected from the shattering and soul-taking effects of HaShem’s awe-inspiring, devastating Infinite Light.  As they could not stand the light they stayed out of the vision.

Adapted from Resisei Laylah 58 pp 172174
See also Mei Hashiloach II Bo D”H Vayomer (the first such D”H)


The Holiness of “Going like a Sheep”

Vayechi 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

The Elokim before whom my fathers , Avraham and Yitzchak, walked is the Elokim who has led me like a Shepherd from my inception until this day.

-Bereishis 48:15

After the revelation at Sinai various directives of the Torah, some actually counted among the 613 mitzvos, express HaShem’s will for imitatio dei– by which man finds sanctity and goodness by endeavoring to imitate HaShem.  Be it “walking in His ways”(Devarim 8:6 & 11:22), “sticking to Him”(Devarim11:22&30:20)[ which Chazal interpreted as sticking to His middos-characteristics] or “be holy for I am holy”(Vayikra 19:2) the idea is the same one. To wit; that we humans should make our own behaviors, and the spiritual-psychodynamics that underpin them, as consistent with those of HaShem as the limits of our theology allows.

Rav Moshe Codovero’s classic work, Tomer Devorah is predicated on this principle.  First the author analyzes the thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy and then offers guidance and advice as to how to integrate them into our own lives,  Some have described the principle lyrically as dimui hatzurah l’Yotzrah– making the painting grow similar to the artist. (Cp Koheles Rabbah 2:26)

One of the twentieth century’s preeminent gaonim and chachmei hoavodah taught that while all this is true, that prior to the revelation at Sinai, in our Nations developmental period “walking in His ways” was not just one among many mitzvos or even the best technique for performing all the others. It was the be all and end all of the life’s-work of the patriarchs. HaShem proclaims His mission for Avraham as follows: “For I have paid special attention to him, so that he may command his children and his household after him, that they will keep the way of HaShem, to do charity and justice; HaShem will then bring about for Avraham everything that He promised.”  (Bereishis18:19)

The “way of HaShem” is not the merely way that He commands us to walk but that k’vyachol-as it were, the way / path that He treads Himself.  HaShem is our King, but also our Father, and in Divine Parenting “Do as I say, not as I do” is an anathema.  The “way of HaShem” is why He formed a covenantal relationship with Avraham and the nation that will spring from his loins. As such “walking in His ways” is the very cornerstone of Jewish patriarchy.

Still, the Izhbitzer explains, there are subtle yet defining differences between the various patriarchs approach to “walking in His ways.”

Avraham Avinu was defined by his middah of Chesed– loving-kindness, giving to, and pouring out upon, others. Avraham utilized love and kindness in every given opportunity to assimilate himself to His Creator. Yitzchak Avinu was defined by his middah of Gevurah-forceful self-restraint.  Yitzchak utilized awe and forceful self-restraint in every circumstance to emulate the way of His Creator. Yet Avraham was unfamiliar with the notion of mimicking Divine Contraction and Yitzchak was unaccustomed to imitating Divine Expansion.

But Yaakov was not defined by, and thus not restricted to, any particular middah. Yaakov’s very being was imitatio dei. Yaakov was a living self-portrait of HaShem that continually developed ever-higher fidelity to the Likeness of the portrait Painter.  Yaakov possessed the spiritual dexterity to copy HaShem in all of HaShems Divine middos. Whether the given situation called for chesed, gevurah or any other attribute across the theological spectrum, Yaakov, chameleon-like, conformed to the ways of His Creator.  In this respect his father and grandfather were, relatively speaking, more rigid and limited.

When Yaakov says that his fathers walked before HaShem he was humbly voicing a feeling of comparative inferiority.  He is expressing his observation of the proactive way in which they served HaShem. Capable of standing on their own two feet they, k’vyachol, walked ahead of HaShem. As Rashi (Bereishis 6:9) says “Avraham strengthened himself and walked in his righteousness by himself.”  Defined by their own particular middos, Avraham and Yitzchak were able to improvise and adapt these middos in Divinely imitative ways to new situations. This was especially so in those situations that seemed to be repeating the past, situations that precedents had been set for.

In contradistinction, Yaakov himself needed constant shepherding by HaShem. “Elokim…has led me like a Shepherd from my inception until this day.”  A sheep follows every move of the shepherd.  When the shepherd goes to the right or to the left, up or down, slow or fast, the sheep follow. Yesterday, watering his flock, the shepherd may have brought them right up to the riverbank. Today, floods have caused the waters to overflow and to repeat yesterday’s livestock management would not result in hydrating the sheep, but in drowning them.   Similarly Yaakov felt the need to follow HaShem like a sheep with no internal GPS to guide himself. Even if he confronted the “same” situation for the hundredth time, he awaited Divine guidance and then precisely shadowed HaShem’s Movements k’vyachol.

In fact, this was no inadequacy on Yaakov’s part but the very characteristic that made him the “choicest of the Patriarchs” and why it is his visage, and not those of Avraham and Yitzchak , that is chiseled on the Divine throne of Glory.

Yaakov lived the life that king Dovid prayed for “(When) HaShem is my Shepherd I will lack for nothing!” HaShem always leads a person, yet most people, bristling at the sheep-Shepherd relationship, turn their faces aside and willfully refuse to follow the leader.

The second Izhbitzer explains the relative advantage of Yaakov’s sheepishness in light of the following gemara:

And many nations will go and say: ‘ let us go and ascend up HaShem’s mountain, to the house of the L-rd of Yaakov; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion will Torah go forth, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem.

Yeshaya 2:3

Rabi Elazar observed; “to the house of the L-rd of Yaakov” (why is this place referred to as the house of the L-rd of Yaakov) and not the L-rd of Avraham or the L-rd of Yitzchak? Avraham referred to the site of the Beis Hamikdash as a mountain (Bereishis 22:14), Yitzchak referred to it as a field (Bereishis 24:63), but Yaakov called it a house “and he called the name of the place Bethel (Bereishis 28:19).

-Pesachim 88A

There is an inherent danger in being fixed in a particular middah. One who is intransigently stuck even in the noblest of middos may be found wanting in particular situations.  No middah is more splendid than rachmanus-mercy, rooted in the chesed that is the very foundation of the world. Yet our sages teach us that one who can never let go of mercy will first abuse it by bestowing it upon unworthy recipients and then overcompensate for that abuse with its antisocial antithesis. “All who are merciful to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the merciful” (Koheles Rabbah 7).

No one middah is complete and perfect unto itself. This is why Yaakov eschewed reliance on any particular middah.  Instead, he would assess the changing circumstances and look to HaShem for enlightenment and guidance minute by minute. He would move from middah to middah as the Divine will renewed Itself every moment. This is the meaning of the pasuk “No black magic can (harm) Yaakov nor any occult powers against Yisrael. ‘How is G-d acting at this moment’ is the only question pertinent to Yaakov and Yisrael.”(BeMidbar 23:23).

Through his incessant imitatio dei, his constant cleaving to HaShem Yaakov became subsumed within the Divine Light.  The Divine Light surrounded Yaakov like a house. As a house provides shelter from the elements the surrounding Divine Light lent Yaakov invulnerability. No malevolent powers, nor the excesses or deficiencies of the monomaniacal fixation on a particular middah, could harm him. Nimbly darting from middah to middah Yaakov sheepishly followed HaShem at every turn. Unlike his father and grandfather Hashem, k’vayachol, served as a protective “house” for Yaakov.

Adapted from:

Mei Hashiloach Vayechi D”H Vayomer Elokim
Bais Yaakov Vayechi inyan 7 page 426 (213B)
Also see Pri Tzadik Rosh HaShanah inyan 8 page 170

To Be Willing to Do More than Die… so That Others May Live

Vayigash 5774-An installment in the seriea
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 Love HaShem your L-rd with all your heart, with all your soul and with your entire uttermost.

-Devarim 6: 5

The second modifier of this commandment “love…with all your soul/ life” is the scriptural source for the halachah-Torah law that one must lay down their lives and die ahl kiddush HaShem– through holy martyrdom to sanctify The Name rather than transgress the prohibition of idolatry(Sanhedrin 74A). There are several other transgressions and circumstances where the halachah demands “death before transgression.” Those brave and G-d-loving souls who were equal to this ultimate test of tests have gone down in the annals of Jewish history as kedoshim-holy ones.

As all death is certain, if we were able to pick the circumstances of our deaths the noblest and wisest choice would be to die ahl kiddush HaShem confident that, in doing so, this end of our temporal lives will gain us holiness and entrée to an exalted eternity.  Rabi Akiva prayed for such a death every day and his prayers were answered (Brachos 61B). Those who die ahl kiddush HaShem occupy such an exalted position in the world-to-come that their station is inaccessible even to those who lived righteous lives but died conventional deaths. (Pesachim 50 A)

The Rambam goes so far as to say that dying ahl kiddush HaShem instantly redeems a terribly lived life. In his words “A person who’d lived a wicked life whom HaShem affords the merit of the exalted level of dying ahl kiddush HaShem, even if his sins were as great as those of Yeravam ben Nevaht and his cohorts (who’d lost their share in the world-to-come) will gain a portion in the world-to-come.” (Igerres Teiman).

The conventional translation for the last modifier of this pasuk is “Love HaShem…and with all your might.” But the Hebrew word meod literally means “very/ exceedingly.”  The word that concludes the pasuk is the second person, singular, possessive construct of this word. In this vein “and with your entire uttermost” comes close to a hyper-literal translation. Such a translation means that we are commanded to love HaShem by giving Him that which we value above all else, that which we would gladly trade our hearts and souls to obtain. The Izhbitzer teaches that there are times and circumstances that call for more than trading a fleeting life for an everlasting one. There are times and circumstances when mesiras nefesh means sacrificing our eternity, NOT sacrificing something else to get it.

His disciple Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, cites many examples of this supreme type of self-sacrifice:  After the sin of the Golden calf Moshe Rabenu offered to be erased from G-d’s book in order to save the Jewish People (Shemos 32:32).  When his son plotted to commit regicide/ patricide, King Dovid sought to do damage control by worshipping idols, forfeiting his own share in the world-to-come, so as to minimize desecrating HaShem’s Name (Sanhedrin107A).  For his love of Torah, in order to be the precedent-setting case that would bring a disputed halachah to light the mekoshesh eitzim-wood gatherer / chopper was willing to desecrate Shabbos (BeMidbar15:32-26, Tosafos Bava Basra 119B). Similarly, all those who “strolled in the Orchard”(Chagigah 14B) i.e. who studied the mystical secrets of the Torah, did so for the selfless, reckless love of Torah. They were cognizant of the risks these Torah studies posed to their bodies, sanity and even their faith. To lose ones faith is to lose the world-to-come.

“Send the boy with me” said Yehudah to his father Yisrael …”I will be responsible for him myself.  You can demand him from my hand. If I do not bring him back and have him stand here in your presence I will have sinned to you for all time.”

Bereishis 43:8,9

 Yehudah walked up to Yoseph and said “Please, your highness, (alternatively; my Master is within me) please let me say something to you personally…”

Bereishis 44:18

“Besides, I offered myself to my father as a guarantor for the lad. I told him ‘If I do d not bring him back to you I will have sinned to my father for all time.”

Bereishis 44:32

The sidra opens with Yehudah’s dramatic monologue. Apparently his peroration is being delivered in front of Tzafnat P’a’aneyach, the viceroy of Egypt. Superficially, pasuk 32 reads as a maudlin plea for mercy; “look at what I stand to lose unless your highness reconsiders…” But, in truth, even prior to Yoseph’s revealing his true identity, Yehudah was, in effect, speaking to Yoseph. More precisely; he was acting as his own advocate before HaShems heavenly court over the sale of Yoseph, and over Yoseph’s presumed loss to the history and kedushah-development of K’lal Yisrael. Earlier there had been a consensus among the brothers that all of their troubles in Egypt, now having culminated in Binyamin being accused of stealing Tzafnat P’a’aneyach’s divining cup, were Divine retribution for the sale of Yoseph. (Bereishis 42:21,22)

As criminal-defense attorneys will tell you, in many cases the best defense is a good offense. Yehudah’s line of attack was that he could supply K’lal Yisrael with everything that Yoseph had to offer…. and more. The second Izhbitzer, the Bais Yaakov, explains Yehudah’s words as follows: “Yoseph’s greatest spiritual strength derives from his supreme self-control.  Even when the most overpowering temptations sing Yoseph a siren-song calling for an expansion of self that would overspill these boundaries, Yoseph, personifying yesod-immovable, defined foundation, has ability to constrict himself and respect boundaries that are just not to be crossed.

“But” Yehudah argues “I possess that power as well because; bi adonee-HaShem’s theonym is within me, His holy Name is subsumed inside my own (the name Yehudah is the tetragrammaton with the letter dalet intervening between the final two letters) and His divine power to maintain boundaries is contained within me.

“Moreover I have a capacity for self-sacrifice that Yoseph lacks.  I can be moser-nefesh / neshamah-sacrifice my soul.  I posses the singular selflessness, the self-abnegation,  to forfeit not merely my temporal body but my everlasting soul so that others may live. Yoseph does not. Ki ahvd’cha ahrav es hanaaar– your slave has cosigned for the youth (Binyamin).”

Chazal teach that when Yehudah guaranteed Yaakov the safe, live return of Binyamin he did it on penalty of losing his share in the world to come (See Rashi-Bereshis 43:9). Yehudah was willing to do more than merely sacrifice a few remaining years of life on Binyamin’s behalf.  He was ready to forfeit eternity. According to the Bais Yaakov’s reading “If I do not bring him back to you I will have sinned to my father for all time” is no weepy supplication for clemency; it is a bold and defiant assertion of superiority.

Adapted from:
Mei Hashiloach V’eschanan D”H v’ahavta page 57B
Tzidkas Hatzadik 201page 78
Bais Yaakov Vayigash inyan 14 page 404 (102B)


Dreaming but Not Sleeping

Vayeshev 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 Soon thereafter the Egyptian king’s wine steward and the baker offended their master, who was the king of Egypt.

-Bereshis 40:1

 [Regarding] this one (the wine steward) a fly was found in his goblet, and [concerning] that one (the baker) a pebble was found in his bread.  (Bereshis. Rabbah 88:2)

-Rashi ibid

The kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Zohar Miketz 197A

Throughout this Sidra there’s a marked disparity between Yoseph and Yehudah. All of Yoseph’s well-intentioned plans go awry First, he shares his prophetic dream with his brothers and they grow jealous of him. Then he tries to edify his brothers and some are ready to kill him while, in due course, they sell him to an Ishmaelite caravan consigning him to near-certain doom. He serves his master faithfully, resisting all temptations, but then gets framed for an infidelity that he was innocent of. Finally, he makes a minor effort at self-help, asking the Pharaoh’s wine steward to say something favorable about him to Pharaoh and, as a result, ends up spending another two years prison.

On the other hand, Yehudah seems to be living the proverbial charmed life. Even though he was the one who presented Yoseph’s goat-bloodied garment to their father, causing their father overwhelming anguish,  he still merited being in Yaakov’s proximity all those long years that Yoseph was in exile.  In the, apparently, very sordid affair of Tamar, all ended well and the progenitor of the Messianic line was born.

The Izhbitzer teaches that Yoseph envied Yehudah and had grievances about HaShem’s conduct of his own affairs. He wondered why HaShem crowned all of Yehudahs endeavors with great success, even those that were overtly risky or that ventured far into moral and ethical ambiguity.  Whereas all of his own actions, no matter how purely motivated, came under the closest Divine scrutiny, the “precision of a hairsbreadth” and, invariably, were found wanting.

The dreams of the Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker were meant to serve as an allegorical response to Yoseph’s grievances. Every king, including the King of all kings, has a servant like the wine steward and a servant akin to the baker.  The wine steward was restored to his position because he was not responsible for his offense.  There’s really nothing that he could’ve done to prevent a fly from buzzing into the wine goblet.  A fly is animate and has an instinct if it’s own. It’s even possible that the fly fluttered into the goblet after it was already in the Pharaoh’s grasp. However, the baker’s offense was unpardonable as an inert pebble should never have found its way into the king’s bread loaf. Yoseph was like the baker and Yehudah was like the wine-steward.

King Dovid, the quintessence of Yehudah, is described by the Zohar (Mishpatim 107A) as the Kings “jester”. As a powerful king himself how should we understand this unusual title? We know that King Dovid’s songs of Tehilim were sung as the wine libations were poured in the Beis HaMikdash on HaShems “table” kivayochol -as it were. If the purpose of a jester is to dispel sadness from, and bring merriment to, the king’s heart, then jesters and wine stewards employ different means to achieve the same goal. So, the jester designation can be understood in wine steward terms.

But the “jester” designation refers to the something deeper as well. Yehudah’s offenses, and those of his descendants, were deemed to be beyond the range of their  bechirah chofshis– free-will. As our sages taught; “the Angel appointed to preside over desire forced him” to consort with Tamar (Bereshis Rabbah 85:9).  Jesters allow their kings to toy with them and to defeat them at the royal courts’ games. When a person loses his bechirah chofshis he becomes G-d’s plaything, a mere puppet on HaShem’s string, as a jester might, a man who has lost his bechirah chofshis “lets” G-d win kivayochol.  The pasuk states: “that You may be justified when You speak, and be in the right when You judge” (Tehilim 51:6). When expounding on the episode of Dovid and Bas-Sheva the Gemara understands that what Dovid meant to say here was “let them [the people] not say, ‘The servant triumphed  against his Master’.” (Sanhedrin 107A). In other words, Dovid is telling HaShem “I’m your jester, I let my King win”

On the other hand, Yoseph was like the baker. HaShem had instilled Yoseph with a fiery clarity and brilliance and the passionate strength to withstand all tests. After all, the House of Yoseph was to be the flame that would consume the House of Esav (see Ovadiah 1:18). HaShem had placed Yoseph in a crisp, brilliant and immaculate place. He and his descendants needed to stay spotless in order to refute any of Esav’s contentions. As trying as Yoseph’s trials were they were never outside the scope of his bechirah chofshis. Yoseph was in complete control of his choices.

If something unseemly crept into Yehudah’s affairs it was as though the zigzagging fly splashed into the King’s wine goblet after it was already in the King’s hands.  There was absolutely nothing that the jester/wine steward could have done to prevent it.  If something inappropriate contaminated Yoseph’s affairs it was as though a tooth-shattering pebble was in the King’s bread.  The King grew furious and bitterly disappointed because this was absolutely something that the baker could have, and should have, put a stop to.


The righteousness of the unblemished will straighten his way; and by his wickedness, the wicked shall fall.

-Mishlei 11:5

 When an otherwise unblemished Tzaddik sins, the Divine trait of Strict Justice demands the harsh and “precision of a hairsbreadth” punishment to expiate the sin. But the Divine trait of Mercy seeks alternatives modes of Tikun-sin repair and amelioration.  It will not allow the Tzaddik to take the punishment. Instead It allows the Tzaddik to observe someone guilty of a coarser, more overt expression of the same sin taking their punishment.  This sensitizes the Tzaddik to his own misstep.  The Tzaddik sees the retribution being executed and, growing reflective and insightful concludes, in essence, that “there, but for the Grace of G-d, go I”. This is why the pasuk says “and by his wickedness, the wicked shall fall.”,  when the correct poetic meter of the sentence should have been “and the wicked shall fall by his wickedness.” The truth is that there are times and situations when the wicked fall due to the wickedness of the unblemished! They do so in order the enable the unblemished to straighten his way.

As sternly as Yoseph was judged compared to Yehudah, it could have been even more severe. In fact, mercy tempered the justice that he was dealt. The Pharaoh’s baker became the punishment proxy for Yoseph, the Divine King’s “baker”. The dissimilar dreams of the wine steward and the baker were not just revealed to Yoseph because he happened to be the best dream-interpreter available in the dungeon. They were revealed to him to help him understand the difference between Yehudah’s relationship with HaShem and his own, to help him identify with the baker rather than with the wine steward, to stop grumbling about alleged Divine miscarriages of justice, to realize his own strengths and responsibilities, to shift the responsibility for his tribulations to his own broad shoulders and thus be metaken– repair and repent for his shortfalls. 

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Vayeshev end of long D”H Vayeshev

 And Mei HaShiloach II Vayeshev D”H B’Inyan


Addition by Subtraction

Vayishlach 5774-An installment in the series From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School For series introduction CLICK By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood   Yaakov remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until just before daybreak.

-Bereshis 32:25

He had forgotten small flasks and [unwilling to squander them] returned [unaccompanied] for them. 

-Rashi Ibid

But Esav said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what is yours remain yours.”, “Please no!” Yaakov said “If indeed I have gained favor with you, then please accept my gift.  After all, seeing your face is like seeing the face of the Divine, you have received me so favorably. Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you.  Elokim has favored me [with it], and I have all [I need].” Yaakov thus prevailed upon him, and [at last] Esav took [it].

-Bereshis 33:9-11

Yaakov was among those Tzadikim who “value their property more than their bodies”(Chulin 91A).   So much so that he found it unconscionable to let a few small flasks go to waste.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger points out that his imploring Esav to accept his substantial gifts seems totally incompatible with his earlier behavior and attitude.  Even had he been less frugal, the fact that the recipient was the wicked Esav should have curbed his generosity and apparent urgency to part with his own property.

“But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. We’ve learned that the Original Sin, ingesting of the fruit of the Tree of the Joining Together of Good and Evil resulted in the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. When Adam and Chava became what they ate this had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the Original Sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good or any unmitigated evil.

To resolve Yaakov’s inconsistencies Rav Leibeleh applies and expands this concept. He maintains that the physical manifestation of mans intrinsic evil is the foreskin. The bris milah-covenant of circumcision is intended to separate this congenital admixture of evil.  No one considers circumcision an act of maiming nor circumcised people to be amputees. On the contrary; the preamble to this covenant is “Walk before me and become perfect!” (Bereshis 17:1). One achieves perfection through excision of the superfluous. Circumcision is addition through subtraction.

Milah serves as the template for free-will endowed human beings to continue exercising their will in making birurim-refinements that sift the evil away from the good and expunge it. When HaShem bestows munificence and kedushah-holiness on deserving individuals that kedushah contains traces of evil as well.  It is the recipients’ mission and challenge to sift away and remove these smatterings of evil.  The Divine Wisdom determines the quality and quantity of evil that is in the mix, customizing the “compound” that requires refining so that it is appropriate to the soul tasked with the refining.

In our patriarch’s case, the vast stream of benevolence and kedushah overflowing from HaShem to Yaakov was adulterated by the pollutants of Esav’s evil. But until Yaakov isolated and detached the portions belonging to Esav that he’d received, he himself was as imperfect and spiritually maimed as one who is uncircumcised.  While Yaakov was, indeed, very parsimonious and possessive of that which belonged to him, he was eager to divest himself of all that belonged to Esav. This explains why he literally begged Esav to accept his gift. Yaakov was not giving away, he was giving back.

This helps explain the odd grammatical construct of pasuk 11; “Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you” is in the past tense. The pasuk would have been less stilted had it read: “Please accept my welcoming gift that I bring to you/ that I am giving you”. Subtextually Yaakov is telling Esav “Don’t imagine for a moment that I’m giving up anything (good/holy) that is actually mine. I’m merely transferring something that belonged to you from long ago. It had been brought to you in the past as an extraneous, superfluous add-on of evil at the time that HaShem’s shefa-overflow of benevolence came to me (כי חנני אלוקים). The welcoming gift that I present to you now was always meant to be yours.   On the contrary, you must take back what was always your portion from me so that what remains with me will be refined, unadulterated holiness. I must add to myself, perfect myself through this subtraction. Giving you this gift is another iteration of cutting away my foreskin.”

The very act of urging, pleading, nagging, almost harassing, Esav to accept the gift, was out of character for Yaakov.  While non-violent, it resonated of the type of compulsion and intimidation we normally associate with Esav, he to whom “the arms” belong, who lives by his sword and who engages in tyrannical imperialism. The technique of this gift-giving, actually divestiture, was itself, a part of the birur. “Prevailing-upon” his brother, Yaakov used his persistence as body language to tell Esav “Take your own haftzarah-your compelling, prevailing-upon away from me. ויפצר בו…ויקח

On that day Esav returned on his way to Seir. Yaakov journeyed to Sukkoth.  There, he built himself a house, and made shelters for his livestock. He therefore named the place Sukkoth. [Shelters]

– Bereshis 33: 16-17

The Torah’s narrative progresses from the episode of the “gift” to Esav to the final separation of the two brothers from one another. Rav Leibeleh concludes that this segue is as seamless and reasonable as the irreversible separation of the foreskin from the perfected body.

Adapted from Imrei Emes Vayishlach D”H Kach page 37  

The “Absolute Value” of Middos

VaYetzai 5774-An addendum in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Conventional wisdom dictates that when taking inventory of ourselves, that we should use a bookkeepers ledger sheet as a model. We divide our strengths and weaknesses along the lines of credits and debits but, generally speaking, we never insert the same item into both columns. We catalogue anger, stinginess and haughtiness as our bad middos – character traits on the negative side of the ledger and patience, humility and generosity as our good middos on the positive side. Never shall the twain meet.

But earlier this week, when probing Rachels middah of jealousy we learned that the Izhbitzer disabuses us of this notion and, basically, invalidates this bifurcated model of our kochos hanefesh-faculties of our souls.  He taught that (I paraphrase, remember, these are interpretive adaptations, not verbatim translations): “HaShem provides every individual soul with a unique makeup and an incomparable defining middah– characteristic, a leitmotif that colors all their perceptions, impacts all their decisions, tests them at every juncture and motivates all of their thoughts, words and deeds. The Divine Will desires that one’s leitmotif  be both their greatest strength, their supreme source of good and their worst weakness, their most horrible enabler for evil. “

A good way to understand the Izhbitzer is by drawing on the mathematical concept of “absolute value”. The absolute value of a number is its distance from zero on the number line and it makes no difference if it is a positive or a negative number.

The absolute value of x, denoted “| x |” is the distance of x from zero. This is why absolute value is never negative; absolute value only addresses “how far?” not “in which direction?” This means not only that | 3 | = 3, because 3 is three units to the right of zero, but also that | –3 | = 3, because –3 is also three units to the left of zero.  It is the same for middos and kochos hanefesh, the absolute value of the negative/ evil ones and their positive/ good counterparts are equal. E.g. the | zealousness| (which is read as “the absolute value of zealousness) = passion.  But the | anger AKA – negative zealousness | = passion as well. Understanding that they share the same root “value” illustrates why sublimating the negative into the positive is eminently doable.

The Izhbitzers disciple, Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, develops this concept making it a source of encouragement and a beacon of hope.

Each of us has a visceral awareness that our yetzer haras obsession should be our own. Those tendencies that the yetzer hara presses us most incessantly about are the precise ones that we could utilize to excel at with pristine goodness free of even a trace admixture of evil or ulterior motives.   The faculties that we’ve abused to sin most egregiously with are precisely the ones that we may use to maximize our capacity for goodness and holiness with.

This is why the Midrash teaches that we ought to do Mitzvahs with the same limbs that we’ve used to sin with. (VaYikra Rabbah 21).  This is much more than a mere means to repair the damage done by the sin midah k’neged midah -quid pro quo.  It is a mending of the sinners soul as well.

Every individual was created to be mesaken-repair and sanctify one particular thing.  Each of us is a super-specialist with a unique and inimitable mission of tikun. No two faces are clonishly alike because the face is the portal through which ones tzelem Elokim-image of G-d, may be perceived. Our faces are reflective of our Divine singularity for HaShem is not only אחד=one but יחיד ומיוחד=singular. Thus the subtext of the famous Talmudic query (Shabbos 118B) “Which matter was your father most careful about?” is; what was your fathers uniqueness? What was his understanding of his soul’s peerless mission that expressed itself in his placing the emphasis of his Avodah-Divine service, in a particular area?

The Gemara that teaches that “One does not stand on Torah matters until and unless he’s been tripped up by those (particular) Torah matters” (Gittin 43A) can be understood in the same vein. One doesn’t trip on generic, fungible Divrei Torah. The particular Divrei Torah that served as his customized stumbling blocks attune him to those selfsame Divrei Torah’s potential for being his personalized stairway to heaven.

Tzidkas haTzadik Inyan 49


Opposites Attract…AND Repel

If I say to the girl “Tip your jug over and let me drink” and she responds, “Drink, and I will water your camels as well” she is the one whom You have verified [as the mate] for Your servant Yitzchak. [If I find such a girl] I will know that You have done lovingkindness to my master.

-Bereshis 24:14

She [Rivkah] is fitting for him [Yitzchak]for she will perform deeds of lovingkindness and is worthy of coming into the house of Avraham.

-Rashi Ibid

She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;

At first glance the litmus test for Rivkah’s compatibility with Yitzchak seems ill-advised.  While it’s true that Avraham Avinu is identified with Chesed-lovingkindness, Yitzchak Avinu is identified with Gevurah-might and self-control. So, while extending favors and lovingkindness might demonstrate that Rivkah was worthy of entering the house of Avraham, Eliezer had been dispatched to choose a bride for Yitzchak, not for Yitzchaks father. As such, perhaps Eliezer should have prayed for HaShem to arrange for circumstances that would test Rivkahs self-restraint, courage and strength rather than her lovingkindness.

HaShem said “It is not good for man to be alone.   I will make him a helpmate opposite him

-Bereshis 2:18

Rashi famously explains this Pasuk as an either / or proposition; “If one is worthy (his wife) will be his helpmate, if he is unworthy then she becomes his opponent to wage war”.  However, the Izhbitzer writes that a straightforward reading of the Pasuk tells us that Hashem’s Will is that one’s help arises from a challenging opponent rather than from an ostensibly sympathetic ally.

To illustrate this concept he cites the Gemara (Bava Metzia 84A) that relates that after the death of Reish Lakish, Rebee Yochonon became despondent. Rebee Yochonon had been the deceased’s adversary in numerous Halachic disputes, At first Rebee Elazar ben Pedas was sent to him as a new disciple to “replace” Reish Lakish. But Rebee Elazar turned out to be a “yes-man” ally, buttressing each of Rebee Yochonon’s Halachic opinions with corroborating braisos. Rather than drawing comfort from his new student Rebee Yochonon grew even more grief-stricken and cried out “You are nothing like the son of Lakish! When I offered an opinion the son of Lakish would pose twenty four questions and I’d supply twenty four answers. In this way the topic would be illuminated and clarified.”

Hashem’s stated goal in the creation of the first woman; adversarial assistance, was to become the template for all subsequent women. The antithetical natures of man and woman are reflected on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels. Human males and females perceive reality in distinctive masculine and feminine ways. They are two genders divided by a common language. A contemporary author aptly titled his bestselling book about relationships using a metaphor indicating that men and women come from different planets and are as extra-terrestrial aliens to one another.

Chazal tell us that since the time of Creation, HaShem is a Matchmaker who “sits and pairs up couples.” (Bereshis Rabbah 68:4). Based on how He designed the first human couple to function as a unit this means that besides the two genders being diametrically opposed to one another in the broadly generic sense the Divine “Maker of pairs” customizes opposing forces in every specific couple according to each partner’s unique make-up.

The Izhbitzers great disciple Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, carries the concept further:  The attraction and pairing of opposites is based on more than the dynamic tension of opposing forces strengthening and sharpening one another. It is also because each individual is incomplete unto themselves. To use the Talmudic imagery, a single person is merely half a body.  So when antithetical males and females are paired they complement one another and fill in that which their partner lacks.

This explains the prayer of Avraham’s servant, Eliezer. It is precisely because Yitzchak is defined by Gevurah that Eliezer sought a mate for him imbued with Chesed. To have paired Yitzchak with a woman of Gevurah would have been redundant, so to speak,  as Yitzchak would already have provided the marriage with that half of the equation. Such a match would work against the Divine template for matchmaking; “a helpmate…. opposite him” davkah.

There are two ways in which a Midah B’Kedusha-A characteristic rooted in holiness can be linked to another characteristic;  either by uniting with its opposing Midah B’Kedusha or by being conflated with its sympathetic, mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra-a characteristic rooted in evil.  When two antithetical Midos B’Kedusha join forces their relationship is symbiotic. They complement one another like nesting concave and convex figures with each Midah B’Kedusha rounding out the other to form the whole.  So, while a tension exists between them, sensing that it is their “adversary” that will make them complete, they are attracted to one another as well.

On the other hand when a Midah B’Kedusha connects to its mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra nothing beneficial accrues to the Midah B’Kedusha . It is stuck with and to the evil Midah B’Sitra Achra as part of the inescapable fallout of the cosmic mish-mash of good and evil resulting from the Original Sin *1. But there is no reason, hence no way, for a Midah B’Kedusha to unite with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra. When confronted with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra the Midah B’Kedusha senses all of the tension and the antagonism but none of the opportunity for fulfillment. In such instances, the Midah B’Kedusha is utterly repelled by the adversarial nature of the Midah B’Sitra Achra.

This helps us better understand the family dynamics of our earliest patriarchs and matriarchs. Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, giving to, and pouring out upon, others. His mate, Sara, complemented and completed Avraham through her opposing midah of Gevurah. In the next generation the roles of the male and female marriage partners were reversed. Yitzchak Avinu was defined by his midah of Gevurah-forceful self-restraint.   Informed by Hashems awe-inspiring Infinity, Gevurah is the trait of conquering, and impeding the expansion of, oneself.  His mate, Rivkah, complemented and completed Yitzchak through her opposing midah of Chesed.

The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism. The evil parallel midah of Gevurah is Shfichas Damim-homicide which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “forcefulness, conquering, and impeding expansion” but which seeks to dominate others rather than oneself and that is informed at its core by self-indulgence and paranoia rather than by self-abnegation and the awe of G-d.  Yishmael is the embodiment of Znus while Esav is the personification of Shfichas Damim [The arms are Esavs arms…You shall live by your sword].

Although Yishmels midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Chesed and so Avrahams Chesed allowed him to tolerate Yishamel.  But Sara, who possessed holy Gevurah, the trait intrinsically hostile to Chesed, was completely repulsed by Yishmaels unholy, evil “Chesed” and so she drove him away. In precisely this manner while Esavs midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Gevurah and so Yitzchaks Gevurah moved him to affection for Esav.  Yitzchak loved Esav (Bereshis 25:28).  But Rivkah who possessed holy Chesed, the trait intrinsically hostile to Gevurah, was completely revolted by Esav’s unholy, evil “Gevurah” and so she orchestrated events to disinherit him.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach Bereshis D”H E’Eseh Lo                                                                                                                                                      and Kometz HaMincha Inyan 50 (page 4647)

1* This fundamental concept received a fuller treatment in an earlier installment in this series.  To learn about it CLICK HERE

Of Angels and Men

VaYera 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 And he [Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw, three strange men standing near him

-Bereshis 18:2

The three “men” were angels

-Rashi ibid

When a man’s ways please HaShem, He causes even mans enemies to be at peace with him.

– Mishlei 16: 7

Two ministering angels , one good the other bad , escort a person home from the synagogue Friday evening.  When he comes home to find the lamps lit, the table set and his bed made the good angel says ‘May it be HaShems will that next Shabbos we find things the same way ’ and the bad angel is compelled to respond ‘Amen’ against his will

-Tractate Shabbos 119B

And Elokim said “Let Me Us make man”. Alternatively: “Man has [already] been made.”

-Bereshis 1:26

Chaza”l teach us that Malochim-Angels are fundamentally opposed to the creation and ongoing existence of human beings:  Rebee Seemon said: When HaShem, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed groups and parties, some saying, ‘Let him be created,’ while others urged, ‘let him not be created.’ As it is written, “Loving-kindness and truth met up, justice and peace kissed.” (Tehillim 85:11): The Angel Loving-kindness said, ‘Create man, because he will dispense loving-kindness’; the Angel Truth said, ‘Let him not be created, because he full of lies’; the Angel Charity said, ‘Create man , because he will perform acts of altruism’; the Angel Peace said, ‘Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.”’ What did God do? God took Truth and cast it to the earth, as it is written, “and truth will be sent to the earth.” (Doniel 8:12)The Malochim said before the Holy One, “Master of the Universe! Why do you despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” Hence it is written, “Let truth sprout from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12) …Me’od –‘Very ’) is [in reference to] Adam; [the letters מאד–very are a word jumble for אדם–man i.e. Adam=man is good] as it is written, “And God saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31), i.e. and behold Adam was good. Rav Huna the Elder of Tziporen, said: While the Malochim were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, HaShem created the first human. God said to them, “Why are you arguing. Man has already been made!” (Bereshis Rabbah 8:5).

This  Midrash implies that the creation of Man took place “under protest”. Even when temporarily suppressed many protests are ultimately successful. So it is not out of the question that the Angelic naysayers were complicit in the undoing of humanity through the first sin and the subsequent degradation of humanity by the generations of the Flood and the Dispersion.

The human predilection for lies and strife are a product of mans constrained G-d consciousness. An angel has but to lift its eyes to attain a limitless, incomparable awareness of HaShem and how His glory fills the universe. In marked contrast, even after years of intense exertion, mans G-d consciousness is meager. The light that man beholds is relatively dim and is known as “the Diminutive Face”.  Angels are illuminati bathed in HaShems infinite light. The angelic sense of superiority in terms of their G-d consciousness underlies the various “no-votes” protesting the very creation of man. Regarding uncircumcised man there was no adequate argument to refute the angel’s dismissiveness. There was no debating with them.  HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak had to ignore their protests and present His creation of Man as a fait accompli.

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. As such it would stand to reason that our founding patriarch, Avraham, would earn the angelic seal of approval.

The second Izhbitzer, The Bais Ya’akov takes this approach in explaining the Angels post-circumcision visit with Avraham.

The new edition of Man, Avraham Avinu after the covenant of circumcision, could do something that angels could not.  As dim and meager as his light may have been he was capable of transforming darkness into light and able to draw new light into the gloom of our murky, materialistic world.  In marked contrast angels see things as they are without recognizing any potential for qualitative change. To an angel what’s light is light and what’s dark is dark. For the angels heaven is heavenly and the earth is, well, hopelessly earthy.

As long as the foreskin adheres to man all of mans internal light and potential for illumination are trapped and imprisoned within his being. But when man, Avraham, removes the foreskin his internal and external transformative powers are unleashed. Avraham spread G-d consciousness to the four corners of the earth and, in so doing, made something heavenly out of the earth.

The Tikunei Zohar reveals two remarkable, complementary acronyms in the phrase   מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָהWho (mee) will ascend (ya’aleh) for us (lahnu) to heaven (HaShamaymah) [Devarim30 :12].  The first letters of each word form an acronym for Milah-circumcision. The last letters of each word form an acronym for the tetragrammaton-HaShems proper four letter Name. The encoded allusion being that the circumcised one, Avraham, can in fact ascend to Heaven for us and bring HaShem to the earth.

An angel can take light and multiply the light, take the tiniest blade of grass and exhort it to grow tall, thick and lush (Bereshis Rabbah 10:6). But these are, after all, quantitative expansions not qualitative transformations. Angels are incapable of making the inert-mineral botanic or metamorphosing the botanic into animal or the animal into the human. Omnivorous man ingests the mineral, the botanic and the animal and, through digestion, integrates them into his speech-endowed being.  When man uses this nutrition to serve HaShem through speech AKA prayer he has not merely grown the grass tall…he has altered the grass into something human, speaking and prayerful.  The angels were forced to recognize their relative inferiority and could no longer argue the uselessness of man in HaShems creation.  Impressed and even awestruck they too wanted to partake of the circumcised mans meal.

 Adapted from Bais Ya’akov-Vayera Inyan 16 (page 72A ) 

Don’t Just Choose Good. Sift the Evil Away From the Good

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 “But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

 “Avram came to her [Hagar], and she conceived; and when she realized that she was pregnant, she looked at her mistress with contempt. Sarai said unto Avram …Now that she sees herself pregnant she regards me with condescension.  Let Elokim judge between me and you.’”.

– Bereshis 16: 4, 5

Every other  בֶּינֶיך – between me and you, in Scripture is spelled lacking the second yud, but this one is spelled plene. As such it may also be read וּבֵינַיִךְ (second person feminine, as though Sarai is threatening Hagar rather than Avram), for Sarai cast an Ayin Hara-evil eye on Hagar’s pregnancy, and she miscarried her fetus. 

– Rashi Ibid

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. This is why comprehending the workings of the original sin is a prerequisite to better understanding the family dynamics of our patriarchs and matriarchs.

In   Nefesh HaChaim the Magiha –author of the glosses, explains that prior to eating of the forbidden fruit Adams Yetzer HaRa-inclination to evil was clarified and external to his being (personified in the Nachash HaKadmoni-the primordial snake). The qualitative paradigm shift resulting from the first sin was that the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. He and Chava became what they ate, entities in which good and evil are joined together. This had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the original sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good, even in the soul of the most saintly, nor any unmitigated evil, even in the deeds of the wickedest.

The Pasuk (Koheles 7:14) “In the day of Good…in the day of Evil…; Elokim made one corresponding to the other,..” teaches that everything in Kedusha-holiness and good has its parallel in impurity and evil. After Adams original sin these parallel entities become linked and blended together.

Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, the trait of giving to, and pouring out upon, others. The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism.  As a patriarch of Klal Yisrael and a rectifier of Adam’s sin Avraham Avinu’s life’s-work was not merely to choose to actualize Chesed and avoid stinginess and callousness at every opportunity but to clarify and purify his Chesed, to thresh away its Znus dark underside.

Avraham Avinu’s progeny prior to Yitzchok were the incarnations of the dark underside of his midah. He needed to get them out of his system, as it were, before being able to reproduce a soul as free of evil admixtures as Yitzchaks.  Whereas Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed his son Yishmael would be defined by his midah of Znus. When HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak, shopped the Torah to other nations of the world our sages recount the following exchange:  “‘He shined forth from mount Paran’ (Devarim 33:2) HaShem asked the Ishmaelites ‘Would you like my Torah?’ they replied ‘What is written within it?’ HaShem said ‘You shall not commit adultery ‘‘If so’ they responded ‘we do not want it’.”  In a similar vein the Talmud (Kidushin 49B) tells us that “ten measures of infidelity/licentiousness descended to the world. Arabia took nine measures and the remaining measure was divided among the balance of the nations”.

Progressing from these principles Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers insight into the apparent “domestic squabbles” in Avrahams home.

During Hagar’s first pregnancy the refinement process of Avrahams Midah began. The embryo then being formed embodied a blend of good and evil that was being filtered out. Yet in the mix that was being filtered out there was still a greater relative amount of Chesed vs. Znus. Feeling the gravity of the good growing within her Hagar “lightly esteemed” i.e. grew self-important and became condescending towards her mistress. By the second pregnancy unadulterated Znus was distilled from Avrahams Chesed in the person of Yishmael.

Just as Chava, Adams mate, was the one who induced him to internalize evil and to comingle evil with good it would be Sara, Avraham Avinus wife, who would prompt him to extract and externalize his evil. Just as Chava began her work of ruination-through-adulteration with her eyes “The woman (Chava) saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes” (Bereshis 3:6), Sara would begin her work of repairing- through-sifting-out with her eyes, casting an Ayin Hara-evil eye. Just as Chavas work of ruination-through-adulteration would conclude with the conflicted, ambivalent  humans, whose goodness had been contaminated with evil, being driven out of Eden (Bereshis 3:23,24), Sara would complete her work of repairing- through-sifting-out by banishing the unambiguous human, whose soul completely extracted and distilled the evil midah of Znus, from the house of Avraham. (Bereshis 21:10-14),

 Adapted from Kometz HaMincha Inyan 38 (pages 3940)

and Nefesh HaChaim chapter 5 Hagaha D”H v’zehv’hainyan (pages 22-25)  



Youthful Indiscretions and Deferment of Gratification

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

In general children and adolescents have a hard time deferring gratification.  They want what they want, all of it, now… not later and if there are doubles and triples available they’ll grab those with gusto as well.  Impulse control, patience and rainy-day/retirement planning ripen with age and are the hallmarks of a mature sensibility. The inability to just wait or to ration pleasure has been the absolute ruin of many a young man. In spite of near-universal juvenile unrestrained self-indulgence most of us were still lucky enough to avoid the long arm of the law, or at least the disapprobation of authority figures, in our youth.  Even so in middle age we intermittently look back appalled at how we could have been so totally rampant, uninhibited and out of control.

…and HaShem said to Himself “never again will I curse the soil on account of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”.

– Bereshis 8: 21

The second Izhbitzer, The Bais Ya’akov raises questions about the reason that the pasuk provides for the Divine decision to never destroy the earth again.   To begin with a superficial reading of the verse would beg the question of liability for mans evil inclination and seems to point the finger at HaShem. Also, if having an evil  inclination from ones earliest youth is reason enough to save post-diluvian generations from utter destruction, why was it not enough to save the Dor HaMabul-the Generation of the Great Deluge?  Presumably, in terms of having a proclivity for evil from their earliest youth, individuals who comprised the Dor HaMabul did not differ from individuals who comprised generations after the Great Deluge.

What is true for the microcosm that is each individual human is equally true for the macro-man that is humanity as a whole. Individual human beings have an infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, height-of-powers, middle-age, old-age and dotage. So does humankind. The sins of the Dor HaMabul as expounded by the Written and Oral Torahs are characteristic of youthful indiscretions on a global scale. Ironically, though the individuals involved may have been living well into their 7th, 8th or 9th centuries, their utter lack of respect for boundaries, their insatiable self-indulgent sensuality and inevitable dissipation were the indiscretions, crimes and sins of out-of-control children, not of scheming, calculating adults. As a generation the ten generations from Adam to Noach, the Dor HaMabul, embodied humankind’s childhood and early adolescence.

The Gemara in Kidushin 30 B teaches that the single antidote for the Yetzer Hara-Inclination to evil is the Torah. But lacking the maturing, impulse-controlling Torah, humanities earliest generations grew expansive in pursuing their passions and hearts desires to the hilt. They had neither the aspiration nor the capacity for self-contraction or for damming up the cascading, white-water urgency of their hungry spirits. They attained instant gratification all at once.

Chazal tell us that the pasuk “What is Shahkai, that we should serve Him? (Iyov 21:15) was the mantra of the Dor HaMabul.  The Divine name of Shahkai is deconstructed to mean “He who said to His creation ‘ENOUGH!’”.  It is the Name of tzimtzumim– constriction and the setting of boundaries. It is precisely such a limitation enforcing Deity that the infantile, unrestrained Dor HaMabul rejected. The Divine name of Shahkai is the one that informs the p’sukim:  “At Your snarl the primordial waters fled, at the voice of Your thunder they hurried away… You set a boundary which they should not cross over, that they might not return to cover the earth.” (Tehilim 104:7, 9 )

But when all that satisfies comes in a flash it cannot endure and must disappear just as suddenly. The Mabul destroyed the sources of instantaneous immoderate gratification in an instant. We are not punished for our sins but by them. As the Dor HaMabul rejected the Shahkai aspect of Divinity It withdrew to the supernal spheres and with It the constraining Force holding the primordial waters back from “returning to cover the earth.”

We find a parallel to the Dor HaMabuls self-destruction in the Torahs laws of Shmitta-the Sabbatical year. Each year’s agricultural produce is the sum total of HaShems benevolence to the farmer. The concept underpinning Shmitta is that the farmer should exercise the impulse control and rainy-day planning not to consume his entire crop, this Divine bounty, immediately. That instead he set aside a portion of the crops each of the first six years and defer part of the gratification to enjoy during the seventh when his fields will lie unplanted. By not grabbing all of the bounty that HaShem gave on him all at once the farmer could ensure that the goodness and bounty would last and that he would endure on his land, his earth, forever. Instead, when the Bnei Yisrael sowed during Shmitta they reaped the whirlwind of the seventy year Babylonian exile (see V’Yikra 26:34). This was not so much a punishment as the logical, inevitable conclusion of snatching all the goodness at once. The Shmitta years were supposed to have been spaced and intermittent, constrained and bounded, not expansive and uninterrupted…but so was the gratification from the agricultural bounty.  The seventy years of agricultural desolation of the Babylonian exile were more than poetic, quid pro quo justice for seventy desecrated Shmitta years. In fact this desolation was a dehydrated Mabul.

A deeper reading of the pasuk reveals that it is not HaShem that caused the Great Deluge by implanting the evil inclination into humans but that it was humanities collective immaturity, the indiscretions and instantaneous gratification of an infantile humankind that made the Great Deluge inevitable. Once this period of immaturity was outgrown HaShem could, Kivayachol-so to speak, declare that this kind of maximal instantaneous destruction would never need to be repeated: and HaShem said to Himself “the inclination of humankinds heart is evil from its youth. But… having dissipated and destroyed itself the period of youth is now over. As humanity develops into a more Torah-informed being, one that exercises self-control and defers gratification never again will the need exist for Me to curse the soil on account of man.”

 Adapted from Bais Ya’akov-Noach Inyan 35 (pages7475

Updated 1:15 PM


Seven Ushpizin…then Shmini Atzeres

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-

 Every day [of Sukkos] they would go around the Mizbayach-altar once. But on that day [the seventh day AKA  Hoshannah Rabbah] they did so seven times.

– Tractate Sukkah 52A

 Rabi Avira extrapolated [some say that it was Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi] the Yetzer Hara– the inclination to Evil has seven names: HaShem called it “Evil”…Moshe called it “uncircumcised”…[King] david called it “impure”…[King] Shlomo called it “hater”… Yeshaya called it “obstacle”…Yechezkel called it “stone” Yoel called it “the concealed one”…

– Tractate Sukkah 43B

 The exodus from Egypt was incomplete until the parting of the Sea of Reeds seven days after the Slaying of the Firstborn and so we can easily understand why the Moed-holiday of Pesach lasts for seven days (in Israel/ on a Torah level). But whether the Sukkos that we dwell in are meant to recall actual booths or clouds of glory  it seems odd that the Moed-holiday of Sukkos should last for seven days plus an eighth day of Shmini Atzeres when the Moed of the Giving of the Torah, Shavuos, is a mere one day festival(in Israel/ on a Torah level.)

The Biskovitzer explains that each of the daily circuits (Hakafos) of the festival of Sukkos is meant to vanquish another aspect, another “name”, of the Yetzer Hara. This can be accomplished by properly welcoming the individual Ushpizin– ethereal guest for each day of the festival.  The placement of this teaching regarding the Yetzer Hara in tractate Sukkah informs us that HaShem empowered the seven Ushpizin as adversaries to the various aspects of the Yetzer Hara.  Each of the individual Ushpizin ‘s  specialized holiness undoes a different aspect of the Yetzer Hara . If an individual’s attitude is that he will not rest until that days characteristic of the Yetzer Hara is completely subdued and ameliorated, until he achieves a scintilla of Yaakov’s conquest of the angel who was not released from Yaakov’s grip until he agreed to bless him as Yisrael-the metaphysical equivalent of “crying uncle” (Bereshis 32:27), then he will have properly welcomed that days Ushpiz and will be aided by the Ushpiz in achieving his goal.

To illustrate the principle here are a few of the examples that the Biskovitzer provides:

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is uncircumcised we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s power to create barriers and blockages that obstruct the Torahs’s  message from ever entering a person’s heart. Yitzchak Avinu, the first one to be circumcised on the eighth day is the Ushpiz who negates this aspect of the Yetzer Hara.

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is an obstacle or a stumbling block we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s power to use smoke and mirrors to deceive people and trip them up on dangers unknown to them until after it is too late. Yaakov Avinu, the one who prevented the greatest of all cosmic errors, the near miss of Yitzchok conferring the blessings on Esav, is the Ushpiz who negates this aspect of the Yetzer Hara. Far from deceiving his father, it was Yaakov who saved his literally and figuratively blind father from falling into a trap that he was incapable of seeing himself. Long before it became one of the 613 Mitzvahs Yaakov fulfilled the pasuk of “You shall not set stumbling blocks before the blind” (V’Yikra 19:14)

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is a stone we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s being the irresistible force and the immovable object simultaneously.  There are times when we “hear” the Torahs message, truly want to do and be good and know full well that what we are doing is wrong but the Yetzer Hara is just too heavy and forceful to resist or turn aside and we in turn are too weighed down to flee. There was never anyone so oppressed by a dense, weighty temptation as Yoseph HaTzadik. The Yalkut Shimoni relates that his temptress, Potiphar’s wife even had him fitted with a weighted steel choker to try to get him to lower his head and eyes to compel him to gaze at her. Yet Yoseph HaTzadik resisted the irresistible temptation, rolled aside the immovable stone that would have immobilized a lesser man and “fled and got outdoors” (Bereshis 39:12-13).

Vanquishing the Yetzer Hara allows room, to draw HaShem K’vyachol-so to speak from His heavenly abode so that his Divine Indwelling inhabits the lower spheres of our material world. These seven days, seven circuits, seven Ushpizin and seven aspects are all preparatory to Shmini Atzeres, a day that alludes to the ultimate unity of HaShem and Israel and the utter eradication of the Yetzer Hara. This world is of seven days-six days of creation and the seventh day, Shabbos, that completes, complements, blesses and fulfills all the others. Anything characterized by eight is otherworldly. Shmini Atzeres is the sneak preview, the trailers of the time about which the Torah declares: “Hashem alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with Him.” (Devarim 32:12)

 Adapted from Neos Deshe;  Hoshana Rabbah D”H B’chol and Shmini Atzeres D’H Chag. (pages 168-170, 210-212 in new edition) 


To Feast or to Fast… THAT is the Question!

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 It (Yom HaKipurim) is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you and a day when you must afflict your souls. You must keep this Sabbath from the ninth of the month until the next night.  

-VaYikra 23:32

Chiya bar Rav of Difti taught: “and …you must afflict your souls…[on the] ninth of the month” Do we begin fasting on the ninth?  [In truth] we don’t fast until the tenth! Here, the Torah is teaching us that all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.

-Yoma 81B

On the tenth day of the seventh month you must afflict your souls and not do any melacha…This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned to purify you. Before Hashem you will be purified of all your sins.

-VaYikra 16:29, 30

There is a lot of conflicting data on the subject of the Torahs attitude towards asceticism.  On the one hand, Shabbos the basis of sanctified time, is identified with pleasure “And call Sabbath pleasure” (Yeshaya 58:13 ) and the entire chapter of Yeshaya 58 takes a rather dim view of fasting unless it is coupled with social justice. On the other hand, the very holiest time, the Sabbath of Sabbaths is a fast day.  The Nazir, who abstains from the fruit of the vine, is called both holy (BeMidbar 6:8) and sinful (Nedarim 10A) as is one who engages in voluntary fasts (Ta’anis 11A). The place of eternal rewards is called “the Garden of Delights”, but the delights there are of a decidedly non-physical variety; “the righteous sit with their heads crowned and bask in the radiance of the Shechina-the Divine indwelling”

In practical terms this quandary is most pronounced on the 9th and 10th days of Tishrei when the day of feasting that precedes the Day of Atonement and self-denial is reckoned as a day of fasting as well.

The often irresistible lure of this-worldly pleasures is, arguably, the major contributing factor to sin and its concomitant impurities. As such, there is a compelling logic to how abstaining from of this-worldly pleasures would help us attain the contrary outcome of decontamination.  As the Pesukim (VaYikra 16:29, 30) state: “afflict your souls …to purify you! “  However, as Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains, HaShem desires to sublimate everything (in his parlance to “sweeten” everything). Eating and drinking are the general categories under which all the temporal desires and delights fall.  HaShem wants all of these to be sanctified as well.  Holy self-gratification may sound like an oxymoron. But since our only will is to fulfill His will and “we cast that which weighs us down upon Him” He then “sustains us” with spiritual nourishment. (Tehilim 55:23). When we eat on Erev Yom Kippur in order to fulfill HaShems Mitzvah, eating becomes a catalyst for purity identical to the mortifications of Yom Kippur itself.

The Mohn-Manna Bread provides an intriguing precedent for this counterintuitive concept. The Torah states that the Mohn was like a “honey doughnut” (Shemos 16:31). Per Chaza”l diners tasted every flavor that they could imagine emanating from the Mohn (Yoma 75A). Moreover, the clouds that showered down the Mohn sprinkled pearls and jewels as well (ibid). The impression one gets is that the Mohn delighted all the senses. Yet the Torah describes the Mohn experience as one of mortification and affliction (Devarim 8:2, 3). Cognizant of the one-day-only supply of Mohn we can well imagine the anxious longing with which the Jews in the wilderness anticipated its daily arrival. The take away lesson for all generations of Jews from this Hedonistic-Ascetic hodgepodge is that we should yearn for HaShems salvation and be totally reliant on Him for both the eating and the abstention from eating. The feasting and the fasting are both only done to fulfill His will.

The verse: “Before Hashem you will purified of all your sins” implicitly alludes to Erev Yom Kippur. “Before HaShem” meaning feasting on the day before HaShem’s great and awesome day, Yom Kippur, will purify and decontaminate of your souls just as the fasting on Yom Kippur itself does.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen,  taught that whenever a Jew consumes food as a Mitzvah the food contains the flavor of Mohn which is the bread of the ministering angels and, as such, it is the flavor of other-worldly pleasure, the taste  of the radiance of the Shechina.  The topic of Mohn appears in the chapter entitled Yom HaKipurim in tractate Yoma because Mohn consumption is exactly like fasting on Yom Kippur the point of both activities being to experience spiritual gratification by absconding from the temporal pleasures of the physical world. When the Gemara says “all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth“  it is not because eating on the 9th  is like fasting but rather because fasting on the 10th is a different kind of eating, a spiritual angelic ingestion.  On Yom Kippur we dress, stand, go barefoot and wear white like angels.  We fast and are at peace with one another like angels. On Erev Yom Kippur we eat like the nullivore angels dining on “the grain of heaven and the bread of the mighty” (Tehilim78: 24, 25).

 Adapted from Toras Emes Erev Yom Kippur 5625-1865 A.C.E. (page 57)

and Machshevos Chorutz 12 (page 95)

Don’t be Bailed Out. Be Vindicated!

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

G-d’s angel called to him from heaven and said “Avraham, Avraham’!  Do not put forth your hand towards the youth (i.e. do not harm him) for now I know that you fear G-d as you have not withheld your only son from Me.   

-Bereshis 22:11,12

And today, recall with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring. Blessed are you Hashem who recollects the covenant.

-Conclusion of the Zichronos blessing- Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah the Torah reading is the Akeda– The binding of Yitzchok. The Meforshim explain that this in order to evoke the merit stockpiled by the Patriarchs at this seminal event in Jewish History. The legacy of this merit will help us, their offspring, be more likely to be adjudicated favorably on this Holy Day of Judgment. Per the Talmud and Rav Saadiya Gaon the Akeda is among the reasons underpinning the Mitzvah of Shofar and, in particular, the use of a ram’s horn to fulfill the Mitzvah as Avaraham ultimately sacrificed a ram in a burnt-offering as a surrogate for Yitzchok.

Conventional wisdom maintains that of the two patriarchs involved it was Avraham who played the pivotal role in earning the incalculable merit of the Akeda by withstanding daunting, superhuman challenges to his faith in a kind Creator, his life’s work in disseminating a theology predicated on that faith, his defining characteristic of Chesed-lovingkindness in general and, in particular, his unprecedented and peerless love for Yitzchok.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe takes a decidedly different approach maintaining that while Yitzchok may have been relatively passive his was the predominant role in shaping the everlasting impact of the Akeda.

HaShem is omniscient and exists above and beyond time.  As such when His spokesbeing the angel stayed Avrahams slaughtering knife at the last moment categorically admonishing him “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem was doing far more than providing the individual person Yitzchok with a stay of execution and a new lease on life. He was giving his Divine seal of approval on the life of Yitzchok AND on the lives of all the souls that would issue from Yitzchok.  The life and lifework of each and every Jew, each and every human being who can be described as the offspring of Yitzchok, received HaShems imprimatur when the Divine voice reverberated through the angel and decreed “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” . When HaShem issued this decree the Divine Mind was perfectly and infallibly aware of all the future generations about whom He’d assured Avraham “It is (only) through Yitzchok that you will gain posterity”(Bereshis21:12). The conception, birth and ongoing existence of every single Jew who was ever born or who will ever be born, down to the last generation, are thus firmly rooted in the Divine will.

Consider, says the Radzyner, the enormity of what this implies. Sin, ruin, hazards and stumbling blocks are inconsistent with the Divine will. So with the words “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem affirmed that no sin, ruin, hazards or stumbling blocks can stem from any Jew. Otherwise a strong claim of injustice, K’vyachol, could be lodged against HaShem. After all, Avraham had already given Yitzchok up.  Yitzchok  had been elevated as a sacrifice. He was no longer of this world.  He was as good as dead.  Yet HaShem, in effect, resurrected a corpse that had not yet fathered children. Had it been possible for any sin etc. to result from this future offspring why would an omniscient transcendent G-d have reinstated Yitzchoks existence?

Accordingly the concept of invoking the merit of the Akeda is about much more than a wayward child who’s run afoul of the law drawing on the deep pockets of his mega-rich and politically well-connected father to bail him out for the umpteenth time. The merit of the Akeda inheres in it demonstrating, against all apparent evidence to the contrary, that the wayward child never ran afoul of the law in the first place.  Thundering across time and space the Akeda admonishes one and all “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth”! It is the quintessence of exoneration through merciful justice that overturns the sentence of nonexistence and validates the life of all of Yitzchok’s offspring on this Holy Day of Judgment.

The Rosh Hashanah liturgy (or any other) that superficially asks HaShem to remember, recall or recollect is troubling. For the transcendent Creator memory cannot possibly mean the cognitive bridge connecting the no-longer-existent with the present as it does for His temporal creatures. Instead concludes the Radzyner, “recalling with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring” means that through the Akeda it is within the grasp and recollection of every Jew to gaze into the depths of his heart and the inner recesses of his memory to behold how he is rooted in, and bound up with, the Divine Will.

Adapted from Sod Yesharim Rosh HaShanah Chapter 77 (page 84)

The Heart Really Matters

Why do we read the Book of Ruth on Shevuos? One answer is that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David who was born on Shevuos and 70 years later died on Shevuos. Still, what does King David have to do with Shevuos in particular?

Our sages tell us that “the king is the heart of the nation!” What does that mean? The king as a leader doesn’t tell the people what to think. He rather, amplifies the pulse of the people. He tells us what we really feel. In Tehillim-Psalms King David expresses prophetically the highest aspirations and moorings of the Jewish heart, individually and collectively. He reveals for us a G-d intoxicated intellect. He writes, “What’s good for me is being close to G-d!” (Tehillim 73:28) What King David artfully articulates in Tehillim is the authentic heart of the nation.

In the fourth chapter having to do with trust in G-d, The Chovos HaLevavos makes a surprisingly strong claim regarding the requirement to develop “duties of the heart”. He states that Olam Haba- the world to come is not a necessary result of the external performance of Mitzvos but rather a function of the internal dimension of those Mitzvos. He informs us that the outer aspect of the Mitzvos yields a “this worldly” benefit while the next world is a consequence of the depth and direction of the heart. Ultimately, Olam Haba is based on a relationship. It is not a business deal with a quid pro quo. One can no more expect by coldly dropping flowers on the table or even a diamond that love will automatically flow in return.

When I was yet an unmarried Yeshiva student, we had the great honor of meeting a holy man. The Manchester Rav, Rabbi Yehuda Zev Segal ztl. prayed with us the afternoon service. Long after most of us had finished saying our prayers he remained bent over, shaking and weeping all the while. We watched in awe without knowing exactly what we were witnessing. I remember saying quietly to the fellow next to me, “I wonder what he did so wrong!”

Days later while eating a Shabbos meal at the home of one of the rabbis we were discussing the visitor we had been treated to that week. The Rabbi told us that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztl. had considered the Manchester Rav to be one of the thirty-six hidden Tzadikim of the generation. I had a knack for asking obvious questions that elicited sharp responses, so I queried aloud, “If he is singled out, publicly as one of these hidden Tzadikim then he’s no longer hidden. His true identity has been exposed, his cover is blown and he cannot by definition be one of the thirty-six hidden Tzadikim in whose merit the world exists.”

The Rabbi looked at me with a look that shouted. I wondered what I had said so wrong. It was a good question I thought. Then he gently but intensely explained, “Label, you think you see him? You see his beard. You see his hands. You see his eyes, but do you really think you see who he is? He holds a Siddur and prays the same words as you and me and look at the chemical reaction those words have within him. He puts on Tefillin and so do you. You can be sure that his is somehow different than yours. The outside is merely the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the limbs and the deeds he does there’s a whole hidden continent of love and devotion we could never hope to fathom.”

Sefiras Ha’Omer: the BT Nemesis?

YY Bar-Chaiim

The typical Baal Teshuva is driven by a burning search for meaning. This often finds satisfaction within the plethora of thrilling spiritual experiences to be discovered within Torah life. But what happens when such a BT encounters one of those supremely thrilless rituals like Omer Counting?

Granted, in some communities there are spiritually gifted individuals who serve as models for infusing this Mitzvah with great fervor. Nevertheless, its technically monotonous nature takes its toll when, at least after the first weeks pass, some may find themselves mumbling the words with as much excitement as those who are “thrilled” to be done with it already!

So is there any way around this BT nemesis? The following is one perspective, relevant to every Jew, culled from the profoundly sober teachings of Nesivos Shalom.

“Just like the four cosmic worlds can be spoken of in terms of Asiya (Deed), Yetzira (Spirit), Briah (Mind) and Atsilus (Soul), so too there are four types of piety; each one a world unto its own.

“There is a class of pietists who are people of deed… They are scrupulous in physical and material matters, never indulging their appetite nor material pleasures, even when permissible.

“… Higher than this is the Service of spirit… No materialism has sway here, whatsoever. (Such a person) need not devote to overcoming appetites and materialism, but rather (invests in) a purely refined, unblemished Service (i.e. prayer).

“… Next is the world of mind… where no evil exists, whatsoever. It is a supremely spiritual world. (Such a Jew) elevates and devotes himself to lofty conceptions and emotions pertaining to Divine Service, until his very heart and flesh rejoice in the Living G-d.

“(Yet) even higher is the world of Soul, wherein not the slightest trace of materialism exists… (This can be explained) through the words of the Mishna [Shab. 66: B; Mishna 6: 9]: “Sons go out with connections; royalty go out with bells.”

~ N. Sh. I, Chossidus, 2 ~


An historical interjection: When parents used to take their children outside, they would tie their shoelaces to their own to ensure they wouldn’t get lost [Bartinura]. Thus, the question arises: Is this a form of carrying and thus prohibited on Shabbos? The Mishna rules that while dragging something along by your shoelace is technically carrying, in this case it’s permitted since parents and children share an inherent “connection.” So too do the bells worn by royalty express something intrinsic to their status and thus are not considered as being carried.

In jumps the Mezritcher Maggid (1710-1772). His spiritually penetrating interpretation of this Mishna sheds light on the nature of going “outside” the world of orthodox religious convention, explains the Nesivos. While this is generally a grave problem, there are two exceptions: Those who “royally” serve H’ and those who do so as “sons.” According to the Maggid, the former are totally immersed in the world of Briah/Mind. These are the Talmidei Chachamim who can rely upon the “bells” of Torah learning ringing in their heads to shield them from the onslaught of impure, worldly attractions. They are capable of engaging the non-Orthodox without being influenced by them. The “sons”, the Maggid teaches, function on an even higher level, called Atsilus,which we roughly translated as soul but literally means nearness or communion. This virtually divine sphere is reserved for those rare individuals who feel naturally at one with their Creator, far beyond their specific Torah knowledge. Like a young child feels about his parent, this Jew feels totally “connected” to H’.

To be sure, we see examples of this connection within those classic chassidic stories about little shepherd boys, or some other innocently uneducated Jews, who at one time or another are overwhelmed by their love for their Creator. The conclusion is always the same. They have NOTHING to give Him other than some seemingly very insignificant little thing, like a recital of the alphabet, a whistle or a song, which they proceed to offer with total devotion… until one of the local tsaddikim hear a heavenly voice declaring that this “little” prayer saved the entire community! Which brings us back to S’firas Ha’Omer. It is one of those seemingly insignificant little things, explains the Nesivos [vol. II Omer, 6], that can change the world or, more accurately, worldS. As per the custom to say at the conclusion of each counting, as printed in many siddurim: “…and through this (Mitzvah), may there flow an abundance (of Divine input) into all the worlds.” Accordingly, the Midrash teaches [VaYikra Rabba 28]: “One should never take the Mitzvah of Omer lightly, since it was through the merit of Omer-counting that our father Avraham inherited the Holy Land.” But could that really be? Simply by counting “today is x days in the Omer” the celestial U.N. would decree that the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jews – for eternity!?

Indeed, concludes the Nesivos, it is PRECISELY because of the utter thrillessness of this Mitzvah that the first patriarch was able to serve his Maker with the purest, childlike devotion.
To be sure, this total purity of intention is the necessary component for inheriting the Land. As the Nesivos taught last week (Avos 4:4) about the connection between being meod meod shafel ruach, “very, very low spirited,” and the Land being called tova meod meod, “very, very good.” One is directly dependent upon the other. A thoroughly humble Jew will pine to come to Israel and vice versa.

Perhaps this also alludes to the aforementioned four levels of piety: There’s the arrogant deed doer, the humble spiritualist, the very humble learner and the thoroughly humble child. I.e. while doing godly acts is a tremendously important step in the process of Divine Service, if one stops there he has not only neglected to reign in his spiritual life but is taking pride in it! The serious Jew will accordingly give priority to prayer, which inherently involves the cultivation of humility. Yet, here too, the trial of pride digs in its claws. Meod, Meod! The Divine conscience will not give us peace within even the most heartfelt prayers until we emerge with renewed dedication to serving our Maker within two more dimensions: mind and soul.

A tall order? Certainly for the average BT who may find it difficult to maintain a steady and concentrated Torah learning regimen. To such a person it may even be a cruel slap in the face to imply he’s destined to wallow in the world of pride!
Ah – that’s why we’re given Sfiras HaOmer. It’s THE Mitzvah for BTs! Finally, we too can reach the peak of religious purity. Perhaps we can even lead the pack. For all we have to do is draw on that basic belief that got us into this business in the first place:

The belief in being “sons with connections.”

Divrei Torah To Warm The Jewish Soul

Rabbi Moshe Zionce

Vayigash means to approach. Yehuda approaches Yosef. The deeper wisdom explains that each of the 7 shepperds (Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aaron, Yosef and Dovid) have their own persona. Yosef¹s distinct characteristic is to bring close and to join. This week¹s parsha begins with Yehuda coming close to Yosef.

There are many examples that illustrate Yosef¹s power of attraction. Yaakov “loved Yosef more than all the other sons”, Yosef found “favour” in his master¹s eyes and Eishes Potifar wanted to be with Yosef. Yosef found favour in the prison warden eyes as well. In fact, the entire world approached Yosef to receive the Egyptian produce he disseminated.

Yosef Hatzaddik (the righteous) is the sixth of the seven sheppards. The letter vav, six, is a conjunction in Hebrew. Like Yosef, it is the letter that joins two things together. The vavim in the Mishkan (tabernacle) were hooks that joined. In fact, graphically the form of the vav resembles a hook. Mystically, six is the characteristic called Yesod. It means foundation. In the construction of a building, a foundation is one that links mortar to ground, or it is the fusion of higher to lower. This is the power of a tzaddik. He brings down the flow from heaven to earth. Similarly, Yosef sustains the entire world through the Egyptian produce. It is the secret behind the Chasidic custom of giving the Rebbe the sixth aliya. ³Tzaddik yesod olam², the righteous are the foundation of the world.

The Vilna Gaon explains and the Bnai Yissachar echoes the same approach; the true characteristic of anything in the Torah is revealed the first time it is found. ³Hakol holech achar harosh,² everything follows after the head (the beginning). In the nucleus of a fetus is everything genetically that the child will be for life. For example, if a genetic disease is manifested at age 50 in a person, it was originally there 50 years earlier, as infinitesimal information. Only an expert knows how to read the genes in vitro and can decipher what their meaning and impact will be. So too with the Torah. Our Rabbis teach us to look at the first time a letter is used, in order to get a glimpse into the letter¹s true nature. ³Histakel borisa obara olma.² Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. Through the Torah, all came to be. Like the genes of an embryo, the Torah holds the “data” that is all of reality.

The first vuv in the Torah is in the very first posuk (verse). ³In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth.² This first vuv is in between the words ³heaven and earth². The tzaddik is represented by the this letter vuv/six . He brings down the G-dly flow from heaven to earth. (In this pussuk the vav is connected to an apparent superfluous word es. The word es is comprised of the first and last letter of the alphabet, representing all the letters. Perhaps it is alluding to the creation of heaven and earth through the words of the Torah/alphabet).

The Baal Shem Tov teaches; the name reveals essence. In Tehillim (Psalm 81, it is the shir shel yom of Thursday), Yosef¹s name is written with an extra hey. The gemora (Sotah 10a) says Yosef sanctified Hashem’s name in private therefore he merited that one letter of Hashem’s name was added to his name. In addition, the Arizal explains that the gamatria (the numeric value) of the word Yosef is 156. That is 26 x 6. 26 is the numeric value of Hashem¹s name and six is the number of attachment. Through the very name of Yosef one can see his dynamic. I would like to suggest Yosef¹s name alludes to the G-dly power that he brings down from above.

The medrash relates, it was in the merit of Yosef that the sea split. The sea did not part until Moshe brought the bones of Yosef before it. Yosef is the power of fusion, not separation. What is the deep connection of the sea splitting and Yosef? In addition, a similar question can be asked; the gemora (Sotah 2) says “It is as difficult to match (two people in marriage) as it is to split the sea.” Matchmaking is a union, the splitting of the sea is a separation? What is the connection between these two apparent opposite dynamics? I would like to further ask, which was the bigger salvation; the sea splitting or the sea uniting?

I believe the answers lie in a tremendous secret of life. Closeness can only be achieved through distance.

Water and fire are opposites. When combined, each one will overpower the other. How does one unite the two? There is one way …a pot. It is only through a separation (the pot) that fire and water can unite. This is the deep lesson of the laws of the holy Jewish family as the gemora explains.

One wants to leap over a fence. However, he stands directly below it. There is one way for this to be accomplished. He must back up. Through momentum, he can now make a running jump over the fence. Backing up, is going in the exact opposite direction that is desired, however, it is the only way to go forward. In Shemona Esreai we take three steps back in order to take three steps forward.

In heaven the two Neshamos (souls) are one. They are separated at birth. Only through marriage are the two reunited.

All of the above is only a parable for the true great lesson. Before birth, on high, the neshama is one with Hashem. Hashem detaches it from His essence and breathes it into us. The soul is a chelek elokah memaal, a piece of Hashem. After 120 years the neshama is once again united with Hashem. What is accomplished through the soul¹s journey as it travels in an apparent full circle?

Our task in this world is to find Hashem. The world can seem very dark. Each and every moment we are tested to find Him and reveal Him. If we endure, when we approach Hashem on the day of reckoning, the sweetness of the union will be far greater than it was before the separation. The velt (world) says, ³Absence makes the heart grow fonder.² It is only through the trial and tribulations of this world that an even deeper connection is made to our creator.

The water splitting was not the true salvation at the sea. The Egyptians could have continued to pursue. I would like to suggest it was the separation in order for the union. The death of the Egyptians through the water crashing back together, is the true salvation.

Perhaps this is the true characteristic of Yosef; a separation for a greater union. It is only after Yosef is separated from his brothers for 22 years that there is true unity and love amongst the brothers.

This is the greatness of a baal teshuva. Through a deep void and lack of G-dliness, an intense reunion is achieved upon return.

Good Shabbos
Rabbi Moshe Zionce

Rabbi Moshe¹s weekly lectures can be accessed at

The Torah Teminah on “In the Place that Baalei Teshuva Stand…”

Today’s Daf Yomi from the gemorra in Taanis (27) says that the Anshei Maamad shouldn’t fast on Sundays because after eating on Shabbos fasting is too severe.

R’ Moshe Schwerd, a Kew Gardens Hills Daf Yomi Maggid Shiur, brought down the Torah Teminah from his Sefer Tosefes Beracha. He says this is the reason that one who eats on Erev Yom Kippur is credited as if he fasted for two days. After eating, the fast of Yom Kippur becomes that much harder to keep and that is also why Rashi says one should eat a lot on Erev Yom Kippur.

The Torah Teminah goes further and uses this principal to explain the gemorra in Berachot (33B) which says “Makom she-baalei teshuvah omdim, tzaddikim gemurim einam omdim sham”, -“In the place where Baalei Teshuva stand, Perfect Tzaddikim do not stand there.” Since Baalei Teshuva have partaken of that which is forbidden it makes staying away from it that much harder and therefore when they do Teshuva, they stand in a place where Perfect Tzaddikim do not.