Sukkos – The Jews Inner Self

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download this and a number of other Drashos on Sukkos

Sukkah and the Four Species – The Dual Natures of Man

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

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

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

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

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

Our Actual Essence Vs. The Outer Layers of the Self

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can a person identify who he really is?

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

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

Only By Recognizing Our Self Can We Recognize Hashem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching Our Point of Menuchah\Serenity

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Iyov 19: 26

[3] Yalkut Shimeoni: Shemos 20: 226

[4] Sefer HaChinuch, 16

The Four Foundational Spiritual Practices of the Ramchal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Developing Emotional Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy of Mussar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated from the originally published post of June 2018

Parshas Behar – Choose the Best

לעילוי נשמת מנחם בן משה הלוי

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parshas Metzora – Fly Little Birdie

Shmira BaShuvua – Shmiras HaLashon Lessons from the Weekly Parsha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Growth Through Drinking on Purim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shovavim

It’s the period of Shovavim. Here’s some links on the whys and wherefores of Shovavim.

Shovavim and Self Improvement:

Shovavim is an acronym for the parshiyot that we read during the period between Chanukah and Purim. Rav Nachman Cohen writes that this period is an auspicious time to repent for Adam’s sin with the Eitz Hadaat and his subsequent errant behavior, pegimat habrit, for which mankind suffers until today. Why do we specifically repent now for the sin of Adam?

This period falls after the winter solstice when the days begin to get longer. When Adam sinned, the days began to get shorter and he thought it was because of his sin. When the days began to get longer again, he realized he was not doomed and that his repentance had been accepted. Thus this period is an eit ratzon where one can connect to Hashem.

Working on curbing one’s physical desires and avoiding inappropriate pleasures seems male focused. What is the corollary for women? The Maharal says that the primary praise of a woman is her level of tzniut. Rav Pincus writes that because Adam and Chava did not conduct themselves modestly, the snake desired Chava and devised a plot to make her sin. Therefore, in a sense, the sin of Eitz Hadaat came about through immodesty.

What is modesty? It is a call to concentrate our energies on our inner personality, our spiritual nature, which is deep and hidden within us. We must become attuned to our souls instead of getting caught up in the outer trappings of the physical world. Shovavim is not only a time to work on tzniut but a time of introspection, a time to work on our relationship with Hashem. This entails watching our behavior with the awareness that we are in the presence of Hashem. It is irrelevant what other people think. Life is about walking alone with Hashem. Elevating mitzvot to a higher level by practicing modesty in deed – not talking about the mitzvot you’ve done, is an appropriate goal to work on during Shovavim.

Shovavim Tat:

There are a number of reasons given for this period of Teshuvah:
1) During this period we read the parshiyot which describe the Jews’ suffering and exile in Egypt and their redemption, salvation, and exodus by the Hand of God. Just as Israel in the Torah called out from their physical exile, so too we call out of our personal spiritual exile. Just as the Jewish people overcame the darkness of the Egyptian exile so too we try to overcome the spiritual darkness in our lives and come closer to God from whom we are separated.

2) Many Chassidic and Kabbalistic sources describe the focus of this period as strengthening our resolve in areas of family purity (Taharat Hamishpacha) and in studying and keeping the laws of family purity.

A Sign of the Times:

Shovavim is something that came from the Mekubalim. I once heard it explained that as the generations get weaker, Hashem reveals to us the hidden light that can be found deeper into the year. Let’s face it, we didn’t really do a great job on Aseres Yimei Tshuva and Hashem is showing us these loopholes and extensions because he yearns for us to return and wants us to take advantage. This ties in nicely with something I heard from the Chofetz Chaim who when asked skeptically about Yom Kippur Katan, said that we no longer can go a whole year without a Yom Kippur. We need one once a month.

Pondering The Meaning Of Life

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Talks on Elul

Hashem Helps Us When We Connect Our Actions With Him

ומגן ומושיע עוזר מלך Hashem is our עוזר ,our ultimate Helper.

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

Chazal say that our evil inclination gets stronger every day, and if not for Hashem, we cannot overcome it (Sukkah 52a). On a deeper note, our every action needs Hashem’s help. How indeed does Hashem help us? Whenever we do an action, it is considered alive only if we put Hashem into the equation. Although we use our power of bechirah to do good actions, our actions can only be considered ‘alive’ when we realize how we need Hashem to help us, and this gives life to the actions we do. A person might do many good deeds, but inwardly, he can be dead, because there is no life-source to his actions; Hashem is missing from the equation. Once we put Hashem into what we do, Hashem is providing life to our actions, and then the actions we do are alive.

Life Vs. Imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If our hearts begin to become a little opened, we can realize that the kind of life we think we have been living until now is really the world of imagination. Compare this to a child. A child’s perspective on life is not life – it is imagination. It is hard to verbally express this concept in words. The point is that your heart needs to become opened, and then you will know what is being discussed here.

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

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

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

What Does G-d Want From Us?

There is a verse in this week’s Parsha, that the Mesillas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, says is the basis of our Avodas Hashem, our service of Hashem.

As we probably know, the Mesillas Yesharim, was written by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato, also known as “the Ramchal”, and is one of the two most studied character development books of all time (the other being the Duties of the Heart).

The reason why Mesillas Yesharim is so popular is because the Ramchal teaches us:
– What it means to serve Hashem (Ramchal’s Introduction).
– Why we should devote our entire lives to serving Hashem (Chapter 1 – Man’s Mission in the World).
– How to methodologically improve our service of Hashem (Chapters 2 through 26)

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

The Ramchal continues and says:
“Here, has been included all the components of complete Divine service that are pleasing to Hashem, blessed be He and they are: fear (awe) of Hashem, walking in His ways, love, wholeheartedness, and observance of all the commandments.

The Ramchal then writes a paragraph on each of these five components, which can be summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like you would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king,
2) walking in His ways – refining our character traits, leading to strengthening of Torah and improved friendships,
3) love – ingraining in our hearts a love of Hashem, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents,
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with pure motives, focused on serving Hashem, not by rote, with heartfelt devotion,
5) and observance of all the mitzvos – observing the entire body of mitzvos, with all their fine points and conditions.

The Ramchal then says, “I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have categorized these elements in a different, more detailed formulation, in which they are arranged according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition.”

This is based on the Beraisa by Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair in the Gemora which says that Torah leads to Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead. The Mesillas Yesharim is based on this Beraisa.

I always wondered about the order of pasuk and why the Ramchal is so focused on it as the basis for Divine service, while the Gemora and the commentators are focused mainly on the fear (awe) part of the pasuk. I believe that the Ramchal sees that the Pasuk is in the reverse order of the Beraisa, with
5) observance of all the mitzvos – take us from the beginning through Cleanliness
4) wholeheartedness – takes us through Purity
3) love – takes us through Saintliness
2) walking in His ways – takes us through Humility
1) fear (awe) of God – takes us through Fear of Sin.

Perhaps this is why the Ramchal is all over this pasuk, because it has the same structure as the Beraisa delineating the components and levels of Divine Service.

This is a fantastic opportunity to review the introduction of Mesillas Yesharim, which can be found here.

Fifty Ways to Meet Your Lover (Sefirat HaOmer)

Mystical writings make this time period analogous to a woman preparing for union with her lover. She purifies herself for seven days. Seven is also the number of types of impurity that must be eliminated, and in our case linked to seven weeks, the time period between Passover and the Biblical holiday of Shavuot, forty-nine days called Sefirat HaOmer, “Counting the Omer”. God reveals all wisdom that there is to know on the fiftieth day, Shavuot, symbolized by the consummation of a marriage. In other words, to learn wisdom is to become one with the Infinite.

Therefore “spiritual purification” is a theme of these fifty days. Each day is designated for us to pray for and work towards a small piece of spirituality.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone who wants God’s wisdom can have it. He loves everyone and wants to give to them. But the more we are equipped to deal with it the more useful it will be.

There’s an old story of a person who seeks to speak with a wise Zen master.

As the proposed disciple sits before the master, the disciple begins to expound on his own knowledge to impress the master. The master stays quiet and begins to pour tea into a cup for the visitor. After the cup is full the master continues to pour until the tea is pouring over the sides causing the disciple to jump up and yell “Stop, the cup is full and can hold no more!”

The wise Zen master replies, “And what about you? Are you full of wisdom? If so, there is no more room for me to teach you anything.”

Wisdom is being poured out from above, but we have to be ready to receive it. Are we humble enough to know how little we know about marriage, parenting, happiness, and meaning? If so we will hit the jackpot.


Step by Step

We are commanded to count each and every day between Passover and Shavuot. This implies that spiritual growth is best achieved step by step, one day at a time. Our soul wants to soar straight to the Infinite. Our body also wants to become holy overnight so it doesn’t have to work. The real path, though, is to fire up a burning desire for purity every single day, working step by step to make progress on the ladder to the Heavens.

Seven Shepherds

One path the sages recommend to grab this opportunity is to emulate the Seven Shepherds. Each week is designated for a different holy one to try to be like.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David each represents a different character trait. The first week is dedicated to Abraham, the second to Isaac, and so on. There are seven kabbalistic terms in Hebrew that do not lend themselves to an English translation so I will describe an aspect of them instead.

1st Week:
Abraham exemplifies the quality of Chesed, a trait evidenced in his extreme love of mankind. This first week, in order to purify yourself and tap into the flow of Divine assistance, we can look for the positive things in others that bring to the surface that natural love in our hearts for all humanity. If the Almighty can love all His children, so can we.

2nd Week:
Isaac exemplifies Gevura, a trait of discipline and inner strength. He never wavered from whatever he deemed the will of God. To imitate him we can focus our attention on things we are doing that we know are not God’s will and eradicate them.

3rd Week:
Jacob is Tiferet, the ability to be in harmony with all forces. Sometimes he fought, sometimes he bowed. He knew how to handle every single person that came his way. He even had two names which showed his flexibility. He blessed each of his children, showing that he spent time considering the nature of each child, trying to give each one what he needed, encouragement, rebuke, insight, etc. We can do this too by thinking deeply about each of our close family and friends and think about what each person needs.

4th Week:
Moses is Netzach, the Torah’s eternal conduit. We can emulate him by studying the insights of the Torah and try to remove any of our own personal influence on the insights, looking for the pure unadulterated truth.

5th Week:
Aaron is Hod, a trait which made him beloved by all who knew him. He loved peace and did everything he could to bring peace into the world at every opportunity. We all want people to get along, but how many of us are doing anything about it? This fifth week we can emulate Aaron by doing something practical and specific that brings more peace in the world.

6th Week:
Joseph is Yesod, similar to Jacob’s ability to relate to all people, Joseph’s ability was to be able to bond with, join, and become a part of each and every person he met. He easily and successfully became a trusted assistant wherever he went, whether with Jacob, Potiphar (an Egyptian official), the jailer of the dungeon, or to Pharaoh himself. He was immediately trusted because he truly felt the pain of each person he met. We can imitate him by trying to become one with the people we know and their challenges to the point they truly trust us.

7th Week:
David is Malchut, a trait that allowed him to connect his own royal power and tie it to the Almighty. Power corrupts unless you constantly remind yourself that your power is only the Divine putting you in a position like a marionette puppet. When all others were afraid of Goliath, David said, “Are you going to let this guy curse the Almighty? HaShem will help you defeat him.” David knew that the Almighty runs the show at all times. “To You are the greatness, the strength, the harmony, the permanence, and the glory….” We can look at all of our abilities or power roles this week and see how we are merely a conduit for the Almighty.

If you try to emulate each character trait for one week of the seven week period you will experience a new type of enlightenment at the end. This is a simple straightforward approach to the Sefirah period. A more complicated approach uses all seven traits each week. Because each trait is incomplete without all the other six. You can’t have real love like Abraham if you don’t include Isaac’s awe of God. Otherwise you’ll transgress God’s laws to fulfill your love. You’ll spoil your children and become a doormat to your spouse. Each trait properly includes all the others. So a complicated approach to the 50 days has a different combination of two traits each day.

Our tradition says that the Israelites accomplished this when they left Egypt and fifty days later received the Torah.

Riding the Escalator of Life

Sometimes we get a special gift. When you work on spirituality in a consistent way the Almighty opens up a gate for you that you might not have imagined. If you look for reminders of what you are working on you will also notice on a daily basis how the Almighty is guiding and directing your efforts at self-growth. This daily testament to His role in our daily life is comforting and keeps us connected. But when we get that special gift, sometimes a whole new world opens up.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) had an angel come to him and teach him many secrets because of his consistent study of the Mishna, the Oral Tradition. We are not all going to have such a special and holy event happen to us like that but each on our own individual level will receive a boost.

Kind of like that way someone gets “discovered” after plugging away for many years at something. Kimya Dawson was a relatively unknown recording a performing artist for years until one day an actress in a movie called “Juno” recommended her recording with the Moldy Peaches for the soundtrack which became a chartbuster. Now Kimya Dawson is “suddenly” a recognized star. Suddenly….after years of continuous effort. In the spiritual world it happens too.

Whatever area of growth we want to grab a hold of, consistency and continuity will be helpful, and sometimes they will be the cause of a major leap that propels us into a higher level. Our small path of steps just might be turn into a springboard. Now is the time to take the first step.

First Published on May 14, 2008

Matzah with a Shmear of Spiritual Sensitivity

We experience the world through our fives senses which makes our primary orientation a physical one. We also experience qualities like love, caring, gratitude and justice which are not perceivable through our five senses. Let’s call those qualities – spiritual sensitivities. Another spiritual sensitivity is the awareness that there is a loving G-d, Who created the world and wants to help us bring the world to a more perfect place of universal love, caring, gratitude and justice.

The path to perfecting the world and ourselves is through quieting our self-involved physical sensitivities and increasing our spiritual sensitivies. Passover provides us with a tremendous opportunity with the mitzvah of eating Matzah. Food is a tremendous source of physical and emotional pleasure and the Torah encourages us to fully experience that pleasure on Shabbos and the Holidays. However, the primary spiritual purpose of food is to provide us with the energy to carry out the worthwhile day to day activities of our life. On Passover we are instructed to eat Matzah, a plain basic staple of water and flour, to increase our sensitivity to the spiritual nature of food.

Spiritual sensitivity provides us with increased life fulfillment opportunities in every bite we take and every step we make. We can transcend the limits of our own physicality and look at the constant connection opportunities with our fellow human beings and with G-d. We should all be blessed with enhanced spiritual sensitivity this Passover.

Happy Passover!

The Biggest Problem in Judaism

What’s the biggest problem in Judaism. A lot of things come to mind, the Covid Crisis, the Yeshiva System, the Shidduch System, the Chinuch System, the Left, the Right, the Middle, the Open, the Closed, the Leadership, the lack of Leadership, etc.

However, I think the biggest problem in Judaism is clearly stated in the pasuk in Devarim:
And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, that you
1) fear Him, 2) walk in His ways, 3) love Him, 4) serve Him with all your heart and all your soul and 5) observe all the mitzvos.

That’s what’s expected of us!

On top of that we have an animal soul that’s impulsive, loves physical pleasure, and detests exertion. We have a yetzer hara that makes us ego-centric leading to selfishness, anger, envy and honor seeking. And we live in a world loaded with intellectual, emotional and physical distractions like politics, business, sports, shopping, gadgets, social media, and entertainment.

And even when we are able to overcome the physical, emotional and intellectual deterrents and create some connection to Hashem through fear, middos development, love, wholehearted service, and meticulous mitzvos observance – the major payoff for most people, will not even be received in this world, but in the World to Come.

This challenge is a tall order and it’s not really emphasized to children or adults, because it would discourage them. So Yeshivos focus on the information and thought development of Torah study, and Kiruv and non-Yeshivish environments offer Torah as a lifestyle choice. So it should be no surprise that many of us want to move to a town where we can sit back a little and enjoy the Torah lifestyle. And some of us choose a mostly physical lifestyle, with a side order of spirituality.

That is the Biggest Problem in Judaism – a lot is expected of us and it’s really hard given our nature and environment. However, this is a problem that Hashem created. And if He created this problem, we know that He created a solution. The solution is following a Torah based spiritual growth path. With such a path, a person can truly connect to Hashem and receive the greatest pleasure possible in this world and the next.

David Linn’s The grATTITUDE Newsletter

One of the hats that David wears is The Gratitude Dude. He’s been writing, speaking, and giving workshops on improving your gratitude quotient for many years. He recently started a newsletter called “The grATTITUDE” that you definitely should subscribe to.

You can sign up for the weekly gratitude email, The grATTITUDE at http://bit.ly/gratitudeemail

Here is a recent sample

The grATTITUDE
Your weekly injection of gratitude inspiration, insight, education and practical advice.

“Gratitude makes what we have enough.”
— Melody Beattie

What’s the Good Word?

Hedonic Adaptation/Hedonic Treadmill

Hedonic Adaptation refers to the idea that people’s levels of happiness tend to return to their start point despite significant positive or negative events in their lives.

So, if we were able to say that someone’s level of happiness is a 7 out of 10 and then that person takes the vacation of a lifetime, even though that would likely bump their happiness up, it would eventually return to the 7.

The same is generally true when someone experiences a negative event like the loss of a loved one– their happiness level will drop, understandably, but will gradually return to the 7.

While this is a good thing when dealing with negative events– it boosts recovery and resilience– it’s not a good thing at all when it comes to positive events. As soon as the bump from the positive event passes, we go looking for something new.

That’s why Hedonic Adaptation is also called the Hedonic Treadmill because we keep looking for new things to bump us up but we essentially end up getting nowhere– we’re right back where we started.

Gratitude plays an important role in slowing down Hedonic Adaptation to positive events. Gratitude, particularly through speaking or writing about our appreciation for happy things and events, has a savoring quality that makes the event last longer. Additionally, grateful people are generally happier with their lives and, as such, are not constantly craving new things.

Dive into gratitude and jump off the hedonic treadmill.

Making it Work at Work

Gratitude in the workplace isn’t fluff. There are serious studies conducted by top-tier medical and business schools and published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals that evidence that gratitude has a positive effect on nearly every single business metric— from employee engagement and retention to psychological safety and creativity and, of course profit.

One of the surprising things about gratitude in the workplace is that peer-to-peer gratitude is often more important than gratitude from workplace superiors. This might be true because your peers know you better, interact with you more and aren’t perceived to be expressing gratitude because that’s what bosses are supposed to do. Smart businesses are instilling cultures of appreciation that train leaders but also foster peer-to-peer appreciation.

Your Turn

Among all of the gratitude habits or interventions, writing a gratitude letter is one of the most popular and most studied.

The concept is quite simple. Write a letter to someone expressing, in as much detail as possible, the gratitude that you have for them.

Many people recommend that you read the letter directly to the recipient, in person if possible. I think that in our digital era, receiving a physical letter in the mail feels special and shows the recipient that you are thinking about them and that you made an extra effort.

Here are a few tips provided by the Greater Good Science Center:

• Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
• Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
• Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
• Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
•Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this email, please consider sharing this sign-up link: bit.ly/gratitudeemail.

With Gratitude,
Dave Linn, The Gratitude Dude
In collaboration with A Good World Company.

P.S Hey there! Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The grATTITUDE. Every week, we’ll send out an email newsletter filled with tips and tricks and all things gratitude. We’d love to hear your feedback, like what you loved in this week’s email and what you’d like to see next time. Send an email to thegrattitude@gmail.com and we’ll be sure to read your message.

To reach Dave directly, email him at dave@generosityseries.com. To find out more about A Good World Company, email Yehudis at yehudis@agoodworldcompany.com.

Copyright © 2020 The grATTITUDE, All rights reserved.

Surrendering to Humility

Tuesday 23 Cheshvan

Humility is not denying your talents or withdrawing within yourself. Humility does not mean that you are worthless or insignificant. Humility is recognizing the incredible gifts that Hashem has blessed you with and using them to make the world a better place. Humility is surrendering your will to Hashem’s will and in that way becoming far greater than what you could ever become alone. At times this act of surrender is excruciatingly painful, but if we are able to channel our talents in a holy way, we merit partnering with Hashem in infusing our world with holiness, and blessing.

R’ Aryeh Goldman offers 100 words of daily chizuk to uplift and inspire Yidden to live a meaningful life deeply connected to Hashem.

Web Site: https://www.100wordsofchizuk.com

Whats App Chat: https://chat.whatsapp.com/CKVftNO28QlKIMpDko8688

100 words of Chizuk

R’ Aryeh Goldman offers 100 words of daily chizuk to uplift and inspire Yidden to live a meaningful life deeply connected to Hashem.

Web Site
https://www.100wordsofchizuk.com

Whats App Chat
https://chat.whatsapp.com/CKVftNO28QlKIMpDko8688

Tuesday 16 Cheshvan

Most of us begin a program of transformation highly inspired with the best intentions. However before long we lose the initial excitement and hit a plateau. This is when our true desire to reach our goal is tested. At that moment our persistence waivers and most just give up. To achieve greatness you can never give up. Champions are born out of a resolute persistence in the face of adversity. Legends see the moments of stagnation, the plateau, the challenges, as opportunities to reveal their innermost Ratzon (will), and in so doing, inevitably bring themselves closer to their goals.

Four Words that Fuel Spiritual Growth

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains that the key to establishing a palpable closeness to G-d when we say the Shemoneh Esrai, are the words Melekh (King), Ozer (Helper), uMoshia (Rescuer), uMogen (Shield) in the first brocha. We start off addressing G-d as a majestic but somewhat distant King. A Helper is more available and closer than a King, like a friend who we know we can call on. A Rescuer is closer than a Helper, because he is right there to save us when we need help. A Shield is closer than a Rescuer because he is surrounding us, protecting us from harm. If we say these four words slowly (4+ seconds per word), focusing on the different perceptions of closeness, we can sense Hashem’s protection.

This four word progression is also applicable to the Yomim Noraim. On Rosh Hoshana we focus on Hashem as King. In the ten days of Teshuva, we call out more in Selichos to Hashem, our Rescuer, because He is more available in this period. On Yom Kippur, we pray and confess to Hashem, our Saviour, as He saves us from the consequences of our sins. On Succos, we focus on Hashem, our Shield, through the mitzvos of the Sukkah and the feelings of protection that it generates.

The idea of the progression from King, to Helper, to Rescuer, to Shield, might help explain a question regarding brochos. Every standalone or sequence-beginning brocha must contain Hashem’s name and the word Melekh. However, the beginning of Shomeneh Esrai is missing the Melekh. Tosfos gives the most quoted answer: the first Brocha mentions Avrahom, who was the first one who made Hashem King over himself. The question still remains: why not just put the word Melekh, like we find in every other brocha?

Perhaps we can say that the word Melekh by itself represents a distant King. However in Shomeneh Esrai we are talking directly to Hashem, To help us create that conversational closeness, the Men of the Great Assembly, put the word Melekh at the end of the brocha in the progression leading to Magen. This is the relationship Avrahom personified, and that is the relationship we are pursuing in the first brocha and in the entire Shomoneh Esrai.

May we all merit to make the progression from Melekh to Magen in these upcoming Yomim Noraim, and in every tefillah that we daven.

SGZ Vol10 – Our Avodah without the Beis HaMikdash

The Avodah of Making Better Brochos

We’ve been discussing how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

The Path to Improving Our Avodah

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World)
-Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
-Internalize and Focus on your Purpose

Zehirus (Watchfulness)
-Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
-Stop, Think, Act, Review

Zerizus (Zealousness)
-Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority
-Do Mitzvos with Enthusiasm

Mourning the Missing of Avodah of the Beis HaMikdash

We’re now in the period of the nine days, and the call of this period day is to mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. We mourn because we are lacking the close connection to Hashem that existed when we had the Beis HaMikdash. That connection was built through the avodah that was available through the bringing of korbonos, which we no longer have.

Availing Ourselves of the Opportunity of Avodah She’b’lev

We don’t have the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash, but we do have the Avodah She’b’lev, namely Tefillah. If we work on improving our brochos, even a little bit, as described above, we’re showing Hashem that we value our opportunities to serve Him.

Getting Joy from Our Avodah

We are taught in the Tochacha that bad things happened to the Jewish People because we did not serve Hashem with joy. When we stop, think and say a brocha properly, we can feel joy from this realized opportunity of serving and getting closer to Hashem. That is a step in rectifying our past of not serving Hashem with joy.

Better Avodah Leads to More Avodah Opportunities

In our own lives, we often see that improving our avodah leads to more avodah opportunities. It’s logical, that a significant collective improvement of our Avodah, will be met by Hashem bringing back the Avodah opportunities of the Beis HaMikdash. May it happen speedily in our days.

SGZ – V9 – The Three Foundations

Last week we talked about how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:
– Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
– Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
– Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority

Chovas HaAdam – Internalize Your Purpose
Proper Divine Service begins with internalizing our purpose in the world. Why are we here? It starts with why. In the secular world, this concept relates to our discovering our individual purpose. In the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal is focused on the common purpose we all share, which is to develop a deep connection to Hashem in this world, through the performance of mitzvos. That is our why, our purpose, and the more we internalize it, the more we’ll be driven by it.
– At least once a day, say to yourself “My purpose in this world us to develop a deep connection to Hashem through the performance of Mitzvos”

Zehirus – Stop, Think, Act, Review
Zehirus is internalizing the habit of thinking before you act. We are often distracted and don’t think about our actions. The first step is to stop before you act. The purpose of stopping is to think about what you are about to determine if it is in line with your purpose in life. If what you are about to do is an aveira, then try not to do it. If what you’re about to do is a mitzvah, then do it, with the thought that this act will help me achieve my purpose. The next step is doing the act with the proper thoughts. The last step is to review and think about the actions at least once a day. This helps to internalize the habit of zehirus.
– At least once a day, think about whether your actions were in line with your purpose.

Zerizus – Do it with Enthusiasm
Zerizus is internalizing the habit of doing mitzvos enthusiastically. The nemesis of enthusiasm is lethargy and laziness, which is a result of our physical nature. The first step is stopping and thinking before we act, which are the components of zehirus. Now we can think about the fact that the mitzvah we are about to do is in line with our purpose of connecting to Hashem. What could be better? Now we can proceed to do the mitzvah with increased enthusiasm, as it is integral to fulfilling our purpose.
– At least once a day, think about the importance of the brocha you are about to say, and then say it with some enthusiasm.

SGZ – V8 – Applying Our Spiritual Knowledge to Improve Our Davening



Last week we looked at three aspects of spiritual growth: inspiration, information, internalization. In regards to inspiration, or motivation, we spoke about our need to improve our Divine Service, and the fact that we don’t understand Divine Service so well. In regards to information, we reviewed the five components of Divine Service: Awe, Walking in His Way, Love, Wholehearted Service, Careful Performance of Mitzvos. We said that internalization is often the missing component in our spiritual growth.

The Mesillas Yesharim tells us that only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained. Internalizing awe of Hashem is the key to wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the relevant application of knowledge to a situation. The ultimate wisdom is determining and doing what Hashem wants from us in every situation. This requires learning halacha, hashkafa, mussar and applying it. The only way we can apply the information is if it’s internalized and accessible.

Internalizing Divine Service requires a step by step repetitive process. In the Zoomcast we look at the step by step process of improving our davening. We discuss the following steps:
1) Internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem.
2) Stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem.
3) Focusing on thinking that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name.
4) Appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem.