Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V7 – Inspiration, Information, Internalization

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We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast, we talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Inspiration, Information and Internalization

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast on beyondbt.com, we will talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Check out the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Here is a summary of the Zoomcast:

What we need to do.
Introduction to the need to improve our Divine Service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.

The key point to internalize.
Chovas HaAdam or Man’s Purpose in the World is to pursue the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.

Four deterrents to deal will: distraction, laziness, desire, self-centeredness.

Reduce distraction with focused thinking.
Zehirus or Watchfulness is avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.

Reduce laziness with enthusiastic positive spiritual performance.
Zerizus or Zealousness is overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.

Battle desire and self-centeredness by focusing on spiritual achievement.
Nekiyus or Cleanliness is reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.

Weaken desire further by thinking about it’s deficiencies.
Perishus or Abstaining is recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.

Address self-centeredness by focusing more on our spiritual side.
Tahara or Purity is reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.

Displace self-centeredness, by putting pleasing Hashem at the top of priorities.
Chassidus or Saintliness is expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.

Weaken self-centeredness further by examining our deficiencies.
Anavah or Humility is realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.

Putting Hashem front and center.
Yiras Cheit or Fear of Sin is being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.

Doing everything for Hashem.
Kedushah or Holiness is removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.

Overview of Mesillas Yesharim

In the upcoming Zoomcast we’ll be giving a Overview of the Mesillas Yesharim. Here’s a preview.

Introduction – Improving our Divine service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.
It is critical to work on improving our service of Hashem, since this is the reason for our existence.Without effort and a methodology, we won’t reach adequate levels of service. Divine Service is doing mitzvos properly—with focus, love, and awe, and diminishing our self-centeredness through giving and connecting to other people.

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.
We build our foundation of improved service of Hashem by internalizing the understanding that our life’s purpose is to develop an eternal connection to Hashem. We develop that connection doing the mitzvos properly, serving Hashem, and withstanding tests.

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.
To reduce the distractions which distance us from Hashem, we have to develop the habit of thinking before we act whether a prospective action will draw us away from or bring us closer to Hashem. We need to regularly review our purpose and examine whether our daily actions are in line with our purpose.

Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.
To avail ourselves of the constant opportunities to come close to Hashem, we need to overcome our laziness which prevents us from enthusiastic mitzvah performance. We need to recognize the constant mitzvah opportunities, and then act without delay to take advantage of these opportunities to connect to Hashem.

Nekiyus (Cleanliness) – Reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.
We need to learn the details of mitzvah observance and proper middos, particularly the 14 mitzvos categories and 4 middos that we are most likely to transgress. We need to internalize the awareness that physical desire and self-centeredness often cause us to rationalize our transgressions.

Perishus (Abstaining) – Recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.
Perishus is the beginning of Chassidus and consists of abstaining from permitted worldly matters that are unessential or may lead to sin. However, if something is essential, it is a sin to abstain from it. Determining what is unessential and what is essential is an ongoing spiritual growth process.

Tahara (Purity) – Reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.
Tahara refers to the refinement of our actions, emotions and thoughts. Tahara in physical acts is reducing our physical desires. Tahara in mitzvos refers to having proper intentions, which is called doing mitzvos l’shma or “for their own sake”.

Chassidus (Saintliness) – Expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.
Chassidus is bringing pleasure, honor and satisfaction to Hashem by adding to that which was explicitly commanded regarding mitzvos. Just like the love between people is expressed by doing more, so too is the love of Hashem. Chassidus teaches us to focus on helping people physically, financially and emotionally. In addition, all our mitzvos should be carried out with love, fear, concern for Hashem’s honor, and the intention of benefitting our entire generation.

Anavah (Humility) – Realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.
Humility of thought is to realize that we are not superior to others. Wisdom is the most common cause of conceit, even though we make errors and always need to learn. Humility in deeds means we should conduct ourselves humbly, accept insults, flee from honor and wielding authority..

Yiras Cheit (Fear of Sin) – Being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.
Fear of punishment for violating Hashem’s mitzvos is the most basic fear and is a trait of Zehirus. Avoiding sins because of our awe of Hashem’s exaltedness is a trait of Chassidus. Yiras Cheit is the concern that a trace of sin intruded into any of our actions which caused an affront to the honor due to Hashem. When someone has reached this high level, this fear of sin operates constantly.

Kedushah (Holiness) – Removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.
Holiness is removing oneself from physicality and cleaving constantly to Hashem, with our every act done purely for His sake. This is achieved as a gift from Hashem after a person is constantly cleaving to Him through powerful love, intense fear and reflection on His exaltedness. Even ones physical deeds, like eating, will then be holy.

Going Beyond Bein Adam L’Makom

In our previous Zoomcasts we defined a G-d Centered spirituality emphasizing the goal of developing a deep loving emotional connection with G-d, and the resulting benefits of developing that relationship. This seems to focus on the Bein Adam L’Makom aspects of Torah Judaism. Surely that’s not all there is.

As the Mesillas Yesharim makes quite clear, middos and mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, play an essential role in G-d centered spirituality. In regard to Middos, each of the ten steps of the Baraisa (Torah, Zehirus, Zerisus,…) is built on a foundation of eliminating bad middos and developing good middos. The Mesillas Yesharim however provides us with priorities in Middos Development.

In Zehirus, he focuses on the negative middah of distraction, which includes worldly pursuits, dreaming and fantasizing. The antidote is to think about your primary purpose and life, and to stop, and think, before you act, to see if your thoughts and actions are helping you achieve your purpose. When you work on the positive trait of thinking before you speak or act, you realize that this takes a concerted effort.

In Zerizus, he discusses the negative middah of laziness, which prevents us from doing positive mitzvos properly. The antidote here is doing mitzvos as soon as the opportunity presents itself, with enthusiasm. He also dicusses feeling the pleasure of Loving Hashem when doing the right thing. The negative middah of worry and anxiety is also addressed in Zerizus.

In Nekius, the negative middah of desire is discussed. The antidote begins with an awareness of how desire for physical pleasure, for honor and for money, influences our actions. The power of desire can be diminished by feeling the pleasure of doing the right thing. As Dr. David Lieberman says: “the body wants to feel good, the ego wants to look good, the soul wants to do good”. We have to feel the pleasure of doing good, to overcome the hold that that desire has on us.

At the end of Nekius he discusses the centrality of middos development in Avodah Hashem and how much effort must be made to improve our middos. The Ramchal teaches that there are numerous middos, but he focuses on the ones that create the greatest stumbling block, specifically arrogance, anger, envy and desire. The Vilna Gaon in Even Shleimah also teaches the centrality of middos development in Avodas Hashem, and he states that anger, desire and arrogance are the principal bad traits.

Let’s go back to the importance of the centrality of G-d connection in our Spiritual Growth. This, perhaps, is one of the major issues we have in the Frum community. We are not taught about the centrality and immense benefits of the emotional connection to G-d. Therefore, we often do mitzvos, say brachos, and pray without thought, and we don’t receive the pleasure which mitzvos, brachos and prayer can deliver.

I think a major reason for this is that when we begin our Judaism as a BT or a FFB the focus is on what to do and how to do it. At the beginning, we’re not focused on the benefits, or the why, which include the pleasurable emotional connection to Hashem. BTs are usually not ready for this at the beginning. And FFB children do not have enough emotional maturity to develop a deep emotional connection to Hashem at that point of their lives. That’s why we have to be thankful to Mesillas Yesharim for give us the step by step guidelines to develop that emotional connection and to get beyond our plateau.

Look out for the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast – volume 4, where we’ll discuss the above issues.

Is Developing a Deeper Connection to Hashem Worth the Effort?

As Torah observant Jews we all practice a form of G-d centered spirituality. We’re learning Torah, keeping Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas HaMishpacha because G-d commanded us.

The next level of G-d centered spirituality is having a deep loving emotional connection to G-d as stated in the Rambam, Chovos HaLevovos, Chassidic sources and Mesillas Yesharim. That deep emotional loving connection can be the source of always-available pleasure in both this world and the next. Many of the above mentioned classic sources teach that developing a deep emotional connecting to Hashem requires a step by step methodology.

The push back to a growth methodology is that a person can argue that through Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim – they will, over time, develop that deep connection to Hashem. So what’s the problem? Many have had Rebbeim who have developed a deep connection and they never taught the need for a methodology.

Putting the methodology issue aside, what if I’m basically satisfied with my combination of physical and spiritual pleasure. Why should I put in all the effort for increased spiritual please? Is it really worth it?

In our upcoming Spiritual Growth Zoomcast we’ll discuss the above issues.

Pesach Redeeming Your Soul

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

Exile of Our Daas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Mind Is Still In Exile

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

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

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

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

We must expand our minds in order to know this.

The Secret of The Redemption: Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is This Unity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Root of The Future Redemption – Nullifying Your Ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration Lasts Only If We Expand Our Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking a Step Forward after Three Hard Steps Back

It’s a tough time for worldwide Shul goers: no public shiurim, no social contact, no davening with a Tzibbur. However, there is a tremendous opportunity here to take a step to improve our davening. Let me share a practical idea.

Our spiritual purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. We connect to Hashem by thinking about Him, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing physical acts of spiritual connection.

Davening contains all three of these components, but the essence of davening is feeling emotionally connected, as we learn in the Gemora in Taanis, “Prayer is the Service of the Heart”. It’s also the hardest component. We can arrive at Shul, say the prayers, and because we are distracted, barely think about Him, much less feel emotionally connected.

The emotional connections that we are seeking to develop during davening are love of Hashem and awe of Hashem. Let’s look at love, which is the feeling of a deep connection. A foundational spiritual thought, and the first of the 6 constant mitzvos, is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all that exists. If we look at the wonderful things in our life, we can appreciate that Hashem caused it, with love for us. We can then start to reciprocally return that love to Him.

Every time we say the word Boruch, which is usually explained as Hashem being the source of blessing, we can appreciate the love that Hashem is showering on us with His gifts in this world. We can then try to direct our love right back at Him. There are 100 opportunities a day to feel this love, and we can try to connect at least once a day, when we say Boruch.

Spiritual growth is a step by step process. Today we have a tremendous opportunity to take one step forward, after having been propelled three hard steps back.

Reposted from http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Developing Our Spiritual Side

Now is a tremendous opportunity to work on our spiritual growth. Sometimes it’s helpful to step back and take a fresh look at what we are trying to achieve.

I was having dinner with a childhood friend a while back, and he lamented that he wanted to do more to develop his spiritual side. In my current neighborhood, I have many friends who express that same concern, including myself. Since I have studied much about this subject and have discussed it with others, I thought I would share some practical ideas in these anxious times.

If we want to develop our physical side, we might pursue a better exercise routine and healthier eating habits. To develop our emotional side, we might work on reducing anger and anxiety, while increasing our capacities for love and happiness. Development of our mental side might include learning and remembering new things, as well as increasing our capacity to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

In Judaism, developing our spiritual side means increasing our capacity to connect to G-d and His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. Individual spiritual development is like physical, emotional and mental development, in that it is a step by step process.

Spirituality consists of thinking about G-d, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing acts of spiritual connection. A foundational spiritual thought is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all existence. Any time we actively think that thought, we are doing an act of spiritual connection. If we look at our beautiful world, or any of the wonderful things in our life, and feel an emotional connection to G-d, the creator of all existence, then we have taken a step in creating an emotional connection to G-d.

Thinking about the ideas stated here is taking a step in our spiritual development. If we take the time to think about G-d as the source of something in our life, we will have taken another step. There are many opportunities for spiritual development and we each must take our own steps. To be continued…

Beyond Corona – I

We are taught that our purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to create a world where Hashem is One and His Name is One. Since we’re spending more time alone, perhaps we can work on connecting to Hashem, so we can get Beyond Corona.

One way to connect to Hashem is to think about Him. The first constant mitzvah is “To believe that there is one G-d in the world that caused all that exists to be so”. When we read about Corona, if we add the thought that Corona and everything in the world comes from Hashem, we have performed a mitzvah and strengthened our connection to Hashem. When we try to put this into practice we will see that it is difficult, because the distraction of reading makes it difficult to think about Hashem.

Perhaps it will be easier to think about Hashem when we say His name in davening and Brachos. The Shulchan Aruch says that when mentioning the name Hashem, we should concentrate on the meaning of how it is read (Adon*i): that He is the Master of all. We should also concentrate on the Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei spelling: that He was, He is, and He always will be. This is also difficult, because we are not in the habit of concentrating when we pray. So perhaps we can try to put this in practice during the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

If many of us try and think about Hashem’s name when we say the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai, then we will have taken a tremendous first step in getting Beyond Corona.

The Joy of Existence

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

From Getting to Know Your Self

A person wants to be happy and at peace only by attaining something else that he is currently lacking. He feels now that joy and peace are lacking, and that once he will get it, he will have joy and peace. If so, the joy comes from attaining something one does not have yet. On the other hand, there is a kind of joy and peace that comes from merely existing. Chazal said of this, “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his portion.” Obviously, they were not referring to the one who has all his needs fulfilled. Rather, the person is lacking things, and yet, he is happy. But how can he be happy? He can’t pay his expenses for the month! His daughter might be in the hospital! How can he be happy if he has all these troubles?

This is a joy that comes from existence. It is not a joy because one has shoes or socks. If one makes a calculation, he might decide that in fact, he lacks a lot of things, even more than what he does have. When can one really be happy? When he is happy because of his existence, not because of what he owns.

What is this joy of existence? How does one do it? What’s so good about it? We must understand and consider: what is one’s natural state – happy, or sad? If we decide that the natural state is one of happiness, there would need to be a cause to make one sad. If we decide, on the other hand, that the natural state is sadness, then there must be a cause to make one happy. What is one’s true nature? If there would be no external forces, what would one’s natural state be? Happy, or sad? For example, if you take a car and place it at an incline, the natural state of the wheels would cause it to go downward, because of gravity. Without using the breaks, it wall go downward. What is one’s natural state: happy, or sad?

The answer is that a person is naturally happy! If a person is created naturally happy, he will be happy if there are no opposing factors. These factors might place one in a state of sadness. If so, why isn’t a person happy? One will respond that he lacks a livelihood, or good health, or proper respect. This may be correct, but it is a very superficial attitude. The real reason one isn’t happy is that he wants things besides his existence. If one would need a reason to be happy, he could claim, “Why should I be happy? I’m lacking this and that! How could I be happy?” But if one’s very nature, by virtue of his creation, is to be happy, if he doesn’t make himself want things, he will naturally be happy! The ratzon is the beginning of the process of uprooting joy from a person’s soul. It’s not as it seems to be, that one lacks and therefore is sad. Rather, because one wants things, he feels a lack, and that lack removes his natural joy. Joy is natural, and if one will just take care to not destroy himself, he will be happy.

How does one avoid destroying himself? He must live in a world without desires. Superficially, such a person would seem lifeless. Doesn’t he want anything? What kind of a life is it when you don’t want anything? How is it possible? The true answer is as follows: If someone lives in a three-story villa, and he is given the opportunity to live in a suffocating underground warehouse with no windows – with the option that the air conditioner will be fixed – he would say, “Thank you, but leave me alone!” If told, “What a lifeless person! You are offered a nice apartment; why don’t you want it?” he would respond, “If I were a homeless person with only a bench on the street, your suggestion would in fact be charming, but why would I want a warehouse without a window in place of a three-story villa?”

If a person were asked, “Would you like us to throw stones at you?” he would say, “No!” Would they say, “You’re like dead; you have no desires; you should want people to throw stones”? The answer is clear: a person only wants something if he believes that he will be better off when he gets it than he is now. But if the current state is fine, one’s lack of desire does not come from inner lifelessness, but because he now has all he needs.

The problem is that we do not look at our lives as a state in which we have everything. The pasuk says, “I left my mother’s womb naked, and naked I shall return.” People think this is negative, because a person is born with nothing. But he’s not born with nothing! A person is born with everything! However, we and the world teach the soul that “you need this, you need that.” Gradually, the person is convinced that he needs and needs, and he lacks and lacks, so what was a happy person became a very needy person.

Shovavim – Repairing Our Thoughts

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Introduction To “Shovavim”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rectifying The Thoughts: Returning To The “Beginning”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Root of Damaging The Bris: Feeling Completely Independent

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

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

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

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

The Deeper Implication of Misusing The Thought Process

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

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

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

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

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

Repenting Over The Shame Caused By Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Private (Intimate) Matters Should Be Kept Private

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] See Shovavim #04, Shovavim Today

[5] Shovavim #003

[6] Shovavim #006

[7] Shaar HaPesukim, Yechezkel

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

[9] Koheles Rabbah 12:1

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

In Search of Neo-Mussar

I was recently learning with a chavrusa about the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. We were trying to broaden our understanding of love and I pointed out that a given person probably loves their parents, their children, and their spouses. Now bring that person to Shul on Shabbos and ask him, “Who do you love in this room?”. He’ll look around and perhaps he’ll say “I think I can say that I love that guy. And maybe those two over there”. If you point out that there’s a mitzvah to love every Jew in the room, he’ll probably give you a shrug.

I’ve asked many friends and Rebbeim over the years about the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. One Rabbi told me that it’s for people on a higher level. I pointed out that we mention the obligation of Ahavas Hashem in Shema multiple times a day. To his credit, he went to his Roshei Yeshiva, who told him the Ahavas Hashem is in fact a mitzvah for everyone.

Another Rabbi said that he was not sure that Love of Hashem was even an emotion. I told him that was a big chiddush. Other Rebbeim have pointed out that our Avodah is intellectually centered, and we’re cautious about too much emotionalism. In fact, Rabbi Dessler praises the Chassidic custom to arouse emotions through external means, like the use of schnapps, but he also points out that emotionalism is not the same as internalizing love and connection to Hashem.

I recently gave a Dvar Torah at our Hashkama minyan and I said we needed a neo-Mussar to help develop our emotional connection to Hashem. My Rav got wind of the term and asked, “Why not real Mussar?”. I respectively replied that the word Mussar has negative connotations to many people, and even those who have a healthy Mussar diet, seem to have trouble getting to the emotional connection. I’m developing and experimenting with certain practices which I think will provide a path to intellectual driven emotions and connection to Hashem. I hope to share some of these ideas in the future.

Confessions of a BT Wannabe

By Charlotte Friedland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

© 2007 Charlotte Friedland

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

Growing at the Bottom of the Heap

Finding Oneself on the Bottom
There are many hierarchies in our world. Three of the hierarchies discussed in Torah sources are those of wealth, wisdom and spiritual performance. Two others that come to mind are spiritual heritage and the merits of our children.

Sometimes strength in one hierarchy, like wealth or wisdom, compensates for weakness in another. A person might choose to live in a community where Torah knowledge and spiritual performance standards are lower, so that they can comfortably reach the middle or the top of the hierarchy. However, viewing ourselves at the bottom of a hierarchy is a tool for growth.

Pursuing Honor is an Attempt to Escape the Bottom
In the Mesillas Yesharim chapter on “The Details of Cleanliness”, the Ramchal discusses taking both our mitzvos and character traits to the next level. He discusses the chief traits that we need to work on, namely, pride, anger, envy, and desire.

When discussing desire, he doesn’t talk about the base desires that usually come to mind, rather the desire for wealth and the desire for honor. In regard to the desire for honor, the Ramchal states:

The desire for honor is even greater than the desire for wealth, for it is possible for a person to overcome his inclination for wealth and the other pleasures and still be pressed by the desire for honor, being unable to tolerate being, and seeing himself beneath his friends.

The desire for honor is so strong, because we are unable to tolerate being, and seeing ourselves beneath our friends. We are uncomfortable being towards the bottom of the heap.

Using our Distaste for the Bottom to Motivate Growth

In the chapter on the “Acquiring Watchfulness”, the Ramchal discusses motivators for spiritual growth. He discusses three levels:

1) those who are striving for perfection
2) those motivated by honor and envy
3) those motivated by reward and punishment

In relation to honor and envy, he explains that we since find it extremely difficult when we are on a lower level in regard to the vanities of this world, how much more difficult it will be to find ourselves on the bottom in the eternal world of truth. Distaste for the bottom should motivate us to embrace spiritual growth now.

The Ramban Tells Us to Embrace Bottomhood

To overcome the trait of honor we need to be ok with being at the bottom of the hierarchy. In fact in the Iggeres HaRamban, when discussing how to work on the trait of humility, the Ramban says:

Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer — or wiser — than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you, since when he sins it is through error, while yours is deliberate and you should know better!

In regard to the hierarchies of wealth, wisdom and spiritual accomplishment, we should actively figure out how we are lower than every person to whom we speak. Not an easy task, but humility is the art of seeing yourself at the bottom.

Humility Before Hashem

One might ask why did Hashem create the world with so many hierarchies and our strong distaste for being near the bottom? My Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner zt”l taught that relationships between people are often training grounds for our relationship with Hashem. Developing humility among people, enables us to be more humble before Hashem and to realize that although we must make our efforts, He is the ultimate source of everything we have.

In the chapter on the “Divisions of Saintliness”, the Ramchal writes that before we pray or perform a mitzvah we should recognize that we are standing before and communicating with our Creator, that Hashem is elevated and raised above all blessing and praise, and that man is inferior due to his earthly qualities and the sins he commits.

Growing at the Bottom

Hashem has created a world of hierarchies and we have a strong distaste for being at the bottom. Our goal is to embrace the bottom, strengthen our humility, and recognize this is the place of our growth. Acknowledging this makes us beloved in the eyes of Hashem and enables us to find pleasure as we take our next growth steps in Torah, Tefillah, Mitzvos, Acts of Kindness and Middos improvement.

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

From Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh – Part 4 – Reviewing Basic Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning the Tables on the Constant Test of Summertime Immodesty

By Rabbi Yonah Levant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pesach and the Three Components of Emunah

One of the hardest aspects of Judaism is to turn our intellectual knowledge into heartfelt knowledge and then to have our actions reflect that knowledge. Rav Yisroel Salant addressed this issue with heart-focused Mussar learning, while the Baal Shem Tov addressed it with Chassidus (and today Neo-Chassidus). The teachings of Rav Itamar Schwartz (http://www.bilvavi.net/english) are focused on transferring intellectual knowledge of G-d from our heads, into our hearts, and into our actions.

Belief in G-d and His Torah must begin with the knowledge that G-d created the world, took us out from Mitzrayim, and gave us the Torah. The mitzvah of “Telling of the Exodus Story” along with our twice daily mitzvah to “Remember that G-d took Us Out of Egypt” form the foundation of that intellectual knowledge.

However, the telling of the story on Pesach requires a deeper, more ingrained, heartfelt knowledge. In fact, there is a mitzvah to “See ourselves as if we actually left Mitzrayim”. The commentators discuss that this is a difficult mitzvah because we know that we personally did not leave Mitzrayim. We need to use visualization and the Torah provides the Pesach Offering, Matzah and Maror to assist us in this task. In addition, we can consider that we left Mitzrayim, by viewing the Exodus as an ongoing process which will be completed with the future redemption from our current exile. Lastly, Pesach is a night of Hodaah, a night of Hallel, Dayenu, and endless praise of G-d. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools to develop a connection and love of G-d for all He does and all He has done for us.

Emunah of the mind is accessible, while Emunah of the heart doesn’t need recall – it’s always there. Emunah of the heart is developed by thinking often about G-d during time bound mitzvos like the Shema, constant mitzvos like the Six Constant Mitzvos, and opportunal mitzvos like Chesed Opportunities. The goal is to always feel G-d’s presence. It’s a lifelong process, but the Pesach Seder is the number one yearly opportunity to develop Emunah of the heart.

The third component is Emunah in our Actions. Not only do we need to know and feel G-d’s presence, but we need to act on those thoughts and feelings. Emunah in our actions focuses on acting faithfully to G-d in all we do and by performing His Mitzvos properly, with thought and feeling. According to the Vilna Gaon, the Pesach Seder provides 64 mitzvos in which we can act faithfully to G-d. It is a great opportunity to perform our mitzvos at our highest level of capability.

We can all improve our service of G-d. Pesach is the opportunity to supercharge our spiritual growth with Emunah of the Mind, Emunah of the Heart, and Emunah of our Actions.

64 Mitzvos According to the Gra from R’ Silverstein
in the name of R’ Elchanan Wasserman

1-Kiddush;
2-Kiddush on Wine;
3-Borei Pri HaGafen;
4-Kiddush HaYom;
5-Mentioning Yitzias Mitzrayim in Kiddush;
6-Bracha of Shechayanu;
7-Drinking First Cup;
8-Leaning for the First Cup;
9-Washing hands for Karpas;
10-Bracha of Netilas Yadayim (we don’t pasken like this);
11-Borei Pri Hoadama;
12-Eating Karpas;
13-Dipping it in Salt Water;
14-Bracha achrona (we don’t pasken like this);
15-Shankbone for Korban Pesach;
16-Egg for Korban Chagigah;
17-Yachatz to show Backbreaking Work;
18-Mah Nishtana;
19-Saying over the Story;
20-Starting with the Bad and Ending with praise;
21-Saying the Haggadah Over Matzah;
22-R’ Gamliel’s 3 things;
23-Seeing Ourselves as Leaving Egypt;
24-Thanking Hashem for Taking us Out;
25-Bracha of Asher Gealanu;
26-Bracha on Second Cup;
27-Drinking Second Cup;
28-Leaning for Second Cup;
29-Washing Hands for Matzah;
30-Bracha for Washing Hands;
31-Bracha of HaMotzie;
32-Bracha of Achilas Matzah;
33-Lechem Mishna;
34-Eating First Kezayis of Matzah;
35-Eating Second Kezayis of Matzah;
36-Leaning while Eating Matzah;
37-Eating the Meal;
38-Bracha on Maror;
39-Eating Maror;
40-Charoses for Zecher Mitzrayim
41-Dipping Maror in Charoses;
42-Korech;
43-Leaning for Korech;
44-Eating First Kezayis of Afikoman;
45-Eating Second Kezayis of Afikoman;
46-Leaning for Afikoman;
47-Mayim Achronim;
48-Kos for Bentching;
49-Mezuman for Bentching;
50-First Bracha of Birchas Hamazon;
51-Second Bracha of Birchas Hamazon;
52-Third Bracha of Birchas Hamazon;
53-Fourth Bracha Birchas Hamazon;
54-Bracha on Third Cup;
55-Drinking Third Cup;
56-Leaning for Third Cup;
57-Hallel;
58-Zimun by Hallel;
59-Bracha after Hallel;
60-Bracha on Fourth Cup;
61-Drinking Fourth Cup;
62-Leaning for Fourth Cup;
63-Al HaGefen after Fourth Cup;
64-Simcha on the Seder night;

Finding Joy in the Practice of Judaism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing here

Why Do We Say Brochos Quickly?

A friend recently asked “Why do we often say Brochos quickly?”. The Mesillas Yesharim helps to explain why, and provides a practical path to the remedy.

In the introduction, the Ramchal points out that serving Hashem is not a natural and automatic process, like eating and sleeping. Therefore, we have to first learn what it means to serve Hashem. Then we need to make a serious concerted effort to improve and reach adequate levels of service, since this is the reason why we were created.

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 His ways,
– to love Him,
– 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 writes about each of these components, beginning with the loftiest, summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like we would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king;
2) walking in His ways – refining character traits and reducing self-centeredness, leading to improved relationships;
3) love – in our heart, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents;
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with a focus on serving and connecting to Hashem, with devotion, not by rote; and
5) observance of all the mitzvos – with all their fine points and conditions.

The reason why we say Brochos quickly is that we are focused on the what of the mitzvah, which is just saying it. However, to serve Hashem properly, we need to also focus on the why – consciously connecting to Hashem through the mitzvos, and the how — doing the mitzvos wholeheartedly, with love, without self-centeredness, and with fear.

Improving our service is a process.
A good place to begin this process is by saying our Brochas each day with a little more focus.
This is what we can focus on when we say a Brocha:
“Baruch” makes us aware that Hashem is the source of all blessing.
“Atah” focuses us on the fact that we’re talking directly to Hashem.
“Hashem” in it’s Yud Kei Vav Kei form, signifies that Hashem always existed and is the source of our existence.
“Elokeinu” says that He is the ultimate authority over all physical and spiritual creations.
“Melech” brings that authority to a more concrete Kingship.
“HaOlam” recognizes that His Kingship extends to the entire universe.

We should continue to travel together on the path of improving our Service of Hashem.