Parshat Emor: Bridging The Gap

29 04 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Parshat Emor: Bridging The Gap

Parshat Emor begins with a command to the kohanim not to become defiled with tumat meit. “Emor el hakohanim bnei Aharon v’amarta aleheim….” The midrash asks why the verse repeats the expression, “emor” and “v’amarta?” It answers by explaining a difference in the way Hashem interacts with angels and with people. When Hashem speaks to the angels in the upper worlds, he only needs to speak once. However, when He addresses people, who possess evil inclinations, He needs to repeat Himself twice.

The Avnei Nezer explains that when a person hears Hashem once he is obviously hearing a truth that is important for him to know. He knows intellectually that this is Hashem’s will, and he can accept it. However, integrating this concept from his mind into his heart and body is more complex. An angel’s actions are completely controlled by his intellect. In contrast, man encounters tremendous resistance in converting his awareness of proper behavior into real action. He needs to work through a process to move from knowledge to emotion to action. Therefore, Hashem had to exhort the kohanim twice in order to shift the command from their mind to their heart and body.

Why can we know what is right and wrong in the moral sphere, but still have such a difficult time translating it to reality? The Shem MiShmuel traces this back to the first sin of Adam.  Before the sin, Adam knew clearly what was correct and had no problem transferring it to action. When he sinned, evil entered his heart and body and created barriers that were not subservient to the dictates of his mind. They blocked his view of right and wrong and influenced the way he behaved. This remains one of the greatest challenges for man today. The Shem Mishmuel advises that the power of Torah study can clear the channel between our minds and our hearts and body.  Indeed, Chazal say, “Barati yetzer hara, barati Torah tavlin.” Hashem says, I created the evil inclination, but I created the Torah as its antidote.

The curse of death is another result of the sin of Adam. The body and mind that were disconnected during life become completely severed from each other in death. This is the idea of tumat meit. The body that refused to submit itself to the soul in life is now separated and becomes impure. Anyone who comes in contact with a corpse is sullied spiritually. Death manifests the calamity of sin and the breakdown of man.

The Shem MiShmuel notes that Aharon Hakohen epitomized harmony between people, and in turn shleimut between mind and body. He helped people find internal peace so they could open the channel between their spiritual-intellectual side and their physical side. This is the antithesis of death and that is why Aharon and the kohanim were forbidden to come in contact with tumat meit.

The Zohar says Shabbat is the secret of unity. On Shabbat, a Jew can reconnect to the state of Adam before the sin. In Lecha Dodi we sing, “Kumi tze’i mitoch hahafeicha – Arise, go out from amidst the turmoil”. The six days of the week represent human frailty, inconsistency, and our lack of connection between what we know and do. On Shabbat, we leave this confused existence and reconnect to wholesome harmony.  We can put Shabbat in our minds throughout the week too, opening the door to inner peace and shleimut.

The Shem MiShmuel notes that emuna peshuta is another way to achieve internal harmony. The yetzer hara creates complicating factors to prevent us from acting correctly. The greatness of the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai was that they said “Naaseh v’nishma,” a simple acceptance of G-d’s will. They had simple faith and thereby merited to receive the Torah.

Let us work on strengthening our Torah study, Shabbat observance, and emuna peshuta and may this help bring Mashiach who will lead the world to ultimate perfection.

Introducing the Naaleh Credit Card: Support Torah Learning with Your Everyday Purchases

26 04 2010

Turn your everyday spending into meaningful donations. With our custom credit card, cash donations for every purchase you make—plus a $50 first purchase bonus—will be donated to our organization.

Click here for more info!

Jewish Woman Feeling Overwhelmed- Rebbetzin Heller is Here to Help!

18 04 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on
I am responsible for cooking, cleaning, and childcare, along with pursuing a demanding
career to support my husband’s learning. At times this leaves me sad and angry as I feel
unable to succeed in any area.  Do you have suggestions for how I can be b’simcha even when I am tired, frustrated and  overwhelmed?
You do not always have to be b’simcha. It’s ok to be frazzled when Shabbat starts at 4PM and you’re racing against the clock to finish on time. You don’t have to start dancing in the supermarket when you notice that the treif chickens cost a fraction of the kosher ones. The gemara says, “Lefum tzara agra. The reward is commensurate with the pain.” This means that your values are such that you’re willing to suffer a certain amount of frustration and difficulty to get something you want even more.

It is admirable that you consider worthwhile this struggle so your husband can dedicate himself to Torah. Of course, a person should work at acquiring simcha shel mitzva. Appreciate that the trade-off you’re making is worth it.  Look forward to reaping the fruits of your labor, a worthy husband, children who value Torah, and a home where the yetzer hara is defeated because “Torah tavlin lo.”

It’s ok to find the going rough at times. Try to make it easier by drastically lowering your standards. Your house does not have to look perfect. Prioritize what needs to get done. I’ve spoken to respected Rebbetzins who told me that there was a good deal of disorder in their homes when they were raising young children and supporting their husbands in learning. You need to work b’emuna at your job, but you don’t have to be the star of the team.

Give yourself permission to define success as working within the parameters of your real goals which are to build a warm Torah home, support your
husband in his spiritual growth, and raise happy, healthy, well adjusted children.

Sefirat Haomer: Joy & Mourning

16 04 2010

Sefirat Haomer: Joy & Mourning

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinush Ginsburg

The seven weeks of sefira connect Pesach to Shavuot. The central goal of Yetziat Mitzrayim was to receive the Torah. We were taken out of Egypt so we would be free to serve Hashem. This is expressed with the mitzva of sefira.

Rav Hirsch explains that on Pesach the Jews primarily experienced physical freedom, which is symbolized by the korban omer. Barley, commonly used as animal fodder, signifies physicality. The shtei halechem, the wheat bread sacrifice offered on Shavuot, symbolizes spiritual freedom. The Jews did not achieve complete freedom until they received the Torah. On the fiftieth day, when they finally attained the pinnacle of spiritual purity, they approach Hashem with human food. Rav Hirsch writes that the day after the Jews left Egypt they began to count sefira. This further demonstrates that the Exodus was only the beginning. It was not the goal.

The Orchot Chaim explains that we do not recite shehechiyanu on the mitzva of sefira because the shechiyanu on Shavuot covers it. The whole purpose of sefira is to count towards Shavuot. Therefore, no separate bracha is required.

Additionally, although there is a special mitzva to rejoice on the shalosh regalim, the Torah does not mention it in relation to Pesach. This is because the simcha of Pesach isn’t complete until Shavuot. The entire goal of Pesach is Matan Torah. The Ramban in Vayikra refers to sefira as chol hamoed. These seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot link the two holidays together. Chazal refer to Shavuot as “atzeret.” Atzeret means to stop and hold on. It is usually used in connection to the closure of Yom Tov where we are exhorted to hold on to the holiness that was gained during the holiday. Shavuot is atzeret because it is the end of the period of Pesach and sefira.

Sefira is both a joyous and mournful time. As we happily anticipate Matan Torah, we mourn the passing of the students of Rabbi Akiva. Why did they die specifically during this time period? The Hegyonei Halacha explains that to properly prepare for receiving the Torah, a person must work on his middot. Indeed there is a custom to study Pirkei Avot during sefira. We need to think about why we are in aveilut, internalize the reason, and work to rectify our failings. The Gemara writes that the students died because they did not properly respect each other. These seven weeks are an opportune time to work on our relationships bein adam l’chavero.

We can learn from the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva the importance of mesora and how we have to be careful to keep it perfectly intact. Rav Aharon explains that if these students would have lived they would have been the future Tannaim and the baalei mesora. Respecting our friends means having objectivity to accept the truth of another opinion even if you did not think of that idea first. Rav Aharon explains that the students had a problem with their learning. They could not put aside their personal ego to concede their friend’s position even if it was true. If they would have lived, their mesora would have been corrupted because they were lacking in middot. Instead of passing on a corrupted tradition, they died.

The lofty weeks of sefira are meant to help us gradually ascend the ladder of self development so that ultimately we can reach the holy day of Shavuot with pure hearts ready to receive the Torah anew.

Parshat Tazria & Metzora with Mrs. Shira Smiles

14 04 2010

In this Torah shiur (class) on Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora, Mrs. Shira Smiles focuses on one of the aspects of the purification process for tzara’at.  This Torah class is available online in streaming video and for download in mp3 and ipod video formats at