Raving Reviews for Rabbi Isaacson’s Hilchot Shabbat Class

30 06 2010

“I really like Rav Isaacson’s Hilchot Shabbat class. It is inspiring, intellectually stimulating, and very practical. Thank you!”

– Shira Kandel   Jerusalem, Israel

Check out Rabbi Isaacson’s latest Hilchot Shabbat class here:

Marriage: Partners For Life- Spiritual Elevation of Physical Reality

28 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on the Chassidic Perspective of Marriage by Rabbi H. Reichman

visaA Jewish marriage is a sacred bond, which echoes the bond between G-d and the Jewish People. This series of classes, based on the Chassidic teachings of the Sochatchover Rebbe, the Shem Mishmuel, presents both philosophical insights and practical comments on the unique beauty of the Jewish marriage.
In Judaism, marriage is considered one of the most pivotal events in a person’s life. The first story in the Torah concerning people is the story of the marriage of Adam and Chava. Additionally, the first mitzva in the Torah is peru urevu, to build a family, which our Sages consider a very great mitzva. In today’s permissive society, the institution of marriage is under severe attack. The more we know and the better we understand what marriage is all about, the stronger our bond will be.

The Shem MiShmuel takes a penetrating look at the concept of nisuin by analyzing the seven blessings recited under the chupa. He begins with the first bracha, “Shehakol barah l’chvodo, who has created everything for his honor.” This blessing applies to all of creation, why did Chazal place it as the first of the sheva brachot? The Shem MiShmuel answers this question by introducing a fundamental concept that is at the heart and soul of marriage.

There seems to be a clash between our physical and spiritual reality. Physicality appeals to our baser instincts and, if unguided, pulls us away from Hashem. Spirituality drives us to develop our inner selves and draw closer to our Creator. How can marriage, which seems to be merely a physical event or at best a means to continue the human species, be considered a core mitzva of the Torah?

He answers that marriage is really a spiritual experience. In the first blessing of sheva brachot we affirm that the union of man and woman is only to increase the honor of Hashem. Physicality is not antithetical to spirituality, but a means to glorify His name. Our purpose on this world is to find Hashem within the physical realm. The Chassidic masters called this l’galot et hanizozot, to discover the sparks of spirituality embedded in the natural world. Indeed, this is not only Chassidic philosophy but a critical part of our revealed Torah. Many mitzvot can only be fulfilled with our physical bodies such as putting on tefilin, eating matza, and sitting in the suka.

When Balak and Bilam plotted to curse the Jews, their motive was to keep them in the desert. They claimed that the holy nation of Israel should continue praying, studying Torah, and being involved in spirituality exclusively. Entering the land of Israel would mean facing physical reality. They said, “Let this world be our domain. Let’s not mix spirituality into it.”

Marriage involves finding the sparks of divinity within the physical world. Hashem gave us physical bodies so we could learn how the physical and spiritual aspects of our life are intertwined. The purpose of creation was not for man to escape or avoid the challenges of the physical world. Rather, Hashem placed our souls down on earth so that we would pass the tests of life with flying colors and emerge greater for the experience. When the Vilna Gaon asked the Dubno Maggid to give him rebuke he told him, to be a Vilna Gaon closed up in a room is a great accomplishment, but to remain a gaon in the streets of Vilna or in the Russian forest, is an even greater feat. The Gaon began to cry and immediately left Vilna that night. He wandered through Europe for three years and his sojourn left a lasting impact on his spiritual development.

Marriage is the first and possibly the prime place where the melding of physicality and spirituality takes place. A marriage that is focused exclusively on physical attraction is doomed to failure because all physical things eventually deteriorate.  A Jewish couple sees their marriage as a divine union. They know they are bound in an infinite, eternal connection. Their marriage exists because of Divine will, it is the place where the Divine Presence rests, and where spiritual sparks can develop and grow. Creating an abode where the honor of Hashem can increase is the essence and sanctity of a Jewish marriage.

Parshat Balak: Bringing Spirituality into the Mundane

24 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Balak tells the story of the evil prophet Bilam. Bilam was a study in contrasts. On the one hand, our Sages say that he was one of the greatest masters of sorcery and witchcraft. He had the power to bless and curse people. On the other hand, we find that he reached lofty levels of prophecy to the point that he merited to converse with Hashem.

Bilaam recognized Hashem’s all encompassing greatness and mastery over the world. Balak, too heard of the extraordinary miracles of the Exodus of Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea, and knew firsthand, Hashem’s infinite powers. How were they able to entertain the thought that they could defy Hashem’s will by utilizing impure sorcery and witchcraft? The Shem MiShmuel answers that Balak did not necessarily want to destroy the Jewish people. He only
sought to prevent them from entering Eretz Yisrael. The Jewish people’s mission is to bring spirituality into the physical world.
Eretz Yisrael is the land where sanctity and physicality naturally meet. Therefore, it is there that the Jews will ultimately accomplish their destiny.

The Shem MiShmuel writes that if the Jewish nation live up to their calling and work to elevate physicality to spirituality, all the other gentile nations will be positively influenced to do the same. Bilaam and Balak desperately wanted to avoid this. They feared that they would be forced to give up their narcissistic, hedonistic lifestyles. Therefore, Bilaam plotted to use his sorcery to keep the Jews stranded in the desert. Let them continue their purely spiritual monastic
lifestyles. Living in the land of Israel would require elevating physicality to spirituality and the Jews would surely fail, they claimed.

Hashem rejected their evil notions and foiled their plans. A Jew’s raison de’tre is to elevate his physical self through the medium of Torah and mitzvoth. Each of the 613 commandments correspond to one of the 613 parts of the body. Hashem’s will is for us to sanctify our being through the spiritual aspects of the mitzvoth.

When Bilaam fell to his knees and begged forgiveness after sighting the angel with his sword drawn, the donkey said, “Ki Hikaisi Sholosh Regalim”-For you hit me three times. Rashi states that this hints to the shalosh regalim-the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot where the Jews were required to ascend to Jerusalem and bring sacrifices to Hashem. Why were these mitzvoth particularly singled out? The Shem MiShmuel answers that Bilaam had 3 bad
character traits, ayin raah-a bad eye, ruach govoah-a wide spirit, and a nefesh revachah-a wide spirit. These correspond to kinah, taavah, and kovod, jealousy, passion, and honor, which in turn correspond to the three cardinal sins. Jealousy leads to murder, passion to adultery, and honor to idol worship. The three avot and the three festivals counteract these three vices. Pesach corresponds to Avrahom and the battle against idol worship. The Jews displayed extraordinary mesirat nefesh by sacri cing the lamb-the symbol of idoltry, in ancient Egypt. Avrahom fought idoltry and introduced monotheism into
the world. Shavuot is Yitzchok and the power to subdue passion and adultery. Torah is the only weapon that can restrict and restrain ones uncontrollable urges. Sukkot symbolizes the ability to battle against jealousy. It’s the festival of emunah- were one trusts that Hashem will ful ll all of ones needs. Kinah is the complete antithesis of trust. Therefore Sukkot is the festival of Yaakov, the quintessential baal bitachon. Bilaam’s blessings reveal each festival’s theme. Pesach corresponds to “Am l’vadod yishkon”-A nation that dwells alone.

Throughout our long bitter exile, the Jewish peoples’ enemies have used Bilam’s age-old ploy to attempt to hurt the Jews with words. Their battle is really aimed at Hashem who does not allow the Jews to stand alone. Hashem protects us, He is our shadow,  rmly standing on our right side, hovering over us, eternally watchful and on guard to protect us from all evil.This symbolizes the closeness between Hashem and the Jewish people engendered on this
festival. Shavuot teaches us Hashem’s unique love for us, expressed in the giving of the Torah. Sukkot is “Ma Tovo Ohelecha Yaakov”-How good is your tent Jacob. This corresponds to the booths that we are enjoined to dwell in for 7 days. In the fourth blessing, Bilaam speaks of the coming of Moshiach which symbolizes Atzeret-the 8th day of Sukkot.

Class Spotlight: Self Mastery – A Study of Michtav M’Eliyahu Being A Giver

23 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

Self Mastery - A Study of Michtav M'Eliyahu

Michtav Me’Eliyahu, Rav Eliyahu Dessler’s seminal work, takes a penetrating look at a host of topics ranging from our relationship with G-d, fellow man, and ourselves. In this stimulating course, Rabbi Cohen discusses these profound essays, inspiring us to think and grow.

In his famous essay, Kuntres Hachessed, Rav Dessler analyzes the concept of being a notein, a giver and a notel, a taker. Hashem gives without expectation of anything in return. Man too has the ability to emulate Hashem by becoming a giver. Taking indicates a love for oneself. This desire is so strong it can lead a person to thievery and dishonesty. Rav Dessler notes that a person is obligated to become a giver and not be dependent on others.

If the purpose of our lives is to give and not expect repayment, how can one engage in business where the goal is to profit more than was invested? Michtav M’Eliyahu answers this with two examples from the Torah. The Torah says that Chanoch walked with Hashem. He worked as a shoemaker. With every stitch that he sewed he was meyached yichudim, he unified higher unities. Rav Dessler explains that his mind was not on spiritual matters but on producing a perfect shoe, because if his thoughts would have been on Torah the shoe would not have been perfect. This teaches us that working at peak efficiency in order to produce a quality product is equated with being meyached yichudim.

Similarly, Yaakov worked faithfully as a shepherd for Lavan for over twenty years and did not learn Torah while on the job. The Torah idea of working and business is to take in order to give back a perfect product. Payment is only a way to enable us to continue giving.

The gemara in Nedarim notes three kinds of people who are considered dead: someone who is blind, a poor person, and someone who is childless. What is the shared characteristic of these three people? They are all unable to give in a fundamental way. Life is the ability to help others.

In the beginning of Parshat Shemot, Paro asked his three advisors, Bilam, Iyov and Yitro what to do with the Jews. Bilam devised a plan to enslave them, Iyov kept quiet, and Yitro defended them. Bilam was punished with death, Iyov was stricken with suffering, and Yitro was rewarded.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks, if suffering seems worse than death, why was Iyov punished more severely than Bilaam? He answers that in fact Bilaam’s punishment was harsher. The mere fact that Iyov was still alive meant that he could still give of himself, help others, and share in other peoples’ happiness. Giving is equated with true life.

Rav Dessler asks, does love cause giving or does giving create love? At first glance it seems that love arouses a person to give. But Rav Dessler argues the opposite is true. In Parshat Shoftim, the Torah exempts three people from going out to war: one who planted a vineyard but did not reap its fruit, one who built a home but did not consecrate it, and one who was mekadesh a woman but did not complete the nisuin. Can one compare love of a field or house to a wife? He answers that all three people invested a part of themselves into something that they have become attached to. This demonstrates that giving causes love.

The Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that true ahavat Hashem can only be achieved by cultivating the mida of hakarat hatov. When Hashem revealed himself to the Jewish people at Har Sinai he said, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hozeiticha m’eretz Mitzrayim.” The foundation of knowing Hashem is feeling gratitude for all the miracles he did and continues to do for us.

There are three instances in the Torah that mention ahava, Yaakov’s love for Rachel, the Torah commandment to love our fellow Jew, and the mitzva of ahavat Hashem. Showing gratitude to one’s spouse and fellow Jews spills over to our relationship with Hashem. Ungratefulness stems from a deficiency in giving. If a person does not have ahavat chaveirim, he cannot come to true ahavat Hashem.

Giving of oneself is the highest level of netina. Working to perfect this mida will bring us to shleimut and helps us come closer to Hashem, the ultimate giver.

Helping Children Appreciate Their Siblings

22 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller


Sibling rivalry is a burning issue for parents raising families today. Almost everyone’s read an article or two about it. If we look at some of the stories in Tanach, there aren’t that many siblings who had perfect relationships with each other. Kayin and Hevel, Yishmael and Yitzchak, and Yaakov and Esav all had differing personalities and struggled with their siblings. Even those sibling relationships which weren’t as disastrous such as, Shimon and Levi and Avraham and his brothers, were still complex. What are sibling relationships supposed to be like? What can we as parents do to foster positive connections? What should we be aiming for?

In Shir Hashirim the Jewish people are referred to many times as “Achoti”-my sister. The perfect sibling relationship is one in which each sibling sees the other as a mirror. There’s a certain level of balance and equality. Hashem calls us His sister because he wants to see His middot reflected in us. However, the fact is, children are different in age, sex, personality, and life circumstances. They have different needs and if you decide to give each child the same thing you will encounter trouble. How can we give siblings a feeling of unity when they are not really one? In addition, all children are born with an inherent, intuitive feeling that the world was created for them. The child can transform these feelings into one of responsibility but he can also misdirect it by demanding everything for himself and picturing himself as the center of the world. It is then very difficult for him to understand why everything doesn’t circle around him and why his other siblings seem to be more important than him. How can we nurture healthy sibling relationships?

With very young children, sibling issues are much less severe than with older children. If a one and a half year old wakes up one morning to discover a new sibling, it will become a part of his reality very quickly. However there may still be challenges. An only child is used to being the sole recipient of his parent’s attention. When a new baby comes, he has to learn to share his parents. You have to realize that the older child is far more vulnerable than the new baby who has no expectations. The child has no way of understanding that the new baby isn’t his replacement. Therefore, try to keep the older child central and introduce the baby slowly as a presence. When visitors come, have them talk to the older child first. The baby loses nothing and the older child gains centrality. Sometimes you will need to speak with your relatives beforehand about this so that they are emotionally and psychologically equipped to do this. Have a present ready that you bought that the relative can give to your child, before she shows you her present for the baby. Nursing can become an issue. The intimacy, warmth, and closeness of nursing can awaken a primal instinct in the older child who might want to have it again. The child may regress back to babyish behavior such as bedwetting or wanting a bottle or asking to nurse. Try not to make a big deal about it. He will not do this indefinitely. Making a big fuss will just get him the negative attention he wants which will only encourage him to continue. However this does tell you that he needs extra love. So when he is playing quietly, get down on the floor with him and give him the extra attention he needs. If you think he needs more, try to get a babysitter he knows and likes to take him out. This will give him quality time and will offer you some rest time with the new baby. I am aware that there are psychological theories that posit that a person’s entire sense of self value is formed by the end of the first year. Therefore you have to centralize the baby and not the older child. Still I personally think that a baby’s sense of security and esteem develops with time after consistent warmth received from his parents, and the fact that his sibling is getting some of the pie won’t make it worse. Some parents find the new baby more emotionally and physically attractive. Naturally, they will pay little attention to the older child. These feelings need to be checked. Your older child is just as dear and precious and cannot be neglected.

We will continue with older toddlers and young children next week.

Are Your Friends Bringing You Down Spiritually?

18 06 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com


Must I stay in touch with a friend who I no longer have much in common with and who is not going in the same direction as I am? What if she values the friendship, while I don’t?  Sometimes this involves getting our families together for a Shabbat meal and they are not ideal company. I want to do the right thing even when my heart isn’t in it. What do you advise?

You have to consider your own life first. If she is negatively influencing you, for example, if she constantly speaks lashon hara, or is financially dishonest and is trying to make you more like her, you have to disengage yourself. If she’s simply uninteresting or emotionally draining, don’t walk away from the friendship. You have to realize that there’s hashgacha pratit involved in the fact that Hashem put the two of you together. There must be a way for you to learn and give in this relationship. Being above her spiritually, means you are probably her only tie to a more elevated existence. The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself. If Hashem put you in this position where you can positively impact your friend, you need to fill the role and give it your all.

Parshat Chukat: The Well of Miriam

17 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com  shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Our Sages teach us that the Well of Miriam accompanied the Jews in the desert in the merit of Miriam. When she passed away, the well dried up. If we examine the nature of the well and the personality of Miriam, we can discern an intricate connection between them.

The mishna in Avot tells us that the mouth of the well was created bein hashmashot on the first erev Shabbat. The Maharal explains that the well consisted of a mundane element of Friday, and a holy element of Shabbat. Although the well functioned in the natural world it had a metaphysical dimension.

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer writes that at the end of time, the well will once again spring up under the threshold of the Beit Hamikdash and divide into twelve different paths, one for each tribe. Its waters will irrigate all the barren fields and vineyards, which will then produce fruit. It will sweeten the waters of the Dead Sea and heal all those who immerse in it.

There is a tradition that the well is now found in the Kinneret, and water drawn from its source on Motzai Shabbat has unique healing properties.

We see that the well is not only connected to Friday night but also to Motzai Shabbat. We also see that it not only provided physical nourishment but contains supernatural healing powers.

Let us take a glimpse at the unique personality of Miriam. The Kli Yakar asks how Chazal knew that Puah was really Miriam. He answers that Puah means to coo. Miriam’s strength was in her mouth. Her job was to coo to newborn babies and calm them. When she saved the babies in Egypt, she demonstrated her belief that the exile would not last forever. She never gave up hope and continued to trust that the redemption would eventually come.

Rav Yedid notes that we see two outstanding elements of Miriam’s personality. She believed in her prophecy that her mother would give birth to the redeemer. When Moshe was placed in the Nile, she stood by to watch him. She never let go of the vision of redemption. Second, she valued the beauty and sanctity of the Jewish home. She told her father that he, as the gadol hador, must be a model of rebuilding this holy sanctum.

We see these themes repeated later in the Torah. Miriam took along drums when they left Egypt because she strongly believed that Hashem would perform miracles for them. Additionally, the washbasins in the Mishkan were fashioned from the mirrors of the Jewish women of Egypt. With iron clad emuna, inspired by their leader Miriam, the women used their mirrors to continue holy Jewish family life and raised new generations. They believed that the geula would come.

The Netziv offers a different explanation. Just as the mann fell closer or further from each person depending on his level of tzidkut, the water would flow based on a person’s level of middat hachesed. Water is chesed and women are connected to chesed. The Maharal notes that spring water rises from beneath the ground to above.  Miriam’s mission was to bring the people from a lower level to a state of elevation and desiring Hashem.

Water has an absorbable quality. When water is absorbed, it transforms latent potential into actual life. The waters of Miriam nurtured the nutrients of Torah and abstract faith to each individual, and were absorbed on his particular level. Just as the well had both a mundane and holy quality, Miriam’s job was to teach the people how to uplift the physical into something spiritual.

This is reflected in Motzai Shabbat where we take the holy experience of Shabbat and bring it into the new week. Miriam is connected to the beginning of Shabbat and the end of Shabbat. The well is also connected to the beginning of time and the end of time. Miriam understood that this world has a beginning and an end. She embodied the power to hold on and believe that salvation would ultimately come.

May our efforts to emulate Miriam’s indomitable faith and strength, help bring the final redemption speedily in our days.