Chovot Halevovot: Using Ones Self #13

30 11 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen 

Community Kiddush #9

After the death of the two sons of Aharon, Hashem taught Aharon the laws of sacrifices. Rashi quotes Rav Elazar ben Azarya who tells a parable. A doctor once warned an ill person not to sleep in damp places or eat sharp vegetables, but he didn’t take the admonition seriously. When a second doctor told him he would die, he woke up sharply. Hashem taught Aharon the laws of sacrifices so that he would know Hashem’s will and not take matters in his own hands. Although Aharon was exceedingly righteous, the visual image of his sons’ death aroused him to understand the consequences if one doesn’t listen to Hashem.

The Chovot Halevovot mentions the significance of doing mitzvot with joy. This comes from feeling indebted to Hashem for all the gifts he showers upon us. What stimulates a person to have gratitude? When we recognize all the kindness Hashem does for us and when we study His Torah we come to realize how much we depend on Him. Logic is not enough to arouse feelings of gratitude. We have to thank Hashem by living the way he commanded us to. Just saying, ‘I love you Hashem,’ but not keeping the mitzvot leads to ingratitude. When good things happen, such a person won’t thank Hashem because the Creator doesn’t exist in his life. He has given Him nothing with his daily actions. Although we can logically understand that we need to thank Hashem, we need Torah to direct us. Aharon’s sons yearned to serve Hashem. They offered a sacrifice but it was on their own terms. It wasn’t Hashem‘s command. Therefore, they were punished.

There is a constant battle between the body and soul. The body has an advantage in that it precedes the development of the soul. It takes years for the soul to mature while the body begins functioning immediately after birth. Because a person is accustomed to materialism, it becomes difficult to part with it. Desires override the mind and makes it almost impossible to see the loftiness of Hashem. The only way to overcome this is through Torah. “Barati yetzer hara barati Torah tavlin.” (I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as a spice.) Through Torah we can come to an understanding of the Creator.

The second advantage of the body over the soul is that the intellect is in essence spiritual. The body is at home in the physical world, but the soul is a stranger. With constant use, the body grows stronger, but coming to a recognition of Hashem doesn’t happen naturally. The only way to get there is through Torah. A small flame can pierce the thick darkness. With the brilliance of Torah, life becomes transformed. It enables us to win over the yetzer hara and purify our souls.

Becoming a true servant of Hashem hinges on one critical factor, submitting our will to His. This can be accomplished through yirat (fear) and ahavat (love and admiration) Hashem. Studying works of Mussar can help us attain these levels so that we can ultimately reach true sheleimut (perfection).

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Engaging in Kindness

29 11 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Rachel and Leah In secular society, chesed (kindness) is considered a positive attribute but it is not something regulated or legislated. In Jewish tradition kindness is a significant value. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim wrote an entire book called Ahavat Chesed, in which he codified the numerous laws pertaining to this middah.

The Gemara in Suka mentions that engaging in chesed is superior to charity in three ways.  Charity is done only with money, but kindness can be performed with money and with one’s body. Charity is only given to the poor but kindness can be given to rich and poor alike. Charity is dispensed only to the living, while kindness can be done with the dead as well. It is called chesed shel emet (true kindness) because it can never be paid back.

The Mishna in Avot tells us that the world stands on three pillars, Torah, avodah (serving Hashem),and gemilat chasadim (kindness). Kindness holds up the world. The Gemara in Yevamot says chesed characterizes a Jew. In fact, being kind is such an intrinsic Jewish attribute that the Gemara says that if a person is ruthless one should investigate his lineage. The Midrash Rabbah asks why Megilat Ruth was canonized in the Bible if it contains no ritual laws. Rav Zeira answered that it was to teach us the great reward for those who do acts of kindness. The prophet Micha teaches that the three primary obligations of a Jew are to do justice, walk humbly with Hashem, and to love kindness.

The Rambam stresses in three of his eight levels of charity the importance of anonymity. We should always look for opportunities to do chesed whether we are acknowledged for it or not. Small acts of kindness that count big in heaven include picking up trash from the sidewalk, giving up your seat for an elderly person, helping someone cross the street, allowing another car to pass you, listening with your heart to someone down on their luck, giving your used clothing to the needy, praising someone for their good deeds, encouraging your children to donate their old toys, and initiating a dialogue at a social gathering with someone who appears left out,.

There was once a mitnagid who set out to prove that Chassidut was not all it was made out to be. He came to a Chassidic town and asked the townspeople where the Rebbe was. They answered that he had gone to say Selichot (the penitential prayers) in heaven. The mitnagid was determined to disprove their foolishness. The next morning he ambushed the Rebbe’s house and observed him walking out dressed as a lumberjack. He headed for the forest, chopped some wood, lugged it to the home of an old sick woman and lit a fire for her. When the mitnagid saw this he humbly admitted, “Surely he is in heaven, if not higher.”





Parshat Toldot: Wells of Faith

28 11 2011

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

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

In Parshat Toldot, the Torah tells us that Yitzchak dug wells. The Avot were the progenitors of the Jewish people and their actions were indicative of everything that would happen to their descendants in the future. The Midrash says in the name of Rav Yehuda that Yitzchak dug four well. In the future his children would have four camps in the desert. The Rabbanan taught that he dug five wells, corresponding to the five books of the Torah.

 

The Shem Mishmuel explains this puzzling Midrash with a verse from Mishlei, “There are very deep waters to be found in the wisdom of the human heart. A wise man knows how to draw from these waters.” Just as water comes forth from the ground when one digs up the earth, deep spiritual wisdom resides within the human soul. One must be wise enough to know how to break through the physical barriers and other impediments that prevent us from accessing our natural spirituality. This is the symbolic meaning of the wells. When Yitzchak dug them, he made it possible for his descendants to do the same on a spiritual level. Our forefathers taught us that just as it is important to break through our physical impediments and allow our spirituality to surface, it’s equally critical that our Judaism be vibrant and alive.

 

How do we turn away from excess materialism and refocus on spirituality? The first step is to have a plan. Examine how you spend your day. What percentage of time is spent on spirituality and how much time is consumed with physical matters? Working your way up to larger percentages of time on spirituality is a worthy goal. When we make decisions, spiritual factors should play a critical role. Focus on what’s important. Set aside time for meditation, learning Torah, and doing acts of kindness. Make an effort to be part of a congregation, because the power of a group is so much greater than what one person can muster. Realize that life is a spiritual quest, an opportunity and a challenge.

 

The first level of digging the well is breaking down the barriers that prevent us from being what we truly can be, spiritual beings. The second level is engendering excitement. Our Judaism should be bubbling and effervescent like mayim chayim – life giving waters.

 

The Jews in the desert were faced with many difficulties among them lack of food, water, and direction. The four camps was Hashem‘s way of organizing the people to survive the rigors of the desert. Only with the miracles Hashem performed and with Moshe’s steady leadership were they able to endure their harsh circumstances. We remember these gifts through the four wells. The Torah is like a flowing spring, it’s an amazing source of spiritual and intellectual life. It is the five wells corresponding to the five books of Torah. The Zohar writes that the wells also represent tzizit and tefilin. Tzizit protects us from evil. It is compared to the four camps. Tefilin is like the Torah. It imparts holiness.

 

Digging a well involves sur me’ra – discarding the earth, the evil. Then it can evolve into something greater – asai tov (doing good). But we can still access spirituality on whatever level we are at. It might be difficult to break the cycle of sin, so starting with asei tov (doing good deeds) can slowly push the evil away.

 

The wells of Yitzchak are a lesson for life. They teach about overcoming barriers and impediments., to approach life as an exhilarating venture instead of getting mired in negativity. May we revel in the opportunity to accomplish our spiritual goals life according to our ultimate purpose.

Parshat Toldot: Wells of Faith

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

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

In Parshat Toldot, the Torah tells us that Yitzchak dug wells. The Avot were the progenitors of the Jewish people and their actions were indicative of everything that would happen to their descendants in the future. The Midrash says in the name of Rav Yehuda that Yitzchak dug four well. In the future his children would have four camps in the desert. The Rabbanan taught that he dug five wells, corresponding to the five books of the Torah.

 

The Shem Mishmuel explains this puzzling Midrash with a verse from Mishlei, “There are very deep waters to be found in the wisdom of the human heart. A wise man knows how to draw from these waters.” Just as water comes forth from the ground when one digs up the earth, deep spiritual wisdom resides within the human soul. One must be wise enough to know how to break through the physical barriers and other impediments that prevent us from accessing our natural spirituality. This is the symbolic meaning of the wells. When Yitzchak dug them, he made it possible for his descendants to do the same on a spiritual level. Our forefathers taught us that just as it is important to break through our physical impediments and allow our spirituality to surface, it’s equally critical that our Judaism be vibrant and alive.

 

How do we turn away from excess materialism and refocus on spirituality? The first step is to have a plan. Examine how you spend your day. What percentage of time is spent on spirituality and how much time is consumed with physical matters? Working your way up to larger percentages of time on spirituality is a worthy goal. When we make decisions, spiritual factors should play a critical role. Focus on what’s important. Set aside time for meditation, learning Torah, and doing acts of kindness. Make an effort to be part of a congregation, because the power of a group is so much greater than what one person can muster. Realize that life is a spiritual quest, an opportunity and a challenge.

 

The first level of digging the well is breaking down the barriers that prevent us from being what we truly can be, spiritual beings. The second level is engendering excitement. Our Judaism should be bubbling and effervescent like mayim chayim – life giving waters.

 

The Jews in the desert were faced with many difficulties among them lack of food, water, and direction. The four camps was Hashem‘s way of organizing the people to survive the rigors of the desert. Only with the miracles Hashem performed and with Moshe’s steady leadership were they able to endure their harsh circumstances. We remember these gifts through the four wells. The Torah is like a flowing spring, it’s an amazing source of spiritual and intellectual life. It is the five wells corresponding to the five books of Torah. The Zohar writes that the wells also represent tzizit and tefilin. Tzizit protects us from evil. It is compared to the four camps. Tefilin is like the Torah. It imparts holiness.

 

Digging a well involves sur me’ra – discarding the earth, the evil. Then it can evolve into something greater – asai tov (doing good). But we can still access spirituality on whatever level we are at. It might be difficult to break the cycle of sin, so starting with asei tov (doing good deeds) can slowly push the evil away.

 

The wells of Yitzchak are a lesson for life. They teach about overcoming barriers and impediments., to approach life as an exhilarating venture instead of getting mired in negativity. May we revel in the opportunity to accomplish our spiritual goals life according to our ultimate purpose.





Hilchot Shabbat: Final Halachot of Havdala class #17

22 11 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson 

Community Kiddush #9 Havdala is recited twice, the first time in Maariv with the blessing of Ata Chonantanu and again over a cup of wine.

Why do we say Havdala in the blessing of Atah Chonen? The Yerushalmi in Brachot says, “Im ein da’at havdala minayin.” Without intellect, it is impossible to distinguish between different things. To make Havdala, one needs a measure of intellect. On Shabbat we are focused solely on spirituality. We don’t ask for any physical needs. Havdala serves as a sanction to begin working again. Therefore, Ata Chonantanu is inserted before the first supplication of mercy in order to allow us to engage in further requests.

If you forget Ata Chonantanu, you don’t have to recite it again, if you will be reciting Havdala over wine. If you didn’t say either of them, you must recite the prayer in Shachrit. The Mishna Berura cites the Magen Avraham that the makeup prayer would be the second prayer. Rav Akiva Eiger disagrees. Ata Chonantanu should be inserted in the first prayer because one needs its sanction to engage in further supplications.

One should not eat, drink, or do work before Havdala. If you are in the middle of a bread meal that you started before the end of Shabbat you can continue eating without reciting Havdala, but if it is just a fruit or cake meal, you must stop before bein hashmoshot, thirty minutes before the stars appear. Once Shabbat ends, one should say ‘Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol’ and then work is permitted. Women who generally don’t daven Maariv should be careful to say this. Why can’t we eat or do work before Havdala? On some level it’s still Shabbat, until it is formally concluded. In addition, Chazal wanted to be sure we wouldn’t forget to make Havdala.

The cup for Havdala must not be pagum (flawed). It is filled until the wine overflows, showing our confidence in Hashem’s beneficence.

The Mishna Berura mentions that women shouldn’t drink the wine because it is possible that they are not obligated in the blessing over the flame and there’s a hefsek (break) between Hagafen and the drinking.

Many poskim maintain that one cannot fulfill Havdalah over the phone. Rav Moshe ruled that where there is no choice, it is permitted.

We smell sweet smelling spices to give us a lift after losing our neshama yeteirah, (extra soul). According to the Mishna Berura, one should not make a blessing on the spices if one can’t smell.

One should use an avuka, a candle with multiple wicks for the blessing on the flame. Most poskim do not consider electricity to be aish (fire), but some rule that an incandescent bulb does fall under this category.

There is a custom to escort the Shabbat out with a bread meal, called Melave Malka. One should eat as soon after Shabbat as possible so that it’s noticeable that it’s not just a regular meal. If one is very full then one should at least eat fruit or mezonot. Our sages tell us that the luz bone is nourished with the food of Melave Malka. The resurrection of the dead will begin from this bone. Melave Malka highlights the sanctity of Shabbat. Shabbat is not just a one day affair. It’s a reservoir of holiness that flows over into the coming week.





Parshat Chayei Sarah: Chevron Connecting Us All

18 11 2011

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

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

The Zohar tells us that the Me’arat Hamachpeila is called the double cave because it connects this world to the next. It is a counterpart to the city of Yerushalayim. However, if we examine Jewish law, the strictures of sanctity pertain only to Yerushalayim and not to Chevron. Why is this so?

Rav Wolfson in his book Emunat Itecha explains a concept of itgalya, revelation and itkasya, concealment. Every physical thing in this world has its equivalent in the next world. We can easily perceive our biological and emotional soul, but the counterpart to this is in the hidden world, the upper levels of our soul, chaya and yechida. The Divine Presence also comes to us on two levels, b’itgalya, in a revealed way and b’itkasya, in a concealed manner. Yerushalayim is hitgalut, where we can sense Hashem’s revealed presence. When the Beit Hamikdash stood, people entered its holy environs and emerged prophets because they felt Hashem’s presence in such an intense way. Likewise, when we invest our hearts and minds into the study of Torah, we feel the Divine Presence close beside us. Rav Soloveitchik used to learn by himself but he often said, “I have a chavruta.” He sensed the Shechina studying Torah with him. Intense prayer in shul elicits the same feeling of spiritual closeness.

Chevron and the Mearat Hamachpeila is itkasya, concealed holiness. Although Hashem’s presence is there too, it is hidden, just as the Avot are buried deep within the ground.

Hashem created the world using three energies: place, time, and soul. Chassidut draws a parallel between them. There’s a miniature Mearat Hamachpela inside each of us. When we begin Shemone Esrei we invoke the names of the Avot. We ask Hashem to listen to us the way he listened to our forefathers because they and we are one. Our revealed prayers go through Yerushalayim, but our inner supplications pass through the hidden burial cave of the Avot in Chevron.

Yerushalayim was destroyed because its holiness was exposed. Chevron remains with us forever precisely because it is concealed. Similarly, the part of our soul that is connected to the Avot can never be defiled no matter how far we’ve fallen. On the revealed level, our soul may be tainted, but deep within we remain pure because we are bonded to the Avot. Chevron comes from the root word chibur, connection. It signifies hope and redemption. King David’s dynasty began in Chevron and in the future, Mashiach will redeem us with the power of this holy city.

Chevron is called Kiryat Arba, the city of four giants. They represent the four evils in the world: jealousy, desire, honor, and forbidden speech. These in turn correspond to the four exiles: Bavel, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Chevron appears evil on the outside, however, deep within one can find its hidden sanctity. The righteous Avot are the counterpart to the four evil giants. Their influence hovers over us in every corner of exile. No matter what evil we encounter, we remain connected to Hashem and the merit of the Avot.

Yerushalayim is revealed while Chevron is hidden. Every Jew has a beit hamikdash in his heart. When he’s inspired, he can feel Hashem’s presence b’itgalya, in an open way. But there are also times of itkasya, concealment, periods when it is hard to connect with Hashem. During those times we can hold on to the Machpela, where His presence remains forever no matter what level we’re at. The Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim was destroyed, but in a sense it continues to exist in Chevron, in Mearat Hamachpeila, and in the heart of every Jew.





Leah and Yaakov’s Relationship

8 11 2011

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

Achieving Balance: Class#2

Question:

Why wasn’t the spiritual goal of building Klal Yisrael adequate to bond Leah to Yaakov in the same way it bonded him to Rachel?

 

Answer:

By definition special love is unique and exclusive and cannot be directed towards two people. Therefore, Yaakov’s love for Leah could not be like the love he had for Rachel. Had the world been on a higher level, Yaakov would have had one wife. Rachel would have had within her both her own attributes and the spiritual attributes of Leah. Yaakov would have had within him both the spiritual forces of Yaakov and Yisrael.

 

Rachel was the more practical of the two sisters, the one who could address the revealed physical world. Since we are meant to bring the idealism of Leah into the world of Rachel, Rachel became the akeret habayit, the mainstay of the house of Israel.





In the Merit of Righteous Women: Rachel & Leah #7

4 11 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

Rachel and Leah When Yaakov met Rachel coming with the sheep, he immediately recognized her as his bashert-predestined mate. How did he know this? What does bashert really mean?

 

Yaakov was a prophet. He signified emet, which is the ability to perceive something completely – including one’s own place in the larger picture. Yaakov was tiferet, a combination of chesed and gevurah, inspiration and challenge. The perfect mate for tiferet is malchut, taking the vision and making it happen. Malchut means achieving absolute control over oneself and then surrendering that control to something higher. Yaakov saw malchut in Rachel.

 

The Zohar says that Rachel was beautiful but she had no eyes. Rachel wasn’t a visionary. She didn’t live with perceiving the bigger picture from afar. She lived in the here and now and this is what Yaakov saw in her. He needed someone to take his vision and ground it in reality.

 

Hashem gives everyone a mission in life, but it’s difficult to accomplish it alone. He gives us a helpmate to help us reach our destiny but how do we know who our mate really is? The Gemara says one’s first mate is the one who was divinely ordained and one’s second mate goes according to merit. The Malbim explains that the first mate is the bonding of the soul to the body.

 

The person you marry depends on your merits. Every soul has a mission that is applicable to it on many levels. Nefesh is the part of the soul experienced through the body; ruach is the choosing self; and neshama embodies our spiritual uniqueness. A person will encounter his highest zivug according to his merit. Many of us are barely on speaking terms with our neshama. We don’t know ourselves at all. Our zivug will not be with our neshama but rather with our nefesh or ruach.

 

Yaakov recognized Rachel as his absolute zivug. He kissed her and wept. The kiss was not a kiss of desire. He cried because he had a flash of prophetic insight that told him he wouldn’t be buried with her. Nobody thinks of death and desire at the same time. He was in love with her righteousness and part of her righteousness entailed that she wouldn’t be buried with him. She was destined to be interred at the crossroads. Being a doer, uplifting physicality, means you have to address yourself to the world and not hide in a cave.

 

Leah’s eyes were weak from weeping. Unlike Rachel she didn’t live in the moment but rather in the future. She was projective. Leah had great spiritual capacity and could have turned Esav around. But she didn’t want him. He could give her nothing that she desired and she therefore wept for the fate that awaited her. Leah’s middah was binah, insight. Yaakov needed action, not insight, and therefore Lavan gave him Leah so that he would fail in his mission. For Yaakov it seemed like a disaster. For Leah, however, it was the fulfillment of her deepest prayers.

 

Rachel saw Leah just as herself, a woman no less divine than her, who wanted just what she desired. She could not let her suffer humiliation. She sacrificed her entire future to save her sister from shame. Her act took only a moment, but it changed the course of history. The power of redemption is in her merit.

 

Why didn’t Yaakov leave Leah after discovering Lavan’s deception? We believe that all marriages are predestined. If Hashem blesses a marriage with a child, it means the couple is meant to be bonded. However the Torah does permit divorce because people can choose themselves out of a good marriage. Divorce can be a matter of a bad choice. In marriage there has to be a basic premise of honesty between the couple. If it is based on false premises, it’s not a valid pact. Nonetheless, Yaakov’s depth was such that he wouldn’t divorce the mother of his child.

 

In truth it wasn’t a mekach ta’ut (a mistaken pact). The tribes with their caliber had to come from Leah. And Yaakov, the personification of emet had to be married to the wrong woman in order to develop himself. He needed both Rachel and Leah because in a certain sense it was as though he was two people, Yaakov and Yisrael. At this juncture in his life he was still Yaakov, the heel touching the floor, he wasn’t at his highest most developed state. Yet eventually he became Yisrael, the one in whom Hashem would prevail.