Builder of Her Home: Inner Tranquility; The Key to Womanhood #1-Part II

30 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

A man’s mission is to bring Torah down from above by struggling. A woman’s purpose is to take the Torah and address it to this world. She makes Torah the essence of her life by discovering its sanctity and sweetness, addressing it to her environment. This does not happen spontaneously. It requires work and thought. You must ask yourself, “How am I taking the goodness of Torah and bringing it into my home? Is the way I interact with my children giving them self-worth and a sense of who they are as Jews?”

Weaving comments into daily conversation such as, “Isn’t this a beautiful apple? Let’s thank Hashem.” Or “Look what hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), she called just when I needed her.” Statements like these actualize this idea.

Both a man and a woman have the task of bringing Torah into their home. He accomplishes this through struggle. She does it by melding the physical and the spiritual together.

Chazal say, “Ish v’isha zachu shechina beinehem.” Man and woman are meant to complete each other. They share two letters, alef and shin, which spell aish, referring to the soul, which is like a flame. Yet they are different. A man has a yud, which signifies higher and transcendental things. A woman has a hey, which represents two feet on the ground. Marriage is meant to be a partnership with the common goal of creating a Torah home by using the methods that are specific and natural to each of them. The goal of the Torah home is giluy Shechina, revealing Hashem through goodness, higher consciousness, and tranquility.

After the sin of the tree of knowledge, struggle became a part of the world. The sin created a seeming contradiction between spirituality and physicality. The home is supposed to be the place to resolve this. The one best suited to do so is the woman.

When she comes home from a hard day of work, she might ask her herself, “Where am I here, where’s my person? My body is saying coffee or a nap but what’s my soul really saying? What do I want to give my children from within me? How will I greet them?” She could say, “Ok kids here are some treats on the table. Go play with the lego.” Sometimes that’s all she’s capable of doing. But it would be much better if she could think, how can I make my home into a place of self-discovery and joy? So she’ll put on her children’s favorite CD and give them a snack and sit with them when they eat. She will say a blessing with them and listen to what they really want to tell her.

I was once in the home of the Amshinover Rebbe. He still had young children then. When the boys came home from cheder (school), the table was set with food and treats. Their mother was there to welcome them with a smile and a listening ear. When they finished eating, she asked, “Do you want to play or review?” They chose to play but fifteen minutes later they were at the table with open sefarim (books).

 

It’s possible to bridge the great gap between heaven and earth. The place to do it is in the Torah home. There must be the energy of the man and the energy of the woman. There must not be the image that one has all of this and one has all of that. There has to be sheleimut, wholeness.

For a home to be a mishkan it should have inner content. This is actualized through learning and living Torah. A woman may say about her home, “I’m too big for this. My house is small, I have talents, abilities. I want to affect the world.” But in truth a woman’s home is her place of influence and this in turn can impact and change the face of the Jewish people.

Rivka imeinu brought the Divine Presence back into the tent of the avot (forefathers). The imprint the avot left couldn’t have possibly been grounded in this world without the influence of the imahot (foremothers). Similarly it says that in the merit of the women in Egypt, the Jews were redeemed. The women in Egypt wanted children because they believed that every child was significant. Ue to the severity of their slavery and struggle, the men in Egypt did not see the beauty of life. The women saw this beauty and wanted it to continue.

The power to unify comes from women because they can see the tzelem elokim (Divine image) within every person more readily. If they bring that power into their homes, men will be able to develop this capacity too. Achdut (unity) depends on women. The Jewish nation makes Hashem‘s presence observable in the world by gathering together. When the unifying force is operative, when we bring Hashem into the world, it is similar to a woman giving birth to a child.

There were five curtains on the mishkan that were attached isha al achota, each woman to her sister. The mishkan brought Hashem into the collective life of the Jewish people. The woman represents the koach hamechaber (connecting force), even in an imperfect state. Maharal says when there is unity in the union of the man and woman, there’s a parallel mating between Hashem and Yisrael. When the woman desires to bring forth her husband’s tzelem (Divine image) and he wants to give, it creates a parallel between Hashem who provides and the Jewish people who desire to receive and build.

The pasuk says, “The wisdom of a woman builds her home.” A woman has to approach her goal with inner strength, self-discovery, integration and unification. This requires wisdom and self-knowledge. The Torah says, each woman who had wisdom in her heart would weave and bring what she wove. The woman took the delicate threads and created connection, one thread to the other. Through her strength of connection, a woman enables her family to reach perfection.

A wife and mother express this through meeting the needs of her household and honoring her husband. A wholesome meal, a good word, stability and authority, warmth and encouragement are the building blocks of a healthy home.

Every husband desires respect. A wife’s job is to figure out what aspect of her husband deserves recognition and acknowledgement. The place she honors will be the place where he will dedicate his energies.

The Torah is compared to a woman. It’s called a living tree. A woman gives life and glory just like the Torah. A woman must constantly flow, make connections, and develop new relationships. Her true purpose is bringing it all together.

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Lechem Oni

29 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson 

The Torah refers to the matzah as lechem oni (the bread of affliction). The Gemara explains that it is lechem she’onim alav dvarim harbeh, bread over which we say many things. Accordingly, Rabbenu Chananel notes that we recite the hagadah over the matzah. Just as on Shabbat we say kiddush on a cupof wine in order to lend formality and significance to the words, the matzot add an aura of importance to the telling of the story of the exodus.

At the seder there are many foods and props we use to help us get into the mindset of re-experiencing the exile of Egypt. It’s not enough to retell the story. We have to feel as if we are living through it. We taste the bitterness of the maror dipped in brick mortar-like charoset, point to the shank bone symbolizing the korban pesach, and drink the wine of freedom. The matzot too help us remember how our forefathers rushed out of Egypt and how the dough did not have time to rise.

While the word oni in lechom oni is pronounced oni, the ktiv is ayin nun yud, which spells ani, a pauper. Just like a poor person cannot always afford a whole loaf of bread, we take the matzah and break it in two.

In hilchot chametz u’matzah, the Rambam rules that we do not make a blessing on two whole matzot as we usually do on yom tov because the law of lechem oni overrides lechem mishna. In practice, we do not follow this opinion. One matzah is broken at yachatz, and the two other complete matzot are used for motzi matzah.

 





Bringing Torah To Life: Making Pesach Meaningful

19 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The essence of Pesach is sipur yetziat miztrayim.

With younger children ages three to six, it’s easy to get distracted with the drama of the story, so it is important to emphasize three main ideas: Hashem is constantly watching over us, He has the ability to transcend nature, and in the end, justice prevails. The wicked ultimately pay for their actions.

The story of the exodus is rich and complex. Although younger children have surely learned all about the plagues in school, they don’t always get the whole picture.

I once overheard one of my grandchildren talking about Avraham Avinu and the tent with four doors.   “I know why it had so many doors. If guests came and you didn’t like them, you could make them leave right away from any room in the house.” Apparently the teacher got across about the four doors but she didn’t quite make the connection about hachnasat orchim (inviting guests).

Tell your children how Yaakov and his children went down to Egypt. Slowly they forgot that they were different from the Mitzriyim. Discuss how we are not like the non-Jews. We know about Hashem and we follow His will. The Mitzriyim forgot how much Yosef had done for them. You can elaborate how a tzaddik is careful to show gratitude while someone who isn’t righteous doesn’t care to remember too much.

The evil Mitzriyim made the Jews work for them. Pharaoh fooled them into thinking it was a mitzvah. Bring the concept of slavery down to your child’s level. “Imagine what life was like for a little boy your age. He would get up in the morning from his bed of straw on the floor. He’d put on his old ugly clothes. He didn’t go to school. He had to work hard and even when he got tired he had to keep on going and sometimes he would get beaten. He’d stop only at night when he’d go home to rest and eat a bit.”

The Mitzriyim enslaved us because they saw that the Jews had so many children and they were afraid that soon there would be only Jews and no Mitzriyim left. We’d be stronger than them. But the real reason they tormented us was because they were evil. You can be dramatic about the suffering, but save the horrific pictures in the Hagadah for older children. It may frighten the younger set.

Pharaoh got worse. He ordered the babies boys thrown into the sea. At this age, kids won’t always understand what death is. You want them to know that killing someone is cruel and that it’s sad for the family. But you can’t be too graphic. Hashem saw how cruel Pharaoh was to the Jews. He heard the Jews’ cries and he selected Moshe to lead them out of Egypt. Moshe was special. When he was born the whole room was full of light. His mother saw that he was righteous, so she attempted to save him.

Talk about some of the tzadikim and tzidkaniyot of the generation. Tell them about Miriam, Yocheved, and Batya. This teaches them that no matter what happens, a person’s innate greatness and nobility can still shine through. Batya didn’t just shrug her shoulders and turn away. She said, “The baby is crying. I must help him.” She stretched out her hand and Hashem enabled her to reach Moshe. Don’t talk about how it got really long. It’s confusing at this age to think that Batya did something good and ended up looking weird.

Discuss how tzadikim do the right thing even when it’s hard. Have them give them examples from their own lives such as sharing their toys with their cousins or offering some of their snack to a friend.





Builder of Her Home: Inner Tranquility; The Key to Womanhood #1-Part I

16 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

When the Torah was given, Hashem told Moshe, “Say to the house of Yaakov and tell to the sons of Israel.” Rashi explains that the house refers to the women and the sons refer to the men. But there’s something deeper. Men and women communicate in different ways. While a woman’s manner is soft and understanding, a man wants to know how it is.

A woman’s nature doesn’t lend itself to struggle and the hard edge. She intuitively turns towards self-discovery, finding the life-spark in her own heart and doing acts that bring her true self forth. She wasn’t meant to be a warrior. In todays’ society there are women CEO’s, women with high positions in the armed forces, women who are as hard as nails. They’re paying a high price for this – themselves.

The Gemara says, “Great is the promise Hashem made to the woman even more than he made to the men, as it says in Yeshaya, ‘You women of tranquility, rise hear my voice, you daughters of security, listen to what I say.’ ” Hashem says, you must hear my voice, you must listen, but you can find it within yourself. You don’t have to struggle. You don’t have to discover it through the kind of competition and battle men must do.

Women have a certain natural closeness to Hashem. They recite the blessing, “She’asani kirtzono,” because they finds their spirituality within. They are inherently willing and ready to do Hashem‘s will. In Pirkei Avot it says, “Make Hashem‘s will your will.” In order to do that we must know who we are and what we really want. So much of the time we’re out of touch. We must ask ourselves, “What do I want most?” Once we know that, the next step is to ask, “What is my highest will?” As a woman, the answer would be retzono. I want to be given a path, I want structure. Ideally one should find this in ones relationship with Hashem.

Hashem said, “Fill the earth and conquer it.” The way of a man is conquest. It can be through competition, athletics, the stock market. A man gets ahead by choosing his battles. He has to decide who he’s going to compete against, what his objectives are going to be. He has to work hard. Because of this when the Torah was addressed to men, the word used was dibur, tell it to them. Make the goals seem one step further than their comfort level, so they will struggle.

In a moving speech to the British nation during WWII, Churchill said, “I promise you nothing but blood, sweat, and tears,” and the people were with him because the men and even the manly part of the women wanted struggle. If he would have said, “Don’t worry it’ll be ok,” he wouldn’t have bought their hearts the way he did.

Yirat Hashem (fear of Hashem)is the beginning of all things. It says, “The beginning of wisdom is awe of Hashem.” Wisdom is the ability to understand the world and its meaning. Yirat Hashem comes from recognizing that the world is a creation on the deepest of all levels. It makes us want to observe, explore and understand. Chochmah is the power of observation unleashed. It involves asking, “What does it tell me? What have I learned?” Chochmah leads to yirat Hashem because the more a person sees the intricacy and purposefulness of the world, the more he stands in awe before Hashem. It is a circle but it must start with yirat Hashem.

In Mishlei, it says, “If you search for it like gold and treasures, then you’ll understand yirat Hashem and comprehend true knowledge of Hashem.” If you want to know Hashem, you have to search for Him the way you search for money. Daat is a state in which the knower and the knowledge become one. For a man, the way to make something his own is through struggle. But a woman must tread a different path. Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishlei, “A woman who fears Hashem is praised.” Her task is to discover her yirat Hashem inside herself. She must peel away the layers and find it within.





Parshat Vaykhel: The Secret of One

15 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Why is the mitzvah of Shabbat mentioned in this parsha with a specific emphasis on gathering together? In addition, why is there a special mention of the prohibition of not kindling a fire? Furthermore, in earlier parshiot the mitzvah of building the mishkan is discussed before the mitzvah of Shabbat, but in Parshat Vaykhel the order is reversed. Why?                                                                                                                                

The Shem Mishmuel explains. In Parshat Terumah the pasuk says, “Take for me a portion from every person whose heart willingly offers.” The Midrash interprets this to mean that before the sin of the golden calf every person was holy enough in his own right to warrant the building of the mishkan. In Parshat Vaykhel it says, “Those who are generous should contribute.” After the sin, there was a shift from the individual to the communal level. Now only as a nation could they build the mishkan.

Shabbat is the secret of one. During the week nature creates a veil behind which Hashem hides, but on Shabbat, the world, Israel and Hashem become united. Shabbat gives us the power of connection. This is why it’s mentioned first. In this parsha, Shabbat comes first to unite the individuals into a group worthy of the Mishkan.

How can we understand how a tzaddik of Aharon’s stature helped fashion the golden calf? When Moshe ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, Aharon saw that the people had lost their unifying figure. It was as if Moshe had spiritually left them. They no longer felt bound together with a single minded purpose and goal. Moshe was the soul of the Jewish nation. Similarly, Shabbat is the soul of the world, uniting all in purpose.

Where there is holiness, impurity seeks to get in. Therefore, when a person’s soul departs, his body becomes tamei, impure. When Moshe’s soul left the Jews, the void he left was filled by evil energies, which created havoc among the Jews. Aharon knew how much Moshe’s presence meant to the people. They needed something that would unify them. He therefore told them to contribute gold. Gold symbolizes giving up one’s personal aspirations for a higher national goal. Aharon threw the gold into the fire. Fire has the power to purge evil. Aharon thought the fire would refine their desires and lead them back to pure unity. He meant to fashion the golden calf as a harmless statue inspiring in some ways, but not at all idolatrous, but he failed. The Jewish people could not overcome the evil forces that had set in.

When Moshe came down from heaven, he threw the calf into the fire and purified the people. Vaykhel-He then gathered them together. He created a unified community. He reversed the order of commandments and gave the Jews Shabbat first. For Shabbat is raza d’echad-the secret of one. It is the key to our unity and our ultimate ability to build a dwelling place for Hashem in this world.





Parshat Ki Tisa- Reaching for Holiness

9 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

At the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people rose to the level of Adam before the sin. How did they fall so quickly after that with cheit haegel (the sin of the golden calf)? The commentators explain that their intentions were not evil. They thought Moshe had died and that they had been left alone in the desert. Perhaps they reasoned that it was a question of life and death and that they could suspend Torah law to create an intermediary that would connect them with Hashem.

Shem Mishmuel points out that often people will sin with good motives, and that good intentions are never lost. Hashem takes them, purifies them and adds them to the sinner’s credit. We see this with the story of the Korach rebellion. Hashem commanded Moshe to take the 250 fire pans that had been used for sin and fashion them into an iron plate to cover the altar. The 250 people desired to come closer to Hashem through the position of the kehuna gedola (high priest). They had a noble goal but their actions were wrong. They were punished, but the vessels they used were consecrated for the holy mishkan.

The Torah teaches that actions are more important than intentions. The ends do not justify the means. Whether one achieves one’s goal or not doesn’t matter so much, but the way we do it must be right. Nevertheless good intentions still count. Moshe burned the calf and mixed the ashes with water and had the Jews drink it. His intent was to destroy the Jews’ evil deeds and retain their initial pure thoughts which had been to serve Hashem. Their good intentions were captured in the water and it saved them when they drank the potion. Those who were true sinners died.

Other religions downplay actions and upgrade intentions. Judaism teaches the opposite. Evil actions bear consequences. Yet if one’s intentions are noble they are not lost.





Bringing Torah to Life: Teaching our Children the Meaning of Purim

8 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller  

Explore the four mitzvot of the day with your children. Memory games are fun, so are Guess Who games. Mention something in the Midrash such as “I did ___” and then describe an occurrence and have the children figure out who it was.

Involve your kids in the mitzva of matanot la’evyonim directly. Discuss the tzedaka stories with them. Help them visualize what would it be like to be poor. Would this person have thought he would be in such a situation five years before? Could this happen to anyone? What is the nisayon of a poor person and a rich person? What is the best way to give charity? What’s the worst way? If you are giving away significant sums on Purim, you can set aside a small amount for your children to decide where it should go. If they have their own allowance money let them give some of it away with joy and empathy. Make the mitzva as endearing and fulfilling as possible.

At this age, shalach manot has a lot of social value. Whatever you can still say to little kids you can’t say to kids this age. If they need to show off a bit and express themselves creatively, let them. You can try to make them think who needs to receive also. If the social pressure at this age is that you have to give to all of the girls in the class then your child has to conform. In most schools, everyone comes to school with one nice shalach manot and then the teacher randomly picks out names. In other schools, there’s a cash limit on how much a student is allowed to spend. You should not make your kids be different because at this age it’s so important for them to feel accepted and normal.

Be organized and do the shopping a week or two before Purim so you have time to do craft activities with your children. Help them be creative. You may want to look at crafts books or how-to articles. Have their shalach manot ready in a box early so they can decorate it in a relaxed atmosphere.

Going to shul for megilah is important. Try to get them to sit through the reading. Set limits on what they will do during Haman. You can’t and shouldn’t tell them not to bang. It’s part of tradition. But you should let them know that it’s important for the people in shul to hear every word and that they have to stop in time.

The drinking at the seudah won’t be frightening for kids this age. They may actually enjoy it as long as you prepare them for it. It’s a celebration of v’nahafoch hu. We’re not getting drunk on Achashveirosh’s wine, we are celebrating with Hashem. There should be happy music in the background. If the revelry causes material damage, remember it’s Purim. Don’t ruin it because of your personal frustration, regardless of what you think. You can feel distressed, but keep a grip on yourself. It’s not worth losing the joy of the holiday.

With preteens and teenagers, talk about the miracles as much as you can before Purim. Try to engage them at the table. Discuss why anyone would want to be Achashveirosh. Ask them whether Haman would have been easily recognizable before he made his decrees? Talk about what happened to Queen Esther at the end and how Daryavesh, her son, gave permission to build the second beit hamikdash. Point out Hashem‘s hidden ways and how Purim is relevant to us in exile because we constantly experience veiled miracles. Kids can understand these ideas if you simplify it.

Be sure to make it clear before Purim that doing dangerous things is really listening to the voice of Achashveirosh and the voice of arrogance. This includes drunk driving, handling anything explosive or sharp, or giving people hard liquor when they think they are drinking something soft. Boys will be going around collecting for their respective yeshivot. They should understand that their role is to bring simcha to the homes they go to. They should be making their host feel good about the charity they are giving, not terrorizing them.

With older kids you need to plan the day beforehand. Don’t let your boys wander around drunk. If there’s a rabbi in the neighborhood who is willing to make a mesibah (festive gathering) for them, that’s great. If not, give your husband the job.

Give your teenage girls a day plan too. Otherwise Purim becomes a drag for them as they watch the boys get drunk while they’re stuck cleaning up the mess. Purim is a day for prayer. In the morning, take them with you to daven. If you are in Israel, go with them to the Kotel so they feel the spiritual essence of the day. Let them deliver shalach manot to their friends. When you arrive home for the seudah, everyone should be in a good mood. Fill the empty spaces in the afternoon with reading and discussing stimulating topics about the megilah or Purim.

May the pure simcha of this special day create lasting memories for your children.