The Power of the Soul: Actions That Create Connection

20 11 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Eliezer Miller


How can we come closer to Hashem? How can we connect to the heavenly spark within us?


The basis of the connection between the Jewish people and Hashem is the Torah symbolized by the tablets that were hidden inside the ark. There were two keruvim (angels) atop the ark in the shape of a male and female. The male signified Hashem and the female symbolized the Jewish people. It was there that the Divine Presence rested.


The Maharal writes that the Torah bonds a person to his Creator more than anything else. When a Jew studies Torah, Hashem is there with him. The Torah joins a person to the tree of life and his portion in this world and the next depends on it. The Torah gives life to the Jewish people and to the world. The Nefesh Hachaim writes that if there would be a minute where no one would be learning Torah or keeping mitzvot, the world could not continue to exist.


The Meor Enayim points out that the mitzvot are meant to bring us to a level of “U’vo sidbak” – to cleave to Hashem with the part of Him that rests inside of us. Mitzvah comes from the root word zevot-a team. When we do mitzvot we join with Hashem and achieve closeness to Him.


The Torah says, “V’lo sosuru achrei levavchem.” Chazal say that a person who goes after his heart denies Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim explains that a Jew who doesn’t keep mitzvot but claims that his connection to Hashem is in his heart, will come to heresy. It’s like two people who hold a rope and shake it. Each can sense the other but it’s not a true connection. We need to feel Hashem inside of us, that we are like one, but a real bond can only form when we keep the Torah and mitzvot.


Hashem said, “Ko somar l’beis Yaakov v’tagid l’bnei yisrael.” Ko somar refers to the woman and v’tagid refers to the men. Why were the women mentioned before the men? Chazal explain that women are obligated to make every effort to enable their sons to study Torah. As a reward they merited to experience the giving of the Torah. The Maharasha asks, women also have mitzvot of their own. Why shouldn’t they have been at matan Torah? We see that the awe inspiring experience of matan Torah was only out of respect for the learning of Torah.


The Yesod V’shoresh Avodah writes that man’s main purpose is to serve Hashem and to create a nachat ruach (spiritual pleasure) for Him. We do this by fearing and loving Him and especially by learning Torah.


The Midrash Rabbah in Shemot brings the verse in Mishlei, “Ki lekach tov nasati lachem…” Hashem says, “I sold you the Torah and I sold myself with it.” This is comparable to a king who had an only daughter. When she married he told her husband, “Wherever you go, make for me a little place that I can come and dwell there, because I cannot leave her.” The Midrash says, Hashem told klal Yisrael, “I gave you the Torah. I can’t separate from her. So wherever you go make for me a home so I can dwell there. The Sefas Emes writes that the more a person tries to do Hashem‘s will, the more the Divine Presence rests inside him.


The Yefei Toar explains that Hashem doesn’t rest his Shechina in this world only through the Torah. Chazal point out that we say, “Ki lolam chasdo” 26 times. For the first 26 generations, Hashem hadn’t given the Torah yet and there was no reason for the world to exist. Yet he kept the world in motion out of his kindness.


It says, “Barasi yetzer hara barasi Torah tavlin.” (I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as an antidote.) The Torah oppresses and breaks the evil inclination which in turn brings the Shechina to dwell inside our hearts.




Partners For Life: The First Jewish Marriage

12 11 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman


The Midrash expounds the verse, “Yodeiya Hashem yemei temimim. Hashem knows the days of the perfect ones.” The Midrash says this refers to Sarah, who was perfect in her actions. A similar Midrash says this refers to Avraham, who was perfect. The difference between the two Midrashim is that the word ‘actions’ is mentioned in connection with Sarah.


There is another intriguing statement mentioned in the Midrash quoted by Rashi, “Kol asher tomar elecha Sarah shema b’kola.” Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice. Rashi says that we see from here that her prophecy was superior to Avraham’s. This is surprising as the Torah mainly focuses on Avraham and not on Sarah.


The Shem Mishmuel explains that there are three levels of the soul, nefesh, the biological soul centered in the body; ruach, the emotional soul located in the heart; neshama, the intellectual soul found in the brain. Tamim really means perfection of one’s body, emotions, and intellect. There are mitzvot that relate to the body such as brit milah, mitzvot dealing with emotions, such as not to be hateful or covetous, and mitzvot of the mind such as studying Torah. The Torah aims to help every Jew achieve perfection on a triple level.


Marriage creates a single entity. Two half souls merge. However, the Zohar says the soul is concentrated within man and woman in different ways. The physical and emotional part of the common soul is expressed more in the woman and the intellect is in the man. Both half souls have all three qualities. It’s just a question of where the emphasis is. The wife is called akeret habayit, the pillar of the home. She is mainly involved on a physical level with the children and the managing of the home. She is also more in tune with the emotional needs of her family.


The intellectual aspect is more pronounced in the man. Men gravitate to study. “V’shinantem l’vanecha,” the obligation to teach Torah to children is primarily the father’s. Mishlei says, “Shma bni mussar avicha.” The father must teach his children the intellectual Torah. “V’al titosh Torat imecha.” The mother must teach her children middot. She, more than the father, shapes their character, which is primarily formed in the early years.


The Gemara says that when there’s a difference of opinion between a husband and wife, milei d’shmaya (heavenly matters) are decided by the husband while milei d’alma (worldly matters) are the wife’s prerogative. Perhaps the Gemara means that if the issue is related to something physical or emotional, it is mila d’alma and a woman will understand better. But if it involves the intellect, it’s the husband’s call.


Avraham was the soul of the original Jewish family. Sarah was the body. Avraham was the ish hasechel (man of intellect). Sarah expressed the emotional and physical aspect of their marriage. The Torah says, “V’hinei ba’ohel.” Sarah was in the tent. She was the foundation of her home. She had emotional control of the family. A woman’s role is having the strength and discipline over her emotions to be able to make those difficult decisions.


The Shem Mishmuel explains that prophecy is an emotional experience, an emotional connection with Hashem. Sarah was greater in prophecy because she was more in tune with her emotions. Therefore, Hashem told Avraham, “Whatever she says listen to her.”


Avraham’s tests were on the intellectual level. Akeidat Yitzchak seemed like an illogical absurdity. How could Hashem, the source of life, take an innocent life for no reason? But nonetheless, Avraham went ahead and did it. That was his greatness. He sacrificed his intellect, his most precious aspect, for Hashem. Sarah too never let her physical beauty dominate her. She sacrificed her strengths for Hashem. That is how they became the most sanctified couple, the couple that defined all future Jewish couples forever.

Self Mastery: A Study of Michtav M’Eliyahu – Giving and Taking

5 11 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen


Hashem created man in His image. Just as He “Noten lechem l’chol basar,” gives sustenance to all of his creations, we should train ourselves to become givers.


In Kuntres Hachesed, the Michtav M’Eliyahu speaks about the love a man should have for his wife. The Gemara in Yevamot says that one should love his wife as much as he loves himself and respect her more than himself. The Torah already commanded, “V’ahavta l’reaicha kamocha.” Why is ahavat ishto a unique obligation? The Michtav M’Eliyahu explains that it’s a means of expressing gratitude for all the good a wife does. Is this really the purpose of marriage?


The Gemara says, an unmarried man lives without simcha (joy), bracha (blessing), and tova (good). The highest level of simcha can only be attained through a wife. Bracha comes through the home. It says, “Lo tov heyot ha’adam l’vado.” It is not good for man to be alone. In order to grow and work on himself, a man needs a wife. He can only come to sheleimut (perfection) through marriage. Each spouse complements the other. Completion in marriage is achieved through love, and love entails giving.


The Gemara puts love for one’s wife before respect. The Rambam puts respect before love to teach us that if one respects his wife more than himself, he will come to love her. When taking overpowers giving, when both ask “How much will I get?” then the marriage falters.


Does love bring a person to give or does giving give rise to love? Contrary to popular belief, one can only love a person if one gives. A person can come to the level of nedivut, of being content with himself and trusting Hashem, by becoming a giver. A person should drive himself to help others in all situations. He should work on being grateful. Gratitude is a prerequisite to giving which brings to love.


Give of yourself and don’t look for recompense. It will come. And if it doesn’t, you will have become a greater, giving, person.