Parshat Chayei Sarah: Chevron Connecting Us All

18 11 2011

Based on a 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.

Chassidic Sparks: Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge

26 10 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge The story of Noach and the tevah (ark) carries a universal message for all of us. When evil forces surround us and threaten to engulf us, we can flee to the safety of the tevah, an isolated, spiritual world.

The Netivot Shalom says that this tevah is the ark of Shabbat. On this special day, we abandon the rough and tumble of daily life for an oasis of calm waters. The Gemara says that if a Jew keeps Shabbat properly, he is forgiven for the worst possible sins, even idol worship. The Torah commands us “l’davka bo, to cleave to Him.” During the week it’s a tough challenge to nurture a relationship of such closeness. But on Shabbat, Hashem comes down to be with us.

Shabbat is an opportunity to connect to Him directly. Talk on Shabbat should center on spiritual matters. One should feel as if the Divine Presence is a guest at the table. Words of Torah and prayer should permeate our Shabbat meal, while business, sports, or politics should be banished from our minds.

The Shabbat binds us to Hashem. It is our ark that protects us from the insidious influences of the world of the six days of the week. May the sanctity we imbibe on this special day carry us through the week.

Insights of the Chassidic Masters-Seeking Hashem #9

4 09 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger   

Seeking G-d

In his essay, “Atem Nitzovim,” the Baal HaTanya writes about connecting to Hashem through penimiyut halev-the innermost depths of the heart.

The process begins by awaking the chitzoniyut halev-the outer heart. This is accomplished through daat (knowledge) and hitbonnenut– meditating on the greatness of Hashem. Thinking about how Hashem created everything and brought the world into being from nothing and how He renews our existence at every moment, should arouse us.

Concentrating on these truth further, brings to ze’akat halev- a cry from the heart, which is compared to the roar of a lion. This comes forth from the outer point of the heart because in the vision of the heavenly chariot in Yechezkel, the lion is on the right side of the camp of Michael. It is an expression of our great love for Hashem, our tremendous desire to negate ourselves in the light of Him, and the will to sense that chiyut Elokut (the Divine spark), although only external.

What is the difference between chitzoniyut (externality) and penimimyut (internality) in the spiritual sense? Similar to physical reality, only the outside is visible while the inside is hidden.  It is compared to a great sage learning with a young child whose comprehension is still limited. The sage will teach the child the superficial aspect of the truth, rather than the deep ideas contained in his heart. Similarly, we cannot grasp Hashem’s presence and thoughts. It’s only the external aspects that are somewhat accessible. His penimiyut ha’or, His Infinite Light, which transcends the boundaries of creation, is hidden, much like the penimiyut of the teacher’s mind. If so, how can a Jew cry out to Hashem from penimiyut halev which is higher than anything that can be clothed in words?

Hashem’s name is exalted above and beyond what a human mind can comprehend, “Ani Hashem lo shanisi” (I am Hashem, unchanged). The same way He was before creation, He is afterwards. His penimiyut hasn’t diminished in any way.  Where Hashem’s essence isn’t enclosed in chitzoniyut nothing has changed. Hashem is like an eish ochla-a consuming flame. By nature, fire is the opposite of water which flows down. Fire rises up and doesn’t spread out to the lower world. This refers to the penimiyut ha’or-the Inner Light of Hashem which we can’t experience. When Hashem’s Infinite Light reaches down to give life and light to our world, it’s a tremendous descent from a very high place. Just as the rebbe must constrict his knowledge to connect to the mind of the child, there are many veils that conceal the revelation of Hashem’s light so that the world can continue to exist.

Hashem displays extraordinary kindness when He descends to us in the way of flowing water that comes down from above as chitzoniyut ha’or. He listens to us despite the fact that He’s Kel Elyon- higher and exalted than anything we can imagine. This awareness should shake a person to the core so that a cry escapes from the depths of his soul, l’mala min hadaat-higher than anything he can understand himself. This cry from his penimiyut halev which can never be separated from Hashem. It is like burning coal, like a flame that rises higher on its own.

Hashem relates to the world in two ways: He is memaleh– fills all worlds and m’sovev-surrounds all worlds, but His Essence remains above, unchanged. When a person is aware of this reality, believes it, and meditates on the idea that there is nothing other than Hashem, it creates within Him a great love and longing in the depths of his heart to become one with the Creator; to the point that He feels nothing of himself and disappears into the infinite reality of Hashem. In such a state, a person is capable of giving up his life for the sake of His Name. This great love is called the outpouring of the soul and is not constrained to anything the mind can comprehend. It’s a deveikut penimiyut which awakens from the inner essence of the heart and can never be extinguished.

Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

1 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

The Gemara tells the story of the angels’ argument to save Chananaya, Mishael, and Azarya from the fiery furnace of nevuchadetzar. The angel Yurkuma offered to put out the fire with ice and hail while the angel Gavriel countered that he would descend into the fire and cool it down. Hashem sent the angel Gavriel. The Shem Mishmuel asks, what would have been the difference between the two miracles? Ice putting out fire shows that Hashem can harness specific forces to overwhelm other forces. But a greater testimony to His omnipotence is manipulating the force itself. Hashem controls the essence of nature. He can change the rules as He sees fit and He can make fire cold just as He can make it hot. Ratzon Hashem (G-d’s Will) can alter the behavior of the laws of nature, because its very behavior is His Ratzon.

In Shachrit we say, “Hamechadesh b’tuvu bchol yom tamid“-Hashem in His goodness renews every moment of creation. He is constantly involved. When Hashem caused water to flow from the b’eer (the miraculous Well of Miriam which produced water from a rock) it was as if stone molecules were turned to water molecules. This testified that Hashem could control things at their root source. However when He commanded Moshe to hit the rock, it was a miracle disguised in nature.  A stick made of hard-like diamond can potentially split a stone so water will flow out. It was one force overwhelming another. Miriam’s merit activated the miracle of turning stone into water. When she died, the water ceased flowing. It was now necessary to essentially change the rock to water again, but Hashem refused to perform this miracle for Moshe . The merit of Klal Yisrael would need to replace the merit of Miriam. Miriam had emunah. She believed that the stone was Hashem’s will and that He could transform it into water if He so wished. Finding Hashem in our everyday lives, in the little incidents of Divine Providence, helps us come to the belief that He can change the essence of nature. This is what the Jewish people were expected to achieve at the end of forty years.  Hashem said to Moshe, “Hakhel es h’am…v’dibartem el hasela”-‘Gather the people and speak to the rock’. If the Jewish nation would have acquired the proper faith it would have been adequate to just speak to the rock. Unfortunately they did not reach that level and therefore Moshe failed.

How can we rectify this flaw in emunah? Opening our eyes to see the daily Divine Providence in our lives, cultivating faith and belief in Hashem, and trusting that just as miracles kept us alive throughout our long exile they will continue to sustain us.

Parshat Nasso: Fighting Evil

3 06 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman   

Parshat Nasso: Fighting Evil

Parshat Nasso begins with a continuation of the great census of the Jews in the desert. It particularly focuses on the families of the tribe of Levi. The spiritual concepts of Kohen and Levi represent chessed and din, the two pillars of Hashem’s creation. Aharon Hakohen was the the epitome of peace and chessed. The Leviim represent din and were at the forefront of avenging Hashem’s honor after cheit ha’egel. The three families of Levi carried the vessels and components of the Mishkan. Kehat’s children had the most exalted task. They carried the Aron, the Menorah, and the Mizbeach. Gershon had the second most holy task, carrying the cover and skins of the Mishkan. Merori had the lowest level task, transporting the heavy staves and pillars of the Mishkan.


The Avnei Nezer explains that Shevet Levi, the tribe of justice, represents the challenge within each of us against the evil inclination. The first and most righteous level is where evil does not exist. The second level is when evil tempts us but we are able to use our powers to drive it away. The third and lowest level is when evil emerges within us, yet we continuously struggle with it and successfully control it. This represents the spiritual idea of the three families of the tribe of Levi. The Kehat family represented the epitome of purity of character.  Here evil could not even approach. The second level was Gershon from the root word garush– to drive away. Evil would enter their thoughts but they would banish it. The final level was Merori, from the root word Mar-bitter. They were tzaddikim embroiled in a bitter unending struggle between good and evil. Unfortunately many of us are in this category and we must continuously fight evil. The Baal Hatanya says that this level is very precious to Hashem, perhaps even more so than the higher levels of Kehat and Gershon.


There are three levels of spiritual energies-chessed-lovingkindness, din-justice, and rachamim-compassion. Chesed, opening up, is action, while din, retracting, is reaction. The balance is rachamim, giving with a calculated limit. R’Chaim Vital notes that Kehat is pure holiness which represents chessed, Merori is the bitter struggle of din, and Gershon is the sweet kindness of chessed and din combined. Although he is tempted by evil, he drives it away.


Life is a continuous battle of good and evil. At times the going gets rough but we must never give up.  May our efforts to do Hashem’s will help us attain the right balance within our souls.

Parshat Bechukotai: Blessings of the Torah

20 05 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman  

Parshat Bechukotai: Blessings of Torah

Parshat Bechukotai begins, “If you will walk in my statutes to keep my commandments and perform them.” We learn from this that there are three parts to Torah: l’amol, to work at it and study it; lishmor, to know it and protect it within ourselves through consistent review; and v’asitem, to practice it by actually living it. Many people suffer from a form of disconnect. They think that if they are already doing one of the three aspects of Torah then they do not need to do the rest. For instance, if they are practicing Torah, they do not need to study it, or if they are already studying, then review is unnecessary. The yetzer hara tries his best to throw us off.  We must not give in to these incorrect rationalizations. Instead, we must work to achieve a balance between all three aspects. Then we will merit the copious blessings enumerated further in the parsha.

The Shem Mishmuel explains that these three aspects of the Torah correspond to the three parts of the human soul: nefesh, ruach, neshama, the biological, emotional, and intellectual levels of our soul. Practicing Torah, v’asitem, rectifies our nefesh, our physical bodies. We put tefilin on our head and arm, we eat matzah, and we sit in the sukka. Our bodies are elevated through the mitzvot.

Aristotle viewed the physical side of man as sordid and the soul as noble. In contrast, the Rambam argued that man has the responsibility to turn this base side into something holy. Our physical selves are a receptacle for the Divine Image. We value life as holy. Doing good deeds with our bodies is the ultimate form of fulfilling Hashem’s will.

Ruach, emotion, is the second level. This corresponds to “Im bechukotai teleichu,” the work involved in keeping Torah. By devoting every extra moment of our time to the sacred obligation of learning Torah we emotionally invest in something precious to us. This is tikun ha’ ruach, rectifying our emotional soul. The highest level is yediat hatorah, knowledge of Torah. Our knowledge of Torah remedies the flaws of our neshama, the highest level of soul.

There are three categories of blessings in this parsha, physical bounty, emotional peace, and Hashem’s presence dwelling among us. These too correspond to the three components: nefesh, ruach, and neshama. If we perform mitzvot, we will merit children, life, and sustenance. If we invest our emotions in Torah, Hashem will bless us with emotional tranquility. Finally, if we know Torah, if we rectify our intellectual souls, Hashem will bless us with His presence. As we focus on the tikun of the three parts of the soul we achieve the purpose of our existence.

Similarly, the three parts of the soul correspond to Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh. Yom Tov is nefesh. Pesach is sustenance, Shavuot is the Torah which is called life, and Sukkot is the holiday of the family.

Rosh Chodesh is the power of ruach. The beginning of the moon’s renewal, it is the holiday of King David. King David suffered so much. He was driven away, forced to wander lost and alone, harassed and persecuted. Yet he merited to come back and to become the king of Israel. This is the power of the moon, its waxing and waning symbolizes the strength of ruach. Our faith and passion for Torah gives us the impetus to carry on through the travails and sufferings of exile.

Shabbat is neshama. It is a day of knowledge of Torah, when we come close to Hashem by studying His holy words. Our neshama senses the sanctity of the day as it unites with its source through the Torah.

Let us recommit ourselves to be ameilim b’Torah, to be passionate for Torah. Let us invest our time and effort to study His words and to practice what we’ve learned. In this way we will attain the ultimate blessing of neshama – that Hashem’s presence will dwell among us.

Parshat Tazria: Fresh Beginnings

1 04 2011

Based on Rabbi Hershel Reichman’s shiur  on Chassidut on

Parshat Tazriah: Fresh Beginnings

In his essay on Parshat Tazriah, the Shem MiShmuel cites a verse from Tehilim, “Achor v’kedem tzartani. You have created me back and front.” Rav Yochanan explains that this refers to two worlds, olam hazeh and olam habah. This world is kedem, the first world. The next world is achor, the final world. If a person lives his life in a way that gains him entrance from this world to the next, he has fulfilled his purpose. If he does not, he will need to answer for why he failed in his mission.

Olam hazeh is about overcoming challenges. It is the preparation for olam habah, the ultimate goal. Unfortunately many of us are under the influence of the non-Jewish world, which espouses the view that this world is the only world and that you should “enjoy life while you have it.” In reality, olam hazeh is finite. Its pleasures are nothing but a fleeting shadow. Our focus in this world should really be on acquiring eternity, the next world.

Life is comprised of struggles. It takes effort to make progress. The Shem Mishmuel notes  that beginnings are usually filled with excitement and enthusiasm. There is a special burst of energy at the start of a new school year, the early months of marriage, and the commencement of a new job. This is built into the human psyche. Our challenge is to maintain this spirit, not only at the outset, but throughout the process.

Hashem gave us two special days, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. The days of the week are olam hazeh, kedem, a preparation. Shabbat is olam habah, achor, the ultimate purpose.

Rosh Chodesh is chiddush, a new beginning. We do not concern ourselves with past failures and disappointments. We start afresh with renewed vigor and excitement. King David is the soul of Rosh Chodesh. The central point of his personality was teshuva, for with the power of repentance we can change and achieve greatness. On Rosh Chodesh, when the new moon appears, we re-experience the joy of renewal and teshuva.

Shabbat is the achor, the goal.  Shabbat envelops (makif) the entire week. It contains the energy of all the holidays. Rosh Chodesh is the kedem, the power of renewal and inspiration.

Zachor and shamor represent two aspects of Shabbat. Shamor is the kedem, the preparation for a higher level. Zachor is the achor, the energy of Shabbat. Shabbat contains the spark to begin anew, but it is also the ultimate goal and the resting place of the Jewish soul. The start of Shabbat is shamor, we depart from olam hazeh and ascend to a level of olam habah. Kiddush is zachor, when we soar to heights beyond where angels can reach. Shabbat is an intense otherworldly light.

Rosh Chodesh is this world. It tells us we can begin again. In Nissan, when the Jewish nation was reborn, Hashem commanded them, “Hachodesh hazeh lachem.” It was the first mitzva given to a comatose nation sunk in the forty nine levels of impurity. It was the impetus that transformed them into a fiery ball of spiritual energy willing to take the paschal lamb at the risk of death and following Hashem into a barren desert.

When we commemorate Rosh Chodesh Nissan we re-experience tremendous renewal. Adam was created on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. On the verse, “Vayehi adam l’nefesh chaya, He breathed into man a living spirit,” the Targum translates a living spirit as ruach m’malela, a talking soul. The essence of man is the ability to express himself. The Ari Hakadosh writes that the Exodus of Egypt redeemed our power of speech.

The seder night is an evening of song, praise, and thanks to Hashem. As free men we recount the story of our redemption and use our ability of expression to connect with Hashem.

In Tehilim, King David asks Hashem, “Create for me a pure heart and renew within me a proper spirit.” The first step is to purify our hearts from all the accumulated blockages and impurities. Only then can we merit a proper spirit. Parshat Parah purifies our unresponsive hearts. Parshat Hachodesh, which follows directly after, is the excitement of renewal.

On the Seder night we re-experience the exhilaration of yetziat Mitzrayim, the beginning of the journey of marriage between Klal Yisrael and Hashem. That was the time when we set out on the road to Sinai to accept the Torah.

May we hold on to the joy and energy of Pesach and may it carry us onward through the year as we work to accomplish the achor, the goal of creation.