Trekking the Mountain of Life, Parshat Behar and Pesach Sheini

20 05 2016

Trekking the Mountain of Life- Parshas Behar and Pesach Sheini (Motzei Shabbos/Sunday of 5777)

 

Parsha Behar is our guide to trekking the mountain of life and how to handle the disappointments and falls which are an intrinsic part of the trail.

The first topic of the Parsha is Shmitta, the seven year sabbatical for the land of Israel.  The essence of the mitzvah is the a shift from our illusion of shlita (control) to shmitta (relinquishing) thereby growing in our recognition G-d’s hand in our lives.   Parshat Behar teaches us how to handle the disappointments and failures which are part of the transformation from shlita (control) to shmitta (relinquishing). The subtle one letter difference between these two words, shlita and shmitta is the lamed of shlita and the mem of shmita. The lamed is of a tall and proud shape, towering above all other letters.The mem is bent representing its humbleness and acknowledgement of Hashem.  Hiking up a mountain requires great balance, as does life. The first “tip” in climbing the mountain is to seek balance in thought, emotions and actions. Being conscious and mindful that our actions and efforts are  only displays of our will. Achievement or failures are in the hands of Hashem.  Shmita and shimata’s twin,  Shabbos, realign our lives towards equilibrium so that we can proceed with the climb. When transitioning from shlita שליטה(control) to shmita שמיטה (desisting) make sure you don’t make yourself a shmatta! (rag)

Another central topic of the parsha is the options of a destitute person to reestablish himself financially. The Torah offers him various opportunities starting with selling his handheld possessions; if he still cannot break the cycle of poverty he may sell his field. If selling his field is not enough, he may sell his house. If the sale of his house doesn’t generate the income necessary to survive he may even sell himself as a slave.  The Torah sets a time frame for these sales.  At the end of a certain time period the property, field, home and body (slave) are returned to the seller.  In other words, all of these sales are really a system of loans in order to provide new opportunities for the destitute. After a certain period of time (there are many different complex halachos regarding when different sales revert to their original owners) the destitute person is granted a second chance. Hakadosh Baruch Hu always gives us a second chance. (or more)

Motzei Shabbos is Pesach Sheini. The day has much significance. Besides being the day designated as a “make up” day for those who missed out on the first Pesach to bring the korban Pesach (see Bamidbar 9 2-12), it is the day Amalek attacked Bnei Yisrael and it is the day on which the Mishkan Shilo was destroyed, Eli Hakohen killed and the Aron Bris Hashem taken into captivity by the Plishtim. It is also the yat tziyt of Rebbe Meir Baal HaNes.

All of this takes place in the month of Iyar. The letter connected to the month of Iyar is the vav. This fascinating letter has three unique aspects to it: the additive Vav, the connective vav and the trans-formative vav- changing past tense into present and present tense into past.  The vav takes the wistful longing for opportunities missed and transforms them into future opportunities. It is the original time machine  providing us with a second chance to rectify that which we failed to do in the past. When the people (either those who attended to the bones of Yosef or those who removed the bodies of Aaron’s sons who perished on Rosh Chodesh Nissan) approached Moshe they were full of emunah that Hashem provides second chances. When Hashem responds positively to their request, He adds that if someone was on a “distant roads”, not only one who was consumed with a mitzvah  rendering him impure, can make up the missed sacrifice of Pesach on Pesach Sheini.

When the Rambam describes complete repentance in Hilchos Teshuva, he tells us we know we have completed our repentance when we are faced with a similar test to the one we failed and we do not repeat our mistake. That is why we often feel a kind of dejavu with certain relationships or choices we make. Haven’t I been here before? Why do I keep attracting people who insult me/take advantage of me /ignore me? Hashem in his mercy provides us with a second chance to make things right.

Hashem provides us with means of rectifying our mistakes of getting up when we are down. Angels do not have knees. They are always erect. When the fall they are stuck. They have no dexterity which the knees provide to get up. People have berchaim (knees.) Although the angles have been given the glorious opportunity to say “Kadosh, Kadosh,Kadosh” onl y people can l’barech-bless, related to the word berchaim. Because only people rectify their mistakes! Humans were granted an exclusive contract to bless because to bless is to rectify, to bless is to recognize Hashem’s endless benevolence.

Pesach Sheini is the chag of second chances. It’s a day to daven to Hashem that he provide us with the sechel and the resilience to actualize the second chances He generously gives us to not only heal the past, but elevate it.

Amalek specifically attacked Bnei Yisrael on this day because Amalek is the opposite of second chances. Amlak entire philosophy is the antithesis to Pesach Sheini. Amalak believes what was destroyed is destroyed. Amalek never extended anyone a second chance and their punishment is they are the only nation who at the end of the days will not get a second chance.

We all know the famous story of Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter who approaches him Erev Shabbos dejected that she switched the oil and vinegar and filled the glasses of the Shabbos candles with vinegar. Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa responds to his daughter: “What do you care? Let the One who commanded oil to burn command the vinegar to burn”. She light the vinegar candles and they burned till the next Shabbos. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt”L, based on the Maharsha has the most fascinating explanation of this esoteric exchange.

Chazal decreed that we light Shabbos candles for Shalom Bayis. When Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter approached him, she wasn’t asking for only practice advice. Why would she disturb her sagely father for this? Why couldn’t she have just spilled out the vinegar and refilled the glasses with oil? Exchanging the vinegar for oil was the physical manifestation of a larger issue. The source of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter distress is that she thought she “soured” her marriage. Instead of oil, instead of words which illuminate she used words which sour (represented by the vinegar). Or she “soured” the chinuch of her children. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa proclaims that making a mistake is not “carved in stone”. “What do you care? ” Why are you perceiving this mistake as the end of your marriage/parenthood? Hashem had granted us the ability to fix. Go apologize, make right what you have wronged. Don’t obsess about the mistakes you made, fix them! And when she does fix them, the lights lasted until the next Shabbos. When we apologize, take responsibility and fix, Hashem illuminates those relationships even more.

The destruction of the Mishkan Shilo, the death of Eli HaKohen and the capture of the Aron were not messages of Hashem telling us goodbye. They were invitations to rebuild and opportunities for a second chance.

Rabbi Meir Bal Haness also called Nehoray (light) was a sofer stam who specialized in fixing sifrei Torah. The pattern of Pesach Sheini is awesome! He is the grandson on Nero the Roman Emperor or according to some opinions a high ranking general in the Roman army.  He led the Roman army as they approached Jerusalem in order to destroy the holy city.  Upon witnessing what he perceived as clear signs from Hashem that He will always be with His beloved nation, Nero became a Jew. In order to convert without being assasinated by the Romans, he acted insane; he set Rome of fire, acted  in a generally  self-destructive manner, ultimately faking his death and running away to Israel. His name Nero or Neron connotes candle, his grandson Rebbe Meir illuminated the world with his Torah. “What do you care? He who commanded the oil to burn can command the vinegar to burn!”

Rebbe Meir had two Rebbes:  Achair (Elisha ben Abuya, who later rejected the Torah and became an apostate) and Rabbi Akiva. The trajectories of the two couldn’t be more diverse.  Achair who attributes his “OTD” issues to being the fault of his parents, (sound familiar) constantly refuses to listen to Rebbe Meir’s pleading with him that he can still do teshuva. Achair has fallen into the trap of Amalek believing that he has no rectification.

Rabbi Akiva resilience and determination to pursue his “second chances”  is beyond awesome. Both when he began learning Torah at the age of forty and after all his 24,000 talmidim died, he recruits five new students and begins again. Rabbi Meir being one of those students.

Rabbi Meir who declares “ben kach uben kach bani hem”, in any case, no matter what they do, they are My children. Rabbi Meir is insistent that Am Yisrael recognize that Hashem is always our Father not matter what. Hashem is always guiding us offering us a second chance.

On Pesach Sheini we have the mitzvah to eat matzah. Best if the matzah is from Pesach, but any matza will do. You don’t need to eat maror 🙂 or lean. But as you are eating the matzah , you might want eat it with saltwater. Cry and beg Hashem for the second chance.  Ask Him for the fortitude to humble ourselves repair broken relationships including our relationship with Him.  Ask Hashem that He continues to give us strength to climb the mountain and thank Him for the second chances He has lovingly provided us with. Ask that Am Yisrael be given a second chance (really a third one) at having a Bais HaMikdash. Light a candle for Rabbi Meir Bal Haness and give tzedaka in his memory and ask that we bring only light into the world. That our children and all of Hashem’s children illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds. Let us call out to Hashem from the depths of our hearts “lama nigra?” Why should all the lost souls of Am Yisrael be left out? May each Jew be included in the conscious relationship with Hashem! Why should the doors of ruchniyous be closed for me? My husband ? my children? ” And may Hashem answer us with a new chag! A chag where all those who were “defiled” and all of those on a “distant road” and all our spiritual aspirations which were defiled  or on a distant road will actualize and be celebrated!

Iy”H I will be going to Merion on Lag B’Omer and happy to daven for you. You can email me names.

More on Lag B’Omer next week iy”H.

A lichtega’ Shabbos,

Shoshie

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The Mystery of Death – Short Parsha Vort

28 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Parshat Chukat begins with the verse, “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem.” The Targum translates the words zot chukat as, “This is the divine dictum.” The Torah refers to the enigmatic chok of parah adumah (red heifer) which purifies those that are impure and defiles those that are pure.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that chukat doesn’t merely refer to the performance of a ritual, but to the mystery of death. We see this later in the parsha where it says “Zot haTorah adam ki yamut ba’ohel.” This is the law when a man dies. Death defiles. It removes the Divine image and only the body remains.

Tumat hamet (the impurity of death) is not included in the list of all the other forms of tumah (impurity) in the Torah because there’s a radical difference. While all the other forms of tumah are aesthetically jarring, tumat hamet is even more. It’s not simply the cessation of an organism Death is the departure of the soul from the physical body. Aesthetic ugliness can be washed away by prayer and immersion in the mikvah (ritual pool). But tumat hamet needs haza’ah, sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah.

Death is a transition not a termination. The soul of a person is immortal. The incomprehensible ritual of parah adumah suggests that the human effort to comprehend death is futile without accepting the fundamental concept of Divine Providence.

The details of parah aduma are found in parshat Chukat because para aduma acts as a bridge between the rebellion of Korach and the travels of the Jews in the desert. The rebellion took place during the second year of the exodus. For 38 years there was hester panim; Hashem’s face was hidden. It was a long silent period. Rashi says this dark time was like the parah adumah. It was beyond human comprehension. Chazal didn’t try to rationalize parah adumah. They taught that there are certain areas that are chukim. There are times when man must suspend his own judgment and accept the inscrutable will of Hashem.





Parshat Beha’alotcha:Ultimate Eternity

8 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In this week’s parsha, the Torah records a dialogue between Moshe and Yitro. Moshe invites Yitro to join the Jewish people on their journey to Israel. He assures him that only good will come of it. However, Yitro categorically rejects the offer. Moshe implores him again, “If you will accompany us, you too will receive the good that Hashem has promised for us.” The Torah does not tell us Yitro’s second response. There is a disagreement among the sages whether he acquiesced or not. Assuming he did, which is the position of the Rambam and other commentaries, why was offer one summarily dismissed and offer number two accepted?

The Rambam notes that the first time Moshe promised Yitro material possessions: gold, silver, and cattle, but he rejected them. The second time he offered him a portion in Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam derives this from the additional language the Torah uses, “Vayaha hatov hahu asher heitiv Hashem.” Moshe assures Yitro that he too will acquire a portion in Israel. Yitro fully understood the value of the holy land. Moshe wasn’t offering him something transient but ultimate eternity.

This should be our perspective too. Undoubtedly all of us have a need for sustenance, but that shouldn’t be our focus. Our goal should be to tap into spirituality and infinity that the land of Israel represents.





Parshat Behar: Walking with G-d

10 05 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In Parshat Bechukotai, the term halicha (walking) is used many times in reference to our observance of the mitzvot. The parsha begins, “Im bechukotai teileichu. If you will walk in my statutes.” Further on the Hashem writes, “V’hithalachti b’tochechem. I will walk with you.” The parsha continues, “Va’olech etchem. I will walk with you.”

Later on in the parsha, the Torah presents the other side of the coin. “V’halachtem imi keri. If you will walk with me keri.” The Rambam explains that this means we don’t recognize Hashem’s involvement in our lives. The Torah tells us, “If you walk with me b’keri I will walk with you b’keri.Hashem will respond to us in the way a person conducts himself.

We can follow the halicha of Hashem. The result will be as the Torah describes in the beginning of Bechukotai, “I will dwell among them and walk with them.” Rashi comments on this, “I will walk with you in gan eden.” Or it can be the opposite, halicha b’keri, which will ultimately lead to terrible consequences.

Hashem told Avraham Avinu, “Kum hithalech b’aretz.” Get up and walk the length and breadth of the land. Avraham chose righteousness and walked with Hashem.

May we follow in the footsteps of our forefathers.

 





Parshat Tazria and Metzora: Mirror Image

27 04 2012

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

Why did the Torah specifically designate the kohen to determine the status of a nega (leprosy spot)?

Tzaraat was not a physical disease but rather a sign of a spiritual malady within the person. For that one needed to go to a spiritual source for help, to a kohen. The kohanim represent those who teach Torah. They are our spiritual guides. It’s difficult for a person to admit his faults. This is why the Torah says, “V’huva el hakohen.” The metzora is brought to the kohen. The kohen was meant to guide the metzorah on the path to repentance.

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains the Targum Unkeles which describes the metzora as an adam segira, a person who is closed in. Often a person with a spiritual illness refuses to listen to other people. Haughtiness is the quintessential sign of an impure person. Therefore, the way to respond was, “V’huva el hakohen,” He must nullify himself before the tzaddik. He must recognize his need for guidance.

Rav Pliskin writes that the kohen would teach the person how to pray to the Almighty for help. In addition, he himself would pray for the welfare of the person. This is a lesson for all of us. When we are faced with challenges, we must seek out a spiritual guide. We must look for someone who can point out the areas where we need to improve. We must ask for advice about what to pray for and ask him to pray for us too.

The Shaarei Chaim explains that when the kohen pronounced the person tameh (impure), the pronouncement created the tumah (impurity). The moment the kohen pronounced the person impure, the laws of impurity were activated and he could begin fixing himself.

The Noam Elimelech notes that the kohen was the spiritual mentor of the people. The names of the different kinds of tzaraat wounds indicate the different desires people have to connect to Hashem. Se’eit a person who wants to connect with Hashem, sapachat is one who yearns for attachment, baheret is one who has a light within him that desires to connect to Hashem. They want to bond with Hashem but it’s only external. They don’t have the right intentions. These people would also go to the kohen to help turn their avodat Hashem into something deeper and more meaningful.





Parshat Achrei Mot / Kedoshim: Living Kedusha

26 04 2012

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

In Parshat Kedoshim the Torah tells us, “Kedoshim tiheyu ki kadosh ani.” You shall be holy, for I am holy. How do we define kedusha (sanctity)?

The Mikdash Halevi notes that at the beginning of the parsha it says, “Daber el kol adat bnei Yisrael.” Speak to the entire assemblage. This is to emphasize that each and every one of us is commanded to be holy. We are all enjoined to strive towards kedusha by doing mitzvot. We don’t have to do something above and beyond the extraordinary. Specifically through our everyday encounters and interaction with Hashem and other people we can reach holiness.

At the end of the parsha it says, “Ushemartem et chukotai ani Hashem mikadeshchem.” If you keep my ordinances and do them, then I will sanctify you. The process begins with a person’s own efforts and culminates with Hashem lifting him up.

The Ramban maintains that the concept of holiness is not limited to the observance of any specific category of commandments. Rather, it’s an admonition that one’s approach to all aspects of life be governed by moderation, particularly with things that are permitted. Someone who only observes the letter of the law can easily become a naval b’reshut haTorah, a degenerate with the permission of the Torah. Such a person can observe the technical requirements of the Torah while surrendering to self-indulgence and gluttony. The commandment to be holy tells us, “Kadesh azmecha b’mutar lach.” Sanctify yourself by refraining from too much of what is permitted. Kedusha is about living a life of moderation.

The sefer Sam Derech notes that the end of the Ramban gives us a deeper understanding of kedusha. The Torah often gives us specifics and then a general statement. In Devarim there are many different prohibitions of interacting with people. The Torah then says, “V’asita hayashar v’hatov.” You shall do deeds that are upright and good in the eyes of Hashem. Kedusha is about looking at the totality, the larger scheme. Our actions should be guided by a sense of what is fair and good in Hashem‘s eyes. How to do so in any given situation depends on the sensitivity of the individual, for it is impossible to spell out all alternatives and situations. “V’asita hasher v’hatov” means investigating and trying to understand what the Torah is really asking of us. Being holy means having an understanding of what Hashem wants from us. It’s easy to go through life following the strict letter of the law, but kedusha demands that we ask ourselves about the larger picture, the background, the sensitivity that Hashem wants us to develop.

The Torah is not just teaching us do’s and don’ts. It gives us a rubric on how to transform ourselves as individuals.





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.