Fear of Heaven

7 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com  shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

In order to reach the lofty heights of yirat shamayim (fear of Heaven), one must first acquire the attributes of zehirat (watchfulness), nekiut (cleanliness), tahara (purity), and perishut (asceticism).

There are two levels of yirat shamayim, yirat ha’onesh and yirat ha’romemut. Yirat ha’onesh is fear of retribution. This is easier to reach than yirat ha’romemut (fear of His exaltedness), because man loves himself so much that he doesn’t want to hurt himself. This is only the first level.

Learning Torah or performing mitzvot in order to get reward or avoid punishment is called lo lishma. Doing so without thought of remuneration or punishment is termed lishma. Torah and mitzvot must begin shelo lishma. The beauty of Torah is then revealed through practicing it.

The second level is yirat ha’romemut. After a person has distanced himself from sin, he won’t be able to bring himself to go against the will of Hashem. This is no longer simple yirah. It requires knowledge, intelligence and love to contemplate the majesty and greatness of Hashem.

The Shaarei Teshuva explains daaga (worry) on three levels. The first level is due to fear of punishment. The second level is worrying that even if one has already repented, the yetzer hara may come back again. The third level is fearing that maybe one didn’t repent completely.

Rav Solomon explains that the purpose of daaga is for a person to find a way to avoid punishment. The mitzvot he will do will be instead of retribution. If a person adds to his Torah learning at the expense of enjoying the pleasures of this world, it’s a form of atonement. Taking money he would have spent on luxuries and instead giving it to charity is also a form of suffering. Eat less, relax less, limit your desires, and devote more time to Torah and mitzvot. These are the best ways to achieve atonement.

Yirat ha’romemut relates to performing mitzvot. It’s trembling before the honor of Hashem. Yirat ha’onesh is not just fearing sin when the yetzer hara tells you to transgress, but worrying all the time about going against Hashem’s will. Then a person will always be careful as it says, “Ashrei hadam mefached tamid.” Happy is the man who always fears.

May we be inspired to elevate ourselves to greater levels of yirat Hashem.

Simcha and Bitachon

18 07 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Simcha and BitachonWe all understand that we are better off not stealing or murdering. Having a day of rest is great, as is dealing kindly with others. But Torah moves us further than that. It takes us beyond our comfort level. If you don’t believe, you’ll only be ethical when it’s easy for you.  But a person with emunah will stay strong come what may, because he trusts that there’s hashgachic consequences and consequential punishment. The Torah is the blueprint of the world. Hashem wants certain choices to be made and therefore he provided defined consequences. He made the world in a way where one choice brings about another choice. Although all mitzvot have rewards and sins bear punishment, there is always hashgacha even if it seems like consequential reality. The more you are open to seeing Hashem, the more you will see Him. And if you really believe He’s there, you’ll keep the Torah because you’ll recognize it as Hashem’s imprint on reality.

 “A tzadik lives by his faith.”  It says about Avraham that he believed in Hashem and Hashem thought of it as tzedakah. Avraham saw Hashem as the master of all cause and effect in a way that was transcendental. He went beyond his limits of thought. Avraham chose to be thrown into the fiery furnace because he believed that doing what Hashem wanted would only bring good into the world. He could have thought, “I won’t submit, I’m tough, I’m a man of truth.”  Then it would have been all about him, his principles, and his ego. But Avraham not only had courage, he had emunah.

On a collective level, the Jewish nation experienced ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) in the merit of emunah. When they sang the shirat yahom, the Song at the Red Sea, it wasn’t just an epic poem, but a song that took them through the end of  time to Mashiach.  The theme of shirat hayom is that Hashem is there all along in many different manifestations.  Certainly the Jews had many merits, but it was emunah which redeemed them from Egypt.

Following the path which begins with emunah, can take you all the way to ruach hakodesh. Galut is meant to challenge us into facing all the things that tell us Hashem is missing. When we affirm His presence, when we acquire true faith, then we can be redeemed. The Gra sent his students to live in Eretz Yisrael because he believed that the mitzvot hat’luyot b’aaretz move a person to emunah more than any other mitzvot in the Torah. In the land of our fathers we can see Hashem’s hashgacha and His presence moment by moment. This is what will bring about our spiritual geulah.

Simcha and Bitachon

8 07 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Simcha and Bitachon

What does bitachon really mean and how do we acquire it?

You cannot have trust without faith as it says, “Those who know Your name trust in you.” What is Hashem’s name? The word Hashem literally means, “the name” but here it refers to the letters, “yud, keh, vuv, keh,” which have enormous symbolic value. They are a contraction of the time senses-hayah hoveh, v’yiheh-He is, He was, and He will be. Hashem is reality. He is the source of all being. Unless a person internalizes that, he cannot have bitachon. People tend to take Hashem out of their lives. They’ll say, “I trust Hashem but I have to take care of this myself,” or “For this I have to be a realist.” Knowing Hashem means including Him in every moment.

The Maharal writes that the letters of Hashem’s name tell us about Him. The letter yud hints to His creativity. It is above the line which tells us that He is completely one and not a part of this world. His creativity isn’t defined by His having created. He is creative wisdom. The letter Hey is meant to suggest that He made a world with the possibility of descent. Hashem from his unknowable unity brought about this world and He is here at the moment in our lives. The letter vav, like a pillar, is a connective letter. A pillar can measure a million feet tall, yet the top and bottom still remain linked. The vav is completely straight which symbolizes Hashem’s unwavering constancy. Connecting to the meaning of Hashem’s name is what having emunah is about. When you know Hashem’s great name and have a sense of His presence, creativity, and unity, you develop sensitivity towards His greatness and power. Then your whole heart will trust Him. Faith will not automatically breed trust. Emunah is knowing Hashem, by opening your heart and mind. It is the source of the whole Torah. Therefore the first commandment is “Ani Hashem”-I am Hashem.

Every so often, I’ll meet someone who will say, “I don’t believe in Hashem.” And I’ll answer, “The Hashem you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.” People have infantile pictures of the Creator as the big guy in the sky. This is not emunah. Emunah is cultivating an idea of Hashem who is unknowable, who created the world, who is connected and involved in everything that happens to us moment by moment.

Times of Separation, Times of Closeness-Netivot Olam II #5

30 06 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Times of Seperation, Times of Closeness Shalom is the key to putting the fragmented puzzle pieces of this world together again.  The Torah tells us to actively pursue peace because it completes everything including our own piece of the puzzle. A Jew’s purpose is to be mashlim (to make whole) everything he encounters.  If you are about to eat a pear, say the bracha with kavanah. If you meet someone you don’t know, realize that Hashem engineered the meeting. Get acquainted with the person. In this way you will be fitting the puzzle pieces of you and him together.

The deeper we feel that there is a lack, the more intuitively we try to fill it. The more aware we are of our incompletion, the more we will proactively pursue wholeness. Pursuing peace means giving of ourselves to others in a generous and unstinting way, so they become a part of us. Shalom requires us to look for opportunities to give of ourselves so that we can make wholeness happen. Say hello to the woman in line after you at the supermarket. Treat people who serve you with respect and dignity. Express appreciation and be generous with praise and compliments.

People are naturally drawn to completion and closure. This explains the insatiable desire people have to vicariously experience the resolution of  life-struggles through literature, drama, and film. We enjoy the experience of closure when everything finally comes together at the end.  Similarly, when we plant a seed, it develops and grows and only rests when it is fully complete. So too there’s a growth impulse inside each of us which says, “Complete yourself.”

Shalom has unifying power. If a person doesn’t return someone’s shalom greeting, he’s robbed the other person of the opportunity to feel whole and connected with him. To become part of a greater whole we have to pursue peace. However we cannot be everyone’s best friend, nor is it necessarily a desirable goal. Friends influence us greatly and we need to be selective.  There’s a difference between offering something of yourself to someone and sharing your intimate secrets. You can be discerning, yet kind and giving. When each piece of the puzzle maintains its own integrity, the puzzle is complete.

Doing chesed-tapping in to our Elokut so that it pours forth to others, is the idealized way to make peace. Pursuing shalom means wanting to make everyone more whole, by giving of ourselves. It does not mean acknowledging our integrity and the other person’s integrity to the point of having no borders. There are times to give freely, times to withdraw, and times to leave things as they are.

May we reach perfect sheleimut in our quest to become true lovers of peace.

Mesilat Yesharim- Perishut: Controlling Your Desires

21 02 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

The Chovet Halevovot writes in Shaar Haprishut that there is a nishmat chaim, a living breath, within each of us that is a chelek Elokai mi’maal, a part of Hashem from above. Because we are spiritual beings, Hashem wants our minds to prevail over our selfish desires. The mishna in Avot states, “Who is mighty? One who conquers his evil inclination.” Sin starts with taavah (desire). It is not an intellectual decision. Sin begins when a person’s desires control his intellect. Instinct entices us to indulge in the pursuit of materialism. Therefore, a person should attempt to refrain from material pleasures and concentrate on his soul and how to come closer to Hashem. Dovid Hamelech explains that although a person may abstain from physical enjoyment, if in his heart of hearts, he still desires these indulgences, his thoughts may set him on the wrong path.

In Chelkei Haperishut, the Mesilat Yesharim delineates three areas in which a person can practice prishut: hana’ah, dinim, and minhagim.  To abstain from hana’ah means enjoying the minimum pleasures of this world.  If material pursuits such as clothing, food, listening to music, or exercise help a person in his avodat Hashem, then these activities are productive and bring him closer to G-d.

The Gemara in Shabbat describes how Dovid Hamelech would wake up at night and play the harp. The music would elevate his soul until he reached such lofty levels that he would receive Divine inspiration. The Gemara cites this as a classic example of simcha shel mitzva. Any material enjoyment that leads to a higher level of self-development is good and is achieving its destined purpose.

When one is unsure how to proceed, a person should ask himself, “What will be the result of this action? Will it lead me to perform more mitzvot or will it lead me astray?” 

Prishut b’dinim means being stringent even if halacha does not demand it. This needs to be carefully considered. Sometimes the observance of a chumra may lead to a kulah. In addition, only those at a certain level of kedusha can take upon themselves such extra stringencies.

Prishut minhagim is separating from people who may lead one to sin. This refers to common folk and day-to-day talk which can lead to lashon hara and levity. The Mesilat Yesharim does not advocate hiding from people. On the contrary, Torah is compared to fire. It must be studied in a group. A single match extinguishes itself. Two candles have the potential to burst into flame. Studying Torah together with others is powerful and has lasting influence.

What are ways to acquire perishut? The Mesilat Yesharim notes that one should look at the downside of physical desires. One should realize that pleasures can lead to the destruction of man. The proof is Chava and the sin of the eitz hadaat. The Ramchal first notes that one should not follow after one’s eyes. External appearances might be appealing, but internally there is nothing really there. The eitz hadaat was appealing and prompted her to succumb to sin.

Every sin has a yetzer tov that tells the person of the reward he will receive if he controls himself. The yetzer hara tells him to enjoy life at the moment. A person should accustom himself to think that this world is only an antechamber to the next world. Going to a house of mourning helps one acknowledge the transience of life. Spending time in a place of Torah leads to contemplation of our purpose on this earth. It is so easy to sink into the mores of our times which advocate making life as easy and enjoyable as possible. In reality, this leads a person away from true sheleimut. Taavot of olam hazeh don’t have lasting permanence. The elevation and spiritual growth one attains through perishut is eternal.

Honorable Mentchen II: Appropriate Criticism

17 11 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Honorable Mention II: Appropriate Criticism #1

In his Shabbat Shuva drasha, Rav Chaim Brisker would say, “Chaim is speaking to Chaim, but if you wish you can eavesdrop.” A very productive way to give criticism is to accept part of the blame and admit that you too have the same problem. This makes the perpetrator far less ashamed of doing wrong, and moves him towards rectifying his flaws.


Confine your criticism to a specific act. General criticism demoralizes people. It’s important not to make unrealistic demands. Suggest small steps and ways to improve.  A good way to offer criticism to a miser would be, “Maybe this year you can give one percent more.” Increase the amounts little by little and soon the miser will turn into a generous donor. It is forbidden to shame someone in public. However if by remaining silent you will condone unethical behavior, you may speak out. In fact the gemara in Avodah Zarah says that if you don’t rebuke a sinner, you bear responsibility for the sin as well. If someone is speaking lashon hara and circumstances make it difficult to stop him, try to change the subject. If that fails, get up and leave.


The quintessential example of proper criticism is the story of King David and Natan Hanavi.  The prophet approached the king after he had sent Bathsheva’s husband to his death. He came in the guise of one soliciting advice. There were two men, one wealthy and one poor, who lived in the same city. The rich man had many sheep while the poor man had one small lamb. One day, a guest came to call at the rich man’s house. The wealthy host took the poor man’s lone lamb and prepared a meal for his guest. The prophet then asked the king, “What should be done to this wealthy man?” King David immediately answered that he deserved death. Natan Hanavi then told David that he was the man.  By depersonalizing the rebuke, the prophet was able to make King David view the act in its moral simplicity and indeed he had no choice but to admit and repent.


Think about all the times you were criticized and didn’t change. Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm would say, “Don’t become angry if you can’t make people be the way you wish them to be, because you too can’t make yourself the way you wish to be.” Confront the person himself.  It’s very tempting to share our resentment of someone with others. However, the obligation is to rebuke the person himself, not destroy his good name. Give him an opportunity to defend himself. Before criticizing someone, ask yourself the following questions: Am I being fair or am I exaggerating?  How can I express myself without inflicting too much pain? How would I feel if someone criticized me this way? Am I enjoying criticizing this person? Is my criticism confined to a specific act or trait? Are my words non-threatening and in part reassuring?


In Parshat Kedoshim, the verse says, “You shall rebuke your fellow man and do not bear sin because of him.” Rashi explains that rebuking should be done with sensitivity. Do not publicly embarrass the offender. It is both ineffective and immoral, and only puts the sinner on the offensive. In addition, you will have lost the opportunity to bring about change. The Sefer Hachinuch notes that criticism should be delivered privately, with tact and refinement.


Mastering the art of constructive criticism takes thought and insight.  Let’s invest the effort to do it right.