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

30 03 2012
Based on a 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.

Lechem Oni

29 03 2012

Based on a 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 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.

Maggid: A Blueprint For Self

11 04 2011

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Maggid: A Blueprint For SelfMagid begins with the words “Ha lachma anya, This is the bread of poverty.” In what sense is matza the bread of poverty?  The Maharal explains that matzah is a simple food. It contains only two ingredients: flour and water. We should approach Pesach with simplicity.  Simplicity implies bitul hayesh, self-nullification. Self-discovery entails going back to being ourselves, which is what liberation is about.  Animals have no ambition and no yearnings. This kind of passivity is our enemy. In our hearts we have a whole menagerie which keeps us from discovering ourselves. The more we focus on our failures and disappointments, the more paralyzed we become.

We have to believe in ourselves. A person can make a decision to improve himself and Hashem will help him. This is contingent on telling Hashem, “I am who I am. I want to approach You with simplicity. Help me.” Receiving this level of siyata d’shmaya at the seder is encapsulated in “Ha lachma anya,” our statement of simplicity. At the end of this hymn, we invite all those in need to join our seder.  Although it is only a ceremonial statement, it teaches us an important lesson. Our goal should be to imitate the ways of Hashem. The animal self is passive. The spiritual self is active and wants to give. That is why we begin Magid with a declaration of kindness.

We proceed to Mah Nishtana. One of the mystic names of Hashem is Mah, the one who brings forth questions. Mah Nishtana questions a series of contrasting pairs: chametz and matzah, dipping out of pain and dipping as a sign of freedom, reclining as kings and eating the bitter marror. Although we live lives that are in some ways paradoxical, we must search with open hearts and admit that sometimes we do not know.

We then recite Avadim Hayinu, which tells how we were enslaved to Pharoh. Pharoh comes from the root word paruah, wild. The same letters spell oref, the back of the neck, the source of involuntary motion. Pharoh took us to the world of subconscious, where rational thinking was irrelevant and where there were no moral choices to make.  In Kabala, galut mitzrayim is called the exile of daat because we did not know who we were and what we were meant to accomplish.

If Hashem had not redeemed us we would still be enslaved to everything Pharoh stood for. Mitzrayim comes from the root word metzar, narrow straits. Egypt was a wide open place with no moral strictures to hold a person down. In truth, there is nothing more constricting than a wide open place. The endless possibilities paralyze a person from pursuing a life of growth. When we left Egypt and received the Torah, the strictures of the Torah opened us up to a life of purpose.

The Maharal notes that the enslavement was a step towards redemption. We often do not discover who we are until we figure out who we are not and who we do not want to be. In Egypt, the Jews learned that they did not want to be Egyptians. They did not desire broadness that was really narrow, or freedom of thought that was really enslavement to the subconscious. This rejection made the Jews free, together with the inspiration that came from above.

We continue the Hagadah with a discussion of the four sons. The four sons live within each of us at different times in our life. There are four different levels of awareness. The wise sonasks, What are all these mitzvos? What do the paths look like? He wants to know how to get from where he is to where he wants to be. Chochma comes from the words koach mah, the potential that lies in essence, rather than how it can be used or how it feels. Ultimately we have to come to a level of not speaking. We have to look for a higher awareness and channel it. That is what makes someone a chacham.

The rasha asks, “What is this service to you?” He calls Judaism avodah (service) and not halacha (Jewish law) because he does not see himself as going from one place to another. He has no destination, but lives in the present. It seems senseless to him to burden himself with seeking. The difference between a tzaddik and a rasha is that while the rasha sees only the top of the mountain, the tzaddik sees the path. He is willing to live in the world of process. The rasha lives only in the world of product. People become reshaim by being reactive and losing themselves. They allow their emotions to control them.

The Hagadah says that you should “grind the teeth” of the rasha. Teeth break large pieces into smaller pieces. Similarly, reshaim take ideas that are grand and trivialize them into nothing. We answer him with “Ba’avur zeh.” These halachot are important because they redeemed us from Egypt. They transformed us from living a life of constraint to one of walking with Hashem. Judaism is not avodah. Halacha, from the root word ‘halach‘, to go, takes us where we want to be. We have to learn to silence the rasha within us.

The Tam says, “Mah zot? What is this?” According to the Zohar, zot is the Shechina. The Tam asks, “Where is Hashem?” He wants a religious experience without having to keep halacha. We answer, “B’yad chazakah…” Hashem displayed miracles and took us out of Egypt. However, he did all this because he wanted us to take it further. Tam also means straightforward. Yaakov was an “ish tam,” he was the same inside and outside. Our simple self tells Hashem, “All I really want is to know you.”

The fourth son does not know how to ask. In today’s society, most people are incapable or unwilling to ask about Hashem. The biggest enemy in kiruv is apathy. Telling about our personal experiences and what has given us meaning can kindle a spark within the hearts of our lost brethren.

Pesach Inspiration

5 04 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Pesach: 4 minutes of Inspiration

Our Rabbis teach us that Yaakov received the brachot from Yitzchak on the night of Pesach. Yitzchak specifically chose this time because on this night the heavenly vaults of blessing are open. On the outside we may appear like Esav, we may feel very far from Hashem, yet the night of Pesach gives us the strength to transform ourselves into Yaakov. We can tap into the profound, inherent, power of the Seder night and reach unimaginable levels.

Yitzchak gave Yaakov the blessing of hakol kol Yaakov, the power of expression. On this night, we can use our ability of speech to connect with Hashem.  In the Hagadah, we recite, “V’chol hamarbe l’saper.” The more we recount at the Seder night, the more uplifted we become. It is not only an opportunity to tell over the story of the Exodus, but a unique time to pray. In particular, since the Seder focuses primarily on the children, it is a night to daven for them and for future generations.

When Yaakov entered the chamber of Yitzchak, the fragrance of Gan Eden accompanied him. A vestige of this otherworldly scent returns to us on the evening of Pesach. Hashem descends to each of our seders. There is a custom to wear a kittel on this holy night. Like the Kohen Gadol who entered the Holies of Holies, we too can enter into an experience of Kodesh Kodoshim. This night, when Yaakov received the brachot, when the heavens are open, is an opportunity for each of us to soar to greater heights, no matter what our external trappings may be. It is a night when we can rededicate our voices to Torah and tefilah. We have the ability to ask Hashem for whatever our hearts truly desire. May we merit abundant blessings from above.

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.

Join Rebbetzin Heller and Climb the Steps of the Seder

22 03 2010

In this Torah class, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller teaches about a  new look at the order of the Seder. Hashem’s order is the order of redemption. True redemption is not being enslaved to anyone, even to one’s self. It is absolutely necessary to stop seeing only ourselves, so that we may experience Hashem. Visit our Pesach page to see more inspiring classes for Passover:

Jewish Calendar III (Pesach-Shavuot)

Unraveling The Haggadah: History of the Haggadah #1

16 03 2010

Unraveling the HaggadahBased on a shiur by Mrs. Chana Prero

The Haggadah holds a coveted place in every Jewish library and has been reprinted in hundreds of editions throughout the centuries. What is our earliest source for the Haggadah? Who put it all together?

Rav Kasher explains that the basic text of the Haggadah was codified by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, but it is not the complete version we have today.

The Gemara in Pesachim cites a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel about which negative point in history the Haggadah should begin with. The fact that there was still discussion about this in the time of the Amoraim hints to us that the text was not fully established. The Avudraham writes that originally there were two versions, one by Rav and Shmuel and another by Abaye and Rava. The compiler of the Haggadah combined these two versions into the text we use today.

Rav Amram Gaon, who died towards the end of the ninth century, wrote a siddur, which included the Haggadah. Approximately sixty years later, Rav Sadyah Gaon wrote another siddur with a Haggadah. These are two of the earliest texts we have on the complete Haggadah. Rav Kasher
posits that the text of the Haggadah was established during the Gaonic period. He quotes a letter by Rav Natronai Gaon, a contemporary of Rav Amram, who writes strongly against those who followed a different text of the Haggadah. The letter states, “These blasphemers do not follow
our custom.” The fact that it says “our custom” and not “the Rabbis’ custom” suggests that the Gaonim established the text and not the Ammoraim or Tannaim. He conjectures that just as the seder of Hallel and the blessings on the four cups of wine were instituted by the Gaonim, they also
agreed on the text of the Haggadah.

If you look closely at the Haggadah, you can see that it is comprised of selections from the Mishna, Gemara, and Midrashim. Although the actual Haggadah text may have been put together during the Gaonic period, most of its sources are from an earlier era. “Ha Lachma Anya” was written
during the Babylonian exile. We know this because it was written in Aramaic, the spoken language in Bavel, and it mentions the enslavement of the Jews and their hope for the eventual redemption.

The source of Mah Nishtana is a Mishna in Pesachim. The question about the roasting of the korban pesach is not relevant in exile so it was left out of the Haggadah. Avadim Hayinu is mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim in which Rav and Shmuel argued over which negative point to begin the
Haggadah with. We recite Hallel hagadol which includes Hodu and Nishmat. Tannaic and Ammoraic sources both point to the obligation to say this on the Seder night.

The songs at the end of the Haggadah were mostly added during the Middle Ages. This is the least important section of the Haggadah. The essential part, when we fulfill the actual mitzva of sippur yetziat Miztrayim, begins with Avadim Hayinu. Here each of the sections in the Haggadah are explained and include verses in the Torah upon which they are based. They discuss our suffering and redemption, which are intrinsically connected.

The actual mitzva is to verbally express our subjugation and redemption.

This year as we sit at the seder once again, let us pray to for ultimate freedom and eternal redemption speedily in our days.

Chometz: Moving Beyond Self

9 03 2010

In this Torah shiur (class) on the holiday of Pesach, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller speaks about the meaning of chometz, the deeper role of the Halachot (laws) pertaining to it, and how one can internalize the lessons of removing chometz and move beyond ‘self’.  This Torah class is available online in streaming video and for download in mp3 and ipod video formats: