Selichot: Keys To Forgiveness Part II #16

12 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Selichot: Keys to Forgiveness, Part II

The Gemara refers to Selichot as seder tefilla, namely an order of prayer which parallels Shemone Esrei. Shemone Esrai consists of praise, requests, and thanks. In a similar vein, Selichot begin with praise, move on to requests and the thirteen attributes of mercy, and end with thanking Hashem for his beneficence.

Judaism views man as an incongruous being. On the one hand, he can rise to unbelievable heights, greater than angels. On the other hand, he is like dust and ashes in his helplessness and worthlessness and total dependence on Hashem. This paradox seems to be at the heart of what Selichot is about. We approach Hashem in an intimate way. We address Him in the second person. But then we move on to bakasha, as we cry and plead for forgiveness.

The Rambam says that the way of repentance is to shed tears and implore Hashem for forgiveness. We recite Selichot after midnight, a time of eit ratzon (favor). We invoke Hashem’s mercy by reciting the thirteen attributes. The halacha is that someone praying alone doesn’t say the thirteen attributes. Rav Soloveitchik explains that this is because it is tantamount to a davar shebi’kedusha (a holy prayer), which requires a minyan (quorum of ten men). A davar shebi’kedusha is defined by the poskim as a dialogue between the prayer leader and the congregationand with it we sanctify Hashem‘s name in public. The Rambam writes that although Hashem always accepts our teshuva, it is most accepted in the days of grace, yemei ratzon, when Hashem comes down to be with us. This is why we recite Selichot during this period.

Selichot are comprised of three elements, which parallel the three elements of the soul: nefesh, ruach, and neshama. The Zohar says nefesh is a dark light rooted in the physical being, the source of emotion. It produces heat and relates to the lowest level of a person through the physical body. The next level, ruach, is a white light. It is the source of intellect, relates to our spiritual aspect, and not only provides heat, but also illumination. Finally there is the neshama which is a hidden incomprehensible light. Teshuva is possible because of this mysterious light that can never be corrupted. The neshama is the impetus for return.

The Rambam explains that nefesh is the source of feelings and physical drives. Its goal is pleasure and self-gratification. By nature it is limited. The ruach, the intellectual side, seeks higher truth. We need both the nefesh and ruach to serve Hashem. Emuna is defined in two ways, l’haamin, to believe, and l’hodea, to know. Belief stems from nefesh, the source of emotion, but there’s also an obligation to understand and connect to Hashem intellectually with the ruach.

Jews throughout the millennium have given up their lives to sanctify Hashem’s name. They were not necessarily great talmidei chachamim, but simple Jews who had pure emuna stemming from nefesh. Giving charity, doing acts of kindness, and deveikut b’Hashem, all flow from nefesh. Yet ruach is also a critical factor in serving Hashem. Intellect plays a pivotal role in studying and understanding Torah in a profound way. The greater the understanding, the greater the deveikut (attachment) to Hashem.

The Aseret Hadibrot are repeated twice in the Torah. In Parshat Yitro they address the ruach. In Parshat Va’etchanan they focus on the nefesh, the fire of Torah. Both are necessary. Selichot addresses the nefesh state of teshuva with the goal of reaching the ruach and the neshama.

On Yom Kippur, the Torah commands us to afflict the nefesh. “V’initem es nafshoseichem. You shall afflict your nefesh.” In this way, a person is motivated to experience the torment of his sins, which will in turn arouse him to pray and repent. In Selichot, we ask Hashem for mercy to bring us back to teshuva. We ask Him to help us rid ourselves of the yetzer hara so that our inner core will sparkle again. We focus on nefesh, then we move on to ruach, which in turn helps us bring our neshama to the fore. This is accomplished through teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka (repentance prayerand charity).

May the power of Selichot and the thirteen attributes, accompanied with the promise that no prayer ever goes unanswered, help us come back to Hashem.

 

 





Shabbat Shuva: Torah & Tefila, Components of Teshuva

6 09 2010

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

Shabbos Shuva

In the Haftora of Shabbat Shuva we read, “Kechu imachem devarim v’shuvu el Hashem. Take with you words and return to Hashem.” The verse continues, “Kol tisa avon vekach tov uneshalmah parim sfaseynu. May You forgive all iniquity and accept good, and let our lips substitute for bulls.” It seems as if the end of the verse is a repetition of the beginning. The Malbim explains that the first part signifies teshuva m’yirah while the second part refers to teshuva m’ahavah. When one does teshuva out of fear, one gains an understanding of what it means to be close to Hashem and to experience the sweetness of Torah. This propels us further to continue and deepen our love for Hashem.  Teshuva m’ahava transforms sins into good deeds. Consequently, in place of sacrifices, only words will be necessary. Devarim refers to words of Torah and tefila. How do these words impact teshuva?

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva notes that a sinner’s mitzvot are destroyed and can only be recaptured when he performs teshuva. What does this mean? Rav Solomon explains that it does not mean that the mitzvot are actually decimated. Rather, they are like burning candles hidden behind a thick veil of sin waiting to be revealed.  “Kechu imachem devarim,” confess your sins. “Imru eilav,” pray to Hashem. “Vkach tov,” allow the good energy to flow through.

This is why we recite on Kol Nidrei night, “Ohr zerua l’tzaddik ulyishrei lev simcha.” Let us bask in the light planted for tzaddikim. Now that we’ve repented, allow us the joy and benefit of those hidden mitzvot. Rav Dessler notes that a critical part of teshuva is praying to Hashem to remove the sins blocking our path so that we can ascend further in avodat Hashem. It is difficult to repent in darkness and the light of mitzvot cannot be accessed before doing teshuva.  Therefore, the first step is to do one or two mitzvot and feel its hidden sweetness. This will ignite a person’s desire to do teshuva and ultimately propel him onward.

In Timeless Seasons, Rabbi Roberts quotes the Gemara that “Kechu imachem devarim” refers to words of Torah. Without knowing what is wrong a person cannot see the error of his ways. Therefore, a pivotal part of the teshuva process is studying the Torah, particularly halacha. One can only be a true servant of Hashem if he studies the details of how to be one.

On Shabbat Shuva, the prophet Hoshea adjures us, “Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha. Return   O Israel to Hashem.” The greatest aspect of teshuva is “Ein od milvado,” recognizing that there is no entity that we can rely on, but Hashem. Physical strength, finances, and well connected friends, are all illusory and transient.  Just as an orphan has no one to turn to but Hashem, our only real hope is our Father in Heaven.





Insights of the Chassidic Masters: Standing Before G-d

5 09 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Chassidic Masters

The Baal Hatanya, in his introduction to his essay, “Atem Nitzavim” explains the Torah’s ambiguity about Rosh Hashana. He writes that Rosh Hashana is the day we were created. It is the beginning of man’s existence. Therefore, Hashem wanted us to strain to understand it, to uncover the starting point within each of us, to remember the struggle and to recapture the magic of this very pivotal moment. This is compared to a couple remembering their wedding, and to parents recalling the birth of their first child.

When we study the Torah, mussar, chassidut, or halachot relating to a particular holiday, it is critical to understand its central core.  All learning and prayer connected to a particular holiday shines forth from this point. The Torah does not specify the theme of Rosh Hashana, but Chazal tell us that “Hamelech” sums up the essence of the day. In fact, old Chabad chassidim would call Rosh Hashana the “Day of Coronation,” for on this yom tov we crown Hashem as king over us.

The Gemara writes, “On Rosh Hashana, Hashem tells us, ‘Say before me these prayers: Malchiyot, so you will accept my kingship, Zichronot, so that I will remember you in a good way. How does one accomplish this? With the shofar. From this passage we understand that the essential theme of Rosh Hashana is accepting Hashem’s kingship, and the shofar is the means to attain this. Additionally, if we examine the prayers of Rosh Hashana, we will find that they revolve around the theme of kingship. The writings of Chassidut explain that our mission on Rosh Hashana is to reconstruct the malchut of Hashem by making ourselves worthy of crowning Him.

Rav Sadya Gaon lists several reasons why we blow shofar, but the inner meaning of the shofar is kingship and coronation. We verbalize and actualize our acceptance of Hashem’s kingship through the shofar.

In Tehilim, King David writes, “Bakshu fanei, es panecha avakesh.” Hashem says, “Seek my face.” Panei is related to penimiyut. Our avoda on Rosh Hashana is to reveal the deep inner connection between our soul and the essence of Hashem. For a person to say “Hamelech” on Rosh Hashana and ignore the King is not only absurd but dangerous. If Hashem is really our King what kind of effect has He had on our life? Accepting the yoke of Hashem’s kingship as a means to fulfill one’s responsibilities as a Jew is a very important outgrowth of Rosh Hashana but it is not the core. The essence is making Hashem a part of life during the year; knowing what “melech haolam” means when we say a bracha and developing a real connection with malchut Hashem. This will all depend on how we crowned the King on His coronation day. The call of the shofar jolts us awake and the prayers of Rosh Hashana helps us realize that nothing rules over us except Hashem.  Our “Hamelech” is not Wall St, Elvis Presley, our boss, or our physical desires.   We answer to a Higher Authority.   By tapping into the power of “melech” in everything we do, we will become stronger more dedicated servants of Hashem.





Tons of Classes Available to Help You Prepare for Rosh Hashana

31 08 2010

Naaleh.com has a large variety of classes on the month of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

Here is just a sampling of some of the classes available:

Harbingers of Blessing: A Practical Guide to the Simanim of Rosh Hashana

In this interactive Torah class (shiur) on the simanim of Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Shimon Isaacson discusses the concept of eating symbolic foods during the evening meal of Rosh Hashana.

Path to Teshuva

In this shiur (class) on Teshuva, Rabbi Hanoch Teller outlines the path to true repentance.  Peppered with inspirational, poignant, and humorous stories, the theme of Teshuva is masterfully illustrated with real life examples.

Elul: The Shofar’s Wake Up Call

In this Torah shiur (class) on the month of Elul, Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg connects the message of the blowing of the shofar, which is done every day of the month, to the essence of the month of Elul.

Rosh Hashana: Our Turn

In this shiur (Torah class) on Rosh Hashana, Mrs. Shira Smiles raises some questions and answers to remind us of the basic ideas of the holiday.





Elul, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur For Children

22 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller

visa

Creating Elul consciousness in the home really begins with our understanding of what Elul means. The Sefas Emes explains that there is a place within Hashem’s infinite reality where his love for us is so great that nothing can touch it. Similarly, there is a hidden spark of ahavat Hashem within each of us that can never be defiled. The theme of Elul is “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” Discovering that place of pure love, emunah, and yearning for deveikut within ourselves draws down Hashem’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For adults, Elul is a time to push aside all the trivialities of daily living and get in touch with our deep inner selves through teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.

A good way to explain Elul to young children is through a parable. One can tell what something really is by looking at the end product. Following all the directions exactly while baking a cake, will usually yield good tasting results. Similarly, who we were during the year shows up in Elul. Ask the children to pretend that a very important person is expected to visit. You bake a delicious cake but it comes out a real flop. It’s too late to go out and buy new ingredients.  Imagine if you could sprinkle a magic potion on the ruined cake and turn it back to its original raw ingredients. You could then bake the cake again and it would come out just perfect. That is the wonderful gift of teshuva. We can go back as if we hadn’t done the mistakes, change it, and make it better once again.  In Elul, Hashem gives us a whole month to think about our wrongdoings and correct it. If you hurt someone, you have to say I am sorry. Show them how to do this sincerely. If you took something without permission you have to return it.   Go through their things with them. Teach them too how to forgive.

Rosh Hashana is about accepting Hashem’s kingship. Explain to your children how Hashem , our loving king, comes down to us once a year and how we great him with joy and awe. Children also need to understand that there is accountability. Although, most know about the three books that are opened on Rosh Hashana, tell them how every person writes their own story through their speech, actions, and thoughts.

Very young children should not be taken to shul because if they are forced to sit quietly for long periods of time they may come to despise going to shul. Letting them run wild in shul is anti-chinuch.  If feasible, take them for shofar blowing and some of the serious parts of the davening such as U’nesane Tokef to increase their yirat shamayim.

During Aseret Yemei Teshuva, encourage children to do more mitzvot. Give them extra coins to give to tzedakah and have them recite short chapters in tehilim.

Introducing the highlights of the Yomim Noraim to older children from the age of ten to early adolescence can be a bit more complex.  Take time to speak with them during Elul. Ask them what they would desire more, a fancy camera or to be married to someone they respect. They will probably answer the latter. Explain to them that the pleasure we derive from people stems from seeing their ruchniyut. This is something of the yearning we have for closeness to Hashem. Get them to identify all the gifts and talents Hashem has given them.  Tell them that Hashem gives us these things out of chesed and that he expects us to use it well. Let them see your Elul, how you are trying harder and working on yourself. Explain to them that Elul is the time to redefine ourselves, a period of great chesed, where we can once again resolve to make things work. Tell them stories of people who completely changed themselves. Ask them for mechila and encourage them when they express any signs of regret for past misdeeds. The real message of Elul should come through clearly-make your own transformational moments or ask Hashem to send them to you, decide what you want to be, and be it.

Rosh Hashana is a time when we renew our relationship with Hashem by recognizing Hashem’s malchut. This should awaken a certain desire to do and be more. Children can get very distracted by the externals of the day such as new clothing and the simanim. Stories are a good medium to explain “ol malchut shamayim.”  Tell your kids to aim for absolute acceptance of Hashem’s kingship. They should understand that our only desire is to do Hashem’s will. In a sense we are telling Him, “Wherever you take me, this is where I want to go.”

Older teens don’t like being told what to do. Share some inspiring ideas or stories you have read. The more indirectly you talk, the more directly they’ll hear it. The only condition though is, you have to “walk your talk”. Ask yourself honestly if you are at the level you want your children to be.Think ahead and plan things out carefully. Ask Hashem to give you the right words, clarity of mind, siyata deshmaya, and credibility, to guide your children on the true and straight path.





Elul: Five Steps To Greatness

17 08 2010

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

Elul: Five Steps To Greatness

What is the definition of greatness? What do we hope to achieve in Elul? When I posed this question to one of my children, she answered, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov”-And for me closeness to Hashem is good. A great person is one who can reach a level of kirvat Hashem.  Rav Pincus in Nefesh Chaya, lists five steps to greatness. This is based on a statement of Chazal which describes the service of the angels. These five attributes are listed as follows:

1)       They appear as a lightning bolt
2)      Where they go has no end
3)      They go forward and backward
4)      They do Hashem’s will like a storm
5)      They bow in front of Hashem’s throne
These five elements give us direction on how to reach our goal of coming closer to Hashem.

Human nature tends to make us aspire to reach tremendous heights in avodat Hashem, while we simultaneously tell ourselves ‘we’ll never get there’. Saying, “Why should I bother trying,” is a mistake. Rav Pincus notes that even if we never reach the highest point, if we touch a lightning bolt, a flash of it, we are still considered successful. Rav Dessler teaches us that ambition and believing in oneself is crucial. If a person wants to reach a certain level in avodat Hashem, he must have a feeling of bitachon. He may not be successful one hundred percent but if he continues forward and accomplishes one aspect of his goal then to a certain degree he’s been successful. In Kol Dodi, Rav Schwadron explains how people take on different kabalot in Elul and then fall back to routine. A person may think it was all for nothing but that is wrong. Every good deed makes an impression. Touching greatness propels a person forward.

Sometimes we won’t do something because it seems petty, and we think, “Why should I involve myself in something so minuscule?” This is wrong. There is nothing too small for Hashem who feeds the tiniest insects and directs every detailed aspect of our lives. Minor acts such as a smile, a compliment, or a cheery good morning can make the greatest difference. These small things have no end. Additionally, every mitzvah whether significant or minor has tremendous importance. It’s all part of one integrated system. In Alei Shor, Rav Wolbe notes that doing any mitzvah properly can draw the Shechina down.

This world is a journey of ups and downs. The forward and backward movements of the angels parallel our own ascending and descending. Rav Nissel writes that Hashem created man in order to give him pleasure. The ultimate pleasure is a relationship with Hashem which is formed through prayer. Troubles are a catalyst for a person to daven and  awaken to the fact that we are dependent on Hashem. If a person is in a constant state of communing with Hashem when things are going well, he will not need any suffering to remind him. This is the secret of the shofar. “Tekiah”-the straight blasts are when things are going well. “Shevarim”-the broken blasts signify the setbacks in life. “Ashrei ha’am yodeiah teruah Hashem b’eor panecha yaleichun”-The breakages in life are a means for us to walk on the path of Hashem.

We must emulate the angels and do Hashem’s will with fiery zeal. Being sensitive to detail, davening to Hashem with intent, and performing the mitzvoth with enthusiasm, inspires passion. Rav Frand notes that children shouldn’t experience mitzvoth as a burden but as an enjoyable aspect of life. Our avodah in Elul is to work on our mitzvoth, not only on our aveiroth. We can never say we’ve reached it. Even if one thinks one has arrived, we need to bow down and realize there is still a long way to go.

This Elul let us work towards greatness by knowing what are ambitions are, being careful with the small details in life, understanding that life’s ups and downs are a catalyst for growth and prayer, and that we’re just on a point of departure in our journey towards Hashem.





Elul: The Shofar’s Wake Up Call

12 08 2010

In this Torah shiur (class) on the month of Elul, Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg connects the message of the blowing of the shofar, which is done every day of the month, to the essence of the month of Elul.  This Torah class is available online in streaming video and for download in mp3 and ipod video formats.