Chovot Halevavot – Meaningful Actions #4

10 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

The Chovot Halevavot discusses the various marks of wisdom that a person can see in the world and the way Hashem is manifests in creation. He lists seven ways to see this.

The first mark is manifested in the four fundamental elements of the world: fire, water, air, and earth. In contemporary terms, these are energy, liquid, gas and solid matter. The earth is a ball, which by nature doesn’t stay stationary. Yet our world stays suspended in the middle of the universe. It is surrounded by water, above that air, and above that fire. Each element stays within its boundaries. Nature stays faithful to its Creator and doesn’t change. This shows the magnificent greatness of Hashem. David says, “You Hashem are the creator of heaven and earth, which exist eternally.” If there would be one slight deviance, the entire world would be destroyed.

The second mark is man himself. Every person is a small universe. The completion of this world is man. Without him there is no purpose. Humans are like a dot in comparison to the vast cosmos. Yet we see it is only man that can understand creation. In Tehilim David wrote, “Man is a little bit less than Hashem.” When Adam was created the angels wanted to say kadosh. They thought he was the Master of the world. Hashem is a perfectionist par excellence. He made man flawless and in whatever state he’s in his Divine Image remains.

The third mark is the amazing synthesis of soul and body. Hashem covered over spirituality with flesh and bones and formed Adam. Iyov said, “You made me as if someone poured milk into a bottle. You curdled me like cheese. Then you clothed me with bones, sinews, and ribs. You sheltered me, gave me life, favored me, and watched over my soul.”

The fourth mark is the animal kingdom which is made up of hundreds of different species. They swarm in the air, swim in water, and creep on the ground. Hashem created them all with a purpose and their daily existence is in His hands.

The fifth mark is the wisdom in the design of the plant world. There are myriad types of vegetation that have the ability to heal and provide nourishment.

The sixth mark is the wonders of Hashem that we see in industry and science. Hashem revealed different ways through which man can meet his needs in this world. Iyov said, “Who gave wisdom and understanding to the heart? Only Hashem.”

The seventh mark is the wisdom found in Torah. The Torah teaches us above and beyond what man could ever imagine or create. The oral Torah is not the work of man. The sages transmit concepts that were already accepted at Sinai. Through studying Torah a person can truly see the greatness of our Creator.

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Tisha B’Av – Short Idea with A Big Impact

26 07 2012

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

 In Eicha, Tisha B’av is referred to as a moed (festival). How can we call the saddest day in the Jewish calendar a holiday?

Aleh Shur notes that there are some moadim that are called festivals of closeness such as the shalosh regalim. There are other moadim that are called moed shel richuk, festivals of distance. What is the idea of a holiday of distance?

In the three weeks we must stop and ask ourselves, “Where am I in life? Am I really as close to Hashem as I think I am? Are my mitzvot and Torah on the level it should be or am I fooling myself? Am I merely going through the actions but missing the soul?” A moed shel richuk is celebrating Tisha B’av and telling Hashem, “I am far away, I’m nowhere near where I should be.” When we can make that declaration with honesty and a sincere desire to change, we begin to bridge the gap and move forward.

The baalei mussar say that the clarity of vision one can reach on Tisha B’av is similar to the level one can reach at the end of Yom Kippur. On Tisha B’av we experienced the destruction of our relationship with Hashem. If we can face Hashem with truth and sincerity we will begin the process of renewal and return.

 





Netivot Olam I: Combating The Yetzer Hara # 8

17 02 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller  

As our identity becomes entwined with the evil inclination, the yetzer hara becomes progressively stronger. A person must gird himself to fight against it. Rav Yitzchak said, “The yetzer hara renews itself every day.” It makes sin seem new, when in fact there’s nothing new about it. The good seems old, because good is part of the human essence, while evil is superimposed upon it. Good resonates in the deepest part of our self, which is ageless and eternal, while evil appears new because it doesn’t exist inside ourselves. Evil by definition doesn’t have existence. It conceals it and creates an illusion of darkness.

One of the best ways to fight the yetzer hara is by using its own method, by presenting the good inclination in new ways. The two most successful movements during the age of the Enlightenment were Chassidut and Mussar. Both took existent reality and dressed it up in new ways of discovering Hashem in the world and in ourselves.

The Chatam Sofer fought the Enlightenment with his motto, “Chadash assur min haTorah.” He forbade innovative changes to Jewish practice. He made battle against those who had veered off the path innovative. In this way, he was able to rally his troops around him. Bais Yaakov too in its early days sold newness. It propagated the feeling of sisterhood and of discovering oneself in a Torah framework. This is our challenge today. We must find new and novel ways in our own personal battles against the yetzer hara.

The yetzer hara is also called the satan and the malach hamavet (angel of death). We may mistakenly think that the yetzer hara is physical because it uses physicality as a tool. In reality the yetzer hara is spiritual. The tool of the yetzer hara is chisaron, lack. There are always lacks within ourselves and society. The satan points them out and gives us a new way to contend with it. We must be careful.

The feeling of chisaron is a real feeling, but its essence isn’t real. The desire to fill the empty spaces is normal. The question is with what will we fill it. When we turn towards evil for a solution to our imperfections we create even deeper deficiencies.

The function of the malach hamavet is to take a person out of his body because his soul has no more purpose on this world. Our missions were fragmentized after the sin of the eitz hadaat (tree of knowledge). We do things that put us in a place where there’s no more reason to continue the battle. In this frame, our task is completed. Death is tumah, a blockage. It’s not being able to interact with the world any longer. The malach hamavet, which creates the heaviest concealment and ends bechira (free choice) most completely, is a spiritual force generated by the yetzer hara’s reality.

Within us, there’s an internal and external aspect. The internal is the soul and the external is the desires of the body, which feel very basic and real to us. Often our boundaries are so shaky and our awareness of what’s going on in our choice processes is so subtle that we have two voices that both sound like the real self. The part that wants dignity and tzniut (modesty) resonates as true, but the part that wants newness and attention feels true too because the self that desires is also there, although it’s not the most essential aspect of who we are. It’s a tough call and most of us don’t succeed all of the time.

Bringing upon oneself thoughts of desire is more severe than actually sinning. As long as the thought process isn’t involved, the essential self isn’t involved. Our contact with our soul comes through thought. A person who makes the wrong choice may say, “I have to be me.” Which side of who you are is really you? How deep are you willing to go to find yourself?

We’ve lost our sense of self. A person who brings evil of the mind upon himself won’t dwell with Hashem because he’s driven Hashem out of his consciousness. You can’t be identified with good and evil at the same time.

The yetzer hara can drive a person out of both worlds. It cuts a person’s reality off from this world and cuts him off from Hashem, who is the eternal and ultimate source of good.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective: What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana?

28 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana without sounding like an annoying seminary girl? I’m not worried about his learning because he has a learning seder (session) every day, but whenever I bring up the idea of change or growth he gets annoyed.

 

Answer:

Some men like hashkafa, but most don’t. No man likes to feel as if his wife is the provider and he is the receiver. Be patient. As men mature, they want to know more about how to put it all together. Hashkafa sefarim were really written by and for men and many of them will eventually study them. When they do, it will probably be with a lot more depth and perception, and a higher level of integration than women, because men are much more grounded in Torah learning. By the time he’s thirty eight, he’ll probably be motivating you, instead of the other way around. This is usually how it goes in most marriages.

However, let’s say he’s already forty five and you’re still trying to get him to work on his inner life. Begin by asking some questions such as, “It’s Elul and I don’t feel anything much different than I did in Av. Did they ever say anything about this in yeshiva? Is there anything I could learn that can give me insight?” Make him your teacher. Don’t correct him even if he gets it wrong, just listen. Since his skills are better, in the end his grasp will be much more profound.

It could also be that he’s just not the hashkafa type. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a yearning for spirituality. It’s just that he doesn’t have the ability to listen to the language. His means of communication may be dikduk halacha (care in Jewish law). His ahavat Hashem (love of Hashem) may be expressed through tzedaka, charity. His yirat Hashem (fear of Hashem) may be actualized by the level of kashrut he maintains. Let his deeds show you where he truly is and don’t try to gauge his spiritual standing by how much he’s learning.





How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila?

15 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila? Can you provide some practical ideas?

 

Answer:

Create an image that speaks to you and use it to guide you through prayer. I’ll suggest one but you can use your own.

 

 

Close your eyes and picture yourself as a young child, way before you realized that your parents didn’t have much control over events. Imagine your father or mother telling you, “It’ll be ok.” Take that moment of absolute trust and transfer that feeling to Hashem. Only He cares for you in the ultimate sense and only He can give you what you need. Any image that evokes a feeling of faith, love, reliance, and dependence will work. Take it along with you when you start davening.

It’s difficult to move from an outside action-oriented world to an internal world where you have to feel absolute reliance on Hashem. Try to concentrate on the meaning of the words.

 

When you say Pisukei D’zimra, visualize drawing Hashem’s infinity into your heart. And when you get to Shemone Esrei, think about Hashem’s omnipotence and recognize that it’s only Hashem’s life force and essence that can give you anything at all.






Requests From Hashem #8

13 09 2011

 Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Requests From Hashem #8  The second section of prayer in Shemone Esrei is bakasha, asking Hashem to fulfill our individual and communal needs. The thirteen requests contained in these blessing comprise all of our fundamental needs. Whether it’s parnassa (sustenance), health, tranquility, or friendship, we need Hashem’s involvement and intervention in our lives.

There are several premises in the bakashot in Shemone Esrei,. The first premise is that I am in need. The second says Hashem has power. The third premise tells us that Hashem desires to help us and that he is the essence of goodness and kindness. And the fourth premise says that through the power of prayer, we can arouse Hashem to help us.

When we pray in times of need, and we are always in need of at least one of the thirteen requests, we must pray with perfect faith that Hashem can and will aid us.

May all our requests be answered l’tova (for the good).

 





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.