Nachamu Nachamu Ami: Our Destiny

2 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

In the haftorah of Shabbat Nachamu, the prophet Yeshaya consoles the Jewish people, “Be comforted, be comforted, my people.” The suffering of exile and the sins that brought it about are part of a journey. The day will come when we will see that it was all meant to bring us to our destiny. This is true for geulat haprat (individual redemption) as well as geulat haklal (national redemption). The Malbim says Hashem is speaking specifically to the prophets. He tells them, “You must comfort my people. You must tell them that the geulah will eventually come, either because of their merits or because they received their just punishment and achieved their rectification.”

The Gemara writes that whenever Hashem remembers our sins he remembers the sin of the golden calf. The Lubliner Rav explains that the golden calf did not lead to our end. In fact Klal Yisrael gained atonement. Similarly, however far we fall there is always hope for return.

The prophet Yeshaya says further, “Speak to Yerushalayim’s heart and call out to her that her time has been filled and her sins have been appeased.” The heart of Yerushalayim is our ability to accept emotionally, not just rationally, that the process of exile was worth it. Part of the exhilaration that a runner experiences is not only the knowledge that he’s reaching his goal, but the feeling of pushing his limits and seeing how far he can go. We grow by facing challenges. It’s not just a trade-off, it’s an expansion. This is our consolation.

The prophet Yeshaya continues, “There’s a voice calling out in the desert, clear the way for Hashem, straighten out the plain, make a path for Him.” In the end we will be comforted seeing that Hashem led us exactly where we needed to go. Rashi says this road is meant to return us from exile. At the seder we say, “Next year in Yerushalayim,” but do we mean it? Do we find living in exile easier? The Gemara teaches that a person who lives outside Israel is considered an idol worshipper because he can only achieve an indirect relationship with Hashem. There’s no parallel to the Divine intervention inherent in Eretz Yisrael.

The Navi says, “Every valley will be uplifted and every mountain and high place will go down and what is crooked will become straight.” There are many obstacles, both material and spiritual, that will prevent a person from coming to Israel. They are compared to hills and valleys. But in the end Hashem will take them all away and reveal His presence.

“The grass will dry and the flowers will wilt but the word of Hashem will be established forever.” No matter how much we suffer in exile, we must keep our spirits up. The mishna says the beginning of defeat is retreat. When we let ourselves despair, we prolong the journey towards our destiny.

“On a high mountain I’ll go up to you, you who give good news to Tzion. Uplift your voice powerfully, you who bring good news to Yerushalayim. Lift up your voice loudly. Don’t be afraid. Say to the cities of Yehuda, behold here is Hashem.” The Radak explains that just as a person who wants his voice to be heard will stand in a high place, our yearning for Hashem will elevate us to be willing to hear the prophecy that was given to us. Ultimately we will be redeemed and we will return.

“Behold Hashem will come with force. And his outstretched hand will be the source of his dominion. And his reward is with him and his action and repayment is before him.” Hashem will reward the tzaddikim. He will shepherd us like a shepherd who gathers in his sheep. When Mashiach comes, Hashem‘s greatness will touch everyone at whatever level they’re at. We will discover our tikkun, the messianic part within us that’s redeemable. We will find our way back because Hashem will make the mountains low and the valleys high. We must not be afraid if we see people that seem irredeemable or distant.

“Who is there from whom we could take counsel, who could give us the understanding to go in the way Hashem has measured out?” The Torah itself is our guiding light in exile. It tells us how to respond to every possible life situation. We can’t be taken in by the nation’s threats or predictions. They are like dust on a scale. We don’t understand Hashem‘s way but we have to be attuned to miracles. We are a nation that lives beyond the laws of nature.

Each one of us is created for a specific purpose. We are all redeemable and none of us will be left behind.





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.

 





Feeling the Churban

25 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The Gemara writes that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on the ninth of Av towards night. This would seem to imply that the halachic strictures of mourning would increase as the day wanes. But the opposite is true. From noon and onwards our mourning begins to lessen in intensity. Why is this so?

Until the destruction actually began the Jews didn’t believe it would ever happen. Therefore, they didn’t repent wholeheartedly. When the churban finally came, there was a revelation of great love. They saw that Hashem’s promise had come true. When they realized that there would be a long separation they felt a need to express their feelings. This overwhelming feeling of intimacy between Hashem and the Jewish people is what is meant when it says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Everything that brings about Mashiach‘s coming can be born within us on that day. When we can sincerely tell Hashem, “We don’t want this distance,” that is the beginning of the Messianic promise.

Maharal quotes the Gemara that the pre-Messianic era will be a period when people will disparage the authority of talmidei chachamim. There will be great chutzpah prevalent among the nations. Chutzpah is pretending to be something you’re not. When we seek to find connection in ways not related to Hashem, it becomes like a wall. This is meant to be so, so that we will ultimately reject it. Maharal says you have to know what you are not and what you really don’t want in order to move forward and truly want Hashem.

The mishna says the face of the generation we’ll be like the face of a dog. The dog doesn’t have a spiritual self. It becomes who it’s with. In the days before Mashiach, our sense of self will be so diminished that we won’t believe in our own strengths. We certainly won’t trust the goodness and capacity of others. Ultimately we will turn to Hashem.

The Bnei Yissachor says that the nine days before Tisha B’av consists of 216 hours which equals the same numerical value as aryeh (a lion). A lion’s roar inspires fear. Eicha describes Hashem “like a bear who waits for me in anguish or like a lion in a hidden place.” The ktiv is aryeh while the kri is ari. The difference between these two words is the letter heh, which equals five. This hints to the last five hours of Tisha B’av, which express Hashem‘s love. Only the ari hours, the 211 hours, inspire yirah. The first five sefirot of Hashem relate to an outpouring of chesed. The next five sefirot signify gevurah, concealment and withholding. Although the last five hours of Tisha B’av were filled with the horrors of the destruction it was also the beginning of the revelation. It says that the building of Yerushalayim and bayit shlishi commenced at the very moment when the second beit hamikdash began to burn. As we mourned, Hashem began to rebuild.

All of our suffering has its root in Tisha bav. We have to rectify it at the source. The first act of distancing was the sin of eitz hada’at. This brought about the introduction of dimyon (imagination). Dimyon makes us see good as bad and bad as good. Often we know something in our mind but when it comes down to action we go back to what gives us pleasure. The key is to use imagery in a positive way. Using negative imagery includes thinking, “I’m not who I want to be. If people really knew what I was they would reject and despise me. Therefore, I have to pretend to be the person I wish I could be. But beneath it all I hate myself.” This is self-destructive thinking. A positive image might include seeing yourself as a valiant warrior trying to do battle against the obstacles. You treasure your victories and are willing to live with the failures because a warrior doesn’t always win. He fights and falls and gets up again. Using one’s emotions and imagery to create a new self is a form of correcting what Adam did.

The sin of the spies signified a lack of emunah (faith). They realized they couldn’t conquer the land by natural means and they didn’t trust Hashem.

The first temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins. With the right imagery all of these sins would have been intolerable. The desire to murder could have been controlled by seeing the good and beautiful in every person. Adultery could have been repressed by discerning the integrity of mesirat nefesh. Idol worship could have been overcome by saying, “It’s just a creation, not the creator.” But they failed. Hashem‘s presence was missing in their mind and heart. The second beit hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were fragmented. They lacked the common emunah of believing and wanting the same thing. .

The Zohar says that each of the 365 days of the year parallel one of the 365 negative mitzvot. Tisha B’av corresponds to the mitzvah of gid hanashe. Nasha means forgetfulness. On Tisha B’av we forgot who we could be.

Yaakov battled the angel of Esav. They were fighting primarily over their future identity. Yaakov’s main quality was truth, which is seeing the whole picture and wanting to use everything in the inner and outer world for Hashem. Esav was a conqueror. There’s an Esav part within each of us. The battle was really a struggle between Yaakov and Yaakov. He had to annihilate his evil side. This will take place again when Mashiach comes.

Yaakov is referred to as tolaat (a worm). He was humble. He cried out to Hashem. Esav was a hunter. The most engaging prey is a human. When people idealize themselves and make demands on other people to see life through their eyes they are following the path of Esav.

The internal galut and relationship to Esav has an external manifestation which is the West. Modern society idealizes selfishness and conquest. In these days of bein hamitzarim let us strengthen ourselves with the voice of Yaakov and the power of Torah and tefilah.





Jerusalem: Echoes of Lament- Why Cry?

11 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Hanoch Teller 

It is possible to go through the fast of Tisha B’av and Yom Kippur without feeling any pangs of hunger if we focus on the key motifs these days. On Yom Kippur, when the fate of all of Klal Yisrael is hanging in the balance, thinking about something minor as food and drink seems superfluous. Likewise on Tisha B’av, if we really sense that deep aching longing for what we’ve lost, all mundane trivialities fall away.

There’s a famous parable of a gifted artist who climbed a steep mountain in order to paint his magnum opus. His work of art far exceeded his expectations. He was so overwhelmed by the beauty of his accomplishment that he took a few steps back to view his work better. Unbeknown to him he was almost at the edge of the cliff about to plunge to his death. A mountain climber spotted him and began shouting. But the artist paid no attention. Left with no other choice, the climber dashed over and ripped the artist’s canvas to pieces. The artist then snapped out of his trance and yelled, “What have you done?” Then the climber showed him where he had stood. Prophet after prophet warned Klal Yisrael not to commit the same mistakes of the past. But the Jews did not listen. In the end, Hashem was left with no choice but to destroy the Beit Hamikdash to save us.

We have become desensitized. Most of us don’t realize what we’re mourning, what it means to have lost the eretz tiferet, the beautiful land. Eretz Yisrael should be foremost in our thoughts. We should take time out to think about what the land means to us, what it was, and what it could be if only Mashiach would come. Then we can begin to appreciate the dimension of our loss.

The Navi recounts how the Almighty castigated the Jews, “Mi bikeish zot miyedchem? Who asked this of you? Of what use are all your needless sacrifices. Your ketoret are an abomination. I despise your holidays. I cannot listen to your prayers any longer.” These words reflect a serious breach between the Jews and the Almighty. We have been cast out and rejected.

There are three cardinal questions we will be asked when we reach the next world. Among them will be, “Tzipita l’yeshua?” Did you await the salvation? It’s not enough to believe. We have to yearn for the redemption.

According to the Mesilat Yesharim, awaiting the geulah is an element of ahavat Hashem. If someone you loved very dearly was in pain, you’d feel his agony and try to do everything you could to alleviate it. Klal Yisrael is suffering and our pain is borne by Hashem. If we love Hashem and don’t wish to see Him bear our misery we must yearn for the redemption.

In order to properly understand the idea of awaiting the redemption we have to better understand the scope of the churban and Divine Presence in exile. We’ve lost so much. Observing the kohanim while they performed the service in the beit hamikdash was a great catalyst for teshuva. Although we believe that a tzaddik can possesses a modicum of Divine inspiration, it cannot compare to the holy spirit of Hashem that existed in the time of the bayit when the Sanhedrin could decide matters of life and death.

The incredible assimilation of today is also a consequence of our exile. Had we remained in Israel the phenomenon of the vanishing Jew would never have happened. Our desire to imitate the non-Jews is a result of our living among them. All the countless suffering, tragedies, and travails we’ve experienced throughout the long years are a result of losing our bayit.

The beit hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins and because of baseless hatred. We must strengthen ourselves in these areas. Hashem welcomes all of our efforts, especially in these auspicious weeks. May we merit to see the rebuilding of the beit hamikdash speedily in our days.





Tisha B’Av: A Holiday of Distance

19 07 2010

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

Tisha B'Av:  A Holiday of Distance

Rav Wolbe in Alei Shur addresses the famous question of why Tisha B’av is called a moed-festival.  Some festivals such as the sholosh regalim are called “Moed Shel Kiruv”- a holiday of closeness, while some festivals are called “Moed Shel Richuk”-a holiday of distance. During the Three Weeks we need to ask ourselves, “Where are we in life? Are we really as close to Hashem as we should be? Are our Torah, Mitzvot, and Chesed at the proper level or are we going through the motions but missing the soul?”  “Moed Shel Richuk” means celebrating the fact that our mourning has brought us closer to our true selves. It means admitting that we are far away from Hashem and then making the effort to bridge the gap and move forward. The Baalei Mussar say that on Tisha B’av one can reach a certain clarity of vision similar to Yom Kippur. Tisha B’av is not only about mourning over the physical destruction of the Beit Hamikdash but about grieving over our lost intmacy with Hashem. It is about taking an honest look at our connection with Hashem and admitting that we have very far to go to reach that closeness. Once we have reached that recognition, we can then set out on the path to mend the loving bond with Hashem once again.





Valuable Vision- The Three Weeks

15 07 2010

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

The Jewish People does not only celebrate holidays of joy and grandeur. We also devote time to focusing on our communal failures and tragedies. In fact, we remember the time of our greatest loss, the destruction of our Holy Temple, for a full three week period, from the seventeenth of Tamuz to the ninth of Av.

Such a long focus on our tragedy would appear to be depressing. However, it all depends on one’s perspective. If we focus on ourselves, on our failings and subsequent suffering, commemorating the tragedy for so long is self-defeating. But if we concentrate on Hakodosh Boruch Hu, understand whatever happens to us is through His Divine guidance and Providence, then we can accept our tribulations with an element of joy, knowing that these, too, are a manifestation of God’s love for us. We can understand that Hashem, our Father, has raised us, but we
have rebelled against Him. Nevertheless, although He is forced to reprimand us and punish us, He does so out of love, so that we will correct our ways and grow properly, as any parent raising his child would do.

Can we recognize God’s love in difficult times, when His mercy seems hidden from us? We must not give up hope during times of trial. Rather, we must pursue Him, beseeching Him to lovingly show us His face.

This is the concept that lies at the heart of Shabbat chazon, the Shabbat of vision, the last of the three haftorot of tragedy before Tisha b’Av, one for each of the three weeks. The designation comes from the first word of this week’s Haftorah, “The vision of Isaiah…” The visions of these haftorot seem full of impending doom, for they foretell the quickly approaching hordes that will overrun Israel and destroy the Holy Temple. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, one can discern the glimmer of hope even in these
foreboding prophecies.

How does Jeremiah, in the first Haftorah, envision this prophecy? He sees a rod of an almond tree. Within this image lies the hope that will turn despair into future joy. Right now, this rod is a mere stick, barren of any leaves, buds or fruit. But in twenty-one days, the almond tree will blossom and bear fruit.

So, too, in the twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz to the ninth of Av, the days that seem darkest and most empty for our nation, the potential for growth and rejuvenation is implanted within us. This desolation was necessary so that new spiritual life would spring forth, much as the gardener prunes the trees to allow the sunlight in so that the new growth will be vibrant and healthy.
The greater vision of this time is to internalize Hashem’s love for us, in good times and bad, and to open our hearts to His Presence, to know Him each day, and to return Him to our hearts, the seat of our emotions and passions.
At the end of Tisha b’Av, we bless the new moon, the symbol of new hope. It will reach its fullness on the fifteenth of Av, traditionally
a day of great joy and dancing.

Hashem supports us, Hashem loves us, in the days of our joy, and especially in the days of our tribulation and exile. We must look beyond the barren rod to its potential. The almond branch will bear fruit, and our term of exile will help perfect us so that we may merit the final redemption speedily, in our days.





The Three Weeks

13 07 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

The Three WeeksThe gemara relates the story of Rabbi Akiva who was walking with several sages when they saw a fox emerge from the site of the destroyed Beit Hamikdash. The Chatam Sofer explains that a fox represents crafty slyness. In exile, we are less afraid of physical death and more afraid of our oppressors’ devious use of enticement and warped philosophy to pull us away from Torah and mitzvot.

Chazal tells us, those who mourn over Jerusalem will merit to see its restoration. This is written in the present tense to teach us that the purpose of aveilut is to recognize consciously what we have lost and to realize what we can regain. Looking at the causes of the destruction can help us correct the failings that led to the churban.  The first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of idol worship, adultery, and murder.  Our tikun is to strengthen ourselves in emuna, to work on our modesty in thought, deed, and action, and to guard our lives from any needless danger. The second beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred. This can be rectified through kindness and charity.

Rashi in Parshat Vayeishev notes that Yaakov continued to grieve for Yosef because as long as a person is still alive, one cannot be completely comforted. As soon as the person dies, mourning gradually diminishes. The collective soul of Klal Yisrael knows that we have yet to achieve our former glory. We know there is a gaping void in our lives. We continue to mourn for Jerusalem every day in our prayers and it remains a living force within our hearts.

As we leaf through the tear stained pages of Jewish history, we see firsthand that even though Hashem has punished us, he still loves us. He has made us suffer for our own good because he cares. King David tells us in Tehilim, “Shivtecha umishantacha heima yenachamuni. Your rod and your staff comfort me.” The rod of retribution is Hashem’ s form of healing. May the travails of exile serve to elevate us to higher realms so that we may ultimately merit the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.