Marriage: The Eternal Structure

3 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

 The Shem Mishmuel quotes a perplexing Gemara in Brachot. The Rabbis asked Rav Hamnuna to sing a song at a wedding and he began to sing, “Woe to us people, we will die. Where is the Torah and mitzvot that will protect us?” Why did Rav Hamnuna sing such a mournful tune at a wedding?

The Shem Mishmuel explains that marriage is the antithesis of death. It is a binyan adei ad, an eternal structure that is created through the couple’s descendants. In this world, both the soul and body can ascend by making the right choices. After death, the soul can no longer be sanctified by engaging and lifting physicality. If it didn’t achieve what it needed to on this world it cannot do it anymore after death. But the Gemara says there is a way out. If a couple’s children continue to do mitzvot it is as if the parents never died and their souls will continue to ascend in heaven. That’s why Rav Hamnuna mentioned death and mitzvot. Clearly the mitzvah of peru urevu, having children, is a central part of the joy of a wedding.

In Parshat Balak, Bilam says concerning Hashem, “The Almighty in heaven counts the offspring of the Jewish people.” Chazal say this refers to children. Bilam questioned how Hashem could be involved in something so physical.

The Shem Mishmuel explains that in many ways the material world is the antithesis of purity and sanctity. There are religions that teach their adherents to live an ascetic life. Bilam only understood spirituality as an entity on its own. However, the mainstream Torah view, which is emphasized by Chassidut, is to take physicality and elevate it to spirituality. This is the secret of Torah. There is holiness embedded in the material world which is brought out through the mitzvot.

The most important institution where this idea is expressed is the Jewish marriage. The deeper one digs in a mine, the better quality diamonds one finds. The more physical something is, the more sanctity can be extracted. Marriage is called kiddushin. The kohen gadol, the holiest leader of the Jewish people was required to have a wife. The bond of marriage creates a very deep and intense holiness.

The Gemara explains that when we dance at a wedding we lift our body up in the air. We take physicality and elevate it to something holy. This is the essence of marriage. Hashem fashioned man in His Divine Image. He gave us the power to create. Hashem is the third partner in bringing children into the world and since He is eternal it is a binyan adei ad (an everlasting structure).

When we raise children to serve Hashem, we generate more holiness. Chassidut emphasizes the concept of “Olam chesed yibaneh.Hashem created the world as an act of kindness. He wanted to give us reward in the next world. Bringing up children is one of the greatest acts of chesed, a part of which is sharing the wisdom of Torah with them. Spend ten minutes a day with each child one on one, preferably with a Torah book. In this way you will be actualizing one of the greatest aspects of kedusha of a Jewish marriage.

Advertisements




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.





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.





Jewish Calendar II #16-Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin

19 12 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Chanukah is a unique holiday in that the Gemara delineates two extra levels of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing the mitzva) when lighting the candles. The basic mitzva is for the head of the household to light one candle each night for the whole family. However, there is a level of mehadrin where each family member lights a light every night. In mehadrin min hamehadrin each family member lights the corresponding number of candles for that night.

The Beit Yosef discusses a question whether a person who made a blessing on the wrong number of candles must make another blessing when he remembers to light the additional candle(s). He answers that if there was a significant break (approx. 1-2 hours) after the first lighting, one would make another blessing. This is surprising, because in normative Jewish law one doesn’t repeat a blessing on a hiddur mitzva. From this we learn that the mehadrin factor inherent in neirot Chanukah is unique in that it is related to maaseh hamitzva (performance of the mitzva). While there is great importance attached to beautifying a mitzva, such as making a blessing on a fine etrog or tallit, it is only related to mitzva objects with which the person fulfills the fundamental mitzva regardless if the item is beautiful. Therefore, no further blessing is recited. However, when one adds more Chanukah candles, the performance of the mitzva is radically enhanced, it’s intrinsic to the mitzva. It’s not just lighting the candles, but also pirsumei nisa – publicizing the miracle. Therefore, another blessing is recited.

Similarly, the poskim explain that although the basic mitzva of ner ish u’baito, (the father lighting for the household) has already been fulfilled, other family members can still make their own blessing because they are adding to the fundamental mitzva, which is pirsumei nisa.

Can a child who has reached the age of chinuch and is obligated in Rabbinic mitzvot, be motzi (intend to include) an adult with a mitzva d’rabanan such as megilah or neirot Chanukah? The Shulchan Aruch rules that a child cannot be motzi megilah but he could be motzi neirot Chanukah. Rav Soloveitchik explains that megilah is a chiyuv gavra – an adult obligation. Neirot Chanukah is a chiyuv bayit – an obligation on the household. It’s not a transfer from one person to the next. Since a child has an obligation he can automatically be motzi the household.

There’s an old custom to sing Haneirot Halalu as the Chanukah lights are lit. This seems like a hefsek (interruption in the performance of the mitzva). The reason it is not is because it is part of publicizing the miracle.





Chumash In depth: The Sale of Yosef

18 12 2011

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

What is the connection between the end of Parshat Vayishlach, which speaks about the lineage of Esav, and Parshat Vayeishev, which describes the difficult incident of Yosef and his brothers? Rashi explains that although Esav’s background is mentioned briefly, the Torah focuses on the story of Yaakov and the twelve tribes. It is compared to a precious stone that fell beneath the sand. After finding the stone, the debris is discarded and attention is focused solely on the stone. Similarly, Hashemsifted through all the generations until He found Yaakov, the bechir h’avot (the chosen one), and then focused on him.

Rashi tells another parable about a coal dealer who came to the market to sell his coal. After his arrival, another merchant arrived laden with straw. The coal dealer worried that there would not be any room now for his coal. A wise person said one spark released from your coal will decimate the entire wagonload of straw. When Yaakov saw all the generals of Esav, he worried how he would overcome them. Therefore, the Torah says, “Eleh toldot Yaakov, Yosef.” These are the children of Yaakov,Yosef. Sefer Ovadaya states, “Vayaha beit Yaakov aish u’beit Yosef l’hava u’beit Esav l’kash. (Yaakov is the fire, Yosef is the flame, and Esav is the straw.) One spark of Yosef can destroy the entire camp of Esav. The Netivot Shalom notes that Esav represents our negative inclinations. Hashem said, “V’haya beit Yaakov l’aish, your passion, desire, and yearning to do the will of Hashem will outweigh all the evil of Edom.

Rabbi Tatz explains that straw symbolizes the nations of the world who believe that the more material a person has the better off he is. Esav said, “I have a lot,” while Yaakov said, “I have everything.” What really counts is spirituality. Life is not about having, but about appreciating what one does have and elevating it for Hashem. Although Esav’s lineage seems impressive compared to Yaakov, Yaakov is central in the narrative of the Chumash.





Community Kiddush #9

28 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

Community Kiddush #9 There is a disagreement between the Gra and the Gaonim regarding what constitutes Kiddush b’makom seudah (the obligation to eat a meal after Kiddush). The Gaonim rule that wine or any Mezonot food is enough, while the Gaon maintains that it must be a bread meal. The custom is to be stringent at the Friday night Kiddush, which is a Torah commandment, and lenient during the day Kiddush, which is a Rabbinic commandment. The Shulchan Aruch and the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchato concur with the Gaonim. However, if you make Kiddush during the day on mezonot in shul, you haven’t fulfilled Kiddush according to the Gra. Therefore, Rav Soloveitchik suggests that Kiddush be repeated again at home before washing in order to designate the meal as a seudat Shabbat. Rav Moshe agrees with this practice.

The Mishne Berura notes that one should eat at least a kezayit (an olive size measurement) of mezonot, which is enough to make an Al Hamichaya (after blessing). Any mezonot will do, as long as it is from chameshet minei dagan (five grains). On Pesach, one who does not eat mezonot foods made from matza flour should drink a maleh lugma (a mouthful)of winein addition to a reviit (3.3 ounces) in place of the Mezonot.

The Shulchan Aruch rules that we should be careful to eat immediately after Kiddush.

There are a number of laws related to Kiddush b’makom seudah (making Kiddush in the place where one will eat). One big room is considered one place. If you are going from one room to the next, there are opinions that hold that if you can see from the first room into the second, and you intend to eat in the second room, it’s permitted. Going from one house to another should be avoided. If there is no choice, the Mishna Berura rules that you should at least be able to see into the second house.

During the day Kiddush, there’s a custom to say the prefatory verses of V’shamru and Zachor, but according to the Rambam it’s sufficient to just recite the blessing Borei Pri Hagafen. The role of Kiddush is to establish the meal as a seduat Shabbat. We don’t recite Kiddush at the third meal (although the Rambam does recommend it), because the very fact that there’s an extra meal indicates that it’s a special seudat Shabbat.





Tree of Life: Torah-Connecting the World To Hashem

27 10 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Tree of Life: Torah-Connecting the World To Hashem #15 The Rambam writes that the word tov (good) implies three things: pleasure, efficiency, and spiritually good things. Hashem created pleasure and efficiency so that we might pierce the external layer of physicality and focus on its core. The fragrant aroma, taste, and texture of iced coffee arouse a person to wonder who created it. The speed and efficiency of a shiny new car sensitizes its owner to the harmony and beauty inherent in this world. This is called berurim, making selections. Chitzoniyut (external) is supposed to lead us to penimiyut (the internal).

 

Torah gives us the key to joining chitzoniyut with penimiyut. The word tov is first mentioned in the Torah in the story of creation, “Vayar Elokim et ha’or ki tov.Hashem saw that the light was good.” The ability to perceive things with spiritual vision, with the light of the first day, is what goodness is about. This is what is meant by the midrashic statement, “Ein tov ela Torah. There is no good other than Torah.” The entire creation was good, but its light could only shine forth through Torah.

 

The Torah mentions “ki tov” six times. The letter vav, the numerical value of six, symbolizes a hook, which connects two separate items. Torah connects this world, chitzoniyut, with its source above. Six times tov equals the numerical value of emunah, faith. The prophet Chavakuk encapsulated the Torah in one point, “Tzaddik b’emunato yichye.” The tzaddik lives by his faith. All of the Torah and all of creation depend on this mitzvah. Emunah is looking at the finished product and seeing the hand of the craftsman.

 

The opposite of Torah is falsehood. A recurrent phrase in Mishlei is isha zarah, the disloyal wife, which symbolizes external wisdom. External wisdom symbolizes an approach to wisdom rather than a particular body of knowledge. It means looking at the world and seeing its beauty and intricacy without going further to its source. Chochma chitzonit (external wisdom) is false because Hashem is not in the picture. A lie is something that is incomplete. The chochmah (wisdom) of Torah, which by definition connects separate items, is the strongest aspect of emunah. Emunah endures forever.

 

So should we avoid chochma chitzonit completely? The Gemara gives us an enormous amount of information about the world’s physical reality. Our own personal observations give us more. The first approach says find out what you need in order to navigate the world but don’t dig further because it can corrupt your inner process of searching. Hence, the Baal Hatanya teaches that external wisdom causes a person’s inner search for knowledge to become impure. It doesn’t take a person to Hashem, it takes him further away. The second view questions how one can see the inside of something if one doesn’t study the outside. The proponents of this view say, the more you study the world, the more you can discern its Master. Both views can be reconciled, provided that we view the external as a means to reaching the internal, not as an end in itself.

 

Torah is the tavlin (spice) of the evil inclination. Why is it called a spice and not an opponent? The function of a spice is to enhance the flavor of a dish. We have the capacity to extract the good from within the yetzer hara by conquering it. The act of saying no to something forbidden is an act of vanquishing evil. Another way to engage the yetzer hara is by turning evil into good. There are people with tendencies that can potentially take them away from Hashem, but if used correctly can help them grow. Here too, evil becomes good. If not for the evil inclination, people would be like angels, they’d behave properly because their nature forced them to do so.

Torah and mitzvot teach us how to elevate our evil inclination for a higher purpose. Therefore, it is a spice and not an opponent, because it sweetens that which is bitter. The light of the Torah takes a person back to Hashem. It’s a hook that reveals His holy presence.

 

The yetzer hara is like a lion in ambush. It seduces us by convincing us that our sins are permitted. In the beginning, the yetzer hara tastes sweet but it ultimately leads to spiritual death. The yetzer hara cannot work on a person unless he’s empty of Torah. It is called a lion because its source comes from gevurah, power. It tells us that we’re lacking unless we follow its dictates. To overcome this, give yourself permission to feel just like a lion. Tell yourself, “I’m a person who does what I want, I’m not someone doomed to react and I’ve made the decision to overcome the evil within me.” Fight the yetzer hara with its own weapon. Gird yourself like a lion and arm yourself with Torah. With Hashem’s help you’ll emerge the victor.