Parshat Chayei Sarah: Chevron Connecting Us All

18 11 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

The Zohar tells us that the Me’arat Hamachpeila is called the double cave because it connects this world to the next. It is a counterpart to the city of Yerushalayim. However, if we examine Jewish law, the strictures of sanctity pertain only to Yerushalayim and not to Chevron. Why is this so?

Rav Wolfson in his book Emunat Itecha explains a concept of itgalya, revelation and itkasya, concealment. Every physical thing in this world has its equivalent in the next world. We can easily perceive our biological and emotional soul, but the counterpart to this is in the hidden world, the upper levels of our soul, chaya and yechida. The Divine Presence also comes to us on two levels, b’itgalya, in a revealed way and b’itkasya, in a concealed manner. Yerushalayim is hitgalut, where we can sense Hashem’s revealed presence. When the Beit Hamikdash stood, people entered its holy environs and emerged prophets because they felt Hashem’s presence in such an intense way. Likewise, when we invest our hearts and minds into the study of Torah, we feel the Divine Presence close beside us. Rav Soloveitchik used to learn by himself but he often said, “I have a chavruta.” He sensed the Shechina studying Torah with him. Intense prayer in shul elicits the same feeling of spiritual closeness.

Chevron and the Mearat Hamachpeila is itkasya, concealed holiness. Although Hashem’s presence is there too, it is hidden, just as the Avot are buried deep within the ground.

Hashem created the world using three energies: place, time, and soul. Chassidut draws a parallel between them. There’s a miniature Mearat Hamachpela inside each of us. When we begin Shemone Esrei we invoke the names of the Avot. We ask Hashem to listen to us the way he listened to our forefathers because they and we are one. Our revealed prayers go through Yerushalayim, but our inner supplications pass through the hidden burial cave of the Avot in Chevron.

Yerushalayim was destroyed because its holiness was exposed. Chevron remains with us forever precisely because it is concealed. Similarly, the part of our soul that is connected to the Avot can never be defiled no matter how far we’ve fallen. On the revealed level, our soul may be tainted, but deep within we remain pure because we are bonded to the Avot. Chevron comes from the root word chibur, connection. It signifies hope and redemption. King David’s dynasty began in Chevron and in the future, Mashiach will redeem us with the power of this holy city.

Chevron is called Kiryat Arba, the city of four giants. They represent the four evils in the world: jealousy, desire, honor, and forbidden speech. These in turn correspond to the four exiles: Bavel, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Chevron appears evil on the outside, however, deep within one can find its hidden sanctity. The righteous Avot are the counterpart to the four evil giants. Their influence hovers over us in every corner of exile. No matter what evil we encounter, we remain connected to Hashem and the merit of the Avot.

Yerushalayim is revealed while Chevron is hidden. Every Jew has a beit hamikdash in his heart. When he’s inspired, he can feel Hashem’s presence b’itgalya, in an open way. But there are also times of itkasya, concealment, periods when it is hard to connect with Hashem. During those times we can hold on to the Machpela, where His presence remains forever no matter what level we’re at. The Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim was destroyed, but in a sense it continues to exist in Chevron, in Mearat Hamachpeila, and in the heart of every Jew.





Chassidic Sparks: Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge

26 10 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge The story of Noach and the tevah (ark) carries a universal message for all of us. When evil forces surround us and threaten to engulf us, we can flee to the safety of the tevah, an isolated, spiritual world.

The Netivot Shalom says that this tevah is the ark of Shabbat. On this special day, we abandon the rough and tumble of daily life for an oasis of calm waters. The Gemara says that if a Jew keeps Shabbat properly, he is forgiven for the worst possible sins, even idol worship. The Torah commands us “l’davka bo, to cleave to Him.” During the week it’s a tough challenge to nurture a relationship of such closeness. But on Shabbat, Hashem comes down to be with us.

Shabbat is an opportunity to connect to Him directly. Talk on Shabbat should center on spiritual matters. One should feel as if the Divine Presence is a guest at the table. Words of Torah and prayer should permeate our Shabbat meal, while business, sports, or politics should be banished from our minds.

The Shabbat binds us to Hashem. It is our ark that protects us from the insidious influences of the world of the six days of the week. May the sanctity we imbibe on this special day carry us through the week.





Love Beyond Reason

10 10 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Love Beyond Reason #4 The Shem MiShmuel asks, why on Hoshana Rabba do the aravot (willow leaves) play the central role?

 

The Midrash explains that each of the species represent a different type of Jew. The etrog (citron fruit), which has a good flavor and scent, represents the tzaddik who has both Torah wisdom and good deeds. The lulav (palm branch), which has a good flavor, but no scent, signifies a person with wisdom but no good deeds. The hadassim (myrtle branches), which have a good fragrance but no flavor, symbolize a person with good deeds but no wisdom. The aravot (willow branhes), have neither flavor nor fragrance, which signifies a person who lacks both good deeds and Torah wisdom.

 

We find a similar idea hidden in the ketoret (incense offering). There were eleven spices, one of which was the chelbana, which exuded an unpleasant odor. However, when combined with the other ten spices it added a tasteful pungency to the mixture. On Sukkot, we take the four species and symbolically proclaim that every Jew, no matter what level he’s at, has something to contribute to klal Yisrael.

 

On Hashana Rabbah, only the aravot are taken. This teaches us the absolute love Hashem has for every Jew, even the most wicked. Hashem chose us, exercising a choice unbound by logic, and he will never abandon us. Our relationship is otherworldly, something that cannot be contained in words. And just as Hashem remains loyal to us, we must love every Jew regardless of his level.

 

While Yom Kippur is an island of sanctity, isolated from the rest of the year, Hoshana Rabbah contains elements of the weekday. A lot of the influence of Yom Kippur has worn off by the time we get to the end of Sukkot. On Hashana Rabbah, we tell Hashem, “We want to be good, but the complexities of life make it difficult. Give us a free gift and forgive our sins.”

 

During the times of the beit hamikdash, the Jews would circle the altar with the aravot. This signifies that even if we fall to the lowest depths like the aravot, Hashem will lift us to the level of the altar. Large aravot were placed on the altar. The aravot were offered as a sacrifice, just as we offer our own human weaknesses to Hashem. In a sense Hoshana Rabbah goes beyond Yom Kippur. On this day it is as if Hashem tells us, “My children, you are not lost, despite your failings.”

 

Our sages teach us that Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, is a holiday of its own. Seven signifies the cycle of nature, while eight represents something supernatural. It’s wrong for a person to think, “This is the way I am. I cannot improve.” On the contrary, we can transform ourselves because there is something extraordinary beyond nature inside each of us. Torah study, prayer, and kind deeds empower us to repent. While angels remain stagnant, people have the ability to reach unimaginable heights.

 

When the beit hamikdash stood, the Jews would form a human wall and encircle the altar with the four species. A wall is like an environment. There are terrible environments that must be shattered and good environments that must be built. Walking around with the lulav and etrog is akin to destroying negative barriers. Encircling the altar with the Torah is like erecting\a wall of sanctity. The Zohar writes that the female side of the satan is called yilila. This also means wailing because sadness is fundamental to evil. The opposite is also true. Therefore, the last day of the holiday is Simchat Torah. Torah signifies simcha (happiness). We rejoice with Hashem‘s love and with the privilege to build a wall of holiness and sanctity to last us through the coming year.





Insights of the Chassidic Masters-Seeking Hashem #9

4 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger   

Seeking G-d

In his essay, “Atem Nitzovim,” the Baal HaTanya writes about connecting to Hashem through penimiyut halev-the innermost depths of the heart.

The process begins by awaking the chitzoniyut halev-the outer heart. This is accomplished through daat (knowledge) and hitbonnenut– meditating on the greatness of Hashem. Thinking about how Hashem created everything and brought the world into being from nothing and how He renews our existence at every moment, should arouse us.

Concentrating on these truth further, brings to ze’akat halev- a cry from the heart, which is compared to the roar of a lion. This comes forth from the outer point of the heart because in the vision of the heavenly chariot in Yechezkel, the lion is on the right side of the camp of Michael. It is an expression of our great love for Hashem, our tremendous desire to negate ourselves in the light of Him, and the will to sense that chiyut Elokut (the Divine spark), although only external.

What is the difference between chitzoniyut (externality) and penimimyut (internality) in the spiritual sense? Similar to physical reality, only the outside is visible while the inside is hidden.  It is compared to a great sage learning with a young child whose comprehension is still limited. The sage will teach the child the superficial aspect of the truth, rather than the deep ideas contained in his heart. Similarly, we cannot grasp Hashem’s presence and thoughts. It’s only the external aspects that are somewhat accessible. His penimiyut ha’or, His Infinite Light, which transcends the boundaries of creation, is hidden, much like the penimiyut of the teacher’s mind. If so, how can a Jew cry out to Hashem from penimiyut halev which is higher than anything that can be clothed in words?

Hashem’s name is exalted above and beyond what a human mind can comprehend, “Ani Hashem lo shanisi” (I am Hashem, unchanged). The same way He was before creation, He is afterwards. His penimiyut hasn’t diminished in any way.  Where Hashem’s essence isn’t enclosed in chitzoniyut nothing has changed. Hashem is like an eish ochla-a consuming flame. By nature, fire is the opposite of water which flows down. Fire rises up and doesn’t spread out to the lower world. This refers to the penimiyut ha’or-the Inner Light of Hashem which we can’t experience. When Hashem’s Infinite Light reaches down to give life and light to our world, it’s a tremendous descent from a very high place. Just as the rebbe must constrict his knowledge to connect to the mind of the child, there are many veils that conceal the revelation of Hashem’s light so that the world can continue to exist.

Hashem displays extraordinary kindness when He descends to us in the way of flowing water that comes down from above as chitzoniyut ha’or. He listens to us despite the fact that He’s Kel Elyon- higher and exalted than anything we can imagine. This awareness should shake a person to the core so that a cry escapes from the depths of his soul, l’mala min hadaat-higher than anything he can understand himself. This cry from his penimiyut halev which can never be separated from Hashem. It is like burning coal, like a flame that rises higher on its own.

Hashem relates to the world in two ways: He is memaleh– fills all worlds and m’sovev-surrounds all worlds, but His Essence remains above, unchanged. When a person is aware of this reality, believes it, and meditates on the idea that there is nothing other than Hashem, it creates within Him a great love and longing in the depths of his heart to become one with the Creator; to the point that He feels nothing of himself and disappears into the infinite reality of Hashem. In such a state, a person is capable of giving up his life for the sake of His Name. This great love is called the outpouring of the soul and is not constrained to anything the mind can comprehend. It’s a deveikut penimiyut which awakens from the inner essence of the heart and can never be extinguished.





Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

1 07 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

The Gemara tells the story of the angels’ argument to save Chananaya, Mishael, and Azarya from the fiery furnace of nevuchadetzar. The angel Yurkuma offered to put out the fire with ice and hail while the angel Gavriel countered that he would descend into the fire and cool it down. Hashem sent the angel Gavriel. The Shem Mishmuel asks, what would have been the difference between the two miracles? Ice putting out fire shows that Hashem can harness specific forces to overwhelm other forces. But a greater testimony to His omnipotence is manipulating the force itself. Hashem controls the essence of nature. He can change the rules as He sees fit and He can make fire cold just as He can make it hot. Ratzon Hashem (G-d’s Will) can alter the behavior of the laws of nature, because its very behavior is His Ratzon.

In Shachrit we say, “Hamechadesh b’tuvu bchol yom tamid“-Hashem in His goodness renews every moment of creation. He is constantly involved. When Hashem caused water to flow from the b’eer (the miraculous Well of Miriam which produced water from a rock) it was as if stone molecules were turned to water molecules. This testified that Hashem could control things at their root source. However when He commanded Moshe to hit the rock, it was a miracle disguised in nature.  A stick made of hard-like diamond can potentially split a stone so water will flow out. It was one force overwhelming another. Miriam’s merit activated the miracle of turning stone into water. When she died, the water ceased flowing. It was now necessary to essentially change the rock to water again, but Hashem refused to perform this miracle for Moshe . The merit of Klal Yisrael would need to replace the merit of Miriam. Miriam had emunah. She believed that the stone was Hashem’s will and that He could transform it into water if He so wished. Finding Hashem in our everyday lives, in the little incidents of Divine Providence, helps us come to the belief that He can change the essence of nature. This is what the Jewish people were expected to achieve at the end of forty years.  Hashem said to Moshe, “Hakhel es h’am…v’dibartem el hasela”-‘Gather the people and speak to the rock’. If the Jewish nation would have acquired the proper faith it would have been adequate to just speak to the rock. Unfortunately they did not reach that level and therefore Moshe failed.

How can we rectify this flaw in emunah? Opening our eyes to see the daily Divine Providence in our lives, cultivating faith and belief in Hashem, and trusting that just as miracles kept us alive throughout our long exile they will continue to sustain us.





Parshat Tazria: Fresh Beginnings

1 04 2011

Based on Rabbi Hershel Reichman’s shiur  on Chassidut on Naaleh.com

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.





Safeguarding Our Holiness

9 03 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Safeguarding our HolinessIn his discussion on Parshat Shekalim, the Shem MiShmuel asks two penetrating questions. The machazit hashekel was donated in Adar and was used to fund the new cycle of korbonot tzibbur (public sacrifices) which commenced in Nissan. Why was it necessary to dedicate the entire month of Adar to collecting the half shekel when it could have easily been accumulated in less time?  Additionally, why is Nissan the beginning of the new season of sacrifices? Why do we not count from Tishrei, when the Jewish year actually begins?

 

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana notes that the Divine machshava (thought) to create the world took place in Tishrei. The actual creation began in Nissan. Rashi adds that when Hashem first conceived the world, he intended to create it with middat hadin (strict justice). However, because man is such an unpredictable and fickle creature, he foresaw that din alone would not work. Although angels are programmed to do good, humans have free choice and are constantly changing. This is our greatness and also our weakness. Life is a road with many curves, ups and downs, and triumphs and failures. The ultimate victory of good over evil, the battle of the inner self, is the ultimate human struggle. Therefore Hashem decided to use an unpredictable system, midat hachesed. A world based on mercy is a world filled with surprises. Indeed chesed is at the heart and soul of the teshuva process. Man can rectify his deeds by changing his ways. Our instability can create something wondrous, a transformation of self. In Tishrei, we face Hashem’s din. Not too many of us can pass muster. Therefore Hashem gave us a different time frame, Nissan, the month of chesed, the month when the Jewish people sunk in the forty ninth level of impurity were redeemed through Hashem’s mercy.

 

Life’s purpose is to build a relationship with Hashem. This is achieved through movement from above and below which will always affect a response. In Chassidic terminology it is called “iserusa d’letata” (arousal from below) and “isresua d’leyla” (arousal from above).  This is the difference between Tishrei and Nissan. In Tishrei, the month of din, man must take the first step. It is our obligation to do what is right and Hashem responds in kind. Chesed, on the other hand, begins from Hashem. It comes from above.  We have no claim on it. However there is a factor that can trigger it. Hashem redeemed us from Egypt despite our unworthiness because he saw our potential for greatness. He invested in us. This is the chesed of Nissan. It is a month of awakening, a month when Hashem extends us a credit line and gives us blessings, not for what we are today, but for what we have the potential to become. This is a moving testimony of Hashem’s love for us. We  actualize His trust by tapping in to our will to grow and connecting to the inner point of our soul which can never be destroyed.

 

Modesty and chastity are the hallmarks of the Jewish nation. Discarding this can cause us to lose our very identity. Yosef was the epitome of modesty. He remained holy despites the many temptations he encountered in Egypt. Mechirat Yosef was the abandonment of that model. The twelve tribes sold Yosef for twenty geira and each of them received half a geira. With the machazit hashekel, we make a commitment to rectify Mechirat Yosef and to follow the example of our holy leaders. We can then be deserving of Hashem’s beneficence.

 

The month of Adar is dedicated to correcting the sin of immorality, to connecting to the Beit Hamikdash, to bringing the sacrifices necessary to lead a holy life, to becoming a tzaddik like Yosef, and to actualizing the potential Hashem implanted within each of us. In this way we will merit the  heavenly mercy, the isrusa d’leyla, which immediately follows in Nissan, the month of chesed and ultimate redemption.