Marriage: The Eternal Structure

3 08 2012

Based on a 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.

Parshat Vaykhel: The Secret of One

15 03 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Why is the mitzvah of Shabbat mentioned in this parsha with a specific emphasis on gathering together? In addition, why is there a special mention of the prohibition of not kindling a fire? Furthermore, in earlier parshiot the mitzvah of building the mishkan is discussed before the mitzvah of Shabbat, but in Parshat Vaykhel the order is reversed. Why?                                                                                                                                

The Shem Mishmuel explains. In Parshat Terumah the pasuk says, “Take for me a portion from every person whose heart willingly offers.” The Midrash interprets this to mean that before the sin of the golden calf every person was holy enough in his own right to warrant the building of the mishkan. In Parshat Vaykhel it says, “Those who are generous should contribute.” After the sin, there was a shift from the individual to the communal level. Now only as a nation could they build the mishkan.

Shabbat is the secret of one. During the week nature creates a veil behind which Hashem hides, but on Shabbat, the world, Israel and Hashem become united. Shabbat gives us the power of connection. This is why it’s mentioned first. In this parsha, Shabbat comes first to unite the individuals into a group worthy of the Mishkan.

How can we understand how a tzaddik of Aharon’s stature helped fashion the golden calf? When Moshe ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, Aharon saw that the people had lost their unifying figure. It was as if Moshe had spiritually left them. They no longer felt bound together with a single minded purpose and goal. Moshe was the soul of the Jewish nation. Similarly, Shabbat is the soul of the world, uniting all in purpose.

Where there is holiness, impurity seeks to get in. Therefore, when a person’s soul departs, his body becomes tamei, impure. When Moshe’s soul left the Jews, the void he left was filled by evil energies, which created havoc among the Jews. Aharon knew how much Moshe’s presence meant to the people. They needed something that would unify them. He therefore told them to contribute gold. Gold symbolizes giving up one’s personal aspirations for a higher national goal. Aharon threw the gold into the fire. Fire has the power to purge evil. Aharon thought the fire would refine their desires and lead them back to pure unity. He meant to fashion the golden calf as a harmless statue inspiring in some ways, but not at all idolatrous, but he failed. The Jewish people could not overcome the evil forces that had set in.

When Moshe came down from heaven, he threw the calf into the fire and purified the people. Vaykhel-He then gathered them together. He created a unified community. He reversed the order of commandments and gave the Jews Shabbat first. For Shabbat is raza d’echad-the secret of one. It is the key to our unity and our ultimate ability to build a dwelling place for Hashem in this world.

Parshat Shemot: Fundamentals of Hashem’s Chesed

12 01 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

The midrash says that at the time of the exodus, the Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity. They didn’t deserve to be redeemed. Yet Hashem appeared to Moshe and said He would take them out of the land. Rabbe Yochanan maintains that the angel Michael was the angel who delivered G-d’s message because he represents chesed (kindness). Rabbe Chanina disagrees and says it was the angel Gavriel who signifies din (judgment).

The Shem Mishmuel explains that the Jewish people were in fact redeemed with both chesed and din. They didn’t deserve to be saved. Hashem acted beyond logic with beneficence, much like a father’s instinctual love for his son. Although the angels didn’t protest during theexodus, they did put up an argument at the Red Sea. At that time, chesed transformed into din. The angels objected, “Both the Jews and the Eyptians worship idols, why are you preferring the Jews?” The Jews needed to be worthy of the miracles, and indeed Hashem waited until they jumped into the sea before he split the waters. Once they deserved the miracles, the attribute of din was activated in their favor.

Even chesed has to have some reasonable basis. Otherwise it’s misplaced. The Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity. Yet at their deepest core, they were still holy. Hashem understood that this inner spark would emerge after the redemption. In exile, they were spiritually and physically enslaved. All they could think about was surviving. Therefore, Hashem sent the angel Gavriel who symbolized strict justice to punish the Egyptians. When the Jews could finally breathe freely, their latent holiness rose to the surface.

Hashem created the world with a combination of din and chesed. At first there was din. Hashem put limits upon himself (tzimzum) to make space for the world to come into existence. Then he poured forth his chesed. Similarly, the exodus was a kind of creation ex-nihilo. A holy nation arose from a band of shattered slaves. Chesed, Hashem’s generosity, took us out of the 49th level and brought us to Sinai.

The Shem Mishumel notes that the exodus will be a model for the future redemption. It too will be a melding of chesed and din. Hashem waits for us to be worthy. When we repent, we will be redeemed immediately.

When Moshe asked Paro to release the Jews, he increased their suffering. Moshe complained to Hashem, “Why did you send me?” Hashem responded enigmatically, “Now you will see that Paro will send them out and I will redeem them.” Why did He send Moshe on a failed mission?

When Moshe first came, the Jews’ hopes were raised. They began to think that perhaps they would be redeemed. But when Paro rejected Moshe’s request, they reverted back to their old ways. There was a seeming accusation in heaven. Perhaps the Jews weren’t worthy to be redeemed. When Moshe said, “You are preventing the nation from serving Hashem,” Paro countered, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?” Then the mission changed from redeeming the Jews to defending the honor of Hashem’s name. This was the basis of Hashem’s chesed.

This will also be the foundation of the future redemption. It may very well be that the Jews won’t deserve to be redeemed, but Hashem will perform miracles for the sake of His name. At the end of Avinu Malkeinu, we say “Asei imanu tzedaka va’chesed.” Please perform for us justice and kindness.

Parshat Chayei Sarah: Chevron Connecting Us All

18 11 2011

Based on a 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 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.

Insights of the Chassidic Masters-Seeking Hashem #9

4 09 2011

Based on a 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 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.