Bayit Ne’eman: A Faithful Home #7

13 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

It is customary to wish a new couple that they merit to build a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael (a faithful home in Israel). What does a faithful home mean? It means implanting a foundation firmly in the ground so that the housedoesn’t fall over. It means creating an atmosphere of strength, commitment, and will. Emunah is expressed by being loyal to the inner laws of Torah and this is most readily expressed in the home.

In Parshat Bamidbar the Torah says, “How good are your tents Yaakov! They are like cedars on the streams of water.” A Jewish home should be like a tree planted by the water rooted firmly near its life source. A home reflects the inner life of the people who live there. It is not just a glorified hostel but a place where familial relationships are defined.

The Gemara writes that a man’s house is his wife. When the Jewish people went down to Egypt the verse states, “Ish u’baito,” each man and his house. A house becomes a home through a women’s faithfulness to her husband. This is one of the first praises in Eishet Chayil. “Batach bah lev baala.” Her husband’s heart trusts in her. He has no doubt that her greatest desire is to see that her home is complete. A faithful wife is called an akeret habayit. This comes from the root word ikar, which means primary, as opposed to tafel, secondary. She is the mainstay, the primary force that governs the home with honesty, faithfulness, and strength.

Part of faithfulness is maintaining stability in the home. Whether you’re tired or not, when your kids arrive from school you should greet them with a smile. When your husband comes home after a long day he should have a wife in full control of the situation waiting for him.

The opposite scenario is a home where the laws change every day and for every member. When there is no predictability, there isn’t really a home. Constancy in the home begins with acknowledging the laws of nature. There must be food, clean laundry, and defined times for beginning and ending the day.

It’s hard for parents to let go of their children when they marry. You can alleviate the pain by inviting your parents and including them in your life, but your first priority must be your spouse. A faithful home is where the strongest possible loyalty is observed between husband and wife. In the home, the deepest laws of nature that are internal and spiritual find their expression. This is the core of a person.

The Gemara says forty days before a child is formed a heavenly voice announces, “The daughter of this one belongs to that one.” The unity between a husband and wife is compared to the first match between man’s soul and body. The soul was originally created as both male and female. They are divided as they enter two different bodies. No soul is complete until the male and female aspects are once again united. A marriage that fails injures both the body and soul. Therefore, the word for divorce in Hebrew is called sefer kritut, a book of severance.

The word bayit also describes the place of the beit hamikdash. Avraham called it the mountain. Yitzchak called it the field. But Yaakov called it bayit. A home connotes the connection between Am Yisrael and Hashem.

Avigayil wished David, “Hashem will bless you with a faithful house because you fought Hashem‘s war.” We have to wage Hashem‘s battle both within and without. The inner battle is to conquer our bad middot. When we work to perfect ourselves, when we strain to uphold the honor of Hashem in our home, we will merit to build a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael.

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The Mystery of Death – Short Parsha Vort

28 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Parshat Chukat begins with the verse, “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem.” The Targum translates the words zot chukat as, “This is the divine dictum.” The Torah refers to the enigmatic chok of parah adumah (red heifer) which purifies those that are impure and defiles those that are pure.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that chukat doesn’t merely refer to the performance of a ritual, but to the mystery of death. We see this later in the parsha where it says “Zot haTorah adam ki yamut ba’ohel.” This is the law when a man dies. Death defiles. It removes the Divine image and only the body remains.

Tumat hamet (the impurity of death) is not included in the list of all the other forms of tumah (impurity) in the Torah because there’s a radical difference. While all the other forms of tumah are aesthetically jarring, tumat hamet is even more. It’s not simply the cessation of an organism Death is the departure of the soul from the physical body. Aesthetic ugliness can be washed away by prayer and immersion in the mikvah (ritual pool). But tumat hamet needs haza’ah, sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah.

Death is a transition not a termination. The soul of a person is immortal. The incomprehensible ritual of parah adumah suggests that the human effort to comprehend death is futile without accepting the fundamental concept of Divine Providence.

The details of parah aduma are found in parshat Chukat because para aduma acts as a bridge between the rebellion of Korach and the travels of the Jews in the desert. The rebellion took place during the second year of the exodus. For 38 years there was hester panim; Hashem’s face was hidden. It was a long silent period. Rashi says this dark time was like the parah adumah. It was beyond human comprehension. Chazal didn’t try to rationalize parah adumah. They taught that there are certain areas that are chukim. There are times when man must suspend his own judgment and accept the inscrutable will of Hashem.





Forefather’s Merit: Magen Avraham

20 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

We begin the Shemone Esrei with the words, “Hashem open my mouth so my lips can speak your praises.” In a verse in Ezra-Nechemya, Hashem is described as, “U’merom al kol bracha utehila.” He is more exalted than any blessings or praise we can offer. Our prayers are only a small token of what Hashem really deserves. To accurately and fully praise Him is beyond our ability. Therefore, we preface our prayers by pleading for assistance.

 The first blessing Magen Avraham takes us back to the very beginning of the Jewish people. The forefathers founded the people of Israel with prayer. Avraham’s essence was tefilah. He taught us that prayer is at the core of our relationship with Hashem.

Our forefathers showed us that the enormous distance between the Almighty and us can be bridged through tefilah. The Almighty lets us ascend the ladder to reach Him and He in turn lowers Himself to listen to our pleading. When we open our mouth to speak Hashem‘s praises and to thank him for his blessings, we create an intimate connection between ourselves and our beloved Creator.

Man has the ability to affect and influence Hashem’s way of conducting the world. We are not doomed to fate. We can change it and bring blessing into the world. We learn this from Avraham, who prayed for the wicked people of Sedom and was successful in saving Lot and his family. Therefore, we give him the seal of this first blessing, Magen Avraham, Hashem is the shield of Avraham. We pray that the way the Almighty protected Avraham, He will continue to guard us too.





Responsibility Towards Others

19 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

In Parshat Bechukotai, the Torah tells of the disasters that will befall the Jewish people if they fail to observe the laws of the Torah properly. It says that people will panic and trip over each other. The Gemara in Sanhedrin comments on this phrase, one Jew will trip over the sins of his brother. “Melamed shekol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh.” This teaches us that each Jew is responsible for another.

In Parshat Nitzavim it says, “Hanistarot l’Hashem Elokeinu v’haniglot lanu u’levanenu.” The hidden things are in Hashem‘s domain, but that which is revealed is for us and our children.” The Torah tells us that if Jews won’t observe the mitzvot, the whole community will be punished. Rashi asks, how can one person be held responsible for what another thinks? He answers, that which is hidden is not our obligation. However, we have responsibility to stop that which we have the power to stop.

There is a dot on top of the words lanu u’levanenu to teach us that our obligation to another Jew didn’t go into effect immediately. It only began when the Jews entered Israel with the covenant that was made at Har Grizim and Har Avel.

The Mishna in Rosh Hashana takes the concept of arvut further. You can perform a mitzvah on behalf of someone else, provided you are also obligated in the mitzvah. Therefore, a cheiresh (deaf mute), a shota (a deranged person), and a katan (a minor) cannot perform a mitzvah for others.

The Gemara says, even if one has already discharged his obligation he can still perform the mitzvah for someone else. Rashi explains that this is because of the rule of “Kol yisrael areivim zeh ba’zeh.” However, this does not apply to birchat hanehenin (blessings on food and pleasant smells) because the concept of arvut is only for a mitzvah that one has a responsibility to fulfill. Eating is an optional activity.

Rava asks, can you be motzi someone (fulfill someone’s obligation) with a blessing on food, when there is an obligation to eat? For example, can one person recite a blessing for someone else when eating matzah at the seder? The Rambam answers that you can. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one can recite Kiddush for others, even if one will not be eating the meal together with them. However, to be motzi someone with Hamotzi, one must eat some of the bread too.

Does the concept of arvut apply to a biblical mitzvah or to a rabbinical mitzvah or to both? The Tzlach writes in his commentary on Gemara that it only applies to biblical mitzvot. He brings proof from the Gemara in Sota that the law of arvut only took affect at Har Grizim and Har Avel. Tosfot comments that that they took upon themselves the 613 biblical mitzvot. The Tzlach infers that since at the time that arvut was introduced they only took upon themselves the biblical mitzvoth it does not apply to rabbinic mitzvot.

He brings another proof from the Rambam, who rules that if an arev did not specify an amount the arevut is worthless. He points out that while there’s a fixed body of 613 mitzvoth in the Torah there is no set amount of Rabbinic laws. Therefore, arvut does not apply there.

The Chida, the Birkei Yosef, and the Ktav Sofer disagree and maintain that the principle of arvut does apply to rabbinic mitzvot. In fact the Shaagat Aryeh says that the rule of arvut only applies to mitzvot d’rabbanun and not to d’oraysa.

How does the halachic mechanism of arvut work? Although one has already discharged his obligation, since there is another Jew who needs help, it is as if one has not fulfilled his complete obligation yet. The Chikrei Lev explains that when you do a mitzvah for someone else you connect to the person on such a deep level that in a sense his obligation becomes your obligation. According to Rav Akiva Eiger, the maximum you can do is what you were originally obligated. According to the Chikrei Lev, one’s level of obligation is irrelevant, as arvut applies in whatever way the person needs that connection.





Meaning of Trust: Obligation For Effort #7

10 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

We live within the realm of cause and effect. Our choices affect us both in this world and the next. To what degree should we see ourselves as part of nature and to what degree should we see ourselves as something separate? Are we natural beings or are we on a different higher plane?

Man always wants more than he already has. This subtle longing existed before the sin in Gan Eden in the form of Adam’s deep desire for attachment to Hashem. Hashem placed Adam with all his yearnings into a physical body, which he was meant to express through his deeds and creativity.

Hashem looked in the Torah and created the world. When He began the creative process he fashioned an idyllic environment in Gan Eden which reflected His will and wisdom. It was designed to be a place in which His sanctity and exaltedness would come forth. But Hashem made the possibility of not seeing his unity an inherent part of the plan too.

It is possible to see Hashem‘s wisdom even without his involvement. By choosing not to see the fragmented picture, but to view Him as one and every creation and event that takes place as stemming from that one source, we draw closer to Him.

Before the sin, everything in the world was there as it should be. Man’s role was l’avdah ul’shomrah, to work and guard the world. The Ohr Hachaim says l’avdah means to uplift things, to make everything into an avoda (service).You can admire a beautiful orange, gaze up at the blue sky, inhale the fresh air, and turn it all into avodat Hashem (service of Hashem). Adam’s physical body found expression in the performance of the will of Hashem through the positive mitzvot. L’shomra was later manifested in the negative mitzvot.

Hashem responded to the sin of the tree of knowledge by bringing curses upon the world. Adam was cursed, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.” Only after the sin were we forced to become physically involved in the earth’s actual bounty and physical productivity. We moved from being on a level that was more spiritual to a level that was more physical.

The Mesilat Yesharim says bitachon means relying on Hashem completely. David Hamelech wrote, “Hashlech Al Hashem Yehavcha V’hu Yechalkeleka. Throw your burden upon Hashem and He will provide for you.” The Gra says yahav means feeling an absolute emotional reliance on Hashem. We’re supposed to invest our physical effort but we are not supposed to rely on the consequences of it.

What is hishtadlut (effort) about? The Leshem says the only way something can become your identity is through choice and action. Adam was created with absolute knowledge. He was able to see from one end of the world to the other. However, none of his wisdom was integrated through choice. Therefore, Hashem presented him with a test. If he would have done more of l’avdah ul’shomra, his ability to deal with the fruit of goodness and evil would’ve been different. Therefore, the consequence of the sin had to be consciousness, so that he would now make better choices.

He was cursed with the sweat of his brow. When you work, there’s a conflict to view what you have produced as yours or to recognize that these are your actions and choices, but the consequences belong to Hashem. Sometimes we outright sin, sometimes we decentralize Hashem.

How much effort do we really have to put in? The Maharal’s view was that you have to maximize your hishtadlut because it is the catalyst through which a person utilizes his talents for tikun olam and tikun atzmi (rectifying the world and himself). But the results are always dependent on Hashem.

Rav Zundel Salanter held that the necessity to expend effort is because we are not worthy of revealed wonders. Any minute level of hishtadlut, as long as it conceals the miracle of our sustenance, is enough. The Michtav M’Eliyahu maintained that one should do whatever the natural cause and effect demands of us.

Some people investigate all possibilities, commit themselves emotionally, and do everything they can. They wage war against their competitors and drive themselves to achieve to the max. This is a whole other level. These people feel vulnerable, they compete, they are scared. If you ask this kind of believer why are you doing this? He’ll answer with religious clichés such as, The Torah says, “Sheshet yamim ta’avod” (work six days) and the Gemara says that one who supports his family is continually involved in charity. In reality, hishtadlut is not a mitzvah but a consequence of bad choice. Although the Gemara says that supporting your family is charity it doesn’t say going to the extreme will earn you more money. Your responsibility is to do the hishtadlut but Hashem‘s responsibility is to support your family. There are people who expend enormous effort and fail and there are people who make little effort and succeed. It’s not in our hands completely.

The real test is to ask yourself when you are doing hishtadlut, “Are my intentions to fulfill a mitzvah? Am I making myself into a vessel to draw down Hashem‘s bounty or am I just thinking business deals and office politics when I should be talking directly to Hashem?” Taking Hashem out of the picture means worshiping ourselves. The popular mantra is, “I must be realistic and competitive, I can’t be a fool and leave it all to chance.” The Torah way is, “I’ve done what I can. Now I let it go. It is in Hashem‘s hands.”

Besides being control freaks, some people hide under the guise of laziness. They don’t have the courage or the will to make the necessary effort or sufficient control of their body to get themselves going. It’s easy to call that bitachon. Hashem is not in the picture any more for a person who’s not actively involved because of laziness than in the heart of someone trying to control everything.

Sometimes the evil inclination will tell us to overdo hishtadlut and sometimes he will tell us not to. How do we know what the truth is? One approach is to learn to see Hashem in the world. Ask yourself, “What am I learning about myself and Hashem as I walk through life?” The more aware you are of Hashem, the more honest you can be. The more you see yourself as a creation of Hashem, the more you can see the events in your life as being arranged.

The Midrash describes how Hashem assigned Adam to give names to all of creation. When he was finished he asked Adam, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am Adam.” I am earthly and even my spiritual essence is meant to be expressed through physical reality.” And then Hashem asked, “Who am I?” And he said, “You are Adon, the master.” Hashem is absolutely involved. Everything is a consequence of His providence. When a person learns to think this way, to walk through the world with open eyes, then all worries about earthly matters will fall away.                                                       





Builder of Her Home: Women and Communication #3

22 04 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

When the Jews reached Har Sinai, the Torah writes, “Vayichan sham Yisrael.” (He (Yisrael) encamped there). Rashi explains that the singular word Vayichan is used because the Jews were like one person. When they were together in that place of true unity Hashem said, “Ko tamar l’beit Yaakov,” so shall you say to the house of Yaakov, “V’tageid l’bnei yisrael,” and tell the children of Israel. Hashem spoke to the men in the plural form but to the woman in the singular form because they signify the unifying force. Women are not meant to lose their individuality. In fact, the Talmud says one thousand women are a thousand individuals. Rather, they are supposed to use their inherent power of bonding to unite others.

The woman is the force that enables connection. This exalted power unites each individual with all the different aspects of his personality. It also unites all of klal Yisrael. Unity doesn’t mean becoming something other than oneself, but rather working towards a shared goal.

Even Jews who are very far from Torah still sense a deep inner drive for something higher. Women retain this power to unify people on this meaningful search.

Mishlei states, “The wisdom of a woman builds her home.” Her task is to unite the members of her family with a sense of purpose. When a woman takes disparate parts and joins them together using the wisdom of her heart, she turns all of the stray threads into strands that are fine and beautiful. She does this by being connected (kesher) and having a relationship (yachas). Being connected means offering real understanding. Having a relationship means giving the other person a sense of belonging to something greater. A woman’s wisdom involves weaving together people’s lives. She begins by making cords of connection, extending threads that connect her and her husband so that all the disparate people in her home become like one person.

The Torah is compared to a woman because it too unifies all the different forces within us. The Torah is called the tree of life. When a person dies, his limbs and organs are still there, but there is no longer communication between them. A person is alive when all of the parts of his body and soul are connected and are working in synch. In order to create kesher (connection), there has to be commonality. The woman’s task is to find that common goal within her home.

The relationship of the woman and her husband, their willingness for kesher and yachas, enables experiential possibility for making a true kesher with Hashem. Through a woman’s ability to make connection, she makes kesher with herself and with the godliness within her.

Even her seeming disadvantage of wanting to charm her husband has purpose. The Gemara says, “There’s no purpose for a woman other than for beauty, children, and feminine jewelry.” These powers enable a woman to make connection. Her beauty allows her to create a bond with her husband. Her role as the mother of their children gives them commonality. Her regality gives her husband a sense of how much he desires her. These gifts draw both the husband and wife to their home. The woman can make her home a place of meaning and significance.

Kol kevuda bat melech penima.” One of the ten names of the soul is kavod. A woman’s glory is expressed within her. The home is the place where a woman senses her inner beauty. The environment she creates, the kesher she nurtures within her home, becomes her crown.

In today’s modern culture, women are brainwashed to avoid the home. We’re told that real life is where you’re achieving something out in the world. This way of life diminishes the home as a place of significance. The idea that a home communicates to its inhabitants a sense of their own value and chashivut (importance) is completely lost. Cooking a warm, satisfying, meal encourages communication, bonding, and a relationship. Straightening up the house so it looks orderly and pleasant creates a sense of kavod (honor).

Judasim teaches, “A woman of valor is her husband’s crown.” Granted that she is dependent on him and it puts her in a weaker position, but this enables her to receive and it enables him to provide. Together they can achieve shleimut (wholeness).

A woman is in a position of continued choice making in her home. Her choices are very deep and touch the roots of the inherent good and evil that live in every human heart. The framework a woman creates can either bring forth her hidden higher self that will in turn engender a positive kesher and relationship or the opposite. A woman’s ability to build or to destroy has no parallel.

The root of all evil is separation and divisiveness. The Hebrew word for trembling, falling apart, is ra’u’ah, from the root word ra, evil. Evil is disintegration. There’s no greater place than marriage where the choice between giving life or causing death, creating unity or disunity, has such a lasting impact. When you choose between unification and separation, between connection or disintegration, it’s not just about you or your home, but about the very root of good and evil.





Tomer Devora- Real Truth #8

14 09 2011
 Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen 

Tomer Devora-Real Truth #8

The essence of Hashem is emet (truth) as the Gemara in Shabbat says, the signet of Hashem is emet. Hashem judges us with truth, justice, and straightforwardness. This mida of emet is actualized in every Jew. It is an inheritance from our forefather Yaakov of whom it says, “Titen emet l’Yaakov.” Yaakov represents truth. The Rambam writes that Yaakov is called tzaddik because he worked for Lavan with honesty. Although Lavan did not appreciate him and tried to trick him many times, Yaakov continued to serve him faithfully.

On the one hand we say Hashem is emet, which should imply pure justice, yet we find that He also shows us mercy even if we don’t deserve it. The evil inclination tries to convince a person that minor mitzvot and aveirot are not all that important. It tries to convince us that Hashem will overlook them. But this is not true. Hashem is “Kel emuna v’ein avel.” His actions are perfect and just. If so, where does mercy fit in?

The Mesilat Yesharim says that even if Hashem is compelled to chastise a sinner, he does so without anger and with pity. Similarly, the Tomer Dvora writes that Hashem is emet and mishpat but he is also rachamim and accepts our teshuva. Hashem doesn’t punish out of revenge, but rather out of love and compassion. The punishment serves as a tikun, to atone for sins. A person can repent and the sin becomes as though it never existed. A human judge is limited and must follow the letter of the law. But Hashem looks at a person differently. Man sins because he has an evil inclination and so Hashem gives him the opportunity to do teshuva and doesn’t punish him immediately. Emet means understanding a person’s situation; not deviating from justice, but still merciful.

The tenth mida in Tomer Devora is emet, the eleventh is chesed. Avraham represents chesed. He went lifnim meshurat hadin (beyond the letter of the law). Because Avraham exerted himself beyond his limits, Hashem dealt the same way with him. Similarly, if we restrain our natural inclinations, then Hashem too will go beyond the laws of nature with us.

Every Jew should try to reach a higher level in avodat Hashem lifnim meshurat hadin. We should attempt to be patient with others, understand their needs, and view every Jew as important in our eyes. We should love others even if they don’t deserve it, just as a parent loves his children. This is acting lifnim meshurat hadin (above the letter of the law) and it is what Hashem wants of us. The unique attribute of klal Yisrael is chesed l’avraham. When we go beyond what the law requires, we emulate Hashem and come closer to Him.