Maharal Netivot Olam: Destruction of Self – Part II

5 11 2013
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Rav Nachman of Breslov tells the story of a ruler who desired to have the portrait of a powerful king. One day he asked his viceroy to travel to the guarded island where the king lived and attempt to draw his picture. The viceroy accepted the task and soon discovered that the king was exceedingly difficult to see. So he devised a plan. He let people know he was interested in investments. Then he let himself be duped and took the people to court. The case rose up in ranks until it reached the king. When the viceroy finally entered the royal chambers, he found that the king spoke from behind a curtain. The viceroy had stopped thinking rationally at that point, and began to shout, “What kind of a king are you?! Where are you anyway?!” The more he shouted the lower the curtain dropped, until it was drawn aside completely and he found himself facing an invisible king.

We yearn to have Hashem’s portrait. We want the quick picture but fail to understand that developing a relationship takes years and much effort. Our ego says, “I understand everything, even Hashem.” But in reality we encounter seeming injustice all the time. Hashem made it this way so that we would move past immediacy and pettiness. The moment of enlightenment comes when the curtain is pulled aside and we see that the King is beyond words and anything we can discern. At that moment we feel humble and small before our Creator.

Hashem wants us to be people of truth, greatness, and heroism. He holds back his own honor so that we may see His humility. The Tomer Devora says one of the names of Hashem is Melech Ne’elam, the hidden King. The more a person learns Torah and discovers Hashem’s greatness and His unfathomable nature, the more puny he is in his own eyes. Torah shows us how Hashem contracted His will and understanding in a way in which He can be partially discovered. When we see Hashem’s wisdom, our humility grows progressively greater.

Recognizing the power and incredible intelligence that Hashem invested in the world should engender fear of transgressing any of His laws. When a person sins he’s really saying, “I don’t appreciate this commandment. I don’t trust that the ramifications of violating it can have enormous impact.” This shows a lack of respect for the system and its Author. Yirah (fear) is a direct result of anavah (humility) as the pasuk states, “Eikav anavah yirat Hashem.” The more a person knows Hashem, the more awe he will feel.

Just as anavah and yirah are the roots of many positive traits, desire and anger are the root of all negative traits. The voice of fury and arrogance says, “This isn’t how it should be, it should be how I want it to be.” In contrast humility says, “Hashem wants me to be in this place. I am supposed to contend with this and it will ultimately take me to somewhere good.” While fear of Hashem brings one to awe before the limitations imposed by the Torah, taavah (physical craving) is about following one’s will. Yirah breaks through desire and yearning for this world. The more one see Hashem’s providence in the picture, the more one sees His caring and love for every Jew.

 

The Torah is compared to a woman. The same way a woman bears children, perpetuating the species, the Torah leads to mitzvot. Chazal say, a woman is only for children. The Torah exists for the mitzvot. You can’t perform them properly without Torah. The world changes when good deeds are done.





Ask the Rebbetzin: Is This The World Hashem Envisioned?

16 10 2011

Rebbetzins Perspective: Class#4

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective #4

Question: 

I feel empty and alone and very far from Hashem whenever I am in a crowd or in traffic or waiting on line. I can’t comprehend how this unpleasant, noisy, world, with all of these people, could possibly be the world Hashem envisioned.  The last time this was bothering me, I looked up and the bumper sticker on the car in front of me said “One human family.”  Is this my answer?  Should I look at everyone like he or she is part of me?  Should I look at them like they belong here as much as I sometimes think that I do too?

Answer:

 

Every person is as important, real, and purposeful, as you are. The Gemara tells us, “Great is the king who mints many coins, each unique in its own way.” There is no such thing as optional people. Every single person is absolutely special. When people mention faceless hordes, it is usually in a racist context. The more you adapt yourself to seeing people as individuals, the easier it will be for you to bear crowds.

Did you ever wonder why Hashem chose Yerushalayim, a city teeming with people, as the holiest spot on earth? I would have chosen a majestic mountain or a breathtaking valley, because I sometimes tend to think like you. Although we view nature as beautiful and people as passé, Hashem sees people as His most magnificent creations. The profound depth of the human mind, the capacity to feel, the desire to create and build, the ability to make moral choices, are expressions of the soul and a reflection of the Divine Image.

Every person you see is an entire universe with enormous context and beauty of purpose. I would suggest you get past your difficulties of viewing people by finding ways to reach out to strangers. It can be through visiting the sick, helping needy people, or joining Partners in Torah. In this way you’ll learn to switch your mode of thinking from seeing people as a threatening anonymous mass to viewing them as unique individuals, each with a special story of their own.





The Power of the Soul- Mitzvot The Divine

20 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Eliezer Miller

 


The Power of the Soul-Mitzvot The Divine Connection #6
There is a spark in the innermost part of every Jew’s heart that is meant to expand and reveal the light of Hashem. The Midrash tells a parable of a king who had an only daughter. When she married, the king told his son-in-law, “Wherever you go, keep a room ready for me so that I can be near my daughter.” Similarly, when Hashem gave the Jews the Torah, he said, “I am coming with my Torah. Make a dwelling place for Me.” The dwelling place is in our heart, which is also where the yetzer hararesides.

The Gemara say, “Barati yetzer hara barati Torah tavlin. I created the evil inclination, but I created Torah as a neutralizing spice.” The Torah consumes the bad effects of the evil inclination while at the same time it reveals the Shechina. What is the secret force behind the Torah and mitzvot that gives them the power to purify our hearts? Hashem created a great spiritual light on the first day of creation that he hid away for the tzaddikim. This light originally shone for thirty six hours and is concealed in the thirty six mesechtas of Shas. The happinessa person has when he learns Torah and keeps mitzvot stems from this hidden light. It says in Tehilim, “Ohr zarua l’tzaddik u’liyishrei lev simcha.” The tzaddik rejoices because of the divine light inside of him. Wherever there is godliness, there is happiness.

When a person dies, there is a small bone called luz that does not disintegrate. The Arizal writes that the soulhovers above this bone and does not let it decompose. The soul remains with the person, because of the merit of the Torah he studied and the divine light that he absorbed. The upper root of every Jew’s soul is attached to a letter in the Torah. When a Jew studies Torah, he joins with his letter and with Hashem. Unlike the spiritual world, which becomes more hidden as it touches the physical world, the Torah retains its holiness at its source. However, there’s one condition. The intention a person has when he learns Torah and keeps mitzvot must be for the sake of Hashem. If a person has ulterior motives, the Shechina departs. And in fact we see that although there’s so much Torah and tefila in Klal Yisrael, the exilestill stretches on. Instead of thinking about the pain of the Shechina, we have our own purposes in mind. This is preventing Mashiach from coming.

Each person needs to correct what is in his heart. Although Torah that is not l’shem shamayim has some effect, it won’t save us completely from the evil inclination. Only if it is for Hashem’s sake, will a person merit the full richness and light of the Torah. The Ibn Ezra says that when a person does a mitzva for Hashem’s sake, he fulfills the commandment of ‘Anochi Hashem.’ He affirms that he believes in Hashem. When we do mitzvot in this way, we enable Hashem to dwell inside our hearts and to expand and reveal Himself.





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.





How to Have a Relationship with G-d

18 11 2010

Rebbetzin’s Perspective III: Class #1
Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective III  Class #1

Question:

I’ve been told that Hashem has a personal relationship with every Jew. What does this imply and how do we get closer to Him?

 

Answer:

A personal relationship means a relationship of response and awareness. A blade of grass receives its energy from Hashem. It cannot exist for even a split second without Hashem’s Will giving it life. Yet the grass does not have a real relationship because it cannot respond. It receives but all it gives back is its existence. There is no difference between one blade of grass and another. Hashem doesn’t respond to each one individually. There is no such thing as a righteous blade of grass who deserves lots of rain and sunshine, or a wicked blade of grass who has made major life mistakes. This is called hashgacha klalit, which means awareness without any involvement.

 

In contrast, Hashem responds to every human being differently. A non-Jew who does good deeds may be rewarded and vice versa. However, there is no covenant with the non-Jews. Therefore, they can reach a point where, like a tree or a blade of grass, they no longer have a relationship of awareness and response with Hashem. Contrary to this, due to the covenant Hashem made with Yaakov, Af al pi shechata Yisrael hu, although they have sinned, they remain Yisrael. Every Jew has a spark buried deep within him that remains eternally connected to Hashem. This spark can be so covered up with sin and bad choices that the person may be barely aware of it. This is also referred to as galut hashechina, meaning that the divine part of us is in exile.

 

Getting closer to Hashem means becoming a more divine-like individual, just like getting closer to another person means developing communication and similarity. The way to come closer to Hashem is through keeping the mitzvot, emulating Hashem’s middot, and attaching oneself to people who are already on the path to greatness.





Shabbat Shuva: Torah & Tefila, Components of Teshuva

6 09 2010

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

Shabbos Shuva

In the Haftora of Shabbat Shuva we read, “Kechu imachem devarim v’shuvu el Hashem. Take with you words and return to Hashem.” The verse continues, “Kol tisa avon vekach tov uneshalmah parim sfaseynu. May You forgive all iniquity and accept good, and let our lips substitute for bulls.” It seems as if the end of the verse is a repetition of the beginning. The Malbim explains that the first part signifies teshuva m’yirah while the second part refers to teshuva m’ahavah. When one does teshuva out of fear, one gains an understanding of what it means to be close to Hashem and to experience the sweetness of Torah. This propels us further to continue and deepen our love for Hashem.  Teshuva m’ahava transforms sins into good deeds. Consequently, in place of sacrifices, only words will be necessary. Devarim refers to words of Torah and tefila. How do these words impact teshuva?

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva notes that a sinner’s mitzvot are destroyed and can only be recaptured when he performs teshuva. What does this mean? Rav Solomon explains that it does not mean that the mitzvot are actually decimated. Rather, they are like burning candles hidden behind a thick veil of sin waiting to be revealed.  “Kechu imachem devarim,” confess your sins. “Imru eilav,” pray to Hashem. “Vkach tov,” allow the good energy to flow through.

This is why we recite on Kol Nidrei night, “Ohr zerua l’tzaddik ulyishrei lev simcha.” Let us bask in the light planted for tzaddikim. Now that we’ve repented, allow us the joy and benefit of those hidden mitzvot. Rav Dessler notes that a critical part of teshuva is praying to Hashem to remove the sins blocking our path so that we can ascend further in avodat Hashem. It is difficult to repent in darkness and the light of mitzvot cannot be accessed before doing teshuva.  Therefore, the first step is to do one or two mitzvot and feel its hidden sweetness. This will ignite a person’s desire to do teshuva and ultimately propel him onward.

In Timeless Seasons, Rabbi Roberts quotes the Gemara that “Kechu imachem devarim” refers to words of Torah. Without knowing what is wrong a person cannot see the error of his ways. Therefore, a pivotal part of the teshuva process is studying the Torah, particularly halacha. One can only be a true servant of Hashem if he studies the details of how to be one.

On Shabbat Shuva, the prophet Hoshea adjures us, “Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha. Return   O Israel to Hashem.” The greatest aspect of teshuva is “Ein od milvado,” recognizing that there is no entity that we can rely on, but Hashem. Physical strength, finances, and well connected friends, are all illusory and transient.  Just as an orphan has no one to turn to but Hashem, our only real hope is our Father in Heaven.





Insights of the Chassidic Masters: Standing Before G-d

5 09 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Chassidic Masters

The Baal Hatanya, in his introduction to his essay, “Atem Nitzavim” explains the Torah’s ambiguity about Rosh Hashana. He writes that Rosh Hashana is the day we were created. It is the beginning of man’s existence. Therefore, Hashem wanted us to strain to understand it, to uncover the starting point within each of us, to remember the struggle and to recapture the magic of this very pivotal moment. This is compared to a couple remembering their wedding, and to parents recalling the birth of their first child.

When we study the Torah, mussar, chassidut, or halachot relating to a particular holiday, it is critical to understand its central core.  All learning and prayer connected to a particular holiday shines forth from this point. The Torah does not specify the theme of Rosh Hashana, but Chazal tell us that “Hamelech” sums up the essence of the day. In fact, old Chabad chassidim would call Rosh Hashana the “Day of Coronation,” for on this yom tov we crown Hashem as king over us.

The Gemara writes, “On Rosh Hashana, Hashem tells us, ‘Say before me these prayers: Malchiyot, so you will accept my kingship, Zichronot, so that I will remember you in a good way. How does one accomplish this? With the shofar. From this passage we understand that the essential theme of Rosh Hashana is accepting Hashem’s kingship, and the shofar is the means to attain this. Additionally, if we examine the prayers of Rosh Hashana, we will find that they revolve around the theme of kingship. The writings of Chassidut explain that our mission on Rosh Hashana is to reconstruct the malchut of Hashem by making ourselves worthy of crowning Him.

Rav Sadya Gaon lists several reasons why we blow shofar, but the inner meaning of the shofar is kingship and coronation. We verbalize and actualize our acceptance of Hashem’s kingship through the shofar.

In Tehilim, King David writes, “Bakshu fanei, es panecha avakesh.” Hashem says, “Seek my face.” Panei is related to penimiyut. Our avoda on Rosh Hashana is to reveal the deep inner connection between our soul and the essence of Hashem. For a person to say “Hamelech” on Rosh Hashana and ignore the King is not only absurd but dangerous. If Hashem is really our King what kind of effect has He had on our life? Accepting the yoke of Hashem’s kingship as a means to fulfill one’s responsibilities as a Jew is a very important outgrowth of Rosh Hashana but it is not the core. The essence is making Hashem a part of life during the year; knowing what “melech haolam” means when we say a bracha and developing a real connection with malchut Hashem. This will all depend on how we crowned the King on His coronation day. The call of the shofar jolts us awake and the prayers of Rosh Hashana helps us realize that nothing rules over us except Hashem.  Our “Hamelech” is not Wall St, Elvis Presley, our boss, or our physical desires.   We answer to a Higher Authority.   By tapping into the power of “melech” in everything we do, we will become stronger more dedicated servants of Hashem.





Elul: Five Steps To Greatness

17 08 2010

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

Elul: Five Steps To Greatness

What is the definition of greatness? What do we hope to achieve in Elul? When I posed this question to one of my children, she answered, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov”-And for me closeness to Hashem is good. A great person is one who can reach a level of kirvat Hashem.  Rav Pincus in Nefesh Chaya, lists five steps to greatness. This is based on a statement of Chazal which describes the service of the angels. These five attributes are listed as follows:

1)       They appear as a lightning bolt
2)      Where they go has no end
3)      They go forward and backward
4)      They do Hashem’s will like a storm
5)      They bow in front of Hashem’s throne
These five elements give us direction on how to reach our goal of coming closer to Hashem.

Human nature tends to make us aspire to reach tremendous heights in avodat Hashem, while we simultaneously tell ourselves ‘we’ll never get there’. Saying, “Why should I bother trying,” is a mistake. Rav Pincus notes that even if we never reach the highest point, if we touch a lightning bolt, a flash of it, we are still considered successful. Rav Dessler teaches us that ambition and believing in oneself is crucial. If a person wants to reach a certain level in avodat Hashem, he must have a feeling of bitachon. He may not be successful one hundred percent but if he continues forward and accomplishes one aspect of his goal then to a certain degree he’s been successful. In Kol Dodi, Rav Schwadron explains how people take on different kabalot in Elul and then fall back to routine. A person may think it was all for nothing but that is wrong. Every good deed makes an impression. Touching greatness propels a person forward.

Sometimes we won’t do something because it seems petty, and we think, “Why should I involve myself in something so minuscule?” This is wrong. There is nothing too small for Hashem who feeds the tiniest insects and directs every detailed aspect of our lives. Minor acts such as a smile, a compliment, or a cheery good morning can make the greatest difference. These small things have no end. Additionally, every mitzvah whether significant or minor has tremendous importance. It’s all part of one integrated system. In Alei Shor, Rav Wolbe notes that doing any mitzvah properly can draw the Shechina down.

This world is a journey of ups and downs. The forward and backward movements of the angels parallel our own ascending and descending. Rav Nissel writes that Hashem created man in order to give him pleasure. The ultimate pleasure is a relationship with Hashem which is formed through prayer. Troubles are a catalyst for a person to daven and  awaken to the fact that we are dependent on Hashem. If a person is in a constant state of communing with Hashem when things are going well, he will not need any suffering to remind him. This is the secret of the shofar. “Tekiah”-the straight blasts are when things are going well. “Shevarim”-the broken blasts signify the setbacks in life. “Ashrei ha’am yodeiah teruah Hashem b’eor panecha yaleichun”-The breakages in life are a means for us to walk on the path of Hashem.

We must emulate the angels and do Hashem’s will with fiery zeal. Being sensitive to detail, davening to Hashem with intent, and performing the mitzvoth with enthusiasm, inspires passion. Rav Frand notes that children shouldn’t experience mitzvoth as a burden but as an enjoyable aspect of life. Our avodah in Elul is to work on our mitzvoth, not only on our aveiroth. We can never say we’ve reached it. Even if one thinks one has arrived, we need to bow down and realize there is still a long way to go.

This Elul let us work towards greatness by knowing what are ambitions are, being careful with the small details in life, understanding that life’s ups and downs are a catalyst for growth and prayer, and that we’re just on a point of departure in our journey towards Hashem.





Meaningful Prayer- Asking For Mercy

3 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

visa

The core section of Shemoneh Esrei is the blessings of bakasha – asking for mercy. This comes after we have already established through the first three blessings of praise, that Hashem has the power and will to help us in any way He sees fit. The Rambam writes that the thirteen requests for individual and communal support are archetypes for all personal requests that a person may have. Many of these requests are spelled out specifically. The thirteenth blessing of Shema Koleinu is a catch-all blessing where we can ask Hashem to listen to all of our prayers.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that we can see the greatness of Hashem in the inclusiveness of Shemoneh Esrei. Whatever minute trivial request a person may have, he is able to include it within the Shemoneh Esrei and Hashem will listen to him. Hashem, the Master of the universe, the King of kings, is ready and willing to help us with anything that ails us. Our Sages gave us the basic format of thirteen platforms of bakashot, but they left it open for us request anything.  We should approach prayer with the notion that any request is legitimate. There is no limit to what we can ask Hashem to do for us, whether tiny or gargantuan, whether to heal your little pinkie or to bring the Messiah. The only address is our Master and King, our loving Father, Hashem.





Parshat Eikev: Mind and Heart United

28 07 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com class by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

In Parshat Eikev, we read, “Vayaha eikav tishmaun..”- If you will listen to my laws, then I, Hashem will keep the promise I gave to the Avot to bring you blessing. The word “eikev” seems extraneous. The Shem Mishmuel brings a Midrash- one who assembles a light fixture on Shabbat is obligated to bring a Chatas sacrifice. Keeping Shabbat earns a Jew reward in this world. In contrast, the reward for other mitzvoth will be “eikev”-at the end of time. The Shem Mishmuel follows with another Midrash about a King who gave his Queen two beautiful stones and then straightaway two more.

What does the jeweled crown represent? Hashem gifted us with a heart and mind so that we could perfect our intellect and emotions to serve Hashem. Both are equally essential in developing an intellectual and emotional relationship with Hashem and the Torah. Avraham taught the Jewish people, tzedakah u’mishpat-mind and heart. Tzedakah means giving from the heart without judgement. Mishpat employs the mind and the strict letter of the law. In return, Hashem gave us, chesed v’rachamim. Chesed is kindness beyond what the recipient deserves. Rachamim is a fusion of chesed and din, kindness beyond what is necessary, but in a certain sense deserved. When we sinned and perverted tzedakah u’mishpat, Hashem responded by taking away chesed v’rachmim. However, l’assid lovo-in the future, the Jewsh people will repent and will restore tzedakah u’mishpat out of their own efforts. Hashem will then bring back chesed v’rachmim. Our spiritual struggles are continuous and our staunchest ally is Hashem who never leaves us even when we sin. So too, Hashem credits our repentance for His return to us. These are the four jewels that create the final crown of Israel.

The Shem MiShmuel explains, “Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah Ohr, the the lamp in the Midrash corresponds to Mitzvoth and the Torah is light. A lamp contains light and both are purposeless without the other. This symbolizes the indivisibility of Torah and Mitzvoth and the mind and heart. During the week, a Jew struggles to unite mind and heart to serve Hashem. On Shabbat, the lamp comes together on its own, we don’t build it. This signifies the sense of completion and cessation of struggle that is the gift of Shabbat. Varying people have different size lamps on Shabbat. Their size is determined by how much effort we invested during the week in the mind/heart struggle. We can experience pleasure and true eternal reward for keeping Shabbat because Shabbat is on a kind of Olam Habah plane. The reward for other mitzvoth can only be “eikev”-at the end of time because our weekday world is too defiled to be able to feel that otherworldly connection to Hashem. Therefore it says, “Vahaya eikev tishmaun..” There is one mitzvah that is olam habah and olam hazeh combined. Our struggle finds completion on Shabbat. Let us merit to attain complete unification of mind and heart so that we can merit to truly experience Shabbat, a foretaste of Yom Shekulo Shabbat-the great Shabbat of Olam Habah.