Builder of Her Home: Inner Tranquility; The Key to Womanhood #1-Part II

30 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

A man’s mission is to bring Torah down from above by struggling. A woman’s purpose is to take the Torah and address it to this world. She makes Torah the essence of her life by discovering its sanctity and sweetness, addressing it to her environment. This does not happen spontaneously. It requires work and thought. You must ask yourself, “How am I taking the goodness of Torah and bringing it into my home? Is the way I interact with my children giving them self-worth and a sense of who they are as Jews?”

Weaving comments into daily conversation such as, “Isn’t this a beautiful apple? Let’s thank Hashem.” Or “Look what hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), she called just when I needed her.” Statements like these actualize this idea.

Both a man and a woman have the task of bringing Torah into their home. He accomplishes this through struggle. She does it by melding the physical and the spiritual together.

Chazal say, “Ish v’isha zachu shechina beinehem.” Man and woman are meant to complete each other. They share two letters, alef and shin, which spell aish, referring to the soul, which is like a flame. Yet they are different. A man has a yud, which signifies higher and transcendental things. A woman has a hey, which represents two feet on the ground. Marriage is meant to be a partnership with the common goal of creating a Torah home by using the methods that are specific and natural to each of them. The goal of the Torah home is giluy Shechina, revealing Hashem through goodness, higher consciousness, and tranquility.

After the sin of the tree of knowledge, struggle became a part of the world. The sin created a seeming contradiction between spirituality and physicality. The home is supposed to be the place to resolve this. The one best suited to do so is the woman.

When she comes home from a hard day of work, she might ask her herself, “Where am I here, where’s my person? My body is saying coffee or a nap but what’s my soul really saying? What do I want to give my children from within me? How will I greet them?” She could say, “Ok kids here are some treats on the table. Go play with the lego.” Sometimes that’s all she’s capable of doing. But it would be much better if she could think, how can I make my home into a place of self-discovery and joy? So she’ll put on her children’s favorite CD and give them a snack and sit with them when they eat. She will say a blessing with them and listen to what they really want to tell her.

I was once in the home of the Amshinover Rebbe. He still had young children then. When the boys came home from cheder (school), the table was set with food and treats. Their mother was there to welcome them with a smile and a listening ear. When they finished eating, she asked, “Do you want to play or review?” They chose to play but fifteen minutes later they were at the table with open sefarim (books).

 

It’s possible to bridge the great gap between heaven and earth. The place to do it is in the Torah home. There must be the energy of the man and the energy of the woman. There must not be the image that one has all of this and one has all of that. There has to be sheleimut, wholeness.

For a home to be a mishkan it should have inner content. This is actualized through learning and living Torah. A woman may say about her home, “I’m too big for this. My house is small, I have talents, abilities. I want to affect the world.” But in truth a woman’s home is her place of influence and this in turn can impact and change the face of the Jewish people.

Rivka imeinu brought the Divine Presence back into the tent of the avot (forefathers). The imprint the avot left couldn’t have possibly been grounded in this world without the influence of the imahot (foremothers). Similarly it says that in the merit of the women in Egypt, the Jews were redeemed. The women in Egypt wanted children because they believed that every child was significant. Ue to the severity of their slavery and struggle, the men in Egypt did not see the beauty of life. The women saw this beauty and wanted it to continue.

The power to unify comes from women because they can see the tzelem elokim (Divine image) within every person more readily. If they bring that power into their homes, men will be able to develop this capacity too. Achdut (unity) depends on women. The Jewish nation makes Hashem‘s presence observable in the world by gathering together. When the unifying force is operative, when we bring Hashem into the world, it is similar to a woman giving birth to a child.

There were five curtains on the mishkan that were attached isha al achota, each woman to her sister. The mishkan brought Hashem into the collective life of the Jewish people. The woman represents the koach hamechaber (connecting force), even in an imperfect state. Maharal says when there is unity in the union of the man and woman, there’s a parallel mating between Hashem and Yisrael. When the woman desires to bring forth her husband’s tzelem (Divine image) and he wants to give, it creates a parallel between Hashem who provides and the Jewish people who desire to receive and build.

The pasuk says, “The wisdom of a woman builds her home.” A woman has to approach her goal with inner strength, self-discovery, integration and unification. This requires wisdom and self-knowledge. The Torah says, each woman who had wisdom in her heart would weave and bring what she wove. The woman took the delicate threads and created connection, one thread to the other. Through her strength of connection, a woman enables her family to reach perfection.

A wife and mother express this through meeting the needs of her household and honoring her husband. A wholesome meal, a good word, stability and authority, warmth and encouragement are the building blocks of a healthy home.

Every husband desires respect. A wife’s job is to figure out what aspect of her husband deserves recognition and acknowledgement. The place she honors will be the place where he will dedicate his energies.

The Torah is compared to a woman. It’s called a living tree. A woman gives life and glory just like the Torah. A woman must constantly flow, make connections, and develop new relationships. Her true purpose is bringing it all together.





Lechem Oni

29 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson 

The Torah refers to the matzah as lechem oni (the bread of affliction). The Gemara explains that it is lechem she’onim alav dvarim harbeh, bread over which we say many things. Accordingly, Rabbenu Chananel notes that we recite the hagadah over the matzah. Just as on Shabbat we say kiddush on a cupof wine in order to lend formality and significance to the words, the matzot add an aura of importance to the telling of the story of the exodus.

At the seder there are many foods and props we use to help us get into the mindset of re-experiencing the exile of Egypt. It’s not enough to retell the story. We have to feel as if we are living through it. We taste the bitterness of the maror dipped in brick mortar-like charoset, point to the shank bone symbolizing the korban pesach, and drink the wine of freedom. The matzot too help us remember how our forefathers rushed out of Egypt and how the dough did not have time to rise.

While the word oni in lechom oni is pronounced oni, the ktiv is ayin nun yud, which spells ani, a pauper. Just like a poor person cannot always afford a whole loaf of bread, we take the matzah and break it in two.

In hilchot chametz u’matzah, the Rambam rules that we do not make a blessing on two whole matzot as we usually do on yom tov because the law of lechem oni overrides lechem mishna. In practice, we do not follow this opinion. One matzah is broken at yachatz, and the two other complete matzot are used for motzi matzah.

 





Bringing Torah to Life: Teaching our Children the Meaning of Purim

8 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller  

Explore the four mitzvot of the day with your children. Memory games are fun, so are Guess Who games. Mention something in the Midrash such as “I did ___” and then describe an occurrence and have the children figure out who it was.

Involve your kids in the mitzva of matanot la’evyonim directly. Discuss the tzedaka stories with them. Help them visualize what would it be like to be poor. Would this person have thought he would be in such a situation five years before? Could this happen to anyone? What is the nisayon of a poor person and a rich person? What is the best way to give charity? What’s the worst way? If you are giving away significant sums on Purim, you can set aside a small amount for your children to decide where it should go. If they have their own allowance money let them give some of it away with joy and empathy. Make the mitzva as endearing and fulfilling as possible.

At this age, shalach manot has a lot of social value. Whatever you can still say to little kids you can’t say to kids this age. If they need to show off a bit and express themselves creatively, let them. You can try to make them think who needs to receive also. If the social pressure at this age is that you have to give to all of the girls in the class then your child has to conform. In most schools, everyone comes to school with one nice shalach manot and then the teacher randomly picks out names. In other schools, there’s a cash limit on how much a student is allowed to spend. You should not make your kids be different because at this age it’s so important for them to feel accepted and normal.

Be organized and do the shopping a week or two before Purim so you have time to do craft activities with your children. Help them be creative. You may want to look at crafts books or how-to articles. Have their shalach manot ready in a box early so they can decorate it in a relaxed atmosphere.

Going to shul for megilah is important. Try to get them to sit through the reading. Set limits on what they will do during Haman. You can’t and shouldn’t tell them not to bang. It’s part of tradition. But you should let them know that it’s important for the people in shul to hear every word and that they have to stop in time.

The drinking at the seudah won’t be frightening for kids this age. They may actually enjoy it as long as you prepare them for it. It’s a celebration of v’nahafoch hu. We’re not getting drunk on Achashveirosh’s wine, we are celebrating with Hashem. There should be happy music in the background. If the revelry causes material damage, remember it’s Purim. Don’t ruin it because of your personal frustration, regardless of what you think. You can feel distressed, but keep a grip on yourself. It’s not worth losing the joy of the holiday.

With preteens and teenagers, talk about the miracles as much as you can before Purim. Try to engage them at the table. Discuss why anyone would want to be Achashveirosh. Ask them whether Haman would have been easily recognizable before he made his decrees? Talk about what happened to Queen Esther at the end and how Daryavesh, her son, gave permission to build the second beit hamikdash. Point out Hashem‘s hidden ways and how Purim is relevant to us in exile because we constantly experience veiled miracles. Kids can understand these ideas if you simplify it.

Be sure to make it clear before Purim that doing dangerous things is really listening to the voice of Achashveirosh and the voice of arrogance. This includes drunk driving, handling anything explosive or sharp, or giving people hard liquor when they think they are drinking something soft. Boys will be going around collecting for their respective yeshivot. They should understand that their role is to bring simcha to the homes they go to. They should be making their host feel good about the charity they are giving, not terrorizing them.

With older kids you need to plan the day beforehand. Don’t let your boys wander around drunk. If there’s a rabbi in the neighborhood who is willing to make a mesibah (festive gathering) for them, that’s great. If not, give your husband the job.

Give your teenage girls a day plan too. Otherwise Purim becomes a drag for them as they watch the boys get drunk while they’re stuck cleaning up the mess. Purim is a day for prayer. In the morning, take them with you to daven. If you are in Israel, go with them to the Kotel so they feel the spiritual essence of the day. Let them deliver shalach manot to their friends. When you arrive home for the seudah, everyone should be in a good mood. Fill the empty spaces in the afternoon with reading and discussing stimulating topics about the megilah or Purim.

May the pure simcha of this special day create lasting memories for your children.





Purim: Your Chance to Win the Lottery

7 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum 

The Likute Maharan notes that there is a deep connection between Purim and Parshat Parah. Both are related to the root word pur, a lottery.

A lottery is something beyond understanding. Teshuva is beyond logic. In this world, if a person sins and confesses, his punishment may be lessened, but he is still penalized. But with repentance, if a person repents, not only are his sins erased, but they turn into merits. The kohen gadol’s task on Yom Kippur was to bring down the awesome power of repentance by drawing lots. The lottery determined which goat would be sacrificed and which would be thrown off the cliff.

There are fifty levels of impurity and fifty levels of purity. The fiftieth level of holiness is keter, which was never revealed, except on Yom Kippur when the kohen gadol drew lots.

During the Babylonian exile, klal Yisrael sunk to the fiftieth level of impurity. They lost their Jewish identity. Amalek, the root of all impurity, represents this lowest level of evil. Their hatred of klal Yisrael was beyond logic. When the Jews sinned, they gave power to Amalek. We see that Haman, a low advisor, soared to the highest position in the royal court. He convinced the king to decimate the entire Jewish nation. Before he would follow through with his plan he devised a test. He encouraged Achasheveirosh to make a feast. It was optional, nobody was forced to eat or drink but the Jews came anyway. This was the proof Haman was waiting for. The Jews had sunk to the lowest level.

Mordechai understood that they needed to repent. He led the people in fasting and praying. Esther too cried out to Hashem, “Keili lama azvanti,” (Hashem why have you abandoned us). Klal Yisrael were spiritually depleted. Esther beseeched Hashem, we are bereft of our Jewish identity, bring us back. Hashem accepted her heartfelt prayers and revealed to them the 50th level of kedusha. He removed us from the point of no return and helped us regain our identity.

On the 13th of Adar, the non-Jews opened the letter Achashveirosh had originally sent. They knew the Jews could defend themselves so they did not venture to fight them. Amalek, whose hatred is illogical fought anyway and the Jews defeated them. This great miracle revealed the 50th level of holiness. As soon as Klal Yisrael repented, Haman fell.

Similarly, the whole process of the para aduma (red heifer) is beyond logic. If a person became spiritually contaminated, the kohen would purify him by sprinkling the ashes of the red heifer. But the kohen would then become impure. This teaches us that there is much more beyond human comprehension. When we are meritorious, Hashem reveals it to us.

Every year on Purim the great light of keter comes down. There is an incredible level of clarity and an understanding of who we are. Purim is greater than Yom Kipppur in some ways. Hashem gives us the capability to reach awesome heights. May we merit to utilize the day to the fullest.





Hidden Miracles in the Megillah

7 03 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg 

Purim is a holiday of nes nistar (hidden miracles). A nes nistar is when Hashem intervenes and helps us, within the laws of nature. Megilat Esther does not tell of any supernatural miracles. In fact, Hashem‘s name is not found even once in the text. He is hidden in between the lines to show us that even when one cannot see Him He is there.

Both the Gra and the Malbim point out the seemingly coincidental occurrences in the megilah that were really veiled miracles.

In chapter one it says, “V’hashtiya kadat ein oness (The drinking was by law without force).” A major theme of the party was full freedom. It is therefore ironic that the king commanded Vashti to do something against her will. Hashem put into Achashevirosh’s head to do this, so Esther would become the next queen.

After Vashti disobeyed the king and Achashevirosh asked his advisors what to do, Memuchan said that she should be killed and that a new royal edict should be issued. The official law of the land was that any court case involving the king had to be decided together with his advisors. Haman said to change this so the king could decide on his own. Nine years later, when Esther told Achashveirosh, “Haman wants to kill me,” the king immediately ordered Haman executed. The Gra notes that Haman helped kill himself. If the law hadn’t been changed, Achashveirosh may have calmed down after some time or Haman could have bribed the king’s advisors.

After Achashveirosh killed Vashti, he sent out letters that every man should rule in his own home. This was another hidden miracle. It made Achashveirosh look foolish. When he sent out another letter to kill the Jews, the people waited and didn’t jump to follow his order because they already knew not to take him seriously.

Haman’s lottery fell on the 13th of Adar, eleven and a half months later. This allowed the Jews time to repent and save themselves. Haman put his faith in mikreh (coincidence) but Hashem worked it out for the good of the Jews.

The tree Haman built was 50 amot tall. It could be seen throughout Shushan. After Achashveirosh came in furious from the garden, Charvona appeared and pointed to the tree where Haman planned to hang Mordechai. This set Achashveirosh off even more and he immediately ordered Haman killed. Haman had prepared his own gallows.

The ultimate nes nistar was the night Achashveirosh couldn’t sleep. When the megilla says “Hamelech” it refers to Hashem, and at this point in the story it is read to the tune of the High Holidays services. Hashem wasn’t sleeping. He was actively saving the Jews. On that very evening, Haman planned to get Achashveirosh’s permission to kill Mordechai. The king’s servants read him the story of how Mordechai saved the king, which happened nine years previous. Had he been rewarded earlier, things wouldn’t have happened the way they did. The very second that Haman knocked to enter, the servants finished reading the tale.

Vayomer Charvona echad min hasarasim (And Charvona, one of the advisors said).” The hey in hasarasim is a hey hayediah. The simple translation is that he was one of the known advisors, but this seems odd because he was never mentioned before. The Gra and the Malbim explain. At the end of the sixth chapter, the megilah says that while Haman and his family were talking, the king’s advisors arrived. Charvona knew about the tree because he was one of the sarisim who barged in in in the middle of the discussion. Hashem timed it to the second so that Charvona would overhear.

The book of Nechemia tells how the king asked the prophet Nechemia why he looked sad. He replied that he was mourning for the ruins of Jerusalem. The king then gave permission for the Jews to rebuild the beit hamikdash. The Navi notes that the queen was sitting next to the king. Chazal say that the king was Daryavesh and the queen was his mother Esther. Daryavesh gave permission to rebuild the beit hamikdash because his mother advised him to.

The entire Purim story was part of Hashem’s hidden master-plan to bring the redemption closer.





Lag B’aomer-Balancing The Individual And The Nation

16 05 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Lag BaOmer: Balancing the Individual and the Nation

During the weeks between Pesach and Shavuot we mourn the passing of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who were decimated in a plague. Why did they die? What caused the plague to cease on Lag B’aomer? What can we learn from this tragic episode?

The Gemara tells us that the students died because they did not give each other sufficient respect. The Shem Mishmuel discusses two contrasting approaches to understand this puzzling statement.

While the written Torah is limited, the oral Torah continues to evolve. Great Torah scholars with their own unique thinking continuously delve into the intricacies of Shas (the entire corpus of Talmudic teachings) and develop new and original Torah thoughts. Since this process involves the individual, it can lend itself easily to pride. Continuous disputes between scholars may lead to selfish vested interest. Developing one’s independent thinking, yet at the same time valuing another scholar’s view, is a challenge all Torah scholars have to grapple with.  Rabbi Akiva’s students became so enthralled in their own learning that they would not consider each other’s view. Each thought his own way was best. This may have been their flaw and why they were punished.

The Zohar writes that the students of Rabbi Akiva were a reincarnation of the 24,000 Jews of the tribe of Shimon who died in a plague in the desert. They were punished for rebelling against Moshe and for thinking that they understood Jewish law better than he did. Their self-centeredness drove them to their death. This same sin of egoism and pride spelled the death sentence for Rabbi Akiva’s students. Unfortunately, after being tested a second time they failed again. Similarly, the areas in which we see ourselves sinning time and time again are usually what we are on this world to correct. Hashem gives us the ability to conquer our urges and correct our failings. Sefira is an opportune time to rectify what needs fixing.

Shem MiShmuel offers an alternative, second explanation. Every Jew has a double role, to be an individual and to be a part of the collective nation. At Matan Torah, there was a total unification. Klal Yisrael was as one man with one heart. While receiving the Torah was a national event, the actual fulfillment of the mitzvot depends on each individual. Just as our body has many parts, but remains one integrated whole, we must see ourselves as a part of one national unit. Then there is no place for pride. The students of Rabbi Akiva understood this concept of unity incorrectly. They loved each other so much that they fused into a single entity. They did not see it necessary to give each other honor, just as a person would not give any extra respect to his own legs or hand. This may have been their sin.

The month of Nissan represents klal, the community. In this month, the nation’s Exodus from Egypt occurred. Iyar symbolizes the prat, the individual. In this month each Jew counts his own Omer. On Pesach Sheini, every person brings his individual sacrifice. Sivan is the resolution of prat and klal. The sign of Iyar is twins. Though the Torah was given to the Jewish nation, it was also given to every individual. Every Jew has his own personal share in Torah. As one universal whole, there is no room for pride. Yet on the individual level, we need to give each other honor. Rabbi Akiva’s students did not understand this delicate balance and therefore they were decimated.

Lag Ba’omer begins the last third of the Sefira period.  It corresponds to the last ashmora (third) of the evening, when light begins to filter into the world. Whether the students died because of too much prat or too much klal as they misinterpreted them, on Lag Ba’omer the perfect paradigm of Shavuot begins to be felt.

In many ways a husband and wife symbolize this symbiotic relationship. While they are two parts of one soul, they are still two separate individuals. Being as one is a powerful state, but runs the risk of not giving one’s spouse the proper respect. We need to realize that though we are meant to unite, we each have a unique contribution to make to our families and to the world.

This Lag Ba’omer, may we attain the perfect balance of prat and klal, not losing sight of each Jew’s precious individual worth, while uniting as one to serve Hashem.