Prayer as a Weapon

21 02 2012
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

When Yaakov Avinu blessed his children, he said, “I took Shechem b’charbi u’vekashti,” with my sword and arrow. Targum Unkelos translates b’charbi u’vekashti as “b’tzeluti uvuati, meaning with my prayers and requests. Prayer is a powerful weapon

In Tehilim, King David, one of the greatest formulators of Jewish prayer, uses the term zemirot, from the root word zemer, a song. Zemer can also mean to cut with a sword or knife or to prune. A zemer is a song with a cutting edge. It can break through all obstructions that prevent us from achieving our goals. Whether it’s praying for redemption, health, or whatever other things we are lacking, there are tremendous barriers. Prayer is like a sword that can pierce right through. Nothing can withstand the power of prayer. Not only does it bring blessing, but it can cause miracles to happen. Nothing can stop prayer, which works above natural law.

Chazal say, “Afilu cherev chada munachat al tzavoro al tityaesh min harachamim.” Even if a sharp sword rests upon your neck, do not despair of Hashem‘s mercy. People at the brink of death have risen from their sickbed through the power of prayer. Prayer is a sword, a powerful weapon that Hashem gave to us.

In the Shemonei Esrei, we say three times daily, “Ki ata shomea tefilat amcha.” You listen to the prayers of your people. There’s no prayer that goes unanswered. Even if a person thinks he wasn’t helped, one day he will be. Moshe prayed 515 prayers to enter Eretz Yisrael. Although he himself did not merit to do so, his prayers weren’t in vain. Every Jew who entered the land after him, did so on the strength of his prayers.

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What role does a close and supportive family play in Judaism?

14 12 2011

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

Achieving Balance: Class#2

Question:

What role does a close and supportive family play in Judaism? Is it in the spirit of Torah for a child to settle in Eretz Yisrael if the parents who stay behind will feel resentful and unappreciated?

 

 

Answer:

Family is unquestionably a Jewish value. The whole concept of Am Yisrael developing into a nation only began when there were families. When Yaakov and his children descended to Egypt, the Torah describes them as, “Ish u’veito,” man and his household. From that point on, the Jewish people were counted as families. There were no more individual censuses.

 

Rav Hirsch explains that different family roles are designed by Hashem to bring tikun (rectification) to each family member. A man gains more by being a father, husband, son, brother, and grandchild, than he would ever gain by just being an individual. Therefore, family is very important. Even people who cannot put this into words know this intuitively. The low assimilation rate in observant communities is the direct result of our emphasis on family. In other communities, the assimilation rate is high, because people develop a sense of wanting to belong somewhere in order to gain that feeling of connection that family should provide.

 

Family is a means for tikun, not a substitute. Therefore, if tikun can be achieved by moving away from family, that is what the person should do. Our tikun is defined by the Torah. While family closeness is more of a hashkafic value, settling in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah that outweighs it.   





Netivot Olam I: Starving The Yetzer Hara #5

12 12 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Netivot Olam  The seven names of the yetzar hara (evil inclination) share a common factor in that they all connote lack. Humans are created imperfect We are drawn towards evil because it resonates with us. The more whole a person is, the less the yetzer hara can dominate him.

The Gemara says that the yetzer hara didn’t rule over the Avot because they reached perfection. No doubt they worked very hard to reach greatness, but they had to be guided by Hashem in this direction because each one of them contained, like a hologram, the total of their future descendants. Because of this, their definition of self had to be complete. They couldn not be defined by chisaron (lack).

The yetzer hara appeals to a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) more than anyone else because his self-definition is his sichliut (intellect). Truth isn’t transient. Therefore, there is a certain sheleimut (perfection) in sichliut . However, the person learning has to apply the truth to a world full of flaws. Sichliut can be reduced to being defined by the imperfections of the world.

The verse states, “The righteous walk with it (the Toarh) while the wicked stumble.” It is compared to a potion that gives a person energy. Where a person goes with it is up to him. It could take him to his death or to higher levels of elevation. Sichliut is enormously powerful. It could lead a person to holiness or to ruin. Great intellectuals veered off the path not just because they were ignorant of Torah but because they used their mind to serve their emotional agendas. Their devoted their intellect to chisaron rather than to elevating it.

The nefesh is divided in two: the animal, instinctive soul and the spiritual soul. The nefesh habahamit of the Jewish people is made from the earth of Eretz Yisrael, while the soul of the non-Jews is made from the earth of other countries. Eretz Yisrael is about elevating the physical. Other countries cannot be uplifted. Our mitzvot force us to interact with the world. In contrast, the non-Jewish perspective views anything physical as an enemy to spirituality. Because Yisrael has to interact with the world, the challenge of being drawn into it is very real. Sin drives away the intellect. The righteous rule their hearts while the wicked are ruled by their hearts. The heart has to draw its energy from chochmah, but ultimately chochmah must control the heart.

Our deveikut (connection) to Hashem is imperfect as we continue to search for Him. Other nations don’t feel the gaping lack as much because they have less potential. Virtually every mistake we have made as a people was ideological. We were aiming towards perfection and somehow veered off. The symbolism of the golden calf and the symbolism of the mishkan both reflected the desire to draw closer to Hashem. However, the difference was that one was an act of self-nullification on Hashem’s terms, while the other was ultimate egotism on human terms.

Although a person may seem more whole and complete if he fulfils his desires, it’s really an illusion. The more a person feeds his evil inclination, the hungrier it gets, because desire is a chisaron. If it is contained and controlled it diminishes. Filling your desires accentuates the part of yourself that is lacking. Starving the yetzer hara eliminates it. A person can sublimate his desires by elevating it, not giving in to it.

The yetzer hara first appears as a guest and then becomes a host. The non-Jews see the yetzer hara as external but in actuality it can easily become a part of our essence. When we make wrong, it becomes habit, which creates desensitization. At the beginning the yetzer hara doesn’t have much force because there is an inner mechanism that is shocked by sin. Once desensitization happens, the drive to sin is so strong it becomes almost inescapable. Because of this, the first step, which may not even be a sin, but just filling our inner void with something that isn’t holy, could be the decisive step that could lead a person off the right path.





Leah and Yaakov’s Relationship

8 11 2011

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

Achieving Balance: Class#2

Question:

Why wasn’t the spiritual goal of building Klal Yisrael adequate to bond Leah to Yaakov in the same way it bonded him to Rachel?

 

Answer:

By definition special love is unique and exclusive and cannot be directed towards two people. Therefore, Yaakov’s love for Leah could not be like the love he had for Rachel. Had the world been on a higher level, Yaakov would have had one wife. Rachel would have had within her both her own attributes and the spiritual attributes of Leah. Yaakov would have had within him both the spiritual forces of Yaakov and Yisrael.

 

Rachel was the more practical of the two sisters, the one who could address the revealed physical world. Since we are meant to bring the idealism of Leah into the world of Rachel, Rachel became the akeret habayit, the mainstay of the house of Israel.





Chassidic Sparks: Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge

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

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

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

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

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





Hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) doesn’t come easily to me…

2 09 2011

Rebbetzin’s Perspective: Class #4

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question:

 

Hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) doesn’t come easily to me. When people ask me for a favor my automatic reaction is refusal. How can I become a more giving person?

 

 

 

Answer:

Some people are extremely social. They dread being alone. You seem to be a person who has an inner life and enjoys order and control. Your middah is gevurah (restraint) rather than chesed (outpouring). Don’t be hard on yourself. Gevurah is just as holy as chesed.

 

However the Maharal says gevurah is very easily corrupted, so you need to be careful. When you manifest your desire for restraint on other people, instead of using it on yourself, it gets distorted. Invite guests that need an invitation. Don’t host people for the sake of company. Take your eyes off yourself and focus more on others. If you need thinking space, do it when people aren’t around. If someone comes to you for a favor, treat it as an opportunity for self- development. Tell yourself, “This is how I’ll build my chesed and become a more balanced person. This is how my gevurah will be tempered.”

 

You have to learn to be more spontaneous and giving rather than disciplined and in control. When Hashem sends chesed your way he is really telling you to widen your borders. You’re a person of restraint which is a holy middah. Use your self-control to perfect yourself, but be expansive and giving with others.





Does Hashem Want to Hear From Me?

12 07 2011


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

Rebbetzin's Perspective I Class #5

Question:

I’ve learned that Hashem gives nisyonot to those who can grow from them and to those whose prayers he longs for. B”H my life is running smoothly. Does this mean that Hashem doesn’t want to hear from me?  I thank Hashem all the time but I also can’t help constantly feeling that something bad may be looming on the horizon. Does this fear stem from a lack of emunah or from an inaccurate view of Hashem as a loving Father or from a low self-esteem not conducive to spiritual growth?

 

Answer:

 

The Rambam tells us that we are all in the midst of a nisayon (test). Even people who are living seemingly easy lives have the test of not attributing anything to themselves. Continue thanking Hashem for all the good He’s provided you with. Give Him the nachat of serving Him with simcha, joy. When you wake up in the morning, say Modeh Ani with passion and real joy. Call out to Hashem with the same kind of force and emotion as a poverty stricken person cries out to Him for his basic needs. Your joy should be infectious. When people would ask Rav Noach Weinberg, “What is the most important kiruv tool,” he’d answer, “Happiness.” You can save countless lives just by teaching people the art of appreciation and thankfulness.

 

The Rambam says, as you feel intuitively, that our life spans are like circles that go around and around. A person may be up today and down tomorrow. We should all expect that life will present us with different challenges. Few of us will stay with the same nisayon forever. But the same loving, caring, Father who gives us nisyonot that are visibly good, also gives us nisyonot that may appear bad.  Even if Hashem decides to test you with a daunting trial, hold on to your sense of gratitude and love for Him. Despair stems from a lack of emunah. It comes from failing to believe that whatever Hashem does is good and compassionate, and that something painful may in fact be for tikun. Your flaw in emunah is that though it is real, it is not broad enough. Work on strengthening that and then any challenge Hashem sends your way will only be a catalyst for growth.