Parshat Toldot: Wells of Faith

28 11 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

In Parshat Toldot, the Torah tells us that Yitzchak dug wells. The Avot were the progenitors of the Jewish people and their actions were indicative of everything that would happen to their descendants in the future. The Midrash says in the name of Rav Yehuda that Yitzchak dug four well. In the future his children would have four camps in the desert. The Rabbanan taught that he dug five wells, corresponding to the five books of the Torah.

 

The Shem Mishmuel explains this puzzling Midrash with a verse from Mishlei, “There are very deep waters to be found in the wisdom of the human heart. A wise man knows how to draw from these waters.” Just as water comes forth from the ground when one digs up the earth, deep spiritual wisdom resides within the human soul. One must be wise enough to know how to break through the physical barriers and other impediments that prevent us from accessing our natural spirituality. This is the symbolic meaning of the wells. When Yitzchak dug them, he made it possible for his descendants to do the same on a spiritual level. Our forefathers taught us that just as it is important to break through our physical impediments and allow our spirituality to surface, it’s equally critical that our Judaism be vibrant and alive.

 

How do we turn away from excess materialism and refocus on spirituality? The first step is to have a plan. Examine how you spend your day. What percentage of time is spent on spirituality and how much time is consumed with physical matters? Working your way up to larger percentages of time on spirituality is a worthy goal. When we make decisions, spiritual factors should play a critical role. Focus on what’s important. Set aside time for meditation, learning Torah, and doing acts of kindness. Make an effort to be part of a congregation, because the power of a group is so much greater than what one person can muster. Realize that life is a spiritual quest, an opportunity and a challenge.

 

The first level of digging the well is breaking down the barriers that prevent us from being what we truly can be, spiritual beings. The second level is engendering excitement. Our Judaism should be bubbling and effervescent like mayim chayim – life giving waters.

 

The Jews in the desert were faced with many difficulties among them lack of food, water, and direction. The four camps was Hashem‘s way of organizing the people to survive the rigors of the desert. Only with the miracles Hashem performed and with Moshe’s steady leadership were they able to endure their harsh circumstances. We remember these gifts through the four wells. The Torah is like a flowing spring, it’s an amazing source of spiritual and intellectual life. It is the five wells corresponding to the five books of Torah. The Zohar writes that the wells also represent tzizit and tefilin. Tzizit protects us from evil. It is compared to the four camps. Tefilin is like the Torah. It imparts holiness.

 

Digging a well involves sur me’ra – discarding the earth, the evil. Then it can evolve into something greater – asai tov (doing good). But we can still access spirituality on whatever level we are at. It might be difficult to break the cycle of sin, so starting with asei tov (doing good deeds) can slowly push the evil away.

 

The wells of Yitzchak are a lesson for life. They teach about overcoming barriers and impediments., to approach life as an exhilarating venture instead of getting mired in negativity. May we revel in the opportunity to accomplish our spiritual goals life according to our ultimate purpose.

Parshat Toldot: Wells of Faith

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

In Parshat Toldot, the Torah tells us that Yitzchak dug wells. The Avot were the progenitors of the Jewish people and their actions were indicative of everything that would happen to their descendants in the future. The Midrash says in the name of Rav Yehuda that Yitzchak dug four well. In the future his children would have four camps in the desert. The Rabbanan taught that he dug five wells, corresponding to the five books of the Torah.

 

The Shem Mishmuel explains this puzzling Midrash with a verse from Mishlei, “There are very deep waters to be found in the wisdom of the human heart. A wise man knows how to draw from these waters.” Just as water comes forth from the ground when one digs up the earth, deep spiritual wisdom resides within the human soul. One must be wise enough to know how to break through the physical barriers and other impediments that prevent us from accessing our natural spirituality. This is the symbolic meaning of the wells. When Yitzchak dug them, he made it possible for his descendants to do the same on a spiritual level. Our forefathers taught us that just as it is important to break through our physical impediments and allow our spirituality to surface, it’s equally critical that our Judaism be vibrant and alive.

 

How do we turn away from excess materialism and refocus on spirituality? The first step is to have a plan. Examine how you spend your day. What percentage of time is spent on spirituality and how much time is consumed with physical matters? Working your way up to larger percentages of time on spirituality is a worthy goal. When we make decisions, spiritual factors should play a critical role. Focus on what’s important. Set aside time for meditation, learning Torah, and doing acts of kindness. Make an effort to be part of a congregation, because the power of a group is so much greater than what one person can muster. Realize that life is a spiritual quest, an opportunity and a challenge.

 

The first level of digging the well is breaking down the barriers that prevent us from being what we truly can be, spiritual beings. The second level is engendering excitement. Our Judaism should be bubbling and effervescent like mayim chayim – life giving waters.

 

The Jews in the desert were faced with many difficulties among them lack of food, water, and direction. The four camps was Hashem‘s way of organizing the people to survive the rigors of the desert. Only with the miracles Hashem performed and with Moshe’s steady leadership were they able to endure their harsh circumstances. We remember these gifts through the four wells. The Torah is like a flowing spring, it’s an amazing source of spiritual and intellectual life. It is the five wells corresponding to the five books of Torah. The Zohar writes that the wells also represent tzizit and tefilin. Tzizit protects us from evil. It is compared to the four camps. Tefilin is like the Torah. It imparts holiness.

 

Digging a well involves sur me’ra – discarding the earth, the evil. Then it can evolve into something greater – asai tov (doing good). But we can still access spirituality on whatever level we are at. It might be difficult to break the cycle of sin, so starting with asei tov (doing good deeds) can slowly push the evil away.

 

The wells of Yitzchak are a lesson for life. They teach about overcoming barriers and impediments., to approach life as an exhilarating venture instead of getting mired in negativity. May we revel in the opportunity to accomplish our spiritual goals life according to our ultimate purpose.





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.





Kohelet: Solving The Complexities of Life

12 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Kohelet: Perek 10: Solving The Complexities of Life #11The sages tell us that there are three forces that take a person out of reality: jealousy, desire, and honor.

Jealousy is the illusion that if someone else has more, than I have correspondingly less. In spirituality there are no limitations. We are given exactly what we need to achieve in life. We can be our absolute maximum self regardless of what anyone else has.

Lack of control is the voice of desire. Rav Dessler teaches that unlike jealousy, desire can’t be eliminated because it has a physical and emotional base. Imagery can help. At the moment when desires arises within you, try to imagine how you would appear out of control or, conversely, attempt to picture yourself in control and feel good about it.

Honor is connected to the body. Needing appreciation and validation on the deepest level, means not trusting who you are without external acknowledgement. If you need people’s validation then you are a prisoner to other people on the basis of what they tell you.

Honor takes a person out of intellectual reality, desire lifts him out of physical reality, and jealousy forces him out of emotional reality. The evil inclination then goes right into that empty space and does his work. The heart of a wise person leads him to the good path, the right side, which is stronger, while the desire of the fool takes him to the left side, the road less defined.

Right is chesed (kindness) and left is gevurah (justice). Chesed is the most predominant of the spiritual attributes and gevurah is the most corruptible. A person’s heart can steer him towards exploring things and feelings with the intent of wanting to bring goodness into the world. It can also lead him in the direction of defensiveness and restraint and not wanting to give anything at all. It’s better to trust the side of you that wants to give and make things good, than to trust the part of you that demands justice, because the desire for justice is easily corruptible.

The Baal Hatanya teaches that the heart has two ventricles. While the right side is empty, the left side is full of blood. The right side is the good side of the person, the part that gives itself over to Hashem. The left side is the animal side, the part that’s driven to pursue its goals. The fool doesn’t know the difference between right and left. He will do whatever he wants to do without thinking. His heart and emotions influence his actions.





An Invitation To Hashem’s House

11 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum

An Invitation To Hashem's House One would think Sukkot should have been after Pesach, when Hashem took us out of Egypt. That was when the Jews dwelt in sukkot in the desert. Yet the holiday comes close on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is as if Hashem says, “You invited me into your home, now I will invite you into my abode.”

 

Sukkot contains an aspect of the world to come. For one special week we merit to dwell in the shade of the Divine Presence. The halachot (laws) of this special mitzva help us understand how to come closer to Him. Everything in the physical world has a form and shape, something that gives it borders. Holiness, however has no boundaries. Just as Hashem is expansive and fills the world, spirituality has no limits. The sukkah‘s width is boundless. This teaches us that everything in the world can be included within the framework of kedusha (sanctity). We sleep and eat and spend the greater part of our time in the sukkah as a way of showing Hashem that all physicality can be sanctified for Him. Yet the walls of the sukkah cannot be higher than twenty amot because the boundaries of kedusha require a vessel.

 

The Ramchal in Mesilat Yesharim writes that a person can make himself into a mishkan (tabernacle) for Hashem. Just as the mishkan traveled from place to place, a person can connect to Hashem wherever he is. The more a person attaches himself to Hashem, the more he transforms himself into a dwelling place for Him. On Sukkot we take everything we have and place it within the firm boundaries of the sukkah walls and elevate it for Hashem.

 

Sukkot comes after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, days of tremendous closeness to Hashem. On Rosh Hashana we pray for sustenance, life, good health, children and a sweet new year. The sweetness is the aspect of uplifting what we have for Hashem. On Sukkot we actualize this by inviting Hashem into our homes and hearts.

 

The Gemara says that the merit of building the walls of the sukkah drives away both our physical and spiritual enemies. The sukkah protects us. It must have more shade than sun. Sun represents the power of the nations. It never changes or grows. We are compared to the moon, which constantly experiences renewal and rebirth.

 

Sukkot is a tremendous opportunity to store up kedusha and tahara (purity). This is why it is called zman simchateinu. This is what eternal joy is about.





Love Beyond Reason

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

Love Beyond Reason #4 The Shem MiShmuel asks, why on Hoshana Rabba do the aravot (willow leaves) play the central role?

 

The Midrash explains that each of the species represent a different type of Jew. The etrog (citron fruit), which has a good flavor and scent, represents the tzaddik who has both Torah wisdom and good deeds. The lulav (palm branch), which has a good flavor, but no scent, signifies a person with wisdom but no good deeds. The hadassim (myrtle branches), which have a good fragrance but no flavor, symbolize a person with good deeds but no wisdom. The aravot (willow branhes), have neither flavor nor fragrance, which signifies a person who lacks both good deeds and Torah wisdom.

 

We find a similar idea hidden in the ketoret (incense offering). There were eleven spices, one of which was the chelbana, which exuded an unpleasant odor. However, when combined with the other ten spices it added a tasteful pungency to the mixture. On Sukkot, we take the four species and symbolically proclaim that every Jew, no matter what level he’s at, has something to contribute to klal Yisrael.

 

On Hashana Rabbah, only the aravot are taken. This teaches us the absolute love Hashem has for every Jew, even the most wicked. Hashem chose us, exercising a choice unbound by logic, and he will never abandon us. Our relationship is otherworldly, something that cannot be contained in words. And just as Hashem remains loyal to us, we must love every Jew regardless of his level.

 

While Yom Kippur is an island of sanctity, isolated from the rest of the year, Hoshana Rabbah contains elements of the weekday. A lot of the influence of Yom Kippur has worn off by the time we get to the end of Sukkot. On Hashana Rabbah, we tell Hashem, “We want to be good, but the complexities of life make it difficult. Give us a free gift and forgive our sins.”

 

During the times of the beit hamikdash, the Jews would circle the altar with the aravot. This signifies that even if we fall to the lowest depths like the aravot, Hashem will lift us to the level of the altar. Large aravot were placed on the altar. The aravot were offered as a sacrifice, just as we offer our own human weaknesses to Hashem. In a sense Hoshana Rabbah goes beyond Yom Kippur. On this day it is as if Hashem tells us, “My children, you are not lost, despite your failings.”

 

Our sages teach us that Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, is a holiday of its own. Seven signifies the cycle of nature, while eight represents something supernatural. It’s wrong for a person to think, “This is the way I am. I cannot improve.” On the contrary, we can transform ourselves because there is something extraordinary beyond nature inside each of us. Torah study, prayer, and kind deeds empower us to repent. While angels remain stagnant, people have the ability to reach unimaginable heights.

 

When the beit hamikdash stood, the Jews would form a human wall and encircle the altar with the four species. A wall is like an environment. There are terrible environments that must be shattered and good environments that must be built. Walking around with the lulav and etrog is akin to destroying negative barriers. Encircling the altar with the Torah is like erecting\a wall of sanctity. The Zohar writes that the female side of the satan is called yilila. This also means wailing because sadness is fundamental to evil. The opposite is also true. Therefore, the last day of the holiday is Simchat Torah. Torah signifies simcha (happiness). We rejoice with Hashem‘s love and with the privilege to build a wall of holiness and sanctity to last us through the coming year.





What is the correct hashkafic approach to dealing with failure?

9 10 2011

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

Achieving Balance #11

Question: 

What is the correct hashkafic approach to dealing with failure? For instance, when we commit a sin that we resolved not to do again, or when we destroy relationships that we resolved to build. How do we maintain our self-esteem in the face of feeling worthless inside?

Answer:

We all fail at some point in life. The evil inclination’s strongest weapon is despair. Tehillim says, “A tzaddik falls seven times and rises.”

 

There are seven attributes we share with Hashem. A person could fail at each one but it doesn’t give him an excuse not to get up again. The difference between a tzaddik and a rasha is not that a tzaddik never fails, but that he rises up the seventh time. You must get up and try again.

 

If you resolved not to do something and then did it again, the method you used didn’t work. Be creative. Devise a different plan of action. If that too fails, think of something else. Realize that Hashemwill not judge you by your successes, but rather by your efforts. Failing is completely normal. Many times we look at great people and think they were born righteous. In fact most tzaddikim started out small and suffered many setbacks before they finally attained their elevated spiritual level.





Perception and Purification

7 10 2011

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

Perception and Purification Before Mincha on Yom Kippur, we read the maftir of Yonah. The commentators tell us that this section was chosen to remind us of the power of repentance. There are two aspects of mitzvot and aveirot. The first view is that they are meant to engender discipline and compliance. The commandments themselves aren’t necessarily beneficial or damaging; it is only the results that are. The second view is that they are like a doctor’s orders. Hashem tells us what is good or detrimental for us. The mitzvot have an inherent effect on us. In truth, both aspects are valid. We don’t understand the intrinsic reasons for the mitzvot and aveirot, but if Hashem commanded or forbade something, it is for our good. The commandments affect us on an internal level. Mitzvot will strengthen our bond with Hashem, while aveirot will weaken it.

During the vidui (confession), we say, “Selach lanu, mechal lanu.” Selicha refers to the intrinsic damage caused by sin. This is the doctor aspect. It is the facet that is connected to the reciprocal relationship between man and Hashem. Only Hashem can obliterate the internal damage of sin. Mechal is the external aspect of forgiveness. Hashem can forgive us as a king for the outer part of sin and as a father on the intrinsic level.

Repentance consists of three steps: regret, confession, and resolving not to sin again. The critical factor of repentance is that the person should not commit the sin again. Charata (regret)is intrinsic atonement. The verbal medium of vidui enhances both aspects. Confessing sensitizes a person to the reality of Hashem‘s presence and his responsibility for his actions. Confession makes an impression on the person, and intensifies and prolongs the effects of his teshuva. The Maharal says sin distances us from Hashem and vidui reconnects us to the divine aspect within ourselves. Focusing on charata helps us realize where we’ve gone wrong. Kabala al he’atid rectifies the rebellion aspect of sin.

Rav Lugasi notes that the first component of teshuva is taking responsibility for your actions. Then you can feel remorse for the choices you have taken and try to rectify it at the point of conflict. Teshuva also involves tuning into our inner voice and asking ourselves honestly what Hashem would want us to do. Our conscious makes demands on us based on our spiritual level. Once we begin to listen to this voice, it gets stronger.

The second challenge of charata is to admit our wrongdoings. This is a great level because it goes against our natural ego. Charata and vidui must be addressed on both a macro and micro level. We must look at our individual sins and at our lives in general and ask ourselves, “Is my life going to waste because of my misconceptions?” Hashem knows our innermost thoughts and can see how we feel about our sins. If we can express real charata, then Hashem will accept our repentance. Rav Tzadok writes that if a person makes a sincere commitment to change but is later overpowered by his evil inclination, he’s still considered a tzaddik.

Kabala le’atid is taking one thing on a concrete level as a representation of our desire to improve. Setting up a restriction to stop us from reverting back to sin shows Hashem that we want to repent. Making small resolutions such as learning the laws of proper speech or studying a sefer on prayer are ways to arouse ourselves to change. On Yom Kippur we experience true joy. There’s pure clarity as we come full circle in our relationship with Hashem. Hashem is like the groom and we are like the bride and we tell him, “We’re ready to take the step forward.” This can have far-reaching repercussions.

Another theme in the book of Yonah is Hashem‘s mercy on all of his creations. If Hashem showed compassion for a foreign nation, he certainly desires to be compassionate towards us. Yonah is read at mincha, a time of eit ratzon (favor). Yonah asked Hashem for truth and justice. And Hashem answered, “I run the world differently.” Humans have physical limitations but Hashem is all merciful. On Yom Kippur, we ask Hashem to judge us mercifully just as He did Yonah and the people of Ninveh.

May Hashem grant us complete forgiveness. May He wipe our slates clean and may we merit to begin a new year filled with promise and accomplishments.