In the Merit of Righteous Women: Rachel & Leah #7

4 11 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

Rachel and Leah When Yaakov met Rachel coming with the sheep, he immediately recognized her as his bashert-predestined mate. How did he know this? What does bashert really mean?

 

Yaakov was a prophet. He signified emet, which is the ability to perceive something completely – including one’s own place in the larger picture. Yaakov was tiferet, a combination of chesed and gevurah, inspiration and challenge. The perfect mate for tiferet is malchut, taking the vision and making it happen. Malchut means achieving absolute control over oneself and then surrendering that control to something higher. Yaakov saw malchut in Rachel.

 

The Zohar says that Rachel was beautiful but she had no eyes. Rachel wasn’t a visionary. She didn’t live with perceiving the bigger picture from afar. She lived in the here and now and this is what Yaakov saw in her. He needed someone to take his vision and ground it in reality.

 

Hashem gives everyone a mission in life, but it’s difficult to accomplish it alone. He gives us a helpmate to help us reach our destiny but how do we know who our mate really is? The Gemara says one’s first mate is the one who was divinely ordained and one’s second mate goes according to merit. The Malbim explains that the first mate is the bonding of the soul to the body.

 

The person you marry depends on your merits. Every soul has a mission that is applicable to it on many levels. Nefesh is the part of the soul experienced through the body; ruach is the choosing self; and neshama embodies our spiritual uniqueness. A person will encounter his highest zivug according to his merit. Many of us are barely on speaking terms with our neshama. We don’t know ourselves at all. Our zivug will not be with our neshama but rather with our nefesh or ruach.

 

Yaakov recognized Rachel as his absolute zivug. He kissed her and wept. The kiss was not a kiss of desire. He cried because he had a flash of prophetic insight that told him he wouldn’t be buried with her. Nobody thinks of death and desire at the same time. He was in love with her righteousness and part of her righteousness entailed that she wouldn’t be buried with him. She was destined to be interred at the crossroads. Being a doer, uplifting physicality, means you have to address yourself to the world and not hide in a cave.

 

Leah’s eyes were weak from weeping. Unlike Rachel she didn’t live in the moment but rather in the future. She was projective. Leah had great spiritual capacity and could have turned Esav around. But she didn’t want him. He could give her nothing that she desired and she therefore wept for the fate that awaited her. Leah’s middah was binah, insight. Yaakov needed action, not insight, and therefore Lavan gave him Leah so that he would fail in his mission. For Yaakov it seemed like a disaster. For Leah, however, it was the fulfillment of her deepest prayers.

 

Rachel saw Leah just as herself, a woman no less divine than her, who wanted just what she desired. She could not let her suffer humiliation. She sacrificed her entire future to save her sister from shame. Her act took only a moment, but it changed the course of history. The power of redemption is in her merit.

 

Why didn’t Yaakov leave Leah after discovering Lavan’s deception? We believe that all marriages are predestined. If Hashem blesses a marriage with a child, it means the couple is meant to be bonded. However the Torah does permit divorce because people can choose themselves out of a good marriage. Divorce can be a matter of a bad choice. In marriage there has to be a basic premise of honesty between the couple. If it is based on false premises, it’s not a valid pact. Nonetheless, Yaakov’s depth was such that he wouldn’t divorce the mother of his child.

 

In truth it wasn’t a mekach ta’ut (a mistaken pact). The tribes with their caliber had to come from Leah. And Yaakov, the personification of emet had to be married to the wrong woman in order to develop himself. He needed both Rachel and Leah because in a certain sense it was as though he was two people, Yaakov and Yisrael. At this juncture in his life he was still Yaakov, the heel touching the floor, he wasn’t at his highest most developed state. Yet eventually he became Yisrael, the one in whom Hashem would prevail.





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.





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.





Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur #1 & #2 Rav Hai Gaon teaches that the custom to blow shofar at the end of Yom Kippur is based on the Torah obligation to blow shofar on the Yom Kippur of the yovel (the jubilee year). The Kol Bo says it is meant to confound the Satan. The Meiri concurs with this second reason but the Shibolei Haleket, the Mordechai, and the Tur mention the first reason. Tosfot in Shabbat offers a third explanation. The shofar blowing proclaims that night has fallen and that one is now permitted to prepare the festive meal of motzai Yom Kippur. Many rishonim suggest other reasons, among them that it is a sign of the Divine Presence ascending to the heavens.

Why do we blow shofar every year if the shofar of yovel was only blown once in fifty years? In addition, if the shofar was only blown in Eretz Yisrael during yovel, how does it connect to motzai Yom Kippur when the shofar is blown everywhere? Rav Hai Gaon explains that there is a doubt when yovel falls out. Therefore, we blow shofar in every year. This still begs the fundamental question: What is the connection between yovel and Yom Kippur?

The Meshech Chochma discusses the sanctity of yovel and shemitta (the seventh year). While both relate to the land, shemitta is connected to Shabbat while yovel corresponds to Yom Tov. Shemitta and Shabbat both have inherent holiness, while yovel and Yom tov are dependent on the sanctification of the Jewish people. We say in Kiddush of Yom Tov, “Mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim.” Likewise, Yovel is established through the proclamation of the Jewish court and its holiness is dependent on our actions.

Yovel signifies repentance and freedom. Property is returned to its original owner, slaves are set free, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. While shemitta focuses on the earth, yovel involves the individual. Rashi says the term yovel refers to the blowing of the shofar. Rav Kook explains that yovel is a kind of social and economic revolution necessary for the equilibrium of society. Similarly, the purification of Yom Kippur is the ability to transcend the shackles of the evil inclination. It proclaims freedom from the desires of the yetzer hara. On Yom Kippur, we become like angels divested of physicality. Likewise, yovel has an element of the world to come where the satan cannot rule. ‘Hasatan’ is the numerical value of 364, which signifies the 364 days of the year when the Satan has permission to meddle in our lives. One day in the year, Yom Kippur, we return to our source and are set free of his overpowering influence.

The shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur heralds the realization of the ideals of yovel. We once again enter the lofty realm of alma d’teshuva (the world of repentance) and alma d’cherut (the world of freedom).





Elul-Month of Relationships

18 09 2011

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

Elul-Month of Relationships The Sefat Emet teaches that the essence of the month of Elul is understanding the interplay of the word ‘lo‘ as expressed in the verse in Tehillim, “Hu asanu v’lo anachnu. He created us and we are His.” ‘Lo‘ can be translated interchangeably as ‘to Him’ or ‘we are nothing.’ We have the ability to attach ourselves to Hashem to the extent that we nullify ourselves. This is encoded within the word Elul – spelled lamed, aleph, lamed, vav.

What does nullifying oneself mean? Rav Tatz explains that our inner struggles are linked to the root challenge first faced by Adam. Adam reasoned that if he would sin he would bring himself and the world down from its pure state into a world of physicality. If he could then stand firm against temptation, he would achieve much more than by resisting sin on an elevated level. However, he was mistaken. Where there is an illusion of independence, where there’s a wrong choice that contradicts the Divine Will, there is a death. We all face this challenge. Being told what to do is a negation of self. Adam wanted to use his entire being to serve Hashem. But he failed to realize that the greatest assertion of free will is giving in to a Higher Will. Elul is a time to introspect and ask ourselves, how many times did our will and Hashem’s Will clash? How many times did we insist on our own will? It’s a time to work on nullifying the ‘I’ and committing our will to Hashem.

There’s also the second aspect of ‘lo.’ We belong to Hashem. The Netivot Shalom writes about the pasuk, “Nachpesa diracheinu, Let us search our ways.” We must not only think about our sins but also about our mitzvot. What is our mindset when we do mitzvot and learn Torah? Are we just going through the motions and missing the essence? When we say a bracha or daven, do we visualize that we are talking to the Masterof the world? Elul is a preparatory time to analyze our relationship with Hashem. We must open our eyes to find Him.

There’s no aspect of life devoid of Hashem. Whether it’s physical or spiritual needs, we must turn to Him for help. When we do this, even for minor things, He becomes more involved in our lives. The Chazon Ish told a student that the main thing to ingrain in a child’s mind is emuna and hashgacha pratit, recognizing that Hashem is intimately involved in every aspect of our life. This is how we develop an emotional bond with Him. The mindset of a Jew has to be, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov. For me closeness to Hashem is good.”

If we spend Elul focusing on making Hashem’s Will our own and on developing a relationship with Him, we can then stand before him on Rosh Hashana and crown Him king.