Marriage: The Eternal Structure

3 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

 The Shem Mishmuel quotes a perplexing Gemara in Brachot. The Rabbis asked Rav Hamnuna to sing a song at a wedding and he began to sing, “Woe to us people, we will die. Where is the Torah and mitzvot that will protect us?” Why did Rav Hamnuna sing such a mournful tune at a wedding?

The Shem Mishmuel explains that marriage is the antithesis of death. It is a binyan adei ad, an eternal structure that is created through the couple’s descendants. In this world, both the soul and body can ascend by making the right choices. After death, the soul can no longer be sanctified by engaging and lifting physicality. If it didn’t achieve what it needed to on this world it cannot do it anymore after death. But the Gemara says there is a way out. If a couple’s children continue to do mitzvot it is as if the parents never died and their souls will continue to ascend in heaven. That’s why Rav Hamnuna mentioned death and mitzvot. Clearly the mitzvah of peru urevu, having children, is a central part of the joy of a wedding.

In Parshat Balak, Bilam says concerning Hashem, “The Almighty in heaven counts the offspring of the Jewish people.” Chazal say this refers to children. Bilam questioned how Hashem could be involved in something so physical.

The Shem Mishmuel explains that in many ways the material world is the antithesis of purity and sanctity. There are religions that teach their adherents to live an ascetic life. Bilam only understood spirituality as an entity on its own. However, the mainstream Torah view, which is emphasized by Chassidut, is to take physicality and elevate it to spirituality. This is the secret of Torah. There is holiness embedded in the material world which is brought out through the mitzvot.

The most important institution where this idea is expressed is the Jewish marriage. The deeper one digs in a mine, the better quality diamonds one finds. The more physical something is, the more sanctity can be extracted. Marriage is called kiddushin. The kohen gadol, the holiest leader of the Jewish people was required to have a wife. The bond of marriage creates a very deep and intense holiness.

The Gemara explains that when we dance at a wedding we lift our body up in the air. We take physicality and elevate it to something holy. This is the essence of marriage. Hashem fashioned man in His Divine Image. He gave us the power to create. Hashem is the third partner in bringing children into the world and since He is eternal it is a binyan adei ad (an everlasting structure).

When we raise children to serve Hashem, we generate more holiness. Chassidut emphasizes the concept of “Olam chesed yibaneh.Hashem created the world as an act of kindness. He wanted to give us reward in the next world. Bringing up children is one of the greatest acts of chesed, a part of which is sharing the wisdom of Torah with them. Spend ten minutes a day with each child one on one, preferably with a Torah book. In this way you will be actualizing one of the greatest aspects of kedusha of a Jewish marriage.

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Tisha B’Av – Short Idea with A Big Impact

26 07 2012

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

 In Eicha, Tisha B’av is referred to as a moed (festival). How can we call the saddest day in the Jewish calendar a holiday?

Aleh Shur notes that there are some moadim that are called festivals of closeness such as the shalosh regalim. There are other moadim that are called moed shel richuk, festivals of distance. What is the idea of a holiday of distance?

In the three weeks we must stop and ask ourselves, “Where am I in life? Am I really as close to Hashem as I think I am? Are my mitzvot and Torah on the level it should be or am I fooling myself? Am I merely going through the actions but missing the soul?” A moed shel richuk is celebrating Tisha B’av and telling Hashem, “I am far away, I’m nowhere near where I should be.” When we can make that declaration with honesty and a sincere desire to change, we begin to bridge the gap and move forward.

The baalei mussar say that the clarity of vision one can reach on Tisha B’av is similar to the level one can reach at the end of Yom Kippur. On Tisha B’av we experienced the destruction of our relationship with Hashem. If we can face Hashem with truth and sincerity we will begin the process of renewal and return.

 





Essence of Peace- Parshat Pinchas

13 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The parsha begins by telling us that Pinchas was rewarded with the brit shalom, the covenant of peace, for boldly avenging the honor of Hashem. Pinchas performed an act of vengeance. He was c

ertainly righteous. He did not express misplaced hostility, egotism, or superiority. However

, Hashem deals with us midah k’neged midah. He relates to us in a way that matches our beha

vior, as the verse says “Hashem tzilcha.” Hashem is your shadow. One would think that the zealous Pinchas would be rewarded with the role of eternal warrior. Perhaps he would have appeared as a reincarnation of King David who slayed Golyat or Yehuda Maccabee who conquered the Greeks. Why was he rewarded with the covenant of peace?

Alacrity and kana’ut (zealousness) are not just the desire to eliminate evil. The motivating force for this middah is that one treasures goodness. Pinchas’s vengeance did not stem from hatred but from love. The more one is drawn towards good, the more one will hate evil.

If there were children trapped in a burning apartment, you’d break down the door and flood the house with water, not because you hate the fire but because you desperately want to save the children. Pinchas acted in this manner. His goal was to preserve holiness. This is why Hashem gave him the covenant of peace. He’d be the one to draw things together.

Pinchas teaches us what true zealousness is about. There will always be issues that we will have to fight against. We must stamp out evil but it should never take on its own energy. Rather kana’ut should come out of a desire for purity and holiness, which is what true peace is about.





Overview of the Three Weeks Part 2:

12 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Ilan Segal

The Tur notes that the source for the three weeks of mourning is in the book of Daniel. Rav Sadya Gaon writes, “The prophet Daniel saw the destruction of the second temple and he mourned for three weeks. And upon the end of these three weeks on the 21st of Nisan he had his next vision.” Why was Daniel mourning the churban in Nissan?

There are only two occasions during the year when we have a custom to eat eggs: the night of the seder and at the seudat hamafseket on the eve of Tisha B’av. Why do we eat an egg, a symbol of mourning, on the joyous night of Pesach? The Rama explains that these two time periods are connected. The first night of Pesach always falls on the same night of the week as Tisha B’av. Secondly, although the seder night is a celebration of freedom, there is an element of mourning. We sense the acute absence of the beit hamikdash and the korban pesach.

The Gemara in Bechorot records an interesting discussion regarding the different gestation periods of various creatures and their parallels in the plant world. The Gemara says a chicken takes 21 days to lay its eggs. Similarly, the luz tree, which Tosfot tells us is the almond tree, produces its fruit in 21 days.

The Gemara relates a story about a Roman ruler who challenged Rabbe Yehoshua to bring the wise men of Athens to him. Rabbe Yehoshua discovered their secret hideout and they began a debate with him. The commentators say that they asked deep philosophical questions couched in riddles. They brought two freshly laid white eggs and said, “Tell us which egg was laid by a black hen and which by a white hen.” In reply, Rabbe Yehoshua placed two white cheeses before them and asked which was produced by a black goat and which by a white goat.

The Maharsha notes that the egg represents two 21 day periods in the Jewish calendar, the 17th of Taamuz through Tisha b’av and the 1st day of Tishrei through Hoshana Rabbah. The wise men asked Rabbe Yehoshua, you maintain that the 21 days of Tishrei are days when one’s sin can become white like an egg. It is a period of joy and connection to Hashem. But you also have another 21 days of disaster and churban. It seems everything you have achieved in Tishrei is cancelled out in Av. He responded with goat cheese. Two goats are offered on Yom Kippur, one l’azzazel and the other L’Hashem. Although they are identical, one represents white, pristine atonement and the other represents the darkness of sin. Yet both produce white cheese, libun avonot, whitening of sin.

We can come close to Hashem in many different ways. In Tishrei we do it through good deeds and joy, and and in Av through exile and suffering. Yet both ultimately lead to repentance and atonement.

If we look at the three weeks of Nissan, Av, and Tishrei , we can see a structure. Nissan begins with “hachodesh hazeh lachem,” the uniqueness of klal yisrael, the birth of the Jewish people, their leap of faith culminating with the revelation of the Divine Presence at the splitting of the Red Sea. These weeks built klal yisrael and elevated them. The bein hametzarim is the reversal of that process. Everything created in Nissan unraveled in Tamuz. The descent begins on the 17th of Tamuz when the luchot (tablets) were shattered and continues with the downward spiral of Klal Yisrael to the destruction of the beit hamikdash.

Following the bein hametzarim, there are seven weeks of consolation, shiva d’nechemta , which lead up to Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the next three week period. Then we reconstruct what was destroyed through repentance and good deeds.

We are commanded to eat the korban pesach together with matza and maror. The sweetness of the matza and the bitterness of the marror are intertwined. Daniel mourned the churban in Nissan because he saw the potential for destruction. Likewise, when we mourn the beit hamikdash on Tisha B’av we must see the potential for rebirth.

The Gemara discusses the prayer Ashrei, which follows the order of the aleph beit. Even though it follows the order of the alef bet, it is missing the letter nun. Rabbe Yochanan explains that this is because it represents the downfall of the Jewish people. “Nafla lo tosef kum betulat yisrael.” The daughter of Israel has fallen and will not rise again. The Gemara suggests that we can read the verse with a small change. “Nafla lo tosef, kum.” She will no longer fall, arise! With the minor insertion of a comma, the verse is transformed from a message of despair to one of hope and promise. We can choose to focus on the misery and desolation or we can accept our failings and resolve to get up again. On Tisha B’av, after midday, we rise from the ground. We recognize that although the bein hamitzarim are days of sadness, they have the potential for rebirth.

The Midrash says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Hashem planted the seeds of compassion and redemption within the darkest day. We must not focus on sadness and despair but use these days to come closer to Hashem. The time when we feel His distance is when we can reach out to Him. Eicha ends with the words, “Hasheveinu Hashem elecha.” Bring us back to you. Ultimately if we utilize these days correctly, we will merit to return.





Jerusalem: Echoes of Lament- Why Cry?

11 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Hanoch Teller 

It is possible to go through the fast of Tisha B’av and Yom Kippur without feeling any pangs of hunger if we focus on the key motifs these days. On Yom Kippur, when the fate of all of Klal Yisrael is hanging in the balance, thinking about something minor as food and drink seems superfluous. Likewise on Tisha B’av, if we really sense that deep aching longing for what we’ve lost, all mundane trivialities fall away.

There’s a famous parable of a gifted artist who climbed a steep mountain in order to paint his magnum opus. His work of art far exceeded his expectations. He was so overwhelmed by the beauty of his accomplishment that he took a few steps back to view his work better. Unbeknown to him he was almost at the edge of the cliff about to plunge to his death. A mountain climber spotted him and began shouting. But the artist paid no attention. Left with no other choice, the climber dashed over and ripped the artist’s canvas to pieces. The artist then snapped out of his trance and yelled, “What have you done?” Then the climber showed him where he had stood. Prophet after prophet warned Klal Yisrael not to commit the same mistakes of the past. But the Jews did not listen. In the end, Hashem was left with no choice but to destroy the Beit Hamikdash to save us.

We have become desensitized. Most of us don’t realize what we’re mourning, what it means to have lost the eretz tiferet, the beautiful land. Eretz Yisrael should be foremost in our thoughts. We should take time out to think about what the land means to us, what it was, and what it could be if only Mashiach would come. Then we can begin to appreciate the dimension of our loss.

The Navi recounts how the Almighty castigated the Jews, “Mi bikeish zot miyedchem? Who asked this of you? Of what use are all your needless sacrifices. Your ketoret are an abomination. I despise your holidays. I cannot listen to your prayers any longer.” These words reflect a serious breach between the Jews and the Almighty. We have been cast out and rejected.

There are three cardinal questions we will be asked when we reach the next world. Among them will be, “Tzipita l’yeshua?” Did you await the salvation? It’s not enough to believe. We have to yearn for the redemption.

According to the Mesilat Yesharim, awaiting the geulah is an element of ahavat Hashem. If someone you loved very dearly was in pain, you’d feel his agony and try to do everything you could to alleviate it. Klal Yisrael is suffering and our pain is borne by Hashem. If we love Hashem and don’t wish to see Him bear our misery we must yearn for the redemption.

In order to properly understand the idea of awaiting the redemption we have to better understand the scope of the churban and Divine Presence in exile. We’ve lost so much. Observing the kohanim while they performed the service in the beit hamikdash was a great catalyst for teshuva. Although we believe that a tzaddik can possesses a modicum of Divine inspiration, it cannot compare to the holy spirit of Hashem that existed in the time of the bayit when the Sanhedrin could decide matters of life and death.

The incredible assimilation of today is also a consequence of our exile. Had we remained in Israel the phenomenon of the vanishing Jew would never have happened. Our desire to imitate the non-Jews is a result of our living among them. All the countless suffering, tragedies, and travails we’ve experienced throughout the long years are a result of losing our bayit.

The beit hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins and because of baseless hatred. We must strengthen ourselves in these areas. Hashem welcomes all of our efforts, especially in these auspicious weeks. May we merit to see the rebuilding of the beit hamikdash speedily in our days.





Meaningful Prayer: Consistent Dedication

29 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Our sages teach that the prayers were enacted to correspond to the sacrifices. The korban tamid, which was brought daily in the beit hamikdash, signifies the idea of dependability and regularity. It is the concept of a continuous relationship, of absolute dedication to Hashem, which is a fundamental aspect of prayer.

We must maintain a continuous connection with our Creator. We are intrinsically bound to Him. We only exist because He wills us to. He supports us in every situation and is constantly providing for us. The Gemara says that a person should never cease praising and thanking Hashem for all that He gives us. Since it’s impossible for a person to pray all the time, the sages instituted a minimum of three times a day. We can also express our ongoing dedication to Him by involving ourselves in kindness and good deeds.

Although we don’t have the korban tamid any more, our steadfast readiness to serve Hashem day after day with dedication and love stands in its stead.





The Mystery of Death – Short Parsha Vort

28 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Parshat Chukat begins with the verse, “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem.” The Targum translates the words zot chukat as, “This is the divine dictum.” The Torah refers to the enigmatic chok of parah adumah (red heifer) which purifies those that are impure and defiles those that are pure.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that chukat doesn’t merely refer to the performance of a ritual, but to the mystery of death. We see this later in the parsha where it says “Zot haTorah adam ki yamut ba’ohel.” This is the law when a man dies. Death defiles. It removes the Divine image and only the body remains.

Tumat hamet (the impurity of death) is not included in the list of all the other forms of tumah (impurity) in the Torah because there’s a radical difference. While all the other forms of tumah are aesthetically jarring, tumat hamet is even more. It’s not simply the cessation of an organism Death is the departure of the soul from the physical body. Aesthetic ugliness can be washed away by prayer and immersion in the mikvah (ritual pool). But tumat hamet needs haza’ah, sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah.

Death is a transition not a termination. The soul of a person is immortal. The incomprehensible ritual of parah adumah suggests that the human effort to comprehend death is futile without accepting the fundamental concept of Divine Providence.

The details of parah aduma are found in parshat Chukat because para aduma acts as a bridge between the rebellion of Korach and the travels of the Jews in the desert. The rebellion took place during the second year of the exodus. For 38 years there was hester panim; Hashem’s face was hidden. It was a long silent period. Rashi says this dark time was like the parah adumah. It was beyond human comprehension. Chazal didn’t try to rationalize parah adumah. They taught that there are certain areas that are chukim. There are times when man must suspend his own judgment and accept the inscrutable will of Hashem.