Parshat Achrei Mot / Kedoshim: Living Kedusha

26 04 2012

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

In Parshat Kedoshim the Torah tells us, “Kedoshim tiheyu ki kadosh ani.” You shall be holy, for I am holy. How do we define kedusha (sanctity)?

The Mikdash Halevi notes that at the beginning of the parsha it says, “Daber el kol adat bnei Yisrael.” Speak to the entire assemblage. This is to emphasize that each and every one of us is commanded to be holy. We are all enjoined to strive towards kedusha by doing mitzvot. We don’t have to do something above and beyond the extraordinary. Specifically through our everyday encounters and interaction with Hashem and other people we can reach holiness.

At the end of the parsha it says, “Ushemartem et chukotai ani Hashem mikadeshchem.” If you keep my ordinances and do them, then I will sanctify you. The process begins with a person’s own efforts and culminates with Hashem lifting him up.

The Ramban maintains that the concept of holiness is not limited to the observance of any specific category of commandments. Rather, it’s an admonition that one’s approach to all aspects of life be governed by moderation, particularly with things that are permitted. Someone who only observes the letter of the law can easily become a naval b’reshut haTorah, a degenerate with the permission of the Torah. Such a person can observe the technical requirements of the Torah while surrendering to self-indulgence and gluttony. The commandment to be holy tells us, “Kadesh azmecha b’mutar lach.” Sanctify yourself by refraining from too much of what is permitted. Kedusha is about living a life of moderation.

The sefer Sam Derech notes that the end of the Ramban gives us a deeper understanding of kedusha. The Torah often gives us specifics and then a general statement. In Devarim there are many different prohibitions of interacting with people. The Torah then says, “V’asita hayashar v’hatov.” You shall do deeds that are upright and good in the eyes of Hashem. Kedusha is about looking at the totality, the larger scheme. Our actions should be guided by a sense of what is fair and good in Hashem‘s eyes. How to do so in any given situation depends on the sensitivity of the individual, for it is impossible to spell out all alternatives and situations. “V’asita hasher v’hatov” means investigating and trying to understand what the Torah is really asking of us. Being holy means having an understanding of what Hashem wants from us. It’s easy to go through life following the strict letter of the law, but kedusha demands that we ask ourselves about the larger picture, the background, the sensitivity that Hashem wants us to develop.

The Torah is not just teaching us do’s and don’ts. It gives us a rubric on how to transform ourselves as individuals.

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Parshat Mishpatim: Brick Burden and Buoyancy

16 02 2012

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

When Moshe, Aharon, his sons, and the seventy elders ascended Har Sinai, they saw a vision of Hashem. “Under His feet was the livnat hasapir,” the sapphire brickwork. Rashi says that this brickwork served to remind Hashem of the suffering of the Jewish people in Egypt.

Rav Belsky asks why the bricks in this vision were made of sapphire and not of straw and mud like the bricks that caused the torment in Egypt? He explains, we tend to focus mainly on the redemption and the giving of the Torah, which were major events in Jewish history. However, the unpleasant Egyptian servitude also impacted the Jews in a deep way. Only a people who had experienced so much suffering could become Hashem‘s nation. In Hashem‘s eyes, every mud brick was a sapphire.

The capacity to transform difficulty into lessons of tremendous value is one of the greatest abilities a person can develop in life. Every painful experience has meaning and purpose. The greatness of a person is revealed when he takes those bricks of clay and transforms them into sapphire gems. Our challenge is turning our burdens into opportunities. How do we accomplish this?

The first way is to remember that eventually, in retrospect, we will understand everything. When the sea split and the Jews saw the great hand of Hashem upon the Egyptians, they realized the meaning behind their suffering. The Chatam Sofer expounds this idea. Moshe asked Hashem, “Show me your ways.” Hashem responded, “You shall see my back, but not my face.” When we view things in historical perspective, we can understand the whole picture. On the sixth day of creation, the Torah says that Hashem looked at all that He had made and, “V’hinei tov moed“(And behold it was very good.) What was very good? Suffering. In the context of the six days of creation, you can see things in their entirety and then you can understand how affliction is really a blessing.

The second way is turning our suffering into trust. Trust is a result of emotional closeness, not intellectual understanding. Emotional intimacy allows one to live with an intellectual problem because one’s trust is so great. When you feel Hashem is your loving father, you have a deeper sense of trust when seemingly bad things happen. Without knowing the why of our pain we can still find meaning in it and be consoled.

The third way is turning fate into destiny. Sometimes the only way to deal with tragedy is to transform it into opportunity.

The Baalei Mussar explain that the elders were shown the livnat hasapir because Hashem wanted to tell them Itcha anochi b’tzara, (I am with you in your pain). Throughout the slavery in Egypt I was with you, and now I am with you in your joy as you receive the Torah. This is the attribute of nosei b’ol im chaverio, sharing in a friend’s burden. This applies to feeling the suffering of others, and rejoicing in their joy. The entire parsha is predicated on this. It begins with how a master must treat his servant and ends with the livnat hasapir. When we can feel for another person, we’ve turned our bricks into sapphire, we’ve achieved redemption.

Rav Chaim Friedlander says that feeling along with another person is accomplished through shrinking the ego. Nosei b’ol is not only in the realm of emotions but in the realmof actions. If you can’t help someone physically, you can still pray for them. The Sichot Mussar notes that just as Hashem had the livnat hasapir under his feet as a constant reminder, we too should create reminders for ourselves to think of others.

The livnat hasapir teaches us to turn our pain into opportunity, our suffering into moments of closeness to Hashem. We can create jewels in our life and feel the pain and joy of others. When we step out of our narrow constraints, we can make the suffering lighter. When we turn someone else’s bricks into sapphire, we’ve turned our own too.

 





Chumash In depth: The Sale of Yosef

18 12 2011

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

What is the connection between the end of Parshat Vayishlach, which speaks about the lineage of Esav, and Parshat Vayeishev, which describes the difficult incident of Yosef and his brothers? Rashi explains that although Esav’s background is mentioned briefly, the Torah focuses on the story of Yaakov and the twelve tribes. It is compared to a precious stone that fell beneath the sand. After finding the stone, the debris is discarded and attention is focused solely on the stone. Similarly, Hashemsifted through all the generations until He found Yaakov, the bechir h’avot (the chosen one), and then focused on him.

Rashi tells another parable about a coal dealer who came to the market to sell his coal. After his arrival, another merchant arrived laden with straw. The coal dealer worried that there would not be any room now for his coal. A wise person said one spark released from your coal will decimate the entire wagonload of straw. When Yaakov saw all the generals of Esav, he worried how he would overcome them. Therefore, the Torah says, “Eleh toldot Yaakov, Yosef.” These are the children of Yaakov,Yosef. Sefer Ovadaya states, “Vayaha beit Yaakov aish u’beit Yosef l’hava u’beit Esav l’kash. (Yaakov is the fire, Yosef is the flame, and Esav is the straw.) One spark of Yosef can destroy the entire camp of Esav. The Netivot Shalom notes that Esav represents our negative inclinations. Hashem said, “V’haya beit Yaakov l’aish, your passion, desire, and yearning to do the will of Hashem will outweigh all the evil of Edom.

Rabbi Tatz explains that straw symbolizes the nations of the world who believe that the more material a person has the better off he is. Esav said, “I have a lot,” while Yaakov said, “I have everything.” What really counts is spirituality. Life is not about having, but about appreciating what one does have and elevating it for Hashem. Although Esav’s lineage seems impressive compared to Yaakov, Yaakov is central in the narrative of the Chumash.





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.





Shabbat Shuva: Hashem’s Ways Are Straight #4

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur  byMrs. Shira Smiles  

Shabbat Shuva: Hashem's Ways Are Straight #4 The haftorah of Shabbat Shuva depicts the era of the redemption as a time of tremendous closeness and connection between Hashem and the Jewish people. The Navi tells us, “Those who return will sit in Hashem‘s shadow.” The Radak explains that the Jews will return to the land of Israel where Hashem’s presence rests. Just as bread now nourishes a person physically, when Mashiach comes mitzvot will be a basic aspect of our spiritual existence. Wheat, which is sown annually, signifies Elul. It’s a time to replant and reinvest in our relationship with Hashem. But when Mashiach comes, there will be a flourishing bond like the grapevine, which blossoms from year to year.

The haftorah compares Hashem to a tree whose head is bent down to its roots. Hashem who is up in the heavens descends to be with us. If we listen, we will eat of the fruit of the land; if we rebel we will eat the fruit of the sword. It will be according to our deeds. Sometimes we don’t see the results of our actions right away but they eventually catch up with us. The basic foundation of hashgacha pratit (Divine providence)is recognizing that everything we do is important and we are accountable for everything. The Mishna in Avot tells us “Da ma l’maala mimcha.” The Nefesh Hachayim explains, know that what comes from above, mimcha, is a result of your actions.

The prophet Hoshea tells us, “The ways of Hashem are straight, the righteous will walk along these ways and the sinners will stumble.” Hashem’s ways are correct. He knows what is in each person’s heart. If we have a problem understanding His ways, it is due to our limitations. The judgment of Hashem is measured out exactly. Yosef was meant to experience the torment of slavery, but he didn’t deserve to suffer too much along the way. Therefore Hashem made the Arab dealers carry sweet smelling spices in the wagon that carried him down to Egypt. Sometimes Hashem will punish a righteous person because he wants to give him reward in the next world. If we can understand that the trials Hashem gives us is for our benefit, then all suffering falls away. Our challenge is to find Hashem in every difficult situation.

Shabbat Shuva is a time of judgment. When Hashem‘s conduct is so exact, we should repent.

Teshuva is embracing the essence of being a servant of Hashem. It is understanding what is important in life and pursuing it. The shleimut (perfection)in a mitzva depends on the intention behind it. The same action can be a sin or a mitzva. These weeks are an opportune time to work on fulfilling Torah and mitzvot with thought and feeling.

All that we encounter in this world is a message for us to learn from. Whatever we read, see, hear, or experience is Hashem’s way of teaching us something. Sinners choose to focus on the negativity in this world. They are unable to face the reality of the truth. Hashem doesn’t put a stumbling block in front of us. Our negative choices create it. The tzaddik and rasha both have the same opportunities and abilities. What makes one person grow while another falls? Our choices. Rav Dessler writes that there is no standing still in Judaism, a person is either going up or down. A beinoni is one who is undecided. Sometimes he’ll take the route of growth and sometimes the route of sin. But there’s no such thing as being complacent. Hashem gives us so many opportunities in life. The question is how we will respond. We must focus on the vision of who we can be and what we can build. And we must always keep in mind, “Yesharim darkei Hashem. The ways of Hashem are straight.”

This Rosh Hashana let us pray for si’yata d’shmaya to make Hashem a part of who and what we are and may we merit to be inscribed for a shana tavoh u’metukah, a sweet new year.





Shabbat Shuva: Hashem’s Ways Are Straight

23 09 2011

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

Shabbat Shuva: Hashem's Ways Are Straight #4

The haftorah of Shabbat Shuva depicts the era of the redemption as a time of tremendous closeness and connection between Hashem and the Jewish people. The Navi tells us, “Those who return will sit in Hashem‘s shadow.” The Radak explains that the Jews will return to the land of Israel where Hashem’s presence rests. Just as bread now nourishes a person physically, when Mashiach comes mitzvot will be a basic aspect of our spiritual existence. Wheat, which is sown annually, signifies Elul. It’s a time to replant and reinvest in our relationship with Hashem. But when Mashiach comes, there will be a flourishing bond like the grapevine, which blossoms from year to year.

The haftorah compares Hashem to a tree whose head is bent down to its roots. Hashem who is up in the heavens descends to be with us. If we listen, we will eat of the fruit of the land; if we rebel we will eat the fruit of the sword. It will be according to our deeds. Sometimes we don’t see the results of our actions right away but they eventually catch up with us. The basic foundation of hashgacha pratit (Divine providence)is recognizing that everything we do is important and we are accountable for everything. The Mishna in Avot tells us “Da ma l’maala mimcha.” The Nefesh Hachayim explains, know that what comes from above, mimcha, is a result of your actions.

The prophet Hoshea tells us, “The ways of Hashem are straight, the righteous will walk along these ways and the sinners will stumble.” Hashem’s ways are correct. He knows what is in each person’s heart. If we have a problem understanding His ways, it is due to our limitations. The judgment of Hashem is measured out exactly. Yosef was meant to experience the torment of slavery, but he didn’t deserve to suffer too much along the way. Therefore Hashem made the Arab dealers carry sweet smelling spices in the wagon that carried him down to Egypt. Sometimes Hashem will punish a righteous person because he wants to give him reward in the next world. If we can understand that the trials Hashem gives us is for our benefit, then all suffering falls away. Our challenge is to find Hashem in every difficult situation.

Shabbat Shuva is a time of judgment. When Hashem‘s conduct is so exact, we should repent.

Teshuva is embracing the essence of being a servant of Hashem. It is understanding what is important in life and pursuing it. The shleimut (perfection)in a mitzva depends on the intention behind it. The same action can be a sin or a mitzva. These weeks are an opportune time to work on fulfilling Torah and mitzvot with thought and feeling.

All that we encounter in this world is a message for us to learn from. Whatever we read, see, hear, or experience is Hashem’s way of teaching us something. Sinners choose to focus on the negativity in this world. They are unable to face the reality of the truth. Hashem doesn’t put a stumbling block in front of us. Our negative choices create it. The tzaddik and rasha both have the same opportunities and abilities. What makes one person grow while another falls? Our choices. Rav Dessler writes that there is no standing still in Judaism, a person is either going up or down. A beinoni is one who is undecided. Sometimes he’ll take the route of growth and sometimes the route of sin. But there’s no such thing as being complacent. Hashem gives us so many opportunities in life. The question is how we will respond. We must focus on the vision of who we can be and what we can build. And we must always keep in mind, “Yesharim darkei Hashem. The ways of Hashem are straight.”

This Rosh Hashana let us pray for si’yata d’shmaya to make Hashem a part of who and what we are and may we merit to be inscribed for a shana tavoh u’metukah, a sweet new year.





Tu B’av

12 08 2011

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

Tu B'av  The Gemara in Tannit tells us, “There were no yomim tovim (good occasions) in Israel more joyous than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” The spiritual happiness of atonement on Yom Kippur was deeply felt but what was so significant about Tu B’av?

The Gemara lists several occurrences. On this day the tribes were permitted to intermarry, the ban against marrying into the tribe of Binyamin was lifted, the generation of the desert ceased dying, Hoshea ben Eleh removed the sentries blocking the roads to Jerusalem, the massacred Jews of Beitar were buried, and the wood for the altar was finally cut for the next year’s sacrifices. In addition, the Mishna tells us that on this day the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothing and dance in the fields and matches were made. But the Gemara alludes to something deeper. It tells us about the marriage bond between Hashem and the Jews. In the future, the tzadikim will form a circle in Gan Eden and dance and point to Hashem and say, “Zeh Hashem kivini lo (This is Hashem, we have put our faith in Him).” What does dancing signify and why did the women in particular celebrate? What is the significance of borrowed clothing? Why does the Gemara give six reasons for the holiday, wouldn’t one have been sufficient?

Tu B’av celebrates re-unification both among the Jewish people and with Hashem. When there is unity there is true joy. Disparity creates a terrible kitrug (accusation) in heaven. The beit hamikdash was destroyed because of dissension. On Tu B’av, the barriers between the tribes were lifted. When the generation of the desert stopped dying, Hashem’s anger dissipated and He renewed His relationship with us once again. We celebrate the completion of gathering the wood because there is no greater joy than completing a mitzva. Now that they could ascend to Jerusalem, they could once again bask in the close proximity of the Divine Presence. Tu B’av is about separation and re-unification, distance and return. The knowledge that Hashem is One, creates unity. In the past we sensed this oneness and in the future we will once again experience it. This is the meaning of the Gemara that the tzadikim will dance in a circle. A circle is equidistant from the center. In the future world there will be total unity. Each tzadik will be able to see from the vantage point of his friend. This too is why the daughters of Tzion went out in borrowed clothing. Borrowing clothes signifies friendship and harmony.

The common thread between Tu B’av and Yom Kippur is atonement. On Yom Kippur, the sin of the Golden Calf was forgiven while on Tu B’av the sin of the Spies was forgiven. This is why the women celebrate. They had no part in either sin. Tu B’av commemorates the burial of those massacred in Beitar. This teaches us that we must be grateful for the slightest good even in the midst of overwhelming tragedy. Likewise matches were made on Tu B’av. A marriage can only function if we recognize the smallest benefit we receive from our spouses. The Sages designated Tu B’av as a holiday in order to help us bear our exile. By being thankful for the smallest good we can overcome our suffering. Sometimes in life, it’s not about the one big answer, it’s about the little reasons. If we can be grateful for all the small chasadim (kindnesses), we can build a genuine relationship with Hashem.

The Gemara calls both Yom Kippur and Tu B’av Yamim Tovim. Tov connotes something lasting. Yom tov is an elevated day whose qualities transcend time. It represents eternity even amidst adversity. Yom Kippur is about forgiveness of sin. Likewise Tu’ Bav, which follows close on the heels of Tisha B’av, signifies rebirth from destruction.