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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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.





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.





Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur Davening: True Atonement

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by  Rabbi Michael Taubes

True Atonement In the Torah, Yom Kippur is referred to in the plural form as Yom Hakippurim. Rav Soloveitchik explains that atonement is associated with sacrifices, which were a major part of the Yom Kippur service. The Rambam writes that since today there are no sacrifices, teshuva atones for all of our sins. Referring to Yom Kippur in the singular might lead us to think that we cannot attain atonement today because we don’t have korbanot. Therefore, it is referred to as Yom Hakippurim

Every person approaches teshuva with his particular background. There’s repenting from fear and repenting from love. A person can do teshuva while he is still young or when he reaches old age. Therefore we say, Yom Hakippurim to allude to the many different types of teshuva and the varied levels of atonement. Another reason for the plural form is that Yom Hakippurim also applies to atonement for the dead and the living. In fact, the practice to recite Yizkor was originally associated with Yom Kippur. The dead, whose judgment is ongoing, achieve atonement on Yom Kippur too.

In the Torah, vidui is discussed in the context of korbanot. It is not mentioned in relation to Yom Kippur. During the times of the beit hamikdash, the procedure a person underwent to purify himself literally transformed him into a new being. This is the essence of Yom Kippur. A Jew must become a different person to the point where he can say to Hashem, “The decree you placed upon me doesn’t apply anymore.” This encapsulates the concepts of teshuva and tahara (purification). The idea of mechila (forgiveness) has its roots in monetary law where a person can forgive a liability. Similarly, we ask Hashem to overlook our debt of sin. When a person purifies himself it’s as though his sins are completely erased. In the Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “Ki bayom hazeh yichaper aleichem l’taher etchem.” The essence of Yom Kippur is purification and the power of the day itself brings atonement, even without korbonot. According to one opinion the atonement comes even without teshuva. That is why there is such joy on Yom Kippur, and especially at its culmination.

Our sages tell us that when a person does teshuva out of love, “z’donot naasu lo k’zechuyot,” his intentional sins becomes merits. How do we understand this?

We become a different being when we repent. The same energy and creativity that we invested in sin is now put into mitzvot

 

Selichot are prayers of forgiveness. The central motif is the recitation of the thirteen attributes, which appears numerous times throughout Neila. If we want to be the beneficiaries of Hashem‘s chesed we must live up to these attributes. We don’t recite the full vidui during Neila. This is because we’ve already confessed our specific sins throughout the day. Yom Kippur is supposed to lead us to something beyond this, to a place where our focus turns to our central mission in life and our true goals.





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).





Rejuvenating Our Bond

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Rejuvevating Our Bond The first Rosh Hashana at the beginning of creation was different than all future Rosh Hashanas. The presence of Hashem descended upon Adam without any effort. It wasn’t a matter of avoda, working to achieve an awareness of Him. Rather it was a complete itaruta dl’eleh, an arousal from above.

In the Rosh Hashana davening we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon, a remembrance of the first day.” In order to reveal Hashem’s kingship upon us we must remember the brit. The brit is the immutable bond between Hashem and the Jewish people that can never be obliterated. This requires effort, an itaruta dl’tata, an awakening from below. This awakening is accomplished through the shofar. The shofar is an aspect of the highest teshuva. It is like a cry, a yearning from the depths of the heart, something very profound and powerful and impossible to contain in words.

The sages divided the service of Rosh Hashana into three parts: Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. These are not three independent aspects but one unit with interdependent parts. Why does the memory of the brit depend on the shofar? Rosh Hashana is the beginning. On that day Adam was created and he accepted malchut Hashem (kingship). When we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon” we connect once again to the memory of the beginning of the revelation of Hashem. The Rambam says the avoda of teshuva is shofar. It signals to us, “Uru yesheinim mishnaschem! Awaken from your sleep, you slumberers!” The brit, the covenant between Hashem and knesset Yisrael is hovering above us waiting to be rejuvenated once again.

The Zohar teaches that there are two levels of repentance, a lower teshuva and a higher teshuva. The lower teshuva is meant to return the soul to its state of purity before sin. The higher teshuva leads the soul back to the level of d’veikut, attachment to Hashem that it had before it became connected to the body. Shofar is an aspect of this highest teshuva. It is the return of the soul to the root of its existence. It could be that the Baal Hatanya uses the term teshuva ilohe to mean a higher level of teshuva where the person is so deeply affected by his distance from Hashem that it touches the deepest point of his heart and he is overcome by uncontrolled weeping and brokenness.

The Rebbe Maharash retold a parable from the Baal Shem Tov about a king who sent his son away to a faraway land to learn the ways of the world. After many years the prince returned to his father’s kingdom, bereft of everything he had and clad in tattered clothing. When he arrived, the people did not recognize him. They taunted him and beat him until he reached the palace courtyard and a cry of pain escaped from deep inside of him. The king recognized his son’s voice and ran out to embrace him. Similarly, Hashem decreed that the soul should descend into the world, to attain its reward. Lost in the maelstrom of physicality it moves far away and forgets that it was once connected to Hashem. The voice of the shofar, the cry from the depths of the heart, contains all the regrets and past mistakes of the soul. It expresses the profound pain of the Jewish people and how we have distanced ourselves and yearn to return. The call of the shofar, awakens Hashem’s love for us and we too are aroused to come back once again to His warm embrace.





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.