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.





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.





Parshat Beha’alotcha:Ultimate Eternity

8 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In this week’s parsha, the Torah records a dialogue between Moshe and Yitro. Moshe invites Yitro to join the Jewish people on their journey to Israel. He assures him that only good will come of it. However, Yitro categorically rejects the offer. Moshe implores him again, “If you will accompany us, you too will receive the good that Hashem has promised for us.” The Torah does not tell us Yitro’s second response. There is a disagreement among the sages whether he acquiesced or not. Assuming he did, which is the position of the Rambam and other commentaries, why was offer one summarily dismissed and offer number two accepted?

The Rambam notes that the first time Moshe promised Yitro material possessions: gold, silver, and cattle, but he rejected them. The second time he offered him a portion in Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam derives this from the additional language the Torah uses, “Vayaha hatov hahu asher heitiv Hashem.” Moshe assures Yitro that he too will acquire a portion in Israel. Yitro fully understood the value of the holy land. Moshe wasn’t offering him something transient but ultimate eternity.

This should be our perspective too. Undoubtedly all of us have a need for sustenance, but that shouldn’t be our focus. Our goal should be to tap into spirituality and infinity that the land of Israel represents.





Parshat Behar: Walking with G-d

10 05 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In Parshat Bechukotai, the term halicha (walking) is used many times in reference to our observance of the mitzvot. The parsha begins, “Im bechukotai teileichu. If you will walk in my statutes.” Further on the Hashem writes, “V’hithalachti b’tochechem. I will walk with you.” The parsha continues, “Va’olech etchem. I will walk with you.”

Later on in the parsha, the Torah presents the other side of the coin. “V’halachtem imi keri. If you will walk with me keri.” The Rambam explains that this means we don’t recognize Hashem’s involvement in our lives. The Torah tells us, “If you walk with me b’keri I will walk with you b’keri.Hashem will respond to us in the way a person conducts himself.

We can follow the halicha of Hashem. The result will be as the Torah describes in the beginning of Bechukotai, “I will dwell among them and walk with them.” Rashi comments on this, “I will walk with you in gan eden.” Or it can be the opposite, halicha b’keri, which will ultimately lead to terrible consequences.

Hashem told Avraham Avinu, “Kum hithalech b’aretz.” Get up and walk the length and breadth of the land. Avraham chose righteousness and walked with Hashem.

May we follow in the footsteps of our forefathers.

 





Parshat Tazria and Metzora: Mirror Image

27 04 2012

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

Why did the Torah specifically designate the kohen to determine the status of a nega (leprosy spot)?

Tzaraat was not a physical disease but rather a sign of a spiritual malady within the person. For that one needed to go to a spiritual source for help, to a kohen. The kohanim represent those who teach Torah. They are our spiritual guides. It’s difficult for a person to admit his faults. This is why the Torah says, “V’huva el hakohen.” The metzora is brought to the kohen. The kohen was meant to guide the metzorah on the path to repentance.

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains the Targum Unkeles which describes the metzora as an adam segira, a person who is closed in. Often a person with a spiritual illness refuses to listen to other people. Haughtiness is the quintessential sign of an impure person. Therefore, the way to respond was, “V’huva el hakohen,” He must nullify himself before the tzaddik. He must recognize his need for guidance.

Rav Pliskin writes that the kohen would teach the person how to pray to the Almighty for help. In addition, he himself would pray for the welfare of the person. This is a lesson for all of us. When we are faced with challenges, we must seek out a spiritual guide. We must look for someone who can point out the areas where we need to improve. We must ask for advice about what to pray for and ask him to pray for us too.

The Shaarei Chaim explains that when the kohen pronounced the person tameh (impure), the pronouncement created the tumah (impurity). The moment the kohen pronounced the person impure, the laws of impurity were activated and he could begin fixing himself.

The Noam Elimelech notes that the kohen was the spiritual mentor of the people. The names of the different kinds of tzaraat wounds indicate the different desires people have to connect to Hashem. Se’eit a person who wants to connect with Hashem, sapachat is one who yearns for attachment, baheret is one who has a light within him that desires to connect to Hashem. They want to bond with Hashem but it’s only external. They don’t have the right intentions. These people would also go to the kohen to help turn their avodat Hashem into something deeper and more meaningful.





Parshat Vaykhel: The Secret of One

15 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Why is the mitzvah of Shabbat mentioned in this parsha with a specific emphasis on gathering together? In addition, why is there a special mention of the prohibition of not kindling a fire? Furthermore, in earlier parshiot the mitzvah of building the mishkan is discussed before the mitzvah of Shabbat, but in Parshat Vaykhel the order is reversed. Why?                                                                                                                                

The Shem Mishmuel explains. In Parshat Terumah the pasuk says, “Take for me a portion from every person whose heart willingly offers.” The Midrash interprets this to mean that before the sin of the golden calf every person was holy enough in his own right to warrant the building of the mishkan. In Parshat Vaykhel it says, “Those who are generous should contribute.” After the sin, there was a shift from the individual to the communal level. Now only as a nation could they build the mishkan.

Shabbat is the secret of one. During the week nature creates a veil behind which Hashem hides, but on Shabbat, the world, Israel and Hashem become united. Shabbat gives us the power of connection. This is why it’s mentioned first. In this parsha, Shabbat comes first to unite the individuals into a group worthy of the Mishkan.

How can we understand how a tzaddik of Aharon’s stature helped fashion the golden calf? When Moshe ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, Aharon saw that the people had lost their unifying figure. It was as if Moshe had spiritually left them. They no longer felt bound together with a single minded purpose and goal. Moshe was the soul of the Jewish nation. Similarly, Shabbat is the soul of the world, uniting all in purpose.

Where there is holiness, impurity seeks to get in. Therefore, when a person’s soul departs, his body becomes tamei, impure. When Moshe’s soul left the Jews, the void he left was filled by evil energies, which created havoc among the Jews. Aharon knew how much Moshe’s presence meant to the people. They needed something that would unify them. He therefore told them to contribute gold. Gold symbolizes giving up one’s personal aspirations for a higher national goal. Aharon threw the gold into the fire. Fire has the power to purge evil. Aharon thought the fire would refine their desires and lead them back to pure unity. He meant to fashion the golden calf as a harmless statue inspiring in some ways, but not at all idolatrous, but he failed. The Jewish people could not overcome the evil forces that had set in.

When Moshe came down from heaven, he threw the calf into the fire and purified the people. Vaykhel-He then gathered them together. He created a unified community. He reversed the order of commandments and gave the Jews Shabbat first. For Shabbat is raza d’echad-the secret of one. It is the key to our unity and our ultimate ability to build a dwelling place for Hashem in this world.





Parshat Ki Tisa- Reaching for Holiness

9 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

At the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people rose to the level of Adam before the sin. How did they fall so quickly after that with cheit haegel (the sin of the golden calf)? The commentators explain that their intentions were not evil. They thought Moshe had died and that they had been left alone in the desert. Perhaps they reasoned that it was a question of life and death and that they could suspend Torah law to create an intermediary that would connect them with Hashem.

Shem Mishmuel points out that often people will sin with good motives, and that good intentions are never lost. Hashem takes them, purifies them and adds them to the sinner’s credit. We see this with the story of the Korach rebellion. Hashem commanded Moshe to take the 250 fire pans that had been used for sin and fashion them into an iron plate to cover the altar. The 250 people desired to come closer to Hashem through the position of the kehuna gedola (high priest). They had a noble goal but their actions were wrong. They were punished, but the vessels they used were consecrated for the holy mishkan.

The Torah teaches that actions are more important than intentions. The ends do not justify the means. Whether one achieves one’s goal or not doesn’t matter so much, but the way we do it must be right. Nevertheless good intentions still count. Moshe burned the calf and mixed the ashes with water and had the Jews drink it. His intent was to destroy the Jews’ evil deeds and retain their initial pure thoughts which had been to serve Hashem. Their good intentions were captured in the water and it saved them when they drank the potion. Those who were true sinners died.

Other religions downplay actions and upgrade intentions. Judaism teaches the opposite. Evil actions bear consequences. Yet if one’s intentions are noble they are not lost.





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.





Parshat Balak: Pilgrimage Power

7 07 2011


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

Parshat Balak: Pilgrimage Power

When Bilaam set out on his donkey on a mission to curse the Jews, Hashem sent an angel to block the animal’s path.  Bilaam struck the donkey three times. The Torah then writes that the animal opened its mouth and complained, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me shalosh regalim-three times?” The commentators ask, why does the Torah use the peculiar expression regalim and not p’eamim? The donkey was warning Bilaam, “You will not be successful, as the nation you are trying to destroy celebrates the shalosh regalim, and it will be impossible to decimate them.”

Rav Yosef Albo writes that our tradition rests on three principal beliefs- the existence of Hashem, the divine origin of the Torah, and reward and punishment. Sukkot is recognizing Hashem’s existence and his involvement in our lives, Shavuot is the divinity of the Torah, and Pesach is  reward and punishment-i.e. the punishment of the Egyptians and the reward of the Jews. The donkey wasn’t referring to practical observance, but the acceptance of the three fundamental principles implicit in these festivals.

If we look deeper we find that these three holidays teach us emunah and bitachon. The Taam v’daat says that when a Jew would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem he was not afraid to leave his property unguarded. He relied on Hashem. Emunah is knowledge in theory, bitachon is faith in practice. The shalosh regalim were not only a manifestation of emunah but demonstrated belief in Hashem in a very practical way. Shem Mishmuel says this is the difference between the Jews and non-Jews. While non-Jews may want a relationship with Hashem, they will forgo it in favor of their own pleasures. For Jews, closeness to Hashem is more precious than anything.

The real test of measuring how pure your motivation is when you perform a mitzva, is how much simcha you have when you do it. The Jewish people went up to Yerushalayim with passion and joy. Bilaam blessed the Jews, “Hen am k’lavi“-They are like a lion. Rav Rice explains that the Jewish people pounce upon mitzvoth like a lion hungry for its prey.  Napoleon’s war campaign was successful because he made sure that his soldiers were well dressed and fed. But his real secret was that he placed a klezmer band within each unit so that his troops would fight with electric energy.  Any war or struggle, even against the evil inclination, can be vanquished through simcha. Happiness opens the pathways inside of us to be ourselves. If we work on taking away the sadness, simcha will automatically enter.

 The second leg is middot. The Beer Moshe says Bilaam had three evil traits-a bad eye, a haughty spirit, and a wide soul. Corresponding to this, the Jewish people have three positive character traits, mercifulness, bashfulness, and kindness. The three avot, forefathers, represent these middot.  Avraham is chesed, Yitzchak is bashfulness, and Yaakov is merciful. If you are kind you cannot have a negative eye, if you are bashful, you cannot be desirous, and if you are merciful you cannot be haughty. Sukkot celebrates a time of mercy. Pesach negates desire which leads to bashfulness. Shavuot is chesed. When the Jewish people went up to Yerushalayim and left their fortunes behind they were saying, life is not about our material world. When a person has his priorities in order, his negative middot fall by the wayside.

The third leg is kedusha (holiness). The Shivielie Pinchas writes that Bilaam lifted his face towards the desert where the Jews had sinned with the Golden Calf. He hoped this gesture would help him destroy them. The influence of chait ha’egel is found in every generation, but Hashem in His chesed gives us a means of annulment through batel b’shishim. The sin took six hours. The moadim total fifteen days, 15×24=360, 60×6=360 hours of kedusha.  The three festivals of sanctity nullify the six hours of distance. Fifteen days of total connection to Hashem and of living life enveloped in sanctity gave us the invincible strength to overcome Bilaam’s evil designs.





Parshat Vayeitzei: A Holy Nation

11 11 2010

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

Parshat Vayeitzei: A Holy Nation

If we examine the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak we find that they overcame many challenges and then Hashem blessed them. However, with Yaakov, it seems like things happened in reverse. Yitzchak blessed him and then Yaakov embarked on a long journey filled with difficulties and struggles. What was the difference between Yaakov and the other avot?

 

In Tehillim it says, “Ashrei shomrei mishpat oseh tzedaka b’chol eit. Praised is the person who protects justice and does charity at all times.” The Zohar links this verse to Yaakov who combined chesed and gevura.  Mishpat is internal justice between one Jew and another. Tzedaka is spreading knowledge of Hashem to all four corners of the earth. The Shem MiShmuel explains that during the first stage of the development of Eretz Yisrael, the Jews were led by the shoftim. The shoftim merely enforced justice within the land but did not lead the people to war to expand their boundaries. However, during the second stage of transition, when the kings ruled, they transformed Israel from a nation completely focused on itself to a nation that expanded outwards to influence other foreign countries. This teaches that first we must be a goy kadosh, a holy nation. We must strengthen ourselves spiritually. Then we can become a mamlechet kohanim, a model nation whose mission it is to spread the word of Hashem to the world.

 

Similarly, this was the story of Yaakov’s life. In the beginning he was an “Ish tam yoshev ohalim,” a shofet Jew sitting in the tents of Torah, fortifying himself to face the challenges ahead. Then Hashem led him to Charan as it says, “Vayelech Charona.” Charon means anger and strife. The world outside Israel was mired in sin and wickedness. Yaakov went to live with Lavan who was the essence of evil. Lavan wanted to uproot the faith of Yaakov. Yaakov, with his own power and that of the Avot, succeeded in overcoming him by building a Jewish family and bringing Torah and mitzvot into Charan itself. He achieved the mission of a king.  Subsequently, Hashem commanded him to return. At that point, by facing Lavan and overcoming his challenges, Yaakov had advanced spiritually to the point that he could defeat Esav, something he could not have done before.

 

When Yaakov overcame the angel of Esav, the angel called him Yisrael. Yaakov implies a narrow focus while Yisrael connotes openness.  A Jew must maintain a dual focus. Sometimes it is microscopic, such as focusing detailed attention to halacha. Sometimes it is telescopic, assuming the responsibility of spreading Hashem’s word to the world. In Parshat Yitro, when Hashem commands Moshe to speak to the women, He said, “Thus you should speak l’bait Yaakov, to the house of Yaakov” because women are meant to focus on the internal part of Torah.  The rest of the Jewish people are Yisrael. As much as Torah is for us, we need to influence others externally through our example and teachings.

 

Let us take strength from Yaakov’s victory over the angel of Esav and over the Lavan ideology. As we face the myriad challenges of life, may He grant us the power to be a Mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh, to become the spiritual giants and moral leaders of the world.