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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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.





Repent! A Survey of Al-Hateshuva-Two Processes of Teshuva #2

5 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Two Processes of Teshuva In Hilchot Teshuva, the Rambam discusses the three segments of vidui (confession): admitting to the sin, regretting the sin, and committing not to sin again. In the first chapter, the Rambam mentions charata (regret) and then kabala al h’aatid (commitment). In the second chapter he mentions kabala al h’atid and then charata. Obviously both elements are necessary, but why is the order reversed?

The Gemara discusses two ways in which a person can be released from his vows, charata-regretand pesach-an opening. Pesach is based on miscalculation. The person wasn’t aware of all the facts, miscalculated, and made a vow. Charata is when the person knew all the facts but couldn’t control his emotions. He made a vow and now regrets it. Charata and pesach stem from two different parts of the human psyche, intellect and emotion. Logic helps us understand and come to conclusions. Emotions control and direct our actions. The struggle between what we know and feel is the conflict between the good and bad inclinations. Either the mind knows what’s right and the heart pulls towards the reverse or the heart intuitively feels what’s right and the mind comes to the wrong conclusions. Pesach is intellectual while charata is emotional. Sin can come from the heart or mind just as repentance can result from an emotional or logical awakening.

Sin is a disease of the soul. Illness indicates imbalance. Just as a physical illness has symptoms, so too does a spiritual sickness. Pain lets us know that we are ill and that we should address the dysfunction quickly. Guilt is a gift from Hashem. It’s the pain of the soul signaling us to get back on track. It’s Hashem telling us to fix ourselves.

The Torah describes the Jewish people’s emotional reaction to chet ha’egel and chet meraglim, “Vayisablu”-They mourned. When a person realizes that he’s failed spiritually, he reacts with depression, sadness, and disappointment. When he sees that he’s tarnished his tzelem Elokim (spark of divinity), he mourns for his soul. Aveilut is a yearning to return to one’s unblemished past. The Jews grieved because of their sins. They remembered the days when Hashem performed great miracles for them. They relived the giving of the Torah and the special bond they formed with their Master. They mourned the purity, the holiness and the closeness they once had. Now after the sin, they felt the loss of this closeness and purity.

Regret is a form of anger directed at oneself. This is supposed to lead to repentance. Teshuva driven by emotional pain requires focusing on the past. It’s much like charata for a vow. This is why the Rambam mentions this teshuva in the first chapter. Many times a person doesn’t have this emotional awakening. He doesn’t know how sick he is. He struggles. His heart is full of desire and then his mind says no. This is teshuva of the intellect and it is more difficult than teshuva of the emotions. Emotional teshuva can happen quickly because the person is eager to escape the pain. Intellectual teshua is slower, because the mind has to overcome emotional proclivity to sin. It can take years, or a lifetime. Intellectual repentance is not a reaction to the past but rather an effort to get back on track for the future.

The mind and heart of a Jew are a receptacle for the Divine Presence as it says, “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’sochom.” Hashem assures us, “I will reside within each of you.” We’re not alone in the process of teshuva. We are partners with Hashem. May the awakening within our hearts and minds bring us to complete repentance.





Parshat Nasso: Fighting Evil

3 06 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman   

Parshat Nasso: Fighting Evil

Parshat Nasso begins with a continuation of the great census of the Jews in the desert. It particularly focuses on the families of the tribe of Levi. The spiritual concepts of Kohen and Levi represent chessed and din, the two pillars of Hashem’s creation. Aharon Hakohen was the the epitome of peace and chessed. The Leviim represent din and were at the forefront of avenging Hashem’s honor after cheit ha’egel. The three families of Levi carried the vessels and components of the Mishkan. Kehat’s children had the most exalted task. They carried the Aron, the Menorah, and the Mizbeach. Gershon had the second most holy task, carrying the cover and skins of the Mishkan. Merori had the lowest level task, transporting the heavy staves and pillars of the Mishkan.

 

The Avnei Nezer explains that Shevet Levi, the tribe of justice, represents the challenge within each of us against the evil inclination. The first and most righteous level is where evil does not exist. The second level is when evil tempts us but we are able to use our powers to drive it away. The third and lowest level is when evil emerges within us, yet we continuously struggle with it and successfully control it. This represents the spiritual idea of the three families of the tribe of Levi. The Kehat family represented the epitome of purity of character.  Here evil could not even approach. The second level was Gershon from the root word garush– to drive away. Evil would enter their thoughts but they would banish it. The final level was Merori, from the root word Mar-bitter. They were tzaddikim embroiled in a bitter unending struggle between good and evil. Unfortunately many of us are in this category and we must continuously fight evil. The Baal Hatanya says that this level is very precious to Hashem, perhaps even more so than the higher levels of Kehat and Gershon.

 

There are three levels of spiritual energies-chessed-lovingkindness, din-justice, and rachamim-compassion. Chesed, opening up, is action, while din, retracting, is reaction. The balance is rachamim, giving with a calculated limit. R’Chaim Vital notes that Kehat is pure holiness which represents chessed, Merori is the bitter struggle of din, and Gershon is the sweet kindness of chessed and din combined. Although he is tempted by evil, he drives it away.

 

Life is a continuous battle of good and evil. At times the going gets rough but we must never give up.  May our efforts to do Hashem’s will help us attain the right balance within our souls.