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.





Sefirat Haomer- The Inner Count Part 2

9 05 2011
Based on Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Sefirat HaOmer - The Inner Count

What should our focus be during sefirah? Every individual must introspect and find the points that are lacking in his own individual avodat Hashem. It may be different for every person. Yet there are three approaches we can all take.

The first approach is the Mishna which tells us that Torah is acquired through forty eight ways. The Baalei Mussar recommend that a person work on a different middah every day. The forty ninth day is chazara (review).

The Bnei Yissachor offers a second approach. The Mishna in Avot tells us – Rav Elazar teaches that a lev tov is the most important middah. Lev is equivalent to thirty two. The first thirty two days of sefirah should be devoted to rectifying mitzvot ben adom l’chavero (between man and man). The last seventeen days corresponding to tov should be dedicated to mitzvoth ben adam l’makom (between man and man).

The third approach is based on a maxim by Rav Elazar Hakefar, “Jealousy, desire, and honor, remove a person from this world.” Just as we must repent for evil actions, we must repent for evil thoughts. The Beer Yosef writes that the korbon omer was brought at the very point when the mann ceased falling. The mann teaches us an important lesson connected to sefirah. Everyone received the exact portion of mann that they needed. From this we can deduce that there is no room for jealousy. If a person believes that what is meant for him he will receive and that no one can take what is his without Hashem’s consent, he will never suffer from envy. The second aspect is desire. Rav Shwab points out that when we count we must see ourselves as the barley being cut from the ground. We must lift ourselves off our materialism so that we can become a chariot for Hashem. The third dimension is respect. If we sensitize ourselves to our Divine image, our own internal aspect of kedusha, we will in turn recognize it within others and treat them with the proper kavod.

We begin with mashcheini – Hashem takes the lead. We then immediately move to narutza-we work towards coming back to the spiritual high of Pesach. Only then can we experience heve’ani-the lofty level of kabbalat ha’Torah. Yet we still need another Shabbat-an outpouring from Hashem, to raise us to the final pinnacle. That is why mi’macharat hashabbat is written twice. The first Shabbat hints to Pesach and the second Shabbat alludes to Shavuot.

Sefirat haomer is a mini paradigm of life- inspiration, hard work, and then inspiration again. We need not finish anything, but we must invest effort. Then Hashem will lift us up and help us finish the task.  Whether it is working on the forty eight ways, acquiring a lev tov, or uprooting jealousy, desire, and honor, we must toil and never give up. Then we will be blessed doubly with “mimacharat hashabbat,” with the siyata d’shmaya (divine support) to complete our destined mission.





Pesach Inspiration

5 04 2011

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

Pesach: 4 minutes of Inspiration

Our Rabbis teach us that Yaakov received the brachot from Yitzchak on the night of Pesach. Yitzchak specifically chose this time because on this night the heavenly vaults of blessing are open. On the outside we may appear like Esav, we may feel very far from Hashem, yet the night of Pesach gives us the strength to transform ourselves into Yaakov. We can tap into the profound, inherent, power of the Seder night and reach unimaginable levels.

Yitzchak gave Yaakov the blessing of hakol kol Yaakov, the power of expression. On this night, we can use our ability of speech to connect with Hashem.  In the Hagadah, we recite, “V’chol hamarbe l’saper.” The more we recount at the Seder night, the more uplifted we become. It is not only an opportunity to tell over the story of the Exodus, but a unique time to pray. In particular, since the Seder focuses primarily on the children, it is a night to daven for them and for future generations.

When Yaakov entered the chamber of Yitzchak, the fragrance of Gan Eden accompanied him. A vestige of this otherworldly scent returns to us on the evening of Pesach. Hashem descends to each of our seders. There is a custom to wear a kittel on this holy night. Like the Kohen Gadol who entered the Holies of Holies, we too can enter into an experience of Kodesh Kodoshim. This night, when Yaakov received the brachot, when the heavens are open, is an opportunity for each of us to soar to greater heights, no matter what our external trappings may be. It is a night when we can rededicate our voices to Torah and tefilah. We have the ability to ask Hashem for whatever our hearts truly desire. May we merit abundant blessings from above.





Purim: Living the Secret

13 03 2011

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

Purim: Living the Secret

The Shivelei Pinchas notes that the essence of Purim is found in one extra letter in the Megilah, “Layehudim l’abdam,” “to destroy the Jews”, which is spelled with an extra yud. Haman’s goal was to take away our “pintele Yid”-the aspect of holiness within us that is eternal. That deep spark came to the fore when Mordechai told Hasach “Parshat hakesef,”-the story of the king’s money. Kesef from the root word kisufim-yearning, hints at a Jew’s deepest longing which is to connect with Hashem. This is what Haman wanted to destroy. As a descendant of Amalek, the paragon of evil, he understood that for holiness to be decimated completely, it must be uprooted at its core.

 

Purim is about focusing in on our inner souls. “Nichnas yayin yatza sod.”-When wine goes in, secrets are revealed. In this state, our externals are stripped and we can see what really matters to us. Is our essential being one of wanting to do Hashem’s will or do we find our enjoyment in the outside world?  What brings us happiness? What is our focus? What speaks to us? The sin of the Jews was that they took pleasure in the feast. They found joy in a realm outside Torah. Purim is tapping into the Oneness of Hashem, it is rededicating ourselves to Torah and to becoming ovdei Hashem.  The Pachad Yitzchak points out that Purim is like Yom Kippur. However while Yom Kippur is connected with remorse, Purim is not. On Yom Kippur we tell Hashem, “Sin is not my true essence, I will repent. On Purim we proclaim, “This is me, under all the outer trappings I am one with Hashem.”

 

Happiness is a critical factor in Judaism. Therefore it is prominently highlighted on Purim. People who look for happiness from an external source, will find their simcha limited. Happiness needs to be connected to something internal. Love leads to simcha. Knowledge and understanding enhances love. Therefore to acquire self-love, we must know clearly who we are. In this way we can come to love Hashem.  Ahavat Hashem will then lead to profound happiness. There is no greater simcha than recognizing that we are children of the King. Each of us has a unique relationship with Hashem made up of our individual life situation, trials, and challenges. Purim is the climax when we ask ourselves, “Do I feel a personal bond with Hashem?” Purim is experiencing the joy of kabalat haTorah, the marriage with Hashem, the fact that He tailor designs everything in our lives to help us reach our purpose.  Our challenge on Purim is to experience a day of tremendous physical enjoyment and direct that joy to the most essential joy of  Kiymu v’kiblu. There is no greater happiness than being a Jew.

 

The Netivot Sholom notes that when the king asks Esther, Mah bakashaseich, “What is your request”, it is really Hashem questioning us, “What is it you need to be more successful in serving Me?” Purim is a day when the heavenly vaults are open. We can ask Hashem for the gift to be a better eved Hashem. Taanit Esther is a time to introspect, a time to focus on what is really important in our lives. Once we have that perspective, we can then proceed to the simcha of Purim with the realization that we are the beloved children of Hashem. May all our prayers be answered l’tova.





Parshat Vayakel: Removing The Mask

25 02 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira SmilesParshat Vayakhel: Removing the Mask

There is an intriguing juxtaposition in Parshat Ki Tisa and Parshat Vayakel. In Vayakel, Hashem first tells Moshe to command the Jews about the mitzva of Shabbat and he singles out the prohibition of kindling a flame. He then tells the people about the mitzva of building the Mishkan. In contrast, Parshat Ki Tisa, which is a culmination of Parshat Terumah and Tezaveh and the building of the Mishkan, begins with the mitzva of Shabbat. Why the switch and why does the Torah continually connect Shabbat with the Mishkan?

 

The Siftei Chaim notes that Adam lived a pure existence before the sin of eitz hadaat. Every action he performed, even if it was physical, was entirely sanctified. His only goal was to do the will of Hashem. After the sin, Adam was thrust into a world of confusion. Suddenly he acquired busha (shame), which is a contradiction between what one knows to be correct and his actions. Every action from then on contains a mixture of good and evil, to the extent that man could now never say that his motives were completely altruistic.  Before the sin, Adam’s food did not require preparation. After the sin, producing bread became a long arduous process. This reflects life in microcosm. Life is about working with a mixture of good and evil and extracting the grains of goodness.

 

On Shabbat we can reach the state of Adam before the sin. All week long we mimic building the Mishkan by taking the physical and elevating it for Hashem. On Shabbat we enter a dimension of Gan Eden where we don’t need to work and can still achieve this same level of spirituality. Shabbat is about rejoicing with the kingship of Hashem. On this day we crown Him as master.  Our sages say that on Shabbat we receive an extra soul, an expansiveness of the heart. We can enjoy physical pleasures and our souls will not despise them because on Shabbat both the physical and spiritual work in tandem. Rav Wolbe notes that this level can be reached with the first kezayit of challa at the meal. If you consume it as if you are eating that first piece of matza at the seder, you can experience a foretaste of The World To Come.

 

At matan Torah, when the Jews completely nullified themselves before Hashem, they reached the state of Adam before the sin. After chet ha’egel they lost this level again. However, our Sages say that Moshe retained it. The parsha notes that he had a keren or, his face shone and he needed to wear a mask in order to speak to the Jewish people. His face, a reflection of his inner being, embodied a perfect melding of physical and spiritual. On Shabbat we return to this level.

The Netivot Shalom teaches that Shabbat is a propitious time for teshuva. The mask we wear all week long is lifted. We can return to our inner essence. Shabbat is a time to meditate on our true selves. Every Jew can recognize that life is about elevating the physical to the spiritual and about coming closer to Hashem. Our challenge is to take this message into our week and create a Mishkan for Hashem. The models of this were the women in Mitzrayim. They knew how to live Shabbat during the week. The Ibn Ezra writes that they were so committed to Hashem that they donated their mirrors, signifying their preoccupation with physicality, and came to the Ohel Moed to pray and learn.

 

Rav Kanatovsky notes that the reason for the reversal in the Parshiot is to teach us that we need to buttress the fundamental aspect of Shabbat-connection to Hashem, with action. Shabbat is the focus of Jewish belief. We need to recognize that we are not in control. Our job is to do our part, but ultimately the results are up to Hashem. This is why the Torah singles out fire. Fire symbolizes man’s mastery over the universe. The suspension of this act represents relinquishment of control. Shabbat is about recognizing that there is a larger force behind our everyday actions. Similarly, the word vayakhel means community. We belong to something bigger than ourselves.

 

The Klei Yakar writes that Ohel Moed reflects the womens’ tents. The greatest accomplishment of a woman is dedicating herself to a greater aspect of self, namely her home and family.  May our efforts to reach these lofty levels bring ourselves, those close to us, and all of Klal Yisrael to true sheleimut.





Parshat Noach: Lessons of Proper Speech and Helping Others

7 10 2010

Parshat Noach – Wonderful Words
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

“V’Noach matza chen b’einei Hashem. Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem.” What grace did Noach posses? In addition, Hashem could have saved Noach in any number of ways. Why was it necessary for him to build an ark and live among the animals?

The core sin of the Generation of the Floodwas in the area of speech. They did not keep their word. Once the floodgates of dishonesty are opened, it flows down to all areas of life. In Tehilim 45 we read, “The beauty of man is when grace is on the lips.” Hashem made two covenants with the Jewish people: brit halashon – a covenant of the mouth, and brit milah – a covenant to act morally. The two are interconnected. This is the grace that Noach found in Hashem’s eyes. He mastered the art of refined speech.

The Sefat Emet notes that if a person learns silence, he can be careful when he does speak to communicate in a modest way. Indeed we see in this parsha that
although the Torah measures every word, two extra words are used to describe the non kosher animals of the ark. “Umin habeheima asher lo tehora” instead of “temeiah,” to emphasize how far one must go to speak in a sanctified way.

In Breishit, when Hashem created man, the Torah writes, “Vayipach b’apo nishmas chaim.” Targum translates this as, “ruach memalelah” – the power of speech. When a person abuses this power, he casts away the part of him that makes him human. A coarse manner of speech corrupts his divine image. Therefore, we understand why Hashem wanted to destroy the world. His plan was to recreate it with individuals who would appreciate the divine spark within them. When a person misuses his speech he destroys his human essence and becomes almost animalistic. This is why Noach spent the year with animals. It was a constant reminder of what makes a human being elevated and different from animals, namely his power of speech.

Rebbetzin Feldbrand, in Towards Meaningful Prayer, writes that “teiva” can be translated interchangeably to mean word or ark. He was saved by the power of words.

When we wallow in the superficial aspects of this world we are no better than animals. Noach was punished and sentenced to live with animals for a year. This was to teach him that his generation had stayed at the level of animals because he did not reach out to inspire them.

On some level we are all responsible for each other and are enjoined to pray when troubles come. If one does not daven, it shows a lack of appreciation for prayer and insensitivity to the pain of others. This needs cultivation. If you hear bad news, pray. If a friend confides in you, try to help him. If you cannot assist him, at least daven for him. Understand that if Hashem made you aware of this trouble, you have a responsibility to do something.

Why did Hashem show Noach the covenant of the rainbow after the Flood? The Sforno answers that in a sense Hashem is hinting to us that every person has a responsibility as part of Klal Yisrael to pray in a time of need. The rainbow signifies a time of judgment. It is our wakeup call to beseech Hashem to turn it into mercy.

As we begin the new year, let us rededicate ourselves to prayer, proper speech, and helping people in need with fresh vigor and hope for a year of growth and self improvement.





Shabbat Shuva: Torah & Tefila, Components of Teshuva

6 09 2010

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

Shabbos Shuva

In the Haftora of Shabbat Shuva we read, “Kechu imachem devarim v’shuvu el Hashem. Take with you words and return to Hashem.” The verse continues, “Kol tisa avon vekach tov uneshalmah parim sfaseynu. May You forgive all iniquity and accept good, and let our lips substitute for bulls.” It seems as if the end of the verse is a repetition of the beginning. The Malbim explains that the first part signifies teshuva m’yirah while the second part refers to teshuva m’ahavah. When one does teshuva out of fear, one gains an understanding of what it means to be close to Hashem and to experience the sweetness of Torah. This propels us further to continue and deepen our love for Hashem.  Teshuva m’ahava transforms sins into good deeds. Consequently, in place of sacrifices, only words will be necessary. Devarim refers to words of Torah and tefila. How do these words impact teshuva?

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva notes that a sinner’s mitzvot are destroyed and can only be recaptured when he performs teshuva. What does this mean? Rav Solomon explains that it does not mean that the mitzvot are actually decimated. Rather, they are like burning candles hidden behind a thick veil of sin waiting to be revealed.  “Kechu imachem devarim,” confess your sins. “Imru eilav,” pray to Hashem. “Vkach tov,” allow the good energy to flow through.

This is why we recite on Kol Nidrei night, “Ohr zerua l’tzaddik ulyishrei lev simcha.” Let us bask in the light planted for tzaddikim. Now that we’ve repented, allow us the joy and benefit of those hidden mitzvot. Rav Dessler notes that a critical part of teshuva is praying to Hashem to remove the sins blocking our path so that we can ascend further in avodat Hashem. It is difficult to repent in darkness and the light of mitzvot cannot be accessed before doing teshuva.  Therefore, the first step is to do one or two mitzvot and feel its hidden sweetness. This will ignite a person’s desire to do teshuva and ultimately propel him onward.

In Timeless Seasons, Rabbi Roberts quotes the Gemara that “Kechu imachem devarim” refers to words of Torah. Without knowing what is wrong a person cannot see the error of his ways. Therefore, a pivotal part of the teshuva process is studying the Torah, particularly halacha. One can only be a true servant of Hashem if he studies the details of how to be one.

On Shabbat Shuva, the prophet Hoshea adjures us, “Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha. Return   O Israel to Hashem.” The greatest aspect of teshuva is “Ein od milvado,” recognizing that there is no entity that we can rely on, but Hashem. Physical strength, finances, and well connected friends, are all illusory and transient.  Just as an orphan has no one to turn to but Hashem, our only real hope is our Father in Heaven.