Insights of the Chassidic Masters: Standing Before G-d

5 09 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Chassidic Masters

The Baal Hatanya, in his introduction to his essay, “Atem Nitzavim” explains the Torah’s ambiguity about Rosh Hashana. He writes that Rosh Hashana is the day we were created. It is the beginning of man’s existence. Therefore, Hashem wanted us to strain to understand it, to uncover the starting point within each of us, to remember the struggle and to recapture the magic of this very pivotal moment. This is compared to a couple remembering their wedding, and to parents recalling the birth of their first child.

When we study the Torah, mussar, chassidut, or halachot relating to a particular holiday, it is critical to understand its central core.  All learning and prayer connected to a particular holiday shines forth from this point. The Torah does not specify the theme of Rosh Hashana, but Chazal tell us that “Hamelech” sums up the essence of the day. In fact, old Chabad chassidim would call Rosh Hashana the “Day of Coronation,” for on this yom tov we crown Hashem as king over us.

The Gemara writes, “On Rosh Hashana, Hashem tells us, ‘Say before me these prayers: Malchiyot, so you will accept my kingship, Zichronot, so that I will remember you in a good way. How does one accomplish this? With the shofar. From this passage we understand that the essential theme of Rosh Hashana is accepting Hashem’s kingship, and the shofar is the means to attain this. Additionally, if we examine the prayers of Rosh Hashana, we will find that they revolve around the theme of kingship. The writings of Chassidut explain that our mission on Rosh Hashana is to reconstruct the malchut of Hashem by making ourselves worthy of crowning Him.

Rav Sadya Gaon lists several reasons why we blow shofar, but the inner meaning of the shofar is kingship and coronation. We verbalize and actualize our acceptance of Hashem’s kingship through the shofar.

In Tehilim, King David writes, “Bakshu fanei, es panecha avakesh.” Hashem says, “Seek my face.” Panei is related to penimiyut. Our avoda on Rosh Hashana is to reveal the deep inner connection between our soul and the essence of Hashem. For a person to say “Hamelech” on Rosh Hashana and ignore the King is not only absurd but dangerous. If Hashem is really our King what kind of effect has He had on our life? Accepting the yoke of Hashem’s kingship as a means to fulfill one’s responsibilities as a Jew is a very important outgrowth of Rosh Hashana but it is not the core. The essence is making Hashem a part of life during the year; knowing what “melech haolam” means when we say a bracha and developing a real connection with malchut Hashem. This will all depend on how we crowned the King on His coronation day. The call of the shofar jolts us awake and the prayers of Rosh Hashana helps us realize that nothing rules over us except Hashem.  Our “Hamelech” is not Wall St, Elvis Presley, our boss, or our physical desires.   We answer to a Higher Authority.   By tapping into the power of “melech” in everything we do, we will become stronger more dedicated servants of Hashem.

The Three Weeks

13 07 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

The Three WeeksThe gemara relates the story of Rabbi Akiva who was walking with several sages when they saw a fox emerge from the site of the destroyed Beit Hamikdash. The Chatam Sofer explains that a fox represents crafty slyness. In exile, we are less afraid of physical death and more afraid of our oppressors’ devious use of enticement and warped philosophy to pull us away from Torah and mitzvot.

Chazal tells us, those who mourn over Jerusalem will merit to see its restoration. This is written in the present tense to teach us that the purpose of aveilut is to recognize consciously what we have lost and to realize what we can regain. Looking at the causes of the destruction can help us correct the failings that led to the churban.  The first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of idol worship, adultery, and murder.  Our tikun is to strengthen ourselves in emuna, to work on our modesty in thought, deed, and action, and to guard our lives from any needless danger. The second beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred. This can be rectified through kindness and charity.

Rashi in Parshat Vayeishev notes that Yaakov continued to grieve for Yosef because as long as a person is still alive, one cannot be completely comforted. As soon as the person dies, mourning gradually diminishes. The collective soul of Klal Yisrael knows that we have yet to achieve our former glory. We know there is a gaping void in our lives. We continue to mourn for Jerusalem every day in our prayers and it remains a living force within our hearts.

As we leaf through the tear stained pages of Jewish history, we see firsthand that even though Hashem has punished us, he still loves us. He has made us suffer for our own good because he cares. King David tells us in Tehilim, “Shivtecha umishantacha heima yenachamuni. Your rod and your staff comfort me.” The rod of retribution is Hashem’ s form of healing. May the travails of exile serve to elevate us to higher realms so that we may ultimately merit the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.

Chassidut: Parshat Mishpatim – Hashem’s Emblem of Truth

11 02 2010

Chassidut: Parshat Mishpatim – Hashem’s Emblem of Truth
Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Mishpatim: G-d's Emblem of Truth

In Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe discusses why Parshat Mishpatim comes after Parshat Yitro.  Rashi says that mishpatim, the code of civil and criminal law, completed the Sinai experience. What is the function of the mishpatim in terms of the original giving of the Torah?

In Tehilim we read, “Magid dvarav l’Yaakov u’mishpatav l’Yisrael. The Almighty related his word and bylaws to Israel (but did not do so to the other nations of the world).” One of the seven mitzvot bnei Noach is dinim, to establish a code of civil law. How may we understand this verse?

King David meant that a Jew has a different imperative for keeping the same laws as the non-Jews. The Jewish judicial system is ordained by Hashem, while the non-Jewish code of law is up to each nation’s discretion. The Gemara says that a Jewish judge who adjudicates a case truthfully becomes a partner with the Almighty in the creation of the world.  Hashem looked into the Torah to form the world. Jewish judges seek to apply the ideals of Torah correctly. When three judges adjudicate honestly, Hashem lowers himself to join them. The judges in the courts of Jewish law are messengers of Hashem. They enforce the laws of the Torah. In contrast, the non Jewish courts merely impose man-made mandates.

The Gemara writes that a Jewish court is “dan din emet l’amito,” judges the truth of the truth, the real truth. What does this mean? The Netivot Shalom relates an intriguing story about the Baal Shem Tov. His student was once framed, and forced by a beit din to pay the claimant a sum of money he had never taken. The student came to the Baal Shem Tov and asked him, If Hashem sits with the judges in the beit din, how could this beit din ruled unjustly? The Baal Shem Tov answered that the real truth had come out. In a previous lifetime, the student owed the litigant money which he never repaid. Now, in this reincarnation, he framed the student and got his money back. A Jewish court might commit what appears as a mistake, but in reality, there are always Divine reasons behind it.  Any judgment adjudicated with truth and sincerity becomes a part of the Torah. Indeed, many volumes of Halachic literature are accounts of judgments and decisions made by great Jewish judges over the course of centuries. Sheilot u’teshuvot comprise a significant body of the Oral Torah. This is how Parshat Mishpatim relates to the Sinai experience.

Chassidut teaches that Hashem created the world because He desired to rest His presence in the lower spheres, where He could express himself. The Jewish court of truth provides a home for Hashem.  Falsehood banishes Him. This is the secret of the power of mishpatim. Falsehood must not flourish. Truth is so essential that its message is positioned next to one of the most critical events in Jewish history, the giving of the Torah.

We cannot and dare not ignore our responsibilities to our fellow man, especially in regards to honesty in monetary matters. Our Sages would go to great lengths to clear any financial claims against them even if it meant paying back people who were themselves thieves and charlatans. In this way they sanctified Hashem’s name. It is crucial for parents to show children that their monetary obligations are sacred. Conducting ourselves with honesty brings the Shechina into our homes.

The Netivot Shalom quotes the Maharal that one must keep the Torah honestly between man and Hashem, man and man, and man and himself. This includes avoiding self deception, and being  true with oneself regarding ones potential, abilities, flaws, and power to change. By dedicating ourselves to live a life of emet, truth, we will merit to walk hand in hand with Hashem, whose essence is truth.

Tehillim is Back!

23 11 2009

We are pleased to announce that Rabbi Avishai David is back with his popular Tehillim course!

The new course, Tehillim VII,  begins with a survey of Hallel, the psalms of thanksgiving recited on holidays and Rosh Chodesh:

Classes: Tehillim Series VI With Rabbi Avishai David

1 06 2009

This advanced class on Tehillim, by Rabbi Avishai David, analyzes the pathos and precision of David Hamelech (King David)’s monumental work, chapter by chapter. Rabbi David combines a thorough study of the literary structure of each Psalm with a broad overview of the Early and Later commentaries, producing classes that are both informative and inspiring.

Check it out:

Tehillim VI