Feeling the Churban

25 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The Gemara writes that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on the ninth of Av towards night. This would seem to imply that the halachic strictures of mourning would increase as the day wanes. But the opposite is true. From noon and onwards our mourning begins to lessen in intensity. Why is this so?

Until the destruction actually began the Jews didn’t believe it would ever happen. Therefore, they didn’t repent wholeheartedly. When the churban finally came, there was a revelation of great love. They saw that Hashem’s promise had come true. When they realized that there would be a long separation they felt a need to express their feelings. This overwhelming feeling of intimacy between Hashem and the Jewish people is what is meant when it says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Everything that brings about Mashiach‘s coming can be born within us on that day. When we can sincerely tell Hashem, “We don’t want this distance,” that is the beginning of the Messianic promise.

Maharal quotes the Gemara that the pre-Messianic era will be a period when people will disparage the authority of talmidei chachamim. There will be great chutzpah prevalent among the nations. Chutzpah is pretending to be something you’re not. When we seek to find connection in ways not related to Hashem, it becomes like a wall. This is meant to be so, so that we will ultimately reject it. Maharal says you have to know what you are not and what you really don’t want in order to move forward and truly want Hashem.

The mishna says the face of the generation we’ll be like the face of a dog. The dog doesn’t have a spiritual self. It becomes who it’s with. In the days before Mashiach, our sense of self will be so diminished that we won’t believe in our own strengths. We certainly won’t trust the goodness and capacity of others. Ultimately we will turn to Hashem.

The Bnei Yissachor says that the nine days before Tisha B’av consists of 216 hours which equals the same numerical value as aryeh (a lion). A lion’s roar inspires fear. Eicha describes Hashem “like a bear who waits for me in anguish or like a lion in a hidden place.” The ktiv is aryeh while the kri is ari. The difference between these two words is the letter heh, which equals five. This hints to the last five hours of Tisha B’av, which express Hashem‘s love. Only the ari hours, the 211 hours, inspire yirah. The first five sefirot of Hashem relate to an outpouring of chesed. The next five sefirot signify gevurah, concealment and withholding. Although the last five hours of Tisha B’av were filled with the horrors of the destruction it was also the beginning of the revelation. It says that the building of Yerushalayim and bayit shlishi commenced at the very moment when the second beit hamikdash began to burn. As we mourned, Hashem began to rebuild.

All of our suffering has its root in Tisha bav. We have to rectify it at the source. The first act of distancing was the sin of eitz hada’at. This brought about the introduction of dimyon (imagination). Dimyon makes us see good as bad and bad as good. Often we know something in our mind but when it comes down to action we go back to what gives us pleasure. The key is to use imagery in a positive way. Using negative imagery includes thinking, “I’m not who I want to be. If people really knew what I was they would reject and despise me. Therefore, I have to pretend to be the person I wish I could be. But beneath it all I hate myself.” This is self-destructive thinking. A positive image might include seeing yourself as a valiant warrior trying to do battle against the obstacles. You treasure your victories and are willing to live with the failures because a warrior doesn’t always win. He fights and falls and gets up again. Using one’s emotions and imagery to create a new self is a form of correcting what Adam did.

The sin of the spies signified a lack of emunah (faith). They realized they couldn’t conquer the land by natural means and they didn’t trust Hashem.

The first temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins. With the right imagery all of these sins would have been intolerable. The desire to murder could have been controlled by seeing the good and beautiful in every person. Adultery could have been repressed by discerning the integrity of mesirat nefesh. Idol worship could have been overcome by saying, “It’s just a creation, not the creator.” But they failed. Hashem‘s presence was missing in their mind and heart. The second beit hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were fragmented. They lacked the common emunah of believing and wanting the same thing. .

The Zohar says that each of the 365 days of the year parallel one of the 365 negative mitzvot. Tisha B’av corresponds to the mitzvah of gid hanashe. Nasha means forgetfulness. On Tisha B’av we forgot who we could be.

Yaakov battled the angel of Esav. They were fighting primarily over their future identity. Yaakov’s main quality was truth, which is seeing the whole picture and wanting to use everything in the inner and outer world for Hashem. Esav was a conqueror. There’s an Esav part within each of us. The battle was really a struggle between Yaakov and Yaakov. He had to annihilate his evil side. This will take place again when Mashiach comes.

Yaakov is referred to as tolaat (a worm). He was humble. He cried out to Hashem. Esav was a hunter. The most engaging prey is a human. When people idealize themselves and make demands on other people to see life through their eyes they are following the path of Esav.

The internal galut and relationship to Esav has an external manifestation which is the West. Modern society idealizes selfishness and conquest. In these days of bein hamitzarim let us strengthen ourselves with the voice of Yaakov and the power of Torah and tefilah.





Kol Nidrei

7 10 2011

Naaleh.com presents this special post from Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg about the tefilla of Kol Nidrei which is recited at the start of Yom Kippur. Visit Naaleh.com for FREE video and audio classes by Rabbi Ginsburg as well as many other esteemed Torah teachers.

Kol Nidrei is one of the most powerful tefillos of Yom Kippur. What is the significance of Kol Nidrei? On a purely halachic level, it is one form of hataras nedarim, nullification of a vow. Why does this play such a central role as we are about to enter Yom Kippur? There are different approaches in the meforshim to this question. The Rav zt”l developed the following idea[i].

The Rav explained that the central idea behind hataras nedarim is the declaration of remorse, of charata, for having made the vow.

Through the recognition that the original act was in effect a mistake, the vow is nullified retroactively. The Torah provides the authority to change his intention of vow from willful to accidental on the basis of his present understanding rather than on the basis of his state of mind at the time the vow was spoken.

We see that charata is essential to hataras nedarim.

The Rav goes on to explain that this is exactly the idea behind teshuva. The central part of teshuva is charata, we are acknowledging that the sins were done impulsively. I was not thinking when I did the aveirah. If I were thinking clearly at the time, I would not have done the aveirah. The aveirah does not reflect my present value system. This is what we are doing in the process of teshuva. So, when a Jew is hearing and reciting Kol Nidrei, he should be thinking that just like a person has the ability to have full charata to be matir neder, a person also has to have full charata for one’s aveiros and in that way to do teshuva.

This is a very powerful message. A Jew has to say to himself- How can I have possibly done that aveirah?! Hashem, I must not have been thinking clearly when I did that aveirah. Hashem, please, I am doing teshuva now. I was not thinking clearly. As the Rav writes, “The way I acted does not represent my present value system. Please accept my teshuva just like the Torah gives the authority of hataras nedarim.” Had I known then what I know now, had I been thinking then like I am thinking now, there is no way I would have even done the aveirah.

This is a beautiful p’shat. Based on this p’shat, Kol Nidrei takes on a broader, more far reaching significance. The words of Kol Nidrei focus on hataras nedarim, but the message of Kol Nidrei focuses on doing teshuva for all of one’s aveiros.

Gmar chasima tova,

B. Ginsburg

 


[i] This can be found in many places of the Rav’s writing. One is ‘Rabbi Soloveitchik on the Days of Awe’ page 73-74, 116-117.

 





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.





How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila?

15 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila? Can you provide some practical ideas?

 

Answer:

Create an image that speaks to you and use it to guide you through prayer. I’ll suggest one but you can use your own.

 

 

Close your eyes and picture yourself as a young child, way before you realized that your parents didn’t have much control over events. Imagine your father or mother telling you, “It’ll be ok.” Take that moment of absolute trust and transfer that feeling to Hashem. Only He cares for you in the ultimate sense and only He can give you what you need. Any image that evokes a feeling of faith, love, reliance, and dependence will work. Take it along with you when you start davening.

It’s difficult to move from an outside action-oriented world to an internal world where you have to feel absolute reliance on Hashem. Try to concentrate on the meaning of the words.

 

When you say Pisukei D’zimra, visualize drawing Hashem’s infinity into your heart. And when you get to Shemone Esrei, think about Hashem’s omnipotence and recognize that it’s only Hashem’s life force and essence that can give you anything at all.






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.





On Yom Kippur we ask ourselves, “Where am I?”

16 09 2010

Path To Teshuva-Part I
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Path To Teshuva-Part I

The Chafetz Chaim once said that the telephone was invented to teach us that what is said here can be heard there.  When a person speaks lashon hara or uses bad language, it’s all heard “up there.”  A train teaches us the value of time. If you arrive a second late you’ve missed it. A telegram teaches us that every word counts. Credit cards also impart a valuable lesson.  In life, you can get anything you want, but eventually you’ll have to pay for it.

There is a way out, though. During the Ten Days of Repentance in Shmoneh Esrai we say, “Zachreinu l’chaim…l’manecha Elokim chaim. Remember us for life, for Your sake.” If you’re working for the Big Boss, it’s a company expense, otherwise it’s charged to your account. If you buy a new dress in honor of Yom Tov, the bill’s on Hashem. If you buy it for your own honor, the bill’s on you. If you build a big fancy house to knock people’s eyes out, you’re going to have to pay for it. If it’s to do hachnasat orchim, Hashem foots the bill.

The Torah termed Esav, ish sadeh, a man of the field, because even when he was in the Beit Midrash, his head was in the fields. In contrast, Yaakov was called yoshev ohalim. Wherever he found himself, his head was in the Beit Midrash. This is the question we need to ask ourselves on Yom Kippur, “Where am I?” Is my mindset that of Esav or do I identify with Yaakov?

It’s not enough to hear the shofar, it has to move us to action. When we move the clock back, people always exclaim, “Great! An extra hour of sleep.” Do we stop to think what we’re saying? Sleep is one sixtieth of death. We’re grabbing on to the tree of death. Can we ask Hashem for life if we’re squandering it on sleep?  Why waste time sleeping if we can fill those very hours with Torah and mitzvot?

Before Ne’ila on Yom Kippur, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would make a deal with Hashem. He would offer his sins in exchange for forgiveness, life, sustenance and children; life so that he could continue to thank and praise Hashem, sustenance so that he could have strength to bless Him, and children so that they could engage in Torah and mitzvot. Let this heartfelt prayer be on our lips as we earnestly beseech Hashem, “Give us life, l’manecha- for your sake – so that we can extol and glorify your name.” May it be a blessed, sweet, new year.





On Yom Kippur Hashem Welcomes Us Back as His Children

13 09 2010

The following inspiring Yom Kippur article is based on a Naaleh.com class by Rabbi Michael Taubes

One of the most moving and inspiring highlights of the Yom Kippur davening is Kol Nidrei. We preface this prayer with the words, “Al daas Hamakom, v’al daas hakahal. With the approval of the Omnipresent and with the approval of the congregation.” “Hamakom” is one of the names of Hashem, which connotes that He is found in every place. Why do we specifically refer to Hashem here as “Hamakom?”

Rav Soloveitchik explains that we find the name “Hamakom” used in situations where we might think that Hashem is far away. We comfort mourners with the verse “Hamakom yinachem eschem.” We remind a person grieving over a loved one that Hashem is right there with him, feeling his pain, and that he will help him through this tragedy. Similarly, in our prayers on Monday and Thursday we say, “Hamakom yirachem aleheihem,” where we pray for people who are suffering. In times of affliction one can very easily succumb to feelings of abandonment. Therefore we emphasize that Hashem never leaves us and
that He will always stand by us come what may. During the Pesach seder we recite, “Baruch Hamokom baruch hu.” Here too, while we recount the torment of our forefathers in the midst of Egyptian enslavement, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom.

On Yom Kippur we may think that our many sins have formed a barrier between us and Hashem and that He is now far away from us. Therefore we use the name Hamakom. We inject that element of chizuk and accentuate that He is still here with us waiting patiently for our return as a loving father welcoming his wayward son back home.