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.

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Tree of Life: Torah-Connecting the World To Hashem

27 10 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Tree of Life: Torah-Connecting the World To Hashem #15 The Rambam writes that the word tov (good) implies three things: pleasure, efficiency, and spiritually good things. Hashem created pleasure and efficiency so that we might pierce the external layer of physicality and focus on its core. The fragrant aroma, taste, and texture of iced coffee arouse a person to wonder who created it. The speed and efficiency of a shiny new car sensitizes its owner to the harmony and beauty inherent in this world. This is called berurim, making selections. Chitzoniyut (external) is supposed to lead us to penimiyut (the internal).

 

Torah gives us the key to joining chitzoniyut with penimiyut. The word tov is first mentioned in the Torah in the story of creation, “Vayar Elokim et ha’or ki tov.Hashem saw that the light was good.” The ability to perceive things with spiritual vision, with the light of the first day, is what goodness is about. This is what is meant by the midrashic statement, “Ein tov ela Torah. There is no good other than Torah.” The entire creation was good, but its light could only shine forth through Torah.

 

The Torah mentions “ki tov” six times. The letter vav, the numerical value of six, symbolizes a hook, which connects two separate items. Torah connects this world, chitzoniyut, with its source above. Six times tov equals the numerical value of emunah, faith. The prophet Chavakuk encapsulated the Torah in one point, “Tzaddik b’emunato yichye.” The tzaddik lives by his faith. All of the Torah and all of creation depend on this mitzvah. Emunah is looking at the finished product and seeing the hand of the craftsman.

 

The opposite of Torah is falsehood. A recurrent phrase in Mishlei is isha zarah, the disloyal wife, which symbolizes external wisdom. External wisdom symbolizes an approach to wisdom rather than a particular body of knowledge. It means looking at the world and seeing its beauty and intricacy without going further to its source. Chochma chitzonit (external wisdom) is false because Hashem is not in the picture. A lie is something that is incomplete. The chochmah (wisdom) of Torah, which by definition connects separate items, is the strongest aspect of emunah. Emunah endures forever.

 

So should we avoid chochma chitzonit completely? The Gemara gives us an enormous amount of information about the world’s physical reality. Our own personal observations give us more. The first approach says find out what you need in order to navigate the world but don’t dig further because it can corrupt your inner process of searching. Hence, the Baal Hatanya teaches that external wisdom causes a person’s inner search for knowledge to become impure. It doesn’t take a person to Hashem, it takes him further away. The second view questions how one can see the inside of something if one doesn’t study the outside. The proponents of this view say, the more you study the world, the more you can discern its Master. Both views can be reconciled, provided that we view the external as a means to reaching the internal, not as an end in itself.

 

Torah is the tavlin (spice) of the evil inclination. Why is it called a spice and not an opponent? The function of a spice is to enhance the flavor of a dish. We have the capacity to extract the good from within the yetzer hara by conquering it. The act of saying no to something forbidden is an act of vanquishing evil. Another way to engage the yetzer hara is by turning evil into good. There are people with tendencies that can potentially take them away from Hashem, but if used correctly can help them grow. Here too, evil becomes good. If not for the evil inclination, people would be like angels, they’d behave properly because their nature forced them to do so.

Torah and mitzvot teach us how to elevate our evil inclination for a higher purpose. Therefore, it is a spice and not an opponent, because it sweetens that which is bitter. The light of the Torah takes a person back to Hashem. It’s a hook that reveals His holy presence.

 

The yetzer hara is like a lion in ambush. It seduces us by convincing us that our sins are permitted. In the beginning, the yetzer hara tastes sweet but it ultimately leads to spiritual death. The yetzer hara cannot work on a person unless he’s empty of Torah. It is called a lion because its source comes from gevurah, power. It tells us that we’re lacking unless we follow its dictates. To overcome this, give yourself permission to feel just like a lion. Tell yourself, “I’m a person who does what I want, I’m not someone doomed to react and I’ve made the decision to overcome the evil within me.” Fight the yetzer hara with its own weapon. Gird yourself like a lion and arm yourself with Torah. With Hashem’s help you’ll emerge the victor.





Chassidic Sparks: Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge

26 10 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Parshat Noach-Seeking Refuge The story of Noach and the tevah (ark) carries a universal message for all of us. When evil forces surround us and threaten to engulf us, we can flee to the safety of the tevah, an isolated, spiritual world.

The Netivot Shalom says that this tevah is the ark of Shabbat. On this special day, we abandon the rough and tumble of daily life for an oasis of calm waters. The Gemara says that if a Jew keeps Shabbat properly, he is forgiven for the worst possible sins, even idol worship. The Torah commands us “l’davka bo, to cleave to Him.” During the week it’s a tough challenge to nurture a relationship of such closeness. But on Shabbat, Hashem comes down to be with us.

Shabbat is an opportunity to connect to Him directly. Talk on Shabbat should center on spiritual matters. One should feel as if the Divine Presence is a guest at the table. Words of Torah and prayer should permeate our Shabbat meal, while business, sports, or politics should be banished from our minds.

The Shabbat binds us to Hashem. It is our ark that protects us from the insidious influences of the world of the six days of the week. May the sanctity we imbibe on this special day carry us through the week.





Selichot: Keys To Forgiveness Part II #16

12 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Selichot: Keys to Forgiveness, Part II

The Gemara refers to Selichot as seder tefilla, namely an order of prayer which parallels Shemone Esrei. Shemone Esrai consists of praise, requests, and thanks. In a similar vein, Selichot begin with praise, move on to requests and the thirteen attributes of mercy, and end with thanking Hashem for his beneficence.

Judaism views man as an incongruous being. On the one hand, he can rise to unbelievable heights, greater than angels. On the other hand, he is like dust and ashes in his helplessness and worthlessness and total dependence on Hashem. This paradox seems to be at the heart of what Selichot is about. We approach Hashem in an intimate way. We address Him in the second person. But then we move on to bakasha, as we cry and plead for forgiveness.

The Rambam says that the way of repentance is to shed tears and implore Hashem for forgiveness. We recite Selichot after midnight, a time of eit ratzon (favor). We invoke Hashem’s mercy by reciting the thirteen attributes. The halacha is that someone praying alone doesn’t say the thirteen attributes. Rav Soloveitchik explains that this is because it is tantamount to a davar shebi’kedusha (a holy prayer), which requires a minyan (quorum of ten men). A davar shebi’kedusha is defined by the poskim as a dialogue between the prayer leader and the congregationand with it we sanctify Hashem‘s name in public. The Rambam writes that although Hashem always accepts our teshuva, it is most accepted in the days of grace, yemei ratzon, when Hashem comes down to be with us. This is why we recite Selichot during this period.

Selichot are comprised of three elements, which parallel the three elements of the soul: nefesh, ruach, and neshama. The Zohar says nefesh is a dark light rooted in the physical being, the source of emotion. It produces heat and relates to the lowest level of a person through the physical body. The next level, ruach, is a white light. It is the source of intellect, relates to our spiritual aspect, and not only provides heat, but also illumination. Finally there is the neshama which is a hidden incomprehensible light. Teshuva is possible because of this mysterious light that can never be corrupted. The neshama is the impetus for return.

The Rambam explains that nefesh is the source of feelings and physical drives. Its goal is pleasure and self-gratification. By nature it is limited. The ruach, the intellectual side, seeks higher truth. We need both the nefesh and ruach to serve Hashem. Emuna is defined in two ways, l’haamin, to believe, and l’hodea, to know. Belief stems from nefesh, the source of emotion, but there’s also an obligation to understand and connect to Hashem intellectually with the ruach.

Jews throughout the millennium have given up their lives to sanctify Hashem’s name. They were not necessarily great talmidei chachamim, but simple Jews who had pure emuna stemming from nefesh. Giving charity, doing acts of kindness, and deveikut b’Hashem, all flow from nefesh. Yet ruach is also a critical factor in serving Hashem. Intellect plays a pivotal role in studying and understanding Torah in a profound way. The greater the understanding, the greater the deveikut (attachment) to Hashem.

The Aseret Hadibrot are repeated twice in the Torah. In Parshat Yitro they address the ruach. In Parshat Va’etchanan they focus on the nefesh, the fire of Torah. Both are necessary. Selichot addresses the nefesh state of teshuva with the goal of reaching the ruach and the neshama.

On Yom Kippur, the Torah commands us to afflict the nefesh. “V’initem es nafshoseichem. You shall afflict your nefesh.” In this way, a person is motivated to experience the torment of his sins, which will in turn arouse him to pray and repent. In Selichot, we ask Hashem for mercy to bring us back to teshuva. We ask Him to help us rid ourselves of the yetzer hara so that our inner core will sparkle again. We focus on nefesh, then we move on to ruach, which in turn helps us bring our neshama to the fore. This is accomplished through teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka (repentance prayerand charity).

May the power of Selichot and the thirteen attributes, accompanied with the promise that no prayer ever goes unanswered, help us come back to Hashem.

 

 





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.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective I Class #2

3 07 2011

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

Rebbetzin Perspective

Question:

How do I balance listening to lashon hora with developing a deep and meaningful relationship with my teenage daughter?  Are there different rules when dealing with teenagers who need to be able to talk freely in order to understand themselves and their circle of friends?  

 

Answer:

 

If you care about someone, you want to give them what’s best for them. If you had a brilliant child who wanted to become a doctor, you’d do whatever you could to get him through medical school. If you had a special needs child who required extra intervention, you’d surmount all obstacles to help him progress. Your daughter desperately needs to learn how to differentiate between actual lashon hara and  lashon hara l’toelet, and how to developing a positive eye. As her mother, you are responsible to guide her.

 

Some people have the illusion that if they confide in their spouse they are drawing closer. In fact they are doing quite the opposite, notes the Chofetz Chaim, because their relationship is based on the common desire to tear people down. If you don’t set your daughter straight now and she continues analyzing and discussing people endlessly, the day may come when you’ll be the bull’s eye. She’ll be talking about you in a way she’s been talking with you all along about others.

 

The first step would be to gently get her to focus on what is unique, special, and precious, in every person. The next step would be to steer her to look for constructive solutions to her social problems. The final stage would be to have her come to these conclusions on her own. This will change your relationship with her in a very pivotal way. It will now be based on the common goal of finding resolutions and developing positivity rather than constantly putting others down.





Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

1 07 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

The Gemara tells the story of the angels’ argument to save Chananaya, Mishael, and Azarya from the fiery furnace of nevuchadetzar. The angel Yurkuma offered to put out the fire with ice and hail while the angel Gavriel countered that he would descend into the fire and cool it down. Hashem sent the angel Gavriel. The Shem Mishmuel asks, what would have been the difference between the two miracles? Ice putting out fire shows that Hashem can harness specific forces to overwhelm other forces. But a greater testimony to His omnipotence is manipulating the force itself. Hashem controls the essence of nature. He can change the rules as He sees fit and He can make fire cold just as He can make it hot. Ratzon Hashem (G-d’s Will) can alter the behavior of the laws of nature, because its very behavior is His Ratzon.

In Shachrit we say, “Hamechadesh b’tuvu bchol yom tamid“-Hashem in His goodness renews every moment of creation. He is constantly involved. When Hashem caused water to flow from the b’eer (the miraculous Well of Miriam which produced water from a rock) it was as if stone molecules were turned to water molecules. This testified that Hashem could control things at their root source. However when He commanded Moshe to hit the rock, it was a miracle disguised in nature.  A stick made of hard-like diamond can potentially split a stone so water will flow out. It was one force overwhelming another. Miriam’s merit activated the miracle of turning stone into water. When she died, the water ceased flowing. It was now necessary to essentially change the rock to water again, but Hashem refused to perform this miracle for Moshe . The merit of Klal Yisrael would need to replace the merit of Miriam. Miriam had emunah. She believed that the stone was Hashem’s will and that He could transform it into water if He so wished. Finding Hashem in our everyday lives, in the little incidents of Divine Providence, helps us come to the belief that He can change the essence of nature. This is what the Jewish people were expected to achieve at the end of forty years.  Hashem said to Moshe, “Hakhel es h’am…v’dibartem el hasela”-‘Gather the people and speak to the rock’. If the Jewish nation would have acquired the proper faith it would have been adequate to just speak to the rock. Unfortunately they did not reach that level and therefore Moshe failed.

How can we rectify this flaw in emunah? Opening our eyes to see the daily Divine Providence in our lives, cultivating faith and belief in Hashem, and trusting that just as miracles kept us alive throughout our long exile they will continue to sustain us.