Parshat Ki Tisa- Reaching for Holiness

9 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

At the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people rose to the level of Adam before the sin. How did they fall so quickly after that with cheit haegel (the sin of the golden calf)? The commentators explain that their intentions were not evil. They thought Moshe had died and that they had been left alone in the desert. Perhaps they reasoned that it was a question of life and death and that they could suspend Torah law to create an intermediary that would connect them with Hashem.

Shem Mishmuel points out that often people will sin with good motives, and that good intentions are never lost. Hashem takes them, purifies them and adds them to the sinner’s credit. We see this with the story of the Korach rebellion. Hashem commanded Moshe to take the 250 fire pans that had been used for sin and fashion them into an iron plate to cover the altar. The 250 people desired to come closer to Hashem through the position of the kehuna gedola (high priest). They had a noble goal but their actions were wrong. They were punished, but the vessels they used were consecrated for the holy mishkan.

The Torah teaches that actions are more important than intentions. The ends do not justify the means. Whether one achieves one’s goal or not doesn’t matter so much, but the way we do it must be right. Nevertheless good intentions still count. Moshe burned the calf and mixed the ashes with water and had the Jews drink it. His intent was to destroy the Jews’ evil deeds and retain their initial pure thoughts which had been to serve Hashem. Their good intentions were captured in the water and it saved them when they drank the potion. Those who were true sinners died.

Other religions downplay actions and upgrade intentions. Judaism teaches the opposite. Evil actions bear consequences. Yet if one’s intentions are noble they are not lost.





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.





Parshat Matot & Masei: Science of Speech

29 07 2011

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

Parshat Matot and Masei The Parsha of nedarim differs from the rest of the Torah in that Moshe told it directly to the leaders of the Jewish people in a very condensed fashion. This comes to teach us the extraordinary power of speech. Our mouths should be sanctified with pure words. If we pollute it with lashon hara and other verbal transgressions, we destroy our gift. Our Torah cannot be effective nor can our prayers reach the heavens if we profane our speech. By using concise language, Hashem wanted to teach us how careful we must be with every word. The Parsha was taught directly to the leaders because it was only great Torah scholars who could accurately communicate these terse words to the people.

Rav Itzele Blazer once came to Rav Chaim Berlin in a dream and said that all judgments in heaven are difficult but those relating to speech are exceedingly severe. The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash came because of baseless hatred. Enmity often arises from corrupted speech. The writings of the Chofetz Chaim teach us that improving our shemirat halashon can bring tremendous salvation. Rebbetzin Kanievski often tells women to study two halachot every day. By reviewing the relevant laws we train ourselves to be more guarded when we speak.

There’s an art to speaking but there’s also a science. We must recognize that there is an aspect of holiness within each of us. Speech puts man above all creation. It is the quill of the heart and the medium of connecting the deepest aspect of ourselves, with the world around us. Whatever we say has spiritual energy. Only a person who feels disconnected from Hashem can speak improperly.

There are different levels of communication. The first is everyday speech. Every mundane conversation is recorded and will be replayed at the yom hadin. Parents must teach children to keep their word and in turn they must be a model for their children. The second level is vows and oaths. With speech, we can create fences and render something forbidden. The final level is the power of speech to impact worlds. If a person is careful with what emerges from his mouth, then his words take on unbelievable strength. Death and life are in the hands of the tongue. A tzaddik can decree and Hashem will follow through.

The Nesivos Sholom writes that a Jew’s mouth is like a vessel in the Temple. When flour was placed in the pan, the sacrifice took on holiness because the vessel was holy. So too words that emerge from a sanctified mouth are sacred. Our mouths are like a kli sharet for Hashem. Tefilah, studying Torah, reciting Kiddush, making brachot are all expressions of elevated speech.

If speech is so significant, we must focus on how we can use it positively. In Shachrit we say, “You give life to them all.” We can emulate Hashem’s ways by becoming “life builders.” Speaking kindly and compassionately is a great form of chesed. Greeting a stranger with a smile tells him he’s important, he counts. A leader in particular must be careful what emerges from his mouth. On a micro-level this refers to the head of the family too who must teach his children the importance of pure speech. The Mikdash Halevi points out that the only halachot relevant for a boy of 12 and a girl of 11 is the area of nedarim. Our children must be ingrained with the weightiness of speech.

The beit hamikdash was destroyed and the Shechina left us because of sinat chinam-baseless hatred, lashon hara, and profane speech. Let us re-commit ourselves during these weeks of bein hametzraim to studying the laws of shemirat halashon and elevating our speech.

 





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.





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.





Parshat Vayigash: Two Forms of Leadership

9 12 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Vayigash: Two Forms of Leadership

It is written, “Within a person’s heart there are very deep waters, and a wise person knows how to draw upon these waters.” Both the Zohar and the Midrash connect this verse to the confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda. The Midrash notes that the “wise person” refers to Yehuda, who knew how to draw the deep waters out of Yosef. The Zohar disagrees and writes that it was Yosef who drew the waters out of Yehuda. Both Yosef and Yehuda emphasized a different aspect of gadlut, which led to a resolution of the conflict between the brothers.

 

The Midrash quotes a verse in Navi, “Days will come when the plow will meet the harvest.” The plow refers to Yehuda, the heart of Israel, while the harvester signifies Yosef, the mind of Israel. Plowing the ground involves softening it for planting. This represents the tender, caring heart, which not only feels the pain of others, but can accept the light of Hashem. Yehuda symbolized emotion. He was the progenitor of King David, the epitome of the kind, feeling heart. Tehilim, his gift to us, is full of expressions of extraordinary closeness to Hashem.

 

In contrast, Yosef represents the reaper. Harvesting creates separation. For human intellect to be perfect it needs to be detached from emotion. When studying Torah, we must follow its logic where it takes us without letting emotions blind us. Yosef was the paragon realist. His iron logic kept him loyal to his brothers all through the long years as he waited for their moment of teshuva.

 

The Shem Mishmuel asks why Yehuda waited to make his impassioned plea until after Yosef expressed a desire to take Binyamin away.  Yehuda knew the prophecy that the Jews would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. When the brothers were caught, Yehuda thought they would now be punished in the worst possible way to atone for the sale of Yosef. However, when Yosef singled out Binyamin, he realized this must be the diabolical plan of an evil king, because Binyamin had not been involved in the sale. It was then that Yehuda offered himself as a slave.  When Yosef saw Yehuda’s display of emotion he had to reconcile.

 

Both mind and heart are fundamental expressions of serving Hashem, namely the intellectual endeavor of studying Torah and the emotional service of tefila and performing mitzvot.  Chazal tells us that the Jewish people are merciful, modest, and kind. Yet we are stiff necked people, tenacious in upholding the truth, and stubborn in our beliefs. How does one meld the seemingly contradictory qualities of softness of heart and azut d’kedusha, iron-tough Jewish commitment? We are all a combination of Yosef and Yehuda. The greatness of Torah living is knowing when to employ our kindness to help others, and when to activate our strength to preserve our identity.  May we travel the straight path of Torah with hearts full of faith.





Parshat Vayigash – Confronting Ourselves

8 12 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

When Yosef imprisons Binyamin, Yehuda attempts to arouse the compassion of Yosef by depicting the unbearable pain their father would experience upon hearing the news. Yosef then reveals himself by declaring, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” The verse reads, “His brothers could not answer him because they were disconcerted.” Why did Yosef ask if his father was still alive if Yehuda had just spoken of him? The Midrash says, “Woe to creation on the day of judgment. Woe to creation on the day of admonishment.”

The Bait Halevi explains that there are two distinct days, the Day of Judgment and the Day of Admonishment. When the soul reaches the world to come after 120 years, he will be shown a film of his life split in two screens. One screen will ask him why he did
not give charity. The soul will answer he did not have any money. The other screen will show him buying a fancy chandelier and flying away on an expensive vacation. The soul will be pitted against itself. You may be able to answer anything in the world but you
cannot justify your own self. This is what happened with the brothers. They attempted to arouse Yosef’s mercy out of concern for their father but when Yosef confronted them they had nothing to say. They realized the magnitude of their misdeed and how they
had hurt their father with the sale of Yosef. It was a moment of truth. Our moment of truth awaits us too. Let us be sure to repent
before it is too late.