Ask the Rebbetzin: Is This The World Hashem Envisioned?

16 10 2011

Rebbetzins Perspective: Class#4

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective #4

Question: 

I feel empty and alone and very far from Hashem whenever I am in a crowd or in traffic or waiting on line. I can’t comprehend how this unpleasant, noisy, world, with all of these people, could possibly be the world Hashem envisioned.  The last time this was bothering me, I looked up and the bumper sticker on the car in front of me said “One human family.”  Is this my answer?  Should I look at everyone like he or she is part of me?  Should I look at them like they belong here as much as I sometimes think that I do too?

Answer:

 

Every person is as important, real, and purposeful, as you are. The Gemara tells us, “Great is the king who mints many coins, each unique in its own way.” There is no such thing as optional people. Every single person is absolutely special. When people mention faceless hordes, it is usually in a racist context. The more you adapt yourself to seeing people as individuals, the easier it will be for you to bear crowds.

Did you ever wonder why Hashem chose Yerushalayim, a city teeming with people, as the holiest spot on earth? I would have chosen a majestic mountain or a breathtaking valley, because I sometimes tend to think like you. Although we view nature as beautiful and people as passé, Hashem sees people as His most magnificent creations. The profound depth of the human mind, the capacity to feel, the desire to create and build, the ability to make moral choices, are expressions of the soul and a reflection of the Divine Image.

Every person you see is an entire universe with enormous context and beauty of purpose. I would suggest you get past your difficulties of viewing people by finding ways to reach out to strangers. It can be through visiting the sick, helping needy people, or joining Partners in Torah. In this way you’ll learn to switch your mode of thinking from seeing people as a threatening anonymous mass to viewing them as unique individuals, each with a special story of their own.





Kohelet: Solving The Complexities of Life

12 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Kohelet: Perek 10: Solving The Complexities of Life #11The sages tell us that there are three forces that take a person out of reality: jealousy, desire, and honor.

Jealousy is the illusion that if someone else has more, than I have correspondingly less. In spirituality there are no limitations. We are given exactly what we need to achieve in life. We can be our absolute maximum self regardless of what anyone else has.

Lack of control is the voice of desire. Rav Dessler teaches that unlike jealousy, desire can’t be eliminated because it has a physical and emotional base. Imagery can help. At the moment when desires arises within you, try to imagine how you would appear out of control or, conversely, attempt to picture yourself in control and feel good about it.

Honor is connected to the body. Needing appreciation and validation on the deepest level, means not trusting who you are without external acknowledgement. If you need people’s validation then you are a prisoner to other people on the basis of what they tell you.

Honor takes a person out of intellectual reality, desire lifts him out of physical reality, and jealousy forces him out of emotional reality. The evil inclination then goes right into that empty space and does his work. The heart of a wise person leads him to the good path, the right side, which is stronger, while the desire of the fool takes him to the left side, the road less defined.

Right is chesed (kindness) and left is gevurah (justice). Chesed is the most predominant of the spiritual attributes and gevurah is the most corruptible. A person’s heart can steer him towards exploring things and feelings with the intent of wanting to bring goodness into the world. It can also lead him in the direction of defensiveness and restraint and not wanting to give anything at all. It’s better to trust the side of you that wants to give and make things good, than to trust the part of you that demands justice, because the desire for justice is easily corruptible.

The Baal Hatanya teaches that the heart has two ventricles. While the right side is empty, the left side is full of blood. The right side is the good side of the person, the part that gives itself over to Hashem. The left side is the animal side, the part that’s driven to pursue its goals. The fool doesn’t know the difference between right and left. He will do whatever he wants to do without thinking. His heart and emotions influence his actions.





An Invitation To Hashem’s House

11 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum

An Invitation To Hashem's House One would think Sukkot should have been after Pesach, when Hashem took us out of Egypt. That was when the Jews dwelt in sukkot in the desert. Yet the holiday comes close on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is as if Hashem says, “You invited me into your home, now I will invite you into my abode.”

 

Sukkot contains an aspect of the world to come. For one special week we merit to dwell in the shade of the Divine Presence. The halachot (laws) of this special mitzva help us understand how to come closer to Him. Everything in the physical world has a form and shape, something that gives it borders. Holiness, however has no boundaries. Just as Hashem is expansive and fills the world, spirituality has no limits. The sukkah‘s width is boundless. This teaches us that everything in the world can be included within the framework of kedusha (sanctity). We sleep and eat and spend the greater part of our time in the sukkah as a way of showing Hashem that all physicality can be sanctified for Him. Yet the walls of the sukkah cannot be higher than twenty amot because the boundaries of kedusha require a vessel.

 

The Ramchal in Mesilat Yesharim writes that a person can make himself into a mishkan (tabernacle) for Hashem. Just as the mishkan traveled from place to place, a person can connect to Hashem wherever he is. The more a person attaches himself to Hashem, the more he transforms himself into a dwelling place for Him. On Sukkot we take everything we have and place it within the firm boundaries of the sukkah walls and elevate it for Hashem.

 

Sukkot comes after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, days of tremendous closeness to Hashem. On Rosh Hashana we pray for sustenance, life, good health, children and a sweet new year. The sweetness is the aspect of uplifting what we have for Hashem. On Sukkot we actualize this by inviting Hashem into our homes and hearts.

 

The Gemara says that the merit of building the walls of the sukkah drives away both our physical and spiritual enemies. The sukkah protects us. It must have more shade than sun. Sun represents the power of the nations. It never changes or grows. We are compared to the moon, which constantly experiences renewal and rebirth.

 

Sukkot is a tremendous opportunity to store up kedusha and tahara (purity). This is why it is called zman simchateinu. This is what eternal joy is about.





Love Beyond Reason

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

Love Beyond Reason #4 The Shem MiShmuel asks, why on Hoshana Rabba do the aravot (willow leaves) play the central role?

 

The Midrash explains that each of the species represent a different type of Jew. The etrog (citron fruit), which has a good flavor and scent, represents the tzaddik who has both Torah wisdom and good deeds. The lulav (palm branch), which has a good flavor, but no scent, signifies a person with wisdom but no good deeds. The hadassim (myrtle branches), which have a good fragrance but no flavor, symbolize a person with good deeds but no wisdom. The aravot (willow branhes), have neither flavor nor fragrance, which signifies a person who lacks both good deeds and Torah wisdom.

 

We find a similar idea hidden in the ketoret (incense offering). There were eleven spices, one of which was the chelbana, which exuded an unpleasant odor. However, when combined with the other ten spices it added a tasteful pungency to the mixture. On Sukkot, we take the four species and symbolically proclaim that every Jew, no matter what level he’s at, has something to contribute to klal Yisrael.

 

On Hashana Rabbah, only the aravot are taken. This teaches us the absolute love Hashem has for every Jew, even the most wicked. Hashem chose us, exercising a choice unbound by logic, and he will never abandon us. Our relationship is otherworldly, something that cannot be contained in words. And just as Hashem remains loyal to us, we must love every Jew regardless of his level.

 

While Yom Kippur is an island of sanctity, isolated from the rest of the year, Hoshana Rabbah contains elements of the weekday. A lot of the influence of Yom Kippur has worn off by the time we get to the end of Sukkot. On Hashana Rabbah, we tell Hashem, “We want to be good, but the complexities of life make it difficult. Give us a free gift and forgive our sins.”

 

During the times of the beit hamikdash, the Jews would circle the altar with the aravot. This signifies that even if we fall to the lowest depths like the aravot, Hashem will lift us to the level of the altar. Large aravot were placed on the altar. The aravot were offered as a sacrifice, just as we offer our own human weaknesses to Hashem. In a sense Hoshana Rabbah goes beyond Yom Kippur. On this day it is as if Hashem tells us, “My children, you are not lost, despite your failings.”

 

Our sages teach us that Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, is a holiday of its own. Seven signifies the cycle of nature, while eight represents something supernatural. It’s wrong for a person to think, “This is the way I am. I cannot improve.” On the contrary, we can transform ourselves because there is something extraordinary beyond nature inside each of us. Torah study, prayer, and kind deeds empower us to repent. While angels remain stagnant, people have the ability to reach unimaginable heights.

 

When the beit hamikdash stood, the Jews would form a human wall and encircle the altar with the four species. A wall is like an environment. There are terrible environments that must be shattered and good environments that must be built. Walking around with the lulav and etrog is akin to destroying negative barriers. Encircling the altar with the Torah is like erecting\a wall of sanctity. The Zohar writes that the female side of the satan is called yilila. This also means wailing because sadness is fundamental to evil. The opposite is also true. Therefore, the last day of the holiday is Simchat Torah. Torah signifies simcha (happiness). We rejoice with Hashem‘s love and with the privilege to build a wall of holiness and sanctity to last us through the coming year.





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.





The Sweetness of Tikun Hamiddot

6 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

Elul: The Sweetness of Tikkun Hamidot Elul is a time of love but it is also a time for change, introspection, and reassessment of our lives.

Our moments of joy are invariably related to connection and achievement. Connection is one of our most basic spiritual needs. If a person doesn’t have a relationship with Hashem, the desire won’t disappear. It will turn into a state of ahava nefeila-unfocused love, where the person goes from one relationship to the next in the hopes of finding something that will fill the void. With every failure, the lack becomes deeper and the abyss less penetrable. The more the person wants connection, the less achievable it becomes. In a failed relationship, a person’s ability to love becomes progressively narrower. His relationships become superficial because his fear of giving of himself is greater. If he can find the place within him where his insecurity developed, empty the space, and turn it towards Hashem, there’s room for hope.

In Elul, every step you take towards Hashem is rewarded with a certain level of Divine Providence not normally found during the rest of the year. There’s a direct response where we can feel Hashem allowing Himself to come into our life.

There are different ways to draw close. To begin the process, make a history of your life. Break it down to segments, such as early childhood, later childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and middle age. Focus on the smaller units of time where the critical stages in your development took place. Set aside a half hour or an hour to ask yourself, “What were the important events that took place in my life at this time?” Don’t intercept with judgment calls because then your narrative will become    self -centered and less honest. If you do this year by year, a sense of what is and isn’t important will emerge.

The next question should be, “How did I respond to these events?” Visualize yourself experiencing it all over again. Then ask, “Did my responses get me closer to where I wanted to be or did it take me further away? What was I thinking when I made these choices. Why did I make it?” Try to find patterns in both your good and bad decisions. Sometimes your good deeds may have been prompted by the need to escape or for idealistic motives. Your slip-ups may have been caused by desire for social acceptance, or fear or ignorance. You may discover that your good side was driven by the desire to be part of something larger than yourself, or in order to know the truth, or to ease your conscience.

All this self- introspection is meant to lead you to your middot. Middot are neither good or bad, It’s what you make up of them. The Gra teaches that life is about perfecting ones middot. “Tzadik v’ra lo” refers to someone with difficult middot. When he succeeds in conquering or turning around his bad middot for the good, he becomes a tzaddik. Conquest is learning to say no, primarily to sins of the flesh. Turning them around is putting desire in the right place. Elul is an opportunity to take stock of our middot, to discover the divinity within us, the part of us that’s eternal and connected. The more carefully we look at ourselves in Elul, the more we can progress.

We will continue this discussion next week.





How Do I Respect My Spouse’s Feelings?

16 08 2011

Achieving Balance: Class#1 

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

Achieving Balance: Class#1

Question:

I like to put my family first, and rarely participate in simchot in the evenings. My husband feels strange going alone, even though they are all separate seating. Am I wrong for staying home? Do I need to respect my husband’s feelings and make the effort to accompany him?

 

Answer:

 

Kudos for putting your family first, they do come before simchot. I’m invited to a lot of simchot because I teach marriageable-age girls. I’ve learned that it’s ok to stay five minutes, wish the baalat simcha Mazel Tov, and leave. This means that oftentimes I manage to be back home within an hour. If this works for you, it’s a good solution. I’m not advocating not going to simchot because it makes such a huge difference to the baal simcha for people to share in their joy. The need to belong to a group larger than oneself is very deep.

 

If it’s important to your husband that you accompany him, set aside time for this either weekly or bi-weekly. As Rebbetzin Esther Greenberg would often say; “When you talk about family first, husbands are number one before children.” You have to respect your husband’s wishes and your children should see you doing that.





Secrets of Shalom Bayit- For Women

15 08 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg 

Secrets of Shalom Bayit-For Women In Sichot Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz notes that the angels emphasized Sarah’s modesty to Avraham in order to make her more beloved to him. Avraham and Sarah had been married for many years and yet the Torah tells the story to teach us the significance of shalom bayit (marital harmony).

Rav Orlowek teaches that the secret to good chinuch (child-raising) is shalom bayit. When there is a happy wholesome home atmosphere, children thrive.

The following are some of Rav Orloweck’s tips for increasing shalom bayit:

Be dan l’kaf zechut (judge favorably). It’s not because your husband doesn’t care. He grew up in another home where things were done differently. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard to change in an instant. Find a positive way to remind him what irks you. Make a big sign, discuss it, work it out so there’s a plan that fits both of you. Make it fun instead of getting upset.

Disappointment is the difference between expectation and reality. Visualize your husband coming home tired and moody. It won’t be such a letdown if he really does get angry or doesn’t respond. This is not being pessimistic, just broadening your expectations.

Smile when your husband walks through the door. It helps set the tone for the rest of the day.

Let him talk first, before you unload your complaints and grievances.

People are not robots. They have ups and downs and are affected by emotions. Give your husband a small snack to eat on the way home. Then even if dinner isn’t ready, he’ll be calm. It’s important to get enough sleep. Catch a quick nap during the day so you feel refreshed when your husband gets in.

Try to be forgiving. You are both partners trying to create a wonderful Torah home. In the big picture, he’s doing all these great things for you. Overlook the minor mistakes.

Disagreements very often arise because of lack of communication. Women are more intuitive than men. You think your husband got it when he really didn’t and then you get upset. If you didn’t say it, he didn’t hear it. The same goes for compliments. Be specific. Thank your husband for the little acts of thoughtfulness and he’ll do it again.

Men and women are very different. Women find satisfaction in raising and discussing issues. Men tend to focus on getting to the point and finding solutions. Be aware of this and don’t get frustrated if your husband doesn’t automatically think like you. It’s just the way Hashem created us.

When you need to give constructive criticism, sandwich it with praise. Start and end with positive words.

Rav Dessler says that the root word of ahava (love) is hav (to give). Giving generates love. Investing in your husband will help you feel like one unit. A practical working definition of love is-“If it matters to you, it matters to me.” Put yourself in your husband’s shoes and prioritize the things a that mean a lot to him.

Don’t interrupt your husband when he’s learning. With learning you accomplish much more if there’s continuity without breaks or stops. Wait till he finishes.

Timing is important. Don’t try to discuss difficult issues when your husband is tired, hungry, or under pressure.

Help him spend time with you. Be available when your husband frees up his schedule for you.

One of the most crucial times to practice shalom bayit is at the Shabbat table. This is when our children see us interacting. What we say and how we say it is crucial. Husband and wife must treat each other with respect. If a wife doesn’t respect her husband, the children won’t respect their father either. And that’s not healthy. It’s important that children have role models and authority figures in their life and parents should be central among them.





Tu B’av

12 08 2011

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

Tu B'av  The Gemara in Tannit tells us, “There were no yomim tovim (good occasions) in Israel more joyous than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” The spiritual happiness of atonement on Yom Kippur was deeply felt but what was so significant about Tu B’av?

The Gemara lists several occurrences. On this day the tribes were permitted to intermarry, the ban against marrying into the tribe of Binyamin was lifted, the generation of the desert ceased dying, Hoshea ben Eleh removed the sentries blocking the roads to Jerusalem, the massacred Jews of Beitar were buried, and the wood for the altar was finally cut for the next year’s sacrifices. In addition, the Mishna tells us that on this day the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothing and dance in the fields and matches were made. But the Gemara alludes to something deeper. It tells us about the marriage bond between Hashem and the Jews. In the future, the tzadikim will form a circle in Gan Eden and dance and point to Hashem and say, “Zeh Hashem kivini lo (This is Hashem, we have put our faith in Him).” What does dancing signify and why did the women in particular celebrate? What is the significance of borrowed clothing? Why does the Gemara give six reasons for the holiday, wouldn’t one have been sufficient?

Tu B’av celebrates re-unification both among the Jewish people and with Hashem. When there is unity there is true joy. Disparity creates a terrible kitrug (accusation) in heaven. The beit hamikdash was destroyed because of dissension. On Tu B’av, the barriers between the tribes were lifted. When the generation of the desert stopped dying, Hashem’s anger dissipated and He renewed His relationship with us once again. We celebrate the completion of gathering the wood because there is no greater joy than completing a mitzva. Now that they could ascend to Jerusalem, they could once again bask in the close proximity of the Divine Presence. Tu B’av is about separation and re-unification, distance and return. The knowledge that Hashem is One, creates unity. In the past we sensed this oneness and in the future we will once again experience it. This is the meaning of the Gemara that the tzadikim will dance in a circle. A circle is equidistant from the center. In the future world there will be total unity. Each tzadik will be able to see from the vantage point of his friend. This too is why the daughters of Tzion went out in borrowed clothing. Borrowing clothes signifies friendship and harmony.

The common thread between Tu B’av and Yom Kippur is atonement. On Yom Kippur, the sin of the Golden Calf was forgiven while on Tu B’av the sin of the Spies was forgiven. This is why the women celebrate. They had no part in either sin. Tu B’av commemorates the burial of those massacred in Beitar. This teaches us that we must be grateful for the slightest good even in the midst of overwhelming tragedy. Likewise matches were made on Tu B’av. A marriage can only function if we recognize the smallest benefit we receive from our spouses. The Sages designated Tu B’av as a holiday in order to help us bear our exile. By being thankful for the smallest good we can overcome our suffering. Sometimes in life, it’s not about the one big answer, it’s about the little reasons. If we can be grateful for all the small chasadim (kindnesses), we can build a genuine relationship with Hashem.

The Gemara calls both Yom Kippur and Tu B’av Yamim Tovim. Tov connotes something lasting. Yom tov is an elevated day whose qualities transcend time. It represents eternity even amidst adversity. Yom Kippur is about forgiveness of sin. Likewise Tu’ Bav, which follows close on the heels of Tisha B’av, signifies rebirth from destruction.





Shidduchim: The Challenge of Uniting Your Soul

11 08 2011


Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

Shidduchim: The Challenge of Uniting Your Soul The Ohr Hachaim writes that all physical creations have both female and male aspects. This division implies that nothing is whole or perfect in this world. Hashem set up the world in a way that there are two forces that bring about change and growth. The male energy provides and gives forth and the female energy takes in and nurtures. Together there is possibility for something greater than both of them to come into existence.

If you’re not married yet, it’s Hashem’s Providence. It doesn’t mean you didn’t make the wrong choices, but ultimately it’s Hashem who brings things to perfection. There’s no possibility of perfection without submission to Hashem’s will. See the world for what it is, imperfect, and learn to live with it. Turn to Hashem. Ask him to help you perceive the potential of perfection in yourself, in the world, and in the people you meet. You don’t have to justify imperfection but try to find the part that is perfect. You can learn from everyone you meet. Many people caught in the shidduch trap are bitter. You can redeem yourself by saying, “Who does Hashem want me to be at this moment?” Not, “What do I want?” If Hashem wants you to be compassionate and a seeker that’s where you should go. Serve Hashem joyously as you learn more and become broader.

Don’t put your life on hold. Only Hashem knows when you’ll find your destined mate. Find things to do that will make you a more perfect person and the world a more perfect place. Take advantage of this free unfettered time to be there for others, to do chesed, and to learn in a way you won’t be able to after you’re married. It’s a time for prayer. Come before Hashem with your emptiness and your imperfection and it will draw you closer to Him.

It seems to me that the one critical question in shidduchim should be, “Can I build with this person?” Is there enough commonality in values, personality, communication, background, and understanding? Nothing else is relevant. If people were focused on that, there would be better, more joyous marriages and less defensiveness and opposition. Of course you have to like and respect the person, but you have to be willing to build together. If that’s there, go for it. Don’t get tied up in externalities or flaws. The world is imperfect. Nothing is perfect. Only Hashem is, and our goal should be to move towards Him with faith, trust, and joy.