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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
When we think about Noah, the first image we conjure in our minds is a teva (Ark) and the flooding waters. HaKadoah Barukh Hu in His infinite wisdom decided that He must destroy the world by means of a mabul (flood) considering that the inhabitants of His world were nothing but wicked, save Noah who was donned the name ‘Sadik’.
HaShem’s decision to wipe the world clean itself is one to be examined deeply and analyzed, but the means by which HaShem does so seems more questionable to me. Wouldn’t it be more feasible to just wish the world to stop existing, or to dismantle it in one snap? After all, in Parashat Bereshit we learn that HaShem Yitbarakh created and destroyed many worlds before He decided to keep the one we live in today. This was standard procedure. Why would HaShem pain Noah into building a tevah for 120 only for people to mock him, and then having to spend a year in there crammed with every type of animal for a year, only to see the world be destroyed beneath him. Imagine having to round up pairs of every existing species and seven of each kosher one yourself. Just picture having to feed these animals and care for every single one of them. We can barely remember to feed the fish we have at home! Why did Noah have to work so hard when it could have been done much more easily by HaShem’s hands? What purpose did it serve Ribono Shel Olam to force Noah to take protocol instead of just doing it all Himself? We know HaShem is fully capable of accomplishing it all without the help or the trivial effort of His children. What example is HaShem setting us to learn from Him?
Close your fist. What do you notice? All your fingers have the same length. Now spread your palms open and look again. Each finger is different from the other, they all have their individual lengths. From Noah we learn sensitivity towards others. We learn that every single person has different needs than another and must be treated accordingly. Sure HaKadosh Barukh Hu could have destroyed it all, but He kept Noah to show us that if we can tend to each and every single animal in this world according to their own specific needs, then we can surely treat our fellow human beings according to this same outlook. If Noah can have such sensitivity towards animals, both lowly creatures and grand ones alike, then we must have a heightened sensitivity for people as well.
Although sometimes it may seem that all people have the same needs, just like all fingers seem to have the same length, this is having a mind as closed as our fist is. However, when we open our fists and our hearts, we realize that all fingers, and all people are individual and each serve a different purpose; they each must be tended to specifically according to what they need, not what you think they need.
This is where Noah himself failed. Noah was called a Sadik, which is inarguably a stature to be lauded, however this was only a limit to this name; he was not given the title of a ‘Hasid’ like Avraham Avinu was. What is the caveat here? A Sadik is somebody who prays for himself, while a Hasid is a person who prays on the behalf of others as well. When Noah was warned that the world would be wiped cleaned due to the sins of its inhabitants, he was only concerned with his own welfare and did his own private Teshuva; he did not daven for others to repent and be saved. Had he done so, he just may have saved the world from destruction. Avraham Avinu however, upon hearing that HaShem wants to destroy Sedom begins to fervently daven on behalf of others in order for them to return in Teshuva so that they could be saved.
Perhaps Noah realized the value of each animal and served their every need, painstakingly caring for them in order to ensure their survival, however, he did not extend this sensitivity and care to the people around him; this is why we ultimately see his demise at the end of the Parasha. Sadly, at times we care more about another's child instead of our own siblings, or our bosses more than our parents and strangers more than our friends. Walking in the city in the mornings, I often see those who walk their dogs at 7 am in the cold, cleaning up after them, still dressed in pajamas and I'm assuming they have not looked in the mirror before they left the house based on various hairdos I have been observing. Yet, when their four year old daughter has school that morning, they are reluctant to walk them to school and sometimes have a nanny take this responsibility. We should not lose sight of who matters to us most and we should always remind them of that and make them feel that way.
Be’ezrat HaShem may we all acquire the proper sensitivity towards those around us and realize that each person has their own needs that we must strive to meet instead of just offering them a generic form of kindness we tend to default into when we become too absorbed in our own lives and needs.
Thanking everybody who made this week a wonderful one and wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Simhat Torah: Parashat VeZot HaBerakha to Parashat Bereshit
Parashat VeZot HaBerakha marks the end of the written word of HaKadsoh Barukh Hu in the Hamisha Humashai Torah, The Five Books of the Torah HaKedosha. It is the culmination of Benei Yisrael’s experience from their seeds of origin in this world until their gathering as a unified nation, at least 3 million holy neshamot standing at the foot of the mountain as their beloved leader, Moshe Rabbenu departs from them. In a way, the ending of their journey is also their climax. We see what Benei Yisrael have become over their lifetime as a nation. Moshe Rabbenu delineates each Shevet’s acclaim and dons on them myriads of berakhot. Look where they have finally come!
But it all had to start from somewhere. That is why we begin again with Parashat Bereshit; to remind us of where we once began. Two people placed in an otherwise empty world have given rise to 3 million descendants who would bear their name and form. How did they possibly manage such a thing? What power was it that they had? If one thinks about it, this surely is not a simple thing; it would not happen on its own.
When studying the Parasha, one cannot help but to notice that the creation of Adam HaRishon is mentioned twice: once in perek Alef and once more in perek Bet. If we read the words of the Torah, these two men seem to be created completely differently. In perek Alef, this being is created ‘be’selem Elokim’, in the image of HaKadosh Barukh Hu, using the verb ‘va’Yivrah’ which connotates ‘creation’ of a subject. There is also no mention of his body; he is created solely in terms of spiritual G-dliness. In perek Bet, man is ‘formed’ (ve’Yeser) out of the dust of the ground, ‘afar min ha’adamah’, in more physical terms. Wait, I’m confused. Was man created twice? Were two men created? If a second man was created, what need was there for the first one?
Rav Soloveitchik reconciles this seeming contradiction beautifully in his sefer, A Lonely Man of Faith. Rav Soloveitchik explains only one man was created, however, he was created with two facets of his ability; one of creating and one of forming; one where he subdues and one where he submits. The man created in perek Alef is called Adam Alef or ‘Majestic Man’ where he has a passion to create, build and progress; he wants to be just like HaShem, he wants to be a creator. This Man wants to take things into his own hands and to be in control. He is replicating HaShem’s will to create, the will to extend one’s dominion over nature. Perhaps this is why until now, the Torah only uses the name of ‘Elokim’ when referring to HaShem. The name ‘Elokim’ encompasses HaShem’s attribute of justice and ‘worldliness’ so to speak. In perek Alef, man is born to create and manipulate his world.
Only in perek Bet do we see use of HaShem’s name as ‘Yud-K-Vav-K’, this is the attribute of mercy, of the supernatural, the attribute of G-dliness. The man in this perek, Adam Bet, is ‘lonely’ if it were not for the compassion that HaKadosh Barukh Hu has for his children. Man realizes his dependence on a higher authority and is humbled by this. He understands that he merely comes from the dust of the earth. Rav Soloveitchik refers to this man as ‘Covenantal Man’, for if it were not for our relationship with HaShem Yitbarakh, we would not be able to endure in this world. Only through our faith and tefillah, through our complete submission to HaShem, through our devotion can we continue to exist. Sure, we surround ourselves with the materials that we have created, but what do we form them into? Sometimes it is not about being in control and being the one to create. It is about taking what you are given and forming it into the best it can be.
We must understand that it is not enough just to create something and put it into this world, it must be worked on, destroyed and rebuilt, honed and cultivated until it can reach a final product, like the convergence of both Adams, Adam Alef and Bet. It was this inherent realization that Adam and Hava had that enabled them to propel 3 million of Benei Yisrael into the world. This dichotomy of subduing and submitting, the pull between being in control and giving in to authority should give us a balance of both the confidence and the humility that we necessitate in order to progress in this world. This symbiosis will enable us to reach levels higher than what we would have if we only depended on one of these facets. Sometimes to get to the end, we must keep in mind where we once began.
With great Siyata diShemaya, may we all establish this balance between confidence and humility in order to create and form worlds where we can reach our highest potential and only become closer to our ultimate Creator, HaShem Yitbarakh J
Hag Sameah and Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorakh!
Sources: Rav Soloveitchik’s A Lonely Man of Faith, a biur by Rav Ronnie Ziegler and based on Shiurim by Morah Klein
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
If one examines the construct of a Sukkah and considers its function, it would make logical sense to label it as a structure which provides shade from the sun, something to be used during the warmer seasons of the year. But think about it, don’t we use the Sukkah during the fall season when shade is plentiful? Why would we need to build a structure like a Sukkah during the fall when it functionally does not make sense?
The Sukkah is also an allusion to the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, which protected Benei Yisrael in the midbar (desert) once they left Missrayim/Egypt. By sitting in the Sukkah, we symbolize that HaKadosh Barukh Hu is protecting us no matter where we build our ‘home’. But again, didn’t we leave Egypt during the spring season? Why are we commemorating this by building a Sukkah during the fall?
Rabbi Avi Heller points out that according to the Midrash, Moshe Rabbenu gathered Benei Yisrael the very day after Yom Kippur and gave them the instruction to build the Mishkan, HaShem’s temporary home. Sure enough, they began to build the Mishkan five days after Yom Kippur, which just so happens to be the first day of Sukkot. Says the Vilna Gaon that it was at this time that the Ananei HaKavod returned to Benei Yisrael. And this is why we build the Sukkah at this time; to commemorate the building of the Mishkan and the return of HaShem’s Glory and Divine Protection over Benei Yisrael. Our Sukkot are actually a form of the Mishkan where the Shekhinah of HaKadosh Barukh Hu can dwell… if we allow it.
Just as Benei Yisrael were cleansed from their impurity when they left Missrayim/Egypt and were renewed as people after emerging from this crucible, we as Jews also just walked out of Yom Kippur where we were purified and rejuvenated from our past ‘slavery’. And just as they were enveloped in the Glory of Ribono Shel Olam, we also construct for ourselves a surrounding of Kedusha and glory so that the Presence of HaKadosh Barukh Hu could return to us as well.
In both cases, these structures are portable and temporary. The Mishkan and the Sukkah are both intermediary steps as a preparatory stage to a permanent dwelling place. The Mishkan would ultimately become the Beit HaMikdash and after seven days, we eventually trade in the Sukkah for our permanent homes. What both these parallels have in common is that the temporary dwellings are far less extravagant than the permanent ones we would eventually move into; they are far more simplistic than the latter. For at least a short while, we are meant to nullify all the materialism from our lives in order to acquire a certain level of spirituality in preparation for our permanent dwelling places. Once we tap into this spiritual reserve, once we internalize how Kadosh of a people we can become, only then are we able to move from the Mishkan to something like the Beit HaMikdash in all its glory, and only then can we move into our ‘permanent’ and more beautiful homes from the simple Sukkah. If we can earn spirituality in a portable home, wherever we go, we certainly can maintain it in a permanent place. We must carry over the Kedusha we earned from our temporary and portable homes into the sturdy and permanent homes we have, infusing our physical world with this very spirituality.
If one thinks about it, this concept is very similar to the relation between Olam HaZeh, this world and Olam HaBa. Why? This world is our temporary home. It is our preparatory stage for our permanent home, the world to come. In this world, we must rid ourselves of all materialism in order to attain the spirituality that we are meant to carry over to the next world. The less extravagant, the more simple we make our temporary dwelling, the better we can prepare for our permanent dwelling in Olam HaBa, the one that is eternal. Maybe this is why we serve HaShem Yitbarakh with a lulav and etrog, leaves and a simple fruit, and not with gold and silver. Instead of 7 days or 40 years, we have the short time span of only 120 years to live in simplicity in exchange for an everlasting life of spiritual luxury. Wouldn’t you trade in a mere 120 years in the grand scheme of things for eternal spiritual wealth? I know I would.
Rabbi Nahman miBreslev puts it beautifully, "Worldly desires are like sunbeams in a dark room; they seem solid until you try to grasp one". The only way to take in sunbeams is through the heart, not the hand. Surround yourself with the light of the Torah HaKedosha and reflect it unto others. Material things are fleeting, they hinder us from our true mission in life. We must focus on things that will cultivate our Neshama and only uplift it. We can do this best by focusing on the ruhaniut (spirituality) that fills this world, not the gashmiut (physicality) that unrightfully takes its place.
It says about Sukkot ‘Ve’Samahta be’Hagecha’, be happy during your holiday, and we must do just that! Wishing everyone a Hag Sukkot Sameah and a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Thursday, October 6, 2011
B’’SDתזכו לשנים רבות נעימות וטובות
As we approach Yom Kippur, I think one of our first reactions is that of fear, which is natural. But think about it, what exactly are we afraid of? The sins of our past? They already happened; fear won’t erase them. A fear of punishment? HaKadosh Barukh Hu never wants to hurt us! That can’t be it either. I think what we fear most is not living up to our potential, of not seizing everything we could possibly have if only we apply ourselves. We fear we are missing out on blessings and opportunities rightfully due to us. What we must realize however is that it all depends, not only on Ribono Shel Olam, but it also depends on US. This is the message of Yom Kippur. Who are you now and who are you capable of being? Look deep inside yourself and answer this question honestly, is there a big discrepancy between the two?
The Hovot HaLevavot relays to us a story about a victorious general coming back from war, finally conquering the world known to him. He is escorted back with much celebration and acclaim. Within the masses of the people ushering him back home, a wise man exclaims to the general, ‘Now that you have finished with the small war, get ready for the big war!’ Confused, the general responds, ‘Forgive me, but what big war could you possibly be speaking about?’ After all, he just defeated an entire country at war, the world was his! The man looks at him sympathetically and answers, ‘My son, I am speaking about the battle with yourself’. At times, we can be our own enemies. This is our war. From our victory emerges our best self. The stronger the battle, the more pronounced the victory.
Notice, if no battle takes place, can there be a victory? If no loss is incurred, can we appreciate gain? If there is no struggle, then from where will results yield? They do not happen on their own; there must be a catalyst by which change can take place. For us, that catalyst is our mistakes and sins. The sins we commit are not meant to bring us down, we were programmed to stumble over them here and there. Instead, they become a medium by which to grow. We shouldn’t stumble over our sins, instead, when we encounter them, we should stop and then step up on top of them to raise us so that we can stand at a place higher than we once stood before we sinned. Our sins are not a stumbling block, they are a stepping block. It is true that the inherent sin is detrimental to a human being, but the nature of sinning and repenting is a beneficial one. Sins are a vessel we can use to facilitate our growth. Not only do we correct our sins but we used them to become better than we once were. By taking a pause every now and then to reassess ourselves, we can realize what we did wrong and not only fix them but use them as a springboard to reach places higher than before. If we were not to sin, would we ever take that pause? Would we even stop to consider how we can become the greater people we ought to be? In order to pick oneself up, one must have fallen first.
This is why we read about the Asarah Harugei Malkhut, The Ten Martyrs, on Yom Kippur. One would think it imperative to read about the lives of these ten Sadikim to be inspired by their accomplishments, not about their gruesome deaths. Wouldn’t we be discouraged that such great men were subject to such suffering? These holy people are remembered for the hardships they endured. This was their call to greatness. Their tests and challenges are exactly what made them so great, not only their good deeds and knowledge of Torah. They exemplified steadfast dedication in the face of persecution. Despite the fact that Rabbi Akiva was having his skin raked off with iron combs, he was able to declare Shema Yisrael to the world. If Rabbi Akiva was not brought to a death like such, would he be able to truly proclaim and genuinely FEEL HaShem’s unity as effectively? If we are not challenged, then through what else can our potential become actualized? You tell me.
Yom Kippur is a time to reassess ourselves and engages in deep introspection in order to become the greatest person we could possibly be. We have the power. What a waste not to use our full capabilities. If the king were to walk up to you and tell you directly, you have 120 minutes to walk into his treasury and take anything your heart desires, would you not run in immediately and fervently collect the most valuable objects in the room. Would you not make the best of those 120 minutes? You would certainly not stand there staring at the walls, nor would you stroll around at your own leisure picking up a few treasures as you go along. You would try your hardest to collect everything in the room because you KNOW you could have more that what you currently hold. You could have it all! It just depends on how much effort you put in. If you walked out after those two hours knowing the room was still three quarters full, would you not feel remorse knowing you did not taking everything there. It could have ALL been rightfully YOURS! But you were too amused by the splendor of the room, the magnificence of tapestry and the handsome molding on the windows to make the best of your time there. We are given 120 years in this world. HaShem’s treasury is open; we can take anything we want. Will you storm through the treasury doors rushing in to collect everything that rightfully belongs to you, making the best of your time here or will you be too distracted by the world’s tapestries and furnishing to realize what you could potentially have? Haval. Don’t let it go to waste.
So how do we make the best of who we are? How do we reach the peak of our potential? We must push ourselves a little more in our avodat HaShem. Rabbi Nahman teaches us that we must inspect ourselves deeply through a meditation known as hitbodedut in order to determine where we could work on more in order to become a better person. Perhaps this is why HaKadosh Barukh Hu had Yonah isolated in the whale’s innards for three days. In order so that he would look inside himself so that he could reach the level of Teshuba he needed to become not only a better individual, but somebody that would bring an entire city to do Teshuba. And that is exactly what he did. There is a reason why we read Sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur.
To become our ideal selves we must implement change. We must CHANGE our nature. Why?
Because if we change our nature, nature will change for us. If a person is given an ultimatum to either worship avodah zara (has ve’halilah) or to die on Kiddush HaShem and they choose to make a Kiddush HaShem, there are two ways this can happen. Rashi tells us that if person decides to give his life up for HaKadosh Barukh Hu and does not expect miracle, a miracle can and WILL happen to save him. But, the individual willing to die on Kiddush HaShem but is relying on a miracle to save him, is not granted one. The Avnei Nezer asks the fundamental question: WHY? Look at the Emunah the second person has! Surely they are deserving of divine salvation! Why is the first person, who the thought of a miracle does not even cross his mind, deserve the very miracle he neglects to seek? The Avnei Nezer enlightens us with the answer that will define our task this Yom Kippur and BeSiyata DiShemaya for every day to follow. He tells us, the reason why the first person is given a nes when he does not even ask for one is because he changed his nature for HaShem Yitbarakh. It is human nature to want to live. We do anything we can to maximize our health and lengthen our lives. This individual overlooked his innate nature to want to live and offered to go against it in order to serve HaShem. He changed his nature….and HaShem changed nature for him.
As long as we are willing to change our nature, HaKadosh Barukh can change nature and take away our sins even if we are not deserving of this Mercy! We must realize that every day is a FRESH day, we can start NEW, as long as we have this willingness to CHANGE OUR NATURE FOR HASHEM YITBARAKH.
Menashe haMelekh was one of the three kings banned from Olam Haba because he placed an idol in Hekhal HaKodesh in the Beit HaMikdash. He is known to be one of the biggest resha’im that ever lived. Near the end of his life, he finally wants to do Teshuba, but midat hadin (divine attribute of judgment) is blocking his Teshuba, and he is still denied access to Olam Haba. Seeing that his Teshuba is hearfelt, HaShem Yitbarakh makes and opening under Kiseh HaKavod (HaShem’s throne) and creates an escape route for Menashe haMelekh to enter Olam Haba and no angel could say anything. Even a person as wicked and lowly as him was able to enter Olam Haba for the reason that he changed his nature. Because Menashe HaMelekh changed his nature, Ribono Shel Olam changes nature for him.
There was once a Mashgiah on outskirts of Yerushalaim, who worked at a café by gas station owned by religious Jew. Each day, he works very hard to make minyan in order to daven. One day there is an intense heat wave in Yerushalayim and he was only able to muster nine people, he could not find a tenth. As people began to leave, he begged them to stay and ran out to the highway to find that tenth partner to recruit to the minyan. All of sudden, he spots a secular looking young man, his sleeves cut out, in baggy shorts and asks him to join the minyan. ‘What is a minyan?’ asks the young man. The Mashgiah begins to explain. The man says ‘That is very nice, but I don’t know how to pray. I have never prayed before in my life.’ The Mashgiah assures him that he could daven in any language he feels comfortable with as long as he answers Amen. ‘I don’t have a kippa.’ ‘I’ll give you mine.’ ‘I’m too embarrassed….’ Until finally, the Mashgiah is able to convince this young man to join the minyan. The man enters the room and stands quietly in the back. Just as the hazan begins to say Ashrei, a Hassid walks into the room as the eleventh member of the minyan and this young man is off the hook. He leaves the room without even having to pray.
Ten years later, the Mashgiah has a dream where the young man comes to him to thank him. ‘They gave me permission in sShamayim to come down just to thank you’. This young man had left the world beforehand and in Shamayim they asked him, what zekhuyot (merits) do you have? None. As he us being sentenced, a fiery angel intercedes and says, this man actually has ONE zekhut. He once went against his nature to join a minyan and is deserving to live hayei Olam Haba! Beit din shel maalah (heavenly court) considers this and rules for this man to enter Olam Haba. Hasdei HaShem! This Young man had none but on ONE zekhut in his entire life. He never once prayed in a minyan. But only because he was willing to change his nature did he deserve Olam Haba, he didn’t even have to daven!! JUST LOOK AT THE POWER OF ONE SIMPLE CHANGE!
We have more power than we know. The Avnei Nezer calls it kohot ne’elamim, hidden powers. These are powers we don’t even know we had. We can only activate them through realization initiated by our willingness to overcome sin and fix our mistakes, the willingness to change ourselves. Don’t let these powers lay dormant.
Rabbi Lander shlita explains to us that there are two elements to Yom Kippur; Kappara and Tehara (purification). Even though our accounts may technically be cleared, are we as people purified?? Are we a changed person? Yom Kippur is not only about replacing each sin we did with a missva, it is not a system of withdrawals and deposits. It is a cleansing of the self. Teshuba has the power of an intrinsic change in the human, not just the extrinsic concept of reward and punishment. On Yom Kippur we ask to be forgiven for sins we did by coercion, sins we were forced to do. Why? We are not legally held accountable for these things. Why is it considered a sin? BECAUSE YOM KIPPUR IS NOT ONLY ABOUT A LEGAL CLEARING, IT IS ABOUT THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF. Although we do not pay legally for these actions, we are spiritually damaged by them and must beg forgiveness.
We can better internalize this concept with a powerful story. There is a story of a boy who did not respect his parents at all Rahmana LiSlan. One day he began to understand the severity of his behavior and expressed remorse for his actions. He was told that every time he disrespects his parents, he should hammer a nail into the wall. And so he did. One nail, two nails, three nails, forty nails….Until he began to feel terrible and wished to change. He told himself, every time I do something positive for my parents, I will take a nail out. Finally, after some time and some deep Teshuba, this boy is able to pull every nail out of the wall. He is elated with joy, ‘Look! I restored the harm I caused my parents. I fixed the problem. Good as new!’ His elders told him, ‘Look again my son, for the holes you have created in the wall still remain’. Even though this boy cleared his account, there was still an effect his actions caused that could not be repaired. The damage was done. The only way to fix this wall is to replace it completely, to CHANGE it. And so, this is how we stand at Yom Kippur. Maybe we have cleared our account balance, but have we really purified ourselves? Do we still have residual ‘holes’ in our Neshama? On Yom Kippur, not only do we pray for Kappara, but we also pray for Tehara; ‘Lifnei HaShem Titharu’, you will be purified before HaShem.
Be’ezrat HaShem Yitbarakh this Yom Kippur, may we all be zokhim not only to attain a full Kappara but also to be purified by HaKadosh Barukh Hu with lucid Tahara in order to serve Him wholeheartedly. May we each be blessed with the clarity and will to change our nature in order to become the best people we can possibly be and to inspire others by doing so. May this year and every year be one of spiritual growth and closeness to HaShem and may He bless us with every Berakha there is be’Shefa u’be’Nahat. May HaShem answer all our Tefillot letova. Wishing everybody a meaningful and fulfilling Yom Kippur!
Gemar Hatima Tova and Shana Tova uMevorekhet! May we be zokhe to bring Mashiah this year, Amen!
Insights from shiurim and sihot with Rabbi Herzfeld, Rabbi Lander, Rabbi Goldwasser, Rav Lazer Brody, and Rebi Mori: Rebbi Abba with help from none other than the one and only, HaKadosh Barukh Hu.