MidrESHET Hayil

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parashat Toldot, The One Rule You Need to Know to Attain Humility

Please learn the following for the ilui Neshama of Iran bat Socrola 

Parashat Toldot

The One Rule You Need to Know to Attain Humility

18. And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham's death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them.

יח. וַיָּשָׁב יִצְחָק וַיַּחְפֹּר אֶת בְּאֵרֹת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר חָפְרוּ בִּימֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו וַיְסַתְּמוּם פְּלִשְׁתִּים אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקְרָא לָהֶן שֵׁמוֹת כַּשֵּׁמֹת אֲשֶׁר קָרָא לָהֶן אָבִיו:

If there is one middah (character trait) that counters the development of a Jewish neshama and can practically shatter all human potential, it is the middah of arrogance. If you think about it, anger, envy and lust are all derivatives that stem from the single root of arrogance. To cleanse ourselves of these qualities of anger, envy, and lust (which are all capable of literally destroying lives), all we have to do is uproot the quality of arrogance from our psyche and we are left with true humility. And so explains the Ramban. To attain true Yiraat Shamayim, HaRamban writes in his Iggeret HaRamban that the precursor to attaining Awe of HaShem Yitbarakh is humility. And how do we reach this level? He writes:
‘Speak gently at all times, with your head bowed, your eyes looking down to the ground and your heart focusing on Hashem. Don't look at the face of the person to whom you are speaking. Consider everyone as greater than yourself. …In all your actions, words and thoughts, always regard yourself as standing before Hashem, with His Shekhinah above you, for His glory fills the whole world. Speak with fear and awe, as a slave standing before his master. Act with restraint in front of everyone. When someone calls you, don't answer loudly, but gently and softly, as one who stands before his master.’
As Yisshak Avinu proceeded along his trajectory through Eres Yisrael, he began to amass substantial wealth, and evidently, a renowned name for himself. Despite fame and fortune being a premise to invoke a man’s inner conceit, we can see no trace of arrogance on Yisshak Avinu’s part. Before Yisshak Avinu traveled around this land, he realized that somebody else had already done it before him; His father, Avraham Avinu. Avraham Avinu had the custom of digging wells of water along the routes he would take during his journeys. In Parashat Toldot, Yisshak Avinu re-digs some of the wells that his father had initially dug. Time and time again, Yisshak was envied of his wealth and viewed as a threat to the Kena’anim (Philistines) so they took his wells and asked him to leave. Each time Yisshak Avinu re-digs a well, he does not change its name; he calls it by the same name that his father had called it.

            Yisshak Avinu realized that there was an authority higher than him and he did not try to change it; he accepts it. This is the key to achieving true humility, to accept. We must realize that we are not in control of the things that happen to us and a higher authority takes care of things for us. We must learn to let go. If we are able to smash our egos and realize that we cannot always have it our way, that sometimes, what others tell us is the ideal path and for once maybe they are right, we learn the essence of humility. Again, here we accept what others tell us.

On an intrapersonal level, if we can let go of our expectations and work with what we have, with the reality that we face, not only do we become successful in our endeavors, we also achieve utmost humility. It is no longer about ‘me’; it is about what needs to be done, about the task at hand, about the greater good. We accept what we are presented with and we get over ourselves.

In life we are given wells. Some are dried up and some flow with luscious water. The structure and foundation of the well is already set. But we do not control how much water flows beneath the wells infrastructure. We make do with the water that rises. As much as you worry and stand over the well and plow and hire the best workers and try to set everything up perfectly so that a system is set up where nothing can go wrong, this will never determine whether or not water will rise up from the ground. It all depends on the authority above us; it depends on HaKadosh Barukh Hu.

We must understand that we can never design a ‘fool-proof life’. He who does is the fool himself. This is comparable to students who spend more time and effort to create a ‘cheat-sheet’ for a test instead of sitting and actually studying for it. In generating a cheat-sheet, we are essentially saying ‘I have authority enough to guarantee my success on this exam.’ But we don’t. Who are we to be our own guarantors? Nothing in life is guaranteed, so do not waste your time constructing a scheme elaborate enough to withstand the tests you think you will be facing. If it is meant to fall through, it will fall through regardless of your plot and proposals. The more we set up a specific expectation for how something will happen, the more likelihood that we will let ourselves down. Your expectations and plans are trapped within the sphere of your skull. How is the world supposed to relate to this? Only you know what is going on in your heart and your head, this by no means can relay to the world how it should be run. So when things do not go as we envision them (Why should they? We are but one tiny speck in the grand scheme of things), we become discouraged and frustrated. This is all for naught. The only thing you can do is to accept the world and to make the change inside yourself, a change directed towards humility.

Just like Yisshak Avinu did not change the name of the wells, we should not try to change the lot we are given in life. In both cases we accept what has been handed to us. It is not about the cards we are dealt in life; it is how we play them. It was never about the name of the well; it is about the lucid waters that flow beneath. In the case of Yisshak Avinu, he realized that somebody of a higher stature has been there before him who knows better and to this authority did he defer. Likewise, we must realize that no matter where we find ourselves, somebody has already been there before. That somebody is HaKadosh Barukh Hu. To Him we must defer.
May we all achieve the humility necessary to internalize these concepts and by doing so, reinvigorate all those wells we have let dry, bringing forth an abundance of berakha similar to those bestowed upon Avraham, Yisshak and Yaakov Avinu.

Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorakh!

            Ariella Samimi

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Parashat Hayei Sarah: What is Our Purpose in This Life?


Parashat Hayei Sarah

If Sarah Imenu passes away in second pasuk of the Parasha, then why is this Parasha called HAYEI Sarah, the LIFE of Sarah? By understanding why she passed on, we can learn what she lived for. Sarah Imenu’s life is defined by her death.

Sarah Imenu's neshama departs from her when she hears news that her son Yisshak is being given as sacrifice, as Rashi clarifies. The satan shows her the image of Avraham Avinu placing Yisshak down on mizbeah (altar) and binding him down. Traditionally, we learn that this is the reason that Sarah Imenu’s neshama leaves her. This image is understandably disturbing enough for a mother to be distraught over her son, but says the Divrei Shemuel that this is not the reason why Sarah Imenu passes away. He explains that the satan also shows her the image of Avraham Avinu taking Yisshak off of the mizbeah and ultimately not offering him as a korban (sacrifice). This is what affected Sarah Imenu to the point of passing away. She was devastated by the fact that perhaps she did not raise a son worthy enough of being even a korban, that chas ve’shalom he had a moum (blemish) rendering him unworthy (as is the protocol with animal sacrifices).  This bears a powerful message to us.

Just think to yourself, if you were offered a korban, would YOU be complete enough to qualify as a sacrifice or are we not even of this caliber? Do we have a moum? If so, what are they? When we focus on what they are and define them, we can then work on fixing them. 

To do so, we must realize what our goal even is and what our purpose is in this world....

 Avraham Avinu says to Benei Het:
4. I am a stranger and a resident amongst you…’

ד. גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב אָנֹכִי עִמָּכֶם...

Says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a Jew is a ‘resident’ in the world considering that we are physically grounded here and surrounded by worldly things. The Torah instructs us not escape this physical reality but rather to inhabit it and elevate it. Yet at the same time, we are complete strangers to this world. A person’s true home is a higher and holier place, a spiritual world of G-dliness which our neshamot strive to reach. By detaching ourselves from this world and deeming ourselves strangers to it, we are able to maintain the spiritual integrity needed to elevate our neshamot to the level of HaShem’s home and meanwhile, to sanctify the world around us in order for HaShem’s Shekhinah to reside here.
There is a story of a visitor who stopped by the home of the Hassid Rabbi DovBer of Mezheritch, who lived a simple life in a home devoid of any furnishing or luxury except an assortment of rough wooden planks and blocks that served as benches for his students during the day and as beds for his family at night. The visitor asks in astonishment ‘Rebbi, with all due respect, how can you live like this? I myself am far from wealthy, but at least in my home Barukh HaShem you will find the basic necessities like chairs, a table, beds...Why don’t you have any furniture?’
Rabbi DovBer deftly responds by asking the visitor ‘Well, where is your furniture?’
Taken somewhat aback, the visitor answers the Rav ‘Rabbi, I am just traveling. I do not take my possessions with me everywhere I go. I am simply a visitor here; I will soon return to my own home where I keep all of my furniture. For now, I do not need those furnishings on my journey.’
‘Ah, yes’ says Rabbi DovBer ‘but I am also just a traveler….’ 

Rabbi DovBer’s answer to his visitor defines our purpose in this world. We are simple travelers. We travel from one world to the next; there is no need to carry over our worldly possessions during our journey. What purpose does this serve us?

In Pirkei Avot we learn that this world is like a corridor that leads to a grand living room, the next world, Olam HaBa. We must prepare ourselves in the corridor so that we can be ready when we reach the living room. Either we can walk around at a leisurely pace, distracted by the paintings hanging on the wall or the intricacies of the wall moldings, forgetting our destination; or we can have our goal in mind and walk directly into the living room, ultimately receiving a much greater benefit than enjoying the beauty of mere paintings. The narrower the corridor, the longer we stand there, the more discomfort we feel there, the more rest and comfort we will find when we finally reach the living room and seat ourselves on its lofty couches and sink into its delicious cushioned seats. In this life, the more hardships we endure, the longer we are kept on our feet, the narrower its straits, the more joy we can pull from the World to Come. This life is a preparation for the next. The better we can prepare ourselves in this life, the more ready we will be in Olam HaBa. All decisions, experiences and struggles in this world are preparation, to cultivate our neshama and develop the spiritual receptors we need to thrive in a spiritual world above. Keep this in mind. Anytime we are faced with a challenge or decision, ask yourself: Is this contributing to the development of my neshama or chas ve’Shalom, detracting from it? This is our purpose in this life.

We can understand the magnitude of this concept with the following analogy. This world is to the next as Friday is to Shabbat Kodesh. During Shabbat we are not permitted to do any work; we therefore are dependent on the preparations we make on Friday to carry us through Shabbat Kodesh. If we don’t get it done on Friday, there is no other time to do it. If you do not cook on Friday, you will be left with nothing to eat on Shabbat- and there is nothing you can do about it; you will be left hungry on Shabbat. The better we prepare on Friday, the more meaningful and comfortable our Shabbat will be. Fridays are often the most hectic and busy days of the week. How early do we wake up, how much do we run around, how many errands do we take care of, how much do we clean, how many meals do we cook, how many guests do we invite all on Friday in order to contribute to our Shabbat experience??? This is certainly not easy work. But do we complain? No! Because we know the payoff. We work this hard because we know the beauty of Shabbat Kodesh. We realize the spiritual levels we are capable to reach on Shabbat Kodesh and we are more than willing and even happy to take on all the responsibilities that we do take upon ourselves on Fridays. It’s worth the investment.

If we even realized what levels we are able to reach in Olam HaBa, we would make a corresponding investment in this life for the next. It is surely worth it. Sometimes it may seem difficult, and sometimes you may feel like you are working to no avail, but every single action you do is contributing more and more to your preparation for the next world. If you do not make your preparations in this world, if you do not cook the meals you need, you will be left starving in the next world- and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it then; it is too late.

Sarah Imenu was well aware of her purpose in this life. It is this reason that she never really dies; she just transitions from this world to the next. Perhaps this is why this Parasha is called ‘Hayei Sarah’, the LIFE of Sarah. This realization allows her to live on, she never really dies. Perhaps this is also why is it called ’Hayei Sarah’ in the plural, implying that she lived on life after the next.

May HaKadosh Barukh Hu grant us the clarity and integrity to realize which of our decisions and experiences truly contribute to the development of our neshama in order to prepare ourselves to become spiritually receptive to the beauty of the Next World that awaits us.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorakh out of this world!
Ariella Samimi 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parashet VaYera


Parashat VaYera

1. Now the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot

א. וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם:

This is pasuk alef. From the first pasuk we can already extract a powerful concept that will carry us through the rest of the Parasha…and our lives.  

Among other berakhot, HaShem Yitbarakh promises to make Avraham a father of all nations specifically through the lineage of his son Yisshak. But in the Parasha here we see that HaShem commands Avraham Avinu to sacrifice his son before he has children of his own. Yisshak had no descendants yet! From Avraham Avinu’s viewpoint, how could this promise be kept? How can HaShem back away?

The English translation of the first verse in the parasha is “And Hashem appeared to him,” Yet this is not a strictly accurate translation. A literal translation of the verse would be “And He appeared to him, HaShem…”

The way the pasuk is ordered, the one who sees – Avraham - precedes the One Who is seen – Hashem. What is the message we can learn from this unusual syntax? Why did the Torah HaKedosha phrase the pasuk this way?

The Rambam, in his sefer, Moreh Nevukhim, Guide for the Perplexed, explains to us that it is clearly manifest and obvious that HaShem Yitbarakh cannot change, alter, or move in any way; He is Omnipresent, He is present everywhere.  Since HaShem’s presences fills the world, if He “moved” it would undermine His Omnipresence, implying that He had been previously absent in the place which He is now moving to.  There is nowhere where that is empty of HaShem’s presence that He would need to move to, He is already there.

With this concept in mind, we must realize that any distance we may feel between us and HaKadosh Barukh Hu it is on our behalf. HaShem is not moving anywhere. Even if He did, we can always find Him since He is everywhere. If you ever feel that HaShem is ‘backing away’ from what is rightfully due to you, think again; it is not HaShem that moved.
Avraham Avinu understood this. This is why he was so readily able to bring Yisshak as a sacrifice. He knew that anything HaShem promises him, it will ultimately be carried out. He had the Emunah that it will all turn out for the best and followed through with what was requested of him.

The day of the Akeda, the sacrifice, the pasuk reads ‘VaYashkem Avraham baboker’ that Avraham woke up early in the morning. Traditionally, we know that anytime the pasuk says ‘VaYashkem’, about an individual, it implies that they woke up early because they were enthusiastic about a missva, just as Avraham Avinu is here. However, if we consider the pasuk in a different perspective we may also learn something else about Avraham Avinu. The pasuk tells us that Avraham Avinu woke up early. This means he went to sleep the night before. Think about it. Most of us can hardly fall asleep when we have an important meeting or exam the next day. Avraham Avinu was destined to sacrifice his most beloved child the next day and by doing so, forever cutting off his lineage and essentially eradicating the promise made to him, yet he was still able to sleep the night before with a sound mind.

This is the level of Emunah that we are supposed to have. HaShem will never back away from us. We just have to do our part. If we seek Him, He is always there. We just have to seek Him. We have to see HaShem in everything we do and everywhere we go. Perhaps this is why the Parasha has so many references to sight; ‘VaYera’ means ‘And he saw’. We are the ones who have to lift our eyes and see HaShem just like Avraham Avinu lifted his eyes, ‘VaYisa eynav’, to see the mountain where he would serve HaShem on the highest level by sacrificing his son, the mountain which would ultimately become the site for the Beit HaMikdash.

Be’ezrat HaShem may we all have the zekhut and clarity to find HaShem in all aspects of our lives and to turn to Him not only in every place but also in every time we may need. May we realize that our relationship with HaKadosh Barukh Hu mainly depends on our efforts to seek Him and we must do so even if it may seem illogical to us at that moment.  Keep in mind, ‘If you ever feel distant from HaShem, remember He is not the one Who moved.’

Wishing everybody an eye-opening, uplifting, inspiring and absolutely beautiful Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!

With deep gratitude to HaKadosh Barukh Hu,
Ariella Samimi

Sources: Ohr HaChaim and Dvash v’Chalav in Iturei Torah; Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on the Parasha. Thank you R.R. for the beautiful quote! May HaShem bless you with all that is good!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Parashat Lekh Lekha

Parashat Lekh Lekha

Do You Have the Emunah Not to be Distracted by the Reward?

6. And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him as righteousness.

ו. וְהֶאֱמִן בַּי־הֹוָ־ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה:

                Avraham Avinu is often defined by his ten tests. In each one, he surveys to us an even higher level of Emunah than previous. I read the Parasha with sheer admiration. Avraham Avinu’s Emunah and commitment to HaKadosh Barukh Hu is clearly evident when he detaches from the world known to him in exchange for one undefined. For this, HaKadosh Barukh Hu says to Avraham Avinu ‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will exalt your name; and you will be a blessing.’ Rashi explains that this was a guarantee of offspring, wealth and reputation, respectively. Why?

When one is constantly traveling (as Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu were instructed), it is exactly those three things that he or she is unable to do. How can Avraham Avinu’s wife bear a child if they are too busy constantly relocating themselves from one place to another? How can they possibly amass wealth in a city where they are not established? Even more so, how can they attain a reputable name if they do not live somewhere long enough for others to even recognize them?

Avraham Avinu had the Emunah enough to realize that no matter what ones thinks they are sacrificing, HaKadosh Barukh Hu will always deliver to them what they are meant to have in life. He believed enough that although at times it seems that HaKadosh Barukh Hu may veer one off a path he/she thinks is the correct one, He always brings them to where they are supposed to be, to where is best for them.  We must realize that in life, we are given a mission and a destiny. We must fulfill those two regardless of what comes our way; our personal desires and beliefs should not hinder us from achieving this.

Avraham Avinu exemplifies steadfast Emunah in this regard (and of course, may other ones). He did not once let the reward blind him from his mission. When his nephew, Lot is captured in a war of four kings against five kings, Avraham Avinu joins the side with four kings, the one with less manpower, confident that he will emerge victorious despite the fact that they had less power (which he did).  His Emunah extended so far that after the victory, when the kings were dividing the spoils of war and they offered him to take anything he’d like, he refused; he would not even take a shoe strap, as the pasuk says.

But didn’t he deserve it? After all, it was in his zekhut that they won! He captured Lot! Why shouldn’t he take what is dutifully entitled to him? Avraham Avinu constantly had his mission in mind. He joined the war not to acquire wealth and reputation; he contributed to the war effort only to save his beloved nephew. Avraham Avinu had the Emunah that even though all the gold and silver was staring him in the face, that it would be HaKadosh Barukh Hu specifically Who would bless him with wealth and it would not come from any other source. He did not join the war for its reward; he joined because it was the right thing to do. This is a reward in itself.

Perek Shirah offers us a pasuk that sums this idea beautifully. ‘The Dove says before The Holy One, Blessed is He: 'Master of the Universe, may my sustenance be bitter like an olive in Your Hand, and not be sweet like honey by way of flesh and blood’ (Eruvin: 18b). We should always daven that we receive our life source and berakhot from HaKadosh Barukh Hu only, and not to fall into the illusion that it is dependent on anybody else or even ourselves. The main thing is to do what is right; don’t do things for the sekhar, reward. Do them for their inherent and intrinsic value. The rest will come.
In Shema, the hakhamim instruct us to be stringent in our pronunciation of the two words ‘tizkeru’ and ‘u’zekhartem ’ both meaning ‘you shall remember’. The Halakha explains that one must emphasize the zayin when reciting these words so that they do not sound as ‘tiskeru’ and ‘u’sekhartem’ which mean ‘you will merit a reward’. This is a powerful message.
In life, we must focus on the intrinsic value of our actions and not what rewards we can reap from them. If we are too preoccupied with the reward, we are doing things for the wrong reasons and won’t receive the proper growth we are meant to be undergoing. Sometimes we don’t realize how great the power of HaShem really is. We tell ourselves, ‘If I don’t work on Shabbat, then HOW can I possibly make a living?’ Although this makes logical sense, we must understand HASHEM IS CAPABLE OF EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING.  He created nature, He can surely bend it as well. Although this is just one giant paradox, do what you think is right, and the rest will be covered. Have the Emunah that HaKadosh Barukh Hu will send you the reward you deserve regardless of if you think it would even be physically impossible to receive it. Avraham Avinu had the Emunah that even though there seems to be absolutely no possible way for him to receive offspring, wealth and reputation that it would happen. Just look who his descendants are today.

Be’ezrat HaShem Yitbarakh, may we all develop an Emunah Temimah (simple and complete) in order to fulfill our missions in life without having to be concerned about the consequences. If we do what is right, we are guaranteed the best reward and will merit to receive a special light reserved for Sadikim.

Wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorakh!
Ariella Samimi

A special thanks to J.B. for inspiration and halakhot pertaining to the Devar Torah J