MidrESHET Hayil

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Parashat VaYehi- Ephraim and Menashe's Sticky Switchuation

Parashat VaYehi- Ephraim and Menashe's Sticky Switchuation

14. But Yisrael stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Menasheh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Menasheh was the firstborn.

יד. וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר וְאֶת שְׂמֹאלוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה שִׂכֵּל אֶת יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר:

Every Erev Shabbat Kodesh, there is a concept or Birkhat haBanim, whereby parents bless their children 'Yasimekha E-lokim ke'Ephraim ve'ke'Menashe', that HaKadosh Barukh Hu should bless our children as Ephraim and Menashe were blessed. But what about the rest of the twelve shevatim? How come we are given a blessing according to the two peripheral shevatim but not the main ones? Why did Yaakov Avinu give most attention specifically to Ephraim and Menashe, giving them the primary berakha? Even further, even between the two sons, why did Yaakov Avinu favor one over the other?!

If anybody knew the effects parent favoritism plays in sibling rivalry and jealousy, it is Yaakov Avinu with his own sons who sold Yosef. One would think that the last person to do such a thing would be Yaakov. Why would Yaakov Avinu feel so compelled to overlook these consequences yet again in order to bless Ephraim and Menashe? Even between the two sons of Yosef, why does Yaakov Avinu favor one over the other?! We see him blessing Ephraim over Menashe even though Menashe was the firstborn! It can't get any more exclusive than that.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, in Emet le'Yaakov, calls our attention to the difference of names that Yosef gave to his sons. Both were born in Egypt. When the oldest one was born, he called him Menashe, 'ki nashini E-lokim' translated by Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch 'because HaShem has made my trouble and all my paternal house into creditors to me.'  When his second son is born he calls him Ephraim, 'ki hifrani E-lokim', 'because HaShem has made me blossom in the land of my affliction'. There is a remarkable difference between these two names. When giving a name to Menashe, Yosef referred to his pain having to live in a foreign country with strong feelings of nostalgia for his paternal home. Although he was living in and even ruling a foreign land, yet his whole personality objected and protested against the culture of Egypt. Even though he was really involved in its governmental administration, he took no part in it. But, by the time that he had to decide on a name for his second son Ephraim, something had changed. While he was still aware of his unusual position as a Jew in a strange land, Yosef had somehow come to feel at home in this new country called Egypt.

While there is little doubt that Yosef was able to stay connected to HaKadosh Barukh Hu his entire life, the anti-Jewish surroundings of Egypt evidently had some influence on him based on how he named his children. He had to adapt himself towards his new environment and this may have had an effect on his identity…. and the identity of his children. Ephraim and Menashe were the only two grandchildren who were not born in Yaakov's proximity. While the other grandchildren were raised in his own home and in Eres Yirael, Menashe and Ephraim were born in a foreign country and never had seen their grandfather. The question how these grandchildren would stay frum in such surroundings must have been constantly on Yaakov Avinu's mind.

It is for this reason that he proclaims to Yosef: 'Now your sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine, Efraim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuven and Shimon'. Despite their surroundings, Ephraim and Menashe were still able to maintain their strong connection to HaShem Yitbarakh.
We can now understand why Ephraim and Menashe might have been considered the most important; they represent a strong commitment to HaShem and Kedusha regardless of the impurities that surround them. However, what gave Ephraim more leverage over Menashe? Why was Ephraim more deserving of a berakha especially when he was the younger son?

Looking closer, we must conclude that there was a major difference between the kind of education these two sons received. When Menashe was born, Yosef was not yet fully involved with the administration of Egypt and still more of a foreigner, his mentality somewhere along the lines of: 'Although I am the second ruler in this country, remember, that this does not affect my loyalty towards my God and my people. We are Jews and we will wait for the first opportunity to leave this country and return to our homeland.' But, by the time Ephraim was born matters had changed. The feeling of being a foreigner had somehow faded, leaving him and his father, Yosef, more exposed to external influences.
It was for that reason that Yaakov Avinu was much more worried about the education of Ephraim than that of Menashe. Ephraim was much more vulnerable to the effects of the Egyptian religion and culture than Menashe was. Yaakov Avinu gave more attention to Ephraim, placing his right hand on Ephraim rather than to Menashe in order to strengthen him and encourage him; he needed it more. Menashe still came from a strong Jewish background and hence needed less special attention.

It is for this reason that it is most appropriate that parents give their children this berakha on Erev Shabbat Kodesh. We must realize that we are all vulnerable to the forces outside of us and must ensure to keep resistant against them in order to emerge kedoshim and connected to HaShem just like Ephraim and Menashe were able to do. When Yaakov Avinu switched his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Menashe, he emphasized the value of maintaining these high levels of purity and commitment even when our environments are not so. If HaShem is everywhere, then we must be connected to Him everywhere we go are as well; it shouldn't matter what the external environment is like.

May HaKadosh Barukh Hu bless each and every one of us with the special power both Ephraim and Menashe had to keep strong regardless of where we find ourselves and in this zekhut to build the Beit HaMikdash bimehera beyamenu so that we can serve HaShem Yitbarakh in our own land with an environment of pure kedusha and tehara.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!!
Ariella Samimi

Adapted from the teachings of Rav Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Parashat VaYigash- You Are Alive, But Are You Living?

Parashat VaYigash- You Are Alive, But Are You Living?

8. And Paroh said to Jacob, "How many are the days of the years of your life?"

ח. וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ:
9. And Jacob said to Paroh, "The days of the years of my sojournings are one hundred thirty years. The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojournings."

ט. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל פַּרְעֹה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם:
What a random question to ask. Yet, the Midrash notes the manner in which Yaakov responds to Paroh formulates an amazing calculation. Yaakov lived to the age of 147 while his father lived until the age of 180. This is a difference of 33 years. The Midrash explains that Yaakov lost 33 years of his life due to the 33 words that were used as he cursed his life's struggles.

Wow, that's harsh. Imagine what would be if we were held accountable for every word we complained about our lives. HaShem Yerahem….

In order to understand the Midrash one must understand HaRamban (Nachmanides) on rules of diplomacy: World leaders do not normally greet each other with ordinary questions such as, "How old are you?" I am sure President Obama does not question Queen Elizabeth of her age when they get the chance to speak, (she may be too old to remember her age anyway). Yet that is the only conversation the Torah records about Yaakov's encounter with Paroh    The Ramban explains that Yaakov looked so aged and distraught that Pharaoh could not comprehend this. He therefore was hinting as to why there is a discrepancy between Yaakov's appearance and his actual age. And Yaakov explained why.

Do we have more life to our years or years to our life?

How do we look at our lives? Do we live days of emptiness or do we live fulfilled and productive days? Does it take us a year to achieve something that could be done in a week, or do we complete a year's work within a single day? How do we make use of our time and how do we value it? Are we optimistic and embracing of what life has to offer us or does it bring us down and hinder our development? Do we live diluted lives or do we lead lives of vivacity and exuberance? We must realize that it is not necessarily the years in our life that count; it is the life in our years that matter.

 It is quality, not quantity that counts. Once we internalize this, we can consider what is the means by which to live a fulfilled life.

When Paroh sks Yaakov how old he is, Yaakov contends that his years have not reached the years of his father's years. Why is this reason to be upset about? How does he know he will not reach that age? Nobody ever put a limit on his life; Yaakov could well live over 180 years old! Who was to stop him?? Often times, we do the same thing. We put ourselves down even before we encounter some failure. Even if we have the potential to excel, we automatically set ourselves up to fail before we have even begun.
To live a fulfilled life we must believe we are capable of anything. Nobody puts a limit on what you can do. Nobody can stop you. If you want something that you know is good for you, go seize it. If HaKadosh Barukh Hu sees it fit for you, consider it yours. Nobody can stop you but yourself. It is all in our mindset; keep a positive one.

We must stop counting numbers and weights and start feeling and appreciating instead. Set your own reality and chase it, don't waste your time sitting idly until it finds you.

Be'ezrat HaShem may we all have the clarity and the rasson (will) to make the best of each passing day feeling only the depth of its quality instead of keeping count of the time that goes by. May each day be more fulfilling and beautiful than its preceding day!

Wishing you all a beautiful, spiritual, uplifting and of course, fulfilling Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Ariellah Samimi

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Parashat Mikets Turn Your Weakness Into Your Biggest Strength


Parashat Mikets-Turn Your Weakness Into Your Biggest Strength

Kim Peek was born with severe brain damage. His childhood doctor told Kim's father to leave him in an institution and forget about the boy. The doctor believed that Kim's severe developmental disabilities would not let him even walk, let alone to learn anything. Until this day, Kim struggles with ordinary motor skills and has difficulty walking. He is severely disabled, cannot button his shirt and tests well below average on a general IQ test. It seems like Kim is left weak with no hope.

But Kim's father disregarded the doctor's advice.

What Kim can do now is astonishing. He has read 12,000 books and remembers everything about them. Not only that, he reads two pages at once - his left eye reads the left page, and his right eye reads the right page. It takes him about 3 seconds to read through two pages…and he remembers everything written on them. Kim can recall facts and trivial matters from over 15 subject areas. If you tell him a date, Kim can tell you what day of the week it is. He also remembers every piece of music he has ever heard. There is a reason why they call him "Kimputer".

Kim's biggest weakness, his mental disability, became his strongest characteristic, stronger than that of most people. He didn't let his weakness take over him; he never gave up.


Last Parasha, Yosef HaSadik goes from being his father's most beloved son to being abandoned by his own brothers because of one thing: his ability to interpret dreams. Had it not been for the incidents where he attempted to interpret his own dreams, his brothers would not have felt animosity towards him and he would have been able to live peacefully as home together with his family. But instead, he ends up in some dungeon in Egypt waiting for the day he will be set free.


In this Parashah, Parashat Mikets, we see Yosef HaSadik promoted from prisoner to prince. But what suddenly got him there? Yosef interprets one set of dreams about seven fat, healthy cows being consumed by seven thin cows, and a second set about seven healthy, full stalks of corn being consumed by seven unhealthy, thin stalks. Yosef explains to Pharaoh that the dreams mean that there will soon be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and that Pharaoh needs to appoint a minister to take care of this. Of course, Pharaoh appoints Yosef to take care of the grain during the expected famine, and Yosef goes from being the second from the bottom among his brothers to second from top of an entire civilization. It was Yosef's very ability to interpret dreams that rewarded him this pristine position- the same ability that got him into trouble and sent away in the first place.


The Torah HaKedoshah is making a very powerful statement here.


Our weaknesses have the potential to become our biggest strength. If you want to know what the biggest strength you have is, look at what you consider to be your biggest weakness; it lies beneath, it just needs to be unleashed. For instance, if I have a supposed weakness of forgetfulness, that is where I then tend to focus my most attention and try to develop; I finally end up with an astounding memory. If I know I have the predisposition to answer people impulsively, I develop exactly that trait into one of patience and consideration. Remember, Yosef HaSadik used his exact 'weakness' as his primary strength. Sure, interpreting dreams got him into prison but this exact ability also got him out of prison—and a spot as prince in Misrayim.


We must learn to embrace our weaknesses. When we deem something as a weakness and push it aside, we don't focus on developing it so we ignore it and it goes unnoticed. But we can use this exact power to develop ourselves further, we just never properly realized the need for it. Within our specific weakness is a reserve that is untapped. Until now, it was never look at or considered. We must realized that this very characteristic we consider weak is fresh, brand new, untouched—and can be turned into something more. The very fact that we have a weakness forces us to look inside ourselves. A weakness is an alarm, a bell, it gets your attention, it is clay in your hands—you can squeeze it out of frustration or you can sculpt it into a masterpiece. If we didn't have any weaknesses, or if we didn't acknowledge them and considered ourselves just to have strengths, then we coast through life and remain stagnant, we don't grow this way.


Once we can acknowledge what our weakness is, we can begin the process. Anytime we are faced with an experience depending on that weakness of ours, view it as an opportunity for GROWTH, not as an obstacle! If you are open to change, use every chance you get to allow you to hone this character and sharpen it. If you let it go and brush it off as a small imperfection, you are missing out on your greatest potential.


Weaknesses give us the momentum to move forward. Since we find ourselves on one extreme ('weakness'), we are brought to a point where we must put ourselves on the other extreme (strength) to counter it. The farther on one extreme of the spectrum, the more potential there is to flip it to the other end.


 I was once washing cherry tomatoes. They were all average in their cleanliness- they looked pretty clean to me, so I gave them a general rinse and scrub and set them out to eat. As I was arranging these cute little tomatoes, one fell to the floor before I was able to catch it. I quickly picked up the tomato and realized it was very dirty, and despite the 'five second rule',  I sprayed it with vegetable wash and began to scrub frantically for a few minutes until I was positive it was completely clean. In fact, it was cleaner than any other tomato on the plate.


Okay, other than getting you to crave tomatoes, what is my point here? When we realize something has a deficit, we work harder to fix it and emerge with something even greater than when we started. Yeah, that last tomato had a fall and got the dirtiest, but it also ended up becoming the most clean out of the entire bunch. When we realize we may have a deficit, we work harder to compensate for it and we end up with a strength we never had to begin with.


Be'ezrat HaShem, may we all be given the strength to develop our strengths and embrace what we consider weaknesses with the understanding that beneath them lays tremendous power for growth.


Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh, Hanoukkah Sameah, and a Hodesh Tevet Tov uMevorakh!

Ariella Samimi




Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Parashat VaYeshev- Picture Perfect


Parashat VaYeshev- Picture Perfect

When Reuven, the eldest of the twelve shevatim hears that his brothers are devising a plan to kill their youngest brother Yosef, he tries to convince them out of it. The Torah writes of him:

21. But Reuven heard, and he delivered him out of their hands, and he said, "Let us not deal him a deadly blow."

כא. וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ:

On my most recent trip to Eres Yisrael, while spending time at the Tahana Merkazi in Yerushalayim, I walked by a photo store and noticed mounted on a display was a large eye-catching photograph. Naturally, I drew nearer and observed the photograph closely. I realized that this large photo was made of hundreds of smaller photos that came together to create one uniform image. I surveyed each picture closely and considered its relevance to the main picture. I realized that no matter the content of each picture, if it was shifted even a little to the right or the left, it would ruin the continuity of the big picture. Each picture belonged exactly where it was put, and if it was missing, the big picture would no longer make sense.
Life is all about seeing the bigger picture, even when the small pictures do not seem to relate- they all belong there, they are all necessary. Sometimes, we go through an experience and we cannot fathom how it could possibly contribute to our lives, we cannot understand where this piece fits in, but know that if this piece was missing, the grand picture of our lives would be distorted.
We must embrace each experience in our lives….even if we don't understand them. They all belong where they are put.
The Midrash Raba on Sefer VaYikra tells us that had Reuven known that the Torah would write about him, "And Reuven heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands," he would have loaded Yosef on his shoulders and carried him back to his father.
What is the significance of this Midrash?
As part of human nature, we perceive an experience differently during the experience itself than after the experience, when looking at the big picture. We must understand that Reuven has no idea that his life will be recorded in the Torah, but if he knew that his whole life would be written down as one continuous story, one with a beginning and an end, he would have acted differently and carried Yosef home on his own shoulders. Why?
While he is with his brothers, he has no concept of what the big picture is at that point. He makes a simply decision to save his younger brother, he does not know what will come next. However, if one is granted the privilege of an overview of their life from beginning to end, they can understand exactly where this 'picture' fits in and why they must be experiencing it.
Just think, if our lives were written down, what would our story look like? What would our big picture be? Would it have vacant spots? Consider your actions in the big picture of your life, not only within its passing moments.
If I go through life with an open mind that, even though I do not understand why I might be going through this but I know I have to be, things become more endurable. We find relief knowing the very fact that we are meant to go be going through this. HaKadosh Barukh Hu is the artist of our life portrait. Could we ask for a more meticulous painter than that? Rest assured, He leaves out no details.

It was because Yosef understood this concept that he was able to reach the level that he did. Just imagine to yourself what Yosef had to endure. Just imagine the thoughts going through his head as he sat in the pit his brothers threw him in. Imagine the shame and betrayal he felt as he was standing there waiting for his brothers to sell him to Yishmaelim. What was Yosef feeling as he sat in the back of the caravan on his way to Misrayim alone, with absolutely no concept of where he is being taken to. What did this seventeen year old boy tell himself when Potiphar's wife accused him of violating her by which he was thrown into prison? Yosef realized that each of these small instances were vivid strokes of color in his beautiful portrait of life.
All that Yosef endured was not for nothing. What was his reward? He was called Safnat Pa'aneah, 'Revealer of Secrets'. Yosef was given the ability to see further, he was able to reveal the big picture.
The Midrash Rabbah (85:1) offers a glimpse into the heavenly orchestration that accompanies our earthly actions:
'Rabbi Shemuel Bar Nahman, when expounding on our Parsha would open his words with the following verse from Yirmiyahu (29:11): 'The thoughts that I'm thinking on them, says HaShem, are thoughts of peace and not evil, in order to give a future and a hope.' The tribes were involved in the sale of Yosef, Yosef was involved in his sackcloth and his fasting, Reuven was involved in his sackcloth and his fasting, Yaakov was involved in his sackcloth and his fasting, Yehuda was involved in finding himself a wife whileHaShem was involved in creating the light of the Mashiah.'
While we are mourning that which appears to be destruction, HaKadosh Barukh Hu is busy constructing the light of Mashiah!
This message is extremely powerful. At times when we feel that the picture does not belong, it could become the picture that defines our lives; we do not know what is behind it. Maybe we do not understand why that specific picture is there, but when we take a step back, we can see how it complements the overall picture.
The Maggid of Dubna explains that there are two means through which HaKadosh Barukh Hu delivers His goodness to us. Sometimes, HaShem sends down good in the form of honor, success and wealth. Other times, the berakhot come filtered through situations which appear to be the opposite, yet they are all necessary, and therefore all for the good.
This is comparable to a tailor producing a garment. Upon receiving elaborate pieces of expensive silk, the tailor 'attacks' the silk with large scissors, cutting it into different sizes and shapes, seemingly tearing it apart. An unknowledgeable onlooker would think that he has performed an act of destruction. A wiser person understands that these preliminary 'destructive' actions are necessary in order to produce a garment that will far surpass the silk material in both beauty and function.
Be'ezrat HaShem, may we all develop the understanding that each and every experience we endure has been beautifully orchestrated in the grand scheme of our lives and is most necessary to complete a beautiful portrait we can be proud to display in front of HaShem Himself.
Wishing each and every one of you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Parashat VaYishlah-Do we respond with Gratitude or Attitude?


Parashat VaYishlah

Do we respond with Gratitude or Attitude?



11. I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.

יא. קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִילִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת:

You wake up the morning of an important final or meeting already half an hour late; you slept through the alarm. With eyes half open you quickly throw anything on (your socks don't match), gather your belongings, and with one shoe on, dash out the door. By the time you finally make it to school or work, you notice all the parking spots have been taken. You drive around five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes….there are no spots to be found; you get desperate. There is nothing left to do but look up at the sky (through the sunroof, of course) and shout, "Master of the universe! I swear I will give 10 percent of my earnings to sedaka each year, pray three times a day, start a Torah study group in my home, I'll wait six hours between meat and dairy foods. I only just need a place to park right now!"

Just as you finish your heart-wrenching plea, a guy pulls out of a parking spot right in front of you, by which you turn to HaShem and say, 'Never mind, I found a spot!'

Does this story sound too familiar?

We all want to be successful. When we finally find it, we can respond in one of two ways: we can show Gratitude to HaKadosh Barukh Hu for providing us with this berakha out of His Mercy and Kindness, or we can have Attitude that we deserved it all along and it even then, it took too long to reach us. We can either be humble or we can be arrogant. The question remains, do we forget HaShem after he blesses us?

'I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant….'

Just as Yaakov Avinu hears that his brother who is seeking his life is approaching his camp, and he understands that he is at risk of losing all his family and possessions, this is his reaction.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that Yaakov had every right to be arrogant for everything he was blessed with. We see the multitudes off offspring he was surrounded with and we can easily survey his wealth based on the lavish gift he presents Esav. However, despite all of this berakha, Yaakov expressed utmost humility and deems himself unworthy of it all.

We learn that not only do we have to be thankful for the good that HaShem blesses us with, but we also have to be grateful for the 'bad', for even when Yaakov Avinu's life and family were at stake, his initial reaction was that of thanks.

We must understand that there is no such thing as bad being done to us. What would possibly be the purpose of HaShem presenting us with something negative? Revenge? Anger? HaShem doesn't need to play games. Ultimately, everything ends up for the greater good, we just have to be patient enough to see the big picture. When we realize everything comes from HaShem, we realize that literally everything is also good.

Gam Zu leTova, Everything is for the good.

That is why seemingly 'bad' things happen. Not to push us away, but because these things are really good things that happen to us. For this we must be thankful. By being thankful, we strengthen our connection to HaShem Yitbarakh. If has ve'Shalom we become arrogant, we are asking HaShem to move over a little to make room for us, because we think we know what we deserve, and not only that, we want it when it is convenient for us.

The more humble we are, the closer we become to HaShem and the more deserving we are of His berakhot. If we become arrogant and believe we must take things into our own hands, we will be left to fend for ourselves. Let's see how successful that person will become….

So how do we become humble?


We become humble only by expressing gratitude to HaShem. We tell HaKadosh Barukh Hu, Ribono Shel Olam, I know that I would never have been able to achieve this on my own. It is solely YOU who graces me with this abundance of berakha, I am but undeserving. Even if I do not understand the situation right now, I know it is for the best. So THANK YOU for providing me with everything I need, even when I am considered unworthy of such a gift from You.

Be'ezrat HaShem may we all develop the humility to understand that anything that comes our way is a reflection of HaShem's Mercy and Love, and by no means a direct product of our own efforts. May this humility grants us the ability to become thankful for each situation we are faced with and yield may more berakhot to come!

Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!

Ariellah Samimi

Sources: Chabad.org, based on Tanya, Part II (Igeret Hakodesh), Epistle 2, and Likkutei Sichot, vol. 5, p. 396.




Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Parashat VaYesse



Parashat VaYesse


Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk poses the question: Where is HaShem? To which he answers: Wherever HaShem is allowed to enter.


As a child, the board game Chutes and Ladders was a favorite. The point of the game is to be the first to reach the 100 mark before all the other players regardless of how many ladders you climbed or chutes you slid down. You just had to get there first.  If you got lucky, you would land on 80 and climb up a ladder straight to the 100 mark and win. Just the same way, sometimes you would reach all the way until 98, just two away from the goal! But would have to slide down all the way to 78 and lose primacy.


Life shouldn't have to work this way.


In Parashat VaYesse, Yaakov Avinu leaves his home town of Be'er Sheba on his way to Haran. As night falls, he rests his head on several stones and drifts into sleep. Yaakov Avinu dreams of a sulam, a ladder connecting Shamayim (Heaven) and Aress (Earth) with malakhim, angels, climbing and descending it. HaKadosh Barukh Hu then appears to him and promises that the land upon which he is laying will be given to his descendants. Yaakov Avinu then designates the stone upon which he laid his head on as a monument to be made as a House of G-d.


The Torah is not a mere storybook, nor is it one to relay history. Each and every letter, word, pasuk and story possesses within it a much more profound meaning and connection to other realms in the world. This incident with Yaakov Avinu begs the question: What is the significance of Yaakov Avinu's dream? What can we learn from it? Even if we do discover the true meaning, Yaakov Avinu is on a level far higher than us!  How could it even be possible for us to apply this on a more personal level?


Among a plethora of many different interpretations of Yaakov Avinu's dream, including that of the Ramban, The Kotzker Rebbe also contemplated the meaning of the sulam and arrives at a spiritual theory of relativity, says Rabbi Shekel.  The Rebbe asked his students, who was higher on the ladder? The person at the top or the one at the bottom? We may think to ourselves, obviously the one on top, just like in the game! However, there is no definitive answer; it depends on where one is going, on whether an individual is ascending or descending within his own life's context.  The person at the top might initially seem higher, but if he is spiritually on the chute, he is actually lower than the person on the spiritual ladder who is moving upwards. A person might be on 73 which is only 27 spots away from a 100 but be lower than somebody on 67, who is 33 spots away. It is all relative to the direction they are moving. The one who got to 73 just went down a chute from 93 while the one on 67 got there from 51. The question here is, who is making the most progress?


Sometimes, it is not all about what level you stand on, it is about how much you are moving upwards.

PROGRESS is of prime importance here, not stature. Sometimes, in life we are so concerned with advancing all the way to the top that we can overlook what is around us. We leave so much behind all for the pursuit of being 'the best', that one goal always in mind. We close ourselves off to the world for our own selfish benefit of becoming the best (sometimes intentionally and sometimes we do not even realize this). For some, it is unacceptable to be on any level lower; second place just doesn't cut it. But regardless of where we find ourselves, HaKadosh Barukh Hu is always there. That is why while the malakhim are busy ascending and descending, the pasuk says 'HaShem was standing beside him'. There is never a top or bottom here. No matter what level you're on HaKadosh Barukh Hu  is right there next to you. The only thing we must do is to keep moving upward. Do not get overwhelmed by how far a goal seems to be. For us it should matter how large ladders are or how far down the chute you slide, it is not about necessarily getting the 100. Just remember: step by step exactly like Yaakov Avinu's ladder. Sure, at time there are setbacks and we can slide down a small chute, but this should only motivate us to regain our position and move forward and climb bigger ladders; as long as we are generally moving upward overall.

Sometimes we cant see our own feet below because we are too busy looking upward at the goal, and sometimes we cannot even see the next rung because we are so intent on remaining where we currently stand, however, in both cases, HaShem is standing next to us, always. The opportunity to experience kedusha is not in the distant, intanglible future, nor is it lodged in the past. Rather, it is here at every moment.  In the words of the Kotzker Rebbe: Where is God? Wherever God is allowed to enter.


Be'ezrat HaShem may we all have the koah to keep striving upwards, our goal being that of progress. Wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!


Ariellah Samimi

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Parashat Toldot-Change the Channel


Parashat Toldot-Change the Channel

Confession: I have an ego. A big one. For some time I didn't know what to do about it. I really had to find a way to l'eggo my ego but didn't know how. And then I learned a valuable lesson- Instead of trying to 'fight' it, I kind of 'joined' it. You know who I learned this from? Esav HaRasha.

The Torah HaKedoshah describes to us in Parashat Toldot the birth of Esav 'And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esav.' Red means anger, it means rage, it means murder. The Midrash tells us that when Shemuel HaNavi went to appoint David HaMelekh to be King of Yisrael, he saw that David was of 'ruddy complexion'. He became frightened that David HaMelekh would become a murderer just like Esav. HaShem told Shemuel HaNavi that he should not worry. Esav killed violently and needlessly, David HaMelekh would only take a life to carry out the decisions of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Court) which were all just, fair and necessary.

We learn from the Midrash that, while we have basic personality tendencies, certain middot that we are born with, we have free will to choose how these tendencies will be manifested and how we use these middot. Esav's tendency towards bloodshed and murder led him down an evil path. David HaMelekh, on the other hand, was a warrior who would utilize his natural tendencies of 'killing' for elevated purposes.

Sometimes we think that since we were born a certain way that we can't change things about ourselves. Whether or not we can change doesn't matter—we should work with what we have. We can use the very traits that we feel inhibit us to help us thrive. I could use my inflated ego either to be condescending towards others or I could use it to feel like a Bat Melekh, HaShem's daughter, and to act in a more Sanuah, modest and elegant manner.

The Vilna Gaon writes, 'one should not go completely against his nature even if it is bad, for he will not succeed. He should merely train himself to follow the straight path in accordance with his nature.' We could take the effort we use to uproot our 'negative' traits into channeling those traits and using them in the right way. You feel that you are an angry person? Use that fire to teach Torah to others and that passion to do Missvot. Sometimes jealousy can get the best of you? Use that to be 'jealous' of those on a higher spiritual level so that you can strive to be like them-this is a healthy 'jealousy', and helps us move upwards. In this way, we don't have to constantly worry if we completely eradicated our middot, we know we have them but we are using them to our advantage.

HaShem purposely created us 'imperfect' so that we can fine tune our middot ourselves. If we were made perfectly, we wouldn't be put in this world, we would be Malakhim, angels, serving HaShem in Shamayim. Our Avodah is in this world, the only place we can fix up our middot is here. When we become aware of what our inborn tendencies are we can focus on how to direct them.

The Torah tells us that until age thirteen, Yaakov and Esav were pretty much the same-after all, they are twins. But one thing differentiates them from becoming the Sadik that Yaakov is and the Rasha that Esav is—the way they direct their middot. Be'ezrat HaShem may we become aware of our inborn tendencies and use these middot to elevate our Avodat HaShem and not to bring us down has ve'Shalom. In this way, may we perfect the world in preparation for the ultimate GEULAH, Amen!!

Wishing everyone a PERFECT Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!

 Ariellah Samimi

Inspiration and information from Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Parashat Hayei Sarah- This is last weeks' Parashah, I apologize for the delay!


Parashat Hayei Sarah

This week's Parashah is called Hayei Sarah- the Life of Sarah. However we see that already by the second Pasouk that Sarah Imenu passes away when she is 127 years old. Wait, if Sarah Imenu passes away in second Pasouk of the Parashah, then why is this Parashah 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 Neshamah departs from her when she hears news that her son Yiss'hak is being given as sacrifice, as Rashi clarifies. The satan shows her the image of Avraham Avinu placing Yiss'hak down on mizbeah (altar) and binding him down. Traditionally, we learn that this is the reason that Sarah Imenu's Neshamah 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 Yiss'hak 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…'


דגֵּר 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 tapestries, 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 Neshamah 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 Neshamah or has 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 Parashah is called 'Hayei Sarah', the LIFE of Sarah. This realization allows her to live on, she never really passes away. Perhaps this is also why is it called 'Hayei Sarah' in the plural, implying that she lived one 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 Neshamah 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!

Ariellah Samimi

Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Parashat VaYera- Don’t Think Twice, Just ‘Sacrifice’


Parashat VaYera- Don't Think Twice, Just 'Sacrifice'


1. Now HaShem 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 ה' בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם:

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

Among other Berakhot, HaShem Yitbarakh promises to make Avraham a father of all nations specifically through the lineage of his son Yiss'hak. But in the Parashah here we see that HaShem commands Avraham Avinu to sacrifice this very son before he has children of his own. Yiss'hak had no descendants yet! From Avraham Avinu's viewpoint, how could this promise be kept? How can HaShem back away from what He promised? 


The English translation of the first verse in the Parashah 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 Pasouk 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 HaKedoshah phrase the Pasouk 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.

Now, with this concept in mindwe 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 Yiss'hak 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. We can see this through his actions. 

The day of the Akedah, the sacrifice, the Pasouk reads 'VaYashkem Avraham baBoker' that Avraham woke up early in the morning. Traditionally, we know that anytime the Pasouk says 'VaYashkem' about an individual, it implies that they woke up early because they were enthusiastic about a Missvah, just as Avraham Avinu is here. However, if we consider the Pasouk in a different perspective, we may also learn something else about Avraham Avinu. The Pasouk 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 eliminating 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 Parashah 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 zekhout 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,

Ariellah Samimi


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


Make Your Neshamah Fly!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Parashat Lekh Lekha- Go Even Though You Don’t Know


Parashat Lekh Lekha- Go Even Though You Don't Know


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

ו. וְהֶאֱמִן בַּה' וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה:


I was to once supposed to move into an apartment for a short while, and the night before the

big move, I was told that I would no longer be able to move in. How can you change this last minute? I asked. To ease my discomfort, I kept thinking about reasons how or why this could be happening. I thought I had it all set, I was so excited to move in. I understood though that HaShem wants it this way and so of course, I accepted the situation. I thought some more and realized something. It didn't all change last minute, it was supposed to happen this way all along, HaShem just revealed it to us last minute.


Sometimes in life we think we know exactly how things are going to go, and other times, we have absolutely no idea what HaKadosh Barukh Hu wants of us, but regardless, only HaShem knows what will truly happen and the fact of the matter is that to us this is concealed.


Even our own Avraham Avinu (at this point known as Avram) faces this fact! The Ribono Shel Olam tells Avram at the beginning of the Parashah, 'Lekh Lekha Me'Arssekha….El HaAress Asher Ar'eka'. Go for yourself from your land…Go!! To where? Just go!! I'll show you the way... To the land that I will show you….


AVRAM AVINU HAD NO IDEA WHERE HE WAS GOING!! HaShem tells Avram to get up and go, and he goes. He doesn't as questions, he doesn't complain, he doesn't cut corners or give excuses. He says, HaShem this is what you want? This is what's best for me? I'll do it.


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 offspringwealth and reputation, respectively. Why?


When one is constantly traveling (as Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu were instructed to do), 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? Yet Avram Avinu had so much Emunah in HaShem that He will lead them and take care of them and fulfill this promise.


In life, sometimes HaShem asks up to get up and go even if He doesn't tell us where. Next time you don't understand what can come of a situation or how you would even get out of it, next time you are confused or terrified or want to give up hope has ve Shalom, remember that you're not seeing the whole picture; you're not meant to, HaShem intends it to be this way. The destination is already planned for us in advance, only it is just revealed to us later on. Only HaShem knows everything, He sees the big picture. If He asks you to go, get up and go, what's the difference if you know the destination or not if you're still going to the same place? HaShem does this so we could gain rewards and benefits along the way and that we can come to an understanding of things on our own along the way of this journey without it being spelled out to us. If we knew in advance, we would only mentally acknowledge the facts of our lives and it stops there, but this way, this beautiful way, we personally internalize everything that goes on in our lives, our experiences very much become part of us. Don't worry about the destination, focus on making the best of your journey. Just accept life with open arms and don't think you are the one who chooses it all. You don't choose your destination, but you choose how you are going to get there. Go where HaShem guides you; not anywhere else—and do it with love, appreciation and beSimhah! Do what you think is right, do what you think is required of you, and the rest will be covered. Have the Emunah that HaKadosh Barukh Hu will send you the good 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 may we develop the steadfast Emunah and Bitahon that HaKadosh Barukh Hu is constantly guiding our lives even though we ourselves don't know where we are headed. May we trust that He knows best for us, and lovingly and willingly accept what He chooses for us.  BH like this we will never have to worry about anything at all, just only that we should be doing the right thing and having proper Yiraat Shamayim and a thriving relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam. May we always recognize the Hashgahah, Divine Providence, in our lives and be appreciative of it!! In this zekhout may we merit the coming of Mashiah ben David beKarov, Amen!

Wishing everyone a very special Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!

Ariellah Samimi

Make Your Neshamah Fly!