Parshas Lech-Lecha 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas Lech-Lecha. The literal meaning of the first two words of the parsha are “Go to you.” In reference to Avrohom Ovinu this refers to his having to leave his land and his father’s house in order to serve Hashem. As the Torah is eternal and meant to teach us various lessons until Hashem decides to end granting His enlivening influence to this world, we can see that what someone who is beginning to grow in spirituality must seek an escape from what they’re used to: from the way their parents taught them, away from the mental attitudes of their peers, and from the general distractions of physical life. This is not to encourage people to experiment with non-Torah forms of spirituality, rather to seek some form of isolation from the influences of their family and peers so as to engage in spiritual contemplations to reach their inner core, where the “Small still voice” of Hashem speaking through our neshomos can be heard.

The doors to avodas Hashem are never closed. It says in Maseches Geirim that this is the reason why Hashem waited to give the mitzva of bris milah to Avrohom Ovinu until he was 99 is in order for us to know that the doors are never closed to geirim, and they can always enter Klal Yisroel. This we can say is relevant even to born Jews. Hashem always wants people to enter avodas Hashem, so the gates are never closed to one who wants to engage deeper in His service. This refers to those who are already holding in learning and davening, we can always improve in various ways of serving Hashem, such as doing more gemilus chasodim (acts of kindness), giving tzedakah, and kosher forms of meditation.

Hashem should bentsh us all with simcha in His avodah, that we should merit to find our pure spiritual core, and that all geirim that are meant to be m’gayer should be converted in order that we can merit to see the face of Moshiach swiftly in our days!

The Power of Waking Up Early

In the Zohar, Parshas Beshalach, we learn how important it is to learn after Chatzos (midnight), before Alos HaShachar (first rays of the sun, still dark). It says there that one who wakes up and joins together the night and day through davening to Hashem accomplishes a huge unification of the Feminine and Masculine aspects of Hashem, since the night corresponds to Din (Judgement) and Malchus which is Feminine, and the day corresponds to Chesed which is Masculine.

In Sefer Shaarei Kedusha from R’ Chaim Vital zy’a he brings this as one of the yesodos of becoming an eved Hashem (servant of God) and attaining Ruach HaKodesh. The reason for this is clear. The entire path of Kabbalah is about attaining balance, just like the Rambam writes that the main thing is to attain the middle path. The place of balance is Tiferes, that is, between the sefiros of Chesed and Gevurah. Through waking up while it is still night-time according to halacha and engaging in Torah study, specifically Torah Sh’Baal’Peh according to R’ Chaim Vital, we bring about harmony in our own personal sphere through unifying our heart and mind with utilizing our will to wake up and serve Hashem, along with the higher unifications which lead to hamtokas hadinim (sweetening judgements) and the geulah yechidis (personal geulah) and the Geulah Shleima.

Personal Torah Secrets

In Tzavaas HaRivash, it is brought in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that there are three main things that bring a person to d’veikus: due to seclusion from people, because of writing secrets of the Torah, and through performing the Yichudim of the Ari z’l; and at the time these Yichudim are done to think at that time of the greatness of Hashem according to your ability.

One thing we can take out from here is that we shouldn’t be afraid of the Yichudim of the Ari z’l, since the Baal Shem intended his Torah for simple people. So long as the names aren’t said, there’s no issur done, nor any other problem so long as one concentrates properly.

The thing that sticks out the most is the idea that d’veikus is accomplished through writing רזי תורה, (Secrets of Torah). We would think naturally that this is a consequence of already attaining d’veikus rather than something that leads to this state. To understand this better, we have to look in the Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu. There are two different shtiklech that are interesting, b’kitzur, we learn there that everyone who learns Torah gains illumination according to how much they learn, with or without much understanding in one part. The other shtikl teaches us that it is an obligation for every בן ישראל to write chiddushim (novel Torah insights) as often as possible. In conjunction with these ideas, there’s also the concept that every Yid has a letter in the Torah. So whenever you come up with a great chiddush in learning and you come to write it down, this can be said to be in the category of secrets of Torah, since it is a revelation of some new aspect of the letter your neshomo is connected to. It’s important to learn as much as possible בבקיאות (swiftly, with goal to gain a breadth of knowledge) in order to draw down great amounts of divine light into your body and soul. When these secrets are written down, this revelation of Divinity on whatever level brings a Yid much closer to Hashem, ultimately leading to true d’veikus.

Elevating our Prayers: Motzei Shabbos Parshas Noach 5781

A gitte voch! There’s another interesting sod we can learn from this week’s parsha that has to do with tefillah (prayer) from Parshas Noach

.It says in the third aliyah that the waters caused the ark to float up. As explained previously, the word for the “ark” is the same as that for “word.” We know from Kabbalah that water corresponds to Chesed, as well as Torah according to Chazal as described in the story about Rebbe Akiva. The way to help our prayers ascend to Hashem and be heard is to surround our tefillah with gemilus chasodim (acts of kindness) and learning Torah. Hashem should hear and answer all of our tefillos and elevate us to merit the coming of Moshiach swiftly in our days.

Parshas Noach 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas Noach. This is quite the interesting parsha. Between Parshas B’Reishis and this parsha there is so much to unpack, whole seforim could be written about them. Of course every word of the Torah could have a whole set of Tikkunei Zohar on it. For now this medium will suffice for a nice shtikl Torah.

It says in the Tanchuma and Zohar that Noach was born without an orlah (foreskin), which the Zohar learns as a remez (hint) to why Noach was called Tzaddik in his generation; because he was already free from the klippah associated with orlah. In the sifrei chassidus the word for the ark, תבה, is explained to refer to the spoken word, תיבה, that the ark of Noach wasn’t just the p’shat of a big boat, rather it refers to a structure made from words of prayer.

There was another Tzaddik who built a structure out of wood: Moshe Rabeinu. Moshe Rabeinu is described in the Torah as constructing the Mishkan himself, just as Noach built the ark alone. Rebbe Nachman in Likkutei Moharan explains that Moshe Rabeinu in the aspect of the Tzadik HaDor (Tzadik of the Generation) gathered together everyone’s tefillos, and the true Tzaddikim in every generation accomplish this avodah.

So now what could be the purpose of gathering all tefillos into a unified structure?

At the end of Hashem’s command to Noach to gather together the various species of animals into the ark, the phrase concludes “לחיות זרע על-פני כל-הארץ” (to sustain seed upon the face of the earth). Considering birds are most recently mentioned, we could say this is a reference to keeping birds alive so they can eat fruit and distribute whatever seeds across the earth, as is their nature. More in the realm of Sod though we can see what the Aibishter is trying to tell us. The first word can be read as “L’Chayos,” meaning to vivify/sustain, or it can be read as “L’Chiyus” for life-force. Meaning: we need to be close to the aspect of the Tzaddik in order to bring all of our tefillos together that this should lead to a place for life-force to manifest within our world. Without this life-force called Chiyus, which comes from Hashem, nothing would live whatsoever, so the more of this we can draw down from Shomayim the better for the entire world.

The key way to come closer to the aspect of the Tzaddik, if one has a hard time finding a Tzaddik to be close to, is to learn Zohar and Tikkunim. The Tikkunei Zohar is described by the Tzaddikim as having an incredible power to clarify the soul and remove the influence of the Klippah, which is the point of bris milah. Even if you can be close to a Tzaddik, learning these seforim is crucial for self-development towards becoming a Tzaddik yourself.

A git Shabbos! Hashem should hear all of our tefillos and we should merit to have much Divine life-force manifesting in our lives, and we should see Moshiach soon within our days!

Hashem Will Never Abandon Us

In Maseches Kiddushin, wherein we learn about the various laws of getting halachically betrothed and various aspects of marriage, there is a very interesting halacha we learn. Before getting any further into this, keep in mind that this was a very different time, and slavery as a concept was different than it is now. There’s a specific halacha that prohibits a Jewish slave-owner from treating a Jewish slave any worse than himself, and Rambam highly encourages treating gentile slaves with the same kindness.

It says there in a discussion about redeeming slaves and umos (Jewish maidservants) by paying off their remaining years of servitude, that if a girl is already halachically betrothed she cannot be sold into servitude. The way it is stated there is that if she has already been sold into ishus (marriage), then she cannot be sold into shifchus (maidservant status). There is another halacha taught there that once a man has designated her as betrothed to him through placing his garment on her, she can then no longer be sold as a maidservant.

What we can learn from this set of halochos is a great Sod in terms of our relationship with Hashem. Klal Yisroel is always described as being the wife or bride of Hashem. We see all the time though how difficult things have been for Jews throughout history, and how difficult things may become in the future. There is a concept that Hashem follows the Torah and keeps halacha, which means that even a detail like this He keeps also, so to speak. Even if Klal Yisroel is experiencing incredibly difficult times, even subjugation to reshoim, what is important is to remember is that we are still wedded to Hashem and He will never sell us into true slavery. Every day we have a mitzvah to remember that He took us out of Mitzrayim, and from this we have to remember that we are in truth free from the powers of the Klippa, but the Erev Rav and Sitra Achra want us to forget this.

The advice to transcend this to some degree is to place His garment upon yourself, and designate yourself as betrothed to Hashem. You can take this literally and be more careful about wearing tzitzis, which would literally be a garment of Hashem. The better approach is more metaphysical, that is to sit and learn Torah and clothe yourself with Hashem’s mitzvos, by always trying to fulfill various mitzvos throughout the day. When we do this, we can break through the veils the Erev Rav tries to blind us with and come to true d’veikus.

Obsession With Earth: What We Can Learn from Kain

A gitte voch! There’s an interesting aspect of the story of Kain and Hevel that I noticed doing sh’nayim mikra v’echod targum (twice Hebrew and once Aramaic translation) before Shabbos, and some thoughts came to me during seudas shlishis. As the story is known, Kain brings from his vegetable crops to Hashem as an offering, and Hevel brings meat and fat from his choicest animals. So now the commonly asked question is why should Hashem have been so displeased with Kain’s offering, wasn’t it the best he could give with the material he worked with? The answer is hidden in the exact wording of the pesukim and the concepts we can elaborate therefrom.

Kain is described as עבד אדמה, a servant of the earth, in Aramaic פלח בארעא, working in/with earth. Hevel is called רעה צאן, a shepherd of sheep. The metaphysical difference shown by the archetypes of these two people is quite profound. Kain represents the person who serves the earth, essentially a pagan. Though he recognized Hashem, he was primarily involved with serving the earth, essentially a form of Avodah Zarah (idol worship). Hevel reigned over his flock in a sense, rather than serving it. We can learn how to conduct ourselves in parnossoh from this.Kain is the person who is invested entirely in making money, the things of this world, represented by the word for earth in Hebrew, אדמה. The earthly things in and of themselves become the focus. Hevel on the other hand is the person who does business with emunah. He reigns over his livelihood, but it isn’t his obsession. To be like Hevel is not too difficult: the key thing is to avoid obsession with making money. The best advice for this is to have an established time for learning Torah in the morning and in the evening, just as brought as halacha in the Shulchan Aruch.

A gitte voch and a git choidesh everyone! Hashem should help us that Mar Cheshvan should no longer be bitter (Mar), and rather we should have a Cheshvan Masuk (Sweet Chesvhan)!

Parshas B’reishis 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas B’reishis, the first parsha in the Torah. This parsha is packed with many Sodos HaTorah (Secrets of the Torah). It is said as a general warning in Chazal (Chagigah 11b) that one who investigates what is above, what is below, what was before Creation and what comes after the world is finished should never have been born. Rabbeinu Chaim Vital says in the name of the Arizal that this only applies to those things that are beyond the world of Adam Kadmon, which is the general heter to be osek in Kabbalah. Considering this is not a good medium for discussing these things, not all my thoughts – drawn from the Zohar HaKodosh, various places in Chazal, sifrei Chassidus and the meforshim – will be shared here. Iy’H there will eventually be a compilation of the mekoros put together with my thoughts on how they can be brought together to show several ways we can understand this fascinating parsha.

The Sefer Yetzirah gives a very exact description as to how the world was created through the letters of the Alef-Beis, what planet was created through such a letter, what organ etc. The Midrash Rabah on B’reishis says that the Torah was used as a blueprint of sorts for the Creation, and that Hashem looked into the Torah then created the world. The Zohar confirms this. The interesting thing about the Sefer Yetzirah is that there are two different ways of reading it, one being as a description of Ma’aseh B’reishis, the other as a practical manual of how to utilize the letters to manifest our own world in accordance with the Torah Hashem gave us. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt’l presents both of these approaches in his English translation and commentary on Sefer Yetzirah. We could understand this through internalizing what it says in the Tanya, that every Yid has a Chelek Elokah Mima’al mamash (literal piece of God) within our souls; so just as Hashem created all through the Torah, in the same way we can influence our own reality through His holy Torah. This could be the real reason the Baal Shem Tov is quoted as saying that the portion in Olam Haba of poshute Yidden (simple Jews) who say Tehillim regularly will be beyond anyone’s imagination, since those people are involved in saying Tehillim to influence reality and being like Hashem, as we are directed to in Parshas Kedoshim תהיו קדושים כי קדוש אני (Be holy for I am holy). Midrash Vayikra Rabah brings that this means we can be like Hashem, so to speak. Chazal state in Maseches Sota 14a that walking after Hashem means to go after His middos, after his traits. Various examples are given there, and we can easily say that being involved in this area of Torah, whether through simply saying Tehillim with kavana or even through engaging in the profound meditations implied by the Sefer Yetzirah we can be like Hashem in shaping reality around our will, which should be one with Hashem’s will as explained in Pirkei Avos.

The Kedushas Levi zy’a says much on this parsha. One of the most interesting things he speaks of is the connection between the words שירה חדשה שבחו גאולים (A new song of praise is sung by the redeemed) and the process of התחדשות הבריאה (Renewal of Creation). He describes there that everything in our lower world is a manifestation and reflection of the same objects in the higher worlds, and it falls from the top in Atzilus down to our world in Malchus. This process continues itself at all times, when Hashem chooses to continue projecting His Shefa (influence) into something in this world, it continues in a sort of channel from the ideal image above until it is a physical object. Though I am not a scientist, I think that in time with our advances into various aspects of physics we will see how accurate these statements of the Kabbalists have been.

The most important thing this parsha is meant to teach us though is that there is one God who Creates everything and decides who has a piece of land, according to Rashi. Rashi says this specifically in regards to Klal Yisroel having claim to Eretz Yisoel. Even if there was no Eretz Yisroel, the most important thing is that there is a universal God without any limits whatsoever, beyond any human rational understanding. The Ateres Tzvi in Sur MeRa criticizes those who take Kabbalah less literally and says that it all literal; my understanding of what he means is that the sifrei Kabbalah are all describing genuine patterns and exchanges of spiritual energy, whether or not the terminology is perfect is a matter of debate, but the fact remains it is the way of speech that is most comprehensible to our simple human minds.

Aside from the revelation of One Universal God, the next most important thing is the description of creating Shabbos. We say in Lecha Dodi that Shabbos was last to be created but the first thing in Hashem’s thought to create. The text Vay’chulu (said by Kiddush) is in and of itself fascinating, seeing as it is all written in לשון יהיה (future tense). In short, we can see that in the “Seventh Day” after Moshiach comes all the Creation will be gathered together into the Ain Sof just like in the beginning, where we will all delight in the incomprehensible.

Hashem should bless us that we can learn His Torah, that we all be freed from all gezeiros koshos v’raos (hard and wicked decrees), and we should merit to behold the face of Moshiach soon, and from there become dissolved into the Ain Sof in the end of days.

Isru Chag Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres

Today is Isru Chag from Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres. There are many interesting inyonim related to these two Yomim Tovim. I do not have wifi in my sukkah, otherwise I’d have written about them at the time, but seeing as there is still an element of the previous Chag that carries over into Isru Chag, now would be the best time to write about them.

There is an interesting discussion about a posuk mentioned in Hallel in Maseches Sukkah, אסרו חג בעבותים עד קרנות המזבח “Bind the festival offering with cords unto the corners of the Altar.” There are two different ways of understanding this according to the gemoro in daf 45a-b, the first being that we can understand this to mean that through fulfilling the mitzvos of the arba minim properly, which are bound together, it is considered that one has built the Mizbeach (altar); the other opinion, said in the name of R’ Shimon bar Yochai, is that we should bind the holiday itself through eating and drinking, which according to many means to rejoice with a special seudah on Isru Chag, the day after the Chag.

One aspect of receiving brochos, as I learned from one of my rabbis some years ago, is that there must be a kli (vessel) to receive the brocho. This is the essential idea of using a kos shel brocho (cup of blessing) for Birkas HaMazon, as well as leaving some bread behind before saying the blessings, that is that there should be a substance for Hashem to grant us blessing through. Through Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres there are various Yichudim that are performed in the higher worlds. The Shechinah and Z’air Anpin (Masculine Divinity) turn from their backs facing each other, kav’yochol, to facing each other, and being completely unified, as explained in depth in Shaar HaKavannos. This is done through the living in a sukkah and shaking the Arba Minim every day of Sukkos, and on Shemini Atzeres we simply have the mitzvah to rejoice with Hashem, as stated in the gemoro in Maseches Sukkah that Shemini Atzeres is the holiday in which the King dines privately with His beloved subject; this is further explained in the Zohar describing the great joy that this is for Hashem and Klal Yisroel.

In order to receive the blessings of all the previous days, we have to create the vessel for this. It isn’t enough to perform the ritual actions, we have to carry the simcha of the holiday with us also. The Belzer ruv said in the name of the Ateres Tzvi of Zidichoiv that learning Torah by night throughout the winter brings the kedusha (sanctity) of the holiday upon those who do this l’shem shomayim. Through eating a special seudah today to show our love for Hashem and His mitzvos with the intent to connect this (read: to bind this) with the mitzva of Arba Minim, it can be properly considered as if we built the Mizbeach and brought offerings to Hashem, as shown through the movements done with the Arba Minim according to the Maharsha. Since we connect the mitzva of Arba Minim to the day of Isru Chag through also eating the seudah, this allows us to bring down the great chasodim we arouse through our tefillos and mitzvos from the past week into the physical world, for ourselves as well as those around us.

A git vinter, a gezinte vinter!

Erev Shabbos-Sukkos 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos v’Yom Tov! We’re getting closer to Sukkos as the clock ticks by, to the time known as “Z’man Simchoseinu,” the Time of our Joy. It would be easy to ask why we should be happy to leave our houses and go live in a (likely poorly constructed) hut for a week.

One understanding of this mitzvah to rejoice in Sukkos is in regards to the idea of rejoicing with the Shechinah. We remember what a wonderful thing it was to live between the Aneinei HaKovod (Clouds of Honor/Glory) and to be in a state of constant revelation and Daas of the Shechinah, as it was until the Cheit HaEigel (Golden Calf Sin) and we lost this, as described in Maseches Sotah. The remembrance of this through the sukkah itself is expressed by the Arizal in Shaar HaKavannos, in which he describes how the sukkah in itself is a structure which draws down the Ohr Makif (Surrounding Light) of the Zair Anpin and Nukvah, Nukvah is the Shechina Tata’a (Lower Shechinah aka Malchus) which is crowned by the s’chach, which corresponds to the Keser of Zair Anpin. It is brought in the name of the Baal Shem Tov in Tzavaas HaRivash that when davening the best thing to do is to “imagine” that the Shechinah is directly in front of you, and this will help bring you to great d’vekus. So for living in a structure which is completely surrounded by the Light of the Shechinah it shouldn’t be even more of this aspect? What greater joy could there be than to be surrounded by the Shechinah HaKedosha, which is exactly what we are when sitting in the sukkah?!

From there we take our Arba Minim and shake them in the six directions in order to draw down the benevolent forces of Chesed into our personal sphere and the entire world; projecting them forth when shaking the Minim outward, and drawing them back in when bringing these species back to our chest. When doing this mitzvah in the sukkah, we essentially exist in a microcosmic expression of the entire Malchus, seeing that a sukkah ideally should have at least three walls, three being the basic number of dimensions necessary for physical existence, along with the number of legs needed for a table or chair to stand. That we have a fourth wall (ideally) shows the extra spiritual dimension that is lacking for plain Creations, but is present for humans.

One aspect of considering the sukkah as representing Malchus is the fact that physical existence is very difficult. There are different opinions as to how we view Malchus, whether it is the Shechinah as manifested in our lower world, or the manifested world in and of itself. They are not mutually exclusive, but for our purposes, we shall approach Malchus in its lowest aspect as the manifested world.

Living in corporeal reality is difficult much of the time. It says in Maseches Chagigah that if someone doesn’t experience Hester Ponim (Concealment of Hashem’s Face) that is a sign their yichus (lineage) could be wrong and they’re not really part of Klal Yisroel. However, we know from the Toras HaBaal Shem as explained according to all rebbeim following this mesorah, that the main thing is to be b’simcha, to rejoice in serving Hashem and to serve Hashem through our experience in this world, whether good or “bad,” just like it says in Maseches Brochos that we have to bless Hashem for the bad just as the good. This idea can be understood through what R’ Nachman says that the purpose of everything is ultimately good. When we do any action in this world it causes great impact in Shomayim, as said in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, that if every Yid knew what a great impact every action has Above, Moshiach would come already. This impact is greater magnified when done with consciousness, having the general knowledge that our actions impact Heaven and how that occurs, along with declaring our actions, thoughts, words, and feelings to the Yichud Kudsha B’rich Hu U’Sh’chintei (Unification of the Holy Blessed One and His Shechinah).

So dwelling in a Sukkah for seven days and doing the mitzvah of taking Arba Minim, which draws down the Chasodim (benevolent forces) of each of the seven lower Sefiros, and reflects different phases of the relation between Hashem and His Shechinah according to the Arizal, teaches us wonderful things about our avodah in daily life. Rather than thinking that reality is just plain difficult and there’s no point to it, every action we do is intrinsically powerful and holy, it simply takes the awareness of this to make it something real and observable. Even amidst the troubles of corporeal life we must remember that ultimately even Malchus is crowned with Keser, the highest Sefirah, which should help us attain great joy and realization that ultimately everything is from and for Hashem Yisborach. We must rejoice with everything He gives us wherever we are in life, and accompany this with yearning for d’veikus with Him, just like the Shechinah.

A git kvittel, a frailichen Shabbos and a lechtige Yom Tov!