Beauty of Balance

Today is the last day of Sefiras Tiferes in Sefiras HaOmer. Tiferes is the Sefirah of beauty and harmony. What we can learn from Tiferes is that true beauty is attained through balance, seeing as it is in the perfect center between Chesed and Gevurah, Netzach and Hod, and just under Keser, leading to Yesod and Malchus. Today is the 21st day of the Omer, being Malchus Sh’b’Tiferes. What we should consider today is how we manifest the power of Tiferes in our own lives, in terms of avodas Hashem, and our relations with ourselves and others. The key manifestation of this Sefirah in these areas is through expressions of beauty. Per example, you should consider if you place enough emphasis in avodas Hashem on the beauty of your specific avodah: if you’re singing davening as best you can; if you use beautiful things for mitzvah-related purposes like a nice goblet for Kiddush or special clothes for Shabbos, etc. When it comes to our avodah on the whole, the focus of Tiferes is to keep everything in a state of harmony, no aspect stressed in such a way as to lead to imbalance. In our interpersonal interactions, we must consider if we treat others properly, according to our station and theirs, how pleasant we are with our family members, if we greet people with a pleasant expression like it says in Pirkei Avos, etc. When everything is balanced, then beauty can reign and we can experience true simcha in our avodas Hashem.

Protection the Torah Gives

In maseches Sotah 21a there’s a dicussion about how much Torah and mitzvos protect a person, in relation to how long the z’chuyos, merits, of a woman brought for the Sotah waters will protect her. The Mishnah says that some z’chuyos will last for one year, two years, or three years. The Gemoro then tries to figure out what merits she could have that will last so long. It is explained that the z’chus of a mitzvah protects for a shorter period of time, because a mitzvah is compared to a candle which only burns for a short time; whereas the merits of learning Torah last longer, because Torah is compared to light itself. There’s a whole moshol there that describes the differences in terms of being out in the wild while it’s dark, it is however too long to go over in detail for this medium.

So, what we’ll want to understand is why does Torah have a more substantial effect in terms of protecting someone from problems? The Gemoro and Rashi say that this is because a mitzvah only lends protective power while someone is actively involved in it, whereas Torah grants protection even when not learning. The answer we can draw from Tosfos in particular is basically that a mitzvah grants protection from problems, but does not grant protection from the yetzer hara except for the time that we do the mitzvah.

Learning Torah has a longer lasting impact on the mind and soul than performing a mitzvah. The Ari says in Shaar Ruach HaKodesh that if someone makes tshuva and invests himself in constant study of Torah, then the marks on his head from his sins will be covered and eventually erased. Simple fulfillment of mitzvos may grant more light to the letters, but ultimately the tikkunim are done through learning Torah. Torah is the ultimate antidote for the yetzer hara, as it says in the Gemoro. Reb Pinchas Koritzer zy’a also said that when one makes tshuva, they should dedicate more time to learning Torah. At this time when we all need to make tshuva, which should be revealed and obvious due to our circumstances, I want to encourage everyone to add some extra amount of learning to your day. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it’s Torah and something somewhat significant. Through learning the yetzer hara is destroyed, and we can receive more Light from Hashem Yisborach, hence fulfilling the declaration that we must be a “Light unto the Nations.” Just as a candle (which is compared to mitzvos) has a light standing atop it (which is compared to Torah), so must we have the light of Torah standing upon us and the mitzvos we do in order to protect us from falling into the traps of gashmiyus and the yetzer hara.

True Simplicity

One of my online friends posted a question on his page asking, “What is pashtus, really?” I found this an interesting question, and joined the discussion, which has led to this post.

As I’m sure, many of you have heard the phrase “Poshute Yid,” or you’ve heard the various times Rebbe Nachman talks about how the greatest goal is to just be simple. This can be a very difficult avodah, because in our primarily Western worldview, to be Poshut or simple is a bad thing. We think of sophistication as being the highest virtue most of the time, this comes from the long line of philosophers who have influenced the society we are surrounded by. To be simple is to be closed-minded, unintelligent, and generally implying one doesn’t have much of an intellectual life. The idea of Pashtus in Yiddishkait is quite different, though.

Being poshut doesn’t mean to not make cheshbonos, as would be expected through our Occidental bias. Rebbe Nachman talked about how our greatest goal is to be a pushete Yid, and his seforim are full of that sort of stuff. He also encourages everyone to learn both Talmuds every year, and to finish the entirety of the Torah as frequently as possible, clearly he doesn’t mean one should be ignorant. The point is to just try to be balanced about your focuses in avodas Hashem rather than obsessive. The Baal HaTanya says to set aside a set time per day to go and think about your errors and make cheshbon nefesh, rather than focusing on these things constantly.

In Iggeres HaTshuva the Baal HaTanya explains that constant cheshbonos can lead to depression, therefore only for a set period of time per day should you do this. Otherwise the avodah has to be kept simple according to the person’s level. For some people davening with kavannos HaRashash is simple avodah, for others it’s not. You have to figure out what makes you happiest in avodas Hashem and what is honestly feasible, and push towards that.

To go more על פי סוד, we could say that to be פשוט is to reach for and attain התפשטות הנפש with Hashem and dissolve into Him, like it says נכספה וגם כלתה נפשי, I desired and my nefesh was consumed, according to one way of translating the posuk from Tehillim. That’s truly being poshut, the act of dissolving yourself into Hashem, כביכול, through Torah and tefillah.

Reacquiring Emunah After Trauma

This is an excerpt from one of my current projects that will, im yirtzeh Hashem, be completed soon. It’s on building and having Emunah when things are difficult, during and after suffering.

If a person has, rachmono litzon, had horrible things happen to them, it can be very hard to really feel Hashem, and trust that He loves us. It says in Maseches Chagigah (5a-b) that this is a sign that someone is part of Klal Yisroel, is that they experience Hester Ponim, if one doesn’t have this experience of Hashem’s concealment, there is a concern that they’re not really from Zera Yisroel. Essentially, the state of Hester Ponim is being unable to perceive Hashem due to the amount of tzoros that a person has. Im yirtzeh Hashem we should be soon free from the Golus, but so long as we’re here, this is a problem we have to face. Rebbe Nachman says, as it was popularized by a song in 5775 or so “And even in the concealment that is within concealment, with certainty also there Hashem Yisborach can be found.” This can be very difficult for someone suffering to deal with in their situation, I wish to help with finding Hashem even in those dark places, b’ezras Hashem.

In such a situation of suffering, the best thing to keep in mind that everything Hashem does is for good. Rebbe Nachman writes in Torah 65 much on this matter. In short, the purpose of all evil in this world is to distract a person and take one away from Daas, in order that they shouldn’t be able to gaze upon the tachlis, the ultimate purpose, of all things. The tachlis is kulo tov, everything is good. Hashem is totally good, everything is totally good. Even if it looks bad, and it seems terrible, it’s still good. The whole purpose is to make sure that we don’t have complete Emunah, and that we can’t see the great goodness of everything. This is because looking beyond the troubles and realizing everything is for the good is Me’Ein Olam HaBa, it’s mamesh like Olam HaBa. How else could there be Bechira if it wasn’t for all the pain? For lack of pain we have to already exist in the Y’mos HaMoshiach. Rebbe Nachman wasn’t speaking as someone who had an easy life, he lost his entire family to various causes, and was plagued with moro sh’chorah, dark bitterness, much of his life. So evaluating these Torahs from this perspective can lend us much insight as to the nature of this avodah.

The exercise I propose for people who are suffering in one way or another, or have suffered, is to look into the situation and find one good thing about it. Doesn’t have to be the thing itself, but how you have changed into a better person from it, or how certain good things in your life wouldn’t have happened without that suffering. Contemplate where all the goodness comes from, ultimately this takes you back to Hashem Himself, because all goodness comes from Him. The important thing is to make this reckoning in honesty, and use the lessons learned in order to come closer to Hashem Yisborach and Emunah Shleimah.

Rosh Chodesh/Motzei Shabbos Tazira-Metzorah 5780

A gitte voch, a git choidesh everyone! Tonight is Tiferes Sh’b’Tiferes in Sefiras HaOmer. Though Iyar is considered a sad month due to the deaths of Rebbe Akivas students, the Netei Gavriel brings in the second volume of Hilchos Pesach u’Sefiras HaOmer that many tzaddikim considered Sefirah to be a sort of Chol HaMoed between Pesach and Shavuos. Keeping this in mind, we should view this time as a time of simcha rather than of mourning. According to Kabbalah, the reason we don’t listen to music at this time is because music influences the mind and spirit in various ways. So in order to make the tikkunim in the mind that we must in this time, we cannot have an extra influence as strong as music. Just keep this in mind as we go through this period.

Rosh Chodesh Iyar/Parshas Tazria Meztorah 5780

A git choidesh, a gitten erev Shabbos everyone! This week is a double parsha, Parshas Tazria-Metzorah. Both of these parshiyos speak about the matters of isolation of someone who has negoim, the marks of tzora’as and other states of tumah. The vast majority of meforshim state that these afflictions of the skin are not a physical illness, rather they are a physical manifestation of a spiritual fault, particularly loshon horo and other terrible aveiros.

So in our current times, when we do not have tzora’as, we have to try to learn out something that is applicable in our day to day avodah. If you read the word צרעת with the Ayin being pronounced as it is in Yiddish, you end up with “tzures,” or צרות, problems. Hashem doesn’t just send us problems for fun, He sends them to us for a specific purpose. The purpose for tzor’as was that a person should make tshuva for the aveiros he did. Using this form of d’rash which Chazal use in many places between Loshon HaKodesh and Aramaic, and many Admorim use for Loshon HaKodesh and Yiddish, we can see that all the embarassments and various problems that come into our lives are to inspire us to make tshuva. The person who was to be purified from tzora’as brought a Korban Chatos, Oshom, and Mincha. One sheep of two that were brought was given as Oshom (Guilt offering) and the rest of the flour and oil were divided out for the rest of the avodah. The Zohar in Parshas Breishis says the purpose of korbanos was that we should visualize ourselves as being offered on the altar to Hashem in exchange for our errors, or as expressions of thanks and the other various things we gave sacrifices for. When we make tshuva, especially after having various problems nudging us towards repentance, we must have in mind that we must offer ourselves, our lives, and all we have to Hashem in order to unify with Him completely. This is the secret of Tshuva Shel Ahavah, Return that comes from Love, specifically love of Hashem. This means rather than returning to Hashem and working to be good Yidden because we’re afraid of punishment, we work on being good Yidden in order to cleave to Hashem completely with love, as a husband and wife who love each other always yearn to be together.

Hashem should bentsh us with shefa brocho, simcha v’nachas, purity, kedusha, and freedom from all forces that seek to oppress us; we should be zoche to the Geulah Shleimah swiftly and the joy that will accompany this!

Hashem is Close to All who Call Him

“קָרוֹב יְהוָה, לְכָל-קֹרְאָיו לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת..”

Hashem is close to all who call to Him, to all who call to Him with truth. Every Orthodox Jew who davens three times a day says this phrase in Ashrei. Now, what exactly do we mean at the end when we say “to all who call to Him with truth?” The ultimate emes is Torah. The Zohar HaKodosh in the first chelek asks “What time is Es Ratzon?” The answer that gets brought out is the time when someone is learning Torah. From here, and from a gemoro in Brochos, we can see that the best time to daven is after learning Torah, because that time is an Es Ratzon, literally a Time of Will, essentially meaning a time when our tefillos are more likely to be accepted. The reason for this is expressed in this posuk, the ultimate emes is the Torah, therefore the best time to call out to Hashem is right after learning Torah. The deeper reason according to Toras HaNistar is that Hashem and the Torah are completely one, so when a person learns in depth and contemplates Torah they are cleaving to Hashem to whatever degree they can accomplish. Operating from this level of existence, that being a level of D’veikus, then one can truly call out to Hashem and He will be close to you. Hashem should help us all attain the highest states of D’veikus, and grant us the Geulah Shleimah swiftly without delay!

Bein Yisroel Lo’Amim

There is a halocho that applies specifically to Krias Shma, that the Shulchon Oruch learns applies to all tefillos, which states that one has to not merge letters that are the same in separate words, per example when saying על לבבך in Krias Shma, one must leave a space between the lameds. In Havdalah we say המבדיל בין ישראל לעמים. When said properly, according to this halocho, a space must be left between the lameds. This hints that no matter how far a Jew may be removed from Yiddishkait, that Yid is still a Yid. This also goes in regards to how accepted we are by our surrounding culture, even if we are completely accepted by gentile culture to the highest degree, the fact of the matter is a Yid will never be a goy, a Yid will always be separate to some small degree. A goy can become a Yid, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Yesod Sh’b’Gevurah 5780

We’re holding near the end of the week of Gevurah, in Yesod Sh’b’Gevurah. The Yesod of every week is a powerful day, because Yesod brings together all the powers of the sefiros and then projects them into Malchus. This is an interesting aspect within Gevurah, because Gevurah is the Sefirah of restriction. What we should contemplate now in our last hour in this aspect of Gevurah is how we can further our personal goals, and manifestation of the Ohr Ain Sof through concentration. Gevurah is not simply restriction in the sense that one prevents themselves from engaging in a behavior, rather it contains an aspect of focusing things, like blood through veins; blood being the the Ohr Ruchni (Spiritual Light), and the veins being the aspect of Gevurah, directing the blood where it needs to go in a healthy manner. The proper way for the Oros to be directed is towards building a Dira B’Tachtonim, the Dwelling Place in the Lower Worlds, for Hashem to dwell in this world, so to speak. Im yirtzeh Hashem we should all be zoche to focus the power of our neshomos towards good things, and we should be able to create a perfect Dira B’Tachtonim for the Ohr Ain Sof and thereby bring about the Y’mos HaMoshiach.

Advise Carefully

It says in Maseches Sotah 13b that the reason Yosef HaTzaddik died was because he was נוהג עצמו ברבנות, conducted himself in the way of rabbi-ness, literal translation. In this context rabbonus means though to be authoritarian and boss people around, like asking them to bring you things, according to Ben Yehoyada. This sentiment is also echoed in Maseches Brochos 55a. The idea though is not just in regards to authoritarianism, rather that one forces himself upon others as their rabbi even after they’ve decided to not accept him, this shortens a persons life. The Maharsha on the gemoro in Brochos brings that Yosef HaTzaddik certainly didn’t act this way, rather because Yosef HaTzadik was buried in a higher place he was referred to as an authority. He brings there that this is used because otherwise we couldn’t learn out this whole idea to not conduct yourself like an authority and boss people around unless they actually accept you as their rabbi and wish to assist you.

I think we should all bare this in mind when it comes to advising people in different areas: if they don’t want to accept your advice, don’t press the issue. To do so could chas v’sholom shorten one’s days, whether this is due to some metaphysical cause or simply a reaction to getting overly stressed and suffering from that. We should be zoche to arichus yomim and hatzlocho in all things, also to have good rabbonim until Moshiach comes.