Learning Torah According to the Way Hashem Created You

It brings in Tana D’Vei Eliyahu Eliyahu Zuta 12:3-4 aspects of the light of a person who learns much or little. He brings the example of Moshe Rabeinu compared to everyone else. Every other one of the Ziknei HaEida (Elders of the Congregation) and the leaders learned one perek each, but Moshe Rabeinu learned the whole Torah. That is not to say that each of the others didn’t have light upon their faces, but Moshe Rabeinu was so bright that people couldn’t even look at him. So clearly the amount of Torah one learns has an effect on their countenance and brings them greater light and reward in the next world.

He replies to Chavakuk as well in regards to this matter, asking if one who learns little and one who learns much have the same light “Lav, eloh kol echod v’echod l’fi darko.” (No, rather evryone according to his way.) This is curious, to me at least, considering much of what I’ve learned essentially says that understanding is the key aspect of learning, except for Rebbe Nachman, who maintains quite otherwise, he holds like the Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu.

My kasha, at least starting here, is why is it better to learn more Torah than to learn with the goal of understanding and maybe cover less ground? The teirutz is that it is best to understand Torah, but the fact of the matter is that every shtikl Torah that we learn contains sodos far beyond what we could possibly uncover within our lifetimes. This is why we’ll be learning the same Torah we learned in this lifetime in the next world with the tzaddikim; and even they learned more after death! The Torah we learn performs tikkunim on us and in the higher realms, which then makes us more proper conduits for the Light from Hashem Yisborach. Even then, this is not such a good answer.

Utilizing a popular tool of logic, it even states a clearer understanding of this in the Midrash itself, “Lav, eloh kol echod v’echod l’fi darko.” Everybody gains Light according to his path. There are some of us in this world that are meant to learn fast, there are some that are meant to learn much, there are some of us that are meant to learn very little Torah, but it is deep, and there are even those who are meant to learn very little at all. The important thing is that we engage in Torah from an approach based in emes, that we truly seek to do the rotzon Hashem, and that we do what we need to do, without even the slightest trace of selfishness or self-aggrandizement. Limmud HaTorah is easily a selfish avoda, because it can take us to the place of believing that we are smarter than others because we’ve learned something another hasn’t. It has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s just like it says in Avos, “if you’ve learned much, thank the One who made you to do so.” We must learn Torah simply to serve Hashem and understand how we must serve Him, not with an intent that we should look cool to other people, or for a shidduch, or frankly for any reason other than simple avodas Hashem. If we can learn Torah from this perspective, truly l’fi darkeinu, according to our paths, rather than according to what our social group wants, from there we can truly grow and merit to receive Hashems Light.

L’fi Darko does not mean simply how much one learns or the quality, it must even apply to the WAY, quite literally, one learns. If a person needs to shuckel and throw coffee cups around the room to understand the gemara, then he should do that. If he needs to sit quietly at home or in a corner in the beis medresh rather than yelling constantly, then he should do this. If he needs to learn alone completely rather than with chevrusos all day, then he should do this, if he is able. The important thing is that Torah is learned properly, and according to the way Hashem created each one of us to serve Him.

The Greatness of Peace

Sholom, peace, is an incredibly important thing. I made a video on this inyan, however the feed apparently cut out before I finished the whole point and gave the eitzos, so I wrote this to present the essential ideas and implementation of them.

In Likutei Moharan, Torah Peh (80), Rebbe Nachman starts with the posuk “Hashem oz l’amo yiten, Hashem y’vorech es amo basholom,” Hashem will give strength to His people, Hashem will bless his people with peace. Chazal say that there is no vessel that reinforces blessing like peace. In relation to Birkas Kohanim, the Baal Shem Tov says that a person who doesn’t have peace is like a house without windows: just as a house without windows can’t effectively protect the objects inside, so a person who doesn’t have peace cannot keep the brochos and shefa (Divine bounty) that Hashem gives them. According to Rebbe Nachman, the way to attain sholom is to bring together opposites, like how Hashem unified the two angels in Shomayim, one of Aish (Fire) and the other of Mayim (Water), and this brought sholom in Shomayim as we say in the posuk after davening Amidah and Kaddish.

This concept of unifying opposites is a key principle in the Kabbalah of the Arizal, and hence highly influential in chassidus. There’s much talk of Hamtokas HaDinim (Sweetening the Judgements), Yichud Zochor v’Nukva (Unification of Masculine and Feminine), and various concepts along these lines. One particular unification that is incredibly important to make is the unification of Mochin D’Gadlus (Broad Mindedness) and Mochin D’Katnus (Small Mindedness). Both of these are needed, which is shown through the fact that Rashi tefillin are an obligation upon every Jewish man to wear everyday, and according to the Tikkunim these correspond to Mochin D’Katnus, whereas the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam correspond to Mochin D’Gadlus. Though our modern society frowns upon the concept of small mindedness, it is not a bad thing; all this means is that one focuses on details and specific things rather than the big picture. Though one should not think this is the way to practice Judaism properly, to only obsess over tiny details. Of course we must follow halocho to the finest points, but we must not lose sight of the key aspect of Torah life, which is connecting to Hashem in all ways. Mochin D’Gadlus is the recognition of Hashem and His glory at all times, and seeing that everything Hashem does is for the good, because the ultimate purpose of everything is טוב. This is why a person should learn Kabbalah and chassidus, because these things assist with understanding the bigger picture, and place all of our observances into a context far greater than simply performing ritual actions within our corporeal world, with our physical bodies.

The very prospect of the soul existing in the body, being that the soul is completely spiritual and the body completely physical, is in a sense the perfect vehicle for creating sholom, and receiving brocho. This is part of the times of Moshiach, as I wrote about before Yom Tov last week, in regards to the Seudas HaMoshiach, that when Moshiach arrives all physicality will be filled with spirituality in a revealed and known way, hence why there will be no more war, everything will be in a state of peace.

Rebbe Nachman says the way to generate sholom is to fully unify thought and speech, specifically in regards to holy words, such as words of Torah and prayer. This means that one fully throws himself into those things to the utmost degree. Through this one can generate peace through uniting those opposites. In other ways, peace can be established through kindness to others, though not to be kind to a detriment, nor to be too harsh on anyone. When this happens, a space for brocho to rest and take effect is created.

When Hashem gives brocho to us, Rashi says, that we are also in the position to receive Chiddushei Torah (Novel Insights in Torah). So when we create sholom within ourselves, and within the world around us, we are able to create or receive these new ideas, which according to the chassidishe rebbes brings about incredible rejoicing and celebration in Shomayim. Because of this, the Tono D’Vei Eliyahu states that it is a chiyuv (obligation) on every Jew to develop these new insights and share them. It is so important to do this, it can’t be fully expressed.

In order to deal with Chiddushim and the various other matters, a person must first have some degree of ישוב הדעת, a settled mind. The way I recommend for this, is to simply do a fourfold breath, instructions for this can be found online. It’s kosher, and everybody can do it. To do this before davening will help incredibly with being able to pray with kavana, which is crucial. The Arizal says in Pri Etz Chaim that to daven without kavana leads to our tefillos being captured by the wicked forces, chas v’sholom. Once your mind is settled, then davening can begin with full kavana, and through this bezras Hashem, you’ll be able to attain a state of internal peace, which will flow out to be a state of external peace as well. From the Chiddushei Torah you’ll be able to receive and write from this degree of sholom, God willing, you can cause great delight and joy in Shomayim, which will lead to Hashem granting us many brochos and much bounty from above.

Hashem should bless us with sholom, simcha, and good health, and we should merit to see Moshiach swiftly!

Tiferes Sh’b’Gevurah 5780

A gitte voch everyone! Tonight is Tiferes Sh’b’Gevurah in Sefirah. If I’d had time earlier, I’d have written on the previous days of Sefirah as well, but due to erev Shabbos falling right after Yom Tov, that was not workable. For today, our work must be in evaluating how we perform restrictive actions in a way that is balanced and pleasant. Gevurah is the sefirah of strength, restriction, and other such things. Anger is an improper expression of Gevurah, per example. The most common way this particular aspect would be expressed is in our interactions with other people. Rather than yelling at someone how they’re doing something wrong, per example, instead explain in a calm, reasonable manner why they’ve done something wrong, or why they shouldn’t do something. In place of engaging in self-harm, whether emotional or physical, to train yourself out of a behavior, perhaps try to reach an understanding as to why it is wrong, and find a way to make your lifestyle change for the better more beautiful somehow.

Parshas Shemini 5780

It’s said in this parsha, Parshas Shemini, that Hashem Himself sent down a fire to burn on the Mizbeach (Altar), which had to be maintained by the Kohanim. We also have this week the incident of Nadav and Avihu, in which they brought a foreign fire to the Mizbeach which lead to their souls being incinerated (according to Midrash Tanchuma). There are various mitzvos brought in regards to kashrus and the ideas of tumah and taharah, impurity and purity.

Practically speaking, when it comes to avodas Hashem, there are several things we can learn, both in p’shat and halocho, and in terms of the more psychological and less physical parts of these services. The fire from Shomayim is a hint towards the initial inspiration that a person feels in regards to serving Hashem: it literally comes down from Heaven and, the persons mode of service, shown through the Mizbeach, becomes illuminated and full of enthusiasm. To sustain this process, a person must learn Torah, as shown through the description of the service of the Kohanim who would bring wood every day. The wood is a remez (hint) to the Torah, as the Torah is referred to as the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, hence the enthusiasm of a person and their sincerity in serving Hashem is maintained through sustaining this fire through learning Torah. The inyan of Nadav and Avihu is also interesting, and there’s much to learn from there.

A frailichen lechtigen Shabbos, we should be zoche to maintain the same levels of feeling simcha and freedom we had on Pesach throughout the whole year!

On Seudas HaMoshiach, Erev Yom Tov 5780

A gitten erev Yom Tov! As we come into these last days of Pesach, I want to write about a very important inyan, that is the Seudas HaMoshiach done on Yom Achron shel Pesach. For those who don’t know, this is basically a Seudah Shlishis except on the last day of Pesach. The essential idea is that on this day we can have the kavonno to bring closer the Geulah, and by doing so while drinking Arba Kosos like by the sedorim, we can bring Moshiach more swiftly. This is tied in with the inyan of not eating gebrochts the rest of the Chag, but eating them the last day.

Matza is made of wheat. It is basically bread, but without yeast. Bread is essentially the foundation of human physical life and civilization as we know it. Water corresponds to the Torah; this comparison is made in several places in Chazal. The original problem of gebrochts is predicated on not mixing water with matzah, due to concerns that there is unkneaded flour in the dough. Spiritually speaking, we can see that this minhag alludes to the apparent separation of spirituality and physicality. Wine corresponds to Binah, as explained in the Zohar, and Binah dwells in the heart, as it says in the Tikkunim in Maamar Posach Eliyohu. So on the last day of Pesach, the day that we can mix gebrochts, we also make this special seudah with Arba Kosos to bring about the Yemos HaMoshiach, because in that time, all physicality will become completely imbued with spirituality, and we will all have constant awareness of Hashem. The way towards achieving the Geulah Yechidis, the personal redemption, is through cleaving to Hashem with the mental and emotional faculties through learning Torah and rejoicing in serving Hashem, and serving Hashem through the joy we have in our daily lives.

A frailichen zissen Yom Tov everyone!

Netzach Sh’B’Chesed 5780

We are at the close of Netzach Sh’b’Chesed. At this time we should contemplate the permanence of our deeds, especially in regards to how we perform actively in the world. Are we doing things that will last, or things that will crumble away in a short amount of time, or become meaningless? These are the sorts of things related to Netzach as expressed through Chesed, and we should all aim to make our actions in the world something that will make a lasting impact on those around us in a positive way.

Necessary Arrogance

In regards to the trait of gasus ruach, arrogance, the gemoro in Maseches Sotah (4b-5b) states various things. That a person who has this trait ultimately will be cut-down, they’ll err in the worst ways regarding promiscuity, and that they will not merit to have the dwelling of the Shechinah around them. By the end of page 5a though, R’ Chiya bar Ashi says that a talmid chochom needs to have an eighth of an eighth of arrogance. R’ Huna bar R’ Yehoshua says this serves as a crown for the talmid chochom like the tuft on a stalk of grain. Rava then says that if a talmid chochom is arrogant, he must be excommunicated, and if he doesn’t have any arrogance, he must also be excommunicated So what’s the pshat? Rashi says that he must be excommunicated if he isn’t arrogant because without some little amount of arrogance that leads to confidence, people won’t listen to him and take his advice and rulings seriously.

The whole concept that a talmid chochom should be arrogant seems to contradict the Mishnah in Avos, Perek 2, where it states if you were able to learn a lot of Torah, don’t take goodness from it, because this is what you were created for. Bartenura states this means he takes some sort of confidence and pride out of it, saying “Lots of Torah I have learned.” We can bring these two things together to find the proper path for a talmid chochom. Rather than saying “Look how much Torah I’ve learned, I’m so great, everyone has to listen to me,” he has to have the recognition that Hashem created him to do this particular avodah, and make it his mission to help others, and approach his position in this way. To have some amount of pride is necessary to show the power and beauty of Torah, because what would people think of the talmidei chachomim if they went around in sack cloth and were always obsessed with their shortcomings, unable to advise people in halocho and avodas Hashem? The key is balancing a touch of pride and confidence with true humility and thankfulness to Hashem.

Hashem should bless us with true humility, understanding of Torah, and happiness, and bring us to the days of Moshiach swiftly!

Tiferes Sh’b’Chesed 5780

Today it is Tiferes Sh’b’Chesed in counting Sefiras HaOmer, at least for the next hour or so here in NY. During this time period, we should evaluate our middos and see how we’re holding in different areas in regards to various aspects of avodas Hashem. The first day, Chesed Sh’b’Chesed is the aspect of absolute Chesed, that being expansiveness, kindness, charitability, etc. Second is Gevurah Sh’b’Chesed, that being the evaluation of our priorities, limiting Chesed so to speak. Per example, this day would be where you would evaluate if all of your tzedakah is going to worthy places, maybe you’re giving of yourself too much to unworthy causes. Tiferes is the aspect of Beauty, and also harmony, seeing as it is seated in the middle of the Etz Chaim this is very fitting. Today our avodah must be to evaluate how we are making things more beautiful through our actions, such as how our learning is impacting us to bring more harmony to our environment; if we’re using our money in regards to mitzvos in order to beautify the mitzva itself for the sake of Heaven, or if we’re beautifying the mitzvah so everyone will look at us and say how nice we’re beautifying a mitzvah. These things are all crucial to growing in avodas Hashem and are particularly relevant during this time period.

Chol HaMoed Pesach 5780

A git moed! It’s a mitzvah to relax and be happy during Chol HaMoed. The whole concept of the Moed is related to the pilgrimage we used to make to Yerushalayim to give korbanos, and hence tied into the mitzvah of seeing Hashem at the Beis HaMikdash. Though we lack a Beis HaMikdash now, there still is an aspect of this mitzvah, which we can fulfill through learning Torah that makes us happy, and fulfilling the mitzvah of eating a seudah with meat and wine each day of this week.

A frailichen Moed everyone!

Erev Pesach 5780

A gitten erev Yom Tov everyone! I will not have time to write tomorrow, so im yirtzeh Hashem there will be a little Torah now for Pesach.

The key mitzvah of the Seder is Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim, telling over the story of the going out from Egypt. There are various halochos and minhogim that are an integral part of this, such as the leaning in various places, particularly by drinking the cups of wine, bringing out all the nice keilim (vessels) that we have to place on the table, and various other things that are done to emphasize the freedom and wonderfulness of the day.

We say in Kiddush and davening that Pesach is “Z’man Cheiruseinu,” the time of our freedom; that on this day Hashem took us from avdus l’cheirus, from servitude to freedom. There are two different forms of freedom and servitude, they being physical and spiritual. The popular question that is asked is, “If we are free, then why are we called servants to God? We were slaves in Egypt and we’re slaves again, who can call this freedom?” The answer is quite simple, serving Hashem is freedom.

The Zohar HaKodosh states in the first chelek that if a person learns Torah, labors in mitzvos, and engages in kind deeds, then this person is granted freedom from the strictures and pressures of this world. Mitzrayim is a metaphor for the physical realm without Torah, entirely coarse and full of impurity. To be involved with such a world and bowing to every whim of it can only be called slavery in the worst sense: how else can you refer to what a person who is stuck in that situation must feel, or the distance they must falsely perceive between them and Hashem? When a person commits to following the Torah, and self-improvement through serving Hashem, though, they break away from Mitzrayim and instead cleave to the Source of all life and Creation. As it says, Kudsha B’Rich Hu V’Oraysa kulo chad, the Holy One Blessed is He and the Torah are totally one. This is why it is incredibly important to be involved with Torah and mitzvos to some degree at all times, because at those times a person is cleaving to Hashem with all their being. It may sound difficult or impossible, but the mitzva of ahavas Hashem, to love Hashem, is present at all times and can be done simply by cultivating a feeling of appreciation and love for Hashem. Helping another Yid is doing a mitzva and hence also brings a person to this level of d’veykus, to cleave to Hashem at all times.

Pesach reminds us that only through the Torah is there true freedom from Mitzrayim, freedom from the illusions of this world. By performing the Seder according to the traditional ceremony, with the traditional foods, we perform various Tikkunim within ourselves and the world around us. If one can use a Kabbalistic Haggadah that details the exact names to focus on and whatnot this is even better, but simply following the Hagaddah, and saying it in such a way as one can understand and others around the table can understand, one fulfills a Mitzva D’Oraisa, and accomplishes loosing the bonds that keep them bound to the Olam HaSheker, the World of Falsehood.

Hashem should bentsh the whole Klal Yisroel with a happy, kosher Pesach. He should bentsh us all that this will be the last Seder we have in golus. We should merit with our avodah that Eliyohu HaNovi zochur latov should be present physically as well as spiritually at our sedorim this year, and we should be able to give korban Pesach next year in Yerushalayim and perform this avodah there according to all the mitzvos we were given! א פרייליכן כשר’ן פסח יעדער איינער!