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!

Bedikas Chometz 5780

We are now at erev bedikas chometz, the day before checking our homes for chometz. This ceremony, which fulfills the halachic purpose of being certain we no longer have chometz in our house, has mostly become a symbolic rite practically speaking, due to the cleanliness of our homes from days to weeks of cleaning. One must check every room of the house they’ve taken food into, and it must be done with three implements: a candle, a feather, and a wooden spoon. The spoon and the feather are burned.

These tools should be looked at through the lens of Sod, in order to more clearly understand what we accomplish through this. The feather is associated with Avir, Air, because birds fly in the sky; the spoon of wood with Adamah, Earth, because trees grow from the earth; and the candle with Aish, Fire. The candle is used in order to illuminate the area of searching, while the feather is used to sweep the chometz into the spoon.

We can learn a path of self-perfection from this. Fire sparks, מתלהב, this is a hint to the part of a person that becomes hot with avodas Hashem and pushes them to do more all the time. This is the initial push towards removing spiritual chometz in the first place; the desire to seek out what must be removed in order to become closer to Hashem, hence why we use a candle. The feather, represents the Airy power of the intellect, which we must hone through learning Torah. One must evaluate their house, the external metaphor for the mind, with the refined intellect and figure out how to improve themselves from there. The spoon represent physical action, as it corresponds with the Yesod (Element in this context) of Earth. The intellect gets a person to commit to change, and utilizing the body causes that change to occur. The ten pieces of chometz put throughout the house represent the Ten Crowns of Impurity (י׳ כתרין דמסאבותא), which are reflected in us through bad character traits, chas v’chalila. When we burn them we effectively nullify these forces from the world, according to Rabbeinu Chaim Vital zt’l, therefore our kavonno should be to also burn up our own bad middos at the same time.

Hashem should bentsh us all with a healthy, happy, and kosher Pesach. Let it be His will that we should merit to the spiritual and physical presence of Eliyohu HaNovi at our Pesach Sedorim this year, and we should return to Yerushalayim with rejoicing to bring a korban for Pesach Sheni!

Poverty Leading to Purity

There is a wonderful mushel (allegory) in the Maharsho on Chagigah 9b, “K’barzu simka l’isia chivra.” While a white horse is a generally a good siman, whether in real life or in a dream, this is tainted by the red adornments placed upon it, the saddle and retzua (reins). As it is this with the horse, so it is with Klal Yisroel; Hashem looks upon all of our middos, and finds only poverty, the red reins being symbolic of poverty. The pain and degradation brought about through poverty is intended to clean us of our aveiros. Poverty brings us goodness and purity, compared to wealth which turns Klal Yisroel to avoda zara much of the time. Poverty cleans us of our aveiros. There is a mechanism involved here, as we can learn from Iggeres HaTshuva from the Baal HaTanya, that a person should give great amounts of tzedaka according to his means if he cannot fast as a way to make tshuva. Rambam in Hilchos Tshiva brings a similar idea, that one should bring money in a way that the loss is noticeable to him, of course not beyond that 20%. It is much easier for a person who is poor to feel a loss in money when giving tzedakah, therefore, it has a greater effect on that person’s tshuva, and makes it easier in a sense to make tshuva through these means. Hashem bentshes us with poverty at certain points of our lives so that we can make more tshuva quicker when needed through tzedaka, rather than the pain of fasting, which also takes one away from learning with the greatest hislahavus (enthusiasm).

Hashem should help us to merit the Moshiach even before Pesach, and that we should all make tshuva shleimah even in hard times!

Shabbos HaGodol 5780

A gitten erev Shabbes everyone! I’m certain that many people are busy preparing for Pesach and Shabbos HaGodol now, so I’ll try to keep this short.

Shabbos HaGodol is as described, a big Shabbos. The minhag as brought in the Shulchon Oruch HaRav is that the rov of the kehilla gives a drosho that explains some aspect of Pesach, whether Midroshim or halocho. This year, unfortunately we have no shulen, no batei midrashim, and electricity is ossur to use on Shabbos, so we can’t listen to our rabbonim as usual.

It says in the gemoro in Rosh HaShonoh that as the geulas Mitzrayim happened in Nissan, so will the geulah shleimah. Nissan, Tishrei, Sh’vat, and Av all share one thing in common; that is they have a Yom Tov to one degree or another on the 15th of the month. Though on Pesach the korban (sacrifice) is brought on the 14th, it wasn’t eaten until nightfall, meaning the 15th of Nissan. In Tishrei, Sukkos starts on the 15th. In Sh’vat we have Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, and in Av Tu B’Av, the day of zivugim and described by Chazal as a Yom Tov unlike any other for Yisroel. The B’Nei Yissoschor brings this is because there was no hatred, jealousy, or competition on that day. On the first Pesach, there also couldn’t be such a thing, everyone was busy running out of Mitzrayim with not a second to waste in order to get to Eretz Yisroel, this being the aspect of emunah, as Rebbe Nachman says in various places. On Sukkos, we are surrounded by the Kanfei HaShechinah, the wings of the Shechinah, hence brought to a higher level of kedusha and comprehending of Hashem’s wonders.

From here we can see that the way to attaining the proper understanding and levels of avodah related to Pesach, we have to commit to not hating or being jealous on another Jew; we have to work on building our emunah, as we say in Hallel “he’emanti ki adaber,” I have emunah because I speak, this is the ikar inyan of the seder, that being we speak about how great Hashem is and the Geulas Mitzrayim in order that we should attain the level of emunah, the aspect of Eretz Yisroel, that being the source of brocho and all good. Once we begin these steps, we can attain the awareness of the Kanfei HaShechinah, which also protect us on the night of Pesach, as it is called “Leil Shimurim,” and the Shechinah is literally Hashem’s Presence in this world, and it says that Hashem protects us on the Seder night. Through these avodahs, combined with the removal of chometz from the house and mind, we can hopefully fulfill the tikkunim of Pesach properly, and be zoche that Eliyohu HaNovi should arrive physically to announce that Moshiach has arrived and we can return to Yerushalayim with song and rejoicing.

Zohar 180b. The Zohar speaks about ideas related to the punishment of tzaddikim, why the tzaddikim are so often punished and harmed in this world on a constant basis. One reason given is that as the body becomes weaker, so does the neshomo become stronger, and then the yetzer tov can be victorious over the yetzer hara and the tzaddik can do avodas Hashem without any problems. The question is asked in regards to tzaddikim who are healthy and look good (meaning, no disfigurations or obvious injuries). The Zohar answers that this is due to the fact that they are tzaddikim bnei tzaddikim, whereas those who are injured and given problems are not. Sometimes we see those tzaddikim who are doing great have parents who are not tzaddikim and vice versa, basically the ways of Hashem are truth and we can’t worry about this too much. The next aspect regards the birth of a person when the moon is in her damage, meaning the moon is weakened, which means the kochos of the Shechina are damaged as she isn’t being unified with Z’eir Anpin, the Sefiros of Malchus and Tiferes aren’t in connection, but she still has to produce people’s souls. The souls of those born in this time are afflicted their whole lives, and the only thing that can fix this is tefillah, because tefillah nullifies all judgements. That part closes with the opposite, that in a good time the person born then has everything he needs in wealth and children and health.

From this section we can learn something out l’maaseh from the Gemoro in Brochos, which discusses the forms of problems, such as issurim shel ahavah (problems because Hashem loves us) and stam issurim, meaning problems that are meant to cause us to do tshuva. There are various shittos as to what the difference is, the main two to consider due to their general relevance are in regards to whether one can pray or can learn. Rebbe Nachman zy’a states in Likkutei Moharan that if one can still daven, then he has issurin shel ahavah, which means that the problems are intended to make him more holy and grant him reward in Olam Habu. This Zohar states that davening is the way to remove the dinim and nullify harsh decrees. Clearly this means tefillah from the heart, not simply murmuring a few pesukim from Tehillim. The reason this works is because tefillah leads to a unification of the Shechina and Z’eir Anpin, which leads to further yichudim up the ladder as explained in the sifrei kabbalah. When a person is able to daven, he can accomplish various other actions in regards to the problem, whether or not it’s isurim shel ahavah. It’s said in the Gemoro in Shabbos that the Shechina rests by the head of a sick person, which means it’s a good place to be mispalel for another person, kal v’chomer for the sick person himself!

This is perhaps another pshat on why tzaddikim are given issurin (troubles) on the whole, taking the reasons given above all into account. As the body is weaker in a given aspect, the person learns to rely less on the body, rather to rely on Hashem alone. Due to this, he spends more time involved in avodas hakodesh (holy service), rather than in the narishkaiten of the world. From this involvement, when he’s not too sick to learn, he gains a greater d’veikus to HKB’H, as it says “Kudsha Brich Hu V’Oraisa Kulo Chad,” Hashem and His Torah are totally unified, and through learning Torah lishmoh one draws down incredible hashpues, Divine influences, from the higher worlds and brings reparations to all the lower worlds, especially within himself. When the time comes that he can daven or must daven, then he can daven with true kavono, and with the power of that tefillah he can remove the wretched decrees from the world and sweeten the judgements upon us. Through the perfection brought about through suffering and limud haTorah, and iyun b’avodas HaBorei, the person comes to be a tzaddik. Rather than the tzaddik is simply chosen to be tortured so he can receive more reward in the Next World, I believe it can be clearly learned out from this source and others as well that the purpose of the tortures is to help a person develop into a tzaddik. As it says in Likkutei Moharan, a person who does mitzvos without desiring any reward whatsoever gets reward in this world, therefore the same should apply to trouble in this world.

Hashem should help us all become tzaddikim and to serve Him in truth and happiness, we should also merit the geulah shleimah swiftly in our days.

On Struggles in Starting Serving Hashem

Somebody wrote me and told me about personal struggles he is having at becoming frum as a BT, this inspired me to write a little something about this whole process, maybe it will help others.

When a person first starts to make tshuva, or gets m’gayer or even starts on that endeavor, a lot of bad stuff happens much of the time. Sometimes a persons family will start to hate them, they’ll have problems with employers, there will be countless obstacles in the way preventing them from doing anything etc. If I were to recount all the problems we’d be sitting here forever and we’d never reach the point that I want to bring out.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov zy’a states in one of his Torahs that all beginnings are hard, especially in regards to avodas Hashem. This is because when a Yid gets serious about any part of serving God, the Sitra Achra rises up against them and tries to prevent growth as much as possible. In the Zohar HaKodosh, a very interesting idea is brought down that can help counteract this. It says in Parshas Vayishlach (Zohar I 174b) that there is a “Malach Ra,” a wicked angel, which is a reference to the yetzer hara. It says there that the yetzer hara can be converted to a meilitz tov, a good intercessor, meaning that it will help us in our avodas Hashem rather than the opposite, chas v’sholom. A way is presented there, bringing from the second goat of the Yom Kippur avodah sent to the wilderness, of turning the yetzer hara into our assistant, rather than our enemy. The yetzer hara doesn’t backdown from receiving its reward, indeed it will persist in trying to trip a person up until it gets something, and this is the secret of that goat. Essentially, what a person needs is a permitted outlet for desire in order to give the yetzer hara it’s little bit to make it happy, rather than completely pushing it away. Like it says “kadesh es atzmecho b’mutar loch,” sanctify yourself through what is permitted to you. It says in the gemoro in Brochos that “b’chol l’vovcho,” with all your heart, from Krias Shma, refers to utilizing the Yetzer Hara and the Yetzer HaTov to serve Hashem. The Baal HaTanya writes much on the inyan of utilizing the nefesh habahamis to serve Hashem.

Having this in mind, what we can learn in avodas Hashem is that we must have a way of “letting off steam” or simple recreation that is permitted, and can be sanctified to Hashem. This is one of the inyonim behind the original practice of making l’chaim in shul after davening. If you take the drink and snack, and keep in mind that this is for avodas Hashem, to allow you to relax and satiate your hunger from fasting until davening a nice long shachris, then that l’chaim will push away the forces of darkness from interfering with your avodas Hashem. If it’s just drinking and eating though, it only feeds the yetzer hara, rachmona litzlon, and encourages frivolity. Everything goes after the kavanna, so if you have a holy intent when you eat and drink, it brings more holiness to you and helps fight the Sitra Achra personally and generally.

Hashem should help us all to make tshuva and grow in Avodas HaKodesh, and we should see the geulah shleimah swiftly in our days!

The Power of Thought

The Zohar brings down a very interesting idea (Zohar Chayei Sarah, 115) that what a person focuses on he becomes attached to, and those forces are dispatched to him by Hashem. Per example, if a person wishes to come closer to holiness and cleaves to holiness, involving his thoughts in higher things such as Hisbonenus and learning Torah, and he davens to Hashem, then he will be elevated to higher levels of holiness, he’ll receive help from Shomayim to come closer to Hashem. However, l’hefech, if a person focuses on tumah, then he’ll be sent demons and forces of tumah, ch’vsh r’l. The example brought is focused on the latter half, being Bilam and how he invoked forces of darkness through making himself incredibly impure. Other examples are brought as well of this, but that’s not what I’m seeking to focus on at this time. We have to look at the positive side, that being, reaching the state of holiness. This is a far more monumental task. It’s much easier to become tumah, one must simply engage in severe sins, burn some incense that’s associated with tumah, and there you go. We have much more work to do, as the only purely holy incense is that from the Bais HaMikdash, which we don’t have. Forces of tumah can be observed constantly in the world at large, even in our holy communities. The fact that people can’t sit for five minutes during davening without talking, or even ten seconds davening with kavono are perfect examples of this.

The Zohar is not talking about the “Law of Attraction,” which is a hoax. The Zohar is talking about the two binary forces that interact with Hashem’s world. Per example, if a person focuses on money, he’s not going to be brought money; rather, he’ll be drawn towards greed, avarice, and the forces of tumah will be set upon him to fill him with greater vices related to the gaining and collecting of money. If the person focuses on serving Hashem with simcha uv’tuv levov, then he’ll be sent forces of holiness that will bring him abundance, and hashpo’es tovos that will bring about wealth to some degree. This is not to say one will become rich from serving Hashem, the service must be done without anticipation of reward. In short, without ranting too long, what becomes attracted to a person depends on the level of his focus; if the person is focused on holy things, holy forces which are inherently beneficial will be sent to him, and if he focuses on wickedness, wicked things shall be sent to him. That is not to say our money-obsessed example will be unsuccessful, he may be wildly successful in the financial realm, but spiritually he has dug himself straight into the pits of Sheol Tachtiyoh; whereas the one who has focused on avoidas Hashem may not be quite as wealthy, but he has elevated himself to such a point that he will observe his s’char paid back to him in life, as Rebbe Nachman describes in Likkutei Moharan for the one who performs mitzvos lishma, even to the degree of not desiring s’char in Olam Haba.

Brochos as Part of the Natural World

In Maseches Brochos 40b, R’ Yosi has a problem with saying an informal brocho on bread due to the fact that it was not decreed by the chachomim. He uses the phrase “Kol hameshaneh m’matbea sh’tov’u Chachomim b’brochos lo yotzo,” everyone who changes from the way it was established by the Sages in blessings does not fulfill their obligation. The loshon should rather be “m’masakein shtikein,” rather than “matbea.” Matbea is using the same letters as “teva.” Teva means nature, whereas tikein is meaning to establish, or fix. The Chachumim established the brochos, but that doesn’t mean they created them in the same way as the word “tiken” can mean. The shoresh of teva shows to me a very explicit explanation as to the true nature of brochos: they are not a foreign concept that Chazal created simply for the sake of thanking Hashem for wonderful things. Rather a brochoh is an integral part of the natural reality Hashem created, this can even be seen in the exactitude of nusach that must be used. No matter what language a brochoh is said in, it must include Shem u’Malchus, (Hashem, Melech HaOlam) and identify the object as described in the gemoro. The fact a brocho can be said in any language also speaks to the universal nature of this particular inyan. The way in which Chazal was m’saken the brochos, from the very idea to exact nusach of “Boruch atoh Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam,” reveals that the process of making a brocho is far more than a rabbinical enactment. This was a result of extreme ruach hakodesh that Chazal had, that they revealed the nature of reality to us in such a way that we can participate in the tikun olam as we must in our mission as Yidden.

Hashem should help us that we can make brochos with full kavonno, and through this elevate the holy sparks in gashmiyus, thereby bringing us the geulah shleimah!