Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781: The Joy of Blessing

A git choidesh! From tonight until Motzei Shabbos it is Rosh Chodesh Adar! There is a well-known statement from Chazal “Mi shenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha” (Who that enters Adar grows in joy). It is reasonable to ask how it is that we grow in joy in Adar? After all in sifrei Nigleh (works of exoteric Judaism), the main example given, other than the Purim miracle, is that we should engage in required legal disputes now since we’ll have better luck. For a greater understanding of the mechanics of why there is such an inyan of joy in Adar, we turn to Nistar (secrets of Torah).

The B’Nei Yissoschor brings from the Sefer Yetzirah that Hashem crowned the letter ק and created the month of Adar and laughter therewith. From here it is already clear that in the very spiritual nature of Adar it is full of laughter, being that it is ruled by the letter with which laughter was created.

He also brings from the Sodei Razaya, as brought by the Megaleh Amukos, that the holy Malach (Angel) who rules over Adar is named אברכיא”ל (lit: blessing of God), and beneath this Malach are 25 servant angels who all have names that allude to goodness and blessing. B’Nei Yissoschor writes that the gematria of this specific angel’s name is Seder (Order), which alludes to how in Adar the concealed miracles begin occurring as they did in Megilas Esther; and from here we prepare for the open and revealed miracles of Pesach which Hashem performs for Klal Yisroel to show His great love for us.

What we can see from these sources is that we should take the month of Adar as a wonderful time to grow closer to Hashem, and receive His blessings. Purim itself is referred to as being similar to Yom HaKipurim in many sifrei Chassidus, an interesting reflection thereof is the minhag in certain communities such as Nikolsburg to sing the Nusach of the Yomim Noraim by the seudah. Giving Mishloach Manos (food presents) alludes to how we need to offer others blessings. Hashem told Avrohom Avinu that whoever blesses Avrohom and his descendants will also be blessed; so certainly throughout Adar it is a crucial avodah (service) to bless our fellows and hence receive greater blessings, with which we can bless others even more. In such an auspicious time we could potentially tip the scales to the side of good and im yirtzeh Hashem merit the coming of Moshiach swiftly in our days.

Impact of Our Actions

The Zohar HaKodosh speaks very often of t’shuva and how important it is, along with the great power this carries to affect change for the one who returns to Hashem and the sweetening of judgments that occurs. In Parshas Mishpatim, Raya Mehemna, the Raya Mehemna speaks of how each part of one’s t’shuva process impacts different Sefiros through the mitzvos they do and the tefillos they say. With the hands putting on tefillin and giving tzedakah the sefiros of Chesed and Gevurah are rectified, through praising Hashem and speaking with Him the lips, representing Netzach and Hod (explained there) are fixed, and far more than can be fully expressed here.

In Sefer Keser Shem Tov it is brought in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that if every Yid understood the great impact their actions have in the Higher Worlds, then the Geulah (redemption) would come. The piece of Zohar mentioned above ties very nicely into this. So we should contemplate a little, why exactly should it be that if a Yid is conscious of their actions that we should all experience the Geulah?

People are often compared to trees, as is popular to speak of on Tu B’Shvat. The Etz Chaim represents the flow of Shefa (Divine Influence) to this world. Seeing that the Etz Chaim is mapped out on the human body, we can see that each part of our body corresponds to a sefirah on this symbolic diagram. There are different meditations as well that focus on this idea, such as brought by the Arizal in relation to giving tzedakah to focus on making the Shem Havayah through the exchange of money through the hands of the giver and receiver. What we can see from this is that a person is effectively a small world, in a sense. It’s not just that above the Sefiros are arranged in this particular pattern, but rather below as well, the great schema of the world is exhibited. As we all know, kavanna (intent) is a crucial aspect of every single thing we do in life; in fulfilling mitzvos, in Torah, and simply interacting with the world around us we have to conduct ourselves with purpose. So when one understands this concept properly, and contemplates how Hashem Himself, through our Chelek Elokah Mima’al (Piece of God from Above) that is within the neshama, expresses His might through our actions, then we can merit to the Geulah through every single thing we do.

Sweet Geirim

Rebbe Nachman teaches that there are 24 batei dinim that are rendering judgement upon the world. When a pidyon is given, a Tzaddik is able to sweeten all the judgments that come out from these batei dinim. However, sometimes, it may not be possible to sweeten these dinim (judgements). The key way all the dinim are sweetened is through bringing in geirim, which renders the one who is misgayer (converting) people to be in the aspect of Moshe Rabeinu, who changed people from Shmad (Baptism) to Ratzon (Delight). This is shown through the Gematrios of those words, Moshe being in the middle at 345, Shmad 344, and Ratzon 346. He teaches that through making geirim we nullify the power of avodah zarah (idol worship) throughout the world, which lessens Hashem’s anger with us.

From this we can see the preciousness of bringing in geirim. Though it does say in the gemoro in Kiddushin “Geirim koshin l’Yisroel k’sapachas,” (Converts are hard on Yisroel like a skin problem), we have to consider each of the approaches Tosfos and Rashi bring. One side is that converts revert often, rachmono litzlon, to their old ways; the second aspect is that they often don’t know how to learn and thus come to great errors; and the third is that the geirim do so well in learning and serving Hashem that they make all the other Yidden look bad.

So in relation to what Reb Nachman teaches here and in other places, along with general principles taught in sifrei Chassidus, we can see that bringing in geirim accomplishes a huge Tikkun. However, it cannot simply stop at the mikvah. To make sure a convert doesn’t switch back to their old ways, they must be not only accepted but also educated properly in the ways of Torah and Yiddishkait. By this, I do not mean simple indoctrination, but rather how to sit and pore over a masechta Gemoro and come to love the Torah and know Hashem through it. Though the work can be discouraging at first, as teaching anyone something new, one must keep to it and this is the true fulfillment of the mitzvos to love geirim, and effectively the elimination of Hashem’s anger upon the world caused by avodah zarah. When new people are brought to serving Hashem properly, with true love and devotion, especially through the d’veikus that is possible only through learning Torah, this certainly fulfills the Tikkun Reb Nachman speaks of in Likutei Moharan.

Erev Shabbos BeShalach 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas BeShalach, which means it is Shabbos Shirah (Shabbos of Song). We cross the Yam Suf this week and finally escape Mitzrayim, and we go through the experience of the undrinkable, bitter water being rendered drinkable when Hashem grants Moshe a piece of wood that accomplishes this feat. This parsha also marks the beginning of receiving Mon (manna), which leads to our receiving the first mitzva of Shabbos, that being not to go collect Mon from the fields which we then use to learn out many other mitzvos related to Shmiras Shabbos (keeping Shabbos).

Siddur Masok Midvash brings from the Siddur Rabbi Shabsai that through saying Shiras HaYam, which is one of the main incidences of this parsha, with simcha we can attain complete atonement for our various iniquities. The Zohar in Terumah explains that this specific song is exalted above all other praises to Hashem, which is one of the reasons it is placed so directly to the blessings before Krias Shma. In Zohar BeShalach itself, R’ Chiya teaches that through the Torah, the power of the Chitzonim (Outsiders, forces of the Sitra Achra) are broken, which is alluded to in Shiras HaYam in the posuk “ימינך ה’ נאדרי בכח ימינך ה תרעץ אויב” (Your right hand Hashem is exalted with power, your right hand destroys your enemy). The “enemy” is the reference to the Chitzonim, and the Torah was given with Hashem’s right hand. There is also an idea in sifrei chassidus that we must visualize ourselves as being at the Yam Suf and participating in the crossing the sea while we say Shiras HaYam. Bringing this together we know that through saying Shiras HaYam with great joy and kavana (intent), we can break the powers of the Chitzonim that try to prevent us from serving Hashem properly with simcha uv’tuv levav (joy and goodness of heart).

The entire process of the Mon is quite fascinating, especially considering we use this to learn out various details in halacha, such as hilchos techum, (prohibition of going more than 2000 amos beyond your home on Shabbos) the prohibition of collecting objects and bringing it into your residence on Shabbos, as well as the halacha to have two loaves of bread by each seudah (meal) on Shabbos as a remembrance of the extra Mon we were given every Erev Shabbos. We even learn the halacha for Sof Zman Tefillas Shachris (end of time to daven the morning prayer) from when the Mon would rot and be rendered wormy. It is the bread that descended from Shomayim and sustained us for forty years in the desert. One of the main lessons to learn from Mon is that we have to trust and believe in Hashem, and if you’ll notice the word Mon consists of the main two letters of the word Emunah (מן–אמונה), which alludes to the idea that we must rely entirely on Hashem for our sustenance and not worry. Hashem always has a way to send us our parnassah, even if it seems completely outlandish we’ll always have what we need.

Lail Tu B’Shvat: Producing Fruit

Tonight we celebrate Tu B’Shvat. There is no Tach’nun by Shachris in the morning according to the Shulchan Aruch, and it is a common minhag in Klal Yisroel to eat different kinds of fruit. The Ateres Tzvi would have many people by his tish and give out lots of new fruit for everyone to make a shehecheyanu on them. It’s brought that the Yismach Moshe of Ujhel zy’a would eat 13 varieties of fruit, presumably in order to arouse the 13 Middos HaRachamim (Traits of Mercy). There are some who say the trees are judged today, but this is essentially incorrect as the gemoro in Rosh HaShonoh says that Shavuos is the Yom HaDin (Day of Judgement) for trees.

To understand how Tu B’Shvat became anything beyond reckoning Orlah and Maaser is practically impossible, it is effectively a folk holiday like Lag B’Omer. To describe something as such is not to be understood as a bad thing or an insult, chas v’sholom, quite the opposite. This shows the great flexibility of Jewish life to fit in more simcha at every turn.

It is commonly done throughout Torah Sh’Baal’Peh and Sifrei Chassidus to compare people to trees, and our state of existence as a field, like in Elul with the imagery of Melech BaSodeh (The King is in the field). Trees also have important symbolic import to us as separate from people, like the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life), serving to show us the flow of Hashem’s influences and the whole pattern of Creation. Even then, the Sefiros on the Etz Chaim diagram are often correlated to parts of the human body.

The essential purpose of eating fruit then on this day is not plain just to eat fruit and make a few extra brochos. We should keep the minhag to eat fruit so as to instill in our minds and souls the idea that our actions should bear fruit, rather than being empty and worthless. Not only that, but our actions should serve to improve the lives of others and make them sweeter, rather than simply bringing ourselves temporary gratification.

The Perfectly Sweet Mixture of Torah Based Life

Today, boruch Hashem, I made a siyum on Maseches Eiruvin. There are countless halochos in this particular masechta, primarily having to do with eruvin, which for those unfamiliar are various legal devices to allow certain things like carrying outside on Shabbos, cooking for Shabbos on a holiday, and walking beyond 2000 amos (cubits) in one direction outside of the city on Shabbos. The literal meaning of “eruv” though is “mixing,” which is effectively what each form of an eruv does, mixing either space to allow carrying outside, mixing time to cook on Yom Tov for the Shabbos it leads into, or mixing space in yet another sense for permitting walking beyond a certain distance.

For such a halachically-dense masechta, one would be surprised that nearly one entire perek (chapter) is devoted to Aggadata, which is decidedly un-halachic. There are many pieces of advice meant for helping one to learn and become a scholar, and many other interesting parables that one would not typically expect to find there.

As a little word play, we can see that Maseches Eruvin is in itself very mixed together. The last perek has much drawn directly from Maseches Shabbos as well. So we see that there are lots of ideas from other areas of Torah brought up here. The word ערב can also mean to sweeten, like we say every morning in Birkas HaTorah והערב נא השם אלקינו (and sweeten for us Hashem our God…). Through living with the concepts we learn in Aggadata, those things that are meant to help us become better Yidden or just better people on the whole, as well as having integrity in our halachic practice, this is the proper mix we need to live with in order to sweeten the Dinim (Judgments) and serve Hashem properly. By bringing together the heart and the mind, as we are directed to in the first line of Krias Shma, we can bring down sweetness and holiness to this world that is impossible to attain otherwise.

Motzei Shabbos Parshas Bo 5781

A gitte voch! In Parshas Bo we receive the mitzvos of Pesach and Pidyon HaBen in the midst of our Geulah. What follows is from what was said by seudas shlishis.

This is a fascinating part of the Torah if you sit and think of it. Amidst all the plagues, and the freeing of Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim, we receive an incredible mitzvah: that of observing Pesach, the Korban (sacrifice), eating matzah, and telling over the story of how we were freed from Egypt. What makes this interesting is that it is not Toras Kohanim, popularly known as VaYikra (Leviticus), with all the other sacrifices and ritual observances. All other Yomim Tovim have their laws given over there, but Pesach specifically is given in the beginning of Yetzias Mitzrayim (leaving Egypt).

Everything in the Torah has an aspect that is eternal, even if it doesn’t appear as such on the face of it. What this is meant to teach us is that the avodas haPesach (service of the Passover) applies even in the depths of Golus (exile). Seeing that these mitzvos were given before the Yidden were out of Mitzrayim, not even to the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) yet, this is meant to teach us that in the midst of Golus we still must recount the stories of Hashem’s redemption and have Emunah. Through engaging with this aspect, that is Pesach, which is the aspect of Cheirus (freedom), even in the midst of Golus, we merit therefore to Geulah. Everyone must attain Geulah Yechidis (Personal Redemption) before we can merit the Geulah Shleimah (Complete Redemption). This is clear if we view this inyan through the story of the Baal Shem’s visiting Moshiach, asking Moshiach “When will you come, Master?” and the Moshiach’s answer “When your Torah spreads over the world as water from a wellspring, and everyone attains the ability to perform Yichudim (Spiritual unifications) as you and attains your level.”

T’shuva Fixes Everything

Boruch Hashem, t’shuva (repentance) breaks through all barriers and removes all problems. The Zohar HaKodosh in Saba Mishpatim states unequivocally that t’shuva removes all potential damages that come from sin, and that absolutely nothing can stand in the way of t’shuva. Through doing complete and honest t’shuva, we go beyond the limits of time and literally repair whatever blemishes were made in our neshomos and the higher worlds to be exactly as they were before the sin was committed.

Unfortunately, there are many popular internet figures who like to pour fire and brimstone upon people who have erred rather than talk about this inyan (matter). According to the Toras HaBaal Shem Tov, based upon the earlier sources in Kabbalah, these people are part of the Erev Rav mamesh, since they take people away from doing t’shuva. The main thing in life is to work on knowing Hashem. Though the process of searching and reaching for God involves increasing in sadness, like it says in Koheles that one who grows in Chochma (Wisdom) grows in sorrow, as we grow in Binah (Understanding), we come closer to simcha amitis (true joy). Someone who chooses to bring more sadness and disappointment with a Yid’s avodas Hashem is essentially guaranteeing that such a person will fail and never come to true closeness with God.

Baruch Hashem, we have the Zohar HaKodosh to teach us that t’shuva overcomes all things, and restores us to the pure state we must be in to be in peace with Hashem. It must be remembered that those who teach these wicked ways of fear of Gehennom and Hell Fire are teaching what is essentially a goyish religion, and not Torah. The Torah way is to know that Hashem is the ultimate Rachamon (Merciful One), who loves His Creation and wants us to grow ever closer to Him, and to exist in the original state of purity in which He creates us.

Sadness and Happiness: Accomplishments in Avodas Hashem

In the Sefer Ner Mitzvah V’Torah Ohr, in the section called Shaar HaYichud by the hailige R’ Dov Ber from Chabad, known as the Mittler Rebbe zt’l, we can learn an amazing Sod (secret) in avodas Hashem. In all Torah we can learn how to better serve Hashem, but this particular piece is amazing.

The Mittler Rebbe teaches us that there have to be two separate aspects to attaining high levels in avodas Hashem: bechiya (crying) and chedva (rejoicing). For the crying he brings that one should be careful to say Tikkun Chatzos and mourn over our separation from Hashem, which is the primary character of this form of sadness; and that we should be certain to daven and do all the mitzvos every day with great joy. He says there that as close as we get to the main thing, that being the Ohr Ain Sof (Light of the Limitless), so too do we become more immersed in the opposite; therefore as the Ohr Ain Sof is pure spiritual joy, so does attempting to come closer remind us of our lowliness and distance from Hashem, leading to crying from sadness at this and bitterness of the soul. He says there a very sharp remark that someone who only has one or the other, absolute joy or absolute sadness, has done absolutely nothing in coming closer to God and will in fact completely lose all his accomplishments and sever his connection he has attained thus far, chas v’sholom.

The reason I share this is because it is important to remember that we have to have both aspects in our avodah: that of crying and of rejoicing. The Baal Shem himself says in Keser Shem Tov that one should never cry from anything but great simcha or d’veikus (cleaving to Hashem). Rebbe Nachman teaches that we must always be happy, but also broken-hearted. This may seem to be a contradiction but ultimately it isn’t at all.

It says in Tehillim that Hashem is close to the broken-hearted. Therefore, through feeling broken and in pain due to feeling distant from Hashem we ultimately come even closer to Him. The state of sadness is in the aspect of Din, and that of joy in Chesed. Through experiencing both states, and realizing them as an aspect of Hashem’s world and an integral part of His service, we perform a huge Yichud (Spiritual unification) in the worlds above, which brings us personally as well as the entire world to a higher spiritual level. The truth is that only through experiencing the full range of human emotion can we really attain anything in coming closer to Hashem and cleaving to Him in truth. The key piece of advice that the Mittler Rebbe, as well as his father the Baal HaTanya, teach us is to partition times for each thing: Tikkun Chatzos is for being sad, the rest of the time should be devoted to serving Hashem with great joy.

Motzei Shabbos Voero 5781

A gitte voch! In the Zohar in Saba Mishpatim, there’s an interesting idea brought out, partially based on a Gemoro in Brochos, that states that someone who doesn’t render thanks to Hashem is reincarnated as an inferior sort of creature due. While we are not supposed to be too heavily involved in these sorts of reckonings, in regards to Gilgulim (Reincarnation) and how someone is brought into the world a certain way, this ties in with an aspect of Parshas Voero.

In next week’s parsha, Parshas Bo, when describing the makas bechoros (plague of firstborns), Hashem says that he shall render judgement upon all the Elohei Mitzrayim, the Gods of Egypt. Reasonably you’ll probably wonder why this is relevant to the above Zohar passage, especially since they’re from entirely different parshiyos. There is an idea brought from early sources that each one of the plagues was attacking a different god of the Egyptians and rendering judgement upon them. Ramban explains this is because they were actually Malachim (Angels) that convinced the Egyptians to worship them, so Hashem was punishing the angels for their insolence.

So this week the Mitzri’im are plagued with Sh’chin (Boils). This is curious because there isn’t such an obvious connection between explicitly Egyptian deities and this specific plague. This is when it’s helpful to view Torah through the lens of Chassidus and Kabbalah, which helps us understand the internal and spiritual aspects of Torah, rather than the simple exoteric meanings. Viewing Mitzrayim as the archetype of absolute gashmiyus (corporeality) and impurity, and the Mitzr’im (Egyptians) themselves being those immersed in and a part of this mindset, helps understand the significance of Sh’chin. The boils covering the flesh of all the Mitzri’im shows Hashem destroying the false god of vanity, that is worship of the body. Typically as Jews we tend to associate this particular obsession with the Greeks, but this applied to the Egyptians as well, where everyone of any remote means had huge amounts of makeup, skin oils and ointments, etc. For sure it makes sense they would be plagued with boils, since they spent so much time curating their bodies to the degree it became an obsession and pure vanity.

An extension of this idea of worshiping the self leads to not rendering thanks to God. Rather than saying, “Thank God, I managed to get my project done on time,” or “Boruch Hashem, I have been blessed to be intelligent” etc. it is easy to fall into the habit of taking credit for our individual accomplishments or traits. The ultimate truth is that Hashem is the only one Who does anything in this world, even though we have to do some amount of work to get things done, this is only to be done with the knowledge that we are only a shliach (agent) or k’li (vessel) to accomplish Hashem’s Will. Without this, and taking credit for our learning, work we do, intelligence or looks, etc. this leads us into the false deity of vanity, which we must be cautious to avoid as much as possible.

A gitte voch, a mazeldige voch, a gezinte voch! Hashem should bentsh us all with simcha, menuchas hanefesh, yishuv hadaas, and we should merit to see the Geulah Shleimah!