Better to Have Not Been Created

There’s a wonderful piece of Gemara in Maseches Eruvin that states that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel argued for two and a half years over which was better: to have been created or not to have been created. Beis Shammai argues it would be best to have never been created in the first place, whereas Beis Hillel argues that it is a good thing to have been created. In the end they come to a compromise that it is better to have not been created, but now that one exists we have to engage in contemplation of our actions and living a considered life.

This is essentially the foundation for true Mussar, that is seforim like Chovos HaLevovos and Mesilas Yeshorim, especially the latter, considering the Ramchal’s fairly severe dualistic bent. The Baal Shem Tov instructs us in the short Tzav’a at the beginning of Keser Shem Tov to learn Mussar regularly and to not depart from this learning. The key thing to know though is that we have to learn true Mussar, meaning seforim geared towards self-development and Emunah, rather than false Mussar like certain seforim from the early 18th century that speak almost entirely about Gehennom and punishment rather than the greatness of God and our obligation to cleave to Him and know Him.

Rather than viewing it as purely negative to have been created, we should understand this to be brought for us to understand our obligation in this world, that we aren’t created just for no reason, rather that Hashem has created each and every one of us for a specific purpose. To realize that purpose requires spending time in contemplation, learning, davening, and being certain to do what we need to do. This is for each person to realize for yourself, of course following the structure of halacha and the way that Torah establishes for us to follow.

Wonders of Zos Chanukah: Just Like Rosh HaShanah

A frailichen lechtigen Chanukah! It is officially the last day of Chanukah, which is known as Zos Chanukah, particularly in chassidishe circles. There are many segulos discussed in regards to this holy day, including that it is the true day of the final sealing of the Divine verdicts from Hashem.

The B’Nei Yissoschor brings one particular segulah as part of learning that Rosh HaShanah and Chanukah are intrinsically related. That is the segulah of פקודת עקרים ועקרות, basically remembering the infertile and helping them to have children. This is only one of many, but one that seems to be of particular concern to those who worry about such things.

The biggest segulah though of Chanukah is tied with what B’nei Yissoschor brings in name of the Arizal in relation to the mitzva of lighting the menorah. Each night, during the first brocho particularly, we bring down a set of of the 13 Middos HaRachamim. On the last lighting, we complete this process, which means from the time the menorah is lit until after Chanukah is over, we have a wonderful es ratzon (time of will/acceptance of prayer) for asking for everything we need. This is an incredible time for doing t’shuva as well, since it is just like the Yomim Noraim before the gates are sealed. By many chassidim there is a minhag to wish “g’mar chasima tova,” just like between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur because of this.

The most important thing to remember though is that through our rejoicing in Chanukah and serving Hashem through the mitzvos of this period of time, we can merit to attain a glimpse of the y’mos haMoshiach. As it is the eighth day, which is for a specific reason beyond the nes lasting so long (which is yet another proof as to the significance of “eight”), we have to consider the meanings of eight. Eight is the number of the day of bris milah, when a Jewish boy is initiated into the bris of Avraham Avinu; the number beyond the natural order, which generally goes til seven (such as the days of Creation, naturally observable planets etc); as well as the number of Moshiach, meaning that this is the number of wonders and things beyond nature. Through our tefillos and rejoicing today, we can accomplish things far beyond the normal running of the world, and bring the y’mos haMoshiach ever closer, in the day that what we say on Rosh HaShanah כי תעביר ממשלת זדון מן הארץ (for you shall eradicate the reign of the wicked from the world) will be fulfilled, may it come swiftly.

Parshas Mikeitz 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas Mikeitz. Yosef becomes elevated to the level of a high government official in Mitzrayim, his brothers come, and the parsha ends with Binyomin being accused of stealing the cup that Yosef planted in his sack. Outside of the fact that the appointment ceremony described for Yosef’s position as viceroy is accurate, which we only know now from archaeological findings which show this sort of ceremony, there is much to derive from this parsha, as every parsha in the Torah.

In the Zohar HaKodosh, mostly in Parshas VaYishlach when Binyamin is born, the relationship between Yosef and Binyamin is described in terms of their placement on the sefiros. Seeing that there are 12 brothers, how can they all fit within the ten sefirah system of understanding? Basically, the Zohar explains that Yosef and Binyamin are used to teach us about two sides to one sefirah, that is Yesod. Yosef is the צד דכור (masculine side) of Yesod, and Binyamin is צד נוקבה (feminine side). What this means is that the aspect referred to as Yosef is closer to Tiferes, and is the aspect drawing down the Divine force from the higher realms, and grants it to Malchus through the aspect called Binyamin. This can help us understand much better why Yosef HaTzaddik here is asking for Binyamin to be brought to him to prove that his brothers aren’t spies.

It says in the Gemara in Maseches Brochos, and is brought by Rebbe Nachman in Likutei Moharan, that Yosef gave his brothers food. Rebbe Nachman learns a whole wonderful idea about helping others and sustaining them. In our parsha though, Yosef doesn’t give his brothers food until they bring Binyamin. The reason for this, that we can see now al pi Kabbalah, is because the alignment of the Sefiros wasn’t proper for his brothers to receive sustenance, he specifically required Binyamin in order to complete the Sefirah of Yesod so sustenance could be granted to the lower worlds in Malchus.

This is ultimately one of the multitude purposes of doing mitzvos, and one of the segulos associated with Shmiras HaYesod (not simply the bris milah, but the bris as in the Yesod from all Torah-life; thinking in Torah, proper speech, bris halev, Shabbos, etc), that is the ability to draw down the hashpo’os and sustenance that each individual neshama needs. This is why the great Tzaddikim can accomplish yeshuos and help people through giving brochos. Through bringing together the higher forms of sanctity, that is through learning Torah, and through sanctifying oneself through our utilization of the physical world and doing mitzvos, we can merit with Hashem’s help to give effective b’rochos and help others with the power of the Divine.

A git Shabbos! Hashem should bentsh us that we all merit to attain these high levels of sanctification as the Baal Shem Tov directed us, we should merit to a g’mar chasima tova, and to behold the face of Moshiach swiftly in our days.

Wondrous Chanukah

A frailichen lechtigen Chanukah! Chanukah is a wondrous time in many ways, yet it is often forgotten about. Boruch Hashem, in our generation many of the segulos and wonderful aspects of this time are known to a lot of people.

Rabbeinu Chaim Vital zt’l bring in Shaar HaKavanos from “קונטריס אדם אחר” (a small tract from someone else/not the Arizal) that in the first brocho from lighting the menorah when saying the Shem Hashem to be m’chaven on the name ע”ב (Hashem’s name spelled out with the letter “yud” as the vowel sound) and to weave it together with the shem E-he-ieh in the same form of permutation, and to the two of them brought together are the same gematria as the word “רגל” (leg/foot), which is the secret as to the latest time to light the menorah, עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק (until the “feet” are off the street). One thing we can learn from this piece of Shaar HaKavonos is the metzius that Chanukah is a Regel (meaning holiday) just like the others in the Torah. The B’Nei Yissoschor brings countless proofs from gematrios in the Torah, shown in the Rokeach and other old seforim, that Chanukah is m’rumaz (hinted at) in the Chumash itself.

As such, it is proper to rejoice in Chanukah just like any other holiday. Many rebbes and chassidim have the minhag to wear a bekitshe and shtreimel, if not all bigdei Shabbos, for lighting menorah. During the time the lights burn, there’s a specal segulah to ask for everything you need from Hashem even more than the rest of the year due to the power of the Ohr Ganuz that shines through during that time. As I wrote about previously, the B’Nei Yissoschor, as well as the Ari, teach us that Chanukah is in the same aspect as Rosh HaShanah. We can accomplish improvements in our parnassah, home-life, pekudas akaros (remembrance of the infertile, to have children), and all the possible yeshuos we need. Hashem should help us in all the ways we need, and that we should attain the proper madreigos in relation to the mitzvah of the Chanukah lights, and that we should merit to the avodah of the Kohen lighting the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash HaShlishi soon within our days.

Conquering Golus Through Chanukah Lights

There’s a fascinating bit of the B’Nei Yissoschor that is very k’dai (worth it) to consider. He discusses the natures of the various exiles, drawing from the Gur Aryeh. We have four Goluyios (Exiles), but really according to p’shat we have five: Mitzrayim, Bavel, Madai, Yovon, and Rome. First problem we have to deal with is which is the first Golus: Bavel or Mitzrayim? He has a way of learning it that Mitzrayim is the first, and refers to the small dot at the top of the letter Yud, while the other exiles correspond with the other letters of Hashem’s name. The aspect though that I think is most important to focus on is his allocation of the exiles to four different aspects: Guf, Nefesh, Sechel, HaKol. He explains like this:

– Bavel corresponds to the Golus HaGufni’i, the exile of the body, because Babylon was the first kingdom to destroy a Beis HaMikdash and began the persecution of the Jews in a physical manner.

– Modai corresponds to the Golus HaNafshi’i, exile of the soul, because Persia sought to destroy Klal Yisroel completely through murdering the entire people. Though this was thwarted ultimately and now we have our other Yom Tov D’Rabbonon, Purim.

– Yovon corresponds to the Golus HaSichli’i, the exile of the mind, seeing that Greece wanted to destroy the Torah and remove the Jews from the observance of the mitzvos.

– Golus Romi, the Roman exile, is the one we currently exist in. He says there that this corresponds to HaKol, the whole thing. The punishments of the Roman exile are all of the others tied into one, executed in escalating stages, starting with physical, proceeding on to the genocidal, with the last phase being the mental, at the end of all these will come b’ezras Hashem Moshiach.

What is important to consider about these is that we currently exist in the Golus Romi. We can clearly see the historical pattern that has occurred already, from the harsh oppression and abuse of the Roman empire themselves, following their descendants up until the era of Eugenics which led to the attempts at genocide, up until our current era with varying levels of attempts at completely removing Jews from the Torah and mitzvos, המבין יבין.

So what the discerning one may ask is, “So how can we sweeten these dinim and try to make things go somewhat better?”

Of course the over-arching answer is mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) in learning Torah, especially Toras HaKabbalah, and performing mitzvos. Specifically in relation to Chanukah though, the answer is through lighting the menorah with genuine kavana and understanding of the greatness of this mitzva, the power of Light to destroy Klippah and dispel darkness. As the B’Nei Yissoschor explains in an earlier part of the d’rush, Chanukah and Rosh HaShanah are intrinsically related, which is hinted to in Shaar HaKavannos in the kavannos for the second brocho of “sh’oso nisim.” As on Rosh HaShanah we say in the section Kedushas Hashem that He will remove the reign of the wicked from the earth, so through lighting neros Chanukah with kavana and rejoicing in this holiday can we remove the power and influence of our current Golus.

Erev Shabbos Parshas VaYeshev 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas VaYeishev. Yosef HaTzaddik gets sold into slavery by his brothers and various other interesting episodes happen, including that of Eishes Potifera, wherein the wife of his master tries to get him to perform an aveira with her.

There is an interesting Midrash that we can learn from in regards to this. It says a few times in this parsha that Yosef HaTzaddik was “Ish Matzliach,” that he was a successful man. The Midrash states that Yosef was a גבר קפוז. What this means depends on who you look at, the Etz Yosef explains that the word קפוז refers to jumping and dancing, which serves to teach us how Yosef HaTzaddik was conquering his yetzer hara through “jumping away” and avoiding looking at his master’s wife. The Matnos Kehuna explains that this refers to Yosef being filled with simcha and doing things in this sort of way, which a touch of a dance or “spring in his step.”

What we can learn from this is something quite practical in avodas Hashem. Looking at this through the Etz Yosef and Matnos Kehuna, using the Matnos Kehuna as an explanation of the Etz Yosef, we can see that the true way to conquer the yetzer hara is through simcha, through keeping happy and dancing or jumping in our avodas Hashem. Looking at the word מצליח as relevant to the word הצלחה (success), which is the plain p’shat, we can learn through the Matnos Kehuna that the key to success in all things; whether avodas Hashem or physical success, is through joy. By maintaining a state of happiness even in difficult situations, Hashem will come to help us, like the posuk we say every day in Pesukei D’Zimra that joy and might are in Hashem’s place, which is effectively the entirety of Creation, so through joy are we placed immediately before Hashem. This is also related to the secrets of attaining Nevuah and Ruach HaKodesh.

Wonders of Chanukah: Erev Chanukah 5781

A gitten erev Yom Tov! We’re entering Chanukah this evening (either lighting at shkiah or after one tzeis or another). There are so many inyonim tied into this incredibly holy time of year there’s no end to what could be written, even if the sea was the ink and the heavens made of parchment, and every reed a pen, just like we cannot complete writing the praises of Hashem, so we cannot finish writing about Chanukah. One fascinating aspect of Chanukah is that there is practically nothing written on it from Chazal through most of the Achronim, just a blatt or two in Gemara, and only one reference (l’fi daas haB’nei Yissoschor) in the entire Zohar. The B’Nei Yissoschor teaches us though that this is because we are getting closer to the Geulah, as he has a mesorah that as we get closer to Moshiach so will more be written on inyonim of Chanukah. Indeed, a huge amount of the second half of Sefer B’nei Yissoschor is entirely about Chanukah.

The Zohar HaKodosh says on the posuk from Eishes Chayil לא תירא לביתה משלג כי כל ביתה לבוש שנים (her house does not fear from snow for her whole house wears scarlet) that we should not read the last word as “shonim” (meaning scarlet), rather “sh’nayim” (meaning two). Just as half of Gehenom is fire, so is half snow, and those who wear “sh’nayim” have no need to fear form Gehenom. What are these sets of two? Milah u’priah (mitzvos bris milah), tzitzis and tefillin, mezuzah and Chanukah lights, with few others. This is the answer to the discussion in the gemoro in Maseches Shabbos as to where the positioning of the Menorah goes, that we should be surrounded by mitzvos. The deeper side to this is that the Menorah with Ner Chanukah corresponds to the p’riah part of bris milah, through which the atarah upon the bris is revealed, which corresponds to Malchus in Kabbalah; which this mitzvah is only accomplished through the left side of the Yesod, v’hamayvin yovin.

According to the Ari HaKodosh, the Ner Chanukah corresponds to the Tikun of Hod, which is the eighth Sefirah in the Seder Hishtalshelus (order of manifestation). This corresponds to the leg that was damaged by the Samech Mem (angelic prince of Esav, malach reigning over Klippah) when Yaakov wrestled with him, as brought in B’Nei Yissoschor. So through lighting Chanukah lights with kavana we accomplish the Tikkun of Hod, which is related deeply to the experience of prophecy, either lost or reduced depending on who you ask, since the destruction of Bayis Sheini. We can say that this is leads to an understanding of the importance of using olive oil for this mitzvah. Olive oil corresponds to Torah, to Chochma, whereas the lower left region (like the leg/foot per example) corresponds to Hod. Chazal say that the Chachamim are on a higher level than Nevi’im, which as explained in the sifrei Kabbalah and Chassidus, the reason is because the Chachomim draw their insights from the place of Chochma, while Nevi’im receive their messages through Netzach and Hod, but Hod is specifically allocated by the B’Nei Yissoschor and alluded to in other sources as being more linked to prophecy. By bringing the oil of Torah down to the level of Hod, we illuminate the sefirah and open the lights of prophecy, which are connected in some way to the perception of Ohr Ganuz however limited, that we can merit. This shows us that through sincere learning of the Torah, we can merit to Ruach HaKodesh, which is only a small portion of full fledged Nevuah.

Hashem should bentsh us with hatzlacha in growing in His avodah, that we should all merit to Ruach HaKodesh, and that we merit to complete our chinuch l’geulah and merit to the Geulah Shleimah speedily in our days.

Created in God’s Image

A common question that many ask themselves is in regards to the idea that we are created in the image of God. For a Jew it especially doesn’t make sense, considering Hashem is completely non-corporeal and beyond all physical constraints, how can it be said that we are made in His image? Various answers have been put forward, such as that we are created with the capacity for speech, which is a uniquely human thing that Hashem is described as doing. The Zohar HaKodosh has a particularly interesting explanation of this concept, brought in regards to how a person’s physical characteristics such as hair color and texture, eye shape and color, and lines on hands reveal different things about a person. Following is a restatement of a highly fascinating part of the Zohar.

The Zohar in Parshas Yisro, daf 75b-76a states that a posuk in Yechezkel that we learn to mean that Hashem has His hands open to receive people who wish to return in t’shuva to Him can. On another level we learn that the words ידי אדם (hands of person) there is to teach us that Hashem hid all the forms and the exalted secrets of the Higher Worlds within the כף (palm) of our hands, and through this are we made in His image. In our hands, shown through our ten fingers, are the עשר אמירן (Ten Utterances) of Creation, five on the left, five on the right.

The Zohar brings a posuk from Iyov, “עור ובשר תלבישני” (Skin and flesh you have clothed me [with]). So the question must be asked, what is a person? Just flesh and bones and sinews? Certainly not! For sure the person is nothing other than the soul, and the bones, flesh, and sinews are naught but the clothing itself, they are possessions of a person, and not the person himself. Hence why when one passes from the world, the person leaves and the body stays behind.

The skin that a person is clothed with, states the Zohar, these being the bones and sinews, all of this is contained within the secrets of the Highest Wisdom, in order to correspond with that which is above. There it brings the posuk where it says Hashem spreads out Shomayim like a great curtain, and that the Mishkan had an outer layer made of a series of curtains made of the skins of rams dyed red and Techashim (see Maseches Shabbos), these are the external garments of the Divine that correspond to the skin of a person.

The bones and sinews correspond correspond to the chariots and Heavenly Host, which interestingly enough in our modern scientific understanding, we know that there are countless cells within our bones and every part of our blood. This is a way we can see how the Zohar was written through Ruach HaKodesh, since they didn’t have microscopes and a possibility to see cells, even if one believes that Moshe DeLeon was the sole author and not Rashbi, chas v’sholom.

The flesh covers the various “chariots and hosts” within the body. This corresponds to the levels of the Raki’im, the Firmaments that cover everything in ascending layers. All these are in the internal garments of a person, and this is the secret of the construction of a person, and all this is the secret of what is below reflecting that which is above. This is the meaning of the verse that Elokim made HaAdam in his image, in the image of God.

The further secrets that we derive from this relationship, that Man is created in the image of Hashem according to the secrets of the Higher Worlds, that there are stars, planets, and constellations in the higher firmament. We can learn things that are going on personally and in the world through study of the various positions of these things, as Chazal teach us particularly at the end of Maseches Shabbos and various hints in the rest of Shas. The stars, constellations, and planets correspond to the various lines and marks on our skin which the חכימי לבא (Wise of heart) know how to interpret and understand.

To summarize the above: Hashem created us people in His image and this is shown through various examples, comparing our body parts to parts of the Mishkan and the other aspects of Creation used as garments for Hashem, as they conceal Him and the netzotzos hakedoshim. The wise initiate into Kabbalah can understand much about people simply through their physical traits, just as they can understand Torah and the ratzon Hashem through occurrences in corporeal reality.

May Hashem allow us all to merit to understand these aspects of Torah and implement them properly, that we should know Him completely.

Motzei Shabbos VaYishlach: Hashem Recompenses According to Deed

A gitte voch! The Tana D’Vei Eliyahu teaches us that Hashem renders punishment (or on the flip side, reward) according to the actions we do. There, in the section for Parshas VaYishlach, the examples of the plagues brought upon Mitzrayim are explained in such a way that we can understand why those specific plagues were done. So now that we have the side of Din, that Hashem renders punishment within the same general way or area that one is misbehaving in, we can learn something on the side of Rachamim.

If we approach doing mitzvos in a way of love for Hashem and happiness to fulfill His will, then it should be clear that He will recompense in kind. Like it says in Maseches Brochos, that one who extends his tefillah will be answered; though this is only if he doesn’t look back on his prayers and investigate them. What does this mean practically? One way of understanding this part of the gemoro is that the person who looks back on his tefillah was lacking Emunah in the first place; so we could ask why did he daven so long? Rebbe Nachman says in Likutei Moharan that those who exist in the state of Mochin D’Gadlus (Broad-Mindedness) can daven fast, this is because their mental state is on such a level that they aren’t concerned with time, rather they are only focused on their connection with Hashem, whether that is connected with time or not. When one dwells in such a state of thinking about Hashem and His various wonders all the time, then it becomes very easy to daven with kavana even very quickly. It’s said that the Kotzker zt’l would daven the entire Shachris in about 15 minutes. Though this is not recommended conduct for most, for a Tzaddik on his level this was proper.

So long as we serve Hashem with Emunah and Bitachon, so will we receive brochos from Him in such a manner. Rather than having everything given to us in the normal way b’tzimtzum (indirectly in short), meaning through the illusions of this world, Hashem will grant us what we need directly in the way that it is meant to be, with certainty and consistency. Though we may not focus on this as a purpose in our avodah, as shown by the example in Maseches Brochos, it can give us some chizuk (strength/encouragement) when things aren’t going so easily.

Erev Shabbos VaYishlach 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas VaYishlach, wherein Yaakov send malochim (angels) to Esav his brother when Esav is on his way to confront Yaakov. Though there is a Midrash where it says he sent bosor v’dom (flesh and blood) messengers, the other side coming from Rabanan states that they were malochim mamesh. There is a p’shat on this al pi chassidus that it means that Yaakov Avinu sent the Chelek HaGashmi (physical aspect) of the malochim – meaning that manifest aspect through which a malach speaks with a person, the Chomer (Form) rather than the Tzurah (Substance) – while the Chelek HaRuchni (spiritual aspect) stayed with him.

One of my associates in the early-morning kolel brought up an interesting kasha (question): why is it that Yaakov Avinu split up the beheimos (field-animals) and the people into two separate camps, wouldn’t Esav just take the animals and kill the people, regardless of gifts and how everything is split up? The teirutz that came to me in the middle of learning my normal seder I told over to him, and I thought it might be of interest to others.

So we have to break this down into the symbolism to get what the Torah is really trying to teach us. The “beheimos” are a reference to the Nefesh HaBahamis (Animal Soul) that the Tanya teaches us about, the people are a reference to the Tzelem Elokim (Godly Form) all people are created with, which is itself a remez to the Chelek Elokah Mimaal (Piece of God from On High) that is part of our souls. Esav, according to the Zohar HaKodosh, is the Pesoles HaDin (Dross of Judgement) that reigns on the side of the Sitra Achra to contrast with the pure Din d’Kedusha (Holy Judgement) of Yitzchok Avinu. Yaakov Avinu is the perfected Man in the place of Tiferes. When Yaakov saw Esav, that is when the perfected Man sees the power of the Sitra Achra, he puts forth the Beheimos, they being the Nefesh HaBahamis and the permitted pleasures symbolized by kosher animals – since Yaakov Avinu wouldn’t have tuma animals in his flock – to be taken by the Sitra Achra rather than letting the people of his camp, they being the holy neshomo in the image of God, to be harmed by the Sitra Achra. Ultimately Esav does not take the gift, and does not harm any of Yaakov’s camp, just as the Sitra Achra will be turned away when presented with the kosher pleasures a Jew may benefit from in this world, as shown in the secrets of the goat for Azazel, explained in the Zohar HaKodosh.

When we engage with this world and the things permitted for our pleasure with the intent to bring together the Shechinah and Hashem, expressed through the formula of the Mekubalim לשם יחוד קודשא בריך הוא ושכינתיה, we turn away the Sitra Achra and our Yetzer HaRa that are constantly trying to turn us away from avodas Hashem. This is only truly possible through existing in the state of Tiferes, that is balance, harmony, and beauty. Through delighting in the world with this intent, paired with learning Torah regularly with the intent of attaining d’veikus with Hashem, we lessen the power of the Sitra Achra in our personal sphere, as well as reduce its influence in the general world, as our own actions influence everything around us in the spiritual realms.

Taking this in consideration with the episode of Yaakov Avinu fighting the malach and getting his name changed to Yisroel, we can see a proof for Rebbe Nachman’s teaching us that the ultimate purpose for a Jew is to have reign over the malochim. Through converting our pleasures into avodas Hashem and attaining d’veikus through these, we can merit to wrestle with the angels and dominate them, utilizing their powers to our benefit rather than them damaging us.

A git Shabbos! We should merit to the geulah shleima swiftly in our days.