Becoming Higher than the Angels

In Likutei Moharan Torah 110, Rebbe Nachman teaches an interesting concept in regards to sighing. He compares the sighing of a Tzaddik and that of a Rosho, and which sighing is better. If a Tzaddik sighs, chas v’sholom, in yearning for wickedness, this is a horrible thing and his breath connects him to the aspect of Tumah (impurity). On the flip side, if a Rosho sighs out of regret for his sins, this is a good thing because it comes from yearning for holiness, hence connecting him to holiness. The breath is the essential animating force of a person, therefore it has incredible power to either push one towards Kedusha or Tumah. From this, Reb Nachman says we should often sigh over our lowliness or our various sins, in order that we should connect to the aspects of Kedusha.

The Baal HaTanya in Likutei Amarim Perek 39 speaks on the inyan of the difference in spiritual levels between Malochim (Angels) and Tzaddikim. The Tzaddikim are on a higher level than the Malochim since Tzaddikim have to work to serve Hashem, and their neshomos dwell in the level of Briah, whereas Malochim dwell in Yetzirah, they also don’t have any Yetzer HaRa and only can serve Hashem.

Considering the idea that when a Yid makes t’shuva and repents of their sins they become a Tzaddik, we can bring these separate Torahs out to a unified whole. Rather than viewing t’shuva as simply removing sin, it is clear from Reb Nachman that t’shuva with sighing and genuine regret connects a Yid to the thread of life and holiness, bringing these influences into him. From this state, one can utilize this new influx of Kedusha to be invigorated in serving Hashem and grow spiritually. The ikar, the key thing, that allows us to become holy and grow closer to Hashem is the battle with our Yetzer HaRa, which makes us even higher than the Malochim themselves. Reb Nachman says in another place that the whole purpose of a Jew is to reign over Malochim, we can see that through our labor and seeking Hashem we can ultimately reach the level that our souls inhabit a higher realm than their existence in the first place.

Creating Heaven on Earth

A gitte voch! In Parshas Ekev, we learn the second part of Krias Shma. At the end is a very interesting phrase, למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם על האדמה אשר נשבע ה’ לאבותיכם לתת להם כימי השמים על הארץ, “In order that your days and your children’s days shall be numerous upon the land that Hashem swore to your father to grant them like the days of Heaven upon earth.” This is in reference to the mitzvah to love Hashem with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and the whole Torah. It is easy to ask “What is even the purpose of all these mitzvos and this Torah anyway? So much of it seems irrelevant to daily life, and all these commandments don’t really do anything like help me make money or do better in life in some measurable way.” Hashem tells us in this posuk (verse) the exact reason why we must keep the Torah and love Hashem. The purpose of Torah and mitzvos, especially as expressed by the Baal HaTanya and the rebbes of Chabad, is to build a dirah b’tachtonim, a dwelling place in the lower worlds for Hashem. This phrase expresses that concept in the clearest way in the Torah, that our Torah and mitzvos are intended to create Heaven on Earth. While this may apply specifically to Eretz Yisroel, Rambam brings in the Mishneh Torah the specific ceremony as to how we extend the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel to encompass other areas. There is also a general idea that the entire world will become Eretz Yisroel when Moshiach comes, so we can say wherever we keep the Torah and mitzvos, there we can create a taste of what it’s like in Shomayim, in the place without darkness and trouble.

Parshas Ekev 5780

A gitten erev Shabbos! This weeks parsha is Parshas Ekev.

The injunction to love Hashem and cleave to Him is repeated several times in this parsha. Rashi and Ramban have different views as to what this means, commenting on the last usage of the word for cleaving in in Devorim 11:22 “כי אם שמור תשמרון את כל המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם לעשתה לאהבה את ה’ אלקיכם ללכת בכל דרכיו ולדבקה בו” “For if you keep strongly to this commandment which I am commanding you to do it, to love Hashem your God, to walk in all his ways and to cleave to Him.” Rashi asks on ולדבקה בו if this is even possible, since it says in an earlier chapter of Sefer Devorim that Hashem is a consuming fire. So Rashi explains this means we need to cleave to talmidim (students) and Chachomim (The Wise) and then it will be said that it is like we are cleaving to Hashem. Ramban brings a different understanding. He says there in the first p’shat that this is a warning to the Jews to not go and perform Avodah Zarah (serving other deities), meaning that we shouldn’t see any point in going to serve them chas v’sholom, and see that everything is absolutely nothing compared to Hashem. From this understanding we should do everything remembering that Hashem is the only thing. Next p’shat from Ramban is that we should never forget at any moment Hashem and His great love for us. Those who are able to attain this become like the Shechinah itself and are tied with the Tz’ror HaChaim, the Bond of Life, even while still alive. The last p’shat according to Ramban is in the form of advice, that we should always do everything with awareness of Hashem and His love, even when things are normal and we’re not witnessing constant and open miracles, like the Mann and the clouds of smoke and fire in the desert.

Specifically in regards to the understanding of the Ramban, we can see that one thing we should do throughout the day is focus on Hashem’s name. The best technique for this is to visualize the name at set points throughout the day, to close your eyes and see it written in K’Sav Ashuris, the scribal font, in black on white. Eventually, one can do as the Mishnah Berurah describes, to visualize the name throughout the day constantly with the eyes open, except for in places such as the restroom. If this is too difficult, simply performing all of our actions with the knowledge that Hashem is permeating the entirety of His Creation, running every occurrence from volcanic eruptions to the falling of leaves from trees, knowing that Hashem gave us His Torah for us to serve Him and cleave to Him, these are ways to cleave to Hashem according to Ramban.

Rashi’s p’shat is perhaps easier, but might not be so clear from a straight understanding of what cleaving to Hashem should be like. Obviously it’s good to be around Chachomim and people who learn Torah properly as their way of life, but how could this possibly lead to cleaving with Hashem? There’s a remez, a hint, to this in hilchos Shabbos. On Shabbos, as is known, we cannot cook, and pouring boiling water directly on something will cook it. So you pour from the first vessel, which is sitting on the heat source – which back in that time would’ve been covered coals – into a second vessel – which does not halachically have the capacity to cook things that are already cooked – then from the second vessel into the third vessel which has your coffee or tea essence in it. According to an understanding from Toras HaNistar, we can understand Rashi and this Mishnah like this: the original heat source is a hint to Hashem Himself; the layer of soot or blech covering it is a remez to the Torah, since Hashem is contained within the Torah and the only way to understand Him and His machinations as much as we can is through learning Torah; the first vessel is the Tzaddik, who through their avodas Hashem and Torah learning gains greater degrees of perception and can then communicate this to others; the second vessel is the close student of the Tzaddik, who though they may not be on the spiritual level to handle the great fire of Hashem, they can receive what the Tzaddik can give them; and the third vessel is the next person who the student of the Tzaddik shares the Tzaddiks Torah with.

Hashem should help us all grow spiritually and merit to truly cleave to Him and walk in all His paths, we should also be bentsht by Him that we should merit the Geulah Shleimah swiftly.

Sweetening Judgments and Breaking Klippos

In Keser Shem Tov, there are two perakim back to back that one can bring out some interesting ideas in avodas Hashem. The first perek states that in places that are scary, Hashem can still be felt and known there. This is because the sparks of holiness of the Shechinah fell by way of the Shviras HaKeilim (Destruction of the Vessels), and granted the wicked things an ability to instill fear in others. This fear can be converted, by the one who understands, into feeling the pain and torment of the Shechinah due to being trapped there, and Yiras Hashem. Through contemplating this the klippos in those areas is destroyed.

The second perek states that one should connect his thoughts with the Ohr Ain Sof that is within the letters of Torah and tefillah, which is the Ohr P’nei Melech Chaim, Light of the Face of the Living King. This is a huge principle in Torah and prayer, which is also efficacious to nullify Dinim (Judgements).

We can see that the custom of learning Torah on a journey, in which way much of the Zohar was developed, is very important. Even in such a situation where only the situation itself is frightening, rather than being around dangerous creatures, it is good to realize that even such a situation has Divine light in it, and through this the klippa of that situation can be destroyed and turned into something good. Especially through learning Torah, or talking to Hashem through prayer, this can bring enough Light to sweeten the judgments surrounding the difficulty and bring blessing through whatever is happening rather than bad things.

The True Redemption

As we get ready for Tisha B’Av, the Moed (Holiday) that isn’t quite yet a Moed, there are many important ideas to keep in mind.

The Kedushas Levi says in a short maamar on the words “השיבנו ה’ אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם,” “Return us Hashem to You and we shall return, renew our days like before,” he first compares our state of Golus to divorce between a husband and wife. If there was marital impropriety that a man finds his wife did, it is forbidden for him to remarry her, however if it was a divorce due to other problems then they could get remarried. This metaphor is used as a comparison between Klal Yisroel and Hashem: Hashem didn’t find some impropriety chas v’sholom that lead to our separation, because we eventually will be returned to Him and redeemed from Golus. We just messed up and made ourselves disgusting before Him, which is a valid reason in halocho to get divorced, but one is not forbidden to remarry their former spouse. The other explanation the Kedushas Levi gives is that this is all related to t’shuva and the fact we receive our life-force from Hashem at every moment, and due to this we are able to make t’shuva and become a new and perfect person from that moment onward.

There’s another way we can understand this posuk. There is another way to understand the last phrase, חדש ימינו כקדם, renew our days like before. There is a Midrash that explains that there will be 1000 years of Moshiach, and then the world will be obliterated. While our animal nature may find this idea horrifying, it’s actually very good. What is there from “before?” Only Hashem. Like we say in Shachris after the first Sh’ma that Hashem was from before the initial act of creating the world and still is the same after that act. What this Midrash comes to mean then is that the world will be reduced to the state that it was before, meaning completely absorbed in the unity of the Ain Sof. This adds an additional layer to our mourning practices and the crying over the Beis HaMikdash. The Beis HaMikdash was the central location of the dwelling of the Shechinah, not the exclusive place, but rather where Hashem’s Divinity was most concentrated, as explained in the Zohar on Parshas VaYechi. Essentially, it served as a physical place where the Shechinah could rest and Hashem’s majesty would be expressed to the fullest degree possible in our corporeal world. Eventually though, in the complete end, even the physical Beis HaMikdash will no longer exist and we shall be completely unified with God. The greatest pain is separation from God, symbolized through our long Golus and lack of Beis HaMikdash. This could be a potential reason for the Chabad minhag to make a siyum every day of the Nine Days, without eating meat and wine; since a Yid who learns Torah is completely connected to Hashem, then clearly he is in the aspect of the Geulah and Moshiach, and therefore he can feel some simcha, and a simcha of only Torah is the truest simcha.

Rather than sitting and complaining about our few restrictions, and the upcoming fast, we should instead focus on doing more mitzvos, learning more Torah, and doing Gemilus Chasodim (Acts of Kindness) for others. Now is a time to work on cultivating the state of Ahavas Yisroel, much of which really relies on helping fellow Jews with their personal problems and relieving the burden that comes with existence in the lowest and most difficult level of the B’riah (Creation).

This year Hashem should bentsh us that we merit that our tears be turned to joy, we should all attain a state of true d’veikus with the Aibishter, and we should see the coming of Moshiach swiftly in our days.

Shabbos Chazon 5780

A gitten erev Shabbos! It is Shabbos Chazon and Parshas Devorim this week.

The last posuk of Parshas Devorim says “לא תיראום כי ה’ אלקיכם הוא הנלחם לכם.” Typically this is translated as “Do not fear, because Hashem your God will fight for you.” However the first word is not necessarily a command, rather it is a statement. In certain contexts it is used as a command, such as in the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments), but we could really learn more about the nature of these specific commandments being issued as plain statements rather than commands, hamayvin yovin. The better way to translate this verse through this perspective is “You will not be afraid because Hashem your God will do battle for you.” This is said in reference to Klal Yisroel entering Eretz Yisroel under the leadership of Yehoshua bin Nun and conquering the land.

As it is Shabbos Chazon, we also have to understand a little of the Haftorah. Yeshayahu HaNavi admonishes the Jews for bringing offerings without feeling, and Hashem says even that our offerings are abominations, that He hates the offerings we bring for Yomim Tovim and Rosh Chodesh, our incense offerings are abominations, and various other things. We could ask the question, “Why should this be the Haftorah for the Shabbos right before Tisha B’Av? Shouldn’t we need to hear about how great the Beis HaMikdash was and what great joy the Aibishter gets from that specific avodah?”

The answer is absolutely not. The whole point of this Haftorah is to help us realize what we need to do. Hashem told Klal Yisroel “ועשו לי מדקש ושכנתי בתוכם” “And you (plural) shall make me a Mikdash (sanctified place) and I shall dwell among you.” This b’derech Remez, through hints, serves as a reference to the concept of the Mikdash M’at, the Jewish house which is the small Temple. It says in Tehillim that Hashem doesn’t desire strength or horses, He only desires that we should stand in awe of Him and His Creation; it also says in various places that the true offering to Hashem is a broken heart, which is in and of itself a huge inyan. A broken heart doesn’t mean plain sadness, it refers to a desire for Hashem that leads to such a strong feeling of lack that we can’t feel whole until we cleave to Hashem with true d’veikus. This feeling of a broken heart is what leads to true t’shuva, T’shuva shel Ahavah, Repentance from Love, and from there to fulfilling the mitzvos with proper kavonno (intent), since we yearn to be one with God. So the proper avodah, with or without a Beis HaMikdash, is that which is centered on seeking complete unity with the Source of All, the Ain Sof, rather than focused on anything else. When a Yid has this focus, and performs their mitzvos with this awareness and desire, then the Jewish house becomes a sanctified place, and indeed everything can then be viewed through a lens of holiness, rather than as mundane.

How is this related to the last posuk of Parshas Devorim? Hashem tells us we don’t need to be afraid, because He will fight for us against everyone. In the Midrash Zerubavel, and other sources, it’s brought that the Beis HaMikdash HaShlishi will fall from Shomayim in the time of Moshiach and we won’t lift even a finger to build it. What was the condition for Hashem to fight our wars for us and to protect us? Keeping the mitzvos of the Torah, to love Hashem and yearn for Him. The first two words of the Haftorah can be read “‘חזון ישועה י”, Behold the salvation of Hashem, with the last Yud at the end standing in for the first letter of Hashem’s name. When we dedicate our lives to Hashem and perform our avodah properly, meaning with simple lives, attempting to be free of sins, without hypocrisy, then we shall merit to perceiving Hashem’s salvation, specifically iy’H through the end of the long and painful Golus with the coming of Moshiach.

Siyum on Maseches Shabbos 5780

Today I made a siyum on Maseches Shabbos. This particular masechta is so long and contains so many inyonim and halochos it’s incredible, I’m going to write out only one of the various potential droshos I had on this.

In this masechta we find the story of R’ Shimon bar Yochai and his son, R’ Elozor, running from the tyrannical Romans due to their revolutionary political opinions. R’ Shimon holds that everything the Romans do is for immorality, while other Tannoim maintain that there is much good that comes from their bridges and roads. For this, Yehuda ben Gerim reported R’ Shimon to the Roman government, due to this R’ Shimon had death a sentence placed upon him, hence he ran away with his son for safety. They found a cave, and while there Hashem gave them a carob tree, along with a spring. They lived there for 12 years, and they both spent their time learning Torah, eventually coming to generating at least part of the Zohar.

After this time, they came out of the cave, they saw people wasting time and not learning, which led to the power of their eyes causing fires and destroying things and people from their harsh judgement. Hashem told them they had to go back to the cave for another year. Once they came out then, they saw a Yid erev Shabbos carrying two haddasim. R’ Shimon had his Divine wrath begin arising in him, so he asked the Yid “Why do you have two hadassim? One isn’t enough?” The Yid answered “Two corresponds to ‘Shomor v’Zochor,’ (keep and remember the Shabbos).'” R’ Shimon was calmed, along with R’ Elozor, and they were able to live in society. From my understanding, it is clear that they realized this Yid understood the Sod of “Shomor v’Zochor b’dibur echod ne’emru,” “Keep and Remember in one utterance was said,” as the Ari states we have to say when taking the hadassim in our hands by the Shabbos seudos. The Yid in this story is a Tzaddik Nistar, a hidden Tzaddik, who keeps simple apperances, but actually performs major avodos, services for Hashem. Once he explained his reasoning to R’ Shimon and R’ Elozor from the Torah, then they became appeased, because the realized this wasn’t a meshigas, a craziness, from the Yid, rather it was a holy matter.

What we can also learn from this story is the stages of spiritual growth. Though we cannot compare ourselves in any way to R’ Shimon and R’ Elozor, the story can teach us something. One a person seeks to make t’shuva and becomes a Baal T’shuva, or mayber a Ger, such a person must lock themselves away for some time to study. Once this is over, and such a person enters general society again though, it is very difficult. We see that people don’t pay attention to davening, they waste their time speaking of narishkeit and general nonsense. So we have to retreat again. After this period of retreat, we must come out and realize there are those among the hamon am, the general populace, who are genuinely involved with higher matters, they just keep them hidden. The implication of the story is that R’ Shimon and R’ Elozor couldn’t accept that someone could take delight in this world and still serve Hashem; after learning enough Torah and spending enough time talking to Hashem, eventually we have to accomplish avodas Hashem through physical actions and delights. This becomes the highest form of serving Hashem, once we understand how it can be done. True spiritual growth must follow such a pattern, because otherwise Hashem wouldn’t have caused R’ Shimon, HaBaal HaZohar, to be the one sent into exile and have this whole story happen for the gemoro to record. So even if a dear friend who is a Baal T’shuva or a Ger seems a little extreme at first, it is an eventuality that they shall come to be able to appreciate serving Hashem through physical things to accomplish spiritual goals, simply because this is how Hashem created the world to function. We are not supposed to be entirely separated, rather we should be able to utilize this world to serve Hashem.

We should merit true spiritual growth, along with the coming of Moshiach swiftly, even before the upcoming Tisha B’Av.

Leil Rosh Chodesh Av 5780

A git choidesh! It is Rosh Chodesh Av now. Though now is the beginning of harsh times, it is still Rosh Chodesh. Many poskim, such as the Kaf HaChaim and the Ben Ish Chai, along with Admorim such as the B’Nei Yissoschor and the Ateres Tzvi, maintain that this Rosh Chodesh is to be treated like all Roshei Chodoshim, and mourning begins after Rosh Chodesh is over.

The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is a central part of this month, as the absolute worst day in history. However we also have the best day for the Jewish people in every year, Tu B’Av, the day on which the most shidduchim were made, when the single girls would wear white dresses and encourage the bochurim to take their pick of who they wanted to get married to. That’s just a distinct aspect to the day that is well known.

So we have a day of absolute horribleness, and a day of absolute joy, at least in the olden days. What’s the ultimate source of these? אבינו שבשמים, our Father in Heaven. Av is spelled אב, which is the root for the word “father.” The complete formal name of the month is מנחם אב, “Comforting of the Father,” referring to the concept that Moshiach will be born this month. אב can also be read as עב, through a darshening (exegetical) technique that uses changing letters for other letters in the same phonological group. עב means “thick.” Though the worst occurrence in Jewish history happened now, this month is still “Thick” with the comforting mercy of our Father, Hashem. There is an idea that Moshiach will be born on Tisha B’Av, even as everything is destroyed, salvation will be born from the ashes. Even though one week we have the destruction of the chosen place of Hashem’s presence, the next week we have the most joyful day of the year, though commonly ignored or downgraded to “Jewish Valentine’s Day.”

The B’Nei Yissoschor in the first perek of the Maamar on the months of Tammuz and Av says that the permutations of Hashem’s holy four lettered name teach us something very interesting. For Tammuz, the name is completely not in order, alluding to the troubles and destruction that started on 17 Tammuz; whereas for Av, we have the name written out with the the first two letters as Heh and Vuv, and then followed by Yud and the letter Heh, pronounced Havayah. The B’Nei Yissoschor brings that this is the proper custom for Jews to refer to the holy name as Havayah, rather than Hashem, because Havayah specifically shows that Hashem’s Holy name will eventually be complete in the proper way, as it is in Nissan, and we shall be redeemed from the oppression of this world as we were saved from Mitzrayim. One shitta in the gemoro in Sanhedrin says the Geulah doesn’t come except through t’shuva. We should all merit to true t’shuva and d’veikus with the Aibishter, and Hashem should bentsh us with the Geulah Sh’leimah.

Turning Evil into Good

A big inyan in Chassidus is that of turning things that are bad into good, it says this in Keser Shem Tov explicitly. The various Admorim speak of this matter in their own ways, giving examples as to how this is accomplished.

The Baal HaTanya brings the example in Likkutei Amarim Perek 37 of blood. The blood of a person receives sustenance from food, which is the aspect of Klippah Nogah. When a Jew uses this energy for learning Torah and doing various mitzvos, then the “evil,” that is coarse physicality as manifest through food, becomes good, through being used directly to serve Hashem. When a Yid devotes every minute of their lives to avodas Hashem, particularly through saying a l’shem yichud before performing any action – or otherwise a tefillah dedicating every thought, word, and deed to this purpose after waking up – then all the material brought into the body becomes expressed holiness and the Netzotzos HaKedoshim are elevated.

The Aish Kodesh of Piaseczna Hy’d speaks in Chovas HaTalmidim of converting wicked traits into positive traits. This general concept is also expressed in the Mishnah Torah of the Rambam, wherein he states that someone who is blood-thirsty should be a shochet, along with various other jobs someone with bad Middos should do to utilize them positively. This path in perfecting the Middos is wise for all who may have such traits that can be converted into a task related to a mitzvah.

Ultimately though, our avodah has to be focused on this at all times. The average person has days that are difficult, so instead of complaining we need to say “Boruch Hashem, the day was difficult.” This takes the “evil” of the day and turns it into “good,” since you took the experiences and thank Hashem for them. It says in Maseches Brochos that we have to bless Hashem for the bad just as we do for good things. Ultimately, we learn from Nochum Ish Gam-Zu and the understandings of Chassidus, that everything is truly for goodness; the only problem remains that we dwell in Olam HaAssiyah, in which we have the most Klippah and interference of the Sitra Achra to deal with. Even our long golus is good, since we can bring in more Geirim this way, and elevate all the lost holy sparks in a direct manner. With Hashem’s help we should all see how everything is good, even the worst things we’ve had to deal with, and we should see the ultimate goodness with the coming of Moshiach swiftly in our days.

Converting Physical Love into Divine Love

In Sefer Keser Shem Tov the Baal Shem brings in the name of Saadiah Gaon that it is proper for one to learn from the desire for physical things how to desire avodas Hashem and His love.

We know from nearly all works of Chassidus and Kabboloh that Hashem completely fills all the worlds and surrounds them, and there is nothing other than Hashem. So we could ask a question on the Baal Shem, “What do you mean to learn from desire for physical things to desire avodas Hashem? Isn’t it all the same?”

The answer to this is that ultimately it is. Rebbe Nachman says in Likutei Moharan that one who eats properly and defeats the desire for improper eating gains a greater perception of the letters and light contained in food. We can say from this, that such a person would reasonably gain a greater perception of these things in other pleasurable things as well. All forms of pleasure, outside of direct avodas Hashem such as davening and learning Torah, or eating on Shabbos in which all food is holy, are in the realm of Klippah Nogah, the Shining Husk. The Klippah is the shell containing the holy spark, which is released through a Jew utilizing that thing for a holy purpose. When the food is realized to be a utensil for the purpose of making a brocho to thank Hashem for His goodness, and the brocho is made in such a way as to bring Hashem’s Light into this world, as described in Pri Etz Chaim, then the Klippah is broken and the Netzotzos HaKedoshim (Holy Sparks) are released to return to their Source. Through having desire for physical things, and elevating this through learning how to love Hashem and love serving Him, thereby breaks the Klippah surrounding those pleasures and returns them to a state of holiness.