New Ideas in Serving Hashem: Potentially Wonderful as well as Possibly Dangerous

There’s a wonderful shtikl of Rebbe Nachman’s Torah in Likutei Moharan, Torah 171. This is in the section known as the “Toras Lashon Chaveirim,” meaning it was said over by those who heard Rebbe Nachman say it, in Breslov mesorah it is specifically referring to R’ Avrohom Peterberger z’l who heard these from R’ Nachman and wrote them down, rather than R’ Noson writing the Torah for R’ Nachman.

It starts by bringing a posuk from Daniel that says “Many of those who are sleeping in the dust of the earth shall awake, those for eternal life, and those to reproaches, to eternal contempt.” Rebbe Nachman explains that this refers to the process through which a person will be awakened due to new understandings in avodas Hashem that were not known until that moment. Through this, those who sleep in the dust of the earth will arise to one side or another, one for good or one for bad. This is explained through the other posuk “Tzadikim walk in them and the erring ones stumble in them,” meaning that the Tzaddik who receives this new understanding and insight in avodas Hashem will implement it and elevate himself and the world around him, whereas someone who engages in sins due to carelessness (Rebbe Nachman explains in a far earlier Torah that the word פשע refers to lack of emunah, so the weak of faith chas v’sholom) brings destruction to the world. The author of this specific Torah says that he heard that those who are on the negative side of this equation will get this new insight specifically to bring shame and spite to the world, and the world increases in lack from his reception of this new avodah.

From this we can understand various different ideas, and incidences we see in life. One way to understand this Torah is to say that sometimes a new insight in avodas Hashem will come to someone and instead of it uplifting them, it turns into something that removes them from life and the Torah, chas v’sholom. Someone can become introduced to the idea of P’rishus, and this will become a brand-new idea in avodas Hashem, and the ways it can be implemented in their own personal life is also a new idea, so they take it too far to the point of self-destruction, chas v’sholom. It is clear from sifrei Chassidus, including Mesilas Yeshorim though it is technically a Mussar sefer, that Hashem doesn’t want us to destroy ourselves; rather that we should grow and come closer to Him. When a new understanding leads a person towards the Tzad HaMoves (side of death), this is when it is in the aspect of negativity and bringing destruction to the world. When it leads to the Tzad HaChaim (side of life), such as when the new understanding elevates a person and makes them b’simcha, and helps a person to grow rather than to fall into the depths, then this is the positive side.

Our goal in receiving and innovating in the areas of avodas Hashem has to be oriented in such a way as we uplift ourselves and others, not casting ourselves or other to Gehenom. To get a new idea in avodas Hashem and then say that anyone who doesn’t do this is going to get punished or go to Gehenom, this is called stumbling severely; to do the opposite and choose to share it with others and increase in your own personal holiness along with that of your fellow Yidden, this is called walking with them, the Torah and new aspects of avodas Hashem. This isn’t a chiddush, we always have be dan l’kaf z’chus (judge to benefit of the doubt), this is in Pirkei Avos, along with many other concepts relating to how a person needs to view oneself and others as brought in Shas and various other places.

Truth of Techeiles Creature: Murex Snail

In the Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin, daf 91a there’s a very interesting thing we can learn about the sugya of techeiles. As to why P’sil Techeiles, so far as I recall, does not have this in the document with all the proofs for murex techeiles they have on the site, I have no idea.

There Chazal bring several different mosholim (parables), and in one of them a person is told to go to a mountain; on that mountain there is only one Chilazon today, but when it pours rain, there will be loads of Chilazonos. What is a Chilazon? Says Rashi, the Chilazon is a tol’as (invertebrate bug creature, warm/slug/snail) that is used to dye the techeiles color. So what creature comes out when it rains? Anyone who has lived in a place with snails and rain knows that slugs and snails, along with worms, come out in droves in the rain. In the Gemoro in Menachos it describes the Chilazon, this same techeiles dying creature, as being like a fish, meaning sea-dwelling creature in the language of Chazal, dwelling in and around the sea. It’s painfully obvious, considering what we know now, that the murex trunculus is the techeiles snail. At least where I’m from (Pacific NW), you can quite often find sea-snails crawling around on land so long as it’s wet nearby, and it could easily be assumed that the murex is no different in this regard.

That is not to say that those who wear the Radziner/cuttlefish techeiles are wrong in their practice. They have whom to rely on and there are plenty of shittos that say that so long as the dye comes from a sea-creature it is still kosher. For those who have been on the fence though, I hope this helps in your decision making process as to whether to choose to fulfill the mitzva of tzitzis in completion with wearing techeiles made with the truest known Chilazon, the murex trunculus snail.

Trust in Hashem, Not Scientists

In the sefer Chovos HaLevavos there is a section called Shaar HaBitachon, the Gate of Trust, which talks about the greatness of the wonders of Hashem. In the Hakdama to that section, the author gives various examples of things that a person could wrongly put his trust in, and shows the downfalls of these things, such as wealth, other people, etc. Ultimately the only thing we can trust in is Hashem. He even, most likely to the chagrin of many then and in our time, states quite clearly that one should put trust in the Kimoah, also known as Alchemists, now known as Scientists.

It is a common contention that science and Torah cannot mix whatsoever. What I will say is that this is true. Science though is not what it is commonly made out to be by people, which is essentially a religion termed Scientism by many in intellectual circles. There are those who maintain that we should hold like Rambam, and say that every part of Torah that seems to be contradicted by the scientists is obviously simply metaphor and Chazal were just plain wrong about many aspects of the physical world. The problem with this perspective is that it leads to a Judaism free of mystery, which has rachmana litzlan led to many younger people going completely off the path of the Torah. I’ve known many of them from my days in a particular religious educational institution in Seattle that pushed this particular hashkafa. Nearly every single one of my peers from this school have gone off, best case scenario they’ve only decreased in general religiosity without stopping being Shomrei Torah u’Mitzvos, which is bad enough.

The proper approach to dealing with science and Torah, in short, is to address science as its own discipline, and Torah as its own as well. The Torah encompasses all reality and should influence how we view scientific discoveries, seeing them as new ways to know and understand Hashem. Science is only meant to describe reality as perceived with our meagre physical senses. Fun fact: there’s a sea bug known as the “mantis shrimp” that has 12-16 eye cones, whereas people only have three on average, meaning that this shrimp can see colors than we can’t even imagine. Let this concept help you understand that science is only meant to help us understand how to exist in, and manipulate, the world we physically live in. Spiritual truth is contained in the Torah, expressed clearly through the works of Kabbalah, and in no way contradicts scientific discoveries. The gemoro in Shabbos says that someone who doesn’t know astrology sins through not gazing upon Hashem’s marvelous wonders; we can easily say that this applies to general knowledge of the natural world, which has greatly expanded in the last century. Ultimately, any questions between how our scientific instruments perceive reality and the underlying truth of reality, will be answered and explained when Moshiach comes and knowledge of Hashem fills the entire world.

Erev Shabbos VaYigash 5781

A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas VaYigash, and it is also the fast of Asarah B’Teves today, which ends when kiddush is made tonight.

I heard a wonderful vort from the Chasam Sofer as to the big chiddush that is fasting Asarah B’Teves on Erev Shabbos. The other rabbinic fasts are pushed off until Sunday if they fall on Erev Shabbos, except for Asarah B’Teves. The Chasam Sofer says that the reason we still fast on Asarah B’Teves is that today the Beis Din Shel Maalah sits in judgement, determining whether Moshiach should come this year, and our fast is the tefillah to Hashem that Moshiach should come.

In Parshas VaYigash, Yaakov Avinu and the B’Nei Yisroel all move to Mitzrayim to the area called Goshen. The Mitzri’im (Egyptians) all enter an essential serfdom to the Pharaoh through the brokerage of Yosef HaTzaddik, giving up all their property to Pharaoh except for the fifth of the land for the Kohanim, meaning the Egyptian priestly caste in this context. Everybody gets to planting and the years of famine are survived.

So this is an interesting episode, and through modern eyes seems quite terrible, what with the Mitzri’im giving up all their property to the state. However we must keep in mind what the Zohar HaKodosh says, that the Torah isn’t just a book of stories and our cultural history, rather every letter and every word is full of great spiritual secrets.

The Zohar teaches us in another place in the first chelek that if it wasn’t for Yidden living in certain places, the entire area would be uncivilized and impoverished. This we can see from how Mitzrayim flourished and managed to overcome the years of famine due to the help of Yosef HaTzaddik. Yosef HaTzaddik is the aspect of Yesod, and Yaakov Avinu is the aspect of Tiferes, which is also the aspect of the Torah Sh’b’ksav. Yosef brought Yaakov, that is Yesod channeled the forces of Tiferes, made manifest through the Torah, to Mitzrayim, which is the Klippah.

Following the order it is written in the Torah, Yaakov fist came to Mitzrayim before the Mitzri’im started getting anxious over not having food and handing everything over to Pharaoh through Yosef. One thing to consider in regards to the whole deal is that Yosef was granted complete reign over all of Pharaoh’s possessions, only the official title of Pharaoh was not his. What this means is that so long as Yosef lived, he had control over the Mitzri’im. This means to show us that the Tzaddik, through his bringing Torah down to the world of the Klippah, has reign over the world of the Klippah itself, and the sheidim and all things connected to the Klippah. While officially it is all given over to Pharaoh, the Tzaddik through his Torah and avodas Hashem is the one who really has control over all these things, with the sanction and assistance of Hashem Himself. So long as the Tzaddik separates himself from being mixed with the Klippah, by living in Goshen with the other avdei Hashem, so can this reign continue and bring prosperity even to those outside of the Klippah.

Learning the Torah like at Mt. Sinai

There’s an incredibly fascinating shtikl of Zohar in Parshas Yisro that should be m’chazek all of us in our learning.

To paraphrase, it describes there the scene of Matan Torah, the great and wonderful day. It states that Har Sinai jumped and trembled, along with all the other mountains as alluded to in the posuk we say in Hallel “…The mountains dance like rams….. Before the Master trembles the earth.” When the Torah was given, Har Sinai was surrounded by two kinds of fire, black fire and white fire. The black fire corresponds to the Esha D’Gevura (Fire of Severity) and the white fire to Esha D’Chesed (Fire of Loving-Kindness), and that they were gathered together both in the right hand these fires, that the fire of the Torah was given through the right hand. 

So gathered in this highly paraphrased piece of Zohar are quite a few inyanim to contemplate. The first is the state of the world when the Torah was given, as well as what the verses from Hallel mean that refer to rivers turning backwards and the mountains dancing like rams. It is brought in the sifrei Chassidus that this refers to the great power of the Shem Havayah interacting with Shem Adnus, that is the supreme unity of Hashem as expressed in the name of Zeir Anpin interacting with the name of Malchus, and causing great wonders and miracles to occur. This is one of the various reasons as to why we say Hallel on Chanukah, because we see that when Hashem wants, He will cause great wonders as at the time we went out from Mitzrayim. 

The next aspect has to do specifically with the greatness of the revelation of Hashem at Har Sinai, what with the fires being gathered together. Gevurah and Dinim are what make life difficult in this world, the Torah has the power to sweeten these Dinim through our learning. When Hashem gave the Torah and brought these two fires together in the hand of Chesed, this shows that the truest nature of the Torah and Hashem’s desire to give it to us is to do Chesed for Klal Yisroel. This is one of many secrets carried in the idea brought by Chazal and the Zohar HaKodosh, along with all Sifrei Chassidus, that when we learn Torah we must see it and experience it as if we are at Har Sinai at that moment. When we sit and learn Torah lishma, this is mamesh a time when we can sweeten Dinim, accomplish yeshuos, bring brocho to the world and experience Hashem’s presence. It’s easy to forget when sitting and learning regular sedorim, particularly b’chevrusa, but this is crucial. This is part of the idea in Chassidus that we must learn with the kavana to cleave to Hashem, to see and know, in the sense of Daas, that through learning Torah we can merit to all these incredible levels in ruchniyus (spirituality) that do not only benefit in the vague spiritual sense, but even in a concrete manner does Torah learning impact the world. 

Hashem should help us merit to understand the Torah and all its secrets properly, to attain d’veikus, and that we should merit to see Moshiach swiftly in our days.

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.