Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Leaving Egypt: The Importance of Acting as One and the Torah Portion of Bo

This week's Torah portion begins with Hashem telling Moshe, "Come [Boh] to Pharaoh..." Much has been written about how the verse states, "Come" instead of "Go," which implies that by going to Pharaoh, Moshe was actually coming closer to G-d Himself.

Another interesting aspect of the way the sentenced is phrased (which I have not seen discussed elsewhere) is the fact that the phrase is said in the singular. G-d does not tell Aharon to come, yet Aharon does come along with Moshe to face Pharaoh. This, in and of itself, can be explained, as G-d had said that Moshe would be a "master/god" over Pharaoh, while Aharon would serve as Moshe's "prophet," his spokesperson.  (Exodus 7:1)

However, there is an additional element that makes the use of the singular verb conjugation somewhat more perplexing: the very sentence that describes Moshe and Aharon coming to speak to Pharaoh is also in the singular!

3So Moses and Aaron came [sing.] to Pharaoh and said to him, "So said the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, and they will worship Me.ג. וַיָּבֹא משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל פַּרְעֹה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים עַד מָתַי מֵאַנְתָּ לֵעָנֹת מִפָּנָי שַׁלַּח עַמִּי וְיַעַבְדֻנִי:

The Hebrew word used is Vayavoh (he came) when it would appear that Vayavohu (they came) would have been the correct word choice. Also, immediately following the very moment that Hashem appointed Aharon as Moshe's prophet, there too, the words used are Vayavoh Moshe v'Aharon (Moshe and Aharaon came [sing.] to Pharaoh). (Exodus 7:10)

Prior to this, during the first time that Moshe and Aharon come before Pharaoh, the word used is in fact "Bahu," they came [plural]. (Exodus 5:1) Not only were they not successful on that occasion, but Pharaoh actually increased the burden of the Jewish people, which led Moshe to even complain to G-d and ask Him why He was doing this to His people.

The singular form had been used also at a previous occasion regarding Moshe and Aharon when they went to speak with the Jewish elders (Vayelech Moshe v'Aharon) (Exodus 4:29). At that time, they were successful in convincing the elders that the time for redemption had in fact come.

Vayavoh Moshe v'Aharon is used another time in the Torah, at the moment of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. (Leviticus 9:23) As Aharon is performing the inauguration sacrifices, Moshe and Aharon come to the Tent of Meeting and bless the people, and the Glory of Hashem appears to the entire people. Immediately after, the sons of Aharon, Nadab and Abihu, enter the Holy of Holies and improperly bring an incense offering. They are thereby both consumed. In direct contrast to Moshe and Aharon, when describing the actions of Nadab and Abihu, the Torah uses only plural verb conjugations.

We see a similar contrast of plural versus singular conjugations when it comes to the encampments of the Jewish people in the desert. The journeys and encampments are described in the plural, except for the encampment by Mount Sinai itself. There, Rashi explains, the Jews were like "one person with one heart." This great harmony among us was actually an essential requirement for acquiring the Torah itself.

The lesson appears to be a simple one. In order to be successful in doing G-d's will, the ultimate unity is extremely important. We have to seek it to such an extent that we do not even wish to be accounted for as separate entities. Let us learn from Moshe and Aharon and reach out and help one another in brotherly love. Let us also be willing to be helped by others, and let those who know more than us lead us in the right direction. As stated in Pirkei Avot, make for yourself a master and acquire a friend. This way you will be infinitely closer to your true Master and Friend. The more we realize that we are all One, the closest we will be to the One, the Only One.

When I imagine the Jewish people leaving Egypt, I always imagine them holding hands...

It was because of baseless hatred that the Temple was destroyed, and it will be through baseless love that it will be rebuilt. May we soon merit to regain the harmony we achieved at Mount Sinai, and merit to see the Temple rebuilt. May the Alef and Mem of Aharon and Moshe, followed by the Alef and Mem of Esther and Mordechai, finally be followed by the Alef and Mem of Eliyahu and Mashiach, speedily, in our days.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Week 17 (Book 5): Reviewing the Fourth Week of Teveth - Psalms 49-51; 59:6-8; 89:18

PSALMS (Introductions and Translations from Chabad.org):

Chapter 49
This psalm is a strong message and inspiration for all, rich and poor alike, rebuking man for transgressions which, owing to habit, he no longer considers sinful; yet, these sins incriminate man on the Day of Judgment. The psalm speaks specifically to the wealthy, who rely not on G-d but on their wealth.

1. For the Conductor, by the sons of Korach, a psalm. 2. Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all you inhabitants of the world; 3. sons of common folk and sons of nobility, rich and poor alike. 4. My mouth speaks wisdom, and the thoughts of my heart are understanding. 5. I incline my ear to the parable; I will unravel my riddle upon the harp. 6. Why am I afraid in times of trouble? [Because] the sins I trod upon surround me. 7. There are those who rely on their wealth, who boast of their great riches. 8. Yet a man cannot redeem his brother, nor pay his ransom to G-d. 9. The redemption of their soul is too costly, and forever unattainable. 10. Can one live forever, never to see the grave? 11. Though he sees that wise men die, that the fool and the senseless both perish, leaving their wealth to others- 12. [nevertheless,] in their inner thoughts their houses will last forever, their dwellings for generation after generation; they have proclaimed their names throughout the lands. 13. But man will not repose in glory; he is likened to the silenced animals. 14. This is their way-their folly remains with them, and their descendants approve of their talk, Selah. 15. Like sheep, they are destined for the grave; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright will dominate them at morning; their form will rot in the grave, away from its abode. 16. But G-d will redeem my soul from the hands of the grave, for He will take me, Selah. 17. Do not fear when a man grows rich, when the glory of his house is increased; 18. for when he dies he will take nothing, his glory will not descend after him. 19. For he [alone] praises himself in his lifetime; but [all] will praise you if you better yourself. 20. He will come to the generation of his forefathers; they shall not see light for all eternity. 21. Man [can live] in glory but does not understand; he is likened to the silenced animals.

Chapter 50
This psalm speaks of many ethics and morals. The psalmist rebukes those who fail to repent humbly and modestly. He also admonishes those who do not practice that which they study, and merely appear to be righteous; they sin and cause others to sin.

1. A psalm by Asaph. Almighty G-d, the Lord, spoke and called to the earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2. Out of Zion, the place of perfect beauty, G-d appeared. 3. Our G-d will come and not be silent; a fire will consume before Him, His surroundings are furiously turbulent. 4. He will call to the heavens above, and to the earth, to avenge His people: 5. "Gather to Me My pious ones, those who made a covenant with me over a sacrifice.” 6. Then the heavens declared His righteousness, for G-d is Judge forever. 7. Listen, my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against you-I am G-d your G-d. 8. Not for [the lack of] your sacrifices will I rebuke you, nor for [the lack of] your burnt offerings which ought to be continually before Me. 9. I do not take oxen from your house, nor goats from your pens; 10. for every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle of a thousand mountains. 11. I know every bird of the mountains, and the crawling creatures of the field are in My possession. 12. Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and everything in it is mine. 13. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14. Offer confession as a sacrifice to G-d, and fulfill your vows to the Most High, 15. and call to Me on the day of distress; I will free you, and you will honor Me. 16. But to the wicked, G-d said, "What does it help you to discuss My laws, and bear My covenant upon your lips? 17. For you hate discipline, and throw My words behind you. 18. When you see a thief you run with him, and your lot is with adulterers. 19. You sent forth your mouth for evil, and attach your tongue to deceit. 20. You sit down to talk against your brother; your mother's son you defame. 21. You have done these things and I kept silent, so you imagine that I am like you-[but] I will rebuke you and lay it clearly before your eyes. 22. Understand this now, you who forget G-d, lest I tear you apart and there be none to save you. 23. He who offers a sacrifice of confession honors Me; and to him who sets right his way, I will show the deliverance of G-d."

Chapter 51
This psalm speaks of when Nathan the prophet went to David's palace, and rebuked him for his sin with Bathsheba. David then secluded himself with G-d, offering awe-inspiring prayers and begging forgiveness. Every person should recite this psalm for his sins and transgressions.

1. For the Conductor, a psalm by David, 2. when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone to Bathsheba. 3. Be gracious to me, O G-d, in keeping with Your kindness; in accordance with Your abounding compassion, erase my transgressions. 4. Cleanse me thoroughly of my wrongdoing, and purify me of my sin. 5. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 6. Against You alone have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your eyes; [forgive me] so that You will be justified in Your verdict, vindicated in Your judgment. 7. Indeed, I was begotten in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 8. Indeed, You desire truth in the innermost parts; teach me the wisdom of concealed things. 9. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be pure; cleanse me and I shall be whiter than snow. 10. Let me hear [tidings of] joy and gladness; then the bones which You have shattered will rejoice. 11. Hide Your face from my sins, and erase all my trespasses. 12. Create in me a pure heart, O G-d, and renew within me an upright spirit. 13. Do not cast me out of Your presence, and do not take Your Spirit of Holiness away from me. 14. Restore to me the joy of Your deliverance, and uphold me with a spirit of magnanimity. 15. I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You. 16. Save me from bloodguilt, O G-d, G-d of my deliverance; my tongue will sing Your righteousness. 17. My Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise. 18. For You do not desire that I bring sacrifices, nor do You wish burnt offerings. 19. The offering [desirable] to G-d is a contrite spirit; a contrite and broken heart, G-d, You do not disdain. 20. In Your goodwill, bestow goodness upon Zion; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. 21. Then will You desire sacrifices [offered in] righteousness, olah and other burnt offerings; then they will offer bullocks upon Your altar. 


Chapter 59

6. And You, Lord, G-d of Hosts, G-d of Israel, wake up to remember all the nations; do not grant favor to any of the iniquitous traitors, Selah. 7. They return toward evening, they howl like the dog and circle the city. 8. Behold, they spew with their mouths, swords are in their lips, for [they say], "Who hears?” 


18. Indeed, You are the splendor of their might, and in Your goodwill our glory is exalted. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Week 17 (Book 4b): Our Intimate Connection with G-d

4. Your neck is like the Tower of David, built as a model; a thousand shields hanging on it, all the quivers of the mighty men.
5. Your two breasts are like two fawns, the twins of a gazelle, who graze among the roses.
6. Until the sun spreads and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.


TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 17 – Sins of the Temple and Marital Relations


Week 17 in the Jewish calendar is the last week of Teveth, which includes the 24th of Teveth, the yahrzeit of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe. As mentioned in the previous week, the verses from Song of Songs for this week has some of the most open uses of the metaphor of the female body as a reference to qualities of the Jewish People. 

One of the references made in Song of Songs is to “two breasts,” which is related to childbearing and procreation, themes of the month of Teveth. Rashi notes that this is a reference to Moshe and Aharon as well as to the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Rashi further explains how the laws on the first tablet (between man and G-d) correspond to those on the second one (between man and man). Similarly, the Alter Rebbe’s name, Shneur, means Shnei Or, two lights, and the Alter Rebbe fulfilled the potential of his name, revealing the light of Chassidus and the deep secrets of the Torah, which comprise the Tanya and other holy works, as well as a light in the revealed aspects of the Torah, which comprise his Shulchan Aruch, known as Shulchan Aruch HaRav, and other works as well.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the seventeenth one, who is not explicitly mentioned, is Yocheved. Yocheved is the mother of Moshe and Aharon. She, like Miriam, was also involved in the discreet task of midwiving Jewish children.

Daf Yud Zayin (Folio 17) of Shvuot speaks of the prohibitions against not properly taking one’s time when leaving the Temple, as well as taking the shortest path out. It also discusses entering the Temple grounds in an abnormal manner. The daf then switches to a different Mishnah, which leads to a discussion of how to withdraw from a woman that becomes a Niddah (impure due to menstruation) at the time of intercourse. The daf appears related to two distinct themes of this month, sins related to the Temple, as well as marital relations.

Chapter 17 of the Book of Jeremiah contains one of the main themes of the month, multiplying after being very small in number. This theme is found in the song of the wild goose in Book 1, which is contained in this chapter (the wild goose is the Perek Shirah animal for Week 15, also in the month of Teveth):

5. So says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  

6. He shall be like a lone tree in the plain, and will not see when good comes, and will dwell on parched land in the desert, on salt-sodden soil that is not habitable.
7. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord; the Lord shall be his trust.

8. For he shall be like a tree planted by the water, and by a rivulet spreads its roots, and will not see when heat comes, and its leaves shall be green, and in the year of drought will not be anxious, neither shall it cease from bearing fruit.

It is also interesting that the chapter include references to nature and to trees, as the following week is that of Rosh Chodesh Shevat.

Week 17 (Book 4a): Going to Peace

STORY OF CHANNAH: 17. And Eli answered and said: Go in peace, and the God of Israel will grant your request which you have asked of Him.

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: From him, people enjoy counsel          

PROVERBS: Chapter 17

TZADDIKIM: 24 Tevet - Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shmuel  Bornstein of Soccatchov, as well as that of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Biderman of Lelov          

Week 17 is the last week of Teveth, and includes the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, on the 24th of Teveth. The verse from the story of Channah is Eli’s response to Channah. He tells her to go in peace, and that Hashem will grant her request. The Hebrew words used are “Lechi L’Shalom,” which literally means go to peace. In Hebrew, “go in peace,” Lech B’Shalom, is only used for those that have passed away. Rav Kook explains that one cannot wish to be in ultimate peace in this world. This is a world of struggles, particularly during the month of Teveth. The ultimate peace will one day come, but in the meantime, be prepared for an intense journey. The events leading up to the Alter Rebbe’s passing, were quite intense and tumultuous. (See Week 17, Book I)

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality is that “people enjoy counsel,” from those that study Torah for its own sake (Lishmah). In Channah’s story above, Eli’s counsel allows Channah to finally be able to breathe slightly more easily, knowing that her prayers for a child would be answered.

The entire Book of Proverbs is about enjoying counsel from the wise. Chapter 17 is no different.

Aside from the Alter Rebbe, this week contains the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein of Soccatchov, as well as that of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Biderman of Lelov, both also on the 24th of Teveth.

Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein was the son of Rabbi Avraham Bornstein, the Avnei Nezer. Rabbi Shmuel is most well known for his extraordinary Chassidic work, the Shem MiShmuel. Like the Alter Rebbe, both father and son were known not only for their Chassidic insights, but also for their tremendous knowledge in the “revealed” Torah knowledge and Jewish law.

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Biderman was the sixth Lelover Rebbe. He lived in Israel at the time that Jerusalem was liberated in the Sixth Day War. Of all the Chassidic rabbis, it was Rabbi Biderman that spent the most time by the Kotel HaMa’arivi, the Western Wall. He moved to Jerusalem to be close to the Kotel, and his prayers there would last most of the day. (Ascent) 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Leviathan and Shor HaBor, Tzadik and Beinoni: Explaining Chassidic Concepts Based on the Writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In the Rebbe's first Ma'amar for the Torah Portion of Shelach, delivered on the Shabat blessing the month of Tammuz, 5711, the Rebbe delves into why the Torah states that the decision to send the spies was dependent on Moshe's initiative, and what exactly would have been Moshe's rationale for sending spies given that he knew that the entrance and conquest of the Land of Israel would be miraculous in nature.

The Rebbe explains that the entrance into the Land of Israel first and foremost represented the beginning of the practical mitzvot. The Rebbe then explains what it is written in Likutei Torah (from the Alter Rebbe) that there are two kinds of Tzadikim (righteous individuals): those in the category of Leviatan and those in the category of Shor HaBor.

Leviatan comes from the word, Levayah (accompaniment), and represents connection, and it represents the Tzadikim that are involved primarily in spiritual "unifications" (Yehudim) The Leviathan is a fish, from the sea, which represents the hidden spiritual realm. An example of this kind of Tzadik would be Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai during his 13 years inside a cave with his son Elazar. There, Rabbi Shimon and his son performed the mitzvot in a spiritual way only. The Arizal was also a Leviathan type of Tzadik, as was the Baal Shem Tov as well.

Shor HaBor represents Tzadikim that are involved primarily with the practical, physical mitzvot. Shor means an ox, and there is a saying that "Rav Tvuot beKoach haShor," great produce comes with the strength of the ox. There is a special advantage to souls called "beasts of the land," as we see in the Heavenly Chariot (which had images of animals, such as the ox), and how the loftier one's spiritual source, the deeper into physicality it falls. Man is dependent on the food he eats because in truth the food comes from a higher spiritual source than himself.

Even Tzadikim in the Leviatan category have to perform the Divine service of physical mitzvot, unless there is a decree from above, as was the case with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

In the desert, the Jews' spiritual services was that of Leviatan Tzadikim, spiritual in nature. As they were now about to enter the service that involved physicality as well, they needed special assistance from Above, to receive additional strength. That was in fact the main purpose of Moshe sending out the spies, in order to additional strength from Above, in order to be involved in the service of Shor HaBor Tzadikim as well.

This specifically had to come from Moshe, who was complete nullified to Hashem, and could sense the higher level of involvement in the physical world. That is why, our sages explain, Moshe longed so much to enter the Land of Israel: to be able to perform the physical mitzvot connected to the Land itself.

The spies, although "kosher" individuals, did not have this same level of nullification. They did not sense the holiness of this service, and instead claimed that "the Land devoured its inhabitants" - it made them physical like the Land itself. Two of the spies, however, Caleb and Joshua, understood that it was in fact possible to elevate the physicality of the Land. These two spies were only able to come to this conclusion because they themselves were nullified to Moshe.

The Rebbe also compares mission of the spies that Moshe sent, compared to those sent by Joshua. Moshe's spies explored the entire Land and the 7 Canaanite nations that lived there. This is compared to the Divine service of the Tzadik, to fix the 7 Middot (also called Sefirot) in their essence. The mission of the spies of Joshua, however, are connected to the Beinoni (intermediary) only scouted Jericho, which comes from the word for Reiach, smell, and represents the rectification of only the outer garments of the soul: its thought, speech, and deed.

[The Tanya teaches that there are two kinds of service: that of the Tzadik (completely righteous) and that of the Beinoni (intermediary). The heart of the Tzadik is a like a Land that has been completely conquered. There is no Other, and therefore there is no struggle. The heart of the Beinoni is like a single Land with two competing governments, only one of which is preoccupied with Jewish causes. Neither should the Beinoni delude himself and think he is a Tzadik, nor should the fact that he is a Beinoni make him sad in any way, for it is exactly in this struggle that G-d finds the greatest joy. The Beinoni should also not ignore the Other, or even fail to help him in his time of need. On the contrary, he should raise the Other, and bring him along in the service of God. The Land of Israel today is like the heart of a Beinoni.]

Week 17 (Book 3): Avraham, Serug, and the Alter Rebbe

SONG OF THE SEA: all the inhabitants of Canaan melted. May dread and fright fall upon them;

HAFTARAH: Then ruled a remnant among the mighty of the nations; the Lord dominated the strong for me.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 17 - Avraham and how the Sotah process can bring blessing.


JOURNEYS IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Rimmon Perez and camped in Libnah.

Week 17, the last week of Teveth, includes the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, on the 24th of Teveth. In the verses of the Song of the Sea, the same theme continues. The inhabitants of Canaan melt, with dread and fright.

The Haftorah’s verses could not possibly be more related to the major qualities of the Tribe of Dan discussed before: strength and ability to multiply after being small in number. The verses states that with God’s help, the remnant overcame the mighty and the strong.

Daf Yud Zayin (Folio 17) of Sotah speaks of the writing of the curses on the scroll that is to be dissolved in the water. The daf also speaks of how curses can be inferred from blessings, and how even in the words “man” and “woman” there is a potential for “fire” if the Divine Presence does not dwell among the couple. This is related to Teveth: because of our sins, the blessings of the Torah were turned to curses due to our idolatry. Also, during the destruction of both the first and second Temple, the Divine Presence left and the Temples were enveloped and destroyed by fire.

The daf also speaks of Avraham, and how he was rewarded for not accepting the booty from the king of Sodom. This appears related to Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad rebbe. His uncompromising stance towards the truth, as well as his selflessness, merited tremendous blessings in these areas. Not only did his stature command the awe and respect of non-Jews, but his comprehensive description of the heavenly realms is one of the most systematic and detailed in the Jewish tradition.

The interaction between Avraham and the King of Sodom also has a strong parallel between the Alter Rebbe and Napoleon. Napoleon was offering the Jews greater material wealth and greater freedom. However, the Alter Rebbe saw that this would lead to spiritual downfall and assimilation. The physical oppression of the … was better than a spiritual one. This is parallel to what the King of Sodom said, “Take … and I’ll take the souls,” which Avraham so vehemently rejected and was greatly rewarded for.
Interestingly, just as Avraham rejected even the most minute personal object, Napoleon sought after the most minute personal object belonging to the Alter Rebbe. However, the Alter Rebbe put fire to his home before leaving, and Napoleon was not able to find a single thing.

Serug, son of Reu, is a reference to an even greater regrouping. Serug comes from the verg Lesareg, which means to interlace, interweave. More than gathering with friends and becoming part of a Shepherd’s herd again (See also Book 1, Week 17). This is also the innovation of the Chassidism of the Alter Rebbe. Chassidim are all one family – they create an unbreakable bond. The Hayom Yom for the 24th of Teveth (which I had not looked at prior writing the above), states:

My grandfather (R. Shmuel) asked the Tzemach Tzedek: What did Grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) intend with the "ways of Chassidus" and what did he intend with Chassidus?
The Tzemach Tzedek answered: The "ways of Chassidus" are that all Chassidim are to be like one family, with affection, as Torah teaches. Chassidus is vitality. Chassidus is to bring life and illumination into everything, to shed light even on the undesirable - to become aware of one's own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.[1]

According to Philo, a Roman Jewish philosopher, Serug and his family were set apart from the rest of their generation because they did not engage in idolatry. Philo seems to have based himself on apocryphal writings, so the validity of this claim is somewhat suspect. Nevertheless, it would indicate a certain tikkun, a fixing of one of the main problem areas related to the Tribe of Dan, idolatry. It also appears related to the second part of the Hayom Yom regarding what is meant by “Chassidus” – “to be aware of one’s own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.”

In the seventeenth week, the Jews journey from Rimmon Perez and camp in Libnah. Libnah comes from the word Leveinim, bricks. Bricks are usually associated with the hard labor the Jews had to endure during their Egyptian exile, in which they had to make bricks. At the end of the exile, they were not even provided any straws.  In his work, Torah Or, the Alter Rebbe, quoting the Zohar, explains that the harsh labor in Egypt has a spiritual counterpart, in the proper study of the Torah. Leveinim, bricks, is a reference to libun hilchesa, the clarification of Torah law. Chomer, mortar, parallels the kal vachomer, the principle of a fortiori, one of principal rules of how to interpret the Torah. It is possible to exchange the harsh labor of exile for the labor in the study of Torah.[2] As mentioned previously, proper Torah study was one of the causes for the destruction of the First Temple, related to this month. The personal journey is to internalize the concept of being fruitful and productive, and now focus on proper Torah study.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Leaving Egypt: Getting to Know G-d, and the Torah Portion of Va'eira

Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches. But let him that boasts exult in this, that he understands and knows me, for I am the Lord Who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jeremiah, 9:22-23)

Our entire purpose in this world is to know G-d. That is our main task, the ultimate worth, and that is exactly what Pharaoh was missing. In last week's Torah Portion, when Moshe and Aharon approach Pharaoh as ambassadors of G-d and tell him to let His people go, Pharaoh responds: ""Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the Lord, neither will I let Israel out." (Exodus 5:2)

In this week's portion, Pharaoh and the Egyptians begin to learn the hard way Who is G-d. Each of the plagues shows G-d's dominion over a different aspect of His Creation. The lesson, however, is also for the Jewish People: "And I will take you to Myself as a People, and I will be your G‑d. Then you will know that I am G‑d, the One who took you out from the subjugation of Egypt." (Exodus 6:7) The Baal Shem Tov explains that the verse hints that the Jews themselves had to re-learn Who G-d is, and What He is all about. (http://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/379423/jewish/Losing-Awareness-of-G-d.htm)

The struggle to know G-d continues, and our final redemption is the ultimate fulfillment of our quest for His knowledge. About the Messianic times, Maimonides writes:

The sages and the prophets did not crave the era of Moshiach in order to rule over the world... or to eat, drink and rejoice, only so that they be free for Torah and its wisdom and be rid of any oppressor and disrupter... And at that time there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For the good will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust. The entire occupation of the world will be only to know G-d... Israel will be of great wisdom; they will perceive the esoteric truths and comprehend their Creator's wisdom as is the capacity of man. As it is written: "For the earth shall be filed with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea..."  (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:4-5).

May this era come soon, and when it comes, may we have the right priorities in place in order to be able to appreciate it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"The Kabbalah of Time" Co-Author Featured in the Miami Herald


Aventura author presents book on Jewish pioneers’ struggles in Brazil

Email Ann Helen Wainer at JewishBrazilianConnection@gmail.com


Aventura author Ann Helen Wainer gave a history lesson on the relationship between Jews and Brazilians as she presented her new book at the North Miami Beach Public Library last week.
In her book, Jewish and Brazilian Connections to New York, India and Ecology, she refers to her Brazilian homeland, which is where the first Jewish pioneers to New York came from.
With the history of persecution in Europe, Jews found refuge in Recife, Brazil, which was occupied by the Dutch. Government leaders allowed Jews to freely practice their religion.
But, after the Dutch lost their place in Brazil to the Portuguese, Jewish people no longer were tolerated and they began immigrating in 1654 to New York – known at the time as New Amsterdam.
Wainer, who is Jewish and originally from Brazil, has written several books and talks freely about the struggle of Jewish settlers.
“It is necessary to take a step back and understand the adversities that these pioneer Jews faced,” she said. “Before their arrival in New Amsterdam, they faced material losses, jumping from ship to ship, imprisonment and much more. They were ill-prepared for the prejudice and intolerance they found.”
Wainer, an attorney in Brazil who moved to the United States in 1999, is separated by only one generation in her family from the surviving Jews of the Holocaust. She highlights this in a previous book, “Family Portrait.”
Rabbi Daniel Kahane, a co-author on another of her books – “The Kabbalah of Time” – talked about the strong history and Jewish culture represented in Wainer’s writing.
“It shows just how deeply ingrained the struggle for fairness and equality is in Jewish religion, culture and tradition,” said Kahane, an attorney who volunteers as a teacher at Aventura Chabad. “Fixing the world, changing it and making it a better place – what is known in Hebrew as ‘Tikkun Olam’ – is an essential aspect of being a Jew.”
Wainer, who currently teaches at Florida Atlantic University about the Jewish connection with the Brazilian Cinematheque, talked at her book signing about the success that Jewish people have had in the United States and the importance of remembering the struggle it took to get there.
Her son, David Wainer, 28, reiterated that point.
“Jews have it good in this country. They represent a well-off minority group, and the book highlights that,” said the younger Wainer, a Boston University graduate who is a business reporter currently based in Israel. “It wasn’t always like that,” he said. “There were pioneers [who] had to fight for their survival and the basic ability to be who they want to be. It provides the proper context for the Jewish community in the U.S.”
Wainer closed out her lecture by telling the crowd the process she went through and the support she received while writing her book.
“I believe when you have a purpose like this, the universe has a way of conspiring in your favor,” she said. “It made me feel very connected to this country and Brazil, and it helped me understand more about where my two hearts are.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/16/3822422/aventura-author-presents-book.html#storylink=cpy

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Week 16 (Book 5): Reviewing the Third Week of Teveth - Psalms 46-48; 59:3-5; 89:17

PSALMS (Explanations and Translations from Chabad.org)

Chapter 46

This psalm tells of the Gog and Magog era (the Messianic age), when man will cast aside his weapons, and warfare will be no more.

1. For the Conductor, by the sons of Korach, on the alamot,1 a song. 2. G-d is our refuge and strength, a help in distress, He is most accessible. 3. Therefore, we will not be afraid when the earth is transformed, when mountains collapse in the heart of the seas; 4. when its waters roar and are muddied, and mountains quake before His grandeur, Selah. 5. The river2-its streams will bring joy to the city of G-d, the sacred dwelling of the Most High. 6. G-d is in her midst, she will not falter; G-d will help her at the approach of morning. 7. Nations clamor, kingdoms stumble; He raises His voice and the earth dissolves. 8. The Lord of Hosts is with us; the G-d of Jacob is our stronghold forever. 9. Go and see the works of the Lord, Who has wrought devastation in the land. 10. To the end of the earth He causes wars to cease; He breaks the bow, snaps the spear, and burns the wagons in fire. 11. Stop [waging war]! And know that I am G-d; I will be exalted among the nations, exalted upon the earth. 12. The Lord of Hosts is with us; the G-d of Jacob is our stronghold forever.

Chapter 47

Following the battle of Gog and Magog (in the Messianic era), war will be no more. G-d will grant us salvation, and we will merit to go up to the Holy Temple for the festivals, Amen.

1. For the Conductor, a psalm by the sons of Korach. 2. All you nations, clap hands; sound [the shofar] to G-d with a sound of jubilation. 3. For the Lord is most high, awesome; a great King over all the earth. 4. He subdues peoples under us, nations beneath our feet. 5. He chooses our heritage for us, the glory of Jacob whom He loves eternally. 6. G-d ascends through teruah, the Lord-through the sound of the shofar. 7. Sing, O sing to G-d; sing, O sing to our King. 8. For G-d is King over all the earth; sing, O man of understanding. 9. G-d reigns over the nations; G-d is seated on His holy throne. 10. The most noble of the nations are gathered, the nation of the G-d of Abraham; for the protectors of the earth belong to G-d; He is greatly exalted.

Chapter 48

The psalmist prophesies about the Messianic era, singing the praises of a rebuilt Jerusalem and the sacrifices brought there. At that time Israel will say, "As we heard from the mouths of the prophets, so have we merited to see!"

1. A song, a psalm by the sons of Korach. 2. The Lord is great and exceedingly acclaimed in the city of G-d, His holy mountain. 3. Beautiful in landscape, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion, on the northern slopes, the city of the great King. 4. In her citadels, G-d became known as a tower of strength. 5. For behold, the kings assembled, they advanced in concert [to invade her]. 6. They saw [the wonders of the Almighty] and were astounded; they were terror-stricken, they hastened to flee. 7. Trembling seized them there, pangs as of a woman in the throes of labor; 8. [they were crushed as] by an east wind that shatters the ships of Tarshish. 9. As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our G-d; may G-d establish it for all eternity. 10. G-d, we have been hoping for Your kindness [to be revealed] within Your Sanctuary. 11. As Your Name, O G-d, [is great,] so is Your praise to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is filled with righteousness. 12. Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the towns of Judah exult, because of Your judgments. 13. Walk around Zion, encircle her, count her towers. 14. Consider well her ramparts, behold her lofty citadels, that you may recount it to a later generation. 15. For this G-d is our G-d forever and ever; He will lead us eternally. 


Chapter 59

3. Rescue me from evildoers, save me from men of bloodshed. 4. For behold they lie in ambush for my soul, mighty ones gather against me-not because of my sin nor my transgression, O Lord. 5. Without iniquity [on my part,] they run and prepare-awaken towards me and see! 


17. They rejoice in Your Name all day, and they are exalted through Your righteousness.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Week 16 (Book 4b): Being Wife and Midwife

1. "Behold, you are fair, my beloved; behold, you are fair; your eyes are [like] doves, from within your kerchief; your hair is like a flock of goats that streamed down from Mount Gilead.
2. Your teeth are like a flock of uniformly shaped [ewes] that came up from the washing, all of whom are perfect, and there is no bereavement among them.
3. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your speech is comely; your temple is like a split pomegranate from within your kerchief.


TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 16 - Holiness of the First Temple


Week 16 in the Jewish calendar is the third week of Teveth. As mentioned previously, Teveth is known as the month in which “the body takes pleasure in the body,” a reference to how the essence of the Jewish People connects to the essence of Hashem. (See Book 1) The Song of Songs verses for this week and next, the first six of Chapter 4, are the ones that most openly use the metaphor of the female body as a reference to qualities of the Jewish People.

Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the sixteenth mentioned is Merari. Merari family’s task regarding the Tabernacle was the least prestigious, and yet the hardest: carrying the beams, crossbars, pillars, and bases.[1] Merari comes from the word Mar, bitter, the same root of the name Miriam. The Rebbe’s father explains that of the three children of Yocheved, Miriam parallels Merari. These were the foundations of the Tabernacle, without which the other parts could not stand, similar to the discreet yet crucial role of Miriam as a midwife. Teveth is a cold and is some ways bitter month, yet it is also connected to strength/foundation and the capacity to multiply (characteristics of the Tribe of Dan).

Daf Tet Zayin (Folio 16) of Shevuoth discusses whether the holiness of the First Temple was temporary or permanent. It also discusses the case of someone who became impure when in the Temple, and the laws related to bowing in it. The fast of the tenth of Teveth is particularly linked to the destruction of the First Temple.

Chapter 16 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above, especially regarding marital relations and our ability to multiply:

1. And the word of the Lord came to me saying:  
2. You shall take no wife, and you shall have no sons or daughters in this place.  
3. For so said the Lord regarding the sons and the daughters born in this place and regarding their mothers who bear them and their fathers who beget them in this land. (…)
9. For so said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will cut off from this place in your presence and in your days a voice of mirth and a voice of gladness, a voice of a bridegroom, and a voice of a bride. (…)

[1] http://en.yhb.org.il/2013/05/17/the-sweetness-of-bnei-merari/

Week 16 (Book 4a): Bringing Oneself Close to Merit

STORY OF CHANNAH: 16 Count not thy handmaid for a wicked woman: for out of the abundance of my complaint and my vexation have I spoken hitherto.'           

QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: and brings him close to merit  

PROVERBS: Chapter 16

TZADIKKIM: 18 Tevet - Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov        

Week 16 is the third week of Teveth. The verse from the story of Channah depicts how she asks Eli the Kohen Gadol to judge her favorably, not as a wicked woman. The term in Hebrew, Bli’al, is also associated with idolatry. The sages of the Talmud even learn from this that someone who prays the Amidah prayer while drunk is compared to someone who worships idols. Again, the verse speaks for Channah’s vexation, similar to the vexation we feel in Teveth.

This week’s Pirkei Avot quality regarding those that study Torah for its own sake (Lishmah) is that Torah distances brings a person close to merit. Again, the above verse from Channah’s story illustrates this principle.

Chapter 16 of the Book of Proverbs contains the above theme of bringing a person person close to merit:

1. The preparations of the heart are man's, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. 
2. All ways of man are pure in his eyes, but the Lord counts the spirits.       (...)
6. With loving-kindness and truth will iniquity be expiated, and through fear of the Lord turn away from evil.    
7. When the Lord accepts a person's ways, He will cause even his enemies to make peace with him.             
8. Better a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.        
9. A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord prepares his step.

This week contains yahrzeits of a few of the most prominent Chassidic rabbis in history, all of whom are closely associated with the Seer of Lublin.

The 16th of Teveth is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Aryeh Leibish of Vishnitza, who was known as Rebbe Leibish Charif (“the sharp one”). He was a a Talmid Muvhak, a very close disciple of the Seer of Lublin.  

The 17th of Teveth is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Fischel (“Fisheleh”) Shapira of Strickov, who was a disciple, successively, of the Maggid of Mezritch, his disciple, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, and his disciple, the Seer of Lublin. He was known for his extreme humility, and was called as “Olah Temimah,” the unblemished offering. (Ascent)

The 18th of Teveth is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov, known for his most prominent work, the Bnei Yissachar, which is the basis for many of the insights of this work, “The Kabbalah of Time.” He was the nephew of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk and a disciple of the Seer of Lublin as well as of Menachem Mendel of Rimanov.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Salman Mutzafi (17th of Teveth), Rebbe Yaakov Horowitz of Melitz (19th of Teveth), and (sometimes) the Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (the Rambam, Maimonedes, 20th of Teveth), Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira (20th of Teveth), Rabbi Yisrael Dov of Volodnik (21st of Teveth), Rav Matzliach Mazuz of Djerba, (author of Ish Matzliach, 21st of Teveth) and Rabbi Yitzchak son of Rabbi Abba Abuchatzeira (great-grandson of Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira, 21st of Teveth)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Week 16 (Book 3): Overcoming Setbacks

SONG OF THE SEA: Then the chieftains of Edom were startled; [as for] the powerful men of Moab, trembling seized them;

Praise! Praise! Utter a song.
Arise Barak, and capture your captives, son of Abinoam.

TALMUD SOTAH: Daf 16 - Soil in the Sotah’s Water


JOURNEY IN THE DESERT: They journeyed from Rithmah and camped in Rimmon Perez.

On Week 16, the third week of Teveth, the verses of the Song of the Sea continue theme of being startled and trembling. As mentioned in the previous week, at the time of the siege of Jerusalem, the Jewish people were the ones to shudder.

The Haftorah’s verses also repeat the previous theme of the Divine spirit leaving Devorah because of her praising herself. The second part, related to Barak “capturing  your captives,” may also be a reference to the captivity of Jerusalem itself, as well as its citizens after the city was conquered and the Temple destroyed.

Daf Tet Zayin (Folio 16) of Sotah is continues the explanation of what the Sotah offering entailed, focusing primarily on the soil placed in the water to be drunk by the Sotah. This Daf also contains many  references to the law of the Metzorah. This also appears connected to themes of the previous week, and this month as a whole: exile and lack of proper food and drink.

Reu, son of Peleg, was born in the aftermath of the world’s population being split and spread into different lands. However, as opposed to his father’s name, which means separation, Reu’s name is related to the Hebrew words for shepherd and friend. Therefore, the name appears to symbolize the ability of to regroup and thrive once more after a period of exile and turmoil as was the aftermath of the Tower of Babel, as well as the Babylonian exile.

In the sixteenth week, the Jews journey from Rithmah and camp in Rimmon Perez.  Rimmon Perez means a “bursting” pomegranite. The pomegranite, with its many seeds, is a symbol for being fruitful and fulfilling mitzvoth. The personal journey is to to internalize the concept of avoiding slander and the exile that comes with it, and to now focus on regrouping and going back to being productive.

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